Off road driving has become a very popular pastime, but for many people it is just part of daily life and work. For those drivers who do not experience this on a regular basis it can be a huge challenge. It looks so simple, and you might think that because you have a truck or SUV that you’re good to go.
But reality is very different and so many people constantly get caught out. It often happens that you might be over confident in the suitability of your vehicle. Or you could underestimate the toughness of the terrain. The result is usually ending up in situations where you get stuck or you break down.
Neither of these are going to be much fun. And if you have to head off-road for work purposes, then the downtime can be a huge problem.
In this article, we will give you extensive information and tips to help you prepare for your next off-road trip. With just a bit of planning and preparation you can make sure that you don’t look foolish when you have to call for help.
As the name suggests, as soon as you leave a designated road that is either surfaced or is a dirt road that is at least maintained. Many people think that as soon as you head off a road with a hard surface that they are onto an adventure.
In some cases that may be true. And if you just have a small family car it will certainly feel that way. But off-roading is so much more than just heading onto a dirt track. It’s also not driving on nicely maintained grasslands used for cattle. Yes, you’ll slide around easily, but even in a road car you should be OK as long as there’s no mud.
So, what does that leave us with?
The way we would define it is that if you’re going to get stuck within 50 yards with a regular family car, then you’re probably off-road. Proper cross country driving requires the power of 4-wheel drive and the advantage of a lifted up and protected chassis.
Essentially, what you need is a proper SUV that has been purposely built for the job.
Even if you see some resemblance of a well-worn path, it would have to be littered with potholes and rocks that you have to get through and around. You will not be driving particularly fast for most of the time. And you will certainly be on the constant lookout for where you should actually be going.
The best cross country adventures on 4 wheels are those where you can’t see where other drivers have gone. You’re constantly checking the landscape ahead to make sure that you won’t navigate yourself into a catch 22 situation.
It is fun and hugely challenging. And in reality should not be done without at least a bit of training. And that training would pay off hugely.
Off road driving is not something you just go and do. Actually, you can do that, and even if you have a Jeep, Hummer or Range Rover you will probably quickly end up in trouble. One of the first problems a lot of people get into is that they end up in places they shouldn’t be.
Once you leave marked roads all signage disappears. And dependent where you go you can quickly end up on private property and in all sorts of legal trouble. So, the first problem is that you have to know where you are heading.
This can be made a bit easier by using designated off-road driving trails. You’ll probably find some of these near where you live. Essentially, they are like race tracks for 4×4 vehicles.
Next up is the problem of knowing how to tack advantage of things like 4-wheel drive, diff locks and traction control. Combining these in different ways will make a huge difference. To the degree that simply turning off traction control could get you out of a lot of sticky situations.
Find out where you can set these and then try them out on a designated trail. Ideally with someone who knows what they are doing. The diff lock is a tricky one. Some situations require that you turn it on while other require it to be turned off. What this does is force all wheels to spin at the same speed which can increase and better control traction.
Finally, there is the issue of being able to analyse the path ahead. Some situations might look like they are safe to head into. But unless you know how to control different ground conditions you can quickly end up in trouble.
For example, what might look like a grassy field ahead could be hiding swampy ground. And that is a situation you never want to find yourself in. Judging the size of rocks and other obstacles is also very important. Dependent on your ground clearance, you’ll be able to take on a lot bigger objects.
But if you underestimate these things, you can end up beached with no traction.
We have come across too many conversations where people have told us about the silly mistakes they have made. The majority of them could have been avoided by simply taking a few lessons in an off-road driving school. Even just one lesson will help you understand the most common mistakes. In this section, we’ll highlight some so you can try and not make them yourself.
First of all, don’t take any off-roading tips for beginners from anyone that has not spent a lot of time driving fully featured 4x4s. So, don’t let your friend who took his BMW onto a cattle field tell you what you should be doing. If they are going to give you tips then politely thank them for it and then forget them.
Secondly, never take a vehicle with 2 wheel drive off-road. It’s just asking for trouble and you’ll regret it within minutes. Chances are that any organized trails won’t even allow you to start.
