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Keep Your Distance – Or Not? Proper Trail Spacing Keep Your Distance – Or Not? Proper Trail Spacing
Today we flashback to 2017 with this important story from Tom Severin concerning common topics on trail rides — rig spacing and trail protocols. ... Keep Your Distance – Or Not? Proper Trail Spacing

Today we flashback to 2017 with this important story from Tom Severin concerning common topics on trail rides — rig spacing and trail protocols.  We suggest a 2020 Jeeping season with these tips in mind.

The Editors

Special from Tom Severin, Badlands Offroad Adventure

Four-wheeling, especially when multiple vehicles are involved, requires teamwork to be successful. Everyone must be on the same page for the trip to come off without a hitch—or as flawlessly as possible. Something as basic as vehicle spacing can affect parts of a trip.  Let’s take an example.

They were strung out in Gohler Gulch wash in California one summer day. It was a large group, some 10 vehicles of various types. At one point the group reached a particularly challenging patch.

The trail cut through a boulder-strewn waterfall. To the left was a big swirly hole seven feet wide and six feet deep. On the right side, just at the base was a two-foot drop-off. That portion of the trail was about 25 feet long, with a drop of about five feet in elevation. Each vehicle had to carefully navigate right down the middle of the “waterfall.”

The lead vehicle, driven by the trail guide, slipped past the waterfall and stopped about 400 feet away. As the guide got out to spot for the others, vehicles started through the obstacle. After exiting, though, many stopped so far back from the vehicle ahead that the last three vehicles didn’t have room to clear the rough spot.

This is a perfect example of the need to bunch up as you’re stopping. Simple math shows that a caravan of that length can cover a lot of trail distance.

Let’s say that each vehicle is nearly 20 feet long, and that each stops about 20 feet behind the guy ahead. With 10 vehicles on the trail, you’re looking at upwards of 400 feet—nearly one-tenth of a mile—from the trail guide to the tail end.

Whenever one of your vehicles stops, pull up close behind (but not so close the guy can’t open his tailgate). If everyone does the same, you’ll have a nice, compact group. It’s a lot easier to assemble everyone for a discussion. Or to spot for someone.  And it’s certainly easier to communicate by short-range radios when we bunch up.

Bunch up when stopping for a photo opportunity.

Trail tips and protocol

This is a good time to review some general principles of four-wheeling.

  • Stay up close enough so you can learn from the vehicle ahead. A good rule of thumb is to be far enough away to see that vehicle’s differential. If on a dusty trail, drop back so that you’re out of the other guy’s dust cloud. Under clear conditions stay close enough so you watch how the vehicle ahead negotiates a turn or obstacle. At the same time, keep an occasional eye on the vehicle behind so he doesn’t go astray. For more on this, see Maintain Proper Distance Off-Road. Complicated, isn’t it? When stopping, pull up close but don’t tailgate. Leave enough room so the guy ahead can open his tailgate. Make sure you’re not blocking the trail.
  • If you’re the trail guide, leave your keys in the vehicle if you step out to spot. That will allow someone else to move your vehicle if need be.
  • Know how to park properly on a slope. Set the parking brake before putting the transmission in Park and turn it off. That will keep the stress off the park pall. it also has a better chance that we don’t have a vehicle take off without a driver. On that note – consider this rule: driver in first, and out last. Then, we don’t have a passenger going for a ride without a driver!
  • Any time you stop on the trail, grab your gloves and radio. They are handy if you need to help someone out of a bind (stack rocks, hold a winch line, etc.). With a radio in hand, you can ask someone partway up to go back and get equipment.
  • Abide by TreadLightly principles. Be careful of vegetation where you pull over, and leave the area as clean as you found it.
  • When you get back in your vehicle, check the blind spots in front of your vehicle. After an extended period, away, you may have forgotten you had to stop just in front of a big rock. Refresh your memory.
  • Wait your turn at any difficult obstacle. Observe how the vehicle ahead clears the obstacle.

Winding through the High Rock Canyon of Nevada, this properly spaced convoy was treated to some of the best scenery the desert has to offer.

Four-wheeling is sometimes likened to a dance. All vehicles need to operate in unison for a successful adventure. One “step” occurs when everyone is stopping. Do your part, and pull up close to keep the gang together.


Tom Severin, a 4×4 Coach, teaches 4WD owners how to confidently and safely use their vehicles to the fullest extent in difficult terrain and adverse driving conditions. Visit to develop or improve your driving skills.

Tom Severin

Tom Severin is an International 4-Wheel Drive Trainers Association© certified professional 4WD Trainer and a Wilderness First Responder (WFR), and President, Badlands Off Road Adventures.

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