Skills & Techniques

Being a Good Steward, Off the Beaten Path: Leave No Trace for Off-Roading

Haley and Gary - December 6, 2021

Curious how you can leave a minimal impact while riding your 4×4, dirt bike, SXS, or any other motor vehicle? Here are some tips from the Leave No Trace on how to be a good steward of public land and still enjoy your experience off-roading.

  • Plan Ahead and Prepare

When planning your trip, do research on the places you plan to go. This includes being aware of seasonal road closures and conditions, weather, terrain, private land boundaries, and more. Luckily, all of this information is available on resources like the onX Offroad App. Scout out fuel stations, grocery stores, campsites, and other key destinations on your route before you leave, so that you can be fully prepared and can focus on your trip experience. Consider using offline map features on mobile navigation where you can download your map ahead of time so you don’t need to worry about if you have cell reception or not once you begin your trip. 

  • Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

Consider the durability of the surfaces you are riding or driving on. This refers to the ability that a particular surface has to withstand impact from yourself and other visitors over time. Rock, gravel, and sand are common durable surfaces you may come across while traveling in an off-road vehicle. Avoid sensitive vegetation such as wildflowers, wet grass, and lichen/moss. When it comes to staying on trails, you should try your best to do so and not ride off-trail or create new trails, as this causes erosion and can disrupt wildlife, other visitors, etc. Be prepared for a water crossing if necessary, rather than going around it and creating more impact. 

Track your route so that you can avoid getting lost and having to make new trails to get back. Search for designated campsites along your route ahead of time to avoid creating new campsites. If you’re traveling with a large group, make sure to choose a site that is big enough for your entire group.

  • Dispose of Waste Properly

While off-roading, be on the lookout for any trash you might see along the way and be prepared to pick it up and pack it out with you. We can all do our part to keep our public lands clean and healthy so that we can continue to enjoy recreating now and in the future. To dispose of human waste, look up local regulations to see if you should either pack out your solid human waste or bury it in a cathole. If a cathole is required, make sure you choose a location that is at least 200 feet away from water sources, camp, and trails, then dig a hole 6-8 inches deep into the ground for your waste. If no toilet is available, urinate at least 200 feet away from any water sources. When possible, pack out all used toilet paper to leave the least impact on the area. Otherwise, bury it deeply in the cathole. Menstrual products should always be packed out with the rest of your trash.

  • Leave What You Find

Leave campsites, trails, and other recreation areas as you found them, if not better. Avoid constructing user-created facilities such as fire rings, tables, seats, etc. Areas with cultural or historical sites or structures should be respected and left alone.  into trees, stacking rocks, or taking natural items (rocks, shells, plants, etc.) home with you is never in style. It’s best to leave what we find (except trash!) for others to experience and enjoy. 

  • Minimize Campfire Impacts

First, be aware of any local fire regulations or restrictions in the area, especially in the late summer/early fall months as wildfires are increasingly more common. If it is legal and safe to have a campfire in the area, make sure that you are using an existing fire ring, using only dead & downed wood no larger than your wrist or have purchased local firewood, and properly put out the fire when you are done so that it is cold to the touch. For more information on how to have a “Leave No Trace” campfire, click here.

Do research on any active fires in the area you are riding. Never travel near a wildfire. Fires can jump and spread in the blink of an eye. Stay safe!

  • Respect Wildlife

Be prepared to store all of your food, trash, and other “smellable” items in a bear canister or food storage locker. Storing food in a vehicle can be a good choice as well. Check local recommendations or regulations for proper food storage. Feeding wildlife, whether it be intentional or accidental, can cause serious damage to their health, and can also put both them and humans in danger as many animals become aggressive when they are attracted to human food. Aggressive animals often need to be removed for human safety reasons. In order to let the animals stay in their natural habitat, store your food and all other scented items properly. 

  • Be Considerate of Others

Follow posted speed limits to avoid disrupting other visitors or potentially putting them in danger (e.g. blind corners). Be respectful of others that you pass on the trail by yielding to pedestrians, equestrians, and mountain bikers, and being aware of your personal noise level as well as your vehicle’s noise level, to help ensure that all can enjoy the peaceful atmosphere. Set a good example of what a good land steward looks like in an off-roading context. For more information on off-roading and land stewardship, click here. This way, other recreationists that you encounter may follow your lead, and we can all do our part to Leave No Trace, no matter how many wheels we are riding on, and how muddy the trail gets. 

For more detailed information on how to leave minimal impact on your next off-roading adventure, check out our friends at onX Offroad!

By the Subaru/Leave No Trace Teams. For over 20 years these teams have provided tangible solutions to serious issues facing our outside space and reach over 15 million people every year. Learn more about the important work of our mobile education teams.  Proud partners of this program include Subaru of America, REI, Eagles Nest Outfitters, Thule, FjällrävenThe Coleman Company andKlean Kanteen.

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