Taking your pickup offroad can be great fun, but it’s important to know what you are doing.
Pickup trucks are great vehicles for many things: towing, hauling, people moving, and, not least of all, offroading. Because just about every pickup out there is built on a sturdy frame and features plenty of room for large off-road tires, plenty of owners love to take them off the pavement. But you can quickly find yourself in trouble if you aren’t prepared for what lies ahead.
To get you started, we have made this list of 7 useful offroad tips to keep in mind anytime you take your truck offroad.
7 Offroad Tips for Pickups
- Inspect Your Truck
- Go Slow
- Check out the Trail
- Get Some Recovery Gear
- Upgrade Your Truck
- Air Down
- Bring a Friend
There you have it – but that’s not where it ends. Keep reading as we go in-depth on each of these tips and cover types of offroading as well as potential limitations to your pickup’s offroad capabilities.
Types of Offroading
Green Laning/Cross Country
As the best choice for newbies and unmodified pickup truck owners, green laning and cross country offroading involves mild, unpaved roads and forest trails. And even the most experienced offroaders often love this type of adventure – not having to concentrate so hard on plugging through sand holes or navigating over huge rock piles leaves you more time to appreciate your surroundings.
Just like it sounds, rock crawling is when you drive your pickup over large rocks. The perfect rock-crawling rig will prioritize great approach and departure angles as well as extreme flexibility. Spotters and experience are a plus when it comes to rock crawling, as there is a high likelihood of banging up your rig if your technique isn’t perfect.
Driving over sand dunes can be a huge rush for off-roaders. Of course, it is easy to get bogged down in the sand, so plenty of power and traction is a must-have for any dune rig.
Like sand, mud is easy to get stuck in. As when dune bashing, tires and plenty of power are great assets when mudding. Of course, your truck will come away looking much different after mudding. Sure, sand is annoying and gets in every nook and cranny, but the mud will coat every outside surface of your pickup (and you, if you get stuck and have to get out!).
While overlanding can include any of the above offroad elements, it always involves bringing your camping equipment along for the ride. That can include anything from throwing a small tent and some camping supplies in the bed to a full-on camping rig setup. Overlanding rigs are often built-up, but with as many camping mods as offroad mods.
What Trucks are Suitable for Off-Roading
First off, any truck is able to go offroad. Some are simply more capable than others. For one thing, and 4WD pickup is immediately more capable than a 2WD version. And there are a host of other factors that improve their offroad performance, including larger tires, diff lockers, and lifts.
If you want the truck that will get you the farthest offroad, here are some of today’s most capable trucks. While there are plenty of others to consider, these offer tons of features to enhance your off the beaten path.
F150 Raptor: Perhaps the most offroad-ready truck today, the Ford Raptor offers larger tires, skid plates, a custom suspension setup featuring more ground clearance, and tons of power.
Tacoma TRD Pro: For those looking for a smaller truck, the Tacoma TRD Pro gives you plenty of offroad pedigree. Skid plates, Fox shocks, locking rear differential, and even a new snorkel air intake all complete the package.
Jeep Gladiator Rubicon: If anyone knows about offroading, its Jeep. So it should come as no surprise that the new Gladiator pickup is one of the best offroaders on the market. Locking front and rear differentials, disconnecting sway bars, 33-inch tires, and even offroad cameras all make this a top contender.
Ram Power Wagon: Finally, we have the most offroad-worthy heavy-duty pickup: the Power Wagon. The perfect offroad truck for anyone who needs to do serious towing or hauling, the Power Wagon features Bilstein shocks, locking differentials at the front and rear, low-range crawl mode, and a 410-horsepower Hemi V8 engine.
7 Off-Road Tips
1. Inspect Your Truck:
Before leaving on your offroad adventure, always look over everything on your truck. Make sure nothing is broken or leaking before you leave the safety of the paved road. Check that your lights are all working and your tires are properly aired up.
2. Go Slow:
While you may occasionally need to get on the power, try not to rally your truck over obstacles. Not only can you break something on your truck this way, but it can lead to slipping and getting stuck more easily as well. That’s because fast-spinning tires can easily get bogged down in slippery conditions. Easing over loose surfaces while gently swaying your tires back and forth is the best way to avoid getting stuck.
