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Off Road

Tips From the Lousiana 4x4 Club
General Off Road Driving Tips

Use Low Range - 4 wheel drive and 1st gear

Start the vehicle in gear without the clutch, pressing the gas a little as needed.

Always use compression braking going down hill. Idle over obstacles. It might be necessary to use the gas somewhat going up hill. Keep the foot off the clutch at all times. Start and stop with the key.

Drive slowly. Crawl over obstacles without using the clutch. If you start to slip or spin, give a little gas. Keep the vehicle moving.

If you have an automatic transmission, use your lowest driving gear and low range. Use the left foot on the brake and the right on the gas, applying gas only as needed.

Don't straddle large rocks or stumps. Put your tire on the rock or stump and crawl over them slowly. Use the gas only as needed.

Maintain adequate speed to get the job done. Going faster than necessary will only tear up your vehicle.

Keep moving once you are committed as smooth handling and proper momentum are the key to off road driving.

If you want a beginners book on off-road driving, try Mark Smiths "Guide to Safe, Common Sense Off-Road Driving", Mark Smith Off-Roading Inc., PO Box 1601, Georgetown, CA 95634
4-Wheel Freedom : The Art Of Off-Road Driving by Brad De Long

Tire air pressure:
Use the inflation specified by the sticker on the door jam or the owners manual, not the maximum indicated on the tire.
A larger tire can have lower pressures, for example the Jeep Wrangler owners manual recommends 33 psi for P205 - P225/75R15 (27-29" tires) and 29 psi for 30x9.5 R15 LTs a 30" tire.

It is recommended in certain situations with slow off-road driving to reduce inflation pressure. This will enlarge and widen the ground contact area and improves traction by increased dovetailing of the pattern with the ground.

Sinking and digging in on soft surfaces will be reduced.

In addition the tyre becomes more flexible so sharp-edged stones and other obstacles can be passed at lower risk of damage.

The increased flexibility also results in improved self-cleaning of the pattern on mud and snow.

On sand also lower inflation pressure is recommended as the larger contact patch will improve traction.

Source: 4X4 Driving Tips at Dunlop.

Rough Terain






Loose ground and very low speed

up to -50%

Source: Dunlop

The Wrangler owners manual says you should not go lower than 15 psi.

Larger tires allow you air down to 10 lbs. for slow speed rock crawling (some people will go down to 8 psi.)
Harald Pietschmann (
4 Wheel Drive 101) recommends 10 psi in front and 13 psi in the rear with 35" tires.
"Bead Lock" rims allow you to go still lower; as low as 3 psi.


Driving on the highway with aired down is dangerous and can lead to tire damage because of overheating and uneven wear.

The chance of losing a bead is great below 10 pounds.

Clearance will be reduced

SNOW: In snow, specifically snow that is packed and wet, you can air down safely to 8 psi *. This will allow the footprint to expand and allow a great grip into the slippery terrain. With snow being slippery and dense, the tires will conform and help to compact it. This will also help others following behind you as a packed powder will be easier to traverse than one that is loose.

MUD: A lot of people think airing down in mud is a bad thing. Since tall thin tires tend to do best in mud, big sidewall lugs don't always help too much. This is your call but I wouldn't go below 20 psi here.

SAND: Where wide tires and big engines are king, airing down is essential. In sand, wide, low psi tires help paddle you along easily where tall, full pressure tires will dig you in. With enough engine power, the lugs of your tires will leave a wide non-digging pattern that helps you stay afloat of the sand.

ROCK: This is essential. Huge sidelugs aired down can engulf rocks and let your rig move effortlessly over them. One lug can often catch the sides of a rock and pull you to safety. Some people prefer many small lugs here but I prefer fewer larger lugs aired down to 5-8 psi * as they can usually hold you like to other combination and since you are traversing at such slow speeds, your bead should remain intact.

Source: Dennis Baldwin at Rockcrawler
* With many of today's mud-terrain tires the chance of losing a bead is great below 10 pounds.

Winch Alternatives


Length *




Hi-Lift Jack






* Length - Distance you can move vehicle in 1 setting.

There are several things out there that aren't winches, but are supposed to do the same job. One is a Hi-Lift jack (HLJ) or similar jack, and another is a come-along ratchet hoist. An HLJ is meant to be able to pull 7000 pounds or so (says the weight rating on the box) and the mechanical advantage is so high that it doesn't feel too scary to use it. If you're using an HLJ as a winch then lay the jack right on the ground with the handle pointing upwards, that way you can put a foot or something on the end of the i-beam to keep it from lifting when you're trying to lever the jack handle.

