Navigating the Trails: A Guide to Trail Etiquette
Whether you’re new to off-road adventuring or you’ve been riding shotgun since the day you were born, knowing how to act on the trails is knowledge that every rider should have. We know that not everyone will abide by or even agree with what’s outlined below, but at least we can say we tried. Here’s our list of 10 things you need to know before getting behind the wheel and heading for the trails.
1. Stay on Designated Trails…
Let's kick things off with a golden rule: stick to the marked trails. These trails are there for a reason - to protect the environment and keep everyone safe. Off-roading in undesignated areas can cause irreversible damage to the ecosystem and wildlife, not to mention the potential danger to you and others. Venturing off the designated trails isn’t worth the risk for a number of reasons, and honestly, shouldn’t even be up for discussion but just in case you’re ever tempted, remember that not all states require drivers to register their SxS or have insurance, medical costs add up quickly if you require those services, and let’s not even get into the bill you could get if you end up in a spot where an emergency wilderness rescue team needs to be deployed. This leads nicely to our next point.
2…and Know Whose Land You’re On
Are you trespassing? Are you sure? What about BLM land versus national parks? State parks versus state forests? It’s important to know whose land you’re on. Trespassing is a quick way to wind up in legal trouble, or worse. When it comes to public land, that can be really important, too. The rules change (speeds allowed, kinds of vehicles allowed, etc.). Riding on the wrong trails, at the wrong speeds, with the wrong set-up could result in anything from a ticket or fine, to having your rig impounded, and in some cases, you could find yourself behind bars. In the desert, for example, there’s all kinds of protected land that’s used by the military. Running across the feds because you weren’t paying attention and found yourself on an Air Force practice range is not only scary (we’ve heard…), but it’s a quick way to ruin a great trip.
Know where you’re headed, and don’t be afraid to use an app like OnX to manage your maps, and make sure you’re allowed to be wherever you are. We all know someone who’s notorious for “I ride here all the time, it’s fine!” If the signs say no, then don’t go.
3.Respect the Right of Way (aka Wait Your Turn)
Just like on the road, the off-road trails have rules about who gets the right of way. Generally, the vehicle heading uphill has the right of way over those heading downhill. Sometimes this will change when people are waiting for their group to catch up, or taking a break, and they’ll let you know. Don’t assume that’s happening, though - yielding to other drivers will help prevent accidents and keep the trail flowing smoothly, especially during peak riding seasons.
4. Know Your Hand Signs
Responsibly traveling off-road means traveling in groups. When you come across another rig - truck, bike, or otherwise, you can expect there to be more people behind them. The first one in the group will probably wave to get your attention, and then hold up fingers to tell you how many people are in his group. 3 fingers? 3 total rigs. The last one in a group will likely hold up a fist to tell you he’s the last one. Maybe he wants a fist bump, though! Either way, knowing how to communicate with other riders is essential to keeping everyone safe on the trails.
5. Keep Your Speed in Check
Yes, side-by-sides are built for speed and excitement, but that doesn't mean you should treat every trail like a racetrack. Ever notice what happens when someone drives their sportscar 100 mi/hr in a 50 mi/hr zone? Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. You should have a route mapped out before you go, and be sure to check your speed limits. Like roads, different trails are set for different speeds and few are posted. In some areas, they’re heavily enforced too. Going too fast not only increases the risk of accidents but also kicks up a ton of unnecessary dust that can hinder visibility for other drivers. Save the stunt driving for the track.
6. Mind Your Dust
Speaking of dust, this is a big one! When you're tearing up the trail, it's easy to create a cloud of dust that can limit visibility for you and fellow drivers. Always reduce your speed when passing others and consider installing dust screens if your ride doesn't have them already. On the same note - don’t run up the back of the SxS in front of you. It limits stopping time and maneuverability, chokes your air filter out, and forces you to breathe that dust in. All around a bad time, 10/10 do not recommend.
7.Leave it Better than you Found It
This one's pretty simple: whatever you bring onto the trail, take it back with you. Leave no trace behind. This includes parts, clothing items, food wrappers, bottles, cans, and trash in general. While you’re cleaning up your camp, take out any other trash you might happen across. Keep the habitats and trails clean for everyone to enjoy.
8. Respect Nature and Wildlife
Remember, you're a guest in the wilderness. Keep noise levels down, and avoid disturbing wildlife. Stick to the trails to minimize your impact on their habitats, and never approach or feed animals. Staying on the trail is really important, on this point, too - especially if you’re in the desert, versus the woods. Off-trail “scarring” is a real problem - it can take centuries to resolve (seriously - there are scars in the Mojave from the westward bound wagon trains).
One of the biggest issues facing off-roaders, but especially side-by-side owners, is legislation around trail accessibility and public land. Tearing up trails, leaving trash, and generally being a menace is a great way to give ammo to the people who don’t want you to enjoy your public land. All it takes is a few…bad apples…to ruin it for everyone so do your part to help offset the negatives.
9. Be Prepared
Off-roading can be unpredictable. Mechanical issues or sudden weather changes can throw a wrench in your plans. Always carry basic tools, a first aid kit, and enough supplies to last at least a day or two in case you get stranded.
10.DO NOT STOP ON THE TRAIL!
We thought about calling this tip “Use Turnouts to Stop” but it’s too important to risk any miscommunication. We cannot stress this enough, If you need to make a stop, pull over in designated turnouts or wider sections of the trail. Coming to a halt on the trail and blocking the path for other drivers can not only cause congestion, it can also be incredibly dangerous for everyone involved. It’s really simple if you think about it, if someone just slams on their breaks and parks their car on the road, it affects everyone around them, right? Do this around a corner, or over a hill? You’re just asking for a collision. In the unfortunate event your rig gives up mid-ride, work quickly to move it off the path and have a member of your crew go back and keep an eye on the trail to communicate with any other drivers what’s happening up ahead in order to keep everyone safe until the issue is resolved.
No matter what side-by-side you decide is right for your adventures, we’ve got the experience you need to get on the trails and real ways to make your SxS even better. Keeping your rig functional and looking great shouldn’t get in the way of a good time. If you’re looking for advice, need help with an install, or just don’t know what parts you might want to check out next, CA Tech has the experts on hand with the info you need. Give us a call at 423-790-0230 or shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org - we got you!