The Ultimate Guide To Sand Driving

Sand Driving, its almost a right of passage to learn how to get around on arguably one of Australia’s greatest assets, the humble beach. Before you go to your nearest beach and go for an adventure its worth learning how to drive on sand effectively not only to save yourself some embarrassment but also to make sure you don’t put yourself in a potentially life threatening situation.

At its core, the key to safely driving on sand is Making sure to reduce your tyre pressure to increase its surface area and to make sure to maintain your momentum to “float” on top of the sand. Make sure to also use low range so you can have power and keep gear changes to a minimum. You also want to make sure you are carrying the right recovery equipment for when you inevitability get stuck.

The tips and tricks outlined below are applicable to driving in any sand, be it  beach driving, in sand dunes, in the desert or in the forest. Anywhere you come across soft sand,  If you are driving on sand dunes, then please read the 4wd Tips and Tricks – Driving on Steep Terrain article as well. In particular, it is worth mentioning again, that you should NEVER drive across a steep hill, especially sand dunes. Doing so can have disastrous consequences. There is a serious and very real risk of rolling your vehicle all the way down to the bottom of the hill.

With that in mind, keep reading below as we break down the key elements of driving on sand to make you look like a veteran 4WDer on your next beach trip.

Before you continue, If your new to 4wd and offroading or are not sure what equipment to take out with you on your adventures, make sure to check out the Off Road Aussies Essential 4×4 Equipment List where I have taken the time to review and recommend the equipment I use.

If you kit yourself out correctly you will be able to tackle everything that your new adventures will throw at you.

The Key Elements Of  Driving On Sand

There are two elements to driving your four wheel drive on soft sand. These are:

  • Tyre Pressure
  • Momentum

being aware of the element above and how to take advantage of them will result in your vehicle ‘floating’ on the sand and seriously decreasing your chances of becoming bogged. Naturally there is no guarantee that you won’t bury yourself to the axles, but your chance of success is increased if you pay attention to tyre pressure and momentum.

Key Sand Driving Element 1: Tyre Pressure

The real secret to sand driving is to reduce tyre pressure thus deflating your tyres. Reducing your tyre pressure will help to spread the weight of your vehicle across a greater surface area, and increases the surface area of the tyre in contact with the ground and achieves two objectives:

  • Increases traction
  • Prevents the tyres from sinking into the sand quite as much.
4wd Tips and Tricks - Sand Driving
Jeff-WA heading up a sand dune

There are many schools of thought on how much you should reduce your tyre pressure when driving on soft sand, but a guide would be to reduce your tyre pressure to half that of your normal road driving. I personally like to air on the higher side as this leaves me a bit in the tank just incase i need to deflate any more due to being bogged

If you find your engine struggling then reduce tyre pressure some more. You can try reducing in 4psi increments until you’re satisfied. Finding the right pressure for your vehicle and the current conditions can be a lot of trial and error. For more information, please read the 4wd Tips and Trips – Tyre Pressure article.

Please don’t go to low with tyre pressures, Once you start talking sub 15 Psi you run to the risk of debeading your tyre when cornering sharply. This is due to the tyre at those pressures actually rolling from side to side when turning. If this does happen to you its would worth checking out our article on How To Repair A Punctured Tyre and the section on refitting a tyre.

Whats An Easy Way To Deflate Your Tyres

There are obviously bits of kit specifically designed to deflate tyres quickly and efficiently.  i would recommend that you look at a set of staun deflators which work by pre setting a pressure, then you screw the deflators onto your tyres valves, the beauty about the stauns is they turn off automatically when they reach the correct pressure, pretty neat aye.

Key Sand Driving Element 1: Momentum

Driving on soft sand can be compared to a speed boat on water. When the boat is travelling slowly, it sinks into the water  and the engine is required to work harder to maintain forward momentum. As soon as the boat speeds up it starts to plane along on top of the water. The engine requires much less effort to push the boat along and the boat is able to quickly skim along the surface of the water.

Similarly, driving slowly on soft sand will allow the tyres to sink into the sand much more than driving faster. When the tyres sink in a little, the engine must work much harder to maintain forward movement.  As you increase your speed, your tyres will float on top of the soft sand much more, and the effort required to maintain your forward momentum will be greatly reduced.

What About Changing Gears While Sand Driving

Another good way to kill off your momentum or “Float” is to change gears while on the sand, this is especially true in a manual when when you depress the clutch you are providing no power to the wheels and giving a chance for the sand to grab your wheels. You really need to try and anticipate whats ahead of you select the gear accordingly, for example if you see a wet patch or some especially deep ruts it might be worth changing down a gear to give you enough power to push through it and maintain your momentum.

What Gear Should I Be In For Sand Driving?

Obviously this is a tough question to answer as all situations are different, but ideally for a diesel engine you want to be in that sweet spot of around 2000 RPMs which in most diesel 4WD’s will provide you with the maximum torque. This is usually Low Range 3rd Gear, this could definitely based on the engine and vehicle but regardless i would always recommend you drive in low range when on the sand if you have the feeling you could get bogged. If the sand is compacted and you are comfortable using high range is fine for that bit of extra speed.

