So you bought yourself a new 4X4 vehicle and showing it off to your neighbors simply is not enough. This guide will help get you off-roading the right way.

First off, congrats on your new off-roading vehicle!

This is the beginning of an exciting time full of adventure, pushing past limits, and probably a lot of car washes. But it will be worth it.

When it comes to off-roading, knowledge is your best friend. Prepare for any situation and know what you’re getting into, this isn’t a pastime to take lightly. Get to know the environment you are entering, and the vehicle itself, because you and your off-road vehicle will definitely go through some sticky situations together. Speaking of together, never go off-roading alone. Have another driver with you to help get you out of any tough spots and get help if needed.

Alright, now that you’re mentally prepared, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.

We know you want to start your off-roading life like you know what you’re doing, and we’re here to help. You can skip the noobie vibes, and start like a pro, here’s how.

First, how to speak off-roading.

Knowing how to talk about your off-roading vehicle is the first step to knowing what’s up when you’re out there getting dirty. Some off-roading basics that will help you:

4×4 High: As opposed to 2 wheel drive, all four wheels are engaged by the powertrain. “High” refers to the gear ratio, meaning that the gear ratio is unchanged from the ratio used in 2 wheel drive. This is used in most cases.

4×4 Low: Four-wheel drive mode where a lower gear ratio is engaged. This delivers higher torque to the wheels and lowers max speed. 4×4 low is helpful in slower off-road situations, like rock crawling, and for getting unstuck when things get crazy.

Locking Differential: A “diff lock” refers to the speed at which the wheels turn. In most 4×4 vehicle modes, the wheels turn at different speeds to compensate for the terrain. When you lock the differential, the wheels all move at the same speed. This comes in handy when trying to get out of sticky off-roading situations.

Traction Control: This helps with wheel slips. Your off-road vehicle will have an on/off setting, or my complicated settings for different terrains.

Approach Angle: This is simply the max incline your off-road vehicle can climb or come down without any part of the suspension or vehicle body hitting the driving surface.

This off-road vocabulary this should get you started for now. Now let’s get to the off-roading itself and what you need to get out there and do your thing fully prepared.

There are some essentials you’ll need for even a mild off-roading adventure. 

And it goes like this…

  • A full gas tank.
  • Fire extinguishers
  • A high-lift jack
  • A shovel
  • A portable air compressor.
  • Spare water for the radiator
  • A spare tire, and tools to change tires.
  • Tow rope, rated for your vehicle’s weight.
  • A first aid kit.
  • Navigational aids.
  • Phone and/or two-way radio for your companions

Consider this your check-list to being ready for anything your new off-road life throws at you.

Now that you have what you need to get out there and know some of the off-roading lingo, let’s talk about some of the terrain you will come across when you find out where to go off-roading.

Off-roading on Gravel or Dry Dirt

This is the best choice of terrain for a beginner to get used to the off-roading game. Lots of state and federal parks have off-roading trail options so you can start somewhere fun and scenic. Start off slow, avoid any steep inclines, water-crossing, or descents that seem too advanced (you’ll know, just trust your gut).

Make sure your vehicle has good tires and you have knowledge of the route. Pre-planning will keep you out of situations that endanger you, your co-pilot, or your vehicle.

Related: How to Read The Date Code on Tires to Determine Their Age

Off-roading on Sand

First, make sure what you’re doing is legal. Beaches that allow 4×4 vehicles will be clearly marked. When driving through loose terrain, momentum is the name of the game. Don’t slow down unless absolutely necessary, and shift to 4×4 low, unless you get stuck, then shift to 4×4 high.

If you feel the vehicle getting stuck, turn the wheel left and right repetitively to allow the tires to grip fresh terrain and gain better traction. Stay relaxed and don’t panic if something does happen, panic always makes a situation worse.

Off-roading in Mud or Shallow Water

Taking on mud or slippery slopes is done best with tires made for that very situation. Your gut might be to floor it in mud, but this will only make your situation worse. Sure a 360 may look cool, but maintaining control is the real boss move.

Many of the same safety principles apply to mud driving as sand driving. Maintain momentum at all costs, and if you feel you are getting stuck, quickly and repetitively turn the wheel left and right. If you get stuck, reduce the tire pressure to 20 psi to allow moe traction, turn traction control off, and use 4×4 high.

That’s it! You’re ready to start your 4×4 off-roading journey. Don’t forget your essential check-list and your off-road buddy.

Stay safe out there.