We don’t know for sure where you get your kicks, but if you’re on our website, we’re guessing it involves some mud, 37 inch wheels, and a raised truck bed. In case you haven’t guessed, we love off roadin’ ! It’s a great way to get out in nature, and unplug from daily grind.
After years of hitting the mud hard with our 4X4 cars and trucks, we’ve compiled a list of recommendation we’d give to any novice mudslinger before they head out on your next adventure, to ensure a good time, keep you safe, and to avoid getting stuck.
Know The Trail
The first, and most important rule is to know the trail. Nothing spoils a good time like getting lost in the middle of nowhere because you were caught off-guard by a gnarly section of the trail.
Of course unexpected twists and turns in the trail will happen, but it pays to your research before you head out – know where you’re going, what large obstacles to expect, and how to get back if you get lost. In many of the areas we frequent, cell service is at best – spotty, so spend a little money on tried-and-true map of the trail. Whether it’s a wilderness area or a designated trails, there’s a good chance there’s a map available for sale.
If your beginning a particularly challenger part of the trail, get out of your vehicle and walk it first. That way, you can get an idea of the terrain and what obstacles lay ahead.
Stay On The Trail
Closely related to our first recommendation, we believe it’s important for us as responsible mud-cats to stay on the designated trails.
I know I may be irking some of my freedom-loving friends by saying this, but from an environmental perspective this helps avoid damaging sensitive ecosystems, and selfishly speaking, I like coming back to a spot many years later and not having it barren of all vegetation and wildlife. With my safety hat on, it also helps avoid getting swallowed up by unforeseen stuck in mud or sand traps, and finally following the trail will help you stay oriented and make it easier to find your way back to civilization.
Never Ride Alone
This one is a no-brainer, but as my dad always said – there’s safety in numbers. Ideally you’ll want to have another vehicle with you while wheeling the trail, but at the very least, have another rider with you.
With another set of eyes, you’re more likely to spot obstacles and wildlife on the trail ahead, and if something does happen to your vehicle, another set of hands to help will make the recovery process much quicker.
Pack The Essentials
Things happen when your out in the middle of nowhere, so it’s important to pack the essentials. Make sure you have enough food, water, and fuel to make it back to civilization. And don’t forget a first-aid kit, a shovel, rope, a portable air compressor / gauge, and an extra tank or two of gas! Can’t tell you how many times we’ve got a nut’s-hair away from running out of petrol coming into our driveway at home.
In addition, make sure you pack the proper gear for the conditions you’ll be encountering. If it’s cold, pack warm clothes and extra blankets. If it’s hot, pack plenty of sunscreen and water.
Reduce Tire Pressure
This is a big one, and it’s something that a lot of novice off-roaders don’t think about. By reducing your tire pressure, you’ll increase the amount of contact your tires have with the ground, which will improve traction. How does this improve traction? Well, when your tire is fully inflated, the weight of the car is pushing down on the middle of the tire. This creates a small contact patch with the ground. However, if you reduce your tire pressure, the weight of the car is now spread out over a larger area, which increases traction.
For off-road driving, we typically recommend reducing your tire pressure by 10-15 PSI. On the low-end for sandy or muddy trail, and near the high-end for rock crawling.
Some of our trail-riding friends swear by 8 PSI in ALL situations, but if you’re going this low, as word of caution: the lower your tire pressure, the higher your risk of popping the tire bead off of the rim.
Certain off road scenarios, like in a dry grassy field or desert flats, call for higher tire pressure inline with the manufacturing recommendations. In general these higher pressures which are beneficial to the life of your tire. As you may be changing your tire PSI on the go, it especially important you bring a robust air compressor with you.
All tires and vehicles are different, so make sure to play around with it until you find a pressure that works for the conditions you’ll be encountering.
Know Your Vehicle And Clearances
As we stated before, things happen when your out in the middle of nowhere. Murphy’s Law is especially prevalent in off-road situations. So it’s important that you know how your vehicle handles and behaves in off-road conditions. If it isn’t clear already 4X4 capability is a must. If you’re driving a rear wheel drive vehicle on a trail with lots of mud and big hills, you’re going to have a bad experience.
Before you head out, take a note of ground clearances on your front and rear differentials and bumpers. This will give you an idea on how gnarly you can get with your vehicle on a trail. While understanding these basics, nothing beats experience, so practice maneuvering your vehicle in progressively more difficult off-road conditions to better understand it’s capabilities. Know how it handles when it’s wet, muddy, and slippery. And if possible, try and find an obstacle course or a place where you can safely practice rock crawling.
Avoid Sudden Changes in Speed or Direction
When your in the thick of a brutal section of the trail, it’s important to take your time. Any sudden braking, acceleration, or sharp turns can end up getting your vehicle stuck or worse. Rapid changes in tire speed will cause the tires to lose traction, slip, and dig into the surface – not a good thing in thick much or loose sand.
Steering should be made gradually for a variety of reasons. Turning your wheels more than 45 degrees on rough terrain like rock crawling trails add tremendous torque to your frame, axles, and tires. Do your vehicle a favor by navigating the straightest path on a trail.
Making smooth turns becomes particularly important when on an incline or decline. While driving up or down a sand dune, never attempt to turn around. If you decide that you would rather go down the hill than up it, simply reverse and go backward in a straight line. By attempting to turn your vehicle around, you place yourself at great risk of rolling over, as the sand could shift at any moment.
Be Prepared For Vehicle Recovery
No one likes to think about getting their vehicle stuck, but trust us – it happens – and it’s always best to be prepared. That means having the proper equipment and know-how to get yourself unstuck.
Some items you may want to consider bringing with you are a Hi-Lift jack, tow strap, shackles, plenty of chains, a long crowbar, and a robust mounted winch. All of these items will help you in with vehicle extraction should you become stuck. For example a Hi-Lift jack can be used to change a tire, or as a pivot point for a tow strap, or to pry open jammed doors, while a crowbar can be used as a lever to help get your vehicle out of a jam. There are some tremendous forces at play when dealing vehicle recovery, so be sure to understand HOW to safely use these tools. Here’s a great video on the different way to safely use a hi-jack in different off-road scenarios…
Calling A Towing Service
If all else fails, and you can’t get your vehicle out no matter what you try, it’s time to call for some backup. Not sure where you ride, but around us in the Akron / Cleveland metro area there’s plenty of towing companies, but only a few are equipped to handled off road extraction. Believe it or we’ve had to throw in the towel more than once riding near the shore of Lake Erie, and have had a good experience with Speedy Fleet Towing Service in Cleveland OH.
If you do have to call for help, be sure to ask if the nearby towing company is licensed and insured in your state or city, and double-check on capability of their tow truck to do the job. Also be sure to have an accurate description of your location. This can be done with GPS coordinates (latitude and longitude), or by giving the tow truck driver specific directions to your location.
Off-road driving can be a great way to escape the daily grind and enjoy some fresh air and nature. But before you head out on your next adventure, be sure to review these seven important tips to keep you safe, and to avoid getting stuck. By understanding the capabilities of your vehicle, the proper use of recovery equipment, and how to call for help when needed, you can safely enjoy this exciting sport.