To Mask Up or Down

After my last post entitled, "Why go out in a COVID world?", a friend suggested that I get a bit more detailed about what are the "proper" COVID precautions to take when out on the trails.

DISCLAIMER: This is the part where I say that you should listen to my advice even though I don't know what I'm talking about. (Those who know me well are all on the floor laughing right now!) I am not a doctor nor do I play one on TV. I am just going to share with you my opinions based on my experiences and the research I have done personally. None of this should be taken as medical advice.

One of the main reasons many of us get outdoors is for the seclusion, and this motivation is ironically driving more and more people to get outside these days. Having been on trailheads in Colorado and Texas already in January this year, I can see a notable difference. For those who say overcrowding is the bane of our park systems, I think it is ultimately is a good thing that people are getting outside. When people fall in love with the natural beauty of our wild places, they will be more inclined to protect them. We protect what we love. Oh wait....that is a different soap box...back to COVID-19 precautions.

Whether we are at a crowded trailhead or just passing someone in the back country, we owe it to ourselves, our loved ones, people we meet and society to be smart and considerate in regards to fighting transmission of the virus. The last thing anyone wants is for a beautiful day exploring to be the cause for anyone to end up sick and indoors fighting the virus. Below are 4 things you can consider as you strike out on an adventure in the current COVID world.


The research is definitive that wearing masks helps prevent the virus, but when you are panting up a steep incline or enjoying the fresh air of a mountain peak, nobody wants to be filtering air through a mask. The good news is that you are outside with fresh ventilation which is a major mitigation factor for transmission. So stand on the peak and take a deep breath by yourself. When you are hiking alone up a steep incline, take that mask down to help your lungs get air. It is when you are around others, and particularly those whom you don't know that you should be masking up. A few months ago I found Go.Lovejoy gator/masks

GoLovejoy Masks on Amazon

These are made of a technical material that doesn't get soaked with moisture and have a drawstring around the nose. The drawstring allows the gator/mask to hang from my nose rather than being pulled tight to my mouth like a regular gator does. And because it is a gator, it rides around my neck until I need to pull it up with one finger. I now have one of these gators around my neck all day every day. It must be said that the technical material that prevents moisture retention also means these are not true filters. If I am going to go visit my grandmother in the retirement home, I am going with the full medical mask. These simply keep my breath from spreading out and keep my P's and T's from splattering others with spit. With such a convenient and easy solution, I am happy to pull this up over my nose when I pass somebody on the trail. Whether they are wearing a mask or not, I feel like I did my part.


If you didn't hear that correctly, it was said in the voice of my mother before dinner everyday of my childhood. Carry a bottle of hand sanitizer where you can get to it. I keep mine in a shoulder strap pocket of my pack so I can pull it out quickly. Remember that places like lookouts and summit peaks are where everyone has been and touched to mark their accomplishment. Cleaning your hands after passing one of these areas is a smart idea. Now you are probably thinking, "But what if I am wearing gloves?" I clean my gloves too. Let's be real here...gloves often double as tissues for many of us when we are out in cold weather. Just put a bit of sanitizer in your gloved hand and rub your hands together like you normally do with your bare hands. It will evaporate out of the glove fibers just like it does off your hands. Of course your next nose wipe might be a bit smelly!


Besides not swapping bodily fluids by wearing masks and washing our hands, the best way to prevent the spread of the virus is stay at least 6' away from each other. This can be hard and sometimes impossible on a crowded trail. We've all had those great conversations with total strangers who we know have a shared interest because we are both there. We can still have those conversations, just keep your distance and wear your mask. And if you are hiking and pass someone, remember that you are probably huffing and puffing pretty hard. Put your mask up, step off the trail and turn your head away. If you are going uphill, yield to downhill hikers as always.


Know the regulations of the park you are visiting and respect them. Every national park has a website that explains their current regulations, and most local parks have something on a community website. Unless you want to take on the responsibility of setting rules yourself and all of the associated complaints, follow the rules as posted.

Finally, just remember that we are in this together. We got ourselves into this just by being human, but we also get ourselves out of it by being human. What I mean is that our innate ability to cooperate as a species is what is going to allow us to survive. At the core of that ability is a genuine empathy and caring for our fellow humans. It sounds trite but love for our fellow humans is the solution here.

Be safe out there. We hope to see you on the trails. If you would like to learn more about Top Out Adventures trips go to our Adventures page and contact us if you have any questions. You can also find us on Facebook at TopOutAdventures.

And don't just take my word for it. Below are links to more information on the subject:


Bearfoot Theory

American Hiking Society

National Geographic

Dave is the owner and a guide for Top Out Adventures. His outdoor background is rooted in ultra-running, which has given him the chance to run around the world in the Rockies, Himalayas, Alps and Andes. He is also experienced in mountaineering and scuba diving, anything to get keep him out of an office. Feel free to reach out to him on Facebook at Dave Smithey or e-mail him at

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