They say “all roads lead to Rome,” but as South African outdoor enthusiasts, Rome is pretty far down our list of “things to see and places to be this weekend.” In fact, many of the destinations that we find worth visiting don’t have a neatly tarred road leading right up to their entrance. To get to where we want to go, we’re going to have to take the road – or not – less travelled and gear up to go off-roading!
Alongside being an excellent way to get right up into the heart of natural places, off-roading is a thrill-rich activity in itself, combining speed, dexterity, precision, nature and skill. Off-roading is markedly different from the docile daily work commute, and much of that has to do with the terrain over which you’re launching your vehicle.
Though, with the right guidance (and car), off-roading will become as easy as driving to your local shop. In the meantime, here are beginner tips to keep you safe, sound and not-stuck when you give different types of terrain a try.
General off-roading rules
- If you’re a beginner, don’t go off-roading at night. Not only will you not be able to see any potential hazards, but you might end up colliding with local wildlife, who don’t know how to avoid cars off the road. Plus, you won’t see the view that way!
- Always prep your car before off-roading. Check that your tyre pressure is correct for the terrain you’ll be covering and consider the number of passengers and luggage you’re bringing along for the ride. Ensure there are no obviously broken components on your vehicle, too!
- Your tyre situation is crucial to arriving safely. As an off-roader, you should ensure your tread is in good shape and that you’re travelling with at least two spare tyres. Ensure that you have a tyre-patching kit handy in your vehicle; this will really help you out of trouble if you have a mishap somewhere remote. It’s also a good idea to have a tyre compressor and pressure gauge with you, so you can adjust tyre pressure as needed.
- Ensure that you always keep your lights on, especially in dusty and low-visibility conditions. This will also warn any nearby critters hiding, to get out of your way safely.
- This may go without saying, but you need to have the right vehicle for the job. Low-clearance cars and those without 4-wheel drive just won’t make it up more challenging routes. We also strongly suggest taking an off-roading course if you’re looking to tackle particularly tough terrain for the first time.
If you’re driving on gravel roads…
You’re beginning in the right place! Though trickier than most tarred roads, this is a great intermediate place to start your off-roading journey and get the hang of how your vehicle behaves under pressure. Start by deflating your tyres to 1.8 bar, as this will make your ride softer and ensure your vehicle has a better grip on the bumpier roads.
No matter how much fun you’re having, always keep your speed under 80km/h. Gravel can be slippery and unpredictable, and if you lose control here, your car is going to slide much further than on a regular road. If you’re driving in a convoy, make sure you overtake with a very wide clearance, because you may obstruct the other drivers’ visibility with dust and debris if you pull up directly in front of them. (And leaving your travel buddies in a cloud of dust may seem kinda rude.) Be very vigilant about where the edges of the road are, too. Accidentally clipping an abrupt road edge with your tyre is never fun.
If you’re driving in riverbeds or thick sand.
You need to lower your tyre pressure even further, to around 1.2 bar. It is, however, crucial that you don’t reduce radial tyres less than 0.8 bar and cross-ply tyres less than 1.2 bar from their optimal road pressure. You need to bear in mind the load your vehicle is carrying, so only do this once you’re packed and ready to go.
For this terrain, you’ll definitely need a 4×4 and you’re going to want to go at this in low-range, first gear. The trick here is that thick sand requires momentum, so you need to keep moving at all times. If you stop, you’re going to sink and get stuck. When you need to stop, roll to a halt, and don’t pump the brakes.
Using brakes will cause sand to build up in front of your wheels and make it challenging to pull out again. For optimised fuel efficiency, Camp Master also recommends that you try to do your sand driving as early in the day as you can when the sand is cooler. Hot sand is softer, which means you’ll use much more fuel to get any sort of speed going.
If you’re driving over sharp rocks, stones, and rough terrain.
There isn’t necessarily a rule for prescribed tyre pressure we believe is optimal. This is because, though having softer, less-pressurised tyres will increase your vehicle’s traction on this off-road adventure, soft tyres will be more susceptible to getting damaged by obstacles.
We’d suggest checking your vehicle’s operating manual to see their recommended guidelines. You’ll definitely need a 4×4 vehicle for any sizeable rocky slopes, and once again, it would be best to approach this sort of route in first gear, for maximum power. Rather than trying to avoid rocks, it’s actually better to drive directly – but very slowly – over them. This is because the thickest part of your tyre is your tread, while the side walls are only a few millimetres thick, and much more susceptible to sustaining damage.
If you’re driving in long grass.
It can feel like you’re soaring on a great grass sea – but don’t get carried away, loads of obstacles could be lurking under the surface! In dry grass, your vehicle is significantly more susceptible to experiencing vehicle burnout, so we advise keeping a fire extinguisher close by just in case anything gets too heated.
The grass might collect around your exhaust pipe, which could catch fire and cause issues.
This is usually more common in petrol vehicles, as they run at much higher temperatures, but it’s important to remain vigilant about this hazard anyway.
When driving in long grass, we’d suggest stopping every 20 km to clear any grass that may be trapped near the exhaust or in wheel arches (and taking in the scenery while you’re there). Don’t use your bare hands to remove that grass, though! Keep a welders’ glove handy (see what we did there?) to use, as the exhaust is likely to be very hot.
If you’re driving in the mud.
It’s good to know that mud often has a soft, squelchy top but a much firmer, harder base a little distance down. You want your tyres to cut through the top layer and gain traction on that bottom layer to build momentum. If you’re planning muddy off-roading, opt for narrower tyres with high tyre pressure to make that happen.
You’ll want to approach mud in second gear and maintain momentum and speed to prevent getting stuck. A good balance of speed is high enough that you’re powering through the top layer obstacle but not so high that you’re putting yourself in danger of losing control on the slippery, slide surface.
Be incredibly careful when turning on mud, as your car will be at a higher risk of skidding like it’s a Fast and Furious movie, but with more wildlife. You should also avoid holding the steering wheel too forcefully. Your vehicle will be moving of its own accord here, and by going with that momentum rather than being jarring and forceful, you’ll navigate the terrain with much more ease. Go with the flow!
If you need to take more than your vehicle can handle…
You’ll need to tow a trailer that can keep up with the rigorous demands of off-roading the same way your vehicle does, without causing you anxiety about durability or maneuverability in even the toughest terrain. Thankfully, Camp Master has created the Town&Country Wilderness 300 trailer, with a separate nosecone and tailgate.
This rugged and ready trailer has high sides and a large body for optimal capacity, as well as side and rear entry doors for ease of access. It’s got a fridge slider tray to keep your refreshments cool and a tent-ready roof rack for when you reach your eventual destination. Multiple jerry can holders mean you’ll never run out of fuel and eternal utility boxes keep your essentials safe from even the toughest elements.
Complete with a cast iron coupler and an automotive 2K finish, the galvanised steel construction on this NRCS certified trailer will withstand a multitude of rigorous trips. With 15″ wheels and a 12-month warranty, this off-road equipped trailer is your ultimate off-roading adventure companion. See a demo model today at a Makro near you!