Note from the author: This article assumes you already have a suitable 4x4 or AWD vehicle for exploring dirt roads and trails in the backcountry. First things first, you don't need all of that gear that you see in the magazines, your favorite Youtube channel, or whatever's being pushed at your regional expo. Seriously, spending more money on crap you probably don't need is not going to bring you happiness! And with that money you're saving on gear, you'll have more dinero in your pocket that can be used for going new places (something we can all use given inflation and gas prices these days!).
Okay, I'm glad we got that off our chest, now we can get into the stuff that matters. As the note above the article states, we assume you've already purchased a vehicle that is capable of navigating what we'll call basic dirt roads through your local National Forest, BLM land, or unimproved county roads. Your best buds are chirping in your ear about buying rock sliders, armor, a winch, long travel suspension, a dual battery system and more. Chances are, you don't need any of that stuff to get started, and we'd recommend holding off on any major purchases before you're certain you'll be doing this whole overlanding/off roading thing for the long haul. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and we'll cover those as well.
The fact of the matter is, your stock vehicle is actually quite capable! Most folks who spend time overlanding (exploring our backcountry roads) are typically spending most of their off
road driving on relatively manicured gravel and dirt roads with the occasional rock, rut, or root. The one upgrade we always recommend to folks who plan on taking their vehicle off road is to upgrade their tires. Typically you want to look for tires that are marked as All-Terrain, Mud-Terrain, or Rugged-Terrain (RT claims to be somewhere between AT and MT but we think it's more marketing hoopla than science!). You'll see improved traction, especially in steep, loose or wet conditions with an off road specific tire. Additionally, the sidewalls are much tougher than your typical radial tire. We'd also recommend staying away from generic or unknown brands, and going with a reputable tire manufacturer such as Toyo, Yokohama, Nitto, BF Goodrich, Maxxis, Falken, or General Tire (this is by no means an exhaustive list).
When selecting the appropriate tire, some of the things you'll want to ask yourself:
- How much time will I spend driving on pavement versus off road?
- Will I be spending a lot of time in muddy conditions?
- Do I plan on driving my vehicle on snow covered trails?
- Should I consider a tire with more sidewall protection?
The answers to these questions should help narrow down tire models that will excel in your typical driving conditions. For example, if you plan to do a lot of driving on snow covered trails, you'll want to stay away from mud terrains which typically underperform in snow, and seek out tires with a 3 peak snowflake rating. If your rig doubles as a daily driver and you only plan to do the occasional soft roading, you may want to look at less aggressive tires like the Falkan Wildpeak or Maxxis Bravo 771, both of which are suitable for off road driving, but produce very little road noise compared to more aggressive, nobbier tires (especially mud terrains). If you're traveling through the backcountry, there's a good chance you'll be driving roads that may not be maintained with regularity, which can increase the likelihood of your vehicle becoming stock or driving off course. To help you, or others get unstuck should the situation arise, you'll need some recovery gear. The good news is that your basic recovery gear costs a fraction of the price of a new set of tires. We typically recommend a tow strap, a kinetic snatch strap, a soft and D-ring shackle, and a medium sized shovel. When it comes to the tow strap and snatch straps, go with a quality brand like ARB or Ironman Off Road. When you're several hours from the near paved road, the last thing you want is a stuck vehicle because of a failed snatch strap. You'll also be amazed at how many situations a shovel can get you out of! They're amazing tools for digging vehicles out of sand, mud, and even snow! It's also important that you become familiar with the recovery points on your vehicle, and what isn't a recovery point (tie down points are not recovery points, make sure you research this if you're not familiar with the difference ). Camping Essentials Chances are you'll be spending at least a night or two in a developed campground, or once you're ready, an undeveloped campsite in the backcountry (our favorite!). You don't need a fancy plug-in fridge or the latest and greatest Yeti cooler to keep your perishables from spoiling. Your basic Igloo cooler than can be purchased from the local Walmart or Costco will do just fine for a a day or two, and if you plan on spending more time in the backcountry, consider picking up some dry ice. This is what folks used to do back in the day when traveling through Baja before everyone and their mom had a plug-in fridge! Other camping essentials including sleeping bags, a tent, sleeping pads, flashlight, and typically a propane stove. If you've ever done any camping before, there's a good chance you've already got all of these things! Planning for the Future We recommend that you go on a minimum of 4-5 trips before you begin splurging on vehicle modifications and gear. Think of all the fun you've had up to this point with the gear you have! Once you've been able to spend sometime in the backcountry, you'll begin to get an idea of what you value. For example, if you're doing the majority of your travels on graded dirt roads and you really value comfort, you may want to prioritize getting a plug-in fridge or roof top tent. Or maybe you've made a new group of friends who like taking on really challenging trails, and you plan to start pushing the limits of your rig. More expensive modifications like aftermarket suspension, bumper and rock sliders may be in your future. At the end of the day, everyone's needs and desires are different, so don't let someone else dictate your purchasing, because you'll only satisfy them, and not yourself!
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