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Overlanding Through Sand

Updated: Aug 19, 2021

Now you're really getting into overlanding and you want to try something a bit more challenging or just want a change of scenery. Why not hit the beaches? Great idea! Well, almost... Driving on sand is pretty tricky. As you might realize from simply walking on the sand, sand moves easily out from under your weight and will also move very easily under the weight of your vehicle and tires. And with that, you will find yourself buried up to your axle in sand and, unless you take precautions, it will happen every time you try to move! So what do you do about it?

Air Down Your Tires

If you've spent any time at all in overlanding groups, chances are high that you've heard the term "air down". What this means is what it sounds like. You reduce the air pressure in your tires to increase the contact patch your tire has with the sand. This, as we'll explore later, is a double edged sword in battling through the sand. For now, let's look at the positive side and call it a useful tool for making sure you don't sink into the sand every time you use the accelerator. Use your best judgement in how low to air down. Not enough and you'll be stuck. Too much and you might break a bead. Start conservative and gradually air down more aggressively. You'll be able to tell if it's helping with a few trials between attempts

Keep Your Momentum

Hold a good speed, not too fast, not too slow, and make sure you don't lose your forward momentum. Starting from a stop will always increase your odds of getting stuck as the law of inertia and sand will have you digging holes quicker than moving forward. Additionally, you will want to use low gears to get yourself moving. Anything you can do to reduce wheel speed on take-off will help prevent wheelspin from burying you in the sand. If you have a 4x4 with low range, now would be a good time to use it!

Plan For Recovery

If you know you're going to be on sand, plan on getting stuck. If you don't get stuck, great! The odds, however, suggest otherwise. In the event you do get stuck, have a shovel or other traction aids, like traction pads, with you to get yourself out of a tight situation. If worse comes to worse, have a shovel at the very least or, if you can afford it, get a sturdy winch and a land anchor. Really, what you should have is a buddy and a tow rope. Going it alone is rarely a good option but sometimes it happens.

Drive Civilized

What I mean is, don't be a maniac! Sand has different properties compared to regular pavement. As you might be able to guess, your ability to brake in an emergency situation will be greatly diminished. On top of that, your steering will react differently as well. As you hit grooves in the sand, you might find yourself being steered which can make keeping control of your vehicle a handful. And now for the other edge of the sword from above... if you reduced your tire pressure even a little, you'll already have a tougher time steering as your tires will be more inclined to roll onto the sidewalls. Adding to that, lower tire pressure can leave you more susceptible to breaking the bead of your tires at the very least or a vehicle rollover as a worst case scenario. Don't get caught in a precarious position because you made the mistake of over-confidence.

The Aftermath

Your adventure is coming to an end, you've been out in the sand, for better or worse, and now you're getting ready to hit the pavement again. All good, right? Not so fast. If you've aired down, you will want to air back up to the proper tire pressure. For that, you will want a portable air compressor that is capable of inflating vehicle tires. If you don't have one, or trail access to one, you will definitely want to find the nearest air station before you get too far down the road. Additionally, you will want to take time to clean the sand off your brake rotors and/or drums. Using your brakes with sand between the pads, rotors, shoes, and drums for too long will create excessive wear on your braking equipment.

Happy Trails!

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