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Where the pavement ends, the fun of off-road travel begins. For most off roaders, getting to the end of the road takes hauling an ATV or side-by-side on a trailer or pickup truck bed. That means knowing how to properly load, unload, and choose the best mode of transportation for the vehicle is a must.

Follow these tips to make your journey from home to trail safe, while preventing damage to the off-road vehicle and the trailer. We’ve also added useful information about shopping for the best trailer for your needs and budget.


Crisscross trailer safety chains in an X pattern when attaching to the truck. With chains crossed, you insure neither side will become too short when making tight turns. Should the trailer come off the ball, the tongue will come down on the chains, allowing you to brake safely without the tongue dragging on the ground. Next, connect the lights, either to a separate pigtail or into the receptacle plug in the vehicle. Have someone stand behind the trailer as you test the brake and turn signal lights. Lock down the catch lever and insert the safety pin. Crank up the jack and wheel or retract it out of the way for transport.


Slow is best when driving a side-by-side or ATV up the loading ramp onto the trailer. Distribute the weight by centering the vehicle forward on the trailer. Tongue weight will be too light and handling problems will occur if you load it too far astern.


Secure all four wheels to the floor of the trailer using a set of specialized straps, like the Cabela’s Tire Tite System. Metal brackets in front of and behind each wheel act as chocks to keep it from rolling and hold the webbing straps tight and secure.

Here are shopping tips to help you decide on the best trailer for your side-by-side or ATV.


The first step is making sure the off-road vehicle weight is within the payload weight or towing capacity of the truck. Review those specifications in the owner’s manual for each vehicle. Keep in mind trailer tongue weight, generally 10-15% of the entire weight, counts towards the tow vehicle total. The trailer also has a load capacity and limit, so consider the weight of your side-by-side or ATV when making a buying decision.


Don’t think too small when evaluating trailer size. Consider a width of at least 60 inches for an average side-by-side. A 2-seat model will only need a 12-footer, while longer, 4-seat vehicles need up to 14- or 16-foot trailers.


Not surprisingly, the choices come down to budget. On the low end, but very common and dependable, is a utility trailer. You also get a versatile trailer that can perform double duty for home, farm and hunting lease chores. Trailers are also available that are specifically designed for off-road vehicles.


Here are the key differences between the two; keeping in mind there is no wrong choice between them. You’ll want a tandem axle trailer if hauling two vehicles.


  • Easier maneuverability in tight spaces
  • Less expensive to replace 2 tires instead of 4
  • Lighter and easier to move around off the hitch
  • Lighter towing weight


  • Better handling with less sway
  • More Space
  • Safer if a tire blows on either axle
  • Some have trailer brakes


We lean towards aluminum. Aluminum is lightweight and plenty strong for hauling just about anything. The advantages of having a lightweight trailer can’t be overstated. Even a trailer that’s just a couple hundred pounds lighter is much easier to haul. Aluminum trailers are also easier to push around by hand, when unattached to the hitch ball.


Using a set of proper, high-quality boarding ramps is a must for loading an ATV into a pickup truck bed. Never exceed the weight limit on the racks. Here are steps for safe loading.

  • Secure the ramps to the truck, using ratchet straps or the equipment recommended by the ramp manufacturer
  • Strap on your ATV helmet, even though short distance and slow speed is part of the process
  • Position the ramps so they are lined up with the very center of the tires
  • Use low gear and four-wheel drive (unless full-time mode)
  • Apply throttle smoothly and steadily, not backing off the gas
  • Put the vehicle in park when it reaches the front of the truck bed
  • Secure the ATV using ratchet straps, making solid contact points between the vehicle and the truck

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