3. Check Out the Trail:
Before you go, check out the trail you are planning to drive online. Often, the trail will have a rating that tells you how difficult it is to traverse. By knowing what you will encounter on the trail, you can be sure that you and your truck will be able to handle it.
And once you are on the trail, get out of your pickup and inspect any large obstacles before attacking them. You often can’t tell how big a ledge is or how deep that water crossing is from the driver’s seat. Don’t let the terrain surprise you – do you and your truck a favor: get off your keister.
4. Get Some Recovery Gear:
Offroading is hard on your pickup, so bring at least some basic recovery gear along. For starters, a winch like this Warn 96810 can bail you out of some sticky situations. But even if you don’t have a fancy winch, a snatch strap can be a lifesaver.
Likewise, a sturdy spare tire and an offroad jack can get you out of a tricky situation. And, if you do end up stranded, extra water, food, and blankets can be literal lifesavers on remote trails. And don’t forget your trusty first aid kit!
5. Upgrade Your Truck:
And if you decide to venture into the really rough stuff, make sure your truck is up for it. Arguably the best upgrade you can make is offroad tires. Going with larger tires gives your truck more ground clearance, and off-road-oriented tires like these Cooper STTs provide tons of traction that stock tires can’t match! Of course, a lift kit also helps give your truck more clearance to get over large obstacles. From there, you have all kinds of options including bumpers, rock sliders, and offroad lights.
6. Air Down:
This one applies to most, but not all, types of offroading. By lowering your tire pressure, you increase your traction. Your contact patch gets larger as the tire goes flatter, and the tire is more able to mold around obstacles. This helps out in everything from sand to snow to rock-crawling. Of course, going too low can cause problems as well. Too little air can lead to the tire coming off the rim, lower ground clearance, and sidewall damage.
There are some helpful accessories to look into for airing down. For starters, a tire deflator helps you accurately and quickly get down to your optimal tire pressure. And an air compressor like this VIAIR 300P can be a huge help when it comes time to air back up for the pavement.
7. Bring a Friend:
It’s never a good idea to venture into the wilderness alone. And that is even truer when driving offroad. A copilot can help you navigate difficult obstacles – either from the passenger seat or by getting out on the trail. And, not least of all, the company provided by a friend is always nice to have!
What Pickup Trucks Can’t Do
First of all, with enough modifications, a pickup truck can do just about anything when it comes to offroading. There are some characteristics that can limit a stock truck’s offroad ability, however. Most trucks share the same general design – of course, not every pickup is the same, so if you want to find the most offroad-worthy truck, look to minimize these traits.
Compared to SUVs, pickup trucks use a longer wheelbase (the distance between the wheels). While that is great for towing and providing tons of room in the bed, it is not a good thing for most off-road situations. The reason is the breakover angle. If you aren’t familiar with this term, it refers to how easily a vehicle can become high-centered when driving over an obstacle. Simply put, the longer your wheelbase, the more likely you are to get stuck on an obstacle when driving over it.
Most trucks sold today, especially heavy-duty pickups, are huge. If your offroad plans involve and tight trails, that could really trip you up. Not only can they be too wide to fit through a narrow tree- and rock-lined trails, but their length can trip them up as well. Agility is a key trait on those tight trails, so large trucks can have a hard time.
In just about every offroad situation, weight is your enemy. So you can imagine how much harder it will be for your 7,000-lb F350 to get up that hill compared to that 4,000-lb Wrangler. Sure, it has more power, but that doesn’t always overcome this deficit. From getting bogged down in mud and sand to breaking down the trail, these big heavy trucks can be a burden in some offroad situations.
Because most trucks are designed to haul and tow primarily, they feature stiffer suspension setups than most SUVs. That stiff setup can mean they are less flexible than, say, a Jeep Wrangler or Toyota 4Runner. And that flexibility, or wheel articulation, is super important when it comes to driving over obstacles like rocks or rutted trails.
Last of All, Have Fun!
Now that you are armed with some offroad basics, get out there, have fun, and be safe! Offroading can be a lifelong passion – people love the freedom and exhilaration it gives them every time they venture into the backcountry or make it over a difficult obstacle. Being unprepared can spoil your fun time, however, so follow these tips any time you take your truck off the pavement.