Master these and you’ll soon up your off-road game

Off-roading is no easy job. Let’s get that straight right off the bat. But since practice makes perfect, we though we’d give you a head start with a handful of expert-provided tips and tricks that will keep you on top of your game off the beaten path.

It doesn’t even matter what kind of off-roader you’re taking on your weekend adventures. It doesn’t have to be a Jeep and it can certainly be your vintage Land Rover Defender that your father used to take for the occasional mud bath. But if you want to make the best out of your weekend into the wild and avoid nasty situations as well as keep your vehicle in tip-top shape, then these tips and tricks are worth remembering and applying.

Off-Roading Tips and Tricks From the Jeep Experts
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The Jeep off-roading event we attended recently came with its own briefing module. We had to go through it before we were actually handed out the cars, mostly because the course we had to tackle was of a high difficulty. We won’t get into details about that anymore, since you can read about how the new Wrangler JL performed in our extensive article linked in the beginning of this paragraph.

However, the theoretical off-roading module allowed us to learn new things that are of paramount importance when tackling rough terrain as part of your weekend escape or, why not, as part of your job. And obviously, we had to share them with you. As we mentioned earlier, these bits of advice will still apply regardless of your off-road weapon of choice: so you could drive a Toyota Land Cruiser or a Chevrolet Silverado as far as we’re concerned - the laws of physics won’t discriminate.

We’ve also had a chat with our instructor during the actual off-roading bit and we managed to get some extra expert tips. But at the very core of off-roading is a saying that pretty much sums up how everybody should approach and tackle a course, irrespective of its degree of difficulty. It goes like this: “Go as slow as possible and as fast as needed.” Now, what does that mean, really?

Off-Roading Tips and Tricks From the Jeep Experts
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Well, off-roading is a different type of adrenaline-inducing activity. It’s about strategy, feeling the tires fighting for grip, planning, and execution.

Flooring it is not a good option, for a variety of reasons, but the most obvious is that your car will start hopping and you’ll most likely hit the obstacles you’re supposed to drive over with either the bumpers or the underbelly of the car. In turn, you could dislodge the car from its ideal angle/trajectory, which ultimately can end up in rolling it over.

Once you realize that and you’re OK with the concept, you can really begin to get a lot of satisfaction from taking your car off the beaten path. Sure, the approach is totally opposite compare to what a track day entails, but calling it less spectacular would be a mistake.

Off-Roading Tips and Tricks From the Jeep Experts
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That being said, let’s look at some of the scenarios that it’s likely you’ll face during your off-road trip and how to approach them safely and efficiently. It goes without saying that before heading off the road, you must know your vehicle, its capabilities, as well as its quirks - ground clearance, approach, departure, and breakover angles, as well as engine torque and how its particular 4x4 system works.

How lateral incline obstacles should be approached

Off-Roading Tips and Tricks From the Jeep Experts
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It’s highly likely that you’ll stumble upon one such section whether you’re off-roading out in the wild or in a man-made course. Lateral incline obstacles are a common nuisance and when approached incorrectly, it might lead to tipping over your vehicle. Which is something you don’t want, obviously. Now, rule number one is to tackle the obstacle at low speed.

The wheel that’s closer to the obstacle should be steered towards its highest point.

Remember to keep a steady foot on the gas, slowly but constantly accelerating. It’s also important that as you climb onto the obstacle, its lower edge should be framed between your car’s front wheels and remember not to steer the car towards the upward side of the obstacle, otherwise you face the risk of rolling your vehicle. If one of the wheels has lifted off the ground, carefully and slowly get away from the obstacle until the car is back on all fours. Then you’re good to continue.

How water fording should be approached

Off-Roading Tips and Tricks From the Jeep Experts
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Crossing rivers, puddles, or any sort of hole or trench that’s filled with water (again, naturally or artificially) is more of an optional requirement, but there are situations when you’re forced to do it. It can also be a source of great fun, provided the driver knows what he’s doing and also took some precautions. Speaking of them: you should check out what’s under the water before you begin the crossing. Hidden holes can sink your car in an instant and if the water is murky and you can’t see the bottom, use a stick to see how deep the water is and wether the bottom is covered in mud or with stones - the difference between these two “surfaces” is huge, and it goes without saying that ideally, a rocky bed translates into an easier pass.

Once you’ve established that it’s safe to proceed, do it slowly. If you don’t have a snorkel, avoid water levels that go beyond the front bumper. If your car is fitted with a snorkel, then you won’t have this particular issue.

As you enter the water (slowly, right?), make sure the car’s rear end drops nice and easy into the water - again, don’t floor it, regardless of how much you want to do it, because you might leave your rear bumper on the shore.

Once the vehicle’s completely in the water, keep a constant speed in such a way that the car travels with the same speed as the wave formed in front of it. Go slower and you might get stuck. Go faster and you might turn your car’s interior and engine bay into a swimming pool.

How driving off-road on snow should be approached

First of all, you need the right tires. That goes for mud and rocks as well, but it goes without saying that if you’ve ventured away from paved roads, you brought proper gear. In fact, this could be a rule or a tip itself: always bring the proper gear for a session of off-roading. Having some of your pals around might also help, especially if you get stuck for good or your car suffers some sort of damage. So yeah, bring a friend and don’t forget about off-roading gear as well.

As for off-roading on snow/ice, try to see if your car’s 4x4 setup doesn’t have a Snow mode. If you happen to drive a more potent machine like the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, for example, there’s no need to look for that: the car will be up to the task. Now, rule number one: getting off to a start on snow is all about gentle acceleration. With the proper tires, the car should find the required amount of grip and pull off nicely from a standstill. If at any time you start feeling that the vehicle is beginning to skid, steer in the opposite direction and keep the throttle constant.

Do not brake, under any circumstances.

Also as a general rule, never brake like a maniac while driving on snow, because the ABS setup won’t let your wheels lock in the first place, while a sudden jump on the brakes can destabilize the vehicle and send it in a ditch faster than you can say yikes! Again, low speed is king here, for both your and your car’s safety.

How driving down a steep slope should be approached

Off-Roading Tips and Tricks From the Jeep Experts
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Which brings us to the last section of tips and tricks. Now, to climb down a steep slope, you first need to make sure that you tackle the upper edge with the wheels straight. Don’t approach the edge at an angle, though (this also goes for when you’re coming up), as there’s the risk of tipping over the vehicle.

The best way to do it is by coming in perpendicularly on the edge at the lowest possible speed. If your car offers Hill Descent Control or a similar feature, make sure to turn it on.

Your life will be a lot easier with the system than without it, but even sans the Hill Descent Control, all you need to do is carefully dose the brake pedal and use the engine brake (if your car is fitted with an automatic transmission, switching it into manual and engaging the first gear will help).

Now, if by any chance these tips were too hard to understand or your off-roading experience goes beyond them, here’s a video that will teach you what NOT to do during off-roading, instead of guiding you through every step. Enjoy:

Further Reading

Driving the New Jeep Wrangler JL on a Harsh Off-Road Course Is a Confidence Boosting Experience Exterior
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Driving the New Jeep Wrangler JL on a Harsh Off-Road Course Is a Confidence Boosting Experience

2018 Jeep Wrangler
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Read our full review on the 2018 Jeep Wrangler.

2018 Jeep Wrangler Exterior
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Driving the 2018 Jeep Wrangler JL

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