A come-along is a different animal, indeed. It has a short handle (less than a foot long) and gives you significantly less mechanical advantage. They are usually rated only a few thousand pounds when double-lined (i.e while using a snatch block). They way they creak and groan while you're using them, standing 10 inches away from the thinnest cable ever seen on a winch-like object scares me to death. I don't like them, but they can save you if you have nothing else. Definitely use the coat trick when dealing with these. Due to the short length of them, they don't stay parallel to the line of force very well, so it's very frustrating to use them (they wobble and pitch when you're trying to work the lever). I don't like them, but I must admit that I have one in my pickup truck. Just in case. I keep an HLJ in my 'cruiser, so I don't need one in that. The one benefit of a come-along over an HLJ is that the come-along will pull for 20 feet or so, whereas the HLJ will pull for less than 4' at a time (limited by bar length; could also be 3' or 5' depending on jack model). To use an HLJ as a winch requires blocks, or some other way to keep the truck from losing ground while you're resetting the jack. To be fair, there are some come-along models out there that are pretty tough. If you get one that's rated to 4000 pounds or so, then it should be able to actually pull you out of a bad situation. If you plan to use an HLJ as a winch alternative, then make sure you have hardware on hand to do it; you can't thread a 3" wide tow strap through the little hole in the jack. Get a clevis that fits.
Offroad Driving Frequently Asked Questions
Maasdam Pow'r Pull See Also: Maasdam Pow'r Pull
It states: "Yes, there are come-alongs out there that can pull more weight without double-lining (ie: using a pulley) but they are also much bigger and heavier."
The Maasdam 2-ton model has a 3/16" cable and weighs 9 lbs., the Allied 4-ton model has a 1/4" cable and wieghs 20 lbs.

CB Radios: Emergency Communications from the Rubicon and the Tahoe Area
Personal Radios under Products.

Winter Driving Technique:

For snow don't dig holes, as soon as you start to spin and are not moving don't continue on the gas digging yourself to the frame.

Don't be on / off the gas with a detroit or spool unless you like sliding side to side a lot more than you need too.

Allow yourself 3x as much room to stop in the snow and ice as you would normaly need.

Momentum is key.

Stay to the inside of the hill, and if your tires suck at sidehilling be very afraid of snowy sidehills with cliffs.

Chains - You can get used tractor trailer chains or dump truck chains and cut them down or make them bigger to fit.

Track pack... That means if you plan on parking your rig or stopping anywhere DON'T doit with a first making a few passes forward reverse. Packed snow offers greater support than fresh unpacked snow.


Always bring enough water to stay the night. You are more likely to get stuck in the snow and not have anyone around compared to tons of people on the trail to help.

Like above you should bring enough food and an extra change of clothes. Several pairs of wool socks. If room permits you should just toss in a tent and sleeping bag.

Extra boots and gloves. They will get wet.

ALWAYS HAVE BLANKETS JUST IN CASE! If you don't have room for the above, toss in some wool or wool/poly blankets.

Dress apropriately. Don't go up to the snow in shorts because you will be in your rig all day... dress in pants and pack snow clothes jsut in case you have to do outside repairs. (Just in case... I MEAN WHEN YOU DO!)

Bring a long tow strap, in fact bring a couple!

A winch is good but don't use it to plow you through snow, properly dig out a little before winching in deep snow.

Bring a shovel! Not only can you dig out you can make a snow cave or snow screens to block the wind.

Sipe your mud tires.

Take a bag of Solar Salt, with you. Soalr salt can be used to freaze the snow into a more firm surface for either getting out or working under the jeep or just plain walking around in camp. It melts the top layer slightly and the snow freazes it back to form a firm surface.

A sheat of cardboard or a blanket or something to lay on and help prevent loosing bolts and other parts will help you tremendously if you have a break down.

Basic off-the-road driving*
By SchtooFirstly, some rules.

I know that chances being what they are, if you are reading this, you have a vehicle that is capable of being driven off sealed roads. But do you actually drive it ‘off road’?

If not, why? Not enough time? Don’t know how to? Believe that you will just flick the magic lever/button and all will be well? I have a newsflash for you if this is the case. If you do not learn how to handle your vehicle off the beaten track, chances are you will get into trouble that you A: will not get out of easily or B: should not have gotten into in the first place. Essentially, learn the tricks now while you can and you will have a far better chance of staying out of situations you need not be in. I guess you have heard all that before, but it is true.

Before we start there are 3 golden rules of driving off the road.

They are: Do I need to get there? Is there a better way?

Am I capable of taking this path?

