Just because you forgo the road, that doesn’t mean you can drive however you want. When off-roading, there are a few unspoken rules of the trail that everyone should follow. Taking notice of these rules is essential for your safety, as well as the safety of other drivers, while out on the trail. Plus, keeping these rules in mind will help you avoid damaging the environment or incurring costly fines. Below, we will discuss some of the most important off-roading trail etiquette guidelines to follow.
Give vehicles going uphill the right of way
If you meet another vehicle going uphill while you’re going downhill, you should always back up or pull over and give the uphill vehicle the right of way. When going uphill, vehicles often need some momentum to climb. By forcing the uphill vehicle to stop and let you pass by, they may lose that momentum and need to roll backward down the hill—a difficult and potentially dangerous task.
Yield to mountain bikers, hikers, and horses
Speaking of who should get the right of way on the trails, you should always yield to mountain bikers, hikers, and horses. Such groups are no match for your 4,000+ pound Jeep Wrangler. When encountering them on the trails, make sure to slow down to avoid dusting them, and give them plenty of room to pass.
When you encounter saddled horses, you should take extra caution. Pull off onto the side of the road and shut off your engine to avoid spooking them with loud noises or sudden movements.
Keep your distance
There is no place for tailgating on the trails. When off-roading, avoid getting too close to the other vehicles around you. If you get too close to the vehicle in front of you, you could end up in a dust cloud, which makes it difficult to see. As a rule, if you can’t see the rear differential on the vehicle in front of you, you’ve gotten too close.
When tackling tough obstacles or climbing steep hills, give the vehicle in front of you even more room. You don’t want to get caught right behind a vehicle if it loses traction or rolls over.
Stay on marked trails
One of the most important off-roading trail etiquette guidelines to follow is to stay on marked trails. By blazing your own trail, you risk getting lost or harming your vehicle if you encounter dangerous obstacles.
Staying on marked trails isn’t just crucial for your own safety; it is also important for preserving the land. Off-roading is all about enjoying nature, not destroying it. Ripping across the land in a huge vehicle can do a lot of damage to vegetation and any animals that get caught under your tires. Driving outside of marked trails could also cause ruts to form in the land, which can deepen and result in erosion.
Still not convinced that you need to stick to marked trails? Maybe the hefty fine from law enforcement will deter you. According to the National Park Service, off-roading outside of designated areas violates the Title 36 of the Code of Federal Regulations, which can land you with a maximum fine of $5,000 and up to six months in prison. If you end up killing or injuring a protected animal in the process, such fines and potential jail time increase exponentially.
Never stop or park on the trail
One of the few times you should leave established trails when off-roading is when you need to stop. If you choose to stop but stay on the trail, another off-roader might overtake your vehicle, which may result in a dangerous collision—especially if you stop on a blind curve. As such, you should pull completely off the trail whenever you need to stop or park. When looking for a place to pull off, try to find an area that has already been disturbed, and avoid parking on tall, dry grass.
Check to make sure your vehicle is welcome
Not all off-roading trails are suitable for Jeeps. While the trail may be open to ATVs or motorcycles, they could be too narrow for larger vehicles. To avoid damaging the trail or your vehicle, do your research to make sure that the trail is open to Jeeps as well.
Let people know how many vehicles are behind you
When driving with a group of other vehicles, it is common trail etiquette to let other off-roaders know how many vehicles are behind you. The first person in the procession can easily do so by sticking his or her hand out the window and holding up the number of fingers that corresponds to how many vehicles are driving behind. Such information is especially useful to know when driving on narrow trails or in areas with minimal visibility. If you’re the last vehicle in the group, simply raise your fist to let the other drivers know.
We don’t mean to spoil your fun, but it’s a good idea to slow down a bit when off-roading. Going too fast can cause a lot of destruction to the trails and increase your risk of getting into a collision with another driver.
After all, off-roading isn’t about going as fast as you can. It’s about enjoying the scenery and crawling over obstacles, which are typically slow and deliberate processes.
Pack it in, pack it out
This rule probably goes without saying, but you should never litter when off-roading. If you pack something in, you must pack it out. As such, carry a trash bag with you to store any trash you accumulate or find while out on the trail.
While littering of any kind goes against off-roading trail etiquette, you should especially avoid tossing cigarette butts out the window. While they may seem small and insignificant, cigarette butts are one of the leading causes of wildfires and can cause massive amounts of damage.
Now that you’re familiar with off-roading trail etiquette guidelines, it’s time to prepare your vehicle for an incredible off-roading adventure. In other words, let’s get that hardtop off. At Top Lift Pros, we offer an innovative Jeep hardtop stand and removal tool that allows you to take your hardtop off in two minutes or less all on your own. To start enjoying the fresh breezes while off-roading without the hassle that often comes with removing your hardtop, order a Jeep hardtop system from Top Lift Pros today.