Every off roader needs to hit the dunes at least once. If you have not already gone to the dunes, it should be on your bucket list. Recently, I have discovered the exhilarating thrill of riding around the dunes in my Jeep. You do not even need a capable vehicle to have fun. Just make sure you are prepared.
To make sure you are prepared, it is important to know what you are doing. Do not go unprepared and end up with vehicle damage or stuck for long periods of time.
Get a Whip Flag
Out in the dunes, there are so many OHV enthusiasts riding around that you need to be able to see others from far away and you need them to see you. Most OHV area dunes will require that you have a whip flag that rises at least 9 ft from the ground.
At the dunes, ATVs will have them, bikes will have them, and any full size cars should have them too. Make sure to buy a good quality whip flag before you hit the dunes. I personally invested in a high quality one to make sure it would last.
Do not forget to take off the flag before you get off the dunes and back onto paved roads as it will be hazardous.
Even more important than airing down for the trail, you need to make sure you air down out in the dunes. When off-roading in the dunes it is extremely easy to get stuck in the loose sand. A denser tire will dig much deeper into the sand than a softer tire.
When you air down you increase the surface area of your tire helping it float on top of the sand instead of sinking. Think of a boat being buoyant on the water, you want your tires to float over the sand.
More surface area also helps with traction, which is important in any off road situation. For sand, I would lower your tire to 15 PSI. If you have an off road tire, such as an A/T or M/T you could probably go as low as 10 PSI. If you have beadlocks you can go below 10 PSI.
You do not want to go too low without beadlocks or else your tire could slip off the wheel, leaving you immobilized.
Don't forget to air back up before getting back on the pavement.
Drive Straight Up and Down Hills
Whenever you approach a hill, make sure that you travel straight up and down the hill, while you are still learning how to ride around the dunes. When you attempt an steep hill climb and cannot make it all the way up, do not turn as this can lead you to flip. Backup in a straight line and try again.
Sometimes you attempt to go up and get stuck, your best bet is to drive straight backwards and have gravity help you back down. No matter what gravity will pull you down the path of least resistance so you always want to keep your rig lined up that way. If you are sideways gravity can pull the sand and your rig down and you could get seriously hurt.
Drive smooth, Avoid Abrupt movements
When in the sand it is easy to get stuck. The loose sand is easy to sink in and your tires can dig you into a hole. Driving on sand requires you to apply enough power to keep you moving but not too much as to dig you into the sand. If your wheels move too aggressively it will dig you more.
Always make use of your momentum. Get steady speed and keep it going with constant, light gas.
You want to be in a low gear, but not too low to stop you abruptly—generally, this is 2nd gear. If you have an automatic, use the gear shifter if you have one. If you cannot adjust your gear, lightly use the brake when needed to control speed but do not be abrupt.
When steering you should not turn abruptly. You should use your wheels more like the sleds on a snowmobile than wheels on the pavement, as your wheels will drift over the sand while you drive. Take wider turns, especially when on uneven surfaces.
Of course, you can have a little fun and drift around once as you get a feel for it, but I recommend being careful and staying on flatter more controlled areas to start. Just remember that you are not on a dirt trail or the pavement and that your car will drive differently on sand.
Bring Traction Devices
If there is any recovery gear that is essential for the dunes it is traction boards. Traction boards are great for getting you out of sand when you get stuck.
If you get stuck, dig behind your tires and then slip them behind. Back out slowly, making sure not to spin your tires and you are home free. Check out this article on How to use Recovery Gear for more detail.
I also recommend bringing a shovel, but a traction board can also work well in loose sand.
As a last reminder, always be aware of who is driving around you and what direction they are going. Riders could be coming from any direction and not to mention, ATVs and motorcycles are very hard to see, even with the tall whip flags.
It is important to stay alert and stay safe when having fun on the dunes. Happy wheeling!