I enjoy hiking, but I'm not very well-versed with the general expectations other people have about noise, especially serious hikers. I generally do trails that take between 3-6 hours, usually up hills/mountains (depending on your definition) on the Appalachian Trail. Often those trails are popular enough that if it's a nice day, I'll see another group every 10 minutes or so, and if there's an overlook at the top there may be a good 8-15 people up there at any point, usually a mix of casual hikers like me and others just passing through on their way up/down the Appalachian Trail.

Some of the groups I've gone with enjoy singing while hiking, or while resting at the top, and a couple of times I've brought an instrument (clarinet) along, to play both during the hike and at the summit. I do enjoy playing like that, but I don't want to bother people unnecessarily; I don't really have a good understanding for how far the sounds carries, or how other hikers, especially serious ones, feel about the music.

Let's assume that the instrument is being reasonably well-played (i.e. gentle tone, not squeaking/squealing, with not so many missed notes as to be distracting), because otherwise I'm sure the answer can't be anything besides "Please stop".


Is there any general etiquette or expectations about playing/making music on hiking trails?


I'm also linking this tangentially-related question on whether playing musical instruments while hiking is sufficient to keep away animals.


EDIT: Well, this was more contentious than I was expecting; answers range from "Hearing music on the trail can be enjoyable" to "Don't even make a sound". I appreciate the feedback from the people of the latter opinion, and I am not ignoring their statements.

Surely, though, there must be a balance, between allowing people who don't want to hear anything that would betray the presence of humankind in the area to enjoy themselves, and allowing people who like music (or especially, in my case, the feeling of playing gentle music in nature) to enjoy themselves as well. At the least, if I play again, I will endeavor to remove myself or my group from other people, to ask anyone nearby if they mind, and in any case to not play for long.

Regardless: if anyone (in the last year) hiked past someone playing snippets from hymns, Disney, and Broadway on a clarinet in the Shenandoah Nat'l park, and found it annoying, I apologize.


EDIT 2, in response to close-votes:

The question was about etiquette - a set of arbitrary, (at least originally) opinion-based, rules that are followed by a majority of people. It's inseparable from people's opinions, but surely it's a useful thing for new hikers to learn.

"Does mild vinegar taste good?" is hardly a useful question for a stackexchange. "Do most people enjoy drinking vinegar?" is an important question for a new chef to know the answer to.

  • 6
    My rule is always use your best judgment, if people seem annoyed you should just finish and be done. – JIMMYPlay Oct 9 at 16:24
  • 10
    It sounds annoying if there are other people on the trail. Go somewhere deserted if you want to do that. – Qudit Oct 10 at 3:32
  • 12
    Good etiquette is to minimize your impact on the environment and on other peoples enjoyment of it. If people want to hear your musical talents, they would come to your concert. – Paul Smith Oct 10 at 11:43
  • 4
    This question just received a close vote as "primarily opinion based", but the OP specifically asks Is there any general etiquette or expectations about playing/making music on hiking trails. It is up to others to answer that and leave their personal opinions out. – Jan Doggen Oct 11 at 7:52
  • 6
    The Leave No Trace guidelines speak against making "loud noises" in order to avoid disturbing nature. However, even though I'm a LNT ambassador I from time to time have played tin whistle while out on the trail. It's up to you whether you think it will disturb nature, I suppose. – Carl Lange Oct 12 at 10:51
up vote 82 down vote accepted

I can only speak from experience, but I'll share what I have seen. The following paragraphs are ordered from least desirable to most.

In every case where people have been playing music on a speaker of some kind (including phone), people on the trails around them show signs of being annoyed. I believe this is acceptable behavior in some other countries which is why I mostly see foreigners (and inexperienced hikers) engaging in this breach of etiquette.

I have seen several trumpets and even a trombone being played on trails. This has been met with annoyance as brass instruments' sound can travel a long distance and disturb the natural sounds that hikers expect. As for the trombone, people were mostly confused because of how unusual it was (he was playing jazz tunes awaiting some girl who was hiking toward him so he could propose. It was really weird.).

Woodwind instruments are less likely to make people upset, mainly because they have softer tones and the sound doesn't travel very far. String instruments are similarly more acceptable.

