A Guide to 4×4 Off-Roading
Off-roading is not an easy activity to do, but that’s part of what makes it so entertaining. There are a lot of moving components… literally and figuratively. Trucks, SUVs, and other vehicles built for 4×4 off-roading have different needs than vehicles built for optimum road capabilities. Not only that, but off-roading requires that you be prepared and to engage with your problem-solving abilities. We know it might seem daunting to jump into. This is why we’ve put together a guide that should help you start 4×4 off-roading!
Pick the Right Ride!
Before you even think of hitting the roads, you have to have the right vehicle in your arsenal. 4×4 off-roading has become such a popular sport! So much so that many truck and SUV manufacturers offer trim levels that are ready the minute they roll off the lot! We’re personally big fans of the Tacoma TRD Pro. However, there’s been a long-held belief in the off-road community. Which is that half of the fun is gearing up your off-road vehicle with all the equipment it needs to be an off-road master. Whether you want an off-road-ready vehicle from the lot or you’re an aftermarket aficionado, there are a few things your ride needs. At least, to be minimally prepared to take on the less-traveled path.
Gear up! What Do You Need for 4×4 Off-Roading?
Below are some of the most essential gear you should have to enjoy your off-roading experience. But there are all kinds of other accessories you can consider! Like light bars, grille guards, winches, bead-lock wheels, and snorkels, just to name a few. However, tires, lift kits, skid plates, transfer cases, and locking differentials are key pieces of gear to have.
If you want your off-roader to thrive in those rough terrains, your first investment should be in the tires. Off-road tires are designed to give your truck the traction control it needs to take on rocky terrain or mud. And to a certain degree, even snow or ice. An additional benefit to off-road tires is that they run large. This gives your off-road vehicle extra ground clearance so you don’t get snagged on a large rock.
On the topic of ground clearance, you might want to consider using a suspension kit to lift your truck. There are a number of different types of lift kits! But the most popular and useful lift kits for 4×4 off-roading are solid axles with coil or leaf springs. These lifts fundamentally change your suspension to deal with the extended height and larger tires. You may also consider a long-travel suspension upgrade for your off-roader. But be aware that the maintenance on this kind of suspension is extensive and often.
When you’re taking on serious terrain, you might want to consider more than just a lift to protect the undercarriage of your offroader. Your big beefy tires will definitely by kicking rocks up at your chassis. And if you’re doing some hardcore rock crawling, you’re at risk of tearing up the guts of your vehicle. It’s well worth it to invest in skid plates to protect your ride. They come in a variety of materials and sizes to fit your undercarriage.
Transfer Cases and Locking Differentials
We mentioned the importance of off-road tires for traction. But there are other ways you can and should optimize your traction. Usually talked about in the same breath, you want your vehicle to be equipped with adequate transfer cases and locking differentials. Transfer cases are the part of the drivetrain that splits the engine’s power to all four wheels through the front and rear axles. Locking differentials, on the other hand, lock the axles so that the wheels on the same axle rotate at the same speed.
As with many parts of our life, prevention goes a long way. Especially when it comes to avoiding disaster while you’re 4×4 off-roading. With your safety, your vehicle, and frankly your investment on the line, nothing is too much when it comes to preparation.
Check Your Fluids
Before you go trail driving, you should make it a point to personally inspect your vehicle. Check your fluids- that means your oil, your coolant levels, wiper fluid, and any other system that might be hydraulic. While you’re at it, verify that there are no leaks in your car. It’s easier to fix your off-roader before you hit the trails than when you’re miles away from any maintained road.
Deflate Your Tires
You should deflate your tires before you travel on off-road terrain. Traction is your best friend when you’re 4×4 off-roading, so high speeds are not as important. By reducing the tire’s air pressure, you’re creating a larger contact patch for your tires to build traction. As well as lessening the likelihood of the tire popping when it crawls over some particularly sharp rocks. However, the low pressure increases the likelihood of the tire slipping off the wheel. So it might not be a bad idea to consider bead-lock wheels that keep the tire firmly in place.
Disengage Your Sway Bar
You shouldn’t neglect to check on your sway bar either. The sway bar is responsible for stopping your vehicle from swaying (and consequently falling over) when it’s rounding a turn while you’re road driving. However, when you’re off-roading, disconnecting the sway bar allows for better independent articulation of your tires. And this can make the difference between getting past an obstacle and getting stuck. Some off-road trims, like the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, feature sway bars you can disconnect at the press of the button.
