Trail Etiquette

There comes a point in everyone’s life when that trail ride just doesn’t turn out to be the kind of fun you expected.  It could be due to a difficult mechanical failure, a personality rub with another driver, bad weather, or a vehicle/driver that was not capable of completing the trail without constant assistance.  You can’t do much about the weather and even a well maintained vehicle can have an unexpected mechanical failure, especially when wheeling in extreme conditions.  However, under equipped vehicles (or drivers) and personality rubs can many times be avoided with some well thought out planning and by demonstrating simple trail manners.  I’ve listed some comments and ideas that I believe will make all of us better off-roaders, be it drivers or trail leaders. 



1.  First and foremost, be courteous to the other folks you are sharing the trail with.  That goes for the folks that are in your group as well as others you find on the trail.  All of us that enjoy off-highway travel, the Jeepers, ATVers, mountain bikers, motorcycles, hunters, campers, and hikers….we all need to share the trails and foster good will with each other.  

2.  When traveling on the trail, be sure to keep the driver behind you in sight.  By doing so, the driver will know which turn you took and you will know if he/she is experiencing any trouble.  When everyone in the group follows this procedure, the trail leader will know if he/she is going at the proper pace.  Some folks refer to this as the “rubber band” method.  The group stretches out in the open areas and tightens back up in the twisty and turny parts of the trail.

3.  Be prepared with the minimum items you need for a successful run.  Some of these items depend on the terrain you are traveling in and the capability of your vehicle.  I would not think of hitting the trail without a properly maintained nylon yank (also called a snatch) strap and adequate tow points (shackles or hooks) on both ends of the vehicle.   Make sure you do not get the straps that have the hooks on the ends.  Your strap should have a loop at each end.  Keep it in a handy position inside the vehicle.  Waiting for someone to unpack their Jeep to get to the strap is a simply a waste of good trail time.  Worse yet is waiting for someone else to unpack their Jeep so they can get out their strap and pull YOU out of the stuck situation!  Shame on you! 

4.  Maintaining communications while on the trail keeps everyone informed as to what is happening.  If you need to stop, announce it on the CB or FRS.  Take advantage of the opportunities when the group does stop (nature break, getting something cold to drink, etc.).  Keeping everyone informed makes for an enjoyable ride.

5.  This is one I hate to see happen…running over the tow strap or the winch cable.  Make sure that when someone is giving you a strap up the hill, or a winch pull over that obstacle, you don’t overdrive the strap or cable.   I once came upon a 1/2 ton Chevy 4×4 who was unable to make it over a ledge.  He kept hi-centering himself.  I pulled him off the ledge and got him off to the side of the trail.  After I went up and over the ledge, I strapped him over the ledge after he hi-centered  again.  As he was wildly spinning his open diff front tires, he got on top of MY strap and proceeded to put a nice set of friction burns on it, in several spots. (He really blew #3.)

6.  Make sure your Jeep is ready for the trail.  If you noticed that your u-joint is wobbling around, do yourself and your friends a favor and replace it before you go on the trail.  Get familiar with the bottom side of your vehicle and spend a few minutes well before and shortly after each run under the Jeep.  Check your fluids (engine, tranny, diffs, t-case, radiator, battery, brake, etc.) at home and always carry extra fluids.  I am not saying you need to bring along a complete change for everything, but if everyone brings a couple of quarts of engine oil, a quart of ATF, a quart of gear lube, etc., no one should be left on the trail because of a lack of fluids assuming one can get the broken item to stop leaking.  


Trail Leader:

1.  The trail leader needs to have a short drivers meeting right after everyone is aired down, disconnected, etc. I believe that the leader, at this time, sets the “tone”  for the ride and helps ensure that everyone starts out on an even playing field. This meeting format is a carry over from my job at the nuclear power plant (and also done in other industrial settings as well), called a tail board meeting. The participants (workers, drivers, makes no difference) are briefed on what to expect, and “rules” you like to adhere to (the rubber band concept for instance), and comments on what to expect, when to expect it, etc. 

2.  Encourage responsible use of the CB…. “I need to pull over for a rest stop”, etc. Communications is vital in a trail ride. Not knowing what is going on is frustrating to everyone.  I personally like the newer FRS radios.  These handheld FM radios have much better clarity than the AM type CB radios.  They are not prone to ignition noise interference and when the “skip” is in on the CB radios, FRS radios are never bothered by it.  If you have a favorite trail buddy who loves to constantly chatter, I would strongly recommend getting a pair of FRS radios.  You and your friend can talk up a storm while leaving the CB channel available for the more formal (OK….maybe it is not that serious) communications.

3.  I personally like to stagger the stock and built up Jeeps. It makes it easier to supply assistance (such as a strap or winch effort) to the vehicle behind you. A couple of times, significant shuffling had to be done to get a more capable Jeep back to a troublesome spot in the trail to provide assistance to another vehicle. By staggering them, you should never have to shuffle but one position in the line up, unless a winch is required and there is but one lucky vehicle in the group.

4.  Another point I think is helpful, trail permitting, is for the leader to stop at a bypass for an upcoming obstacle, when possible. Many times, the bypass turn off is quite close to the obstacle. At this point, folks can walk up to the obstacle, check it out, and make their decision, examine possible lines, etc. If they have no intention of doing the obstacle, they can take the bypass and NOT have to shuffle their way back through the group to get to the turn off.

5.  Although I often times forget, I try to remember to bring my spare CB (it is a handheld unit with a cig lighter power cord). One of the other folks mentioned the possibility of a CB failure on the trail, and this is an easy piece of insurance that negates the failure. (The other guy will thank you for it!)  I do keep a pair of FRS handheld radios in the center console.  These have come in handy on many occasions for those folks that have not yet gotten a CB.  Granted, they can’t hear the conversations on the CB, but they can stay in touch with my vehicle and so can be kept aware of what is going on.