There are a lot of different ways to off-road, and literally thousands of miles of trails where you can go off-roading. These trails can take you through a variety of different terrains, which all require slightly different off-roading skills. These off-road terrain skills have really evolved into different types of off-roading.
If you’re wondering what type of off-roading is right for you, you’re in the right place. These are the five most popular types of off-roading, combined with some tips to help you prepare. Whether you’re drawn to the down and dirty fun of mudding or the precise skill necessary for rock crawling, off-roading is a lot of fun and there are a lot of different places where you can go.
It’s important to note that for any of these the most important thing to bring with you is a friend who can help push or pull you out of danger and who you can laugh about it with after.
Trail Driving Tips
Trail Driving is the mildest of all off-road activities, but also one of the most fun and easy to share with friends. You can take just about any stock four-wheel-drive vehicle on a cross country trek of unpaved roads and trails just fine, though having off-road tires will certainly help. It’s a great way to try out a variety of off-road conditions while you figure out which one you have the most fun with, and it’s a great opportunity to see beautiful sights. Many people take their off-road vehicles out into the woods for multi-day camping trips like this, and there are entire off-road parks designed with trail driving in mind.
One of the most popular places for trail driving is Moab, located in Utah. This is a great place to cut your teeth and develop your off-roading skills. They have everything from easy beginner trails to their famous "slickrock" advanced trails. The vehicle of choice in Moab is the Jeep Wrangler, but really, it’s a playground for any four-wheel-drive vehicle. Moab can get crowded, it’s a popular destination, but that’s a great way to connect with other off-roaders who can offer you valuable insight into improving your technique and having fun.
In addition to being a really fun way to use your vehicles four-wheel drive, this is a great introduction to the world of off-roading and have fun with friends and family.
Mudding is one of the most well-known forms of off-road driving, and for a good reason. It’s called a variety of things depending on where you’re located, most commonly mud bogging, mud running, mud drags, and mud racing. It all comes down to about the same thing: Driving in a whole lot of mud and getting absolutely filthy. Spinning your wheels in the mud can just be fun, and there’s something about seeing your Jeep or truck covered in mud that reminds you why you got it in the first place.
The trick to mudding though, is not getting stuck. No matter how sweet a move you pulled off, no one is going to remember that if they had to spend the rest of the night pulling your vehicle out of wherever or whatever you managed to get it stuck in.
The key to not getting stuck is maintaining momentum and traction. One off-roading trick you can do to help yourself not get stuck is lower the pressure in your tires. This creates a flatter surface that can grab more of the terrain. As a bonus, you’ll definitely sling more mud everywhere. Use fender flares to help keep mud and rocks from going where you don't want them.
Once you get going, you’ll want to keep your momentum going by not stopping. When you stop the weight of your vehicle is going to pull you down, and before you know it you’ll be pretty well stuck. If you feel yourself getting stuck, stop. The worst thing you can do is spin your tires, as you’ll essentially be digging a very large hole for yourself. Instead, try rocking the way you would to get out of a snowdrift. Reverse. Drive. Back and forth until you start to rock yourself free. If that doesn’t work, then it looks like you’ll need to either get towed or convince your friends to push you out of the mud.
We do not recommend wearing nice clothes to go mudding for obvious reasons. By the end of the day, you’ll likely be covered in a thick mud suit.
Having a winch installed on your vehicle is a great way to prepare for the inevitability of you or a pal getting stuck in the mud. Plus they just look really cool.
Though there are designated places to go mudding and events held every year for it, really it tends to happen wherever big pits of mud form. If you’re going mudding in an unlicensed area, make sure you walk the area first. It’s a good idea also to poke down with a stick to get a feel for the terrain underneath the mud and gauge whether or not you’ve found a sinkhole that might swallow your car.
Dune Blasting Tips
There’s something really great about an off-road vehicle at the beach, but before you take your vehicle dune blasting there are a few things to keep in mind. The first is to make sure that the beach you’re off-roading on is cleared for vehicles. This is mostly about making sure you don’t accidentally decimate a local species or injure someone, so take it seriously. There are a lot of places you can go duning legally without causing harm, so why not?
The two keys to having fun in the sand with your off-roader are momentum and tire pressure. Before you go duning, make sure your tire pressure is low. Carrying around a tire deflator kit gives you an easy way to deflate your tires precisely. You’ll want to keep your tires around 15-20 psi to make sure that your tires can grip the slick sand. Once you get going, try not to brake too much, it’ll be a pain to get your vehicle moving again.
Though people tend to think of the outer banks or Daytona when they think about dune blasting, the best dunes are actually in Michigan, surrounding Silver Lake. You’ll be able to get air time when you crest over the dunes, and it creates some incredible opportunities for photography
Rock Crawling Tips
Rock crawling can be challenging for any number of reasons. One of the best tips is just to remember that it’s called "crawling" for a reason. Rock crawling isn’t a fast activity, but it can be a rewarding one. Rock crawling requires a kind of precision that attracts experienced off-roaders looking to demonstrate the skills they’ve acquired through learning to off-road in a variety of environments.
Out of all the forms of off-roading, rock crawling probably requires the most significant vehicle modifications. In particular, the tires, gears, and suspension need to be examined before attempting rock crawling to ensure that an adequate amount of torque will be available when it’s needed.
Even though rock crawling is one of the first activities people think of when they think of "off-roading" it’s best left to off-roaders with more experience. Trying it without being prepared is a good way to end up with a "rock massage" which is just what it sounds like. You can work your way up to rock crawling by listening to experienced off-road drivers and by doing hill climbs. Hill climbs will get you used to climbing steep inclines without slipping and rolling.
The most famous place for rock crawling, and maybe even off-roading in general, is the Rubicon Trail in California. If you really love off-roading, this one needs to be on your bucket list. At only 22 miles you might scoff at the short Rubicon, but those are some of the most challenging rocks you will ever crawl. Though you can brute force your way through some rock crawling, the Rubicon requires strategy and precision. Two of a true rock crawler's favorite things. This trail is so incredible Jeep actually named a model after it.
Water Fording Tips
Of all the types of off-roading, even rock crawling, water fording is without a doubt the most dangerous.
There are a lot of reasons for that, among them that most people don’t have a lot of experience driving in substantial quantities of water. It moves deceptively fast, and is capable of exerting an outrageous amount of pressure. As little as two feet of water can wash your off-roader away. Going too deep can result in your engine being drowned—an expensive repair, even in a sport that prides itself on the amount of sheer punishment their vehicles can withstand.
If you think you will be encountering deep water, you can outfit your vehicle with a snorkel. A vehicle snorkel works pretty much the way you’d expect it to. When properly fitted, a snorkel’s opening sits up next to the top of your windscreen and draws air through that. You may also elect to carry a water blind set up to keep water from surging up under your hood. After successfully navigating a water crossing, try to park your car so that it’s going uphill. That will help excess water to drain out.
It's also difficult to tell what type of terrain is at the bottom of a deep river or stream, and without being adequately prepared you can easily end up stuck.
If you can’t see the bottom, walk into the water a ways to get a feel for what the terrain might be like. If you’re not comfortable stepping into the water, then you almost certainly shouldn’t drive into it. You will be pushed downstream, so be sure to enter the water with that in mind.
Going off-roading can be a fun, and addictive, hobby that lets you enjoy the outdoors and have fun in your vehicle. Just make sure you’re prepared in advance and have an idea of what to do if you do find yourself in a jam. This video from CJ’s gives a great overview of what things you should know before hitting the trail for the first time.
Image Credit: Jeep blog