Off Road Driving For The Beginner

Off road driving is lots of fun, but it can be dangerous not only to beginners, but to seasoned drivers as well. Even if you are trained to handle difficult situations on the tough trails, mishaps sometime happen that we just cannot avoid, or when we take things for granted.

In this article, we are going to go through some tips that will make your off-road adventures safer and more fun.

What will you use your vehicle for?

Even before you start making modifications to your newly obtained 4WD, you should take it out and get used to it. Decide what you will be using your vehicle for. Will you be driving on light trails, will you be doing overlanding, or are you planning on hitting the tough trails with all its challenges?

I have seen many newbies get influenced to fit modifications that they will never use. That is money down the drain that could be used for more practical mods or equipment. Before you actually do any mods, try a few easy trails and later move on to some more difficult ones to see what you like. Don’t be in too much of a hurry to drive the hardcore trails as they can do a lot of damage to your 4WD as well as cause injuries if you are not ready for what might happen. When you are ready and know what you want, then do the mods to suit the type of trails you will be driving on.

Know your vehicle

It’s very important that you get to know your vehicle and its capabilities before you hit the trails. What is the ground clearance? This is important when clearing ruts, boulders or fallen trees. If the clearance is not sufficient, the vehicle’s differentials and chassis may hit the obstacle and get you stuck.

Knowing where your differentials are located in relation to your sitting position helps you travel over high obstacles without hitting them. For example, I know that my differentials are in line with my left shoulder so I know how to avoid boulders and stumps.

Never go off-road alone

Depending on the tracks, this applies to both newbies as well as seasoned drivers. This is in case you get stuck and require another vehicle to rescue you. Even if your vehicle has a winch, in certain areas you may not find a place to anchor to. Having another 4WD either tow or winch you out means you will not have to leave your stuck vehicle and having to walk out in search of help.

Join a 4WD club or go out with experienced friends who are well equipped to handle any situations that may occur. You not only have someone to rescue you, but you can also learn from the way they drive or do rescues of other vehicles. The also know where the good tracks are located.

Watch the thumbs

The right way to hold the steering wheel off road is with your thumbs on the outer part. When you drive off-road, the tracks will have corrugations, ruts and holes amongst other things. When your vehicle’s front tires get into a deep hole, the steering wheel will have a “kick” that causes the steering wheel to spin rapidly. If your thumbs are on the inside of the wheel, you may risk breaking them. Get into the habit of driving with the thumbs and fingers placed on the outside of the steering wheel.

Picking the right lines

The trick in not getting stuck frequently is in knowing which is the right line to take. What this means is that when you choose a path to either avoid a difficult obstacle, or tackle the obstacle, will the track past the obstacle be easier to drive? Sometimes you may choose an easier line but get stuck ahead. Look past the obstacle to see what your options are. You may even have to do a walk-through to see how bad the track ahead is.

River crossings

If you have to cross a river and you cannot see the bottom, you will have to cross the river on foot to see how deep it is, how hard or soft the bottom is, as well as how strong the current is flowing. Never attempt a river crossing without knowing what you are getting into.

Do you have the right equipment?

The most important pieces of equipment you will need to have in your vehicle at all times are a tree saver, tow strap and D-shackles or soft-shackles. There must be recovery points at the front and rear of your vehicle. A recovery point is a hook or ring that is strong enough to attach a strap, or winch cable/rope to pull the vehicle out when stuck. Most vehicles have recovery points at the front but none at the rear. Fitting an after-market steel bumper with recovery points will rectify this. This way, your 4wd can be pulled out from the front or rear, depending on which is convenient.

A bulbar at the front will help protect your vehicle from serious damages in the event of a front collision with animals, trees, rocks and the sides of hills. Having a bulbar fitted will be a good place to mount a winch on should you require one in the future.

It’s okay if you do not have a winch fitted, as long as you travel with a buddy or two. They should be able to rescue you if the need arises. A winch is an expensive piece of equipment that can be purchased later if you really do need one.

Never use a tow ball for rescues as these become dangerous projectiles should they break and can cause serious injury or death. Tow balls are only meant for towing trailers or campers.

You will need to carry a shovel in your vehicle to help get you unstuck as well as for track repairs. You will also need to carry extra water in case you get stuck past the allocated time you had planned for the trip, or for in case your vehicle overheats. A well-stocked first aid kit is also a must for all trips.

The next step

The above is only for the beginner who is starting on easy trails. Should you want to drive tougher tracks in the future, there are other mods you need to have. These include tires and suspension upgrades, rock sliders, winch, lockers and air compressors, among others which we will be covering in future posts.

For the time being, get to understand your vehicle and experience driving and handling your vehicle in the easier trails. You will learn some tips that will help as you progress. Stay safe and have fun.