Instruments that people probably won't mind, or might even enjoy, hearing on a hike are those that are associated with the cultural heritage of the outdoors (think pioneers, cowboys, etc.). Harmonicas, wooden flutes, violins (particularly if playing fiddle music), and acoustic guitars are usually acceptable for trails, so long as you aren't too loud, getting in people's way, or making a spectacle.

In any instance you want to play an instrument on a trail, I would not start playing anywhere people are already gathered. Find a spot where you are alone and then you can start playing. That will give people the option of stopping to listen to you if they want, or continue on. If you start playing near where people are already hanging out, you are forcing them to move or confront you if they aren't interested in your music.


Edit: People had some questions about other instruments/music, so I'll touch on those specifically. @IMil asked (probably jokingly) about bagpipes. The thing is, I've actually heard people playing the bagpipes while camping a couple times. I don't think they count under the umbrella of American outdoor traditional instruments, but they certainly do in Scotland. I think it is novel enough that people won't be too upset to hear the bagpipes for a bit, just as long as you aren't playing Amazing Grace on repeat for 3 hours. Besides, if you can't play bagpipes outside, where on earth can you play them?

As for singing and whistling, those are definitely part of the outdoor tradition. As with all the other instruments, you still need to read the room. If people are giving you the stink eye, it's probably time to take a break.

  • 23
    It may have been truly weird and not adequate in this case, but I would say that a proposal is a good reason for a breach of etiquette :) Also I wouldn't say not to play if there already are people gathered at a place, but to ask - if the musician is good, I would personally very much enjoy a bit of music. – imsodin Oct 9 at 17:47
  • 8
    Good answer. I'd add "inexperienced hikers" to the people who use speakers. I've mostly seen people playing music over speakers while hiking on trails with easy urban access, and the people playing it mostly dress like people who don't hike often. – Karen Oct 9 at 17:57
  • 8
    What about bagpipes? – IMil Oct 9 at 23:24
  • 15
    @IMil well bagpipers are already walking to try and get away from the sounds of their instruments so... – Dan Neely Oct 10 at 13:25
  • 9
    If my SO proposed to me with a trombone in the woods that would be a flat "no." – Azor Ahai Oct 11 at 20:36

I, and the people I hike with do not appreciate music on the trails. If you want music use headphones. We try to hike the least popular trails to avoid encountering blaring music. We are out in nature to experience nature.

  • 6
    Especially at the summit I like to hear the wind, birds, and any other animals that happen to be scurrying about. Music typically scares them away and thus the nature in nature will be absent. When walking around the trails in the neighborhood I've stopped to listen to folks playing far eastern instruments or singing and really enjoyed it. But I also hear cars, airplanes and such so the human music is much appreciated when compared to mechanical noise. – CramerTV Oct 9 at 16:40
  • 1
    In my experience as a hiker and trail maintainer, producing music can be fit into a woodsy experience. If uninvolved people are not within earshot (popular trails at "personally" quiet volumes, relatively less popular trails at relatively higher volumes), then it seems fine to produce music. I have often used a speaker at low volume while setting up camp, preparing food, or taking a rest. Playing an instrument, listening to music, or singing A Capella are often the only things you can do past dark without light, fire, or intimate companionship. I the sound of love acoustic guitar and the wind. – Dent7777 Oct 10 at 2:03
  • 5
    @HammerN'Songs: only to the degree of annoyance. I like to listen for cues in my environment, hawk cries, the rattle of some reptile moving through the leaves, the whispered cry for help from the solo hiker that fell in an arroyo last week... And I go out of my way to find the most isolated areas just to avoid excessive chatter and musical mayhem - so having gone out my way to avoid it and encountering it anyway - takes away some of my pleasure. – Arluin Oct 10 at 20:43
  • 1
    @HammerN'Songs on a similar note, I hike to photograph; so I generally tend to lag behind or rush ahead of even my own group just so I can have moments of quiet in which to listen for something special to capture. Music would make that a lot more difficult. – muru Oct 11 at 5:15
  • 1
    @Dent7777 when I'm particularly looking for peace and solitude, I go to the relatively less popular trails. I'd suggest, while hiking, music might be more appropriate on popular trails than off the beaten path. Note, this question is not about music while camping. At night, with a campfire, even the grouchiest among us wouldn't be surprised to hear a guitar and a sing along. – De Novo Oct 12 at 16:22

Just don't play your music with the aid of any electronic speakers. People sing and talk and laugh as they hike and that's fine, its when they start blaring music on their waterproof bluetooth speakers that it starts to get annoying.

