You've started branching out to trails and other off-road adventures and now things are getting hairy. Boulders and trees closing in on either side, narrow cliff ledges getting too narrow... They say trail damage is inevitable but, maybe you can prolong that day by following these pointers!
Maintain Your Vehicle
If it squeaks, moans, groans, or makes some other sound that it shouldn't, assess and address the underlying issue! Don't crank up the stereo to drown it out and keep pushing on. For obvious reasons, if you don't maintain your vehicle, you could be facing a serious breakdown or worse, you may find yourself unable to control your vehicle at a time when you need it most and wind up in an accident. You should be especially mindful of your drivetrain, tires, wheels, axles, CV joints or U-joints, tie rods, and steering components above all else. The bottom line is that your vehicle needs to be ready to handle the often extreme conditions encountered when on trails. If it's not, you could be putting yourself at risk of costly damage or even serious injury.
Learn Your Limits
When you get off-road and on the trails, you'll find yourself in a variety of challenging situations with a whole range of difficulty. You need to be mentally prepared to handle some tough situations that can push you to make snap decisions. Snap decisions are your worst enemy on the trail. Always keep your cool and make smart decisions about each obstacle you face. Believe me, it can and will wear you down and you need to be ready for it!
In addition to knowing your own personal limits, you need to be very aware of the limits of your vehicle. Don't think for a second that by pouring a bunch of money into beefing up your vehicle it doesn't still have limits. Try as you might, there will always be obstacles your "wonder vehicle" just can't conquer and, when you come across those obstacles, you need to know and understand the limits of your vehicle to give you the best shot at making it through unscathed.
Plan Your Route
From point A to point B and everywhere in between; believe it or not, the details do matter! Don't just pick out a trail from a map and set off on your way. You need to know what obstacles are likely to be encountered on the trail and more than that, when you get to each obstacle, you need to be able to pick your line in order to successfully traverse the obstacles in your path. Imagine a water crossing along your planned route. Are you going to just barrel right into the water and pop out on the other side? Yeah, maybe, but there's a chance it doesn't work out the way it did in your head. Check on things like water depth, check for underwater drop-offs, or anything that could surprise you and flood your vehicle. These are the details that you need to be aware of when planning your trek and when you get to each obstacle in order to making it safely through your adventure!
Don't Travel Alone
Although it's not always possible, you really should make every attempt to bring a buddy with you, preferably in a second vehicle. I think it's pretty obvious why you might want a second vehicle around but, if not, let me explain! It's easier to get yourself unstuck when you have someone else to help out or, by having a second set of eyes, reduce the likelihood you get stuck in the first place. Even more so, if you have a second vehicle you can spare yourself the hard manual labor of self recovery. In the worst case scenario, you will at least have a spare vehicle to get yourself back to civilization if one vehicle should go down for one reason or another. Hopefully that doesn't happen but if you should be stuck, at minimum, a buddy can always lend a hand and make recovery go as safe and as smooth as possible!
I can't express this enough... You aren't out there to conquer nature so don't act like it! Treat the trails and wilderness with respect or you might lose access to these areas forever. Nothing bothers me more than heading out into the remote, secluded wilderness only to find senseless destruction everywhere I look. The easy pickings would be seeing evidence of vehicular travel where there should not have been any travel at all like parallel trails snaking back and forth across the designated trail or vehicular donuts. If this is your thing, you've come to the wrong place, I assure you. Additional tips to avoid damaging the trails and wilderness would be to navigate obstacles as slow as possible and only as fast as necessary. If you choose to do otherwise, you might take a slick, muddy, hairpin turn with too much speed and wind up wrapping your vehicle around a tree or throwing it off a cliff. Not a good way to avoid damaging your vehicle. Same if you mash the gas trying to clear an obstacle and wind up digging yourself a hole while burying your vehicle to the frame. Not only does it waste your time then having to free yourself but it is also senseless destruction of the land and trails making it harder to use them next time. Do everyone a favor, be a respectable off-roader while keeping your vehicle in one working piece.
Learn more about respecting the wilderness from these helpful sites!
It can be challenging at times, taking increasingly difficult trails while avoiding damage to your vehicle, but it can be done! You just have to be smart about your trek at every step of the way. Consider taking off-road instruction before heading out or, at minimum, finding relatively easy trails to start yourself on before ramping up to the more extreme trails. You should always make every effort to check over your vehicle before any road trip but especially those trips that would put a higher than normal amount of strain on your vehicle as would occur in any off-road excursion. Keeping these pointers in mind will help keep you safe and your vehicle damage free for many years of trail exploration!