Checklist Before Hitting the Trail


Cliffside trail to the summit of a mountain, with snow capped gorges on the side.

Off-roading is an awesome hobby. There is a sense of relief once the pavement ends and I am out in my element. After countless trips to the backcountry in my Jeep, I have a mental checklist of things to get ready before I go wheeling and want to share it with you all.

Before you hit the trail, be sure to go over this checklist to be certain that you have a fun, safe time.

Navigation

The first thing you must prepare before hitting the trail is navigation. How are you going to know where you are and where you are going?

I understand that it may be tempting to just hit the first trail you see trail and see how far it goes—maybe that works for you—but generally you should have a map or GPS to guide you. Especially if you are going on a long trip, then it is a must.

I suggest buying a subscription to GPS apps for your smartphone. Some options are Gaia or OnX Offroad. This is the simplest and most accessible way to navigate the trails. You could also buy a traditional GPS. Using either will make it easy to navigate through the trail systems.

Gaia GPS snapshot.

Using a map and compass is also an option for those skilled in navigation, but make sure that you know what you are doing ahead of time. Do not put your skills to the test out in the remote wilderness.

For tips on planning your route check out our article How to Find Off-Road Trails.

Recovery Gear

I have mentioned this many times before in previous articles, but never forget your recovery gear. Even if you do not plan on doing any intense wheeling, make sure you come prepared for the worst.

Always bring a shovel, to help dig if you get stuck and help with other tasks.

I also recommend bringing a traction board, as it can help you get out of mud, sand, or snow if you get stuck. Simply slip the boards under your tires and your wheels should regain traction.

Another great recovery tool is a winch. If you have one installed on your vehicle that is great for most occasions. If you get stuck, you just attached your winch to a tree and slowly pull yourself out. The only situation where it would not help is if there were no trees or large rocks to attach it to, but this situation would be rare.

I also always recommend throwing a recovery strap into your trunk as well. You need a second vehicle to use the strap. Keep one handy in case you need to pull someone out of a bad situation or if you need someone to pull you.

For tips on how to use your recovery gear, check out our article on the topic.

Air Down

Make sure you air down your tires before you hit the trails. When going over rocky terrain, a fully inflated tire is much more likely to get punctured or damaged. When on sand, mud, or snow you are much more likely to get stuck with a fully inflated wheel. Airing down increases the surface area of your tires touching the trail giving you superior traction.

For moderate trails I recommend airing down to around 15 PSI to help smooth out the ride and reduce erosion to the trail.

For more rocky terrain and sand I recommend 10 PSI but would recommend not going any lower unless you have beadlock wheels to keep your tire fully attached. Going too low without beadlocks could lead to your tire slipping off the wheel.

You can go to about 5 PSI or even lower if you do have beadlocks, for maximum traction on snow, sand, mud, or rocks.

These are good general guidelines to follow, but you will find what works best for you.

Close up of off road tire covered in mud.

First Aid

You never know what can happen when far out on the trails. If you are in a remote area far from civilization and any hospitals, you need to make sure your prepared in case you hurt yourself.

Always pack basic first aid kit when you hit the trails. That way if you get severely cut or injured you have the basics to take care of yourself enough to get on the trail and back to safety.

Spare Tire

Every off roader should have a full-sized spare. A donut can cause serious damage to your vehicle if you end up riding on the trails with one. Not to mention you could get stuck out there, since driving on 3 full sized wheels and a donut might not be able to get you past all the obstacles you came in on.

If you currently only have a small sized spare make sure you upgrade ASAP.

Along the same lines make sure you have the tools you need to change your tire on the trail. Bring a jack, preferably one that is suitable for uneven terrains, and a lug wrench.

For a list of other important gear, check out our article The Best Overland Gear.

Whenever you go exploring the outdoors it is important to practice Responsible Overlanding.

 


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