Do You Have The Right Angle For A Good Off-Road Experience?


Just when you thought you’d found an exciting hobby of off roading that didn’t involve math -  guess again. Off roading will put your understanding of geometry and physics to the test. Off roading involves a lot of brute force and some tough equipment like big tires and custom bumpers; however, it also involves some careful calculations to avoid getting into trouble. One of those essential calculations is ground angles and how to negotiate them.

Angles and Off Roading

There are three important angles that every off roader needs to understand and study before attempting any serious hill climbing. When negotiating hills and valleys, you want to know your approach angle, your breakover angle, and your departure angle:

  • The Approach - The steepest incline that a truck can climb without dragging the front bumper on the ground during the incline.
  • The Breakover - The sharpest hillcrest a truck can maneuver without ending up “high-centered” and stuck on the crest with wheels off the ground.
  • The Departure -  The steepest slope that a truck can drive down without the rear bumper scraping along the dirt during the descent.

Based on these different angles, a driver needs to figure out whether their favorite off road truck can make it up and down the hill without dragging anything. Of equal importance is if  they can get over the crest without becoming stuck up there once the front tires get over.

Vehicle Specifications and Angles

There are a few vehicle specs that you’ll need to know in order to estimate whether or not your truck can climb any hill. Those include the length of your truck, how much ground clearance you have, and the type of vehicle you’re driving. Generally speaking, the shorter your wheelbase and the higher your ground clearance, the better. Vehicles with a shorter wheelbase and higher clearance can climb or descend steeper slopes and go over sharper crests without scraping or dragging anything, ending up high-centered on the hilltop.

So How Do You Know If the Angle Is Right?

The good news about this whole mathematical situation is that it’s relatively easy to estimate your truck’s clearance with one simple item. Learning to estimate angles on the fly is a great way to gain hill climbing experience, but it’s still a good idea to know your limits just in case.

Using a broom, a yardstick, or even a long, straight branch, put the end on the ground so it touches the front tire, and then angle it upward until it touches the bumper or the lowest point on the front of the vehicle. That’s your front end angle. You can repeat it in the rear so you know the rear end angle, too. As for the breakover angle, it’s good to know the distance between your front and rear tires so you can at least estimate your clearance, but that one’s going to be more up to careful observation on your part and making the right moves.

Off roading isn’t a highly technical activity, but it has its moments. Whether you’re figuring out how much to air out your tires, or which lift kit or aftermarket truck bumper you need, a lot of the decision is based on what you do and the truck you do it with. The same goes for hill climbing angles. In being aware of these limitations and how to estimate your safest route, you’ll experience the excitement of pushing your truck to the limit without actually going over the limit. If you do, just back down before scraping up that steel bumper and try again, this time from a different angle!

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