In Defense of Off-Roading

by on August 30, 2018
Off-roading just doesn’t square with a lot of people’s vision of responsible outdoor recreation. I think those people have it wrong. Allow me to explain.

Off-Roaders Don’t Actually Go Off-Road

Image result for Off-Roaders Don’t Actually Go Off-RoadProbably the biggest misconception about “off-roading” is that people just go out and drive wherever they please. This simply isn’t true. Virtually all off-road driving takes place on designated dirt roads, trails, or in special off-highway vehicle (OHV) areas. In fact, “off-highway” (as in off-pavement) is a much more accurate name for the collection of sports that make up off-roading—it just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
I spoke with Sam Logan and Molly Chiappetta of Stay the Trail Colorado, a nonprofit that promotes responsible, ethical off-highway vehicle use in that state. They spend their time visiting OHV trailheads and events and informing trail users of environmentally responsible ways to enjoy their vehicles. They say that staying on-trail is the most important thing off-roaders can do to minimize their impact—and that the vast majority of participants are good about doing that. Exact statistics on how many off-roaders leave designated trails are impossible to calculate, but Chiappetta describes them as “the one percent who give us all a bad name.”
“Many roads or trails have been in place for decades,” Chiapetta says. Some even started as wagon tracks in the 1800s. The soil is compacted and stable, making it able to stand up to the weight of vehicles passing over it. On such routes, off-roaders can safely travel into or through fragile ecosystems without further damaging them, she says.
“If a hiker starts a devastating fire, the world at large doesn’t get the idea that hiking is a negative activity,” says Duane Taylor, executive director of the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council, referring specifically to last year’s Eagle Creek Fire, which was started when a teenage day hiker threw fireworks into dry brush in Mount Hood National Forest. Yet readers don’t complain about our hiking coverage.
Just like other forms of outdoor recreation, off-roading is a self-policing community. Flyers like this one are posted at trailheads and OHV parks and distributed to participants. Violations incur fines. (Stay the Trail)

The Environmental Footprint Isn’t as Bad as You Think

So we’ve established that most off-roaders aren’t tearing up fragile landscapes. But what about the deleterious effects of the fuel the vehicles burn, you might ask?
Sure, I do burn a lot of fuel in my old Land Rover, which averages about 11 miles per gallon when I take it off-road. During a typical camping trip in the Land Rover, I’ll do roughly 100 miles on dirt. According to the calculator on, the off-road portion of that trip (I’m not including highway miles here, since I assume we all drive somewhere occasionally to pursue our hobbies) nets .08 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions.
The thing is, I don’t actually take the Land Rover off-roading all that often. More often, I’ll fly, visiting family, going on work trips, taking vacations, or this year, buying our first house with my girlfriend in Montana. To do that, we’ve flown from Los Angeles to Bozeman five times this year, a trip that nets .44 tons of CO2 for each round-trip.
One of the main reasons for that move is to enable us to spend more time outdoors without the need to get on an airplane or log tons of highway miles. We will actually be reducing our carbon footprint substantially by off-roading more and flying less.
Hands down my favorite thing to use the Land Rover for is hunting, which replaces store- or restaurant-bought meat in our diet with a healthier, wild-caught alternative. It also helps reduce our carbon footprint even further: 2.2 pounds of beef creates .027 metric tons of carbon pollution. The average American eats 79.3 pounds of beef every year. If I replace that beef in our diet with elk and venison, it offsets 2,200 miles of off-roading. I will do far less than that this fall by netting far more wild game.
My point here is that it’s the regular cycle of consumption that accounts for the majority of pollution we create, not any hobby that we’re only able to enjoy infrequently. 

You Go Off-Road, Too

According to the U.S. Forest Service, I’m not alone in using its system of OHV trails to hunt and fish. In fact, 74 percent of people who off-road in our national forests are doing the same at some point in the year. And it’s not just those activities, which also suffer from inaccurate perceptions: 11.4 percent of people using those OHV trails are going backpacking, 22 percent are going mountain biking, 38 percent are birding, and 76 percent are enjoying time with their families.
“As a whole, OHV users are more active in every single recreation activity relative to the general U.S. population,” states the USFS. “For some activities, OHV users participate at more than twice the national rate.”
“The people who participate are not who you think they are,” says Taylor, of the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council. “They’re families. They’re people who are visiting remote areas that are virtually inaccessible by any other means. And just like you, they’re people enjoying nature.”
The point of this article isn’t to convince you that off-roading somehow has less impact on the environment than going for a hike—it doesn’t. It’s simply to argue that the hobby doesn’t deserve its reputation as a villainous scourge on the planet. Our larger community of outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers is too often guilty of denigrating otherwise like-minded people who look different from them or enjoy nature in different ways. We shouldn’t do that. Especially right now with our public lands under threat, us outdoorsy types need to stick together and find common ground from which we can defend the natural world we all love.

Tips for Safe Off-Roading

by on August 30, 2018

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Thinking about taking your first off-road riding adventure? Regardless of whether you're heading to your favorite fishing spot that's off the beaten path, or taking the family out for a drive on the beach, being prepared for an off-road adventure is a must. Check out these off-roading tips for a successful trip.

