Driving in the backcountry presents many unique challenges not found in normal on-highway travel. These challenges make backcountry travel more difficult and more dangerous. For this reason, backcountry travelers are best served with an attitude of cooperation, camaraderie, responsibility and self reliance.
Keep speeds low enough to reduce dust. Dust can have a negative impact on fragile environments and can be a major factor for reducing visibility on trails. Don't Litter... take along a trash bag or other receptacle for collecting your trash so that you can deposit it properly trash later. And if you encounter trash left behind by those less considerate than you, pick it up too.
Yield the right of way to those passing or traveling uphill. Most backcountry roads are narrow, and one vehicle must yield. Keep your eyes open for wide spots along the trail where you may be able to back up to, allowing an easier pass, even if you are the uphill vehicle. Respect the environment and other trail users. By using common sense and common courtesy, what is available today will be there to enjoy tomorrow. This applies to hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians as well as other vehicles. And pass others slowly on dusty or muddy trails to minimize the dust in the air as others pass, especially if they are in the open air.
Check with the local land management agency about campfires. They may be illegal or you may need a permit for an open fire. And if you see an unattended fire or smoldering fire, put it out with dirt and/or water.
If you encounter someone broken down, stuck or stranded in the backcountry, stop and offer assistance. The code of ethics for the backcountry requires that you do so. If someone seems injured or somewhat confused, insist on helping. At the minimum, contact authorities as soon as possible. Never pass by someone without questioning the situation and working out a plan if they need help.
Caring for OHV Trails on Public Lands helps assure that trail access will be preserved for future generations
Damage to backcountry trails is one of the biggest threats to vehicle travel on public lands. Most OHV trails traverse environmentally-sensitive areas. Taking care to preserve these areas is paramount for continued OHV use. Trail stewardship requires positive action from all OHV users. Our public lands offer tremendous recreational opportunities and natural beauty. For most users, 4x4s, ATVs, UTVs and bikes offer the best access, but with that access comes the responsibility to preserve our lands to assure use for our children, grandchildren and beyond. Below are some tips for all OHV travel in the backcountry. Travel only in areas open to OHV and fourwheel drive vehicles. Many trails are open to street-legal vehicles only.
Tires for backcountry travel need to tough and provide traction. Tires make a large difference in traction off road.
For all but the most severe conditions, all terrain tires are best, especially on the highway. A/T tires wear better, handle better and are generally quieter. Mud terrain tires are better in slippery conditions like mud, snow, ice and sand. The also work better in gravel, especially on steep climbs. Load Range “E” is the equivalent of a 10 ply tire which is much tougher and puncture resistant. M/T & A/T tires have tougher sidewall to resist rock damage and punctures in rocky terrain. Off road tires can generally be aired down to a lower pressure the other light truck/SUV tires. Steel wheels are less expensive and better able to withstand damage on the trail.
10 Ply, or “E” rated all terrain or mud terrain tires are the most durable, with puncture resistant sidewalls and tread designs that provide the most traction in the slippery conditions found on backcountry trails. Mud terrain tires feature more aggressive tread designs, with large tread lugs and big void ratios. The offer superior traction in mud and sand while all terrain tires are about equal in traction in most other backcountry situations. The all terrain is better on the highway, offering more traction and a quieter ride. For most backcountry situations, all terrain tires are fine, with a smoother, quieter ride on-highway. In extreme backcountry conditions, the mud terrain offers better grip in mud, sand and some snow conditions, and for the more extreme rock crawling sections.
Driving in the backcountry offers many challenges. Honing you driving skills to help preserve the environment and our precious OHV trails is one of those challenges!
So what’s a little dust? We’ll not much in the big picture, but dust does affect our backcountry trails and environment. Reducing the amount of dust is a good thing for the trees, animals and vegetation along the trails. It’s also better for your lungs, your engine and even the paint on your rig.
While raising no dust is impossible, some activities raise more dust than necessary. Excessive speed, excessive wheelspin and lack of driving skill all raise more dust than is necessary. Speed is obvious. Dust caused by wheelspin is also obvious, but two factors affect wheelspin and you have considerable control over both. First, tire traction is a factor. More traction equates to less wheelspin, all else being equal. Good tires with better grip in the dirt, especially when climbing steeper grades, reduce dust noticeably. Running at the proper aired-down tire pressures also increase the size of the tire footprint which increases traction and reduces wheelspin.
But how you drive is also a big factor. Smooth, precise throttle control, especially on climbs, will minimize wheelspin and dust. While raising dust is not always avoidable, improving your driving techniques adds to the challenge, satisfaction and, in a small way, helps preserve the environment. And improve skills and traction also preserve the trails for other users. techniques adds to the challenge, satisfaction and, in a small way, helps preserve the environment. And improve skills and traction also preserve the trails for other users.
Traction is the key to successful travel in the Backcountry. Improved traction also preserves the trails and helps the environment.
There are four important reasons to air down: First is to increase traction by increasing tire contact patch area. A 265 75-16 ten ply tire with inflation pressures reduced from 40 PSI to 12 PSI, will increase the tire contact patch by 220%. Second is to improve ride comfort. Ride quality improves substantially.
