The Basics of Rock Crawling

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rock crawling basics Sure, hitting a muddy trail with a little water on it can be a blast, but if you’re looking for real fun rock crawling is where it’s at. While rock crawling in a 4x4 might not be the most fast-paced form of off-roading available, it’s easily the most rewarding and challenging. Getting over and around a variety of rocks is a skill that not many off-roaders possess, but by understanding the basics you should have everything you need to get out and start enjoying the challenge that is rock crawling. Once you understand these basics you can move on to learn some rock crawling skills.

The Basics

The basics of rock crawling are more about you than your rig. You need to know what you feel comfortable doing, how far out of that comfort zone you’ll go, and most importantly, what your truck is capable of. If you surpass what you or your truck is capable of doing, they you’re more than likely to get a few battle scars and even possibly need recovered. Remember that especially when starting out that you might not be able to overcome every rock obstacle in your path, and that taking a bypass is perfectly acceptable.

Tires and Lift

A good wheel and tire combination is vital to making sure you can get over the rocks in your path. Bead lock wheels are the best bet, as with these you can air down your tires to an extremely low pressure, giving you far more surface area on each rock than a fully inflated tire could offer. Beyond this, you need to judge how often you want to off-road versus drive on the road to pick the perfect tire for you. rock-crawling-basics-lift-tires (Image courtesy of flickr) Depending on your truck, a 33” tire seems to be a great size for rock crawling, and keeping these at around 15-20 PSI will make sure you get as much traction as possible. As for lift, a 4” lift seems to be a good place to start on most standard Jeeps and other smaller trucks. This obviously depends on what you’re starting with, but 4” of lift is pretty common. It’s nearly impossible to rock crawl with a stock height ride.


This is where things start to get technical. As you increase ride height and wheel and tire size, the gearing setup your truck came with from the factory stop being appropriate for use. Rock crawling adds a lot of extra stress onto your transmission as you pop over rocks and dig in to power over obstacles. Here’s a pretty technical explanation of gearing and what you should be using. rock-crawling-gear-ratio (Image courtesy of flickr) Crawl Ratio comes into play with gearing as well. Basically, crawl ratio is the lowest rear ratio your truck can handle. Four Wheeler has a great write up on calculating your crawling ratio here.

Locking Differential

If there is one piece of off-road tech that was vita to rock crawling, it would be the locking differential. Basically, a locking differential gives you better traction by making sure power is equally distributed to all four tires. Instead of one tire spinning and causing you to lose traction, each tire gets its own portion of the total power. This distribution of power is how one tire car be off the ground and the others still have traction. If you’re using your truck for on-road driving as well as off-road, then you probably want to get selectable lockers so you can turn the lock on and off, otherwise your on-road travel will be pretty uncomfortable. (Header image courtesy of flickr)

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