off road etiquette6
off road etiquette6

This is the last of a five part series on off – road safety tips contributed by Tom Severin of Badlands Off Road Adventures.  Tom is an International 4-Wheel Drive Trainers Association© certified professional 4WD Trainer and a Wilderness First Responder (WFR). He is a instructor for the United Four Wheel Drive Associations (UFWDA) and the California Association of 4WD Clubs.

“Despite what some people think, we four wheelers are very considerate when off road. We stay on marked trails, look out for others, obey the rules, and clean up after ourselves. I’m sure you are a responsible driver. Even so, it’s good to review trail etiquette from time to time.”

Here are Tom’s top 10 rules of etiquette for off roading and camping. Read this list carefully. Are any of these
unfamiliar to you? Do you need to brush up on any principles?

1. Always Be considerate. That’s the overriding principle here, and it deserves special mention. As you encounter others, friends or strangers, be considerate. Maybe you don’t feel like going out of your way for someone, that’s okay, but be respectful. Avoid the temptation to be an off – road bully. There are enough of those in this world.

off road etiquette 5 the adventure portal

2. Yield 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. Avoid kicking up unnecessary dust, honking your horn, and such. Want to really make an impression? Offer a bottle of water, some gas, a wrench or a helping hand when needed. You’ll feel better, and you’ll help improve our image.

3. Yield to a vehicle driving uphill. That vehicle may need some momentum to climb. If we force him to stop, he may need to back up to gain that momentum.

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 other vehicle should try to keep up, too. However, that could involve eating a lot of dust; that’s no fun. If you go through something difficult, look back and make sure the other vehicle made it.

off road etiquette 1 the adventure portal

5. Closely observe the vehicle ahead of you. This will help you pick the proper line(s) for negotiating a rough spot. It means keeping the proper distance back. Too close, and you could find yourself in a dust cloud.

-You also want to make sure the other vehicle’s rear end isn’t in your blind spot. Back off until you are at the proper distance. (The ability to see their rear differential is a good starting point.)

-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.

-Scan the trail behind that vehicle for signs of fluid leakage or even fallen parts. You may be able to alert a fellow driver before things get worse!

off road etiquette 2 the adventure poertal

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 that’s already been disturbed. Try not to park on tall, dry grass. Your catalytic converter could start a fire.

7. Don’t throw cigarette butts out the window. Not only is that littering, but it can be a fire hazard. Southern California suffers several fires every year caused by discarded cigarette butts. Don’t be a butthead. Dispose of them properly!

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. Be mindful of other campers. Don’t slam car doors or run the vehicle engine before 7 am.

10.Tom’s special Rule: No music in camp. Yep, no radios, no loud MP3 players, or other artificial noise makers. Look, you’re out in the country to experience nature. You don’t or shouldn’t want to spoil the setting for others, we don’t all agree on our music choice.

-Now, it’s OK if someone brings along a guitar or banjo. What better way to enjoy a campfire than with a sing-along, right? For the most part, though, enjoy the sounds of Mother Nature. They are better than anything man can create.

This list may seem like a lot to digest, but the rules are based on common sense. Recommit to the principles of off-road driving, and you will become an even better, more responsible off – road driver .

off road etiquette 4 the adventure portal

Thanks to author Tom Severin at Badlands Off – Road Adventures.

photos: Anza Borrego State Park, The Adventure Portal

Any off – road etiquette you would like to share? Let us know in the comments section below.

Check out our Californian overland trails and plan your next adventure!

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Tom Severin
Tom Severin is an International 4-Wheel Drive Trainers Association© certified professional 4WD Trainer and a Wilderness First Responder (WFR). He is an instructor for the United Four Wheel Drive Associations (UFWDA) and the California Association of 4WD Clubs. Tom is the owner of Badlands Off-Road Adventures 4WD Training School in Southern CA that offers guided off-road adventures as well as 4WD training courses ranging from basic off roading to advanced rock crawling techniques.


  1. Have recently moved to Scott’s Bluff NE from Utah. Looking for 4X4 clubs and locations to off road touring. Thank for any information.

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