Third is to reduce the chance of a sidewall puncture. Think of a highly inflated balloon. If you poke at it, it will likely puncture. A softly inflated balloon, when poked, has considerably more give and is not likely to puncture.
Fourth is trail integrity and the environment. The reduced tire pressure increases traction, thereby reducing wheelspin. This minimizes trail damage and reduces dust which helps reduce negative effects on the environment.
To help with traction, balance your load and lower tire pressure to where you see a bulge (most tires can safely be lowered to 20 PSI; 10 ply rated or “E” rated all terrain and mud terrain tires can be lowered to 15 PSI or less safely).
Tire Pressure relief valves simplify airing down. Most A/T and M/T tires can be aired down to 15 PSI; lower pressures even more for slippery surfaces like ice, snow, mud, sand.
Before driving more than 10 miles or over 40 MPH, you must air up the tires to avoid tire overheating which can cause tire failure, and to avoid bad highway handling. The best way to assure safety is to air up before you reach the highway. This requires a portable 12 volt air compressor or an on board air compressor system. A simple, inexpensive, nut slow 12v compressor can be purchased at many hardware stores and online. More expensive compressors and on board air systems are much more effective.
Traction issues dominate winter off roading. Rain, snow and ice reduce traction, often rendering trails impassible without taking extreme measures to make progress. And even then, some trails in certain conditions are impossible to navigate. Rain creates mud which can reduce traction dramatically. Snow presents its own issues. Snow is the perfect medium for getting stuck, and comes in so many forms that it’s impossible to describe them all. In fact, the Eskimos have over 100 words describing various types and qualities of snow. A rule of thumb for snow depth is to avoid roads where snow depth or the tracks in the snow from previous travelers is so deep that your frame, bumpers or any part of the vehicle drags on the snow. Short distance sections, a few feet are ok if only a few inches deeper, but long distances through chassis deep snow will cause build up under your rig and you will get high centered on the accumulation. And that can be a real pain to get out of, even if you have a winch. And snow surfaces change, especially on warmer days. The hard crust in the morning or late evening can soften. What would support earlier may allow you to sink in and possibly become trapped. So it’s good to know the area you’re driving, the grades of the trail, which can be much more problematic than flatter trails, the snow conditions and weather forecast.
Deep ruts make for difficult driving. Too much speed in ruts can cause the vehicle to be pitched in to a snow bank, so watch speed. Also, trails in heavy snow are usually very narrow, and there are few, if any Winter Travel in the Backcountry places to pass or pull over. Pay attention to driving in these tough conditions.
Then there’s ice! Iced over trails can be nearly, and even sometimes, impossible to navigate especially on climbs and treacherous on descents. Take extreme cautions and drive slowly when it gets icy. And look for a path along the trail where traction may be better, like the edges of the trail where rock or brush may be protruding.
Finally, slippery, gooey mud is also likely. Like snow, it comes in many varieties. Mud holes often harbor large ice chunks in the winter. Exercise extreme caution when crossing a mud puddle. They can be deep and carry some momentum across them can be beneficial, but too much speed can damage your rig and harm the trail.
Always carry plenty of provisions, water and clothes, blankets and other survival gear, just in case, especially in winter conditions. Travel with another rig. The more difficult the trail and the conditions, the more important this is. And be well equipped. Four wheeling in the winter is great fun, beautiful and challenging. But it can turn disastrous quickly, so be prepared. Remember that a lack of preparation can open the door for Murphy to implement his annoying law.
So what equipment do you need to carry? We have used every piece of gear we have on winter recoveries, sometimes on a single recovery. Here is what’s really mandatory.
Carry a set of chains, preferably two sets so you can chain up all four tires. You’d be amazed at how well you can climb icy slopes with all four tires chained up. We’ve even towed disabled rigs up icy slopes with chains.
Take along the standard stuff you should always have anyway like a Hi-lift jack and accessories, a tow strap and shackles and a shovel. Don’t forget the shovel! Digging out of snow with your hands is no fun! In winter, a winch is invaluable. It is by far the easiest and quickest way to get unstuck. Make sure you have a tree saver and a snatch block. Pulling a rig out of deep snow can create huge loads, so be ready and be very careful. Winch line loads can easily exceed 10,000 when pulling out of deep snow. A ground anchor like the Pull Pal is invaluable. The Pull Pal digs into snow solidly, providing a strong anchor point to winch against.
An axe and pick can be very handy for breaking up ice, which can happen even in fresh snow when the hot driveline melts snow then it refreezes into a much nastier ice or hard pack.
We have also found bridging ladders to be really helpful for ramping up out of snow or crossing narrow gullies from spring melt runoff. We don’t use them often, but when you need them, they are invaluable. Always carry the basics yourself so that you are prepared for most situations, including being stranded, even overnight. Watch out for Murphy – BE PREPARED! Then you can enjoy the beauty and challenge of winter backcountry adventures. And remember the shovel!