Are you ready to go off-roading for the first time? Or, have you gone off-roading once or twice, and now you want to take your skills to the next level? As a beginner off-roader, it is important to keep several tips in mind so you can stay safe and improve your off-roading skills.
Some of the essential off-roading tips for beginners include choosing the right vehicle and making the necessary modifications, such as bigger tires. You should also practice, know your limits, attend a driving course, join an online or in-person group, and focus on learning how traction works.
In this article, you will learn some of the best off-roading tips for beginners. Whether you have zero off-roading experience or just a very little experience, this article is going to help you improve your off-roading skills. Let’s get into it!
Why Go On Off-Roading Trips?
Why go off-road in the first place if you are not experienced? Off-roading is a lot of fun and will allow you to enjoy the outdoors and nature in a new way. If you like adventure and challenges, you will enjoy off-roading.
Going off-road forces you to get out of your comfort zone and try new things. You have to overcome your fears all the time. Overcoming your fears does not stop right when you get on the trail.
Instead, you will constantly encounter obstacles in your path, including rocks and creeks, and you will have to have the mental fortitude to push on and overcome them. That is why off-roading is so challenging, and that is why it is a great way to build up mental strength and toughness.
Also, off-roading allows you to experience nature—you can drive your truck to new places that would otherwise be inaccessible to you. Sure, you can go on hikes, but you can only walk so far.
Certain waterfalls, lakes, mountains, and other natural beauties might be off-limits unless you have an off-road vehicle to drive you there. That is why we recommend that all nature lovers go off-roading from time to time, even if they do not have a lot of experience.
Don’t worry. The tips we will provide in this article will help you enjoy your off-roading adventures like never before. They will help you stay safe and avoid scary situations.
Do Your Research
One of the best parts about off-roading is that there is so much you can learn from the internet. You can find most of the information you need to know for free. All of the tips and advice that would not have been accessible to you just 20 years earlier are now accessible at the touch of a button.
There are many sources online where you can get useful information for off-roading. One place you can go is forums. Online forums that cater to off-roaders like you will be full of useful tips that others are sharing based on their personal experience. It is almost like having an experienced off-roader teach you tips that they learned from a life of off-roading personally. You can’t get this information anywhere else.
You can learn from mistakes that other off-roaders have made and avoid them. This way, you won’t have to make mistakes yourself to learn what not to do. In addition to private forums on websites, you can join a site like Reddit, where subreddits dedicate themselves to off-roading topics. Also, if you have Facebook, join off-roading Facebook groups. You might even find an off-road Facebook group in your area.
An off-road Facebook group in your area can help you find out about hidden trails that you can explore not far from you. You might also learn about weather patterns in your area and how they affect off-road driving conditions. There is a wealth of information to be found in such groups.
We would also recommend reading blogs. There are so many great blogs on off-roading. You can bookmark those blogs or sign up for an email newsletter, so you get helpful tips all the time.
Youtube is also a great place to do research. Youtube has the advantage that you can see people overcoming obstacles and demonstrating off-road tips in real-time. You may also find courses on off-roading online, but there is no need to pay for a premium course if you can find free information.
For example, this video is full of useful tips for beginner off-roaders:
Take an Off-Road Course or Lesson
If you are hesitant about going off-road for the first time by yourself, and you feel that watching Youtube videos just won’t do it for you, why not sign up for an off-road lesson or course?
Fortunately, in most big cities, some schools will give you an off-road driving course so you can get comfortable driving off-road before doing so in your vehicle, by yourself. Alternatively, you might find guided tours for off-roading, which can also help.
Taking an off-road course can also help you expand your off-road capabilities. You might find a school that focuses on helping people learn advanced off-roading skills. Alternatively, you might find a school that helps teach people how to off-road on a motorcycle or ATV.
Join a Local Club
You may also be able to join a local off-roading club. By joining a local club in person, you can interact with fellow off-roaders, exchange tips about off-roading, and exchange advice about the best places in the area to get off-road modifications installed or go for a drive off-road.
The local club may also offer some kind of training for beginners or some kind of group ride, so you won’t have to go alone into the wilderness. The kind of interaction you can get in-person is invaluable.
Plan What Kind of Off-Roading You Will Do
Before you can even start making modifications for your vehicle, you must plan and know what kind of off-roading you want to be doing.
If you are a true beginner, we would recommend starting light. Off-roading can be anything that is off the pavement, but that does not mean you have to go through the jungle or desert right away. Instead, start by going on dirt or pebble roads. Starting on dirt roads will help you enjoy nature and get a feel for driving off the pavement if you are not used to it. As time goes by, you can progress to slightly harder trails.
There are also various kinds of off-roading you can do. Each kind of off-roading requires its own set of skills, so you might want to become an expert in a specific kind of off-roading. Also, certain modifications will be better for certain off-roading than others, so it is good to know what kind will be your main activity.
Here are some common kinds of off-roading:
- Mud off-roading: Muddy off-roading is a lot of fun for many people. You will be driving in muddy areas.
