"I have been Jeeping for the better part of 20 years, in all sorts of climates and trails.  I've helped build rigs, replace Jeep wheels, and repair them in-garage and on-trail.  I've spent the past year as a Trail Leader for JeepSkool, Ohio's Premier Off-road park, instructing and teaching people how to operate their vehicles safely while in an off road environment. Over the years, I've developed my own set of Cardinal Rules that I operate by, and hold my groups to.  I'd like to share that with you.

Off-Road Rule Number 1: No Drinking

There is no acceptable reason to drink alcohol or do drugs before or during (or after, in the case of drugs) a trail ride.  Wheeling has a heavy stigma attached to it : big muddy trucks, driven by drunken hillbillies who do nothing more than tear up farmer's fields.  That stigma and stereotype does NOT apply to most of the off-roader community.  In fact, most are great people who have great families - a good many of them bring their kids along for the ride.  Would you want to put your family in harm's way?  No.  Leave the beers in the cooler for when you are back at camp and the wheeling is done for the day.

Rule Number 2: Off-Road Driving Speed

As SLOW as possible, as fast as necessary.  When out wheeling, engage your transfer case into 4LO; shift your transmission into second or third gear.  This will give you all the power that you need, on demand, for pretty much whatever you encounter.  Granted, there are times that call for different tactics.  When rockcrawling, I like to roll in 4LO in first gear and just creep over the trail.  Sometimes you'll need to get on the gas to get through a particularly nasty patch of trail, and that's ok too.  However, when you spin your tires you do two very important things.  The first, is that you "clean" your tires - that being, the built up mud in your tread gets spun out, so you can get better traction.  When you do this,  your tires are not able to gain traction BECAUSE they are spinning.  If your forward momentum has stopped, stop spinning your tires.  You are actually rutting out a trail, and may make it difficult for the people behind you to follow.  Note also that whatever ruts you cut into a trail may take MONTHS to heal.  You want to be able to come back and wheel your favorite trails over and over - be kind to them.  Don't tear them up!  Remember, there is no shame in getting stuck!  TREAD LIGHTLY!

Rule Number 3: Don't Go Off-Roading Alone

Never go wheeling alone.  Sure, going out on a quick ride through some mud is always fun, but what happens if you break or get stuck?  What happens if your winch fails?  Go in a group - chances are, you will have a better time out with friends and if something goes wrong, you have able people there to help you out.

Rule Number 4: When Off-Road, Don't Tresspass

Wheeling private land is always fun, but make sure that you PERSONALLY have the owner's permission.  I've been in a few sticky situations where we were told that it was ok to wheel, and come to find out that it was NOT ok to be there.  Somehow, the argument that a friend of a friend told you it was ok to wheel so-and-so's property does not carry a lot of weight when the owner calls the police.  Get a permit.  Go and wheel public trails, ORV parks.  Get on the internet and check out trails local to you.  You may find that the nearest park is an hour away and is far better than tearing up Farmer John's fields.

Rule Number 5: Play Your Role in the Off-Road Team and Accept Your Responsibility

YOU are responsible for the vehicle in front of you AND the vehicle behind you AT ALL TIMES. This is one of the most important rules in a large group while trail riding.  Let's say that you are in a technical trail with 20 other rigs, placed somewhere in the middle.  Now, you are in a particularly nasty part of the trail and you get stuck - but the guy in front of you isn't paying attention and keeps following the pack.  By the time the Trail Leader finds out he/she has lost the back end of the ride, you may have to backtrack a while to find out who is stuck/broken and how to get them recovered.  Replaying that situation, if the person in front of you stops when they see you are stuck, and the person in front of THEM stops because they see the person in front of you has stopped, the whole thing goes down a whole lot sooner, and smoothly.  Granted, your rig might be equipped with a CB radio which will alert the TL that there is an issue.  The goal here is to never leave anyone behind. " -GP