A Beginner’s Guide to Off-RoadingWith the right understanding and preparation, you'll be the trail boss in no time.
Off-roading or mudding can be an exciting activity for thrill seekers, but it can also be dangerous if safety precautions aren’t taken. You might be the master of your truck or vehicle on the highway, but off-road is a whole new beast to tame. Before you take your 4×4 out for a spin, do your research and make sure you’re fully prepared. Read through our beginner’s guide to off-roading and consult some of your more experienced off-roader friends. With the proper understanding and preparation, you’ll be the trail boss in no time!
Vehicle Basics & Lingo
There are many different components that work together in your truck or jeep when you are off-road. Traction control is a complex system that sets traction for different situations based on incline and other factors. Traction control uses the brakes and/or the mechanics to limit the wheels from slipping and lets the brakes know when to start working. Every traction control is different, so it’s best to learn how to use it in your manual.
Locking differential is what locks the turning of the left and right wheel together. When you’re driving down a normal road, usually the wheel on the inside of a corner turns slower than the other one because it travels less distance. When you’re off-road, everything is different and there’s no consistent speeds. Full time 4×4 will help with off-roading because of this. Both wheels spin at the same rates, making sure that it has enough power. Most modern 4x4s have the option for locking differentials.
Special Equipment & Features
Tires play a big part with traction. Make sure to match your tires with the type of terrain you will be attempting. If you don’t have good tires, then you won’t have enough strength for your vehicle. There are tires available for all terrains, including mud, rocks, and sand.
Suspension is the next thing you need to successfully achieve off-roading. Vehicle suspension has three main jobs: keep the tires touching the road, smooth out bumps, and control vehicle stability. It’s the shock-absorber and will take all the abuse (as opposed to you or your vehicle). The better the suspension is, the smoother the adventure will be.
Bumpers are very important, especially in Florida. Bumpers or bars protect from all that brush and rocks (things that will easily scratch or even seriously damage your truck). Some bumpers even allow for you to put your spare tire on the back versus on the bottom of your truck in case you are stuck in a mud hole and need to switch it out.
Maxtrax is a traction device that can help you crawl out of a sticky situation. When you get stuck, you don’t want to just dig deeper in the hole by stomping on the gas. You need to get yourself out of the hole – this is where Maxtrax can help. It goes under the wheel or wheels that are stuck and helps your tires regain control over the situation.
A winch is another type of recovery system for when you get stuck (notice that we said when, not if). You definitely need some training to operate one correctly, but a winch will help pull you out of that hole. Make sure to invest in the right one and don’t cheap out. This is worth the money.
Snatch straps are basically recovery straps. They are rubber band-like and they absorb energy. These straps will help pull the vehicle out of the hole. Do not use these with a trailer hitch ball as they will snap off and go flying.
This is a must if you’re going to be near any type of water. A snorkel keeps your engine from ingesting water, which could cause serious, irreversible damage to your vehicle. Snorkels help the engine breathe from somewhere near the roof of the vehicle.
Preparing for Worst-Case Scenarios
First Aid Kit
For even the most experienced off-roaders, accidents happen. You don’t want to find yourself lost in the wilderness, injured, and without any basic first aid. Include a fully stocked first aid kit in your truck.
Seat Belt Cutter & Glass Breaker
Seat belt cutters and glass breakers are especially useful if you’re going to be near large bodies of water while off-roading. If you get caught in the water or another accident that leaves you stuck, you make need to cut and break your way out. Remember: it’s better to have these things and never need them than need them and not have them.
When considering off-road safety, think of the phrase “Accidents happen” as your mantra. A lot of off-road locations might be far away from any sort of fire rescue or buildings that house their own extinguishers. Keep a fire extinguisher in your vehicle so that you’re ready to extinguish any vehicle fires should an accident occur.
Off-roading has a learning curve, so take the time to ease into it and remember to never over-steer. Mudding is only fun if you’re not stuck! Stick to this beginner’s guide to off-roading and find other resources to make sure you and your crew are safe for your next outing. Also, consider bringing another truck along in case you need a tow. But most of all, have fun!