- Desert off-roading: Desert off-roading and racing is also a lot of fun. It requires certain modifications, and it takes time to learn how to drive in the sand, but it is a great activity.
- Water off-roading: Do you love driving through creeks and brooks? If you are adventurous, you can drive through shallow rivers.
- Rocky off-roading: You can off-road on rocky terrain. This kind of off-roading requires a certain skill level, but it is also a lot of fun.
- Overlanding: Overlanding is not exactly synonymous with off-roading, but it does incorporate some level of off-roading, usually. Overlanding refers to taking long trips across a region and living on the road. Most off-roaders stay at campsites, sleep in tents, or sleep in their vans. You don’t have to go off-road to overland, but most overlanders go off-road.
You could also be a jack of all trades and do off-roading in all kinds of terrain. A lot of people do that.
Get a Good Vehicle
While some people go off-roading in regular cars, it is best to get a vehicle designed for off-roading. A 4×4 is what most people get.
You have two options in terms of the vehicle you get. You can get a brand new vehicle and do all the modifications yourself to optimize it for off-roading, or you can buy a used vehicle that was used for off-roading and already has modifications installed. There are some benefits of doing the latter.
As a beginner off-roader, you might not know which modifications to make. Getting a fully modified off-road vehicle will take away the hassle of figuring out which modifications are best. Also, you will save some money.
As a beginner off-roader, you may also find that you don’t like the first vehicle you buy. You might want to buy a different kind of vehicle—a Jeep instead of a Ford, for example. If you buy a used vehicle, it will be easier to sell it and buy a new vehicle later.
The fact that different vehicles are perfect for different needs is why the previous step is so important. You need to know what kind of off-roading you will be doing. If you are doing only light to medium off-roading, you might not even need any modifications.
You don’t necessarily need a lift kit, for example, if you will be driving on mostly flat terrain, even if it is off the pavement. However, if you plan on doing hard off-roading, you will need modifications.
One thing we would recommend is getting an off-road vehicle that has four-wheel drive. While it is possible to off-road with a two-wheel drive, we would recommend a four-wheel drive as it is much better. There is a difference between four-wheel drive and all-wheel drive. For off-roading, four-wheel drive is better than all-wheel drive.
When getting your vehicle, there is something else to consider: should you get an automatic or a manual vehicle? If you are a beginner, you might want to consider getting an automatic. A vehicle with a manual transmission will indeed give you more flexibility and allow you more control over your vehicle. Many people also find manual off-road vehicles more fun.
However, a manual vehicle will require an extra skill. You will have to learn how to use the clutch properly when off-roading and going slowly. You might have difficulty going uphill, especially if you are starting uphill with a manual vehicle.
If you have prior experience with driving manual vehicles, there is no reason you should not get one now. Again, this decision will depend on your personal preference. Manual vehicles can be a bit cheaper, so that is something to consider as well.
Figure Out Your Mods
Now that you have figured out the kind of off-roading you will be doing, it is time to plan your mods. If you bought a fully modified vehicle, you don’t need to worry about this. However, if you are a beginner and bought a stock vehicle, this section will contain some valuable tips for you.
The most important thing that we recommend is to plan. Some mods will set off a domino effect that will require you to install other mods. That is why it is important to join a forum or group to ask questions about mods you will be making. Alternatively, at least do some research online to see which mods are necessary for the type of off-roading you are doing and which are more of a hassle than worth it.
One thing we will say is that, for many people, you just need to install better tires. It is important to have good tires—stock tires often won’t cut it for off-roading. You might want larger tires, so you have more traction—larger tires have a larger contact patch at any given time, which increases traction.
Also, you need tires that have deeper tread. This deeper tread will help your tires grip the ground and increase traction even on tough terrain.
You might want to just start with the tires and make other modifications later on, as you move on to more difficult types of off-roading. For most types of low-level or even medium-level difficulty off-roading, that is all that you will need. You will be surprised at what you can do with a stock 4×4.
Here are some other modifications you might want to make:
- Lift kit: Get a suspension lift kit if you want to increase ground clearance and improve your suspension. A lift kit raises your vehicle so you can get over obstacles better.
- Shocks: You can also buy new shocks if you bought a used off-road vehicle and feel the shocks are too old. Shocks that are too old can sag under the weight of your vehicle, decreasing your ground clearance.
- Locker: A locker locks your two back wheels together. This way, both of them operate, regardless of whether both wheels are on the ground or one is in the air, which can happen when you are off-roading.
- Lighting: If you plan on off-roading at night or going on overland trips, it is crucial to get good off-road lights. You can get a light bar to place on the top of your vehicle or fog lights to help illuminate the fog. You can even get replacements for your stock lights, as long as the replacement is DOT approved. Off-road lights are designed to provide much brighter light over wider and longer areas to help you off-road.
- Skid plates: Skid plates help protect your truck from scratches and other damage. They are not a must, but they will help protect your vehicle. You might also want to get underbody armor to protect the vulnerable parts of your engine and chassis. The latter is more than just cosmetic, while skid plates are often just cosmetic.
