Off Road Basics Part 6 – Surviving Off-Roading in Sand June 02, 2014

off-road-basics-sand-driving Not everyone has the opportunity to go off-roading in sand, but for those that have the ability, it can be a lot of fun if you prepare correctly and pay attention to safety. When you think about flying over sand dunes the first thought that probably comes to mind are small, fast dune buggies and wildly fast trophy trucks, but many different off-road vehicles can hit the dunes and have a good time, just follow the tips below to get started and go have some fun.

Whip Antennas and Flags

Sand dunes are by their very nature very hilly. This means that it’s easy to lose someone you’re off-roading with, or for someone to lose you. While we have things like radios, cell phones, and train horns to really help people find us, the real danger is someone not seeing you as they crest a dune to fly down it. You can help this issue by using a tall whip antenna with a flag tied to it. This way, you should be visible much higher than before, and hopefully anyone flying around near you will see you and avoid a possibly deadly accident.


Sand tires are the best way to get traction in the sand. Proper sand tires will help you avoid sinking into the sand when starting off and stopping, something that standard tires can allow fairly easily. off-road-basics-sand-paddle-tire Depending on the level of off-roading in sand you want to do, you can get anything from a basic fallout tread pattern all the way up to full paddle tires. Decide what you want and how much sand driving you want to do and get the appropriate tire. Just know that a standard mud or street tires will more than likely get you stuck. Check out this site for some tire choosing basics.

Lower Your Tire Pressure

Flotation is key when talking about tires and sand. The goal isn’t to cut through the sand to get traction as with mud, but instead it is to float on top of the sand, getting your traction from the surface sand itself. By lowering your tire pressure you can give yourself a larger tire surface, which will help your tire stay on top of the sand instead of digging in. Experiment with tire pressure, as you want it low enough that you can drive easily but not so low that the tire comes off the rim.

Spinning is OK

When driving up hills in the woods, low-end torque is your best friend, but in the sand a quick-revving engine that’s light and ideally lower displacement is your best friend. off-road-basics-sand-spin Spinning your tires is expected, so don’t be afraid to rev your engine and spin a little. The better you get at driving in the sand, the more you’ll know what a good spin and what a bad spin is.

Momentum is Your Friend

While tire spinning is OK to an extent, you need to keep your momentum going or else it’s easy to get stuck. You need to go fast enough to stay on top of the sand, but not so fast that you lose control. Remember that slowing down in sand doesn’t necessarily mean you should press the throttle down more, as you may be slowing because your tires are spinning too much. Instead, back off and aim downhill to regain some momentum. When you want to stop don’t hit the brakes if at all possible, just let off the gas. This will keep sand from building up in front of your tires, getting you stuck when you want to start moving again.

Air Filter

All this tire spinning and starting/stopping will kick up a lot of airborne sand. Since your truck runs off of air and fuel, you need to make sure your air filter is up to the job of filtering all the sand while allowing air to pass. off-road-basics-sand-air-filter Look for a sand-specific air filter and make sure to maintain the filter before as well as after any sand outings. Sucking sand into your engine is a pretty surefire way to get some exercise by walking home.

Keep Cool

Where there’s sand there’s usually heat. Since you’re revving your engine more and possibly even trying to get unstuck at times, your truck can be prone to overheat as it is, but add in a hot desert climate and you have the perfect storm for overheating. Make sure to watch your heat gauge with extra care, and keep a lot of extra water available not only for the truck, but for you, too.

Winches and Recovery

Finally, just like with every other off-roading adventure, you need to prepare for getting stuck. The difference here is that more likely than not someone in your party is going to get stuck, and there are no trees in the desert to tie yourself to to get out. off-road-basics-sand-towing Make sure at least one person in your group has a winch or at least a good set of tow straps to tie one truck to another. Along with a winch or tow straps, you should have basic tools like a shovel and sand ramps to shove under tires to gain traction again. These can help get you out of some tricky situations without calling for help.

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