The spatter of mud. The rush of climbing rocks to new heights. The feeling of being surrounded by nature in areas where others wouldn’t dare tread. Let’s face it—there’s nothing like off-roading. And that’s why you’re here, ready to tackle the trail, and leave the road behind.
But there’s more to off-roading than hopping in your rig and tearing across the muddy terrain or tackling a water crossing. In fact, that mindset is the quickest way to find yourself stuck in a trench or worse—in a situation that puts your safety in jeopardy. That’s why we’ve compiled these simple off-roading tips and tricks for beginners to get you started.
Know Your Vehicle
It doesn’t matter how much you paid for it—not every vehicle is suited for every off-roading scenario. If you know your vehicle and what it can handle, you will save yourself a lot of money and embarrassment. A few things to keep in mind include:
- Your vehicle’s approach, departure, and breakover angles. These are the angles that determine how steep an incline your vehicle can successfully travel over without getting stuck.
- The traction and drive settings in your vehicle. In an off-roading situation, you will need higher torque and lower speeds than your everyday driving scenarios. Familiarize yourself with any adjustable settings for traction control, differential settings, and other power management depending on your vehicle application. While there are benefits to both four-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive configurations, they behave differently under specific road and weather conditions.
- Your suspension. Needless to say, off-roading isn’t kind to your suspension, especially if you’re adding the weight of extra gear like bigger wheels and tires, roof racks, or camping accessories. If your suspension can’t handle it, it will compromise your vehicle’s stability when you hit the trails.
Adjust for the Terrain
The beauty of off-roading is that it can take you across a variety of terrains. But if you’ve ever driven on a gravel road in the summer or an icy highway in the winter, you know that it takes different skills to handle different terrains. For example, rock-crawling requires you to go slowly, while off-roading in the sand or mud requires you to keep up your momentum. Get to know your vehicle’s traction management systems and four-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive settings, if applicable. Many modern vehicles will allow you to turn these settings on or off as appropriate for the conditions. Familiarize yourself with these settings by reading your owner’s manual and testing them in a controlled environment like an empty parking lot before you head out into the backcountry.
Watch Tire Pressure
No matter what terrain you’re driving on, tire pressure is essential. Avoid overfilling your tires. Keeping your tires at a lower pressure will give you a greater surface area, increasing your tire’s grip and your vehicle’s capability. The more treacherous the trail, the lower you’ll want the pressure. 20psi is good for a bumpier trail, and for more technical trails, you may go as low as 15psi. A good tire deflator and air compressor for airing back up are essential to maintaining the life of your tires and managing grip on and off-road.
Get the Gear
Like we said, weight impacts your vehicle’s suspension, so it pays not to overpack for an off-roading trip. But there are some 4x4 off-road accessories you do not want to leave home without.
- Recovery kit
- Tow straps
- Phone charger
- Tire repair kit
- Spare fuel
- Air compressor
- First aid kit
- Basic tool kit
Bring a Friend
We know that this sounds more like feel-good mush than an off-roading trick for beginners. But you don’t go off-roading alone for the same reason you don’t go on a long trip into the wilderness alone. If something goes wrong—and a lot of things can go wrong—being alone can turn a minor issue into a dangerous one. At the least, it’ll make it an even bigger pain trying to tow your vehicle by yourself.