The reason to use low range initially. If you start to get bogged, low range will provide you with the power you need to drive out, but will also allow you adequate speed to keep you on top of the sand. If you decide that the beach is hard enough then you can then change to high range.   CAUTION: Do not overdo your speed. Driving on sand is nothing like driving on the road and driving quickly greatly increases the chance of serious accident.

What If I Need To Stop On The Sand?

The little secrets im about to share with you will seperate you from the rest of the weekend warriors out there as this is where most of the bogging issues in sand occour. first and foremost if possible you want to look for harder sand as you will sink when stationary into softer sand.

When you ready to actually come to a rest, make sure you have enough room and simply roll to a stop, simple aye. Rolling to a stop and not applying brakes will stop your tyres gripping the sand and digging you in but you will still obviously sink a little but i have a neat little trick for you to help with that also. If the sand is soft, Reverse back onto the track you just made few metres (make sure you keep your wheels straight). Once your ready to take off again you have a few metres of tyre track to help build momentum.

What to Do If You  Do Get Bogged Driving On Sand

If you regularly drive on the sand, then eventually you’ll get bogged. Accept this fact and prepare for it and your day will be much more enjoyable.

When you do get bogged in soft sand there are a number of techniques to getting back out.

  • Firstly, It’s important to realise early that you are bogged. There is no point in spinning your wheels. This just digs you in further and makes any recovery effort more difficult.
  • Don’t panic! The vast majority of the time, if your car stays bogged for a while then the only consequence is that you’re late to your campsite. So stay calm and take your time to think it though.
  • Reduce your tyre pressure even more than you already have. Remember that the more you reduce your tyre pressure the more your vehicle will ‘float’ on the sand.
  • Try to reverse out. Often the tracks you used to drive in are solid enough for you to drive out on. Then you can have another go or take a different route.
  • Slowly drive backwards and forwards over the same track. This compacts the sand and hopefully allows you to drive out.
  • If these tips don’t get you out then get your shovel out and start digging. Choose which direction you want to drive out and then dig out the sand in that direction. Don’t forget that you’ll need to clear the sand from underneath your axles and differentials as well. And if you’re bogged enough then you’ll also need to clear the sand away from your undercarriage as well.
  • Make a track for your wheels. You could try lining the track with dry seaweed (wet seaweed can be slippery), sticks, leaves etc. Anything to gain some traction.
  • Also, try something like Max TraX. Static methods of recovery and those that don’t use other vehicles are much safer.
  • If these fail then get out your snatch strap if you have a travelling companion. Keep in mind that you don’t need to tear the car in half in order to pull someone out of the sand. Often a gentle ‘tow’ is enough.
  • Still bogged? Do you have a winch? If not then don’t give up, just do it all over again, but try harder.

Beach Driving Tips and Tricks

4wd Tips and Tricks - Sand Driving
It wasn’t really that steep… was it?

Now that we’ve covered the fundamentals of driving on sand, below are some more tips and techniques for driving your four-wheel drive on the beach

  • Be aware of steep drop-offs on beaches. These are caused by wave action eroding the beach sand and forming small cliffs. Driving too close to the edge will cause these cut-aways to collapse, resulting in your vehicle rolling and probably becoming very wet.
  • Bright sunshine will make features on the beach harder to see. With the glare off the white sand in your eyes, it’s very easy to not see holes, cut-aways, erosion etc. Driving your vehicle into a sand hole can bring your day to a very sudden and complete stop.
  • Don’t get caught too close to the water. If you do a quick google search you’ll find any number of photos of 4wd vehicles being destroyed by pounding surf. Or buried to the roof after a high tide.
  • Don’t turn sharply. With reduced tyre pressure, turning sharply will increase the chances of your tyre separating from the bead of your rim. Tyres that separate from the bead deflate very rapidly.
  • Not getting bogged is much easier than digging yourself out of a bog. Err on the side of caution in all aspects of beach driving.



What Recovery Gear Should We Have When Driving On Sand

  • Long Handled Shovel: as you will sometimes need to dig the sand out from under your 4WD and a long handled shovel makes it that much easier.
  • Snatch Straps: Not only for yourself but for others you meet in your adventures.
  • 4WD Rated Recovery Points: Factory tow points and bull bars etc are often not strong enough and could do serious damage to your vehicle and the people around you.
  • Rated Shackles: to connect your snatch straps to your recovery points please make sure they are rated as they can become projectiles if they snap.
  • A Tree Protector Or Bridle: This can be used to disburse the load across multiple recovery points.
  • MaxTrax or equivalent Sand Ladders: These are a great recovery tool to have as in most situations, a set of MaxTrax will allow you to self recover
  • A Sand Flag: so that people can more easily spot you from over the top of a sand dune or on a bush trail.
  • Tyre Deflators: to let your tyres down before you hit the sand, like i mentioned in the article i would recommend a set to Stauns for ease of use and the speed in which theywork
  • Air Compressor: to re-inflate your tyres, Alot of roadhouses near 4WDing beaches will actually charge you to reinflate in tyres. Its worth investing in a quality unit as they are all not created equal
  • UHF Radio: This is standard 4WDing equipment and is an essential especially on the sand where theirs more of chance of needing assistance.

Obviously there is alot of choice out there when it comes to 4WD equipment, Over at the Recommended Gear Section of our site i have some reviews and recommendation on the equipment i feel is the best bang for buck

Recent Posts