Your SUV doesn’t have to stick to the pavement. With a little knowledge, you can take your vehicle onto gravel, ice, sand, mud, and all kinds of terrain that would defeat a lesser car. Here’s what you need to know.
At a minimum, you’ll need a full tank of gas, a towrope, a spare tire, navigational aides including an old-fashioned paper map, a first aid kit, and a full-charged mobile phone. We’d also recommend spare water, a folding shovel, and, if you know you’ll be out of cell phone reception, a radio.
Never Go Alone
Off-roading is more fun in a group, and safer to boot. It never hurts to have a second pair of eyes in the car, or a second vehicle on the track. Chances are, you might need that towrope.
Make sure people know where you’re going and when you’ll be back, don’t trespass, and always have a backup plan. Oh, and a small minority of off-roaders seem to think that it’s okay to drink while they’re off-roading. Avoid these people.
Pick the Right Terrain
Beginner? Stick to gravel, dry dirt, and grasslands. As long as you’ve got a good 4×4, this level of difficulty will be comfortable. Dune-busting and mudding are for intermediate drivers. Leave rock crawling and river running to those with advanced experience.
Know Your Vehicle
Read that manual. You also want to know how your AWD works, what your approach angle is (i.e., the maximum incline angle that a vehicle can climb without part of the suspension hitting the driving surface), and what your wheel travel is (i.e., the maximum distance a wheel can move up or down).
Wheel Position is Key
It’s important to always be aware of the position of your front tires, even if you have to lean out the window to look. Overcorrecting isn’t helpful; be sure to steer in small increments.
Ready to put your off-road driving to the test? Check out the Subaru Forester Family Rally, and you and your family can be selected to participate in the next event in August; the winner takes home a new 2014 Subaru Forester.