Just as you must follow the laws of the road, you also need to follow off-roading etiquette to keep this sport fun for everyone. These guidelines keep people safe and help to preserve the environment you love exploring.
Be a responsible member of the off-roading community. Read everything you need to know about off-road trail etiquette.
1. Yield to Hikers, Mountain Bikers, and Horseback Riders
When you’re on multi-use trails, yield to hikers, mountain bikers, and horseback riders. Give a friendly wave to acknowledge you see them and don’t intend to rush by them. Allow these groups of people room to pass you.
Be especially cautious around horses. It’s best to pull over to the side and shut off your engine to avoid spooking the horse. You can then talk to the rider about what to do next.
If you drive past a hiker, biker, or rider, make sure they are aware of you first. Check that there’s enough space for your Jeep before driving slowly to avoid any accidents. Driving slowly will also help you avoid throwing debris on these fellow explorers.
2. Don’t Tailgate
While you probably think of tailgating as a problem on city streets, it can be a problem on trails, too. Just as with most driving, tailgating creates unsafe conditions where neither driver has enough space to react safely to each other and driving conditions.
Tailgating creates additional hazards on the trail. If you’re following too closely behind a vehicle, you could end up in their dust cloud and have limited visibility. Similarly, tailgating too closely behind a vehicle moving uphill can put you in danger if it slides back or rolls over.
3. Know Your Surroundings and Your Jeep
Always be aware of your surroundings. This will help you avoid obstacles and potential hazards. Before you head out, research the trail and weather conditions so you can prepare for the ride.
Once on the trail, stay alert to the environment. This means watching closely from your vehicle, but it can also mean getting out of your vehicle periodically to inspect the terrain. Knowing the environment can help you determine what routes you can take and if you need to modify your vehicle to make it through.
You should also know your Jeep’s dimensions so that you can tell if it can’t physically fit into spaces. And knowing your undercarriage clearance will help you make decisions about driving over obstacles in your path. For example, if something is too large to drive over, drive around it. But if you can drive over it, that’s the best thing to do to avoid widening the trail.
4. Stay on Marked Trails
Always stay on marked trails and obey all posted signs. This keeps you from damaging sensitive environments or harming wildlife. It also makes it less likely for you to get lost.
Off-roading outside of designated areas on public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management violates regulations. It’s important to remember that even if you see someone else breaking the rules, you shouldn’t follow along.
Access public lands by county roads or highways. If you drive through private property, you have to obtain the owner’s permission first. And if you select a campsite in the countryside, you can only drive your Jeep within 300 feet of an existing road or trail. After that, you’ll have to get out of your vehicle to reach the site or set it up.
5. Leave No Trash Behind
Being considerate of others is key to everything you need to know about off-road trail etiquette. Whatever you bring on the trail needs to leave with you, too. To limit the buildup of waste, choose reusable containers and bottles, and pack your own snacks.
Bring a trash bag for trash you accumulate, such as food wrappers or bottles. Even biodegradable materials, like organic food waste, can take a long time to decompose. And food left near a trail can attract wildlife.
6. Help Others Out
Be ready and willing to help other trail users. This could be anything from giving someone a hand getting unstuck to giving directions on the trail. If you see someone stopped, ask if they need help.
Having the right equipment often plays a key role in allowing you to aid someone else. And often, such equipment is something you should have on hand for yourself, too. For example, a winch on your vehicle can help others pull you out of a tough spot—and vice-versa.
7. Let Others Know How Many Vehicles Are Behind You
As a safety precaution, you shouldn’t off-road alone. Having companions in another vehicle can help keep an inconvenience from becoming truly dangerous. If your vehicle gets damaged or experiences mechanical issues, you can rely on the second vehicle. Or, if one vehicle gets stuck in a tough spot, the other can also help.
If you’re the driver in the first vehicle in your group, let other off-roaders know how many vehicles are behind you. You can do this by sticking your hand out the window and holding up fingers to correspond to the number of following vehicles. If you’re the last vehicle in the group, raise your fist as you pass to let others know you’re the end of the line.
Doing this is a step in helping other drivers know the environment and what to expect. It’s especially helpful in areas of limited visibility.
8. Watch Your Group
If you’re traveling with a group of vehicles, periodically check the vehicle behind you to avoid losing anyone. If you lose sight of someone, slow down until you see them again. Make sure you can also see the vehicle in front of you.
If you start falling behind or need to stop completely, radio the rest of your group to let them know. No one should ever get lost.
9. Yield To Uphill Traffic
When you’re heading downhill, yield to those who are going uphill. It’s much harder to climb a hill than it is to descend, so give them the right of way. Also, a vehicle moving upward has a much harder time continuing that trajectory if its momentum is interrupted.
Backing up is hard, whether you’re going down a hill or up a hill. In cases like this, the best thing to do might be to have a scout travel on foot to check if the trail is clear and warn other vehicles. Doing this might help you avoid having to yield to another vehicle on an incline.
10. Don’t Stop on the Trail
If you ever need to come to a complete stop, pull off the trail, preferably in an area where other vehicles have previously stopped. Avoid parking on tall, dry grass to lower the likelihood of your vehicle starting a fire.
Never park at a blind corner or curve. Others can’t tell you are there and won’t expect you when they come around the bend. This leaves you in a vulnerable position for a collision.
Keeping your momentum while you drive in mud will also help prevent you from getting completely stuck. Instead of stopping, drive slowly, but make sure to keep moving.
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