Rivian Tread Lightly
(Photo/Rivian)

Rivian Special Projects Boss Talks Electric Off-Roading, Protecting Trails, and More

Rivian Motors’ Matt Gaskins is working inside the electric automaker and with Tread Lightly to help teach EV customers the ways of the outdoors.

Rivian knows that its R1T electric pickup can give a whole new group of buyers access to off-road trails. Owners who come from electric cars, and gas or electric crossovers, who have never before experienced the off-road capability a full-size pickup can offer. The company wants to embrace that capability and encourage its customers to off-road responsibly.

To help its customers learn the ways of the outdoors, Rivian is partnering with the outdoors stewards at Tread Lightly to build a team of Master Tread Trainers that can inspire and educate customers.

We spoke with Rivian senior manager for Special Projects and the company’s lead Master Tread Trainer, Matt Gaskins, about this new initiative.

Outdoor Stewardship Q&A With Rivian’s Matt Gaskins

Rivian Tread Lightly
Matt Gaskins and his pooch; (photo/Rivian)

GearJunkie: What led Rivian toward a partnership with Tread Lightly?

Matt Gaskins: We’ve realized that a lot of our customers who will be taking delivery of R1Ts and R1Ss have never been off road before. So we have a responsibility to ensure that not just our employees but also our customers are aware of some best practices to not only stay safe when they’re on the trail but also to not cause damage to the trail system that could potentially close trails in the future.

I live in Colorado, and I recreate a lot in Arizona and Utah as well. And I’ve seen a lot of pressures to close trails in those areas. Arizona has 60,000 miles of OHV trails with six people to patrol those trails. And so, the reality is when people go off trail, when they create damage, when they behave poorly in the backcountry, it’s easier just to close the trails.

And so what we thought is: What organization exists that has a really solid curriculum that’s kind of out of the box and ready that we can potentially leverage to not just create a program for training but also amplify a message that already exists?

What Is Tread Lightly?

Rivian Tread Lightly
(Photo/Rivian)

Tread Lightly is an organization originally founded by the U.S. Forest Service that works to help foster outdoor recreation. The group is best known for its OHV and 4×4 work but also helps promote stewardship for hunters and shooters, campers, cyclists, hikers, and nearly any activity you do in the great outdoors.

One of Tread Lightly’s major initiatives is the Tread Trainers program. This is a training program that teaches Tread Trainers to teach outdoor ethics to new groups of outdoors enthusiasts.

Gaskins is a longtime off-roader, running Jeep XJ Cherokees and Toyota Land Cruisers along trails across the American West. He had already met Tread Lightly Executive Director Matt Caldwell on 4×4 events and thought the group was a natural fit for Rivian.

The Tread Trainers Program

Rivian Tread Lightly
(Photo/Rivian)

The Tread Trainers program is led by Master Tread Trainers. They bring the outdoors ethic to the Tread Trainers and then to a new wave of enthusiasts.

GJ: How does someone become a Master Tread Trainer?

MG: The way that you become a Master Tread Trainer is there’s this 170-page manual or so, but you have to really understand really well all of the Tread principles. And so there’s a lot that goes into each of those principles that you really have to understand because they’re generic enough to fit a lot of situations, but they have to be specific enough that there’s action behind it.

You also do a practical exam where for 8 hours you present these principles and you are peer-reviewed by others who are already Master Trainers and people who are also trying to go through to get that certification. When it’s over you also have to take an exam that you have to pass. And you have to attest that at least once a year you will give a group presentation where you roll out these principles to a group.

Gaskins says he hopes Rivian will have 15 Master Tread Trainers by the end of the summer, but for now, it’s still an internal program for Rivian rather than one rolled out to customers.

Rivian Tread Lightly
(Photo/Rivian)

GJ: When do you expect to be able to roll this out to Rivian customers?

MG: We have not been able to codify it into a program yet due to putting all the pieces in place to ensure that we can support the scale. And that’s the hard thing about wanting to do this type of education in person is that you really need to ensure that the people providing an education are trained properly, with a safety focus in mind first. As much as I care about Tread Lightly, I care more about people’s physical safety. And so we really need to be sure that before we kind of try to scale this, everyone is prepared.

But that’s not stopping Gaskins or some of the Master Tread Trainers inside Rivian from working with off-road-ready customers or as a group to help the hobby.

GJ: What is your goal for the program?

MG: I’ve met a lot of our preorder holders here in Denver, which is where I live, and I saw some of them at Overland Expo. It’s so cool, we’re already connected.

But I really want to have [Tread Lightly] into a codified internal program so that people aren’t afraid. A lot of people are afraid to go off road. And it can be scary. It can be intimidating. When you learn things like airing down your tires, how to properly inflate your tires when you’re done, how to read the terrain to figure out how to safely attack a line, and what lines you should say no to.

Trail Damage Can Last Forever

Rivian Tread Lightly
(Photo/Rivian)

GJ: Can you talk about the simple premise of Leave No Trace and maintaining trails, specifically as it applies to off-roading?

MG: The first many years that I was doing this, I was clueless. I had no idea what I was doing. And it took a lot of time to gain that education, especially before the internet and social media forums were commonly available.

During our media launch of the R1T, we went to Breckenridge [Colorado] and we did some really cool trails I’ve been running since I was a kid.

This particular one is called North Fork of the Swan. And we actually stopped when we saw these two sections of trail damage and pointed out that these two scars have been here for decades. They were caused by simply driving off trail one time when the soil was damp, probably covered in snow.

Because the growing season is super short in alpine tundra, these areas can’t really recover from this type of damage. It breaks my heart personally to see it. But it also makes me concerned for future generations that they may not have access to this trail, if things like this continue.

This was part of that educational piece when I was younger. I wouldn’t have even understood what I was looking at, but now we have the ability to learn and we have the ability to share stories and help each other grow.

And we should do that so we can avoid things like this — because every single person benefits from this even if they don’t use it. Some people don’t go out into nature to off-road; they just go out to be inspired by it.

With Great Electric Power Comes Great Responsibility

Rivian Tread Lightly
(Photo/Rivian)

GJ: Why is it important for people to learn proper off-roading skills, specifically Rivian customers? 

MG: Our trucks are heavy because they are battery-electric vehicles. They also have 835 horsepower. If you combine those factors with someone who’s not experienced, it’s a potential for causing harm to the environment. We really want to reduce the likelihood of that happening.

Of course, you can’t and you shouldn’t control what people do. But you should inspire them to learn about what it is that’s at stake that we can protect.

And the cool thing is when people get educated and inspired, it’s not this relationship where you’re dictating what they do. They’re just wanting to do it because they understand the value.

GJ: Why is protecting public lands an important part of Rivian’s internal culture?

MG: I personally feel like I am my truest self when I’m in these environments. So I really want to protect access selfishly for myself, but also for everyone else too. It’s just a real treasure. Especially living out West where things like this are pretty accessible. These lands and trails — it’s real joy.

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Evan Williams
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Evan has been drooling over cars since the time he learned to walk. Since then he's worked on controlling the drooling and expanded his interests to include hiking, cycling, and kayaking. He went to school for engineering but transitioned into a more satisfying career and has been writing automotive and outdoors news for nearly a decade