Off-Road Driving Basics For First-Timers

Off-road driving is fun, exciting, and provides hours of enjoyment, but it’s not easy and could be pretty dangerous for those who are inexperienced. Even if you believe yourself, an experienced road driver, off-road driving is a different skill set.

To begin your off-roading experience, start at the beginning, and work your way up, level by level. Take it slow, and even if you feel like you know what you’re doing, you might put yourself and others in danger if you’re not careful.

In the beginning, off-road in a group. Never go out on your own if you haven’t got several hours of off-roading experience under your belt already. The alternatives are just not worth the risk, and it shouldn’t be too long before you reach a stage of competence anyway.

One thing that you can do for yourself right now before you even get behind the wheel of an off-road vehicle is to prepare yourself mentally. Also, read up on off-roading and watch videos on YouTube to help learn the basics. Here is some other information to consider:


First and most obviously, you need an off-road vehicle with a wide variety of choices from dirt bikes, All Terrain Vehicles or ATVs, and other vehicle options abound. Jeep Wranglers, Nissan Armadas, Ram 1500 Rebels, and the ever-reliable Land Rover are among the best options. For the most part, four-wheeled vehicles could be quite pricey.

In addition to that, there are specific tires for different terrains, so make sure that you’ve got the right ones. Here’s a quick list of other equipment needs:

  • A high-lift jack to change the tires
  • Spare tire
  • Tow rope in case of a breakdown
  • First aid kit for potential injuries
  • Air compressor
  • Winch–in case you get stuck in the mud
  • Fire extinguisher

Terms to Know

Familiarize yourself with off-roading lingo to intelligently discuss any issues with your crew and other off-roaders you might happen to encounter.

  • 4×4 High and Low: 4×4 is when all four wheels are engaged instead of the standard two-wheel. High is when the gear ratio remains unchanged, meaning it will have just as much power. Low allows for more torque but will be slower.
  • Approach Angle: How much your vehicle can incline during a climb or descent without any part of it touching the surface.
  • Wheelbase: The distance from the center of the front wheels to the center of the back wheels.
  • Diff-Lock: This is short for lock differential. It’s the speed at which the wheels move. When the differential is locked, then the wheels will all move at the same speed.


Off-road is the term that we use to describe this activity, but it’s not very specific. There are several different off-road terrains that you might enjoy.

  • Dry Ground is the most common terrain and the easiest one to manage. If you have good tires, you know where you are and have a good sense of your surroundings, dry ground shouldn’t present too many problems for beginners.
  • To drive in the mud, you should use tires specific for mud. There are some great ones that you can rely on to work well on slick ground and hopefully will minimize getting stuck. Make sure you have a winch and two ropes in case the unfortunate does happen. It’s best to keep traction control off.
  • Driving on Sand is for the very experienced. Dunes are unpredictable, and it’s easy to lose control. 4×4 low is ideal, and it’s wise to keep your momentum going to avoid getting stuck. This can be intimidating for newer drivers.

Armed with this knowledge won’t prepare you entirely for off-road driving, the only way to truly develop the necessary skills is actually to drive. But knowing about the types of vehicles, terrains, and equipment is, for sure, a step in the right direction.

Charlie Waters has been in the online content world for over 25 years as a freelance writer, covering different topics—usually financial and sustainability topics. 

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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