Overlanding and Treading Lightly


Overlanding and Treading Lightly

Everyone who enjoys off-road activities has a responsibility to the environment and other people in the community to act respectfully, so that future generations can also enjoy these pastimes. There are organizations that provide resources and education to better help outdoor enthusiasts become better stewards of the environment.

Good day everyone and welcome to a new installment of AllOutdoor's Off-Road and Overlanding series brought to you by onX Offroad--mapping software for all your adventures.


One of the older organizations is “Leave No Trace” (LNT). Leave No Trace’s primary messages are for non-motorized recreational activities. However, we Overlanders have different obligations due to our vehicles. Adding a motor increases the opportunity to damage land and reduces future chances for recreation. To address this more specialized category, a new organization was created, Tread Lightly.

Tread Lightly is an organization that started in order to promote outdoor ethics and address the impact of motorized recreation. It was created by the United States Forest Service in 1985 as a response to issues arising from off-road vehicles. Tread Lightly now leads a national initiative to protect and enhance access to recreational opportunities while maintaining healthy ecosystems.

Staying on trails and not causing more damage to the environment is an important part of “treading lightly.”


The seven principles of Leave No Trace are:

  • Plan Ahead and Prepare.
  • Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces.
  • Dispose of Waste Properly.
  • Leave What You Find.
  • Minimize Campfire Impacts.
  • Respect Wildlife.
  • Be Considerate of Other Visitors.

These principles apply well to people recreating on foot as well as people in vehicles. Most of it really comes down to leaving the area better than you found it–or at the very least, no worse.

Many wildfires are started by people that aren’t responsible and don’t put out their campfires.


Tread Lightly promotes the following principles, which are arranged into the word “TREAD” and distill the Leave No Trace principles:

  • Travel Responsibly
  • Respect The Rights Of Others
  • Educate Yourself
  • Avoid Sensitive Areas
  • Do Your Part

A lot of this is really just the golden rule. i.e., Don’t be a jerk in the backcountry. Honestly, you’d think this stuff was common sense, but you get people that just don’t care or were never taught how to respect others. We saw this a lot during COVID.

People started going out to campgrounds and day-use areas nearby. However, government services were suspended (including things like trash pickup and waste facilities management. Groups and families would go out and then just leave trash piled up or dump stuff into vault toilets–basically just trashing some of our outdoor recreation areas.

When trash cans overflowed, they’d just leave bags of garbage in campsites. Where critters would get into it and make an even bigger mess. A number of our local clubs and regular people would go out and pick up other people’s trash.

Not everyone was taught to pick up their own garbage. When they go outdoors, they may leave garbage and waste around for others to pick up.

Other problems we saw were probably due to a lack of education about being responsible outdoors. It’s not like this stuff is taught in public schools. If you were a scout of some kind, you were probably exposed to the concepts (and may have even put them to practical application).

But the public at large really isn’t trained. Add in some partying and laziness, and you get a recipe for a disaster. The problem is that the official stewards of the area (typically government agencies) will just shut the area down for everyone.

Stay on trails. Pick up trash. Respect land boundaries. Help teach future generations.

Final thoughts…

If we want to continue being able to enjoy the outdoors, we must take care of the areas we adventure in. We can’t expect government agencies and the goodwill of others to pick up after us or to constantly repair the damage created by people who abuse the trails and dispersed camping areas.

Joining organizations like Tread Lightly help by giving access to resources and events to better support the efforts of good stewardship in the backcountry. Many off-road companies are partners and contribute to the mission–we can create a positive feedback loop by supporting the companies that promote good manners and ethics in the woods.

Bambi and Thumper might look cute, but part of responsible stewardship is leaving wild animals “wild.” Don’t feed the critters or leave garbage that trains critters to survive on human detritus.

onX Offroad, the sponsor for this series, supports Tread Lightly and actively works with the community and agencies to promote good stewardship. We posted about their initiatives for Public Lands Day.

If you enjoy recreating in the outdoors, consider supporting or joining an organization that helps keep areas open. Otherwise, we are at risk of losing a resource we should all enjoy.

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Avatar Author ID 94 - 1822651121

Tom is a former Navy Corpsman that spent some time bumbling around the deserts of Iraq with a Marine Recon unit, kicking in tent flaps and harassing sheep. Before that, he was a paramedic somewhere in DFW, also doing some Executive Protection work between shifts. Now that those exciting days are behind him, he has embraced his inner “Warrior Hippie,” and assaults 14er in his sandals, and engages in rucking adventure challenges while consuming copious water. To fund these adventures, he writes all manner of content (having also held editor positions at several publications) and teaches wilderness medicine and off-road skills. He hopes that his posts will help you find the gear that will survive whatever you can throw at it (and the training to use it). Learn from his mistakes--he is known (in certain circles) for his curse...ahem, ability...to find the breaking point of anything. You can follow him at https://linktr.ee/docrader.

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