Choose the Right 4WD Vehicle
First of all, the type of off-road adventure you can have depends on your four-wheel (4WD) drive vehicle. Many of today's 4x4s are not designed for specific off-road activities. For dangerous off-road adventures, you'll want a 4x4 with a chassis frame that's built to withstand the punishment of off-road obstacles. In other words, a crossover may not cut it.

Before You Leave Home
Image result for Before You Leave HomeBefore getting behind the wheel, the following off-roading tips can help to ensure your trip is safe:

Vehicle details:

Know how your 4x4 system works and how to use the controls.
Know where the spare tire and jack are located and how to use them.
Know your vehicle's dimensions including height, width, length, approach angle, departure angle, and ramp angle so that you can pass through tight areas without damage.
Know where the lowest point of clearance is located.
Get used to driving your 4x4. Get a feel for its size and operating characteristics.
Practice using the low-ratio gearbox.
If your vehicle is furnished with manual locking hubs, try them out.
Know where your engine's air intake and engine computer are located so you'll know the maximum depth of water that you can cross.

Check your tires (including the spare) to ensure they are in excellent condition and inflated correctly. Look under your vehicle for any leaks or mechanical problems. Make sure all of your fluids are topped off. Check the status of your steering and brakes. All repairs should be carried out before leaving home.
Keep track of maintenance on filters, belts, and hoses and keep all fluids topped up.
Safety precautions:

Pack all of the appropriate "emergency" supplies.
Be aware of changing weather conditions before you go.
Travel with at least one passenger, and at least one other vehicle whenever possible. Let someone know where you are going, and set a time to contact them to let them know you are okay. Don't forget to take along their phone number and the local police headquarters' phone number.
Pay attention to how you load your vehicle. Loads should be distributed evenly within the car if possible. Loads behind the rear axle will sag the rear of the vehicle, limiting your departure angle and clearance. If you have a roof rack fitted, be aware of weights and how they are distributed. Excessive loads will change the center-of-gravity, thus making the vehicle less stable. Also, remember the additional height of your car due to the rack.

Rules of the "Road"
Image result for Rules of the "Road"Here are a few guidelines to follow when you are traveling on a path or open land:


Don't blaze a new trail. Instead, stay on the traditional way. Your large SUV will damage the ground and embankments by leaving ruts that will deepen and erode with each passing rain.
Don't litter -- not even a cigarette butt or a candy wrapper. 
Don't spin your tires and tear up the soil, as it breaks the surface crust and leads to erosion when it rains.
Should you need to pile stones up to get over an obstacle, then be sure to put the rocks back where you found them afterward.
Don't disturb the wildlife; this includes plants and animals. You are treading on their turf.

Drive slowly.
Just as on the street, stay right to avoid oncoming traffic. If common sense tells you it's safer to move left instead of right, then do so. If there is only room for one vehicle to pass, the rule is the more maneuverable vehicle, or the more experienced driver should yield the right-of-way.
When two vehicles meet on a grade, and there isn't a safe place to pull over, the vehicle traveling uphill has the right of way. It is safer for the car going downhill to back up, and it will be much easier for the downhill vehicle to get underway.
Keep the driver's side of the vehicle close to obstacles so you can judge distances more accurately. (don't forget about the rest of the car!)
When riding through deep ruts, pay attention to the track. Heavily used paths often become deeply rutted, to the point where it is impossible to drive without getting the undercarriage hung up. To prevent this, drive with one wheel in the rut and the other wheel on the middle hump. If there is enough room on the side, drive with one wheel on the hump, and one on the far side of one of the ruts.

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Off-Roading Tips for Emergency Situations
Sooner or later, your vehicle is likely to get stuck or experience mechanical failure. If you pack the necessary tools and supplies, you should be able to get underway again. Here's what to do if you stall, get stuck, or break down.
If you stall: If your vehicle is about to stall on steep incline or decline, do not depress the clutch! This could cause the car to "freewheel," and you could lose control very quickly. Instead, first turn off the ignition and apply the foot brake very hard. Then apply the parking brake. After selecting a suitable route back down the hill, slowly depress the clutch, put it in reverse, let the clutch out, and simultaneously release the parking brake and the foot brake slowly. Then start the engine. With an automatic transmission, never shift the gear lever to "park," as this may lock the transmission and you may not be able to release it without the aid of a winch.

If you get stuck: If you get stuck on a rock, stump or log, survey the situation first to determine the best way to free the vehicle without damaging it. If you're stuck on an object that can be moved, jack up the car and clear away the obstacle. If you're stuck on an object that can't be moved, jack up the vehicle and fill under the tires so that you can drive over the obstacle. Try letting some of the air out of your tires (to about \0 psi) -- remember to air them up again as soon as you can. (Remember that lowering tire pressure also reduces the vehicle's overall height and therefore the vehicle's ground clearance.) Lock the differential locks (if fitted), and use as high a gear as possible. After shoveling away the mud, dirt, sand, or snow that is blocking the tires, clear a path in the direction, you'll be traveling so the tires can get enough traction. Carpet strips, wood, floor mats, brush, rocks, clothing, or sleeping bags can be placed as traction aids under the tires in the direction of travel.

