Off-roading with an ATV or 4×4 vehicle may deliver a fantastic adrenaline rush and sense of independence as you navigate isolated backcountry paths and tough terrain. However, appropriate planning and prudence are required to ensure a safe and fun off-road excursion. Follow these pointers to make the most of your next off-road adventure.
Thoroughly investigate your route
Researching your route is one of the most critical things you can do before embarking on an off-road trip. Examine maps and try to speak with someone who has hiked the path previously. This will give you an indication of what to expect in terms of trail conditions, potential problems such as river crossings or steep inclines, and how long it will take to finish the route.
Check the regulations to determine if cars are permitted on the road and if there are any seasonal limitations. Nothing may derail your trip faster than an unexpected ticket or penalties for breaching laws you were unaware of. A little pre-trip research can help you avoid these problems.
Vehicle inspection and preparation
Before hitting the trails, inspect your ATV, 4×4, dirt bike, or other off-road vehicle. Begin by inspecting the tires and ensuring that they are adequately inflated for the circumstances you may face. Inspect the brakes, lights, fluid levels, and batteries.
Pack an emergency kit with spare parts like belts, hoses, and fuses, as well as tools you may need for basic repairs. Off-roading often takes you far from help, so the more prepared you are to handle any vehicle issues yourself, the better. You can also find great deals on spare parts and accessories at salvage ATV auction, like AutoBidMaster or Copart.
Choose appropriate gear
The right off-roading gear can make a huge difference in comfort and safety. Helmets, goggles, gloves and sturdy close-toed shoes are absolute musts when riding ATVs. A 4×4 vehicle will offer more protection, but still consider helmets and eye protection along with durable, abrasion-resistant outerwear.
Recovery gear like a tow strap, jumper cables, jacks and a shovel are also smart additions. A CB radio or other communication device, GPS with maps downloaded, and a well-stocked first aid kit also come in very handy on off-road trails. Don’t take chances – gear up properly for the conditions.
Know your vehicle’s capabilities
One of the keys to safe off-road driving is understanding your vehicle’s limitations and capabilities. A stock vehicle right off the dealer lot is not equipped for serious rock crawling or mudding. Evaluating your vehicle with realistic expectations will help avoid getting into sketchy situations beyond its abilities.
Consider ground clearance, approach/departure angles, suspension travel, tire size, low-end torque and other factors. Test unfamiliar vehicles cautiously before pushing limits. Don’t become overconfident beyond your or your vehicle’s skill level. Know when to turn around rather than risking damage or injury.
Maintain momentum through obstacles
When tackling obstacles like large rocks, deep ruts and mud holes, maintaining momentum is extremely important. If you lose forward motion, you may get stuck and require recovery.
Shift to low gear, apply steady throttle and finesse obstacles. Spinning tires dig in deeper, so keep wheels rolling or rolling slowly with steady inputs. Use the right lines over or through obstacles to avoid high centreing your vehicle or causing damage.
Use proper spotters and communication
Certain off-road obstacles like steep rock shelves are next to impossible to negotiate alone. Enlist spotters at the top and bottom who can guide you through tricky sections using hand signals and verbal communication. Agree on signals before starting.
Constant communication ensures you and your spotters are on the same page. Have a spotter walk technical sections first if needed to find the best line. Clear communication is key to avoiding frustration and damage. Don’t be afraid to ask for a spotter’s help or wait for better positioning.
Exercise extreme caution with water crossings
Water crossings can be very risky and require the utmost care. Check depth first on foot with a stick and look for potential drop offs. Flowing water above 18 inches can sweep away a full-size vehicle. Take it slow and don’t stop in the middle—steady momentum helps avoid sinking and stalling.
After crossing, check vehicle fluids and electronics for any signs of water ingress. Allow brakes to dry fully before continued use. Winching is recommended to ensure safety. Avoid crossing swollen streams as the risk often outweighs any reward.
Know when to say when
Perhaps the most valuable off-roading skill is simply knowing your limits and when to call it quits. Obstacles often appear easier from the seat than they actually are when attempted. Don’t let ego push you into a sketchy situation or damage risk.
If a line looks questionable, have your spotter walk it first. If you become stuck, stop and assess rather than digging yourself a deeper hole. Accept when an obstacle exceeds your skill level and consider a new approach. Knowing when to back off pays dividends in both safety and reduced vehicle damage.
Essential recovery tools and techniques
Recovering a stuck vehicle is one of the most common challenges faced during off-road adventures. Fortunately, the right tools and techniques make it possible to self-recover in many situations with minimal drama or damage. Here are some of the most essential items and methods for unsticking your rig.
Traction boards like Maxtrax are among the handiest and most effective recovery tools around. These ramp-like platforms grip and gain traction in mud, sand and snow when placed under driven wheels. Traction boards should be standard equipment for all off-roaders. They are lightweight, multipurpose, and allow self-recovery in many scenarios.
