Hiking during COVID-19? Read these essential rules & social distancing tips before you hit the trail

So far, 2020 hasn’t been a great year for hikers, but it’s finally safe to get back out on your favorite trails as restrictions ease. 

But COVID-19 is still a threat, and if you’re planning to head out soon, you have to do whatever you can to stay safe. 

What does that mean? 

Essential rules for hiking safely in the U.S.

No matter which trail you’re taking, keep the following rules in mind to reduce your (and others’) risk of exposure:

  • Only hike with people within your household, i.e. your spouse, parents, children, etc. 
  • Use a hiking trail close to you, if possible
  • Stay at least six feet away from other hikers on the trails: be polite and give them plenty of room when you pass 
  • Wash your hands and/or use sanitizer regularly 
  • Wear a mask when visiting a diner, store, gas station, etc., and stay a safe distance from other customers and staff

In short: stick to the rules we’ve all heard so many times since the pandemic crisis began. If we’re all sensible and respect each other, there’s no reason to avoid your favorite local trails. 

You can find more great advice in the American Hiking Society’s helpful FAQ

4 tips for a socially distant hike

  1. Pick your trails carefully

Hiking can have a fantastic effect on your physical and mental health, putting your body to good work after so many months without a gym or local sports amenities. 

But if you’re not careful, you could find yourself walking the same route as hundreds of other hikers. And that means you’ll be more focused on keeping your distance than enjoying the experience itself. Not to mention that some trails make keeping six feet apart pretty dangerous, if not impossible. 

Your best option is to avoid the most popular local hiking trails and consider alternatives

The American Trails website has a helpful list of links to state park websites, so you can see which trails are available near you. Take the time to plan your hike to avoid disappointment. 

  1. Avoid peak times 

Following on nicely from the first point, once you’ve picked a trail, choose the time of day carefully.

While a Saturday or Sunday afternoon might be most convenient to you, countless other locals will want to hike at the weekend too. And the more people walking a trail, the more careful you need to be. 

Try to fit hikes in on days and at times when they’re less likely to be busy. Maybe a Tuesday morning would be best, or a Wednesday evening. Talk to other hikers in your community, if possible, to see what schedules they’re sticking to. 

  1. Don’t rush to avoid other hikers

Getting stuck behind a large group of hikers can be annoying. Before the pandemic hit, you could speed up and overtake without putting them or yourself at risk. But now, we all need to be more considerate. 

So, if you find yourself a few meters behind a group with no room to pass them safely, accept that you’ll be following them for a little while. 

You could always ask them to let you pass, but there might not be room for them to move off the path for you. Unless you have a legitimate reason to rush, just relax and take your time.

Likewise, be aware of other hikers behind you and let them pass when you can do so safely. They’ll probably appreciate it, and might return the favor further along the trail.

  1. Take the right equipment with you

The right gear is always essential to hike safely, but now, you need to take a few extra things in your pack.

First, make sure you have a face mask. You shouldn’t need to wear this on the trail in the open air, but if you’re going to be indoors or in close proximity to others, put it on. 

Secondly, carry hand sanitizer with you. You may need to use handrails, open doors, refuel your car on the ride home, etc. 

And remember all the other essentials, too:

You might need to actually create a checklist if you’re out of practice. 

The U.S. is home to some of the world’s most beautiful trails

And if we can respect each others’ right to enjoy them too, we can all stay safe while hiking. 

Follow the above tips to get the most out of your hikes and reduce your risk. And, happy hiking!


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