So the weekend is here, and you’ve got a brand new off-road beast in your possession that you can’t wait to unleash on Mother Nature. You’ve just slapped a fresh set of all-terrain tires on that mud machine, along with a full tank of fuel, a soundtrack to shake the heavens, and more enthusiasm than Lil Jon on eight kinds of “crunk juice.” So what’s missing?
A lot of people think they’ve got what it takes to brave the great American off-road landscape, and with on-demand traction control settings, adjustable suspension, and modern advancements in differential technology, automobiles are more trail-ready than ever before.
But just because you’ve got a badass Jeep and a vague idea of where to find the most hardcore trail, doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re ready to take it on head first. Off-roading can be a tedious, technical, and extremely dangerous undertaking, and should never be taken lightly, regardless of how ready you may feel.
In order to get a better grasp of what all goes into preparing, driving, and enjoying one of America’s most iconic pastimes, we contacted the professional Jeep builder and off-road industry experts at All-Terrain Outfitters for a few tips on how to properly go about getting muddy. With dozens of years of experience on file, and countless trails, hill climbs, and rock crawls completed, turning to an experienced group of “all-wheel drive Jedis” proved to be a very rewarding decision.
Naturally, there are always a few odds and ends that veteran trail guides will likely add to this list, but as a whole, these next nine off-road cheats are words to live by, as they can be the determining factor between having a fun-filled weekend and being air-lifted to safety via chopper.
1. Never wheel alone
Nobody likes to be the only one having all the fun, and the same is true for off-road enthusiasts. Following an experienced “trail buddy” will help you determine what line is best to take, and they can help winch you out in case you get stuck. Riding in a caravan also offers drivers peace of mind in knowing that a “trail-mate” is always there in case of an emergency, and can double as a spotter for when things get a bit technical. Plus, if you’re wheeling alone, who’s going to take all those amazing pictures of you conquering that massive mountain of mud?
2. Prep your ride
Nothing says “ruined weekend” quite like an ill-prepared automobile. If you plan to go deeply enough off-road, you are going to need some basic modifications, which is where shops like All-Terrain Outfitters come in. Even if you aren’t doing any suspension or wheel upgrades to your vehicle, always invest in recovery equipment like tow hooks and a winch, tools for fixing anything that might break, a fire extinguisher, and a tire repair kit for when Mother Nature decides to fight back.
3. Prep yourself
Outside of mentally preparing yourself for the nerve-racking, sweat-inducing adventure you are about embark upon, getting a few things together that will keep you alive is important. Naturally, a first aid kit should be one of the top things on your well-being checklist, as well as toiletries, a change of clothes, emergency flares, a rain suit, some non-perishable food, and plenty of water. Remember, you’re more than likely going to wind up far away from any sign of civilization, so always prepare for the worst, because things can go sour real quick.
4. Check the weather
Simply put: Heavy rain can make a 4 trail turn into an 8 real quick. There are limits to what even the most hardcore vehicle can handle, and getting stuck can mean the difference between an afternoon of 4×4 fun and a weekend of waiting on a rescue.
5. Find throttle equilibrium
This is one of those “practice makes perfect” tips, and the only real way of perfecting your driving technique is by getting out there and doing it. Feathering the throttle in just the right amounts, with the proper gear selected, is one of the most important notes the guys at All-Terrain Outfitters tell rock-climbing rookies. Too much and you’ll break something or hurt yourself. Too little and you’re just spinning your wheels. Finding an equilibrium between the two is a fine line that every 4×4 fanatic has to learn to tightrope-walk across.
6. Have a trail plan
Don’t just Google search the most hardcore trail near you and go hit it with Rambo-grade vengeance. Take your time and familiarize yourself with an aerial map, or better yet, do a ride-along with someone who is familiar with the trail in question. This way you aren’t going in blind, you know exactly how much time it will likely take to complete, and you have a plan as to where you’re heading so that someone can notify a search squad in case shit goes south.
7. Install communication devices
Cell service can be spotty at best when you’re stuck in the middle of no where, so don’t always assume that you can dial 911 if something happens. Plus, if you’re in the lead, being able to radio back to the rest of your convoy about finding another route saves time, energy, and a lot of frustration. Having a CB, HAM, or race radio is typically the preferred choice by most enthusiasts.
8. Air down for traction
By lowering the PSI in your tires, you’re giving your vehicle a larger footprint, which in turn rewards you with more grip. While people typically associate grip with being able to power through a quagmire, or across the top of a boulder, an increase in stopping prowess is often the difference between decisiveness and disaster.
9. Know when to back off
Just like with drinking, it’s always a good idea to know when to stop. Too often the guys at All-Terrain Outfitters find macho morons rolling their rides or snapping suspension arms just because they didn’t want to see their man-card in jeopardy because they played it safe. This isn’t some sort of supreme pissing contest in which contestants get to see who can go the furthest; take a deep breath, step back, and survey the situation. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your vehicle is just as important as being able to tell when you are getting in over your head.