- Winch mounting plate: We will talk about a winch in the next section. For now, suffice it to say that you will need a winch mounting plate so you can attach the winch to your truck in times of need. If your bumper does not support a winch mounting plate, you can get an aftermarket bumper with an already installed winch mounting plate.
Buy Good Equipment
Before you go on an off-road journey alone, it is important to buy the right accessories. We already talked about the modifications you should make to your vehicle, but this is slightly different. You need to buy stuff that won’t necessarily be attached to your vehicle but are still important.
The first thing to buy is a winch. You will need a winch if your truck gets stuck in a ditch or the mud, and you cannot drive it out. A winch is a hauling device that uses a spool. You operate it with a crank or with remote control.
There are many kinds of winches. You can get one that has a steel cable—these types of winches are usually cheaper. You can also get a winch with a synthetic rope—these are a bit more expensive but a bit lighter as well.
Make sure the winch has a remote—the remote does not have to be wireless. You just need to be able to operate the winch from a distance. Many winches come with remotes that can be plugged into the winch and operated from a distance. This way, you can operate the winch while driving the truck in the driver’s seat. The combined force of the winch and your driving will help you get the truck out of the ditch.
As we alluded to in the previous section, ensure you can attach your winch to your vehicle by getting a winch mounting plate.
Another thing you should have is an emergency medical kit. You don’t have to go all out on this, but you should have the basics in case you have an injury. Sterilizing alcohol is one thing to take with you. Bandages and gauzes are other important things.
You might also consider taking an emergency kit of food and drink if you get stranded somewhere for a day while trying to get your truck out of the ditch or if your truck breaks down. Get some protein, like tuna fish in cans, beans in cans, or SPAM. You should also have a few water bottles that you keep for times of emergency.
A satellite phone and GPS is another thing to consider taking. This way, you can call for help even if you are somewhere that does not have good cell phone reception.
Not all satellite phones have a GPS on them, so you can get a separate GPS that will help you figure out where you are and how to get back to society. There are also compasses you can use—these are helpful for figuring out which direction you are going.
Start Easy and Know Your Limits
We can’t stress the importance of this tip enough. You must know your limits—your limits as well as the limits of your vehicle. Start easy, on dry tracks. Then, as you get better, you can move on to the sand, muddy tracks, and rocky areas. You must work your way up the ladder.
Practice More Often
Get as much practice as you can. The more you practice, the better you will be at off-roading. You don’t have to practice every day—you might have obligations like work to take care of. However, you can set aside a few hours every weekend to practice your off-roading skills. Find trails near you that you can use for practicing.
Pay Attention to Traction
The biggest hurdle beginner off-roaders face is figuring out how traction works. Traction is one of the most important things you need to understand when off-roading. When you lose traction, you run the risk of having your truck spin out of control or go off the trail.
Traction refers to how well your truck’s tires are gripping the ground. That is why tires with deeper tread have better traction—the deeper tread allows the tires to better grip the ground. Also, bigger tires have larger contact patches. The contact patch is the amount of tire in contact with the ground at any given time. The larger the contact patch, the more traction there is.
Your tires have a limited amount of traction. You need to use some traction for speeding up and braking. When you accelerate too fast, your tires will lose their grip on the ground. Hence, you will have reduced traction. When you brake, you need traction to grip the ground. You also need traction to make sure your tires do not slip off the rocks you are going over.
Hence, when you are going on difficult terrain where you have less traction, it is important to be careful when accelerating and slowing down. If you accelerate too quickly, you will be using more traction and may not have enough to keep your grip on the ground. It is best to go slowly.
If you ever took driving lessons, you might have learned not to slam on the brakes but to instead brake carefully, with precision. Slow and steady wins the race.
The same goes for accelerating. Don’t slam on the gas pedal. Instead, press it gently and firmly. Doing this is especially important for manual vehicles because you need to learn clutch control. That is something else that we recommend. If you have a manual transmission, make sure you have fully mastered manual driving before going on hard trails. You will thank yourself later.
Remember, if the road is slippery, you will have less traction. Your tires simply can not grip the ground well when it is wet. The same goes for rocks. The less traction you have, the more important it is to accelerate smoothly.
Learn How to Start Uphill
If you have a manual transmission, it can be difficult to start uphill. You have to get everything right. If you let go of the clutch too early, your vehicle will stall. If you give too much power at first, your vehicle will stall as you release the clutch. Practice starting uphill like any other skill.
First, start on small hills that are not steep. Then, keep practicing on steeper hills until you get it right. Starting uphill with a manual vehicle is an art, and it is not necessarily something that you can learn overnight. Don’t feel bad if you can’t figure it out first, especially if you are not used to driving a manual transmission. It is normal for it to be hard.
Don’t be afraid if you have never gone off-roading. As long as you start slowly, know your limits, and work your way up the ladder, you will not have any problems. It will take some time, so have patience. Good things come to those who wait.
Off-roading is fun and adventurous. Some people build their lives around it—indeed, it is a lifestyle for many. Just focus on having fun and enjoying yourself, and do not spend too much time worrying about small details. As you get more experienced, you will learn more about the best mods later.