Last summer, my boyfriend and I were out on a long bike ride. It was a really hot day, so when we got to the top of the hill, we decided to cool off in a nearby waterfall where we often do a spot of wild swimming. Because it was a spontaneous decision, we weren’t carrying our bathing suits, but no big deal. There was no one around and you can see incoming hikers coming a long way off from that spot.
Afterwards, we were lying out on a warm rock for a minute to dry off so we didn’t have to wrestle our damp bodies back into our spandex for the ride home, when we became aware of a buzzing noise over the rushing of the falls. Presently, a drone appeared overhead, presumably operated by someone in the parking lot a couple of miles away hoping to get some shots of the staggered plunge pools that make up the falls. The way I remember things, almost as soon as it came into view, it came to a screeching halt, then whizzed backwards at high speed and disappeared.
We had a good chuckle about this – after all, it was our decision to lie around naked in a public place, so we couldn’t really complain if someone got an eyeful. And I won’t lie, it was really quite refreshing to be in the position of disrupting the day of a drone user for once, instead of the other way around. Because let’s face it, drones have become a super annoying aspect of spending time outdoors in recent years, haven’t they? I mean, I do get why you want to catch aerial images of geysers and mountain lions that you’d never otherwise be able to see from that angle, and potentially view places you can’t access on foot, but for those of us that are on foot, your drone totally ruins our time in our hiking boots.
I understand that you honestly may never have considered that your drone impacts anyone else. After all, you’re probably just hanging out on your own, staring at the screen on the console, barely aware of the existence of humans never mind the beauty that surrounds you. So for all of those who haven’t given it a moment’s thought, here’s why you shouldn’t take your drone hiking.
1. It’s obnoxious and creepy
Not only is the weird little high-pitched whine your drone makes irritating, no one can really relax when there’s a drone hovering overhead, and we come out here to relax and get away from technology. Whenever a drone makes an appearance, you know you’re being surveilled by a random stranger, and because drones have dubious origins as weapon-carriers (they were known as 'aerial torpedoes' during World War I) everyone stops enjoying nature and their hike and starts feeling annoyed, vulnerable and uncomfortable.
2. It disturbs the wildlife
OK, you’re thinking, I’ll just go and fly my drone away from hikers in the wilderness then. But you’re not going to find a natural area free from wildlife, and your drone disturbs animals as well as people. The desire to get images of a grizzly bear or moose, or some other creature that you’d (hopefully) never get close to in real life is understandable, but you’re just pestering animals on the ground and birds in the air and stressing them out. As the Washington Trails Association points out, if you startle an animal with your drone, it may force them to expose themselves to a predator or leave their young unattended, while a bird could attempt to attack the drone. You could also disrupt important biological processes, such as breeding and nesting seasons, which could have a knock-on effect on the entire ecosystem. Leave the wildlife videography to David Attenborough’s crew, and if you really want to get your sights on a pronghorn or bald eagle, do it silently, with a pair of binoculars.
3. Someone else has already done it better than you
Speaking of David Attenborough, though you might be able to get some really cool wildlife footage using your drone on a hike, there’s always someone out there that’s already captured it better than you. Last year during the FIFA World Cup, I listened to a BBC presenter discussing the ironies of people flying halfway across the world to watch a live football match through the lens of their smartphones. Like everyone these days, these football fans were obsessed with recording all of their experiences, even when there were dozens of professionals on and around the football pitch capturing it far better than amateurs can. Sure, your aerial footage of Mount Everest might buy you some new followers on Instagram, but you know who else has already done that better than you? National Geographic. Maybe just let the professionals wow us with their amazing videography and you go ahead and enjoy nature with your eyes.
4. It’s too easy to lose your drone
Once you get off the beaten track, there’s a lot more opportunity for things to go wrong. If you’re flying your drone near treetops, in steep canyons, close to waterfalls or near wildfires, you might pretty easily lose your drone in the action. Not only do you end up heading back to the trailhead $300 poorer, but you’ve left a wreckage in the woods, which goes against the principles of Leave No Trace.
5. It can disrupt firefighting efforts
And speaking of wildfires and expensive mistakes – using your drone to capture footage of a wildfire is a terrible idea. Drones can cause safety concerns for firefighters, and may impede their efforts to fight a wildfire, which can be catastrophic for wildlife and humans. It’s not something to be taken lightly – in December 2020, a man was fined $10,000 for flying a drone recklessly over a National Park wildfire in Canada.
6. It may be illegal
While drone use might just be frowned upon in some locations, in other areas where you might want to mix hiking with droning, you could actually be breaking the law. For example, the National Parks Service banned the use of drones in all of their sites back in 2014. That means you can’t fly your drone in National Parks, National Monuments, National Recreation Areas, National Historic Sites, National Seashores or National Memorials, for starters, and failing to comply could cost you $5,000. They may be allowed on some National Forest and BLM Land, but after reading all of the above, why would you even bother? Put the drone down and go and walk quietly down the trail.
- Best hiking shoes: lightweight footwear for comfortable hiking
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Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.