Home Trail Etiquette, Off-Road Safety, and Land Use

Trail Etiquette, Off-Road Safety, and Land Use

Know before you go, plan ahead, be prepared for the worst and have a great time. Here are some basics about what to consider before heading off-road to find adventure!

The Basics:

  1. Be kind – Always.
  2. Yield to Motocross, horses, and hikers.
  3. Yield to uphill traffic.
  4. Keep distance to people in front of you – based on speed and technical trail.
  5. Keep people behind you in sight – and execute stop turns when necessary.
  6. Give plenty of room when yielding.
  7. Use hand signals – Number of fingers = number of rigs in your group. Fist = I’m the last one.
  8. Be quiet –  Before 7:00AM and after 10:00 PM

Common Sense Safety Steps While On the Trail

  • First things first. Don’t Drink and Drive. Save that adult beverage for the campfire. Seriously. Don’t even think about it on the trail, even your passengers. No open containers of alcohol in the vehicle. This goes for any substance that impairs your ability to drive.


  • Be aware of hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders on the trail! They have the right of way on multipurpose/use trails. Make sure to communicate clearly that you see them by slowing down, and leaving plenty of room when passing them. (Go slow. Nobody likes to get blasted with dust!) Give extra room and time for horses, and if in doubt, come to a complete stop and turn off your engine. Noises can spook horses. Ask the hiker/rider if they need more water, or if there’s any garbage you could pack out for them. Never hurts to check in!


  • If you run into someone on a hill, the vehicle traveling UPHILL has the right of way. Why? It’s a heckuva lot easier (and safer) to back uphill than to back downhill, and the person traveling up can lose control easily trying to go back down. Gravity is not on their side!


  • Be extra aware when stopping on a trail. Don’t stop on blind corners or inclines where your vehicle is not clearly in view to oncoming traffic. When in doubt, get out. Send someone on foot to make sure the path ahead is safe and has plenty of room for your crew to ascend/descend/continue onward.  


Land Use Basics

  • Be fully prepared to pack-out everything you pack-in AND MORE. We always ride with additional garbage bags and work gloves. Even if we can’t get all the trash in an area, we can help clear some of it. (Exterior mounted trash carriers are a great accessory to have on your vehicle.) If you come across an area needing substantial help and clearing, consider organizing a future trail run/clean up with other Overland Bound members in your area by creating a Trail Guardian Rally Point.


  • If you plan on doing any shooting, be prepared to pick up all your brass/shells/etc. Pick up more than you consumed if shooting in a well-used area. This makes a huge difference.


  • Familiarize yourself with Tread Lightly & Leave No Trace principles.


  • Stay on the designated path, and don’t drive your vehicle out wider than the trail is marked. Be alert to your surroundings and the terrain/vegetation you’re traversing. Only make water crossings at designated trail departure and entry points on the path. Do NOT bypass established bridges or hard-packed trail to forge your own path across water. This is a very fast route to trail closure.


  • Read and respect all signage and gates. If you open a gate to pass through, close the gate behind you.


  • Do your research before you head out on your adventure. Make sure you are familiar with the land and who manages it. (Is it public or private? BLM? Forest Service?) This also ties into permissions within the trail system, such as flying a drone. Example: Drones are not permitted in National Parks, or nature preserves. Know before you go!


Trail Manners

  • There is nothing to prove and nowhere to punch a timecard on the trail. Your ego becomes a liability if it gets triggered, so don’t let anyone talk you into doing something that makes you uncomfortable. Go as slow as possible, as fast as necessary, and don’t hesitate twice to take the bypass/”easy” way.


  • Know your limits. That goes for you and your vehicle. You should be extremely familiar with your rig’s capabilities on the trail, and if you come across an obstacle that pushes you to the edge of your comfort zone and experience, do not take on that obstacle by yourself. Ask for help. Learn proper technique. Find training.


  • Help and check-in with others on the trail, especially if they have pulled over to the side. It’s important for everyone to watch out for each other when traveling to remote locations.


  • Be nice. Be gracious to other off-road/outdoors enthusiasts you cross paths with. Remember that you might not be the only person communicating on a specific channel/frequency, and what you think you might be saying in private just hit 10 different HAM radios within a 10-mile range. 


Rolling with a Crew


 There is nothing better than hitting the trail with friends old and new. Here’s an overview of what to consider before rolling out. 


  • We have found a crew of 5-6 rigs is an optimal number for travel, support, safety and supplies/parts redundancy. As the group size grows in vehicle number, so do the possibilities for complications. This is not a rule of thumb, just a suggestion. If there are more than 8 vehicles in your party, consider breaking up into 2 groups and stagger your trail time as to minimize traffic/impact on an active trail system.


  • Have a driver meeting each time before you head out. During the meeting you will want to cover:
    • How many rigs are you? 
    • Comms check – Who’s using what to communicate? Trail Lead and Caboose must always have direct contact via HAM, GMRS or CB. 
    • First Aid check – Who has what first aid supplies and where on their truck are they stored?
    • Destination review – Pull out maps, tablets, devices to triple check the route and share info.
    • Trail forecast – Is the trail going to be super technical? How far until the next camp? Who has what recovery gear? 
    • Determine vehicle order based on experience, recovery equipment and truck type.


  • Have each group member do a FULL walk around of their packed-up truck to ensure everything is strapped down, locked in, snapped in place and in order before departure.


  • Have each person do a FULL walk around of their campsite and the surrounding area before departure. (Leave it better than you found it!)


  • Communicate how many vehicles are in your crew to oncoming traffic. When approaching/passing an oncoming vehicle on a trail, indicate how many are in your party by finger count. (It might look like someone is giving you the peace sign, but they’re really just letting you know they have two more vehicles behind them.) If you’re running Caboose in the group, indicate you’re the last vehicle with a closed fist. This is especially helpful on narrow trails or blind curves.


  • Create excess room between you and the vehicle in front of you when running a trail. Give plenty of space on sharp curves, obstacles that require technical precision, and in general, give everyone breathing room. Be sure to keep enough distance to stay out of harm’s way if anything unfortunate should happen. The more people and vehicles able to help in a bad situation, the better.


  • Always keep an eye on the person behind you, and make sure you can see them in your rear view mirror. The more distance you cover on a trail, the more tendency there is for people to become spread out. If you lose sight of someone, check in over the radio to make sure they are all good. Make a ‘Stop/Turn’ at every turning point, and do not move forward until the person behind you sees which way you are going. Stay together!


  • Leave no one behind. If someone in your group has a mechanical issue or gets hung up for any other reason, everyone stays to help them strategize and execute the solution. Always pack extra water, food and a small arsenal of spare parts for trail repairs, and work together to make sure no one is left alone unless absolutely necessary (e.g. someone treks back into civilization to pick up the spare part needed, or call for additional help). 


Additional Considerations

  • Review Tread Lightly & Leave No Trace principles on a regular basis. Talk about and share these principles with others. Make mindfulness a part of the conversation.


  • If bringing a drone, review rules and regulations for drone usage in advance of your trip. Research the areas you are planning on traveling to thoroughly make sure you are in compliance with local laws and ordinances. Never fly a drone near wildlife, and be mindful of propeller noise.


  • Every footstep, every inch wheeled off-road has a lasting impact, even if it seems small and insignificant in the moment. These are small actions that have a big impact on trails!


Adventure is necessary which makes safety an important part of the planning and preparation conversation. You are also an ambassador of overlanding and our community at large. Taking the time to familiarize yourself with these best practices will allow you to enjoy the journey and preserve access for all. Now… outfit and explore!