Verify Your Recovery, Safety, and Repair Gear
Last but certainly not least, verify that you’ve packed all the recovery, safety, and repair equipment you need to avoid a bad time. It doesn’t matter how skilled or experienced you are at 4×4 off-roading. It only takes one misstep to set you back several hours.
4×4 Off-Roading Recovery Gear
For recovery, we recommend winches, special winch accessories and recovery kits, a rugged pair of gloves, and traction mats. These all serve to help you get out of a tight situation where your off-roader just doesn’t have the juice or angle to get out of a rut.
4×4 Off-Roading Safety Gear
As far as your safety goes, there’s a long list of items you can get to handle tough situations. It might end up being costly, but your safety is invaluable and always worth the investment. Some useful items include first aid kits, high-powered flashlights, heavy-duty portable charging packs, and long-range radios. Fire extinguishers are a must as most states require one to be on board for any off-roading excursions.
4×4 Off-Roading Repair Gear
As decked out as your beauty of an off-roader might be, you should be prepared to make repairs on the go. Off-roading is a rugged sport! And it’s not uncommon for parts to break when you’re tearing it up on unmaintained trails. It is absolutely imperative you carry a hi-lift jack in your toolkit. Because a dainty stock car jack won’t do anything for a lifted truck. Another great tool to have on deck would be a tire patching kit. Just in case a stray rock punctures your tire. A fully functional spare tire is also a must! Finally, a basic tool kit can also go a long way.
You’ve Hit the Road! Now What?
Okay, so everything in your vehicle is functional. You’ve gone through your equipment checklist. Now it’s time to hit that trail! There are a lot of different ways something could go wrong, so practice patience and flexibility on the trails! Let’s go over a few tips to make your ride as smooth as you can muster.
Know your Vehicle
The first thing you should do is know your vehicle! We mean really know your vehicle. Test drive any new setup so you get comfortable with the handling of your vehicle. Understand what your ground clearance is. Get a good picture of what your truck can crawl over without getting snagged. More than just ground clearance, you should also be aware of what your approach angles are. Knowing your truck’s capacity for torque will also give you a good idea of what it can get past.
Know Your Terrain
Equally as important as knowing your vehicle is knowing your terrain. Are you hitting sand dunes? Are you going to splash through the mud? Will you have to ford through a river, or will you have to crawl over steep and rocky terrain? All of these things necessitate different driving styles and specialized parts. For instance, if you know the paths you like to take often have water crossings, an air intake snorkel might be essential to avoid hydro-locking your vehicle.
Have a Co-Pilot
Have a co-pilot in your passenger seat! Everything is more fun with a buddy, and they can provide functions that will make your excursion so much easier. For instance, you’ve got yourself a DJ and a snack passer, two roles that are vastly underrated. But more seriously, a co-pilot can help you navigate, or stay calm through a stressful situation. Or get out of the vehicle to help direct you to the safest route around treacherous terrain.
Travel in a Pack
It’s also not a bad idea to go off-roading in groups, even if it’s just two vehicles. It’s great to have people around in case of an emergency. And they might have packed tools that you’ve forgotten about or haven’t gotten around to buying. Your collective experience in off-roading will help you problem solve no matter what mess you’ve gotten yourself stuck into!
Check Water Depths
You should check the depth of a water crossing before you attempt to send your off-roader through it. Water crossings can be deceptive, appearing shallow at the incline but incredibly deep in the center. Be sure to know what your vehicle is rated for wading depth. Don’t try to overestimate what your vehicle can do. Even if you’re equipped with a snorkel and other water-proofing, it doesn’t take much to hydro lock your engine. Or fry any electrical components in your ride.
The last but definitely most important piece of advice is to stay calm and be flexible. There’s no reason you should overexert yourself or your engine. If something is too difficult for your truck to pass, reevaluate what you’re doing. You don’t want to be responsible for hurting yourself or your passengers because you were too stubborn. Be prepared for a change of plans- after all, that unpredictableness is part of what makes off-roading so much fun!
Start your 4×4 Off Roading Adventure!
We hope these tips for 4×4 off-roading help you feel more comfortable about beginning your off-road journey. Please keep in mind trail etiquette while you’re out there! Yield for oncoming uphill traffic, and stay on maintained trails. Also, obey the signs you come across, and pack out what you pack in. The best way to show appreciation for the sport, the environment, and those who maintain the trails? Show respect for your surroundings.
You’ve got a lot of options when it comes to off-road vehicles. Whether you want to build your baby from the ground up or you want a truck that’s ready to rock’n’roll off-road, it’s worth your while to check out what we’ve got in our inventory. We’re passionate about our trucks and are happy to answer any questions you may have!