It’s not a stretch to say that many Jeepers, myself included, are drawn to the Wrangler for its go anywhere do anything attitude—the Wrangler is the car you buy when you don’t want to conform, when you strive for more. Owning a vehicle that can be just as, if not more comfortable on unpaved roads as it is on blacktop is an incredible experience that welcomes adventure every time you hop behind the wheel.
The problem is, if you have never been off-roading before it can be a little intimidating with no prior knowledge, leaving you unsure of what to do, how do it, and where to start. To help you get out on your first trail, we’ve compiled a short guide of all the basics so you can begin your adventure today!
One of the biggest pitfalls inexperienced off-roaders succumb to is not having the right gear for the train they are on. Understanding the trail and route you are going to be facing is essential to packing the right gear and making sure your rig is ready for whatever might be thrown at it. With that said, there is still a universal list of things you’ll want to make sure you have when embarking on that off-road adventure.
- CB Radio and/or Cell Phone
- First Aid Kit
- Weather appropriate clothing
- Recovery/tow strap
While some Jeepers struggle with being under-prepared, others struggle with being over-prepared to the point where it becomes a hindrance to their trip. While this may seem contradictory to what has already been stated in this article, there is a difference between being prepared for the unexpected and going over-the-top.
Right off the bat, you don’t need extra fuel–on most trail rides you’re only going a handful of miles, you’re not traversing the continent in one afternoon.
Another common misconception that stops a lot of people from taking a trail ride is that you don’t need a rig that is modded to the gills. Stock Wranglers with minimal upgrades are capable of hitting a wide variety of trails with varying degrees of difficulty. Yes, you will be more limited in where you can go if you don’t have a heavy duty lift kit or adequate armor and bumpers, but stock and lightly prepped rigs can make for a great day of wheeling.
Once you’ve gathered everything you will need for you and your rig, you are going to want to do one final check on your JK to make sure you’re good to go. Once again, this is going to be pretty reliant on what trail you’re hitting as different trail’s terrain will dictate your preparedness.
This is where you are going to want to set your expectations for your ride. You may be riding on a fire trail, which will be fun but not as challenging as a more hardcore trail. While a hardcore trail will test the limits of your Jeep more, making for a more rewarding experience, but you will be running a higher risk of breaking something.
Once you arrive at the trail you will be exploring, you’ll want to consider disconnecting your sway bars and airing down your tires. Disconnecting your sway bars will allow for better articulation and flexing on the trail, while airing down your tires will give you a bigger footprint for improved grip, as well as a smoother ride.
As your tires touch dirt and you can see the trail ahead of you, breathing in that feeling of freedom you get knowing you have a day of wheeling ahead of you, there are a few things you will want to keep in mind to maximize your fun.
When driving on the trail, you are going to want to look at where you’re at and where you’re trying to go, carefully picking out the best line or route you can take to get yourself there. It is important to factor in any obstacles, how much ground and side clearance you’ll have, as well as what lies beyond the point you’re trying to reach; essentially, don’t just rush blindly into any situation on the trail.
When coming up to an obstacle, you are not going to want to straddle it as a lot of new off-roaders tend to do. Straddling over a log or rock can cause damage to the undercarriage of your rig, whether it be the axles, driveshaft, exhaust, or anything else hanging out down there. Instead, approach the obstacle with confidence and ride over it, giving it just the right amount of throttle.
There will come times when it be helpful to have a passenger or someone else caravanning with you who can get out and help direct you through a section of trail, especially on those more grueling courses. It is important to be able to recognize when you need a second set of eyes to help you judge, approach and guide you through a section.
Finally, be careful of off-camber situations where you could possibly roll (insert “it’s a jeep thing” bumper sticker here). A general rule of thumb for newer riders is to not go over anything taller than your tires. There will be situations where your rig may feel unstable like it is going to roll, even if it is only a 10” tree stump, but it takes time and experience to be able to properly gauge what your rig can conquer.
Hitting the trail properly prepared with the right gear for you and rig, paired with a proper plan of attack, will make your first trail ride one to remember.