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How-to Drive in Off-Road Conditions

The majority of people get nervous when the road is rocky, muddy, or bumpy. But for a select group of adventurers called off-roaders, driving without any road is the greatest thrill imaginable. Off-roading is an activity in which people drive or ride in a vehicle without a road. There are some inherent risks to the practice, so it’s important to understand basic safety tips and your vehicle’s off-road capacity.

1. Be Familiar with the Terrain Before You Go

Trails might have sections that are too severe for your vehicle to manage. They might even be dangerous. Make sure you understand the terrain before you go. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to explore every inch of the trail on foot. However, if you come to a rough stretch, you might want to get out of your truck and do some scouting.

An alternative is to learn how to read the terrain. You should keep your gaze elevated to you can see how the trail will change. Enough practice will let you anticipate the future with relative accuracy. For example, if you see the trail disappear, this means a steep hill might be coming up. For steep climbs, you’ll want to map out your potential route before you attempt the hike.

2. Drive in the Right Gear

Even if the land looks smooth, the second you go off the road, you should shift into four-wheel drive. For all-wheel drive vehicles, make sure you lock your center differential. The reason you should shift so soon is because you might forget later. And if you wait until your rear tires are spinning, you might be hopelessly stuck already. Shifting gears won’t necessarily set your vehicle free.

If you’re going on a tough trail, you’ll want to use 4WD Low Range. This is a low-range gearset that gives you added control by thrumming the engine’s power through additional gears before it can reach the wheels. This allows for slower driving and increased torque.

It’s also important to choose the right gear for your transmission. The rule of thumb on a trail is to drive as fast as necessary, but as slow as possible. When you’re going over rocks, you’ll want first gear. Sandy and soft soil need more momentum, so for these, it’s a good idea to switch to higher gears. Muddy trails might require any number of gears depending on the traction you can get.

3. Always have Recovery Gear with You

With off-roading, getting stuck isn’t just a possibility: It’s an eventuality. It doesn’t matter how precise or thoughtful you are while driving. You will eventually need to help get your vehicle free.

Sometimes, getting free might be as simple as setting a textured floor mat beneath each vehicle tire. Stacking rocks and filling in holes might also help. But for serious stickiness, you’ll need to get recovery gear.

The most important piece of recovery gear you can get is a heavy-duty tow strap, about 2 inches wide, with fabric loops attached to each end. You can attach these straps to your vehicle’s frame or tow hook to pull the vehicle out.

If you don’t have anyone available to help tow you, though, you’ll need more heavy-duty gear. An electric winch should help, as long as you get one rated for the vehicle. Consider a Warn recovery kit to give you what you need for extraction.

4. Lower the Tire Pressure

When you lower your vehicle’s usual tire pressure, you’ll increase the traction in almost every potential off-road situation. Your tire’s tread and sidewall will have the ability to mold and flex around trail obstacles like rocks. The vehicle also has increased grip, which heightens the quality of your ride.

5. Look for Traction

When you feel your tires start to slide or spin, the majority of drivers have an instinct to feed more engine power. But doing so will make the tires spin and slide even more quickly. Your best solution is to back off the gas pedal. Gently move your steering wheel from side to side until you find traction. When you turn your tires from side to side, their biting edges dig into fresh patches of ground.

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