10 Duties of a 4WD Tail End

Alstrom Point Alstrom Point - Lake Powell
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A great Trail Leader is invaluable for any four wheeling experience. We reviewed that position in “10 Qualities of a Great Trail Leader” . Though he could be anywhere in the group, the Trail Leader is often in the first vehicle.

The vehicle at the end of the line is also very important. Sometimes called Tail End Charlie, Tail Gunner, The Sweep, Drag, or Caboose (although I don’t normally use any of those term), the Tail end is an integral part of every 4WD trip. Tail End Charlie is slang from World War II for the rear gunner in a bomber. Many of the expressions we use come from the military both for their ability to convey a thought concisely and the colorful expressions. A trail helper in the middle of the group is called a mid-gunner.


When selecting a Tail End, I start with someone well qualified in four wheeling. This person has driven with me before, knows the trail and routine well and has great people skills. In a nutshell, he or she is someone I can trust. The Tail End might be called upon to fill in for me at some point.

Ideally, the Tail End complements the Trail Leader by bringing skills in which the Leader is less knowledgable. These can include expert mechanical skills, knowledge of rocks and minerals, an ability to ID plants and flowers, and so forth.

It’s helpful if the person is a ham radio operator. FRS and CB radios are fine for communicating between vehicles. Because the vehicles can get strung out during a trip, it’s nice to be in ham radio contact with the Tail End. Plus, we can use that radio for private conversations. For example, the Tail End may wonder why we aren’t taking a particular route this time. Or, perhaps I forget a step. In either case, I don’t mind if my Tail End chimes in. He should use our private frequency so as not to confuse everyone else.

As for specific duties, the Tail End:

1. Informs the guide when the group has cleared key turns. Sometimes a driver misses a turn and strays off-course. The Trail Leader can only see a vehicle or two behind, whereas the Tail End has a much better perspective.

2. Accounts for all the vehicles when starting up again. This is after breaking camp or making any sort of pit stop (10-100, taking pictures, and such). Because he’s in the back—just sitting there—he can count everyone. Since we usually do a radio check only at the start of the trip (or day) to make sure all are working, the count process works well. Once in a while, we pick up a few strays!

3. As the last one out of camp, he can spot any major item overlooked like stuff left behind, a camp fire not satisfactorily extinguished, or some remaining trash.

4. Advises Trail Leader on issues the Leader isn’t aware of. Being at the rear, the Tail End has a better view of the entire group. (Although heavy dust cuts visibility at times.) The Tail End can advise of a need to stop or slow down due to large gaps in the group, cargo dropping off, mechanical problems or a manifold burrito in the middle of the road.

5. Helps with spotting. Being at the back of the line, the Tail End can quickly provide spotting to the vehicles in the rear. When everyone needs to be spotted, the Tail End can relieve the Trail Leader, so the Leader can pull his vehicle further up the trail to make room for the group. And heaven forbid, when the Trail Leader needs a qualified spotter, the Tail End can walk all the way up to the front and make sure the Trail Leader gets through without embarrassing himself.

6. Assists with vehicle issues. Perhaps some gear needs to be strapped down. Or a vehicle suffers a minor breakdown. If the damage is too severe (but the vehicle is drivable), the Tail End can escort that driver back to the road. If the Trail Leader elects to do that, the Tail End is often tapped to take over as Leader to complete the course.

7. Informs the group about vehicles overtaking them. Very valuable, because everyone else is focused on the trail ahead. If appropriate, the Tail End suggests how and where to pull over.

8. Thanks oncoming vehicles that stopped to let the group go by and let them know he is the last one. It’s a simple gesture, but means a lot to the other group. And the Tail End continues the longstanding tradition of gentlemanly behavior that is such an important part of four wheeling.

Speaking of saying “thanks,” remember to offer your gratitude to any landowners whose property you drive on. And, of course, take good care of their property.

9. Waits for late guests. Having a Tail End who knows the trail and the plan comes in handy when a guest is late. The Tail End can wait at the meeting point for the late guest. They will likely catchup at the air down spot. We discourage splitting up the group, unless absolutely necessary. The most common case is either a machine problem or the need for some vehicles to take a detour. In those cases, the Tail End provides guidance to one or the other group.

