It really is amazing how many resources we now have as hikers. Between a wide variety of available maps, guide books, trail clubs, and blogs you are sure to find the information you need. Another wonderful resource can be online communities such as Facebook groups. Unlike reliable books and your favorite maps, there can be a big difference in quality groups and how much you get out of them. Here are ten tips for taking part in online communities.
1. Stay on topic
There’s nothing worse than someone hijacking a thread. Stay on topic or write your own post!
2. Don’t ask basic questions
What I mean by asking basic questions is simple: get your shit together! Don’t ask how many miles it is to get to a certain peak, campsite, or waterfall. Get out a map and figure it out yourself! An online community is not meant to hold your hand through the process. Do your research and then feel free to ask a question. For example, If you plan on hiking to a peak with five route options, you may be able to narrow it down to two routes yourself. At this point it is appropriate to get an opinion from people who have hiked those trails before.
3. Use the search bar
If you want to know which peaks in your area have the best views or are the best for new hikers, there is a VERY good chance someone has asked the exact same question before. Take a minute to use the search bar before you annoy half the people in the group. If you’re on mobile, you most likely won’t be able to search so hold off until you get to a computer.
4. Quit the name calling
I think of the online hiking community like people driving in cars: behind a screen/wheel you have no problem making snap judgements or name calling. If you were on a trail or walking on a sidewalk, would you react in the same manner if someone didn’t agree with you? I doubt it. If so, get your blood pressure checked! No one will take you seriously if you’re trying to make a point while putting someone down. Just stop it.
5. Don’t be a jerk
There are always new hikers in a group. Try and be patient if they make mistakes and be supportive. There is nothing worse than being told by a complete stranger you shouldn’t be hiking. Ok, seeing 1,000 spiders at once might be worse.
6. Stop with overused phrases
I belong to a number of groups where many people enjoy the environment and the support from certain groups. They will write an off topic post but start with the phrase “I know this isn’t about [insert group’s focus here] but I wanted to share….” Make a decision! Either post something because you think the group will gain from it or it’s somewhat related and appropriate to post. If not, don’t post it. When you do post, get to the point. It’s like every speech you hear where the speaker first describes what it was like to write their speech.
7. Avoid asking for gear advice
Keep your sanity and ask a trusted friend, mentor, your aunt that doesn’t hike- really anyone- for gear advice. It may go over better than asking a group of 4,000 individuals which filter/tent/snowshoes you should buy. The reason? Often there isn’t enough context (i.e. your experience, budget, frequency of planned use) for people to really give you good advice. If you do include that information, most will ignore it and tell you to buy the one item that worked for them no matter if you are a brand new hiker or an elite super ultralight robot who sleeps standing up. You will also receive dozen of responses with little to no explanation as to why and folks even start to argue with each other online. The thread will also never end. Ever. Good luck with that, you brave soul. Asking a reliable person who is experienced will prove more useful as they will likely take into account your needs and can explain what they’ve used and why they liked/didn’t like certain products to help you make your decision.
8. Never ever ask for medical advice
While there may be practicing doctors that are also hikers online, the best advice anyone should give you is to go see your doctor. Asking for medical advice online may be worse than self-diagnosing on Web-MD.
9. Don’t lie
I’ve seen many posts on facebook and even other blogs where people made massive mistakes but cover it up to make themselves seem better. If hiking were easy everyone would do it. Own up to your mistakes and share them! Far more people will learn from your mistakes if you do so instead of hiding it.
10. Don’t take yourself or anyone else too seriously
At the end of the day we are just talking about hiking. Try not to let your ego blow up when you get hundreds of likes and remember that jerk online is just dealing with their own issues. Share photos, ask questions (remember to tread carefully on this one!), and be a positive member of your online community. I guarantee you’ll get much more out of it that way.
Online hiking communities have done great things for our trails. There are threads that boost a hiker’s confidence, acts as a support system for those who need it, creates opportunities to give back to the trail, and can bring a group of people together. Don’t forget to take some time away from the computer and hit the trail!