Apr 2024

Off-road exploring is at a crossroads.

Our community, through shared knowledge, a passion for adventure travel, and a love of the outdoors has grown by leaps and bounds over the last ten years. More of us than ever are hopping in our rigs to explore the wilder parts of our homes here in North America, and around the world.

This is encouraging. 

The more we entwine our lives with wild places and find the solace and inspiration that only nature can offer, the better we become. The more inclusive we are and the wider the circle grows, the more the power of these beautiful places and experiences will remain part of our shared lives.

All of this hinges on our access to these remote places – both near and far.

Shared Goals for All Adventures

That’s why Bestop asks all of us to follow the Tread Lightly! principles to protect and expand our trail access and stand behind responsible travel in the backcountry. No matter how or why you explore, TREAD should guide our travel every day:

T – Travel Responsibly

R – Respect the Rights of Others

E – Educate Yourself

A – Avoid Sensitive Areas

D – Do Your Part

Tread Lightly! has advocated for road and trail access, responsible backcountry travel, and environmental education and service initiatives since 1985. “Keep our trails open!” is the mantra and that goal begins with every single one of us.

You can start by becoming a member of Tread Lightly!, which includes getting some really cool swag, not to mention the good vibes you get by supporting a non-profit with wide reach that literally keeps your overland adventures on track. 

You can get involved with your local off-road club or environmental organization to participate in trail clean-up and enhancement projects, off-road travel education events, and even join in for online informational sessions. Share your experiences and support for the Tread Lightly! principles with the overland community on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. 

What Does It Mean to Tread Lightly?

A number of years ago, someone wheeled their rig in wild drifts and circles for nearly ten miles through Death Valley National Park’s famous Racetrack Playa. The Racetrack is a geological oddity where hundreds of large stones leave long, winding tracks across the table-flat desert seemingly all on their own. We now know that over the eons large sheets of ice periodically pushed and pulled these rocks on their wandering paths. It is one of the natural wonders of the American southwest. 

Feds: Joyrider Who Scarred Death Valley's Racetrack Playa Found - CBS San Francisco

It was nearly ruined spectacularly by the maliciousness of a handful of people over the course of a few destructive minutes. Death Valley is a prized bucket-list destination for overlanders and off-road enthusiasts of all kinds. It’s challenging and remote, and steeped in human and natural history. But the actions of just a few can give all of us a bad name and put in jeopardy access for everyone. 

If we want to keep our roads and trails open, both on public lands and the property of generous private landowners, we all have a responsibility to respect the landscapes we travel through. This means staying on designated routes, not trespassing, driving in the least impactful way possible, cleaning up after ourselves and others, and educating ourselves and our trailmates whenever possible. 

Driving Forward

For myself, the number one Tread Lightly! off-road skill that I practice is stopping what I call “lateral trail creep”. This is when drivers attempt to avoid an obstacle in their path by driving around it, rather than through it or directly over it. This widens the trail over time, eventually making the obstacle larger and even more impassable. It also pushes the road into the surrounding landscape where it shouldn’t be. 

Walking a difficult section of trail ahead of time, thoughtfully evaluating the risk, and using a spotter are all techniques to avoid driving around tricky sections of road. Usually, it’s not nearly as bad as it looks – plus, it’s more fun.

In one of my favorite overland destinations, the Escalante country of southern Utah, I am particularly sensitive to this problem. The desert environments of the Four Corners region are very fragile, and they often take centuries to recover from just a moment’s worth of damage. The region is politically sensitive, too – many popular and breathtaking trails are constantly under threat of closure to wheeled travel. The least impact I can have on both the environment and the reputation of off-roaders, the better it is for those who come after me – including myself one day, when I want to return.

This is our crossroads – which trail will you take?

To support Tread Lightly!, follow the links above. Remember, travel responsibly, respect the rights of others, educate yourself, avoid sensitive areas, do your part. Tread lightly!