10. The End (just being).

Benefits of Being Tail End

  • You get to go on a trip!
  • Work does not involve sitting in a cubicle.
  • People think of you as a hero when you plug their tire.
  • You can take a 10-100 anytime you want and you don't have to walk too far.
  • You can blame the Trail Leader if the group is lost.
  • No one see you if you mess up.
  • You have a front row seat to everything that happens.
  • On the job training to become a Trail Leader.
  • You get to eat dust for the whole trip. Which means the Tequila will taste even better when the day's driving is done.
Even though the Tail End is the last vehicle in the group, it’s an extremely important position. This driver is often as skilled as the Trail Leader, and has the added responsibilities inherent in being placed last in line. But it’s a good role to aspire to. As you develop your 4WD skills and experience, plan for the day when you will step up and volunteer to be a Tail End.

Related Articles from Badlands Off-road Adventures

Did you miss the previous article?

May 5, 2016 - ALL COLORS BACK in STOCK

Winching Recover Bandana
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We now have all six colors of our winch bandana back in stock!

The Orange and Red went fast last time with blue not far behind so if you want a specific color order now while we have them all available.

The Bandana layout follows the “Vehicle Recovery Plan” with pathways to more detail. A unique section of the Bandana, gives the steps for a “Winch Rigging Check: Walk through” so that you verify every element of the rigging before you commit to the pull.

Stuff this in your recovery kit and you will always be ready.

Warning – the Bandana is not a substitute for proper training and use of quality equipment used within the bounds of their safe working load. We advise you to use the information provided in the Winching Recovery Bandana at your own risk. We cannot control the quality and specifications of the equipment used and the methods actually employed.

The original press release with larger graphics is on the website

Some Upcoming Events

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Serpent Crossing the road - Borrego Springs, CA
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With just over 2 months before the Rubicon Trail trip, now is the time to sign up and make the commitment that this is the year you will "do the Con". 3 months will give you time to, schedule vacation, make those upgrades you need, get in a Rocks Clinic or two and prepare for an epic trip. Check the schedule below to sign up for Rock clinics and the Rubicon.

Summary of upcoming events.


Rock Clinic June 18 and July 09


If you are planning on doing the Rubicon, this is a good "shake down" or if you prefer a "warm up" clinic. It is great introduction to rocks even if you don't plan to do the Rubicon. The Class will be in Johnson Valley. It is an introduction to Rock crawling but it is not on "baby" rocks. We take our time and stress careful wheel placement. We use spotters for difficult sections. You learn by inspecting the obstacle and predicting the line; by watching others try their line; by experiencing it yourself; and by the coaching. We recommend you repeat the training several times. You will be much more relaxed the second time over the same obstacles and you will pick up on little details missed the first time. More Details...

You can register directly at http://www.4x4training.com/calendar/calendar.php#Rocks

Rubicon Trail Adventure August 15- 18, 2016

The Rubicon Trail

The Rubicon Trail is the stuff of legends. It is considered the Grand Daddy of trails. If your vehicle has a weakness, it will find it. Any serious four-wheeler needs to "Do the 'Con" at least once. There is no guarantee of avoiding vehicle damage. Even the most skilled driver can succumb to the fatigue of 12 unrelenting miles of rocks. Just bring a good attitude and the best prepared vehicle you can. This could be a once in a lifetime trip but a lifelong of bragging rights. More Details

You need to register now so you have time to prepare. Register directly at http://4x4training.com/calendar/calendar.php#Rubicon

Happy Hour It comes in many colors.
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Jack Covers

Have you ever broken a tire bead while 4- wheeling and found that the hi-lift jack was barely operational due to dust, dirt and mud packed into the operating mechanism? Not only is it frustrating but dangerous as well. Since most of us bolt our hi-lift on the outside of the vehicle, it is not uncommon to find the mechanism less than functional.

A simple boot over the working parts of the jack to protect it and keep it clean is an idea that has been around for a while. The current offerings have not been very successful. At TDS this week, I discovered a new product for the hi-lift jack cover that looks promising.

Adam Woods has built a better “mouse trap” which he market under the name www.jackcovers.com The new cover marries a neoprene inner liner with a marine grade vinyl shell on the outside. It has a heavy duty - #10 Marine grade zipper, treated for mildew and antimicrobial, and available in 20 + colors. Since the product covers a number of holes on the jack upright, Adam explained to me he analyzed which holes most of us use to mount a hi-lift and offers two sizes of the cover - 11" and 15”- to allow several mounting combinations.

I hope to see you on the trails!
Tom Severin, President
Badlands Off Road Adventures, Inc.
4-Wheel Drive School
Make it Fun. Keep it Safe.
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