Part of the adventure of off-roading in a Jeep or truck is driving over different surfaces and in under many different conditions.
There is so much more out there to experience than just smooth pavement.
Rocky trails, sticky mud, and more will challenge both your vehicle's steel truck bumpers and your know-how.
Naturally, you want to approach different road conditions with the right gear that will make your vehicle more capable: bigger tires, open fenders to prevent interference, tube doors, and other performance upgrades like tube doors as well as safety upgrades.
Yet the equipment on your truck is not everything; you also need to know how to handle each different surface.
The key to getting through any mud is increasing your traction area and keeping your tires from digging in.
A/T or M/T tires are best, since more aggressive tires made for rock crawling will just pack with mud.
Airing down to about 20 PSI increases your traction area and makes the tires more flexible and able to ride over the mud rather than dig into it.
Before driving into any mud, inspect it well and make sure you can actually get through it.
If it’s too deep or too far and no evidence of anyone else having made it across before you, you may want to just skip it.
If you decide to go for it, set yourself up for success.
Turn off your traction control, set in 4WD high, then proceed with enough speed to sling the mud away from your tires and keep your forward momentum yet not so much that your tires spin.
Turn your front tires back and forth as you go to keep your traction and prevent them from digging in; just keep on going. It's a learning curve for sure.
2. Sand and Snow
Driving in sand and snow involves basically the same techniques as driving through mud but with a few minor differences.
Airing down in both cases is still recommended to increase your tire's traction area.
For sand, you need to manage your horsepower well.
Only use 4WD low if you’re driving sand dunes and need to get up an incline; otherwise, stick with 4WD high.
The same goes for snow driving, where your concerns are to avoid getting stuck with enough forward momentum, yet try not to slip if there’s ice underneath.
In all cases, you have to find the perfect balance of horsepower, torque, forward speed, and traction to get through.
3. Rocky Trails
Once things start getting rough and your trail turns into more of a mountain pass, you need to slow it down to a crawl so you can carefully judge every rock and boulder you encounter.
You have be very observant and make good decisions about where your tires need to go or you could get hung up or damage the underside of your truck or Jeep.
If you’re in a Jeep, steel tube doors can be a great help due to the added visibility they provide.
Rock crawling is the main time you will need to be in 4WD low.
If the terrain is especially aggressive, air your tires down a bit so they are more pliant, then proceed slowly.
If your vehicle has traction control, turn it on and select the “rock” setting, then find the best line you have the clearance to get over and start crawling.
You should know your ground clearance height ahead of time.
Keep your foot light on the throttle as you slowly move forward over the ups and downs - it’s called crawling for a reason.
4. Fording Water
When it comes to fording water, you’ll want to take extra care to know your vehicle’s limitations and protect it from water getting into places it shouldn't.
Know your vehicle’s safe water fording depth which can usually be found in your owner’s manual and then begin by carefully gauging the water you're about to cross.
Make sure you can see the bottom so you can estimate depth and the surface you're driving into. Walking in is the best way to do it.
Once you know what you’re driving into, start entering the water at a slow, but steady pace with your path at an angle so you’re moving slowly upstream.
Your forward momentum will make a wake bow in front of your grill, pulling the water away from the front bumpers and sides of your vehicle.
Keep momentum all the way across to keep your wake bow and compensate for any downstream push you experience.
Most importantly, know when you’re getting in too deep and go back if you have to.
If you want to cross water that’s deeper than your vehicle’s stated fording depth, you’ll need to get some specialty equipment.
A snorkel, some seals, and plugs will keep the water out of your air intake and other critical systems.
Knowing Road Conditions Is Important
When you come across challenging road conditions like mud, rocks, and water, it’s great to simply forge ahead in your off-road Jeep or truck and get across it all.
The trick to safe crossings, no matter what surface you’re driving on, is having the right equipment such as open fenders and knowing the right way to do it!