Outdoor etiquette: Is blaring music while hiking appropriate?

The CBC's Tracy Fuller argues that if you must go hiking in the mountains this summer it's best to leave your "obnoxious" speakers at home.

One hiker's story of unexpected 'audio litter' in the Rocky Mountains

Barrier Lake with Highway 40 in the background. (Alana Baker)

If getting out into the mountains is on your summer bucket list, there are a few things you'll want to keep in mind:

  • Bring plenty of water. 
  • Wear comfortable shoes that won't give you blisters.
  • Familiarize yourself with your route.
  • Know your bear safety do's and dont's.

But please, please do not bring your loud and obnoxious speakers and blare your music out for all to hear.

I hate to be a Debbie Downer.

Seriously — I'm the kind of person who smiles and sings her way through most days, with jazz hands wherever and whenever appropriate.

But the one place I wasn't smiling and singing this past weekend was Kananaskis Country.

Hikers Alana Baker and The Homestretch's Tracy Fuller show some muscle atop the Barrier Lake Fire Lookout in Kananaskis Country. (Alana Baker)

Yesterday, I spent the entire afternoon in the Rocky Mountains with a friend who just returned home to Calgary after a year abroad.

We were hiking up the somewhat muddy and slightly snowy Barrier Lake lookout trail when I came across something that really shocked me — blaring '80s music in the backcountry.

It was coming out of the backpack of a fellow hiker.

That was our first encounter.

The beautiful but frigid waters at the bottom of Barrier Lake. (Alana Baker)

Then when we got to the Barrier Lake fire lookout where it was a competition between two opposing groups — one playing Mumford and Sons and another playing some sort of dance music.

Don't get me wrong: I love music. Even dance music.

But when I'm out for a day in the mountains, I'm hoping to hear birds and trees rustling in the wind and the crunch-crunch-crunch of gravel beneath my feet — not Top 40 music.

When I get to the top of a 400-something-metre uphill climb, I just want a little peace and quiet to take it all in.

Another beautiful vista from atop Barrier Lake. (Alana Baker)

I guess I could have been pro-active, bringing my concerns to the attention of the noise-makers.

But I'm not a particularly confrontational person. It's not my style.

But you'd better believe me and my hiking companion muttered about it under our breath. I do realize that some solo hikers might use music as a modified bear bell, letting animals know they're coming.

But none of the people I saw blaring music were walking alone. They were all in big groups, making lots of warning noises on their own.

A beautiful day at the Barrier Lake Fire Lookout in Kananaskis Country. Fortunately for you, this photo does not include the unwanted musical soundtrack that accompanied our hike. (Alana Baker)

Basically it's an etiquette issue, and maybe I sound like a hiking snob. But for me it was like "audio littering" on the trail, you know?

I'm one of those people who hates finding bits of garbage along the trails.

As a born and raised Northern Ontarian, I'm always amazed at how pristine the trail conditions are here in Alberta. It's really wonderful. That's why it makes my blood boil to see random wrappers along the way.

Just put it in your pocket and throw it away later. In a garbage can. Where it belongs.
And if you absolutely must have music while hiking, then bring your earbuds, leave one in and the other out so you're aware of what's going on around you.

That way you can enjoy the trails without ruining it for the rest of us.

Does music belong on hiking trails? Let us know in the comment section below, or share what gets on your nerves while out in the Great Outdoors.

About the Author

Tracy Fuller

Cost of Living associate producer

Tracy Fuller is an associate producer with The Cost of Living. She started her CBC career in the late 2000's, interning in Toronto, Sudbury and Whitehorse. She reported for two years at CBC Sudbury before moving to Calgary. After a brief fling with CBC Television, Tracy landed back in radio where she became a master of sound, winning a national RTDNA for sports reporting.


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