Off roading is exciting and fun, which is why we do it. Getting the most bang for your off roading dollar while also staying safe means developing the skills necessary to do so. Every person out on the trails in their outfitted off-road jeep or truck started at the beginning skill level; yet with time and experience, those skills have hopefully improved.
While online or classroom learning can’t replace actually getting out there and doing it, there are some skills every driver needs to safely negotiate the trails, from mild to wild!
Know How to Prepare Ahead of Time
There’s a lot more to hitting the trails than just heading out on a whim. Safe, fun off roading requires good planning and preparation. You’ll want to be sure everything on your truck is working correctly and in good condition and that you have the right gear along for the ride. Besides a first aid kit for yourself, always pack rescue gear, a spare tire, extra fuel and other items that can help you out of a bind.
Never head out alone and always be in some kind of communication with others while on the trail, whether using a cell phone or a CB radio. In addition, obtain a good map of the area you’ll be exploring and get a weather forecast beforehand. Prepare for emergencies and “what if” situations - just in case.
Know Your Truck
To avoid problems on the trail, as well as unnecessary damage to your great offroading truck, it’s important to know it well and what it can - and cannot - do. Most importantly, know the length of your wheelbase and your ground clearance height, then learn how to estimate whether you can actually make it over different obstacles.
Know what kind of suspension, gears, and differential you have and how they each relate to your off roading experience. That way you can put all that equipment to its best use. Know how your 4-wheel drive works and activate, and always turn it on before you actually need it.
Learn to Pick Your Line
Picking your line means deciding ahead of time how to successfully negotiate different obstacles. Start out small and learn how to handle rocks, hills, and water safely. Learn things like approach angles, hill ascent and descent, and how to handle different types of muddy soil. Understand that speed kills, even while off roading, and that slow and steady is the safest and most effective way to get through or over pretty much anything out on the trails.
Learn Effective Braking and Steering
Wrenching on the steering wheel and jamming on the brakes might be a natural reflex reaction - on the trail, it can be dangerous. To safely negotiate different obstacles and avoid ruining your new steel bumper, it’s important to develop a good feel for easy braking and how much is enough to avoid over-braking.
Similarly, never wrap your thumbs tightly around the steering wheel, as a violent kickback could snap them. Consider the possibility that steering could also be knocked out of alignment while on the trail, so always look where the front wheels are pointed, especially if the steering doesn't seem quite right.
While there are many important skills that off roaders need to develop, starting out with the critical basics will help you do just that. Most of this is just common sense, but it’s wise to know your off road truck well and understand the mechanics of some of what you’ll be doing before you actually try doing it. With these skills, regardless of what kind of equipment you have on your truck, you’ll be able to negotiate the trails safely and more easily by using the right techniques!