If you still can't get out: Jack up the vehicle and fill the area under the tires with sand, rocks, logs, brush, packed snow or any combination of these. If the jack sinks into the ground, use a piece of wood as a base. (Never crawl under a vehicle that is supported by a jack!)

The best way to get unstuck is by using a winch. A winch takes the hard work out of vehicle recovery. It also allows a lone vehicle a means of freeing itself. Another car can be used as an anchor, but natural anchors, such as trees, stumps, and rocks, are the handiest. 


by on August 30, 2018

If you are reading this post, I’m going to assume that you are probably male (90% of our readers are) and like going off-roading. Have you ever wished that your significant other was into it as well? There are ways to entice your lover to learn off-roading in a safe and welcoming atmosphere. Hook them up with trainers in your area, and check out our women’s only training. This article, from our in-field contributor, Susan Bodnar, is about an annual event for novices as well as advanced wheelers that takes place in Tremont Pennsylvania, called Women’s Wheeling Day. Read on, see what these women got up to and TAP into Adventure…with your partner!

Women’s Wheeling Day is an all-inclusive, family-friendly event run by coordinators Christie Vinson and Susan Bodnar (both of OK4WD). It’s held annually at Rausch Creek Off-Road Park in Tremont Pennsylvania. In 2016 it was held on October 22nd, in the midst of Autumn’s fiery beauty. The inception of this event began with a vision of creating a welcoming event where women could off-road with their peers and learn in an environment where they didn’t feel intimidated or frustrated. The inaugural event brought in 8 drivers. The following years we had 40 participants, then 100, and this year we had over 200 drivers!

Attendees were greeted and assigned in groups for the day. Groups were formed according to driver’s knowledge level and vehicle build. The runs range in complexity from novice to black diamond. Each group was led by an expert trail guide and tail gunner who ensured that all vehicles were trail ready and reviewed trail etiquette with their group. The trail guide and gunner’s job is to make sure that everyone feels secure and has the support (spotting) they need to run a trail safely and successfully. We want everyone to complete this event feeling sufficient and frankly, psyched to get out and wheel some more! We have found that women who participate in this event did go out and explained the word to other drivers…hence the event’s massive growth.

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Prepping for the runs-vehicle inspections and airing down.

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Jenna Bussard from Maryland and her 2015 Jeep Wrangler tackling a rock obstacle at Rausch Creek. This was Jenna’s first-time off-roading at Rausch Creek.

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1995 Wrangler owned by Kathleen Ann. She began Off-roading in ’96 via Jeep Jamboree events and soon became a trail guide. Diagnosed with Breast Cancer her rig was custom painted pink by her husband. Her son Cory (13) and daughter Zoe (10) love going off-roading with their parents and rode along with Kathleen for this event.

Donna Burrell in her ’12 Toyota Tacoma tackling a downward slope at Rausch Creek.

All enjoyed a full day on the trails. We were pleased to see the drivers band together to help each other through both accessible and challenging trails and obstacles. Drivers and passengers shared a lunch break on the trails then headed back out.

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Lunch break…where’s the Pizza?

Some minor breakages occurred on the trails but were quickly fixed as the women worked together to fix any problems that arose.

While intermediate and advanced groups hit the trails early, approximately 60 beginners participated in a class taught by Northeast Off-Road Adventures out of Ellenville, NY. Instructors Jon Mapes, Rich Brody and Owner Scott Trager, taught a three-hour “Basic 101 Off-Roading” class before heading out on the trails.

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Northeast Off-Road Adventures out of Ellenville, NY. Instructors Jon Mapes, Rich Brody and Northeast Off-Road Adventures owner Scott Trager, taught a three-hour “Basic 101’s of Off-Roading” class.

The class included 3 Stations: A vehicle 360: teaching the drivers how their 4WD vehicle differs from an average car. The instructor also informed the participants how to perform a vehicle inspection/checkpoints to ensure that their rig is well maintained and trail ready. The second station involved education on safe driving, trail etiquette and what to expect on the trails. The third station taught drivers the fundamentals of torque and picking a line, as well as working with a spotter. Drivers learned hand signals and practiced maneuvering over obstacles and through tight areas. After the class was complete, Scott Trager raffled off a free, full-day training class at their training facility in Ellenville, NY.

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Drivers learned to maneuver through obstacles and tight areas with the help of a spotter

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After a day on the trails, all drivers and passengers were welcomed back to the pavilion for a delicious BBQ Dinner hosted by OK4WD and Globex Performance. A very generous raffle followed dinner. We are very grateful for all the sponsors (listed below) who provided fantastic raffle prizes for the participants. During lunch, stories from the trails, adventures, and advice were exchanged, and many new friendships and bonds were created. We can’t wait for next year!!

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Christie Vinson is speaking to the attendees after the event was over.