Cell Phone Etiquette on Hiking Trails in the Smoky Mountains

iphoneCell Phones are everywhere. I would imagine that it would be difficult for you to find any person around you that does not have a cell phone on them. Whether it is texting, talking, checking email, or surfing the web, we have our phones with us as if it were an appendage. Some of us are so tied to our phones that we freak out if we leave them at home. How will we function? What is someone needs me? How will I check the scores of the game? The mountains are no different these days. Most people carry a cell phone on the trail. This is far different than it was even ten years ago. Not long ago there was no cell service just about anywhere in the Smokies. It is now difficult to find a place without it in many circumstances. The cheap and reliable nature of cell phones has brought them into the park in droves. Is this a bad thing? At face value, no. People bring GPS units into the backcountry. They bring iPods or a Walkman for those of you who are my age.

Electronics on trail has never bothered me. It still doesn’t. If that includes gadgets, so be it. Some hiking purists will tell you that none of that has a place in the mountains. To them I say, RELAX. If it doesn’t affect you, it’s not really your business. And this gets to the place where there is a rub. When it starts affecting other people then a problem starts.

Cell phones are great these days. I can use my iPhone for a camera to take pictures of scenery, an mp3 player to give me a boost during those rough uphills, or listen to music at camp in the evening to unwind. I can even call my wife if I’m running late to my pick up point. They are a great thing to carry in your pack. The problem is simply when we are not being courteous to other hikers. If you walk down the street, you will probably see half the people on their phones. The woods are different. People come out here to escape everyday “city” life and everything that comes with it. If you are walking down the trail talking loudly on your phone, it does detract from the experience the guy that passes you on the trail is having. If you are playing music without headphones, that ruins someone else’s tranquility. Are these minor annoyances? Probably. But like leaving trash on the ground, if one person does it it may not make a big difference. When many do, it becomes a major problem.

This is probably something that many of you haven’t even considered before. I don’t think the majority of people on their phones are trying to be a problem for anyone else. It’s just one of those unwritten rules of the trail. And since it is unwritten, many people don’t even know about it. Personally, if I am going to make a phone call while on trail, I step off trail to do it. It may not be that big of a deal, but I want to make sure everyone has the same great experiences I do and I don’t want to detract from that. I pull my phone out occasionally to take pictures as well. This doesn’t bother anyone. Go for it. Just be courteous of those around you. Chances are that they don’t want to be in your shot at the top of the Chimney Tops. If you keep your phone on you while on trail, put it in airplane mode. Nobody needs to hear your cool ringtone or the all too familiar beep when you get a text or email. Not to mention, this will help your batteries as well. When you don’t have service, the phone constantly looks for a signal. This wears down your battery in a hurry and you might not have enough juice to make a call in case of an emergency.

Like I said, a phone is a great thing to have in the backcountry so long as we are courteous about how and when we use it. Also don’t forget, a phone is not meant to be your lifeline. Don’t get yourself into a situation you don’t think you can get out of simply because a rescue is only a phone call away. Sometimes you can call for rescue and sometimes you can’t. Regardless, don’t take up rescue resources that would not have been necessary if you had planned a little better. So unless you are listening to Smoky Mountains Radio while you hike, turn it off or put it on silent.

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