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September 17, 2018 6 min read


As an avid outdoors person, I love anything that makes adrenaline rush through my veins while enjoying the outdoors, as I’m sure many of us do. One of my favorite fall activities is meeting with a group of friends from various states and bringing ATVs/UTVs to play on. The timeline of late summer and early fall is ideal for this, as the weather is just right, the last of summer rains fill up those mud puddles, and mosquitos are dying off (thank goodness!). Although I love winter slightly more than summer, the warmer season yields a great deal of fun. Which, ironically, the group of riders I go with are National Ski Patrollers that I’ve grown to know with my time on patrol. These guys were the ones who introduced me to ATVs and UTVs and how much more exciting it is on trails with no maps, mud holes, water puddles (although, sometimes they are tiny lakes!), and winches—high grade winches, nonetheless. However, safety always comes first.


Story time!

A recent experience last fall has brought a different type of caution to riding than before, as one of our riders flipped his ATV down a hill. It was quite a steep hill, and littered with boulders, rocks, and water run-off beds. As he was nearly to the top, he hit a boulder and flipped sideways, and then turned upside down underneath his ATV. He was, however, incredibly lucky that his ATV did not crush him, instead landing on the sizeable rock right next to his side. He survived with a few scrapes and bruises, an injured shoulder, but thankfully no broken bones, concussion, or severe injuries. It must have been a sight to see as several people raced up a rocky hill while making sure to stay out of the rolling ATV. We, of course as first aid-ers, thoroughly checked for injuries all the while scolding him for going up without stopping to scope out the hill. After making sure he was A-OK, we walked him down the hill and saw the back of his helmet. It was dented, scratched, and bore the markings of gravel and dirt on the surface. He had a headache, but nothing more. Helmets, although cannot completely prevent from head injuries, have an extremely remarkable record for preventing brain injury. I know that a part of me hates wearing a helmet because sometimes my hair and make-up are en-pointe, but it is definitely worth the helmet hair!

In terms of safety, here are a few essential things my group never goes without on these trips:

  • Protective glasses or sunglasses (backwoods trails are full of branches and obstacles that always seen to find your face)
  • Food and water

 Okay, let’s break those down:

First-aid supplies are crucial

The first thing that comes to mind when we think of first-aid kits are a couple dozen Band-Aids (if you’re anything like me, you can probably cut yourself on a leaf! So, many Band-Aids are essential), gauze, and antiseptic wipes, right? However, if you are traveling on backwoods trails that could take hours to get out of, it’s better to have a more extensive first-aid kit. My group, in particular, will have Band-Aids, gauze, anti-septic wipes, tape—for taping gauze around wound or for wrapping a hand or ankle--, cravats, padding, SAM-splints, and various small tools such as tweezers or a Leatherman. We also carry extras of everything and can use those supplies to potentially construct a make-shift cast or splint.

Appropriate Clothing

Although anyone is welcome to wear whatever they want when riding, there are some tips I’ve picking up the last couple of years from experience of my own and others. I personally prefer to wear denim jeans and a gray or blue t-shirt—maybe on a cooler day, a long sleeve shirt. On hot days, I grab old, light colored t-shirts that can get dirty, and the reason for the color is that hopefully I will not soak up as much sun (heat). The jeans are essential for me on any ride because they protect my legs from the branches and various obstacles we pass through. And, most importantly, those little buzzing creatures called mosquitos—even though they sometimes manage to bite through my jeans. And if you like to ride through big puddles and little lakes, it’s also a great idea to pack an extra set of clothing—as it can get a little…drenching at high speeds through water.


A close patroller friend of mine coined this term for helmets, which is seemingly fitting—and brings a smile to many who hear the term. While ATVing can seem “cooler” to do without helmets, it is not the smartest thing to attempt. On a four-by-four, helmets not only serve to protect your head should you end up meeting the ground, they are also helpful as they absorb the pounding of branches, small bits of gravel thrown by tires, and some sunburn. I personally love full-cover helmets that have vents and a “windshield” for the foremost of my face that can open and close. Yes, they can get unbearably hot(!), but they protect my noggin’. 

When riding on ATV’s, USDOT-approved helmets are required in Michigan. For side-by-sides in Michigan, helmets are not required if protective eye gear and working seatbelts are worn. Wisconsin requires USDOT helmets to be worn by anyone under the age of 18, but strongly encourages anyone over 18 to wear helmets as well. Seatbelts are as good as helmets in a side-by-side, because they hold you to the UTV should it flip and prevent one from flying forward and hitting the dashboard. They are equivalent in purpose to a regular car or truck seatbelt. So, wear your brain-buckets to protect your wisdom and fasten those seatbelts to prevent superman-ing!


Gloves, gloves, gloves! Always have a great pair of gloves whenever you are running some trails, because they are awesome! Gloves protect against dirt, scratches, bugs, and come in handy when you have to attach a winch…in muddy mud. Most people I ride with buy a good brand that is durable material and can withstand some rough handling. There are specific gloves out there for ORV riders, but as long as the gloves are durable and feel good to you, make sure to throw them on your list for trail-riding!

Trail-dust Breathers and Eye Goggles

If you ride with a big group of people and are not the leader, you dread what happens on gravel and dirt roads: trail-dust! Your face, hair, gloves, shirt, pants, and boots have a fine layer of dust if you follow someone going a good clip on a trail. So, enter facemasks and protective eye gear! For a facemask, you can use bandanas, wide cloth headbands, ski masks; basically, anything that can stay semi-secure or secure on your face when following a fellow rider. Protective eye gear could be sunnies, clear eyeglasses, or even goggles.

There are several benefits to facemasks and PEG when riding: you are not inhaling dirt, which makes it easier to breathe, you don’t have to squint to avoid getting dust in your eyes, sunnies keep the glare of the sun out of your eyes, and most of all, there is a little less dirt and mud to wash off at the end of the ride (score!). More importantly, eye gear keeps your face protected against branches in skinny trails and keeps any flying objects from directly hitting your eyes

Hungry, hungry, hungry!

I’m the type of person where when I go riding, I get hungry…quickly. I’m constantly snacking on something if I’m a passenger or when we stop for a quick break—basically, I’ve always got some form of food to eat at all times. However, bringing food and water is encouraged in case of an accident, someone’s ORV breaks down, or something else happens—maybe a weather-related issue. Dry goods such as beef jerky, crackers, granola or energy bars, and candy bars are most commonly packed. Drinks like Gatorade and water could helpful as Gatorade can keep electrolytes up—subsequently giving someone energy—while water can be drinking water as well as used for washing hands, wounds, or rinsing out something. Stay hydrated and well-fed guys!

Although we always hope that nothing will happen to us and that we make it home safely, freak accidents do happen. In my mind, it’s always better to be prepared than not.


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