More Glossary Terms


Backhaul in trucking refers to a freight load that is moved over all or part of the return trip to origin.
What is backhaul?

Backhaul definitions apply in the telecommunications and transportation industries. This MercuryGate Glossary term focuses on backhaul in transportation. 

For context, the backhaul meaning in telecommunications:

  1. Backhaul is the physical part of a communications network between the core “backbone” network and small subnetworks at the edge of the network.
  2. Backhaul is a digital signal transmitted from a remote site or network to another site.
What is Backhaul in Trucking?
Backhaul in transportation is a freight shipment hauled on a return transit of a driver and vehicle to its origin.
After a freight shipment to a primary destination, transportation carriers can move a full truckload, partial truckload, or a less-than-truckload shipment on the vehicle’s return trip.

Backhaul in trucking avoids vehicle movements with under-utilized freight capacity. Trucks moving empty trailers do not generate revenue return for costs such as fuel, driver time, vehicle miles, and air pollution emissions.

Headhaul vs Backhaul Shipping
For transportation carriers and dedicated fleet transportation, a headhaul is a freight shipment moving from origin to destination. Headhaul shipping lanes generate the most revenue for a truckload carrier or operator. Headhauls are loads that are most easy to acquire and optimize freight capacity and income for a trailer and trip.
Backhaul shipments return over the same route at a lower transportation rate. Although it generates less revenue, a backhaul shipment allows a truckload carrier to avoid running empty miles back to the point of origin.

Trucks and trailers that return empty to the point of origin are deadheads. Some deadhead moves are necessary if a driver must drive a distance to pick up a load. Deadhead transportation moves lose money for service providers, carriers, and dedicated fleets.

Backhaul transportation benefits shippers who can access available trucking capacity in this market. Backhaul freight shipments allow over-the-road truckload operators to fill empty trailers and recoup expenses for moving equipment.
How do you set up backhaul in trucking?

Truckload carriers and transportation service providers have options to fill deadhead trailers with freight.

Truckload freight brokers and freight forwarders connect shippers with reliable carrier partners that have cargo space on return transit moves. Brokered backhauls move at a per-mile rate which generates an operating margin for the broker.

Transportation management system technology streamlines backhaul logistics.

  • Digital freight matching and load board resources connect Logistics Services Providers (LSPs), brokers, carriers, and shippers to fill backhaul shipments.
  • Load consolidation tools bundle freight shipments of multiple shippers to minimize empty trailer capacity on a backhaul move.
  • Route planning capabilities limits empty miles between headhaul origin and destination; to the following freight pick-up for backhaul trucking; and to any shipment destinations.

Reduced overall carbon emissions and diesel fuel usage occur when empty vehicle miles are limited. Filling backhaul trucking capacity with available freight shipments supports sustainability initiatives.

Learn about Digital Freight for Backhaul capacity.

How does MercuryGate Improve Backhaul Logistics?
MercuryGate TMS enables shippers, carriers, brokers, and 3PLs to efficiently match freight with available capacity across transportation modes and moves.

MercuryGate integrations create a digital freight network that allows:

  • Shippers to find capacity.
  • Carriers, brokers, and 3PLs to simplify the freight brokerage process.
  • Private fleets to sell empty miles.
Fleet managers use MercuryGate TMS to manage brokered and contracted freight while matching equipment location and load availability.

Load planning capabilities maximize transportation backhauls through multi-stop routing and priority loading. Load build optimization combines multiple shipments to access volume discounts and incentives.

Information gathered through MercuryGate TMS empowers users to monitor capacity utilization to limit and correct recurring empty miles.

Request a MercuryGate Demo to Get Started