Off-roading is a term used to describe driving any vehicle on an unpaved surface, but for true aficionados it is so much more.
Off-roaders who do it for fun might just want to get off the beaten track or see how well their 4×4 or ATV handles, while there are global competitions that see drivers attempting to traverse some of the most punishing terrain in the world.
If you want to get started with off-roading, there are a few things to consider – from the route you will be taking through to ensuring that you have all the right equipment so that you are prepared in case anything goes wrong.
The Right Vehicle
If you are sticking to dry and reasonably flat ground, then you might be ok with your normal road vehicle – but anything more challenging and you are going to struggle.
At the very least you need four-wheel drive – and the best drivers choose All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) to take off road. These are designed to have a greater ground clearance, have a strengthened drive train and better suspension, and are made to take on uneven ground, shifting surfaces, and tight angles.
Different tires are constructed to work in different situations – racing cars will usually have less tread than a normal tire on a commercially available vehicle, and this specialism also comes into the world of off-road tires.
There are certain tires that are made to be useful in many terrains – All-terrain tires like Dick Cepek tires work well on different surfaces because It features a bigger contact patch (where the tread meets the terrain) and a higher ground clearance.
If you are headed to muddy, sandy, or snowy trails, then a mud terrain (MT) is much more specialized, with a deep and wide tread pattern that easily sloughs off mud, snow, and sand.
Before you set off on your adventure, make sure that you have everything on board that you might need. While it is important that you don’t add too much weight to the vehicle, getting caught out on a lonely trail could be dangerous. Some equipment you should consider includes:
- Spare tire
- High-lift jack
- Full tank of gas (and extra in a can)
- Tow rope
- Water (for radiators and to drink)
- First aid kit
- Blankets and spare clothes
- Portable air compressor
You might also want to revamp your vehicle a little bit – including things like adding a decent winch, an after-market bumper to protect the bodywork, and even a snorkel to prevent water ingress into the engine compartment.
The reason that four-wheel drive (4WD) is so important in off-roading is that each wheel can operate independently, which helps with traction.
Understanding the way that your vehicle works in terms of traction and power distribution will help – but in general terms, when a wheel is spinning and not able to grip, you want to be able to brake that wheel and get more power to another one that has more grip.
The knowledge of throttle mapping, power distribution and braking could be the difference between an exciting journey and a situation where you get dangerously stuck.
Know the Terrain
Maps are your friend when you are off-roading, and you should also be prepared for the terrain that you are going to face. The way you drive will depend on the surface you are on.
As a brief example, keep the following in mind:
- Dry ground: this is the easiest, but you need to keep your wits about you and make sure you have good tires and a reliable route planned
- Mud: use MT tires and take it slow in a high gear – don’t gun the throttle
- Sand: on a shifting surface like sand or powdery snow, momentum and horsepower will keep you moving.
- Don’t go on your own, and try and make sure you go out with another vehicle so you can help each other out if you get into a sticky situation
- Let 20-25psi of air out of your tires to maximize the tread contact with the terrain
- Use a snorkel for fording streams, but make sure it isn’t too deep
- Know your vehicle inside out – ground clearance and handling can make all the difference
- If in doubt, low and slow.