Off-Roading. Think about it. What comes to mind? What does it mean to you? What do you envision?
Think about where you are in the Country, or in the World. What’s the scenery like? What are the conditions like? What type of terrain and trails do you envision? What type of vehicle do you see? How’s it setup?
Chances are, collectively, your answers are all over the map, literally, and include everything from using an ATV to help move your livestock 20 miles to their summer pasture, to racing King of the Hammers, or the BAJA 1000, and everything in between.
For many who have been into the game for a while, we will immediately envision the harder, more challenging terrain in our area, some type of epic, expedition trip or maybe even off-road racing. That said, there’s plenty of great reasons, and plenty of great ways to get off-pavement in addition to just going to ‘wheel. You might drive on the beach for some surf fishing. You might do some expedition travel on a cross country trip. You might hit some backcountry forest roads for some family camping, or to get to your favorite hunting or fishing spot.
Regardless of whether you’re goin’ wheelin’ as its own activity, or venturing off pavement as part of something else, here are some different types of Off-Roading, and the basics you need to know about ‘em.
Sand – Honestly, if you’re plans include driving on the beach pretty much anywhere in the US, basic four-wheel drive, low tire pressure (in the 17 – 20psi range), and momentum will keep you moving. I’ve seen plenty of run of the mill 4X4s do just fine on the beach. While it looks fun, everything on your vehicle will thank you if you keep it completely out of the salt water, and watch those rising tides.
Trail Riding – Think of this as taking a day hike in your 4×4. Trail riding usually gives you a little bit of everything, all rolled into one. This is the sweet spot for most of my readers. On most trail runs you’ll traverse all kinds of different, varied terrain, including water, sand, mud, hills, off-camber sections and rocks. You’ll see beautiful scenery, and probably some wildlife. You’ll spend a fun-filled day in the Great Outdoors. Trails either run point-to-point, or take you in a circuit, and can be as tame or as wild as you like, the easiest of which are very stocker friendly – street tires ‘n all. A 2 -4” suspension lift, 33 – 35” tires, and rear locker won’t break the bank, gives you a perfect multi, or dual-purpose rig, and will get you down all but the harder level trails, depending upon how much you want to push it. Generally, and at any level, the bigger the tires, the easier the trail becomes – though at the cost of being harder on driveline components and possibly requiring related upgrades, that knock-on effect. Figure out what you like to run, and build to suit.
Finally, and let’s be honest, while you could pretty much take Grandma’s front wheel drive sedan down the easiest trails, there’s always the potential for damage whenever you venture off pavement. And “damage” to some includes pinstripes you get from branches that hang into trails, some of which may not buff out. If keeping your rig sparkling clean is important to you, stay on the easiest, and widest of trails.
Expedition Travel, or Overlanding – If Trail Riding is day hiking in your 4×4, then Overlanding is backpacking in your 4×4. It’s an “off-road” road trip. Think of running a series of trails while traveling from point A, to point B, generally over long distances, and spending as much time off-road as possible. Generally, most multi / dual purpose rigs that work well on different kinds of trails also make great Expedition Vehicles. As do some rigs you’d think are WAY too large to take on a regular trail run. Reliability, self-reliance, sustainability, the capability to safely and securely store your gear, and comfort are the name of game here, and should be foremost on your mind. You’ll be spending long hours in the saddle, and basically living out of your rig for a few days to a few weeks, or more. You’ll also be spending lots of hours in the back country, mostly away from civilization. You gotta be thinking about mitigating risk. Make sure you’re rig is well maintained. Have a cache of spares, especially for custom parts. Napa isn’t going to have custom length axles or drive shafts in stock. Nor is your local [insert tire chain of choice] likely to have 39.5’s in stock… 33 – 35” tires are common. 37’s have also become very popular.
Rock crawling – Whether it’s crawling ledges, or traversing a literal minefield of rocks the size of Party Balls to VW Bgus, rock crawling is arguably the most technical, challenging and potentially damage inducing form off off-roading – racing and rock bouncing not included. It’s more about picking the right line, and using finesse than it is about sheer momentum. Crawlin’ requires very precise applications of steering, throttle and brake input, at exactly the right times. Tall tires, soft, supple suspensions with lots of droop (down travel), lockers at both ends, and plenty of instant torque, through super low gearing, will have you “Winning.” Finding the right lift height to clear 37 – 42” tires while keeping a low center of gravity is always a challenge, and that super soft suspension that excels in the rocks will be a handful on the road without some anti-sway bars. It’s a lot of fun, and very rewarding, but get it wrong, and those huge slabs of granite and glacial deposits will be unforgiving as they crumble sheet metal, and break driveline parts.
Mud – You’re going to encounter some kind of mud hole on almost every trail run or overlanding trip. So long as you find out how deep it is before you plunge in, and go as slow as possible but as fast as necessary, you should be fine. If Mud Bogging is your thing, then big lifts (to clear at least 38’s but up to monster agriculture tires), a stiff suspension (to keep those tires on the ground), and HIGH horsepower (to keep those meats spinning which clears the mud out of the lugs), will Git-R-Done. You’re well advised to protect the electrical system, and air intake before you mash the skinny pedal and hang on. Hydrolocking sucks!
Dunes – Think deep sand with very steep hills. Wide tires, gobs of horsepower and plenty of momentum will rule the day. Just watch those razorbacks. Don’t go flying over the top of any hills unless you’re 110% sure what’s on the other side. Also better make sure you have right suspension, and axle bracing if catching air is in your plans. Big air and rollovers are always possibilities in the dunes.
In every case:
- Be sure the nut behind the wheel stays properly adjusted. Smart driving goes a long way, and driver ability can make up for some vehicle capability.
- Be Prepared. People generally don’t try to get stuck, or plan to break down, but it happens. Recovery gear, basic tools, the knowledge of how to use them, and some spare parts will go a long way towards getting you back on the road. A basic first-aid kit, some extra food or snacks, and of course, some extra fluids for both you and your rig are also always recommended.
- Bigger tires (within reason for your type of wheeling), and lockers always help.
- Tread Lightly! Ride only on designated and pack-out whatever you pack in to help keep our trails open, not only for us, but for future generations.
Wheel Safe. Wheel Smart. Have Fun. Hope to see you on out on the trails.