Next up is not bringing some bare essential accessories. We have a section below with some tips on this. But one thing most people forget is to bring some extra fuel. When you head onto really tough conditions you will burn a huge amount of fuel. Even when you’re going at a slow speed. You’ll be regularly revving up the engine and often lose traction to see wheels spinning.
Finally, don’t rely on GPS maps. Or we should say cheap GPS maps. Most of these will show roads and everything else. But they won’t tell you about inclines and ground conditions.
What you need for this is designated topography maps with color coding for different conditions. That way you can avoid situations that could only be taken on with military or track vehicles.
This is going to be mainly a question of time of year and the part of the country you’re in. You could be in northern states and find tough grass land conditions in the middle of summer. Then 6 months later you’ll encounter a snow-covered landscape. And both situations require completely different skills and equipment.
Off road driving in desert conditions of New Mexico and Arizona bring a whole new set of challenges. Sand, dust and heat can cause big problems for many parts of your vehicle. Not only will you need to prepare differently, you’ll also need to do very different maintenance work.
Some of the biggest challenges really come with snow and sand. If you’re new to off-roading then maybe don’t start with those conditions. They will challenge even an experienced driver. And as a newbie you could end up stranded very quickly.
Underestimating the conditions is usually the biggest mistake people make. A lot of local knowledge is required to understand things like how soft sand is and how deep some snow drifts might be. It’s always best to talk to someone more experienced than you and even use the help of an adventure driving school. The skills you learn will keep you out of most dodgy situations.
Most people make the huge mistake to think that just because they have a 4×4 truck they are ready to head off on an adventure. The amount of times that drivers like that get stranded is huge. Don’t make that mistake and take at least a few pieces of advice.
Never take a chance by heading into the wilderness without spare fuel. Even if you’ve only just filled your tank. You won’t believe how quickly you’ll burn through fuel in tough conditions. The trick is to also always be aware of the remaining fuel and how far you have to go to get back home. Ending up stranded because you’re out of fuel is the most embarrassing thig to happen.
Preferably two. Some problems with tires can be fixed, but it will inevitably happen that slash a wheel on a rock or something similar. You should also always check your spares before you head off. If they are even a bit flat that could be a big problem when you need them.
This is one of the most important factors to consider. You might think that they are only good for driving in the dark. But if you end up in a heavy snow or rain storm your visibility can become very compromised. That’s not a situation you want to end up in. With some simple LED light bars, you can solve that problem altogether. And night time off-roading will still be possible as well.
One reason is obvious. If one fails you have another to fall back on. Bu more importantly, you could end up in a situation where you need to fix something underneath your vehicle. Just lifting one side might not do the trick. And you could end up having a big problem because you cannot get at the right place.
This is probably one of the most heated discussions in all automotive circles. What is the best off-road vehicle of all time? While everyone has their own preferences, there are a few that have been repeatedly voted as top in their class. Chances are you are not going to be able to try every possible vehicle out there.
But generally speaking the best thing to do is take a look what various military services use the most. In the USA that is probably going to be the Hummer. But the price of them and practicality for regular day to day use is not great.
However, possibly the most popular military 4×4 is the Toyota Land Cruiser. It is exceptionally well built and very affordable. If you get stuck with this machine you probably would need a tank instead.
Another one of the best off-road 4×4 vehicles is the Jeep Wrangler. It has gone through decades of adjustments and improvements. But it still has that iconic look. Get a bit of dirt on it and some camouflage and they could still feature in WWII movies.
For a bit of comfort and some real pulling power you can also consider the Chevrolet Colorado. It is reasonably priced and will take a hell of a beating. And of course, it is made in the USA. So you know you’ll get great quality workmanship.
Off road driving takes skill and practice. If you have never done it before then make sure you get some lessons with someone experienced. Ideally in an adventure driving school. With some simple preparations and accessories, you can make sure that you don’t end up looking foolish.
And you’ll avoid spending a fortune to get someone to help you. Just stick with the basics and don’t step out of your comfort zone.
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