Being Prepared for Michigan’s Backcountry
I’m hoping that winter is in full swing when you’re reading this because as I type it has been a pretty miserable start to the season in Northwest Lower Michigan. As we wait for Mother Nature to bring us a healthy dose of the white stuff, now is a good time to make sure you are prepared for your adventures in the backcountry.
Basic things everyone needs to know about “OFF TRAIL” riding in Michigan.
  1. It is LEGAL to cross country travel on state owned and National Forest Land unless closed to motorized vehicles. As always, it is the responsibility of the rider to know where they are and if they are breaking any laws while riding.
  2. The internet, phone map apps and GPS programs can help you quickly identify who owns the land you’re on. Many of these programs are free but some require a subscription fee to get detailed information. I strongly recommend a GPS with a good detailed snowmobile trail program. Many of these options are a small price to pay to avoid trespassing tickets. The Michigan DNR also provides an interactive map that can be used for pre-ride planning and is available on their website.
  3. Regardless if you’re riding off trail or sticking to the groomed trails, you will need a trail permit and current registration.

Although many riders outside of Michigan consider us “flatlanders”, Michigan does have some pretty remote areas and challenging terrain in many locations. There have been a few times that I’ve found myself in situations when I wondered if I might be spending the night in the great white north. Luckily it hasn’t happened, but I was prepared in case it did.
A couple of things that you should consider before heading out into the backcountry:

  1. You should NEVER ride alone. Having another person can come in handy when getting stuck or even making rational decisions on what to do in an emergency.
  2. Always let someone know where your group is headed and give them a general direction of your destination. This can mean the difference between life and death if a search party is deployed.
  3. Over pack for the unpredictable and always take food and plenty of water with you, even if you only plan on going out for a couple of hours.
  4. Make sure your GPS is fully charged. A good mapping program (I utilize VVmapping) will show you a lot of detail including some small two tracks, lakes, and actual snowmobile trails. In the event you break down or get stuck, knowing what is around you will be helpful in making a plan. I recommend a GPS over a cell phone as the batteries tend to last longer in the cold and I would rather have the phone available to contact emergency services if service is available.
  5. Shovels, and a handsaw or hatchet are a MUST when venturing into the backcountry.
  6. Carrying multiple ways of starting a fire is important as well; never rely on just a lighter. In my bag I carry a lighter, waterproof matches, as well as a flint. Dryer lint, scrap paper, or other types of fire starters will also work.
  7. Spare gloves and a warm hat to make sure you stay warm.
  8. A whistle will carry further in the case that people are looking for you.
  9. Having a headlamp will assist as the darkness sets in.
  10. Carrying a tow-strap or ratchet strap will help get broken down sleds out of the woods.
  11. Having extra fuel or a siphon might give you enough fuel to get out of the backcountry.
  12. Most importantly, have a basic first aid kit with the essentials, including an emergency bivvy (space blanket).

There is nothing better than venturing off into Michigan’s backcountry after a fresh snowfall, and exploring new areas. Just know the area you’re going to ride, notify someone of your plans, be prepared for anything, and respect private property or the land you’re exploring.