Off-Road Basics Part 5: Rocks, Logs, Ditches, and Other Obstacles May 29, 2014
Part 5 of our off-roading basics series takes us from water and mud to the wonderful world of things in your way. If you’re use to driving on the road, the thought of rocks and ditches in your path probably makes your heart jump a little, but if you’ve taken a truck off-road at least once, you know these are far from problems and are actually pretty fun. While rocks, logs, ditches, and other obstacles can be fun when off-roading, there are some tips and rules you need to follow to stay safe. Take it easy at first and follow these tips to turn obstacles into fun and get over anything in your way.
Assess the ObstacleBefore you try to drive over anything foreign to you, park the truck and get out to have a look. Walk all the way around the obstacle and look for anything that can cause you issues. Pay close attention to what lies on both sides of the obstacle in case you go off the side, as well as what lies after the obstacle, too. Giving a new obstacle a once-over outside of your truck will give you a new appreciation for it, as most rocks, logs, and ditches will look much smaller from the cab of your truck than they do up close.
Types of ObstaclesEach type of obstacle has it’s own specific issues and tricks, but overall they all come back to the same idea. For example, a ditch is easy to get into but takes more power to come out of while a rock or log takes more power to get onto and less when descending. If you get stuck in ditch, you can usually dig yourself a way out, but with a rock you’re stuck with what you have. The same goes for logs and other obstacles unless you have a crane or chainsaw to cut through them. A log or a ditch will be a little more forgiving to your truck than a rock will, but all three will easily tear pieces from under your truck and peel sheet metal away like a can opener if given the chance. Basically, look at the obstacle you are dealing with and think of the worst case scenario and plan from there.
ApproachOnce you’ve given the obstacle a once over and decided that it’s safe, you need to worry about how you’ll approach the obstacle. When approaching an obstacle like a ditch, your best bet is to approach it on an angle. This way, you leave as many tires as possible on the trail. Hitting a ditch, log, or rock head on means that an entire axle of tires is off of stable ground, possibly making it useless if things get tricky. Look past the obstacle to see if your angular approach will give you enough room to exit the obstacle safely.
ClearanceChances are you haven’t completely encased your truck’s underbody in skid plates, which means you probably have a few sensitive items exposed under there, including differentials, drive shafts, oil pans, and even your gas tank. This means you need to worry about ground clearance and take into account the height of the obstacle you’re trying to go over. It’s far better to see you won’t have clearance before you start on an obstacle than to learn this truth by ripping your oil pan open, or knocking a driveshaft loose. Check your ground clearance and obstacle clearance before trying an obstacle. If in doubt, proceed slowly or skip it altogether.
DescentNow that you’re on the obstacle, you need to worry about getting back off of it. Descent angles are just as important as approach angles, meaning it’s one thing to get onto an obstacle safely and another entirely to get off of it the same way. Bumpers are different on the front and rear, and so are differentials. Just because you got onto something without damage doesn’t mean you can get off it with the same level of safety. The steeper the angle coming off of something the harder time you’ll have with it. If you think the descent is too steep, pile some rocks or other items up to build a make-shift ramp. Plan your descent before you get started and hopefully you’ll avoid any surprises when you’re in mid crossing.
Other WarningsWhen crossing any obstacle the most important tip to follow is to plan the ascent and descent before you ever get into your truck. While it’s fun to go tearing down the trail, doing this without looking at things first can lead to not only disaster for your truck but can get you hurt pretty easily, too. It’s always a good idea to stay on the trail whenever possible to leave as little impact on the environment as possible, but sometimes it’s the only option to get around a large obstacle. If you don’t know if you can make it over or not, don’t attempt it alone. If you’re going out to hit some obstacles like rock climbing, it’s a very good idea to have at least one truck present that has a winch and in a perfect world you’d have a winch yourself, too. Follow these tips and think things out before hitting the trail and you’ll not only stay safe, but you’ll have fun doing it, too. Remember, it’s better to be known as the guy or girl that can get over any obstacle on the trail slowly than the one that always gets stuck quickly. Other posts in this series:
- Part 1: Off-Roading Vocabulary
- Part 2: The Essentials
- Part 3: A Little More Than the Essentials
- Part 4: Water and Mud