Tips for the Off-Road Rookie

Have you ever met a “noob?” Also commonly known as a “newbie,” “rookie,” or perhaps “mall crawler?” You know who I’m talking about: that buddy who bought a Jeep Wrangler and has never taken it any further off road than the parking lot of the vineyard on weekend wine tasting trips.

There are plenty of people who buy a 4×4 and never put it to good use. The purchase may have been based in the idea that they would drive it when it snowed, or they simply couldn’t resist the allure of a bigger vehicle and worse gas mileage. I’m not blaming anyone – I can’t resist it either. We once considered buying a Chevy Cruz over a lifted Tahoe, then I cried and we snapped back to the reality of our vehicle DNA.

There are those 4×4 owners who buy them for utility. We need something that will get us to work through the snow, to trails down muddy roads and offer the ground clearance to navigate rocky back roads. Then, there are those who buy a 4×4 with at the idea that perhaps they may need it for one of those things, but there’s a hitch in their get-along when it comes to actually engaging that power to all four wheels.

Let’s stop the madness.

I mean, really, off-roading is a sport for everyone. Almost everyone, at least. If you’re rocking a Prius you might want to ride with someone else, but we’ll still accept you into the club. The major hurdle for first time off-road drivers is actually taking the plunge and knowing how to be prepared for what they may encounter on their first time off the beaten, overused, boring paved path.

Don’t Go it Alone:
Off road driving is a team sport. Use the buddy system and never go alone. By alone, I mean to ideally bring a second four wheel drive vehicle with you. That way, if you do get a little crazy and end up stuck, you’ll have assistance to get un-stuck, and a ride out to get more help if those efforts prove fruitless.

You’re Not Tanner Foust:
Or Ivan Stuart. Or Dennis Anderson. This isn’t a rally race. Or the Baja 1000. Or a monster show exhibition. Take it easy. Slow down. Know your limits. Try a dirt road, small mud bog or basic trail to start – and take someone with you who is experienced. If you feel uncomfortable on a trail, you’re more likely to make mistakes, so move up to more advanced trails as you get more time under your belt off-road. Maybe just explore some old Forest Service roads for now and learn how your rig handles on different surfaces.

Pack a Lunch:
Sure, you can head off road with nothing but the clothes on your back, an energy drink and an idea, but that’s how people get lost and eaten by hungry bears. Maybe not the bears, part, but anyways…
Prepare before you head out. Plan where you’re going and take a map or GPS. You probably won’t have cell service, so tell someone where you’re headed. Bring a reliable tow strap, a shovel and make sure you have enough fuel before leaving town.
Pack yourself some snacks. Heck, make it a day and stop for sub sandwiches before you hit the trail. Bring water, layers of clothes and most importantly: common sense.

That four wheel drive button is mighty fun to use. So take this tips and get out there. Your front drive shaft is screaming to be used!