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Backpacker Magazine – May 2012

The Manual: Rough Road Driving

Don’t get stuck in the mud. Learn to evaluate road hazards, overcome obstacles, and navigate the unpaved passages between your front door and your next adventure.

by: Kristin Bjornsen

Illustration by: Supercorn
Photo by rough_road_driving_445x278
Illustration by: Supercorn


>> Check depth. Walk across a puddle or stream to scout for rocks and assess the depth. If the water is shallower than your tires’ hubs, it’s safe to cross. Any deeper and you may stall or damage the engine.
>> Test the flow. Current too strong to walk across? Don’t drive through it. Tires act like pontoons, and you may float downstream.
>> Cross. Go slow and angle slightly upstream, which helps keep sediment in place and improves traction. Use designated crossings.

>> Assess the angle. A 4WD can handle inclines up 35 degrees on firm surfaces. In AWD vehicles or on loose turf, be cautious. Don’t charge hills; hitting the slope at speed can harm your alignment.
>> Scout the descent. Recon steepness before committing.
>> Go slow. Three to five mph is the sweet spot where you’ll have enough speed so the tires won’t slide, but not so much that a rock could derail the car. Downshift for more control.

>> Pick a line. Get out of the car and plan your path. Check for rock height, sufficient width, and safe places to stop. If possible, have one passenger get out and direct the driver.
>> Beware of wheel cheat. In turns, a car’s front and back wheels don’t track the same (see left). Compensate by making wide turns. Adjust your mirrors to monitor your rear tires.
>> Use rocks. If two rocks are aligned with your wheel base but are too tall to straddle, drive directly over them to avoid getting hung up (see above). Tip: Build a ramp so the approach angle isn’t so steep that you hit the car’s undercarriage.

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Ted Dinwiddie
Jul 02, 2012

Pretty good piece, as far as it goes. There is A LOT more to back country driving than one can read in a single trip to the can, however. Cross rivers angled WITH the current, BTW.

Jul 02, 2012

Pretty good piece, as far as it goes. Meanolddog gets it a bit further, but there is A LOT more to this. Check out we can train you! Not yeehaw 'wheelin', real off road skills. BTW, cross rivers angled WITH the current, not against, trust me. Drive Well, Go Further.

Jul 02, 2012

Hi, meanolddog!
I've been impressed with your list and would like to learn how exactly you use each of that items, what situations, etc...
Could you teach me?
Thank you very much!

Old enough to know better
Jun 19, 2012

Don't see jumper cables on your list! Have seen more than a few cars parked at lonely trailheads with interior dome lights, parking lights etc. discharging the battery - easier to get a jump from someone parked nearby than pay big bucks for AAA rescue!

Jun 02, 2012

30 years of off Roading and driving on down old logging roads in the Sierra's and the California Deserts taught me a lot, along with a lot of cross country hiking.

#1. Carry at least two gallons of Water in separate sturdy containers do not put all your water in one container or leave in those flimsy store containers which are design to rot, per person in the vehicle.
#2. Carry extra personal Medications
#3. Carry an extensive First Aid Kit and know how to use it, with more than one Heat and 3 Cold compressess. Water Purification Tablets or a Pump
#4. Sleeping Bag
#5. Rain suit, comes in handy when it's cold out
#6. I carry MRE's and NO Dehydrated foods at all.
#7. Two wool Blankets
#8. Topographic Maps, not general area maps with little detail, detail is what you want.

B. in a plastic storage box carry
#1. 4 ton Come along, costs about $40.
#2. Knitted Nylon tow STRAP forget those yellow ropes every one I had snapped real easy.
#3. A real G.I. Folding Shovel
#4. A multi-use Battery, Air Compressor, Battery Charger Unit and charge it before you leave home.
#5. Tire Jack and spare Stand and Lug Wrench.
#6. Tire sealant
#7. Hatchet which can used as a hammer for the lug nuts should they be hard to get off.
#8. Heavy duty canvas or plastic tarp 12x12
#9. 100 ft. of real 550 Parachute Cord
#10.50-100 ft. hemp rope
#11.A 3 ft 2x6 wooden plank
#12.A 2 ft section of a 4x4 of 6x6 wood block
#13.A multitool set with tool sizes that fit your vehicles size or any special tools made especially for your vehicle.
#14. Distilled water for your Battery.
#15. Extra vehicle fuses
#16. Spare Fan belt
#17. Make sure your spare is a real spare and not one of those Donut tires which will split and pop on any type of rough gravel road.
#18. If you gut tells you your taking a risk, then don't do it..It is that simple.

Thats enough until you become more experienced. Seems like a lot but I have used every item in both lists at one time or another, especially that come along.

Jun 02, 2012

The last advice to drive over two rocks may work if you're driving a Segway or over some long rocks, but otherwise you'll get hung up front to back while trying to avoid a side to side hang up.

AZ Hiker
Jun 01, 2012

And don't forget to read Felix! the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart (Amazon). Learn what survival items to keep in your vehicle, how to get rescued, and how to navigate your way with and without a map or compass. A fast, easy read that could save your life and will definitely make your adventure more safe and enjoyable!

Steve C
Jun 01, 2012

Add to the list: Spare tire(s), winch or heavy-duty come-along, good pair of hiking shoes.


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