There are people out there, thousands of miles away, who are worried about my dog’s feet. They found me on TikTok, a mobile app where I recently started posting short videos of myself hiking. And they’re worried that Juno’s feet are cold in the snow.
It’s a valid concern. It comes from a good place. Still, I was surprised.
“Why do you have snow boots and snow gear but your dog does not?” one TikTok commenter asked.
Many dogs aren’t well-suited for the cold, but Juno, a husky mix, loves wintertime in Maine. She regularly shows her enthusiasm by diving, head first, into piles of snow. And if I put booties on her feet, I don’t think she’d ever cuddle with me again.
It can be especially challenging to train your dog to wear booties. I used to work at a sports store that sold dog booties. They were often returned.
When hiking with Juno, I monitor her closely for any signs of discomfort, such as shivering and holding her paws close to her body. My previous dog, a pit bull mix, became cold easily. Juno, I’ve learned, is different. She has a thicker coat. Besides, I only bring her out on mild winter days, up mountains I know she can easily handle.
I carry athletic tape on every hike, just in case Juno gets a cut on a paw pad. It hasn’t happened yet, but you never know. Plus I own Musher’s Secret, a protective wax for dog paws. But she rarely needs that.
I explained some of this in the comment section of the TikTok video. But at a certain point, you just have to let people have their opinions on social media. That’s how it works.
The experience got me thinking about my relationship with social media.
For years, social media has been a way for me to share my outdoor adventures and my writing as a journalist. And more recently, it has become a way for me to promote my tiny guiding business, Maine Nature Hikes.
It has also been a place for me to network and make friends. I’ve met so many wonderful people through the screen of a computer. It sounds strange, but it’s true. And I doubt I would have met many of them otherwise. Some live across the globe.
I chiefly post content on Facebook and Instagram (@mainenaturehikes), but I recently started reposting Instagram videos on TikTok as an experiment. With just a handful of followers, I wanted to see if my videos would reach anyone at all.
Thrown into the TikTok universe, my videos are receiving more views than I anticipated, and from the comments, the audience appears to be diverse.
“How do you keep from getting lost?” one TikTok user asked after watching one of my hiking videos.
I assume that person doesn’t do much hiking, so I explained about the blazes marking the trail, and I mentioned navigational tools such as my GPS device.
“What are your favorite cold weather hiking pants? Do you layer pants?” another TikToker asked.
She seemed to be gearing up for a winter hike, so I told her about my favorite merino wool long johns.
Increasingly, social media platforms have become places for people to gather information. I enjoy being a resource for people. But how much time should I spend sharing information on social media? Am I obligated to? Should I be offering safety tips or disclaimers with all of my posts?
These are some of the questions I’ve been asking myself lately.
Some people are concerned that posts about beautiful outdoor destinations — whether videos or photos — will inspire people to tackle activities that they aren’t prepared for, such as winter hiking, ice climbing or backcountry skiing. I understand that worry. However, I also think that people should assume responsibility for themselves. Once inspired, they need to take the next steps: research, plan, prepare.
I do think it’s important to share messages about outdoor safety and etiquette on social media. But I don’t think every post requires a spiel about safety.
I’ve also read articles about how sharing outdoor destinations on social media could cause overcrowding and damage to natural resources. So I’ve done some thinking about that, too, and I’ve decided to address the issue on a case by case — or post by post — basis.
For example, I recently photographed a group of river otters playing in a pond. I posted the photos on Instagram and Facebook, but I didn’t name the pond. I didn’t want too many people showing up and disturbing them while they fished.
But usually, when I’m on established hiking trails that are open to the public, I post the location. So far, I don’t see the harm in it. And I enjoy sharing information so that other people can go and have their own adventures.
Lastly, I’ve had a few people express concerns about my safety after seeing photos and videos of me hiking solo on snowy, icy mountains this winter. Like a petulant teenager, my first reaction is to be frustrated (“OK, Mom”). But after some reflection, I’ve realized that it’s perfectly reasonable and kind for people to express worry. Outdoor exploration does come with risks.
So as you can see, I’ve been doing some thinking. And honestly, when it comes to social media, that’s the key: to think. Think before you post. And if someone has an opinion or question, think before answering.
If you’re tired of thinking, step away from social media for a while. Go outside. Experience a slice of beauty without taking any photos. Let it live in your memory, not on the internet.
This is what I tell myself. I hope it helps you, too.