Ready for an incredible winter off-roading adventure? Don’t be so quick to get out there – you need to be prepared first. In this post we’ll cover the basics of off-road vehicle handling, plan-setting, and special equipment you need for winter off-roading.
Off-roading equipment for the winter falls under two basic categories: equipment for your own personal protection and safety, and equipment for your vehicle.
Personal Safety Equipment
- First aid kit
- Layers of warm clothing – coats, sweaters, hoodie, gloves, goggles, and warm boots are imperative
- Plenty of food and water
- Heavy duty flashlight
- Dry wood
- Matches, a lighter, and gasoline
- Fire extinguisher
- A radio or satellite phone that can be used if you’re out of range
Equipment For You Vehicle
Be sure to bring tow hooks, a snatch strap, and a winch. When off-roading in the winter, it’s more important than ever to go with buddies, and these devices will help if anyone gets stuck.
Also, be sure to bring a snow shovel in case you have to dig out snow from around a vehicle’s tires, frames, and axles.
The next thing to remember is to have the right tires for winter off-roading. Some of the best tires for winter off-roading are all-terrain tires; these include mild tread patterns and a larger width to help keep contact pressure low. This combination allows your vehicle to move across the snow consistently without having to dig too much (something that usually leads to getting stuck).
Off-road lighting is another thing you should have. Getting lost in the dark while off-roading can be a harrowing experience – now imagine this happening at freezing temperatures.
You want to keep a good sense of direction, so before heading out, make sure your vehicle is equipped with at least one of the following off-road lighting systems:
- Driving Lights: These can be found in HID, LED, flood, or long-range. Most of these are ideal for off-roading at night.
- LED Light Bars: If you want maximum visibility, go for LED Light Bars. You can find them with spot/flood lights (some of which can even illuminate end caps), LED bulbs, and combo beams.
- Light Mounts: To keep your head turning lights secure, you need the right materials for the job. Purchase light bars, brackets, cages, or even mounting kits to ensure your off-road lights are mounted properly and securely. Light mounts can also be found for your bumper, hood, windshield, and roof.
Before Heading Out
Even if you’re an experienced off-roader who’s been around the block, it’s always a good idea to take your vehicle in for a professional inspection prior to going out.
This should include an inspection of all aspects of your vehicle to ensure it can handle winter off-roading for the entire duration of your trip. Have a professional inspect:
- All fluids (these should be winter-ready and completely topped off) – an oil pan heater is also a great idea
- The battery – this should be fully charged and ready for the cold, which can cause electricity generation to slow down (this is another area where an oil pan heater is important, as cold oil can cause more difficult turn-over)
- Axles and differentials
- Belts and hoses
- Cooling/heating system
- Communications (antenna broadcast and receiver, CB/ham radio)
How To Handle Your Vehicle In The Snow
Not all terrain is created equal and an experienced off-roader will adjust his or her vehicle handling to accommodate different terrain. There is also the variation of snow, each of which requires some driving adjustments to keep your vehicle from getting stuck.
You need to know what kind of snow you’re dealing with:
- Crusty/Icy – This happens when the weather warms up enough to melt the snow, only for it to freeze later on during the night. This kind of snow usually doesn’t require any special tricks as it can hold your vehicle pretty well.
- Deep/powdery – Your tires are going to have to be able to cut through this snow and reach relatively solid ground, usually within five to six inches of the surface of the snow.
- Heavy/wet/packed – Like crusty/icy snow, you have a good chance at staying on top. However, you also run a higher risk of sinking in and getting stuck. With this kind of snow it’s important to maintain momentum – don’t slow down or accelerate too fast. Drive as if you’re “floating” along the snow.
If you do end up stuck, remember – don’t spin your tires! This creates heat that will melt the snow only for it to freeze around your tires again, making the situation worse. When stuck, stop the vehicle, dig out the snow, and have someone help tow you out.