Saturday, June 15, 2013

10 Rules of Trail Etiquette

Despite the image that the various anti-access faux-environmentalist groups project, we four wheelers are very considerate, nature-loving people.  We build our 4x4s to get us deeper into the backcountry than the "Average Joe" can get.  We are hikers, fishermen, campers, hunters, skiers, and all-around outdoorsmen.  We take care of our natural resources by staying on marked trails, cleaning up after ourselves, and being courteous to others.

Preserving the public's access to public lands requires that every outdoorsman follow a few simple rules of trail etiquette.  These rules are all common sense, but it helps to see how this applies specifically to our own particular form of outdoors recreation.

1.  Be considerate.  That’s the overriding principle here, and it deserves special mention.  Remember that everyone else you encounter on the trail is an outdoorsman just like you.  No matter what form of recreation they're partaking in, they have more in common with you than not.  Help make their backcountry experience a positive one by showing them courtesy and respect.

2.  Yield the right of way to mountain bikes, horses and hikers.  They can’t compete with a two-ton vehicle.  Slow down as you approach them, and give them space; horses are easily spooked and can throw their rider, so pull to the side of the trail and shut off your engine to allow equestrians to pass.  Avoid kicking up unnecessary dust, honking your horn, or other intrusive actions, no matter who you encounter.  Want to really make an impression?  Offer a bottle of water, advice on trail conditions up ahead, or a helping hand if needed.  You’ll make a good impression and you’ll help improve our image.

3.  Yield to a vehicle driving uphill.  That vehicle may need some momentum to climb.  If you force him to stop, he may need to back up to gain that momentum, and backing down a tough obstacle or steep climb can be dangerous due to limited visibility.

4.  Keep track of the vehicle behind you.  If you come to an intersection or a curve, make sure the vehicle behind you sees which way you went.  Don’t assume he did.  He might be in a dust cloud or behind a bush or boulder.

The following vehicles should also try to keep up with the group.  However, that could involve eating a lot of dust, and that’s no fun.  If you go through something difficult, look back and make sure the vehicle behind you made it.  In larger groups or in a maze of trails, it's very easy for someone to take the wrong fork in the road if they're left behind.

5.  Closely observe the vehicle ahead of you. This will help you pick the proper line(s) for negotiating a rough spot.  It also means keeping the proper distance back.  If you're too close, you will find yourself in a dust cloud or in danger of getting hit if the 4x4 ahead of you rolls back.  Consider the ability to see their rear differential to be an absolute minimum following distance.

Where there are multiple obstacles, drop back farther to get a better perspective. This will also give you more time to think through your strategy.

6.  When stopped, pull completely off the trail. You may not be the only person on the trails. Someone could overtake you or come at you from the other direction. When you pull off, pick a spot where you won't be trampling vegetation.  And don't park on tall, dry grass because your hot exhaust system could start a fire.

7.  Don’t throw cigarette butts out the window. Not only is that littering, but it is a major fire hazard.  Many fires are started every year by discarded cigarette butts.  Don’t be a butthead!  Dispose of them properly or you could ruin a backcountry paradise for decades to come!

8.  Boys left, girls right.  Need to stop for a pee call?  This little ditty is a reminder of which direction everyone goes.

Have numerous vehicles and no cover?  Use a “dispersed” arrangement.  The last vehicle stops.  Everyone keeps driving until the 2nd to last vehicle feels it’s far enough from the last vehicle.  He stops and notifies the group.  The process continues until everyone feels they are far enough away.  How spread out you get depends on terrain features.

9.  Let other campers sleep.  Don’t gab loudly, slam car doors, or run your vehicle's engine before 8:00am or after 10:00pm.  Keep your noisy dogs and excited children under control.

10.  No music or other artificial noise makers in camp.  You’re out in the country to experience Mother Nature, right? You shouldn’t spoil the setting with music.  Most other people aren't going to want to listen to your tunes.

The exception is if someone brings along a guitar, harmonica, or banjo.  One of the classic ways to enjoy a campfire is with a sing-along - as long as you aren't disturbing other groups of people by doing so.


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