Welcome to Trail Etiquette 101
There are some simple rules of 4x4 Overlanding that some of you may know and some may not. First off, If an obstacle is too hard that means “Turn Around” not “Go Around.” Going around is destructive to the land. This goes for a downed tree as well, if you can’t chop it your day is done here. Impassable snow drift? U-Turn. Treading lightly means leaving as little impact on the environment as possible, this includes not littering, trampling over vegetation, making new trails, and generally trying to leave it better than you found it.
Know Before You Go
Be sure to have a plan in place if things go south. It’s best to have a good understanding of the land, a map source (digital and physical), and check the weather. Lightning on a mountain top can be deadly and a snowstorm rolling in can be even worse. Know before you go!
Read all signs as you pass, although a trail may look wide enough for your vehicle it may not be permitted. There might also be valuable information about what’s up ahead including difficult areas but also natural features you may want to visit.
Don’t worry if you come across an unexpected gate. Lots of public land is leased to farmers who use the space for grazing. If the gate doesn’t have a lock or any signage prohibiting it, you’re probably clear to pass but doing your research will give a definite answer. Sometimes they allow the animals to use two or more spaces and a gate may be open, the rule of thumb is leave the gate how you found it.
Do I Have The Right Of Way?
In your 4x4 vehicle you are last in line for yielding which makes sense since we are the slowest and biggest on the trail. That means get out of the way for dirt bikes and Side by Sides (SxS) behind you, pull over for horses or hikers etc. When dealing with other Offroad vehicles typically uphill has the right of way but a little common sense goes a long way.
If you are just about to start uphill and have a great turn out about a car length behind you, take it for the guy coming down hill. If someone just came off a big ledge and you meet each other they shouldn’t be expected to reverse. Communicate. We’re people, we can figure this out even on a dangerous shelf road. Get out and have a chat if you have to, everything is situational. If you’ve encountered a group of 8 rigs and you’re alone it’s obviously going to be easier for you to yield than finding parking for the 8 in their party.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come around a corner and met another person with sheer panic on their face at the situation. Take a deep breath and calm down, it's ok to not feel comfortable backing up. Communication is key and 90% of the time I’ll do it, everything is going to work out as long as everyone remains calm. Accidents happen with knee-jerk reactions, swerving off the shoulder and getting stuck is not what we’re trying to do. We’re here to relax in nature and solve off-road puzzles.
How Many In Your Party?
If you have 2-3 friends behind you and they’re not immediately visible it’s good to let people know when passing. I always roll down my window and talk to people but if they’re flying by on dirt bikes or something hold your hand out with the number of people behind you. If you hold out a 2 (peace sign) your next buddy should hold up 1 finger (pointer is preferred) and the last friend will hold up a fist signaling that your party is closed out.
Everyone hates getting dusted out, if you’re passing a stopped vehicle don’t goose it as you go by. Dust is annoying and shooting rocks into paint or someones windshield is even more so. Use this same practice when passing campsites (No one likes dusty food). Once you start seeing brightly colored tents peeking through the trees, slow down, you’ll be happy to receive the same courtesy while you’re at camp.
As you can see Trail Etiquette is a lot like all etiquette, just be a decent person and respect those around you. Everyone is out here doing (basically) the same thing and we can easily enjoy it together if people follow these rules. We have such a great opportunity to enjoy these places take care of the land since new trails never open, and old ones close due to either litter or going off-trail. There are thousands of miles of trails that we get to access for free, let’s keep it that way! Stay on trail, pack it out, be nice, that is all.