Just note that it will make you less aware of your surroundings, I have seen plenty of people not realize that I was hiking right behind them because their music was too loud and they weren't paying attention.

  • Don't you just love someone walking by, sat on the bus, on a bike, with their phone speaker making a hash of blaring out music? Yes this is the best....... We use a speaker when we're sat somewhere for a while or camping, but not too loud and respect campsite quiet hours. – Aravona Oct 9 at 16:10
  • 3
    I hate public phone speakers as much as the next guy but if uninvolved people are not within earshot (popular trails at "personally" quiet volumes, relatively less popular trails at relatively higher volumes), then it seems fine to produce music. I have often used a speaker at low volume while setting up camp, preparing food, or taking a rest with the consent of the only people who might hear it. – Dent7777 Oct 10 at 2:07
  • 3
    @Dent7777 please don't use your speakers on less popular trails. That's the absolute worst. How do you know if I'm within earshot? I'm a very quiet hiker. On those trails, I wish you would be too. – De Novo Oct 12 at 16:24
  • @DeNovo when I say less popular trails, I am talking about trails that see a couple hikers a week, often during off-peak season. Maintaining trails we'd be in the area for a week+ and not see but one or two groups of people come through. During certain times of day, it is certainly reasonable to assume you are the only ones in the area, playing music on a speaker that you can't hear 200ft away. – Dent7777 Oct 12 at 16:35
  • 2
    @Dent7777 if one or two groups of people walk past you while you use speakers on secluded trails in the off season, you've probably annoyed 100% of the people. Please use headphones if you must listen to music while hiking or maintaining trails in these secluded areas. And if you can hear it clearly while maintaining a trail, unless there is running water nearby, it's noticeable from much further than 200ft away. I'm telling you from experience, you might not think it's annoying, but it REALLY is. – De Novo Oct 12 at 16:41

Being noisy in public is generally annoying for people around you, regardless of what kind of noise it is. (Exceptions apply, e.g. sporting events where being noisy is expected)

Playing an instrument on hiking trails is a specific case of "being noisy".

One of the main reasons people are on trails in the first place is to get away from noise and people. While it may be perfectly legal and tolerated by fellow hikers, I doubt you will find a single person who wants you to play music on the trail.

Would you start playing the clarinet on a bus? It's also noisy, somehow. People also wouldn't expect complete silence. Would you be the one to guarantee there is no possibility of silence at all?

Public places are just that: public. There are people and if you play music, everyone is forced to hear it. If you pee on the ground, everyone is forced to smell it. If you litter, everyone is forced to walk around garbage. From where I'm from, etiquette regarding outdoor activities is very simple: try to minimize what you subject other people to as much as possible. If I can pee in a far away place where the smell won't bother anyone, that's where I'll go; if I can carry my garbage with me, I will; if I can play an instrument being absolutely sure I'm not upsetting someone, then that's OK.

The problem is: can you be sure? Do you know what's the mean distance your instrument reaches? People around you might enjoy your playing, but do people 500m from there feel OK about it too? How can you be sure? There are also animals around - do they love it? I'm positive most animals don't care about where I pee, but I'm also sure littering won't do them any good. Are you sure you're not disturbing?

I think my position has become clear: I'm totally against any kind of outdoors musicality. I often climb big walls where I'm supposed to sleep three, four days on the wall, and some friends sometimes bring ukeleles. I hate it. I tolerate it because usually the other two guys enjoy the music and I'm in a smaller number, but I hate it. I hate to see people playing instruments or hearing loud music on trails. I think it's an absolute lack of respect for the others and for your surroundings. The safest way to be respectful is to be clean, to be silent, to be invisible - to walk and climb as if you were a shadow. I'm positive you'll sense that acting this way you'll cease to be a tourist and start being a part of the landscape. You will be more attentive and feel nature more intensely.

