Five Tips to Help You Not Suck at Off-Roading

Craig Cole
by Craig Cole

“Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need roads,” quipped Doctor Emmett Brown in the closing scenes of Back to the Future. Wowing moviegoers, the eccentric scientist had up-fitted his time-traveling DeLorean with hardware that enabled it to fly.

Fortunately, if you decide to venture off the paved path, you don’t need such extravagant and as-yet un-invented technology. A full tank of fuel, a machine that’s not afraid to make a mess of its undercarriage and a little common sense go a long way when slogging through the wilderness.

SEE ALSO: Michelin Defender LTX M/S Tire Review

Driving at speed on a racetrack is its own unique pleasure, but off-roading can be the most fun you’ll ever have at walking speed. If you decide to get your ride dirty, here are few tips to make sure you get home safely at the end of the day.

5. Know Your Rig’s Limits

Just because your Honda CR-V has all-wheel drive doesn’t mean it’s capable of tackling the Rubicon Trail like a lifted Jeep Wrangler riding on mud tires. It’s important to know the limits of your steed’s capability, so you don’t grossly exceed them and get yourself stuck in a serious quagmire.

Common sense prevails here. If a given trail looks too narrow, too steep or too rocky don’t chance it; you could get high centered or worse, divorce expensive and necessary components like fuel and brake lines from your vehicle’s belly.

4. Travel with Friends

Another rational suggestion is to travel with friends. Off-roading alone is never a good idea. Things can happen when you’re out on the trail, bad things. An extra set of hands and eyes can mean the difference between making it home and sleeping in your own bed that night and roughing it in the wild while waiting for a very expensive tow. Having a spotter to help you get over difficult obstacles can be extremely handy.

Of course it’s good to share, and off-roading with companions is just more fun. Also, make sure to tell others where you’re going in case, for whatever reason, you don’t return when you’re supposed to.

3. Lower is Better

Whether it’s unemployment, gas prices or the number of times Donald Trump opens his mouth, lower is better. The same is true of tire pressure when the asphalt ends. Especially with off-road-grade rubber, it’s a good idea to let some air out before hitting the trail. This practice makes things easier for two major reasons. One, it softens the ride by allowing a tire’s sidewalls to flex more, which is good for both the vehicle and its passengers. Two, lower pressure allows tires to grip the terrain better because they can deform more to match the contours of obstacles.

However, it’s important to note you shouldn’t go too low. Josh Burns with recommends staying in the mid-to-high teens. He said around 18 PSI is generally safe. If you let too much air out there’s a risk the tire will pull away from the rim, something known as “losing the bead.” This is can be catastrophically bad. It’s also a good reason to always bring a small air compressor along to top off if something like this happens.

2. Take ‘er Easy

Along with knowing what your vehicle is capable of, it’s also advisable to take it easy while off-roading. Just because you’ve got a brand-new Ford Raptor with monster tires, a huge suspension lift and underbody armor plating, it doesn’t mean it’s invincible.

Drive at a measured pace and allow the vehicle’s suspension to do the job it was designed for, absorbing bumps and impacts so your body (and rig) doesn’t have to. If you’re constantly hitting the bump stops, if things are rattling loose, if the terrain keeps impacting the undercarriage, it’s a safe bet you’re driving too hard.

1. Bring Recovery Equipment

One of the best bits of advice while off-roading it to bring recovery equipment. Simple things like a tool kit, some rope or chain and a jack can help get you unstuck. Bringing a hatchet or hand saw along might not be a bad idea, either. If the trail is too overgrown you can clear a path.

Of course, if you’re serious about off-roading and your vehicle can accommodate one, a winch is fantastic to have. You can extricate yourself from just about any bind with one of these. Also, it’s wise to bring walkie-talkies or a CB radio along just in case. Cell service can be nonexistent in the wilderness.

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Craig Cole
Craig Cole

Born and raised in metro Detroit, Craig was steeped in mechanics from childhood. He feels as much at home with a wrench or welding gun in his hand as he does behind the wheel or in front of a camera. Putting his Bachelor's Degree in Journalism to good use, he's always pumping out videos, reviews, and features for When the workday is over, he can be found out driving his fully restored 1936 Ford V8 sedan. Craig has covered the automotive industry full time for more than 10 years and is a member of the Automotive Press Association (APA) and Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA).

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2 of 13 comments
  • Vee_Kay Vee_Kay on Nov 05, 2015

    Would have been MUCH more effective, "keeping the number of lies Hillary repeats," in reference to lower is better.

  • Robert Ybarra II Robert Ybarra II on Dec 18, 2015

    "One Tip to Help You Not Suck at writing off off-roading articles. Keep your petty political views and comments in your own little brain. Great parking lot wheeling information.