Trail Tips: 10 Rules of Trail Etiquette

Jun. 17, 2013 By Tom Severin

Despite what some people think, we four-wheelers are very considerate when off road. We stay on marked trails, look out for others, obey the rules, and clean up after ourselves. Iím sure you are a responsible driver. Even so, itís good to review trail etiquette from time to time.

Here are my top 10 rules of etiquette for four-wheeling and camping. Read this list carefully. Are any of these unfamiliar to you? Do you need to brush up on any principles?

1. Be considerate. Thatís the overriding principle here, and it deserves special mention. As you encounter othersówhether friends or strangersóremain considerate. Perhaps you donít feel like going out of your way for someone. At least avoid the temptation to be a four-wheel bully. Lord knows there are enough bullies in this world.

2. Yield right of way to mountain bikes, horses and hikers. They canít compete with a two-ton vehicle. Slow down as you approach them, and give them space. Avoid kicking up unnecessary dust, honking your horn, and such. Want to really make an impression? Offer a bottle of water, some gas, a wrench or a helping hand when needed. Youíll feel better, and youíll help improve our image.

3. Yield to a vehicle driving uphill. That vehicle may need some momentum to climb. If we force him to stop, he may need to back up to gain that momentum.

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4. Keep track of the vehicle behind you. If you come to an intersection or a curve, make sure the vehicle behind you sees which way you went. Donít assume he/she did, as they might be in a dust cloud or behind a bush or boulder.

The other vehicle should try to keep up, too. However, that could involve eating a lot of dust; thatís no fun. If you go through something difficult, look back and make sure the other vehicle made it.

Keeping visibility of the vehicle in front, and behind, of you during your next trail ride will ensure no one gets lost.

5. Closely observe the vehicle ahead of you. This will help you pick the proper line(s) for negotiating a rough spot. It means keeping the proper distance back. Too close, and you could find yourself in a dust cloud. You also want to make sure the other vehicleís rear end isnít in your blind spot. Back off until you are at the proper distance. (The ability to see their rear differential is a good starting point.)

Where there are multiple obstacles, drop back farther to get a better perspective. This will also give you more time to think through your strategy.

When you pull over, make sure that other vehicles can safely pass your group on the trail.

6. When stopped, pull completely off the trail. You may not be the only person on the trails. Someone could overtake you or come at you from the other direction. When you pull off, pick a spot thatís already been disturbed. Try not to park on tall, dry grass. Your catalytic converter could start a fire.

7. Donít throw cigarette butts out the window. Not only is that littering, but it can be a fire hazard. Southern California suffers several fires every year caused by discarded cigarette butts. Donít be a butthead. Dispose of them properly!

8. Boys left, girls right. Need to stop for a pee call? This little ditty is a reminder of which direction everyone goes.

Have numerous vehicles and no cover? Use a ďdispersedĒ arrangement. The last vehicle stops. Everyone keeps driving until the 2nd to last vehicle feels itís far enough from the last vehicle. He stops and notifies the group. The process continues until everyone feels they are far enough away. How spread out you get depends on terrain features.

Sound travels in camp, so be mindful of the others in your group.

9. Be mindful of other campers. Donít slam car doors or run the vehicle engine before 7 am.

10. My Special Rule: No music in camp. Yep, no radios, no loud MP3 players, or other artificial noise makers. Look, youíre out in the country to experience nature. You donítóor shouldnítówant to spoil the setting with some music, would you? Besides, we donít all agree on our music choice.

Now, itís OK if someone brings along a guitar or banjo. What better way to enjoy a campfire than with a sing-along, right? For the most part, though, enjoy the sounds of Mother Nature. They are better than anything man can create.

This list may seem like a lot to digest, but the rules are based on common sense. Recommit to the principles of off-road driving, and you will become an even better, more responsible four wheeler.

Previous Trail Tip Stories
Build a Camping Gear Repair Kit

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Badlands Off-Road Adventure
Off-road trainer Tom Severin shares insight and tips on a variety of topics related to preparing you for that next off-road adventure. With over 40 years of off-road experience, Severin operates under his business Badlands Off-Road Adventures. He is a certified professional 4WD Trainer by the International 4-Wheel Drive Trainers Association and a Wilderness First Responder (WFR). He is a member of the California Association of Four Wheel Drive Clubs (CA4WDC), United Four Wheel Drive Associations and the BlueRibbon Coalition. He also is a certified UFWDA and a CA4WDC 4WD instructor.

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