Keep on track


“Son, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of mud. It builds character.”

- Wise words from a resident of Stewart Island, NZ
(one of the world’s muddiest hiking destinations)

Bog skirters.


Wade James, South Coast Track, Tasmania, Australia, 2002

The scourge of trail maintainers around the world.

You know who I’m talking about. Hikers who slyly tiptoe along the side of trails in order to keep their tootsies dry and comfy. Armed with the attitude that “oh well, I’m only one person, it can’t do too much harm can it?”

The reality is that, yes, it can.  Whilst the impact of a single individual may be minimal, the damage caused by a number of hikers doing exactly the same thing is anything but. The repercussions of widespread off-trail hiking in heavily trafficked areas include:

  • Large scale erosion
  • Damaged vegetation
  • Disruption to wildlife
  • Altered hydrology
  • Widening of trails
  • Increased muddiness

The primary goal of a formal trail system is to enable people to enjoy a natural environment, whilst simultaneously minimizing the amount of human-induced impact to the area in question. When large numbers of hikers skirt bogs, cut switchbacks and take short cuts this objective is fundamentally compromised.

Shoes can be cleaned. You can dry your feet at day’s end. Damaged vegetation and erosion are not so easily remedied. The solution? Simple. If you are walking on a trail, irrespective of whether it is muddy or not, suck it up and stick to the path. Channel your inner Buddhist and follow the “middle way.”

Note: The above commentary refers specifically to popular areas in which a formal trail system is in place. If walking over trailless terrain in a group, you can lessen your environmental impact by fanning out, in order to avoid forming paths which future hikers may follow.