The more time I spend on trails the more I am convinced that driving skill is the number one thing that gets you through difficult situations. I have watched a mildly built rig walk through an obstacle with ease while a far more built one spent an embarrassingly long time trying to do the same. While there’s nothing that can build driving skill like experience, here are a few tips that can be helpful when driving off-road.
Each different terrain requires its own unique driving method to most effectively traverse anything this world can throw at you.
Driving smooth and steady while maintaining momentum is the biggest key when driving in sand. Any jerky motion or stopping can result in the vehicle digging down into the sand. I once witnessed an entire club of Land Rovers that had stopped in soft sand, and while trying to get restarted, had buried every one up to their axles.
When driving through mud, wheel speed is the biggest key; by using a higher gear and keeping the wheels turning at a high speed you cause the tires to throw the mud out of tread and it becomes self cleaning. Another good tip for mud is to see-saw the steering wheel when you see you are losing some speed. It will help grab the edges of the rut you are in propelling you forward.
Dirt is rarely challenging unless you are trying to do steep hill climbs or dealing with very uneven terrain. The single most important key when driving in very uneven dirt is driving a line that keeps all 4 tires on the ground. Even with lockers you can get hung up if only one wheel has traction.
Even more than dirt, the correct line is absolutely imperative. Using an outside spotter is highly recommended. A key component of driving through rocks is to place the tires on the high points of the rocks to help lift the body of the vehicle up and over, making high-centering less likely. Another handy technique is the bump. If, after first trying to crawl the rock smoothly, you find yourself not able to make it up, backup and try a bump. Too much momentum and you will likely break things, not enough and it won’t make it over.
One of the best ways to learn driving technique is to follow more experienced wheelers on the trails, watch their lines, ask questions, and have veteran Jeepers spot you through the obstacles. Jeeping is not meant to be done alone, and learning through the experience and the wisdom of those who have been there before can help teach and guide you to doing things you wouldn’t believe yourself capable.