The Art of Trail Spotting

No matter how skilled of an offroader you are a good spotter can make a difficult section of trail safer and more fun. Many causes of broken parts and body damage is the due to the lack of “vision” that the driver has. When you approach a difficult section you try to memorize in an instant the obstacle you are about to tackle. If you meet a little trouble crossing the obstacle usually memory fades fast and a little help goes a long way.

Trail spotting can be performed by nearly anyone. The difference between a good spotter and someone just giving off road advice is the good spotter knows what it means to drive a trail. The person usually has knowledge of tire placement, traction, and results of actions.

Here is some tips to lay some spotter rules.


Make sure both the driver and spotter speak the same language. Agree on what means what so both are on the same page. If you can’t see your spotter or your driver stop and move so you can. Below are generally accepted signals.

Both hands closed in fists
Come ahead
Palms toward the spotter, move fingers toward spotter
Turn in the direction pointing
Both arms pointing in the direction of desired travel
Come ahead slowly
Palms down waving slowly toward the ground
Back up
Fists with index fingers pointing backward
Tire lifting
Palms up, hand on the side of the vehicle that the tire is going up
Distance to obstacle or drop
Palms facing together indicating distance
Vehicle safe
Palms down with hands moving horizontally. Like a baseball “safe” move.


Drivers should listen to the spotter only. Often others may have opinions, this can cause confusion and be distracting. Try to concentrate only on the spotter. Avoid “too many cooks in the kitchen”


A driver should use a spotter that they can trust to get them through the obstacle. If you as a driver don’t feel comfortable or safe with a line discuss it with the spotter. If they aren’t helping find someone who can.


As a spotter wear work gloves to protect hands when stacking rocks or moving debris and good boots to protect feet and ankles while moving around. I you are spotting and moving backward keep an eye on where you are going. It’s easy to stumble and fall while dancing on the rocks.

Always stay and think safe. Do not jump on a vehicle or serve as a human ballast. Make moves smooth, deliberate, and calculated.