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Of all the too oft-repeated phrases uttered on the trail, there’s one that instills a desire like no other to snatch the orator’s trekking poles and remove all the quick adjust pins, leaving their knees to quake and quiver all the way down the mountain: “You’re almost there!” Particularly when you are not, in fact, almost there. As evidenced by the Gaia GPS map you downloaded at the trailhead and have been following religiously since you set boot on dirt.
But as much as the well-meaning phrase grates on my ears, it is only at the top of a long list of phrases that should be outlawed on trails nationwide. Say any of the following sentences to a hiker at your peril.
“You’re almost there.”
What they hear: I have no idea where you’re headed or what your pace is, but you look like you could use some false hope, so let me throw you a bone.
Why you should stop: Even on the most straightforward out-and-back trails, there is a wealth of info to which you’re not privy that could cause this phrase to negatively impact someone’s hike. You don’t know their intended destination, how fast they are traveling, or whether they even want to be almost there. Besides, “almost” is relative.
Say instead: “It’s about one more mile to the falls.”
“Good for you for being out here.”
What they hear: You’re female/LGBTQ+/POC/differently abled/plus-sized, and I don’t see many people like you out here! Are you sure you should be here? It’s adorable that you’re trying.
Why you should stop: When said to hikers who don’t look like you, you’re pointing out your differences and insinuating that they don’t belong or you don’t think they’re capable of tackling the same trails you are. It’s demeaning, condescending, and unwelcoming.
Say instead: “Good morning!”
“Are you really going to hike in that?”
What they hear: That Jansport backpack, those Nike sneakers, and those jorts clearly aren’t designed for hiking and until you can drop $600 on shiny new clothing and equipment purpose-built for nothing but trails, you clearly don’t belong here.
Why you should stop: Unless someone’s life is in real and imminent danger (not perceived danger just because you wouldn’t hike in those shoes), implying that someone doesn’t have the “right” clothing or gear for a hike both assumes they are incapable of the feat ahead and insinuates that anyone who doesn’t have the bank account to score the newest high-tech gear or trendy brands doesn’t belong in the outdoors. It’s not your business to comment on strangers’ gear choices. Besides, it’s real backpacker-core to dress however you want and create your own definition of trail fashion.
Say instead: Nothing.
“Are you all by yourself out here? Where are you camping tonight?”
What they hear: You’re a female/LGBTQ+/BIPOC hiker without backup? Where will you be tonight so I can find you and help you star in your own Dateline special?
Why you should stop: Although it can be fun to share tips on the best overlooks along the trail or find out if you’ll all be kicking back in the same campground that evening when you pass other groups of backpackers, when said to a solo hiker, especially a woman or minority, the question almost always seems threatening and dangerous.
Say instead: “Pass any good shaded spots for lunch ahead?”
“You know if you just…”
What they hear: How you’re walking/carrying your pack/lacing your shoes is wrong. I’m better at this than you, so let me show you how inferior you are to me.
Why you should stop: Nobody likes a busybody or mansplainer on the trail. So if someone has a different technique than you, as long as they’re not being unsafe or damaging the landscape, keep your criticism and what you think are helpful instructions to yourself. If you start a conversation and they ask for tips, then feel free to offer insight. Otherwise, don’t beta-spray, bro. Everybody is at a different experience level and that’s OK.
Say instead: “Enjoy your hike!”
Hikers and backpackers take to the trails, woods, and mountains for different reasons. Some want to unwind with a leisurely ramble in the woods, some are looking for the sense of accomplishment they get from doing something hard. Don’t assume everyone out there has the same intentions as you or needs the same gear, training, or experience.
Do remember that even if uttered with the best intentions, one phrase has the power to leave someone feeling belittled or discouraged for the rest of their hike. Adventurers of every background and ability belong in the outdoors. Hike your own dang hike, and don’t tell me I’m almost there.