Of course, it goes without saying that those new to off-roading should undergo proper training before tackling a 4×4 trail. But attending a training session is really just the first step towards becoming a competent off-roader. The second – and much bigger – step is venturing onto a trail on your own for the first time.
Anyone new to off-roading should attend a training session offered by a competent 4×4 training company. Visiting a 4×4 track without a rudimentary knowledge of the principles of off-roading and the basic workings of a 4×4 vehicle is not a good idea.
Once the training is over, though, the time has arrived the tackle your first trail. How should you go about it?
Most new off-roaders wisely opt to visit a trail near the city where they stay. This is a good idea, because you don’t want to be stuck on your own in the middle of nowhere and in desperate need of recovery.
That said, the fact that a track is close to civilisation should not lull one into a false sense of security. Make no mistake, things can still go very wrong.
For this reason, it is best to go in a group. At the very least, take an experienced driver along. Also, remember your recovery kit, and make sure that your vehicle is fitted with decent recovery points at both ends!
Other essentials include water, snacks, a first aid kit, fire extinguisher, jack, crank, wheel spanner and adapter socket if you have security nuts fitted to your wheels.
This might seem like a lot of kit to cart along, but all these things are must-have items. Tackling a trail without them is reckless.
I once visited a well-known trail late in the afternoon to take pictures for a book. I had the owner’s permission and he had given me a set of keys for the gate. I finished at around 18h30, and made my way towards the gate. When I got to a large mud hole, I found two vehicles desperately trying to pull a third one out of the hole. All they had with them was ski rope – a woefully inadequate tool.
I winched the vehicle out and also unlocked the main gate for them, since it had already been locked for the night. This was before the invention of cell phones, so had I not come along, they would have been in for a very unpleasant night.
What else should you remember? Make sure that you have enough fuel and that your tyres have been deflated to the appropriate level. It is also worth keeping in mind that your tyres will have to be inflated once you’re done. Check if there is a petrol station close by, otherwise, take a compressor along.
Hopefully you will be given a map at the entrance gate that shows the route and the various obstacles. I would suggest that you stay away from the toughest obstacles, since they’re practically guaranteed to bruise your ego and damage your vehicle. If, however, you find experienced drivers on the tough obstacles, it is a good idea to watch how they do it. You’ll pick up some useful tips.
If you come across a water hole, it is a bad idea to simply barge through. Get out and walk through it, even if the trail is used regularly and you know that vehicles have recently driven through it. Since you don’t know what’s waiting beneath the surface, you have to inspect it before you tackle the obstacle. Also, don’t try to make as big a splash as possible! It might provide dramatic pictures, but it is dangerous.
Take things slowly. Check your critical angles, and inspect the different vehicles’ suspensions as they deal with the various obstacles. It will provide useful information on how vehicles perform in off-road conditions.
Most importantly, don’t be pressured into taking on an obstacle that you feel uncomfortable with. It takes time to develop the skills necessary to tackle the toughest obstacles. Just relax and try to enjoy the day.
Lastly, don’t leave the trail too late. Not only do you need to inflate your tyres before heading home, but you should also clean your 4×4 as soon as you arrive. Why? Mud can affect wheel balance, and also cause overheating if it gets stuck in the radiator and bakes into the core.
Once your vehicle is clean, you can relax and enjoy a beer – your first of the day, obviously, since you should never drink on a trail!