A safe off-roader is a smart off-roader. Or is it the other way around? As much as you may want to get out there and start tearing up the terrain in your 4×4, you have to be smart about it. Check out the beginner’s guide to off-roading before heading out on the adventure of a lifetime.
1. Plan ahead
I know you think this sounds lame. But there is nothing truly worse than getting out in the bush and having something go completely wrong. If watching Survivorman has taught us nothing else, is that when it comes to exploring nature, you have to be prepared. This means you should:
- Bring a first aid kit (make sure it includes an emergency blanket and flares)
- Bring a map and compass (you never know when your phone battery may die/get damaged or if you’ll have cell reception)
- Bring a day’s worth of food and water
- Let someone know where you will be off-roading and when you expect to return)
Also, don’t forget to check the weather. Something as simple as rainfall can significantly change off-roading conditions and may overwhelm the inexperienced driver.
2. Do your research
Check the internet for sites like this, which not only locate off-roading trails in your area, but also provide a difficulty rating for each one. Find an appropriate trail to start off on to build your skill and confidence before testing your mettle on the hardcore stuff.
3. Accessorize, accessorize, accessorize
Here, the fun begins. Roof rack? Check. Winch? Check. Fender flares? Check. Jeep body armor? Check. Include accessories that not only protect your vehicle but increase your safety as well.
4. Supersize your tires
When it comes to off-roading, bigger tires are better tires. Aim for tires in the 29-35 inch range. Larger tires provide greater ground clearance and better handling. Consider picking up a set of Knobby tires — they are the perfect starting tire for the off-roading enthusiast. These tires are designed to run at a low internal pressure (5-15 psi) which allows for better flexing in tight turns.
5. Be smart, not stupid
Keep a calm head, regardless of the situation. When faced with an obstacle, think it through and approach it logically and with a plan. Remember: there is no traffic behind you, so there is no need to rush. Going slowly will allow you to feel if the terrain begins to shift underneath you and it will increase the amount of time you have to react to a changing environment. Off-roading is not a race and should not be treated as one. It takes a great deal of superior technical driving skill, patience and self-discipline.
6. Take a friend (he’ll be your spotter)
Having an extra set of eyes is crucial. Having a spotter outside of the vehicle will help with wheel placement, and provide a lookout for items that are not in your field of vision.
Additional off-roading tips
- Never attempt any trails that you think may be above your skill level. Like anything else, practice makes perfect; your time spent on easier trails will provide you with the experience you need to tackle the tough ones.
- A slow and steady pace is recommended on boulder covered trails; going too fast will cause your vehicle to unnecessarily come into contact with the boulders resulting in, well, significant damage.
- If possible, fold in your mirrors if you don’t need them. Trails can get quite narrow and unforgiving when it comes to mirrors.
- Use a spotter when determined by the terrain.
- Enjoy yourself. We’re extremely lucky to live in such a vast, wilderness covered country. Explore it!
Now go out there and tackle mother nature’s turf!