So, you want to go off-roading? Welcome to the club! If you’ve never been off-roading, then be prepared for an exciting time. Be forewarned though — you may get bitten by the off-roading bug and develop an obsession. For many, off-roading is more than just a hobby, it’s a passion. The Jeep community is a tight-knit group of aficionados who love to get down and dirty on the trails. If your Jeep doesn’t have mud on it, is it really a Jeep? All jokes aside, off-roading is a great way to spend some time in the great outdoors and bond with your fellow Jeepers.
CJ Off-Road put together an off-roading for beginners YouTube video that has some great tips to know before heading out on the trail. From recommended items to helpful tidbits of information, watch as Matt goes through everything you need to know before venturing out on your first trip into the wilderness. Most trails will have a map to help you find the right trails for your skill level. Green typically represents easy trails, which are perfect for beginners. Blue is the next step up in difficulty, so you may want to wait until you have a few trips under your belt before tackling one of those. While not overly difficult, the blue trails are a bit more complex and can result in body damage. Once you’re an expert and confident in your wheeling skills, you can try a black trail. Black trails are more extreme off-roading trails, but there’s still another level beyond that. Red trails are only for the most daring rock bouncers and require mostly rock crawling.
Off-Road Driving Tips
Anything can happen on the trail. Make sure to always carry your recovery gear in case you get stuck, a first aid kit for any potential injuries, and extra snacks and potable water. It’s never a bad idea to have an emergency kit in your vehicle with extra clothes, iodine pills for purifying water, blankets, and anything else you might need in the event you have to camp out for a night or two.
Travel in Groups
Even if you’re a more experienced off-roader, it’s always a good idea to travel in groups. Not only is off-roading more fun with your Jeeper friends, but you might need their help in the event you get stuck or break down on the trail. More people means more recovery gear. If you’ve never explored a certain off-roading park, it’s easy to get lost. Some of them consist of acres and acres of trails and land to explore, so all it takes is a wrong turn to get off track. Staying with a group will prevent getting misplaced or turned around. You may even make some new friends along the way! If you don’t plan on traveling in a group, at least plan on having another person with you who can be your spotter. That way if you get stuck in a tricky situation, they can help guide you out.
Take it Easy
Go slow — off-roading isn’t about who can finish the trail the fastest. They call it rock crawling for a reason as you’ll need to gently drive over rocks and other obstacles to prevent damage to both your vehicle and the environment. Take it easy and enjoy the scenery around you, but always watch where you are going. Have fun and enjoy the (bumpy) ride!
Air it Down
Letting air out of your tires is a common off-roading technique that can help your tires get a better grip on the trail. Airing down your tires increases the tire’s contact size and coverage area with the terrain for enhanced traction. Most mud-terrain tires are constructed with aggressive sidewalls that help prevent punctures and strengthen the tire. But when aired down, those sidewalls can help increase the tire’s traction with the terrain even more. It can also provide a smoother ride and help the tire hug rocks. Letting some air out of the tires also makes it less likely that the tire will get stabbed by a sharp object. There’s no specific recommended amount, but 15 psi is a safe starting place. Keep in mind that airing down your tires will reduce your Jeep’s ground clearance. Be sure to bring an air compressor or other device, so you can reinflate your tires before hitting the pavement. While aired-down tires may be good for the trail, they will definitely not be good for the drive home.
4x4 Low vs 4x4 High
Play with your four-wheel-drive settings before hitting the trail. 4 High is good for loose terrain and slippery surfaces, while 4 Low is better for rock crawling and off-roading at slower speeds. 4L is for more extreme off-roading trails that may require you to get a higher amount of torque at a lower speed, typically when climbing steep hills or maneuvering out of a tough spot. However, keep in mind that 4L doesn’t increase traction. Don’t exceed 25 mph when using 4L and disengage or engage only when traveling at 2 to 3 mph. When it comes to snow, ice, rain, dirt or mud, 4H will be your best bet. You can shift into 4H either while stopped or at speeds up to 55 mph. When off-roading, be wary of road conditions and always use the appropriate speed.
Leave No Trace
Don’t be one of those guys. You know, the ones that litter beer cans and plastic soda bottles? Leave no trace when you go off-roading, or better yet, leave the trail in better condition than before. If you see trash, don’t just leave it there. Do the right thing and pick it up. Off-roading is a fun hobby, but remember that many of the trails are home to animals and other living organisms. We are merely guests in their backyard.
Be careful when driving through water, especially if you don’t know how deep it is. You’re going to lose traction and if you hammer down too much, you can seize up your engine bay and potentially get water locked. Jeeps can handle a certain depth of water, usually 19-30 inches, depending on the model. If you plan on crossing streams and creeks frequently, you may want to invest in a snorkel, which draws in air from above the roof line rather than underneath the vehicle in order to prevent pulling water into your engine.