Is my vehicle capable of taking this path?If you cannot answer yes, or possibly a maybe to all of these questions, then find another way. It is as simple as that. There is little point trying a set path, striking trouble, then spending more time getting out of it that it would take to find another way round. Set these rules in stone, they are THAT important. If you follow them, then you will avoid most kinds of difficulty inexperienced drivers face when they venture offroad. Of course some kinds of trouble can’t be avoided, and sometimes the answers to the questions are out of your control. As you gain experience, you will find that your vehicle is very capable, you have more skill than you thought and there is less need to find another way.Know your vehicle.

Before you set foot off a sealed road, you should know your vehicle, what it weak points are and where to attach recovery devices to it. You should also know how to correctly pack items in your vehicle to avoid upsetting it balance and reducing it abilities. So go have a look at it!

Identify where the low points are like differential centres, engine crankcase, gearboxes and fuel tanks. See what has a guard on it, and if that guard is likely to strike an object in the road. Will you need to put some kind of protection on those easily damaged components? Even if that guard is well made and quite strong, it is protecting something that is fragile. No guard will stop all potential damage, so be aware of these ‘soft’ points.

Where do you attach a recovery device? Are there proper ‘rated’ hooks under there, or only flimsy transport attachment points? Are there set out jacking points? Are these recovery points well defined, and easy to find if needed? Do not forget that in the case of needing them, they may be under water, in the mud, buried in the sand or otherwise obscured. Know where they all are, and what they will do for you. Also know that if you choose the wrong point, that it can do something to you. Know where these ‘hard’ points are, draw a sketch if it will help.

Take a look under the skin of your vehicle. Do you know where the engine oil goes? Where do you put the coolant/water in? What parts can affected by water ingress? What about those sets of gears? Where does their oil go? All these hard working parts need to breathe, all of them! How high does the water need be before they drown? What about the brakes? Dust, dirt sand, stones and water will affect their performance. Even driving into water when they are hot might damage them. Some electronic parts will drown, where are they? Will they be kept high and dry, or will they be swimming even in a puddle? Don’t just look in the engine bay and under the car. Inside the car is also vulnerable. If you get stuck in a water hole, will that radio gurgle and die? Is that computer tucked up and out of the way? Will the electrics that run the engine get wet and leave you stuck after just a small splash? All of these things are important, especially if you need to keep on moving. Even just a small hiccup can cease your forward motion, and leave you very stuck.

Now, take a look at the car from the outside. Never mind the view, be it good or bad, but how big is your vehicle? Ever thought about it? Does it get scratches and dents by magic? Do you know how big it is while you are inside it? While having a large vehicle can be a little problem on the road, it can be very difficult off the road. Knowing if you can fit between trees, under that branch, drive around that rock. Having a good idea of the outer dimensions of your car is very important. But knowing how to negotiate those tight spots, without having to leave your seat is even more important. Leaving this dimensional problem down to "I just don’t have it" is not good enough. It is easily learnt, and easy to apply. I can accept that some folks can just put a car in a tight spot, leaving just ‘negative’ hair widths to either side ( I know, I am one of them :), while some just can’t bring themself to try and fit in a spot that appears to be too small.

The only way to gain ‘dimensional awareness’ is to go out and put the car in tight spots. If you have little confidence, have someone outside the car guide you. While you negotiate the obstacles, notice where all visible points are in relation to the road, and to other objects. Use those mirrors, that’s what they are there for! Recall what you are driving over, even when you can no longer see it. You should have already memorized the road just ahead, and made adjustment so that anything that might catch will be avoided. But do not just concentrate on what you drive over, but also what you drive around, and what you just drove past. This is being aware of your surroundings, and while driving off the road, being very aware can keep you on the track, rather than being part of the scenery.

So now you have identified all the weak points in your car, or at least most of them. You know where all the parts that make the vehicle go, go. You have good vehicle dimensional awareness, as well as what’s around you.

In short, "You knoweth thine chariot!"Throw it in the back...

But what about when the vehicle has some weight in it? Where should you put it? Is it safe to keep it there? Are you overloading the vehicle? Can you really tow all that weight? For that matter, do you know how much your vehicle weighs all by itself? Do you know how much extra weight it will carry with safety? If the answer is no, then go find out!

Unfortunately all vehicles have different weights, and how much they can carry around. They can all tow around different amounts, and few have the same carrying capacity for gear on the roof. You need to find out what the maximum payload capacities are for all parts of your vehicle. Failure to do this may result in an unbalanced vehicle that will easily roll over, it may be difficult to drive, it might just be plain dangerous. When you do discover these capacities, obey them. They are not there as a guide, they are there to keep you and fellow road users safe. Exceeding these limits is a recipe for disaster. And if you do add weight to your vehicle, make allowance for it. You will need longer to stop, longer to accelerate, you will use more fuel and you will make the engine work alot harder. So keep it safe, and pay attention. There is little point to having a reliable vehicle, if it’s rolled over or just can’t make it any further because of poor planning.

