HerJeepLife’s Trail Etiquette Basics for Off-Roading

When it comes to off-roading escapades in your Jeep, it’s easy to envision yourself behind the wheel, blazing down the trails with your hair blowing in the wind. It’s a well-known fact that conquering insurmountable obstacles and plowing through swamp-like terrain and mud holes is the fastest way to a dirty Jeep girl’s heart, after all.

Although this may be a fairly common notion of what off-roading adventures are all about, the reality is often quite a bit tamer with slower, more respectful, and enjoyable journeys through lush natural landscapes.

If you are thinking about heading out on an organized trail ride, exploring off-the-beaten-path routes with friends, or are wanting to take your newly modified Jeep out for an inaugural run, here is what you need to know about trail etiquette.

Slow Down, Be Considerate, and Stay on the Trail!

When it comes to the trail, and in keeping with the Tread Lightly! principles, make sure to always go over, or through any obstacles, you encounter such as mud and rocks or remove them from the path. You never want to create a new path around a mud hole or a fallen tree, as doing so can create major devastation for the local wildlife and fauna in the area. Blazing your own trail will only result in destruction, erosion, and fewer opportunities for you to revisit some of your favorite off-road haunts.

Next, make sure you aren’t a lead-foot driver on the trail. Your Jeep is built to take a beating, but you’ll prolong its shelf life if you take it nice and easy over bumps and obstacles. Slowing down on the trails also ensures you have enough time to spot wildlife, hikers, broken down or stuck vehicles in your convoy, and oncoming vehicles while having plenty of time to react. Lastly, slowing down keeps the dust in the air to a minimum, affording you better visibility for all those things we just mentioned along with an overall ability to safely navigate the trail.

If you encounter other off-roaders, hikers, people on horseback, or wildlife, turn down your radio, quiet down the engine, and be respectful and considerate in sharing the trail.

Understand Who Has Right-of-Way to Avoid Dangerous Situations!

It is important to remember that all vehicles which are heading in an up-hill direction have the right-of-way as they often need their forward momentum to get up the incline. This may mean that you have to back up until you find a spot where you can pull over and let them pass you. This does not mean that it is okay to blaze a new trail and it does not mean that if the trail is a one-way, that you continue on. An easy way to deal with this is to have a spotter set up to ensure that the trail is clear for you and as a way to warn oncoming vehicles of your descent.

Garbage: Pack It In, Pack It Out. (Yours and Any You Come Across)

Bring along a trash bag so that you can pack out more than what you bring with you. This is called packing in and packing out, where you stop to pick up any garbage that you see along the trail and take it with you when you leave.

This means that all the garbage that comes from your snacks, your water, and any of your accessories or pets must also go with you. This also means that if you choose to head out into no man’s land to do some shooting, make sure to pack out your expended brass casings or shotgun shells.

A popular item to assist with “Pack it In, Pack It Out” is the Trasharoo Spare Tire Trash Bag. The bag is a great way to keep stinky trash out of the Jeep. It’s durable and looks pretty cool attached to the spare tire too. The Trasharoo isn’t just for trash though. It can be used for the beach and other adventures also. The bag is a great place to hold wet clothes, towels, and shoes.

Official description of the Trasharoo Spare Tire Trash Bag: You can haul away all the trash you accumulate in a weekend and maybe even make the trails a little cleaner as you go. The bag is made from high quality 900 denier canvas with wide buckles and a heavy-duty attachment to your existing external spare tire. Its large capacity carries up to 50 lbs of weight and fits a standard 30-gallon trash bag for ease of dumping. The Spare Tire Trash Bag is treated with a water-resistant interior coating and has drainage holes at the bottom for unexpected leaks.

(photo: Amazon/Trasharoo)

The three points above are the most critical aspects of off-road trail etiquette, but there are some other common tips to keep in mind. These include the following:

  • Know the trail that you are heading to and make sure you are authorized to wheel there. You’ll also need to find out if there are any permits, rules, and fees required. Further, you need to know whether the trail is open to your Jeep (some trails are only open to small vehicles such as ATVs). Lastly, make sure you read any, and all signs posted as these will have valuable information on them such as modes of transportation permitted and levels of difficulty.
  • While maintaining a decent interval (the space between vehicles), keep checking on both the vehicle behind you and the one in front of you. You don’t want just to assume that the Jeep behind you has made it through the last obstacle because they may be stuck or have gotten caught in a dust cloud and missed a turn.

For the vehicle in front of you, watching them navigate an obstacle can help you choose your own line when it’s your turn.  Remember to keep a little distance between your Jeep and it so you have some reaction time while driving – if they are on a steep incline, they could roll or slide back into you. Be sure to wait for the vehicle in front of you to clear an obstacle completely before proceeding.

  • Make sure to let yourself be known to other vehicles outside of your group. It is common practice to tell others how many vehicles are in your group and to indicate if you are the last vehicle in line.
  • If you take more than half an hour to get over or through an obstacle, call it. There is nothing wrong with getting help through it if you cannot make it on your own. You might get a little ribbing from your friends, but it’s better than trashing your Jeep or unnecessarily injuring yourself or someone else.
  • Do not let others pressure you into making a trail run that is uncomfortable. You are the driver of your Jeep. If you’re not comfortable attempting an obstacle, don’t. You can try again later after you’ve gained a little more experience.
  • Stop to help others and do not leave anyone stranded. There will be times when professional recovery trucks will have to be brought in, but in most situations, the right recovery gear can get most vehicles unstuck. If you have to send someone for help, make sure the driver left behind has food, water, and a means of communication.
  • Lastly, NEVER WHEEL ALONE. Although this is listed last, it is the cardinal rule in off-roading. Going it alone on the trails only sets you up for failure. You might make it out on your own a few times, but at some point, you will get stuck or lost without cell signal, and no one will be there to help. Going it alone only increases your chance of injury or death.

By following the above trail etiquette tips, you will be able to keep the entire adventure enjoyable for everyone involved and ensure that you preserve the trail for future use. Off-roading can be dangerous, but it should never be reckless. Have fun out there with your Jeep but stay safe while you’re at it.