Off-Roading For Beginners: What to Buy for the Trail
Of course, all of these things aren’t necessary for off-roading, but they will certainly make it easier and protect your rig from potential damage on the trail. Yes, investing in aftermarket accessories for off-roading can get rather expensive, but it will definitely help you tackle obstacles better and save you money on repairs in the future. If you decide to skimp on the body armor or don’t think you need that additional two inches of ground clearance, you may find yourself damaging an axle or worse. CJ’s offers a wide variety of Jeep Wrangler parts to fit every budget, so even if you don’t have much to spend on off-roading gear, be sure to check out the online store to find something that will fit your needs! Here are some items we recommended buying before hitting the trails:
We would recommend at least a 2-inch lift kit for the JL Wrangler, so you can get the additional ground clearance you need to crawl over rocks and branches without damaging the undercarriage. As the JK Wrangler sits a bit lower than the newer generation, we would suggest going with a 2.5-inch lift for the JK. Spacer lifts are a good option for people who want to get that rugged look, but it won’t add any performance benefits when it comes to off-roading. Spacer lifts will normally get you shock extensions, but they won’t increase your articulation or maneuverability on the trail. Performance lift kits are much more suited to off-roading environments and will give you that extra flex that you need when you’re out four-wheeling. By raising your Jeep’s ride height, you’ll also be able to fit larger tires.
Without some good mud-terrain tires, you can kiss traction goodbye. Tires designed for highway use will do nothing for you on the trail. Not only will investing in big, beefy tires take your off-roading game up a notch, it’ll also give your Jeep a killer look. If you’re adding larger tires to your build, then be sure to pick up a set of wheels that will fit. CJ’s offers a wide variety of aggressive wheel and tire packages that come mounted and balanced, so you’ll be ready to go on the trail in no time!
Even with a lift kit, you can still scrape the bottom or sides of your Jeep quite easily out on the trail — even more so if you’re a beginner. Obviously, scratches and dents are bound to happen no matter what, that’s just the beauty of off-roading. Although you’ll learn to love your Jeep’s battle scars, body armor can help add an extra layer of protection. Skid plates, rock sliders, and corner guards can help better equip your Wrangler for the rigors of the trail. Although adding a lift kit can help prevent body damage, protective gear is definitely worth the investment and will save you money down the road.
Even though you should always travel in groups when off-roading, especially as a beginner, investing in a winch is a necessity for the trail. A winch can get you out of a bind, even when you’re traveling solo. Although there are more inexpensive winch options out there, we’d strongly recommend investing in a high-quality winch from a reputable brand, like the ones we sell at CJ’s. You may not need to use your winch on every outing but when you do need it, you want to make sure that it won’t break on you.
Recovery gear basically consists of anything and everything that might help you get unstuck if you find yourself in a bind. Consisting of D-rings, ropes, straps, and shackles, you never want to go on the trail without having the proper recovery equipment. Getting stuck is always a possibility out on the trail. Even if you don’t get stuck, you may run into someone who might need a helping hand out of the mud. A hi-lift jack is also a helpful tool to keep in your vehicle just in case you get hung up on a rock or branch. It can also be used in the event you need to change a tire on the trail. Never crawl underneath your Jeep if it is only supported by a jack. Invest in a recovery kit or stock up on some recovery gear to keep in your rig at all times!
Aftermarket bumpers may seem a little extra, but they can really come in handy on the trail. Front and rear bumpers can give your Wrangler some added protection and several more recovery points for when you get stuck. Besides being incredibly useful, they will make your rig look much more aggressive and give your Jeep some personality. Aftermarket bumpers will be made of higher-quality materials than your stock bumpers and will last you much longer. Most contain D-ring mounts and attachment points that you won’t find on your factory bumper. If you need additional lighting on the trail, some bumpers even include spaces for light bars, so you can get better visibility off-roading.
It’s always a good idea to keep a fire extinguisher in your vehicle, whether you go off-roading or not. However, since off-roading is usually in a remote location with limited access, it’s even more important to be prepared when you’re out exploring the wilderness. Fire extinguishers are necessary for most parks just in case you happen to catch something on fire. You can even make your fire extinguisher look cool by mounting it to your rig!
Air Compressor & Tire Deflator
Airing down tires is a common technique for off-roading. Tire deflators help release the air from your tires and many include gauges, so you can get the proper pressure reading. While aired-down tires may be great for the trail, you’re going to need to add more air before hitting the highway. Air compressors and CO2 tanks can be used to inflate your tires back to the recommended PSI. They also come in handy for inflating inner tubes, sports balls, air mattresses or other equipment you might need while camping. Most can run off your car battery and don’t require an outside power source.
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