P.S.: I'm a grumpy person.

  • 3
    I see your point. I prefer to use my headphones. – QuantumBrick Oct 10 at 17:09
  • 4
    I love music. I play the flute, actually. Point is: people who want to hear music can use headphones and be 90% happy. The other 10%, which would involve hearing music without a headphone, is sacrificed in the name of altruism. – QuantumBrick Oct 10 at 20:24
  • 4
    While I obviously have a very different answer from this, I think this is a valuable perspective. Leave no trace can also be applied to noise. It is my belief that music can have a place in the outdoors because it has always had a place throughout our history. However, OP would be well advised that there are people like QuantumBrick out there too, so you should keep the musical activities short. – BlackThorn Oct 11 at 15:55
  • 2
    @HammerN'Songs For me, music is one of the sounds of civilization. "Getting away from the noises of civilization and then playing music" is as logical as "Getting away from pollution and then littering the forest". – Abigail Oct 11 at 21:13
  • 2
    I wasn't putting it as a rebuttal sufficient to invalidate your conclusion. I will continue to do my best to take into account the desires and wishes of those around me. The reason you describe is, indeed, the main reason I play. From seeing the opinions of many people here, I do now understand how many people dislike it, and I intend to accommodate them. It is indeed kindness, for a person to forgo something they like, so that another can have what they like. – HammerN'Songs Oct 12 at 0:58

My input is if it is loud enough they cannot easily carry on a conversation then it is too loud.

On a crowed peak maybe one song as a celebration then shut it down. If you get an applause then one more.

On the trail if they can walk by then never a problem.

A crowed lookout I would say no. Pick a more secluded spot to sing.

Following @CarlLange in his original comment:

The ultimate trail etiquette would be Leave No Trace ethics. If you read the Be Considerate of Others section, you'll find relevant info (emphasis added by me):

  • Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.
  • Be courteous. Yield to other users on the trail.
  • Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock.
  • Take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors.
  • Let nature's sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises

The rest is up to you to determine if your playing goes against those "rules".

I'm not familiar with any general etiquette too. But I would say if someone is hiking on a popular trail, they can't expect silence and/or not to hear other people.
I can only speak for myself but I would like to hear music now and then while hiking

A few years ago, I went on a hike with the scouts, and came upon a beautiful overlook atop a cliff. The sun was setting, a gentle breeze was blowing, and it was really serene.

We admired the sight for awhile, and soon enough, we heard someone playing the bagpipes. This thing bellowed across the valley, and it was truly the most beautiful thing we'd ever heard. I get that the pipes are not everyone's cup of tea, and to some they sound like cats in heat. But this wasn't that - it was serene and solemn, and lasted maybe 5 minutes before that was that.

I guess, then, it can depend. It depends on the music, the instrument, the mood of the people whose paths happened to have crossed at that moment, and the purpose of both parties meeting. In our case, it was a positive moment; but I would imagine that if there was anyone offended, that offense lasted only a few minutes.

I would guess that some instruments might be more offensive than others, and a clarinet isn't likely to be very offensive to many people. Neither might a harmonica, acoustic guitar, flute, or fife - all of which I've seen people bring. I've also seen banjos, trumpets, and bugles, and they, too, have their place as well. Personally, I don't like the banjo, and the only time I've heard trumpets and bugles were for solemn purposes - except that as a scouter, I've seen many a scout bring trumpets and bugles to practice - and therein lay the cats in heat. But these aren't typically found on a hike, and if they are, well, you're likely to hear them at dawn, dusk, or deep in the evening, and most people don't hike around those times.

I would also guess that playing an instrument in the vicinity of a hunter is liable to get you angry comments. And, if you were playing near homes, or near another group, who may be annoyed at "yet another" group playing instruments - there's the mood factor.

You have every right to bring and play an instrument if you are on public lands - that much is enshrined in the constitution. That doesn't mean people won't be offended, and so my advice would be to bring it if it suits you, but be mindful that people may not want to hear it, so, if you have any consideration for those around you, then limit your playing time - unless you're asked for encores.

protected by Community Oct 10 at 11:33

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.