A quality winch provides a huge recovery advantage and security blanket during challenging off-roading. When equipped with adequate anchor points, a winch allows stuck vehicles to be pulled free with tons of hauling power. Choose one rated at least 1.5 times your vehicle weight. Master proper winching techniques and precautions before hitting the trail.
A sturdy shovel is one of the simplest but most essential recovery tools, great for digging around stuck tires and wheels to provide traction mats. They’re also critical for clearing obstacles, filling holes and levelling terrain. Ensure your shovel can withstand serious use—flimsy ones shatter easily under stress.
Tree savers and straps
When you need an anchor point for winching but no rocks or vehicles are available, a tree-saver strap protects trunks so you can use a sturdy tree. Nylon straps distribute force to avoid damaging the trunk. Never use tow chains, snatch blocks or winch hooks directly on trees. Tree-saver straps are required equipment.
The farm jack on a 4×4 doesn’t provide enough lift for seriously uneven terrain. A Hi-Lift jack provides up to 60″ of lift for extricating stuck wheels or vehicles. They take practice to master safely, but are invaluable recovery tools.
Planning for self-reliant off-road adventures
One of the thrills of off-roading is venturing well beyond civilization into the remote backcountry. But with this freedom comes increased responsibility to plan for self-reliance. Follow these tips when preparing for outings far from outside help.
Notify contacts of trip details
Before departing on any remote backcountry adventure, leave details like route plans, estimated return time and contacts with family or friends. Check in by phone or messaging at planned intervals. Knowing when and where to send help can be life-saving if injured or stranded. Apps like SPOT tracking provide additional reassurance.
Pack sufficient food, water and gear
When travelling beyond the reach of gas stations, stores and cell service, bringing enough essential supplies is a must. Stock plenty of water and food requiring no refrigeration. Pack layers, emergency blankets and other gear for spending a night or longer in the wilderness if required. A water filter, stove, lantern and other basics enable you to sustain yourself while awaiting rescue.
Carry critical vehicle spares and tools
Travelling far off the beaten path increases the likelihood of vehicle troubles. Pack key spares like belts, fuses, hoses and fluids. Also carry tools for field repairs, a tire plug kit, fire extinguisher, or any resource which could get you rolling again if disabled. The right spares and tools empower roadside repairs when options are scarce.
Bring communication devices
While cell service can disappear quickly, devices like ham radios, satellite communicators and CB radios maintain contact with others when far afield. Two-way communication enables summoning help quickly during remote emergencies. Many rental companies also offer vehicle tracking and communication devices. Never rely solely on cell phones when travelling deep into the backcountry.
Know where to obtain assistance
Before travelling into remote areas, understand where assistance may be contacted if required, whether ranger stations, ranches, small towns or other resources. Identify routes to these areas in case of emergency. While the thrill of off-roading is feeling far from civilization, help may be closer than assumed if planned for properly.
Essential equipment for off-road camping
Overlanding and off-road camping allow you to spend multiple days immersed in the freedom of remote wilderness. Make sure you’re properly equipped with these essentials for camping after long days filled with backcountry adventure.
Reliable overlanding vehicle
First and foremost, you’ll need a properly prepared vehicle for off-road camping. A 4×4 vehicle or pickup with higher ground clearance and rugged tires can traverse rougher terrain and access remote campsites. Equip it with skid plates, tow hooks, all-weather traction mats and other protective gear. Favour more clearance over flashy mods.
Roof top tent
Roof top tents mounted on a rigid platform or rack system create comfortable camping quarters above your vehicle. Most setup and breakdown within minutes yet offer amenities like high-density foam mattresses. Optional add-ons include storage systems and separate screened-in porches.
Portable power station
Maintaining device charging and power while camping far from electrical hookups is now possible with portable power stations like those made by companies such as Jackery, Bluetti, and Ecoflow. These enable powering essentials like lights, refrigeration, and electronic devices. Choose one with adequate run time and recharging capabilities.
Deck out your overland vehicle with a tailgate kitchen system offering convenience features for camping meals. Built-in stoves, sinks, countertops and storage solutions help you prep food and clean up after eating without having to constantly unpack. ARB, Yakima, and other brands offer modular camping kitchen components to customise your setup.
While elaborate drive-out awnings are popular, simple rooftop awnings from brands like ARB provide sheltered shade anywhere your rig can go. With quick setup from the roof rack, rooftop awnings offer seating and meals out of sun or rain. Lighter soft shell models pack down smaller than steel rooftop versions.
End off the road
Off-road adventures abound with exhilaration and freedom unmatched by any other activity. But smart preparation, using proper gear, and exercising good judgment ensures your trips create lasting memories for all the right reasons. Follow these tips and tricks to maximise overlanding fun while prioritising safety. The open trails await, so grab life by the handles and get ready to hit the fire roads less travelled!
Featured image: Greg Rosenke/Unsplash