You've gotten your rig built, your gear loaded up, and you are ready to hit the trails, right? Eh, maybe we better back up a bit. There's much more to it than that. Is your vehicle up to the challenges that await? How about you, the driver, are you ready? Beyond that, we should probably talk about your off-road etiquette. I know it's fun to think you're the macho hot-shot of the trails but the truth is, you share these trails with many other enthusiasts and they don't care how macho you think you are. If you aren't careful, you won't be making a lot of friends and you definitely want friends out on the trail. If you aren't 100% sure about any of these points, you should put a pin in your dream off-road overlanding adventure until you hear me out.
Have The Right Tires
The most important piece of equipment for your vehicle is the tires. It's how you make contact with the ground and maintain traction in the most difficult terrain. Try to run off-road with highway tires and you run the risk of being stuck in the middle of your adventure. Beyond that, picking grossly oversized tires could leave you prone to a rollover while undersized tires may not give you the ground clearance you need to cross moderate obstacles. Additionally, you should also consider the tire ply. Chances are you won't have to worry about it but you should always make sure you get the highest ply count available to you. A 5 ply tire will not hold up nearly as well as a 10 ply tire, I assure you. When driving over sharp rocks or navigating downed trees, branches, and limbs, you want to make sure you have as many layers as you can between these sharp objects and the air in your tire.
Learn Off-Road Skills
Don't just barrel down the trail expecting everything to work out. Your vehicle might be able to handle anything and everything thrown at it but only if you, the driver, are smart about your approach. For instance, driving into water, without knowing the depth, can cause great damage to your vehicle, particularly the engine, especially if you suck water into the air intake. Then there is the saying, "when in doubt, throttle out"... If you follow this advice, you will certainly run a higher risk of being stranded due to drivetrain failure or simply burying your vehicle in loose terrain. Even obstacles like rocks and trees require you to pick the best line or you might find yourself puncturing your oil pan. Off-roading, especially when it comes to overlanding, is not the act of mastering nature under your tire. It's all about navigating; from point A to point B and everything in between, right down to the obstacles in your path. It will certainly challenge you mentally and for that, you need to be prepared!
Prepare for Everything
OK, you can't literally prepare for everything but you should be familiar enough with everything along your route so that you know what you should be prepared for. Are you facing sand, boulder fields, water crossings, or downed trees? The rest of the gear you bring along should help you out of any situation your vehicle alone cannot tackle. Consider bringing a hi-lift jack, chains, recovery ropes, and, should you really have a need for it, even a winch. The last thing you need to face while in the middle of nowhere is being stuck with no means to free yourself and maybe a slim chance of someone finding you very soon. It will also benefit you to learn how to use your gear before taking it out on the trail. You might ruin your gear and put yourself in a tougher spot than you were in before all because you weren't sure of how to use it properly!
Respect Your Fellow Adventurers
The more you hit the trails, the more likely it will be that you cross paths with other adventurers while overlanding. This can include hikers, bikers, motorcyclists, and other overlanders all using the same trails. When the trail is wide, this is generally not a problem but, when you are on a ledge without so much as an inch to either side, you will need to buck up and sort out right of way with your fellow adventurer. It might be as simple as whoever most recently passed a pull out gets to back up to that pull out (hopefully that's the other guy). Throw a trailer on the other vehicle and it might be easier for you to back up for that further away pull out. In short, give right away to those who will have a harder time navigating obstacles. More than that, just give others time and space to clear obstacles in general. No one needs the extra pressure of feeling too slow. Off-road overlanding is not a high pace activity. It does require time, it does require patience, and pressuring one another to move faster is going to create more problems. It's far better to be respectful of one another than make enemies where you could really use more friends!
Follow Rules & Regulations
I know, I know... You would rather go anywhere and do anything but you can't and you shouldn't. Make sure you know the rules of the areas you'll be traveling through because, love them or not, they will keep you safe, they will protect wildlife, and they will guarantee you have a great time (read: won't be fined for breaking the rules)!
By following the rules and regulations, you also guarantee these areas will remain open for future use to yourself and other adventurers! Choose not to follow the rules and regulations and you could be searching elsewhere for your off-road overlanding adventure next time.
Respect The Wilderness
Last, but not least, let's talk about Leave No Trace! Nothing bothers me more than heading out into the remote, secluded wilderness only to find evidence of others everywhere I look. The easy pickings would be trash strung out all over the area... but it goes beyond that. To see a network of fresh trails all over, countless dead spots in the grass or ground cover, and live trees hacked to pieces and left in makeshift fire pits all around because someone just learned green trees don't burn... These are all things that should be avoided by following these simple points:
Don't create new campsites if you can help it; also avoid reusing heavily used sites to give the area a chance to recover
Don't create new trails just for the sake of it. Unless there really is something to be gained, use the existing trails
Pack out what you pack in, don't leave it laying around because it saves on weight or space
Leave the areas you explore looking as good, or even better, then how you found them!
Learn more about respecting the wilderness from these helpful sites!
Off-road overlanding is a very worthwhile and enjoyable experience to say the least! I would encourage you to try it out at least once but don't just hop behind the wheel and go because you have a valid driver's license. As earning your driver's license trained you to drive on roads, you need to adequately train and prepare to drive off road as it will be a whole different experience than what you find on pavement. Do yourself a favor and take these tips to heart and learn the correct way to off-road before you hit the trails on your next overlanding adventure!