The five rules you shouldn’t forget when off-roading

Accidents can always happen, but if you keep these five pointers in mind, you could reduce the risk of an off-roading incident

The proliferation of SUVs and trucks has given more drivers than ever the awesomeness of four-wheel-drive. What could be better than exploring the outdoors in a truck or SUV? While some take their vehicle’s superior traction seriously, venturing further, deeper and higher off road, others might never engage their four wheels on anything other than a public road in some snow.

Plenty of off-roaders are aware of the rules — and risks — of off-roading, but others continue to traipse woefully unprepared — or blissfully ignorant — to the dangers of taking a vehicle into the wild. While accidents can always occur, here are five rules everyone should follow to reduce the possibility of an incident off-roading.

2017 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2

When you’re off-roading, this is probably the last thing you want to happen. Lesley Wimbush / Driving

Tell someone, take someone, pack properly and think safety

Before heading out, tell someone where you’re going, who you’re with, when you’re expected to reach your destination, and when and where you’ll be back. Be sure these people have your contact details, and all your phones are charged and can be recharged. Likely you will be out of cell range, but an ETA gives others a reference point.

For more extreme outings, bring a buddy with an equally sturdy 4WD so he or she can drive you back, or possibly pull you out, should you get stuck, damage your vehicle, or have it conk out. B.C.’s AdventureSmart puts it this way: “No one ever expects to get into trouble outdoors. But a turn in the weather, mistake in judgment, unexpected injury, equipment failure, or sudden nightfall can quickly change any recreational outing into a crisis.”

That means taking the right gear, too — from flashlights to recovery straps, from to warm clothing to water and food. Making safety a top priority might sound like a marketing slogan from Air Canada, but it’s a smart way to frame your off-road outing and limit the potential for mishaps — and be able to get out of one should things go wrong, without triggering a costly rescue that, in turn, could put others at risk.

2019 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

Act intelligently

Keep arms and legs inside at all times, even when it seems safe to touch the rock or tree you are so near in a narrow passageway — your truck or SUV could easily slip and you can pinch a limb. If the vehicle begins to tip, you might instinctively be tempted to put your arm out to stop it — don’t. Buckle up, always, and strap down everything inside and outside the vehicle as it will undoubtedly get bounced around on the trail. As the possibility of a rollover is ever present, secure everything as loose objects or pets can cause serious injury to vehicle occupants in the case of a rollover or crash.

Off-road driving requires serious focus and concentration, so after a few hours take a break, rest, or let someone else drive for a while. Don’t rush the experience. If you get stuck and can’t easily extricate yourself, do not be embarrassed and stubbornly refuse to seek help from either another trail user or local who knows the terrain.

Alternatively, if you see someone needing help, lend a hand if you can. During extraction, treat winches, clevises and straps with caution and respect. Often, these recovery devices are under extreme tension when in use and can snap or break free, so stand clear and never walk over a tight rope, cable or chain. Something could snap just as you are stepping over it and cause lethal injury.

2019 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

If you’re headed off-road, know your vehicle’s equipment and 4WD modes. Derek McNaughton / Driving

Know your vehicle

Does your vehicle have locking differentials? Does your front sway bar disconnect? Do you have 4H and 4L, ATRAC, crawl control or hill descent? Do you need to lock the front hubs before engaging 4WD? Do you have 4WD or AWD? Do you know how to turn off the traction control, or engage the transfer case? Did you bring a spare tire and the tools to change it?

Regular off-roaders will intimately know their vehicle and its equipment, but part-timers and the inexperienced might need a refresher on what their vehicle can do — and how to engage the equipment that allows the vehicle to do its thing. Off-road vehicles are often far more capable than their owners give them credit for; the weak link can be the driver, not the vehicle.

How much ground clearance do you have? What are the approach and departure angles? How deep can the truck travel in water? Knowing these key metrics will stop you from attempting something that could high-centre the vehicle or wedge it in a way that requires a tow. Be sure that all these systems work before setting out, since it’s not unusual for someone to arrive at the trail only to find fault or a leak in their 4WD system because it hasn’t been used in months.

2019 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

In many cases, the average speed for a trail is 5 km/h. Derek McNaughton / Driving

Driving the trail

Speed and power are not required for severe off-road driving. In 4WD low, gearing and good tires will generally pull you over obstacles. In many cases, the average trail speed is no more than 5 km/h. When climbing or descending hills, always go straight up or down. Know what’s on the other side before going up and over a ridge. Ease up on power as you approach the top and before going over a crest. One foot on the gas and one on the brake can give you more precise control.

Use the lowest gear going downhill, and the brakes to fine-tune your speed, or activate hill descent control. Only climb hills you feel comfortable and confident about, and if you don’t make the crest and start to slip part way up, be sure to stop, keep the vehicle straight and slowly back down straight to a level spot. Neutral can be your friend here, letting gravity do the work of getting you down.

When crawling over rocks, use a low gear and low-range 4WD, and let the vehicle inch over obstacles such as rocks or logs, using two feet if you must — one on the gas, the other on the brake — to come over an obstacle slow enough to prevent a hard, body-scraping landing. Know that a vehicle with 10 inches of ground clearance will not straddle a 12-inch rock, so put tires on top of rocks as you go over. If you hear scraping, don’t panic — skid plates and rock rails will protect the undercarriage, if your vehicle has them. Dropping tire pressure three to five PSI can improve traction and avoid punctures.

Land Rover Defender

Always remember to respect the land you’re on.


Before setting a tire off-road, know who owns the land. Is it public or private? If it’s public, is it an active logging or mining road that may have large trucks that aren’t expecting on-coming traffic? Could there be snowmobiles or ATVs that won’t be expecting a large vehicle? If the road is an active trail, be sure to follow and obey all signs, stay on the course and tread lightly, leaving little to no trace of your existence.

Yield to others, giving right of way to anything less powerful than your vehicle, such as hikers, bikers and horses. When approaching oncoming trail users, let them know how many are in your group or if there’s anything unusual about the trail behind you. If you meet someone on a hill, let the the person going uphill have the right of way, as they may need the momentum. Do not stop in the middle of trail on a bend with no visibility and always keep watch for others behind you. Try to keep dust or mud splatter to a minimum, showing respecting the natural environment and to other people who might be out enjoying a little off-roading. Source :