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mudding jeep Flickr: Robert Thigpen
Flickr: Robert Thigpen

Driving on public roads is fun and all, but going on an off-road adventure is an experience unlike any other.

You never quite know the exciting challenges you’ll face, or the natural beauty you’ll see until you take the path less traveled. That said, there are a few bits of information you should be aware of first.

Things are going to get muddy, and certain terrains can cause damage or leave you stranded in the middle of nowhere if you’re not using the right driving techniques.

Let’s discuss the best tips and tricks on how to tackle those off-road trails like a pro.

Proper Vehicle Choice

Before you ditch the paved roads, it’s beneficial to have a vehicle that’s capable in these off-road environments.

Manufacturers have released a wide selection of trail-ready four-wheel-drive trucks and SUVs, including the Ford Bronco, Toyota Tacoma, Chevy Colorado ZR2, and Jeep Gladiator Rubicon, just to name a few.

Jeep has always had a great selection to choose from over the years. You can never go wrong with an older model Jeep Grand Cherokee, or the proven Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. Even a stock Jeep in factory form is fairly capable, but the massive availability of aftermarket upgrades brings things to a whole different level.

Since Jeeps are arguably the most popular choice to go with, I’ll refer back to them as a reference as we go along.

Learning Your Equipment

When operating an off-road vehicle like a Jeep Wrangler, it’s important to be aware of three key equipment features you wouldn’t typically see in a traditional road vehicle.

Without utilizing these functions, you’ll put yourself in a less than ideal situation, and will be much more prone to getting stuck in the mud.

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Four Wheel Drive High

4×4 vehicles have three modes they can drive in: 2WD, 4WD high, and 4WD low. When four high is selected, all four wheels will be delivering power to the ground. However, high is usually meant to be used when the vehicle is traveling at higher speeds up to 55 MPH.

Say you’re driving around on a dirt backroad, snowy and icy roads, or a wet sandy beach. Four high would be the best option for this.

Four-Wheel-Drive Low

On the flip side, you’ve got four-wheel-drive low. This also delivers power to all four wheels, but it’s meant for driving at lower speeds. You shouldn’t go faster than 15 MPH, as it could cause damage to the transfer case. While in 4 low, you’ll notice the gear ratio changes, giving you more torque at a lower speed.

You should typically use 4 low while in dry sand, deep snow, deep mud, or while rock crawling. Four low is beneficial for getting a vehicle through challenging technical terrain, but it should only be used when it’s necessary.

Locking Differentials

Front and rear-locking differentials, or “lockers,” are other components you’ll find on many Jeeps and other off-road vehicles. These can make all the difference on rough terrain. With open differentials, power is delivered to the wheel with least resistance. This isn’t ideal, because if you have a wheel in the air, all the power will go to spin that wheel, and you’ll have no power going to the one making contact with the ground.

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A locked differential forces both wheels to spin at the same rate, which greatly aids in pushing the vehicle forward through tough terrain. You can only engage lockers while crawling in four-wheel-drive low, and remember to turn them off after you make it through the rough stuff, or you’ll risk damage to the components.

Tire Selection

You can’t expect your Jeep to tear through the mud if you’re on highway tires. Not even four -heel-drive or lockers will help you much in that scenario.

It’s important to pick a good all-terrain or mud-terrain tire for your vehicle. When choosing a tire, you should consider what you’ll use the vehicle for. If you want something strictly for mud, a more aggressive off-road tire like the Nitto Mud Grappler may work out better. If it’s a daily driver used for occasional off-road use, an all-terrain tire such as the BF Goodrich Baja Champion KO2 is much more practical.

The main point here is to make sure your tires can handle the terrain you throw at it. A good set of rubber can make all the difference on an off-road vehicle.

Choosing the Right Off-Road Trail

The best advice I could give to someone new to off-roading is to start small. Find a local off-road park and go check it out. Most of these places offer maps of the trails, and label them from easy to difficult.

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Of course, I’d always recommend starting with the easiest trails first. That way, you familiarize yourself with your equipment, and slowly figure out how to adapt your driving style to the rougher terrain. The easier trails also have smaller mud pits, which you’re much less likely to get stuck in.

Get a feel for everything first, then you can move your way up to more challenging trails once you figure out how to properly handle the vehicle on dirt.

Aftermarket Parts

As you move your way into more challenging trails, you’ll eventually hit your vehicle’s limits. That’s where mods come in.

It’s simple to browse the web and find a sea of new products for your ride. Some of these parts include lift kits, winches, steel bumpers, axles, lockers, and lighting, all of which can improve off-road performance. For Jeeps in particular, customization is practically endless. It’s another huge reason why they’re so popular for off-road use.

While mods are highly beneficial, it can quickly consume your income much like any other automotive niche. It’s totally worth it though.

With a little drive time under your belt, and the right outfit on your vehicle, you’ll look like a natural born wheeler. Follow these tips listed above and you’ll conquer any terrain, no matter how muddy it gets along the way.

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