Backhaul (trucking)

Backhauling in trucking is a multi-step logistics strategy aimed at maximizing the efficiency of cargo transportation. After a truck delivers its primary load from an originating point to a destination, it seeks to avoid returning empty. Instead of wasting that return trip, known as "deadheading," the truck is loaded with a secondary cargo at or near its initial drop-off location. This secondary cargo is then transported to another location, often back toward the originating point or another site that optimally aligns with the company's logistical needs. This process requires precise planning and coordination, involving tasks such as identifying compatible secondary loads, aligning pick-up and drop-off schedules, and handling various forms of documentation like bills of lading. Backhauling serves multiple objectives. It:

  • Minimizes operational costs by reducing the number of empty miles traveled 
  • Maximizes the use of available resources like drivers and trucks 
  • Lessens the environmental impact by lowering fuel consumption and emissions 
Overall, backhauling is seen as an effective strategy to improve the economic and environmental sustainability of trucking operations.

Key takeaways

  • Definition: Backhauling in trucking is a logistics strategy to use return trips to transport a secondary load, aiming to reduce empty miles and optimize resource utilization.
  • How it works: After delivering the primary load, a truck picks up a secondary load for the return journey. Logistics teams coordinate schedules, prepare documentation, and optimize routes to make this happen efficiently.
  • Types: Backhauling has various types like traditional, triangulated, and coordinated, among others. Each type comes with its own set of logistical challenges and advantages, allowing companies to choose the best fit for their operations.
  • Pros and cons: The benefits of backhauling include cost-efficiency, environmental advantages, and better resource utilization. However, it also adds layers of complexity, timing issues, and can divert focus from a company's core operations.
  • Explore your options: Use data analytics to optimize your approach, and consider consulting a third-party logistics provider (3PL) for expertise. Ratings partners with esteemed organizations such as Roehl, GP Transco, and

How it works

Backhauling in trucking is a strategy aimed at maximizing the efficiency of each round-trip journey a truck makes. After a truck delivers its primary cargo from point A to point B, it doesn't return empty. Instead, logistics teams work to identify a secondary load near point B that needs transportation either back to point A or to another destination. 

This backhaul cargo is loaded onto the truck after the primary load is offloaded, and paperwork like bills of lading are prepared to facilitate this process. Timely scheduling and coordination are essential to ensure that the primary and secondary cargo deliveries align well.

Once the backhaul cargo is delivered, carriers usually receive separate payment based on pre-agreed rates. Information from each trip — such as fuel consumption, timing, and other logistical details — is reviewed to optimize future planning. This approach serves multiple objectives: it reduces operational costs by minimizing empty miles, increases overall efficiency, and lessens the environmental impact of trucking operations.

Backhaul types


After delivering the primary load, the truck picks up a secondary load for the return trip. Usually planned in advance and part of a contractual agreement.


The truck returns empty after delivering the primary load. While not a backhaul, it's a scenario companies aim to avoid.


Involves three legs: the primary load, a backhaul, and a third leg back to the starting point. Optimizes route and resource use further.


Multiple carriers or shippers collaborate to synchronize backhauls, often facilitated by a third-party logistics provider (3PL).

Spot market

The truck picks up a last-minute load via a spot market, where loads are posted for immediate transportation needs.


A long-term contract for a specific backhaul route ensures steady work but may limit flexibility.

Reverse logistics

Involves the return of goods, like recycling or warranty returns, as a backhaul opportunity.


A method where the driver drops an empty trailer at the backhaul pick-up point and hooks up a pre-loaded trailer

Pros and cons


  • Cost-efficiency: Backhauling maximizes the use of trucking resources by filling return trips with cargo. This means trucks don't return empty, reducing the cost-per-mile for the entire round-trip journey. Lower operational costs can translate to more competitive pricing.
  • Resource utilization: Better use of drivers and equipment.
  • Environmental benefits: Operating fewer empty trucks lessens fuel consumption and reduces CO2 emissions. This is not only good for the planet but also aligns with increasingly stringent environmental regulations and corporate sustainability goals.
  • Network optimization: Backhauling provides data and opportunities for better route planning. By reducing the number of empty miles driven, companies can optimize their entire supply chain, making it more efficient and responsive to market needs.
  • Competitive edge: Reduced costs can make a company more competitive.


  • Complexity: Organizing backhaul operations requires sophisticated logistics planning. Finding compatible secondary cargo, coordinating schedules, and ensuring proper documentation are challenging tasks that may require specialized software or expertise.
  • Timing issues: If the primary cargo delivery is delayed, the backhaul cargo may also be delayed. This ripple effect can disrupt schedules for multiple customers and incur financial penalties.
  • Reduced focus: Managing backhauls requires time and resources, which can detract from a company's core operations. This additional layer of management can complicate business operations and require additional oversight.
  • Contractual limitations: Some primary contracts may prohibit backhauling.

Explore your options

Now that you have a comprehensive understanding of backhauling and its significance in optimizing trucking operations, you may want to consider collaborating with industry leaders to implement this strategy effectively. Ratings partners with esteemed organizations such as Roehl, GP Transco, and

These companies are renowned for their expertise in logistical planning, route optimization, and freight matching, offering solutions that are customized to the unique needs of trucking businesses. By partnering with them, you can leverage their extensive know-how, reliable services, and technological platforms to not only reduce your operational costs but also make your business more environmentally sustainable and competitive in the market.

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