Must-know Trail Driving Tips

Basic Off-road Driving Tips

There are a few things we can do on the trail to minimize the risk of damage to our vehicles and injury to the passengers.

Object Crossing

You should study and know the underside of you vehicle. Know the critical points you want to protect such as differentials, transfer case and oil pan. Be able to visualize where they are in relation to objects as you pass over them. Doing this will allow you to position the vehicle in such a way to minimize the risk of damage. Below a simple example of the worst way to cross a object.

Object Crossing on the trail

The next picture shows how most people would approach a object mainly because it will provide a smoother ride for the passengers. Note: with this approach you also risk tire side wall damage or breaking the tire bead.

Object Crossing on the trail

The best way to cross a object is shown in the next picture. It provides maximum ground clearance and protection of undercarriage components and by placing the tire, specifically the tread on the object which is designed for the abuse. Unfortunately this also provides for the roughest ride.

Object Crossing on the trail

Side Hill

Driving side hill can be one of this most nerve racking parts of trail use. Slow speed is critical this helps you have more time to react. Learn what you feel is a comfortable angle for your vehicle. Side hill performance can be improved by widening the distance between left and right side tires. Side hill performance is decreased by lifting the vehicle, such as lift spring kits, body lifts. Sway bars help on side hill but stop the articulation we desire everywhere else. There are no simple answers you must find your vehicles setup that suits you driving habits. The most important thing to remember is if you sense your vehicle is going to roll over turn the wheels down hill, this will usually stop a roll over.

Side hill trailing rule

Never turn uphill which may feel like the natural thing to do. Just like we learned to counter steer on slippery surfaces to avoid spin outs, we must learn to turn down hill to avoid side hill roll overs. Plan your side hill approach try to leave room to turn down hill. Even if you have to turn down hill in to a tree or boulder it is better then rolling over.

Down Hill

The key to going down hill is a slow speed. Use low range, low gear and don’t engage the clutch. Be sure you are in four-wheel drive going down steep hills. Going down will shift all the weight to the front tires and in two-wheel drive the rear tires may slip causing a loss of control. Never attempt to shift on steep down hills. Use the brakes only if necessary on the steepest down hills.

Be sure you don’t allow to much speed to be developed and then try to brake hard, you may find yourself rolling over front wards if traction is good. If conditions are slick and you lock up the brakes you may find yourself sliding out of control. If you start to slide get off the brake, counter steer if necessary. A fast semi uncontrolled descend may be nerve rattling experience, but it is better then sliding sideways and finding yourself flipping down the hill.

down hill ride rules

Up Hill

Going up hill you have some options. You can use low range and low gear if you feel traction will be good and just crawl to the top. On the other hand if conditions are slick or you have non-locking axles, Momentum is your friend. Approach with a little more speed but not to high of a gear where you might find yourself lugging or stalling half way up the hill. Never attempt to shift while climbing steep hills, keep the clutch engaged. As you approach the top let the vehicle slow to a crawl as you crest or you might find yourself air born. If you get stuck on the hill you may find the rear will be grabbing traction more then the front end due to the fact more of the vehicles weight is on the rear.

up hill ride rules

If the front end is slipping and due to the weight of the engine in the front of vehicle. The front end may slide to either side and even try to turn you around. This is not the place for a U-turn, get off the gas go easy on the brake and let the vehicle roll back while counter steering to straighten yourself out. Roll back to a more stable area on even the bottom of the hill. Give it another attempt using what you learned on you first attempt, maybe more momentum or a slightly different line.

If you attempt too steep of climb and traction is good your own horsepower make pick up the front end. Let off the gas let it come back down, proper braking is important, sudden brake action or to much will add to the action of picking up the front end. After you get to the bottom you may need to call it quits before you do something you will regret.

up hill ride rules

WARNING: Always wear your seatbelt. Off road vehicle operation is dangerous if not due caution is observed. Personal injury or even death can occur.

About the author

Matthew Brodie

Hi there! This blog was created to share my off-roading, gear-related knowledge with those interested in the field. I’ve worked as mechanic for years and have been a devoted off-roader for as long. Now, I’ve decided to combine the two and share my experience with passionate audience. I do not claim to know it all – but when something new hits the surface, I will be on it to research its ups and downs. Call me an off-roading nerd if you like, and as long as you can find something useful in here – you are heartedly welcome!

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