While on the subject of vehicle loading, what about things you place inside the passenger area? Is it all tied down, or just sitting there? Is there some kind of solid barrier between you and your luggage? Even small lightweight objects can be become lethal missiles when you come to a sudden halt. Yes, even that Bic pen might do some serious bodily injury if it takes to the air in a crash. They have been used for emergency tracheotomies. I have seen where stuff goes first hand in a crash, the answer is: everywhere! So tie it all down, have some kind of barrier between you and your gear. If a pen will hurt you, imagine what a tin can will do? Never mind that ‘safe’ unloaded rifle!!! Does ‘high tech club’ ring a bell?What else do I need?

Well, you now have a vehicle you should know well in all areas. But there are some things you should have with you if you venture offroad. In fact, many of them should be in the vehicle at all times. Things like a jack, wheel brace, first aid kit, fire extinguisher and a basic tool kit should be present in any vehicle you drive at all times. If not, do this as soon as possible, and learn how to use all of them. Changing a tyre in the dark while it’s raining, is not my idea of fun, but sitting waiting for help is something I would like even less.

You have decided to get off the road, what else do you need to take with you? Some basic recovery gear for a start of course. Essentially, the extras are items that will get you going again in case of getting stuck, or mechanical failure. So some basic recovery items, in order would be a shovel, an axe, high lift jack, recovery straps and winches, both hand and powered-mechanical. The shovel will get you out of anything, with enough time, the items along the list just allow you to get going in less time. With that in mind, get a good quality shovel first, and acquire the rest as you think you need them.

Add to the recovery gear a more extensive tool kit. If you already carry a comprehensive set of tools and spares in the vehicle, then that is fine. If not, have the means to re-attach anything that might fall off. Also carry some basics like spare hoses, some engine oil and some water. Various other items like fuses, lamps, clips, ties, nuts and bolts are also very handy to carry along. I will not elaborate on some improvised repairs, short of saying "if it will work, do it!". The repair does not have to be pretty, it just has to do the job.How does the vehicle operate?

You now know the vehicle over, under, inside and out. You have some basic tools, safety gear and recovery items packed away safely and securely. You have left the sealed road and are now off a made road. What do you do now?

Well, depending on what kind of vehicle you are driving and what’s attached to it should depicts what you do now.

If you are driving a standard car/truck with only 2 wheel drive and road oriented tyres, then the first thing you should do is SLOW DOWN!!! Understand that your car will not handle as well in these conditions as it will on a sealed road. Also realise that the tyres losing grip with the road surface is very likely to happen, even with your now reduced speed. At first this can be unnerving, but as with everything practise makes perfect. In time, you will be comfortable with driving your vehicle off sealed roads, but above all keep it safe. Yes slithering down a dirt road can be fun, but not if 40 tons of logging truck is coming the other way!

If however you are driving a vehicle equipped with 4 wheel drive and tyres oriented for dirt or mud then the prevailing conditions should depict what you do next. If conditions are good and the road offers pleasant driving, continue on with caution. If however the road is slippery or wet and muddy, you may choose to engage what I call the ‘magic lever’, that being the 4 wheel drive select lever. This may also be a button you simply depress. You might also engage 4WD in icy conditions, or even sealed roads that have become slippery due to localized conditions.

But there may be one thing you must check before engaging that lever/button. That is engaging the front axles to drive. On most 4WD vehicles these are only needed when 4WD is selected, otherwise they ‘freewheel’ to reduce wear and improve fuel economy. On some vehicles these are engaged automatically when 4WD is selected, on some they are always ‘on’ and on others still this may be a ‘lock’ situated on the front hubs.

So, you are ‘off’ the road, with hubs engaged and 4WD selected. Doing this alone offers you more grip than you had previously. Not a great deal, but enough to be noticeable so go ahead, notice the difference! But do not forget the vehicle can still lose grip. You may also notice that the steering effect has changed and the brakes may behave differently.

At this point you should know what lurks underneath, inside, outside and all around your vehicle of choice. You should also know what goes where, whether it be parts and pieces to keep it running or additional items you plan to carry along. You should also have a basic set of items that will aid you in keeping forward motion, whatever problem may arise. And you should have noted how it all goes together, unloaded, loaded on and off the road.