6 Off-Road Tips from Pro Racer Nena Barlow
Don’t let your ego dictate your course of action. Always be ready to learn, especially when it’s advice from a pro.
While anybody can take their Jeep and hit the dirt trails, there’s a lot you need to know before really hitting the sand and going off-road. JK-Forum recently had the chance to speak with Nena Barlow, off-road racer and owner of Barlow Adventures before she raced in the 2017 Rebelle Rally, a 2,000-kilometer, women-only, off-road navigational rally. Using only a compass, maps and experience, Barlow and her navigator will spend seven days in the desert. Here are her best tips for newbie Jeep four-wheelers who’d like to do the same.
1. Safety First
The first thing we always start with is safety. We find that 90 percent of the challenges you face off-road can be prevented with a little preparation. Inspect your vehicle before you leave. Check your tires, check the shock bolts, and check for leaks. It’s much easier to work on your vehicle in your nice dry garage than out on the trail.
Let someone know where you’re going and when you plan to be back. The key to that working is going to somebody who will notice and care!
2. Make a Plan
Then, have a plan. There’s no excuse these days to not research where you’re going. There’s so much available online and over the phone. You shouldn’t be surprised by what you can encounter.
With that said, you should always make a decision every time you get down the trail, depending on how it is. Things change out here in the desert, and while a forum may have said a trail was super easy, it could be different. A flash flood can all of the sudden take an easy trail and make it an A-rated trail with 6-foot gullies. You need to turn around when you’ve reached the extent of your comfort level.
Your ego shouldn’t be dictating your course of action.
3. Four Wheeling involves a lot of Hiking
When in doubt, scout it out. We just dealt with this in the dunes: Don’t drive where you can’t see. You don’t just blindly accept that “there’s this little hill in front of me.” It could be a 4-foot drop on the back side.
Four wheeling is a lot of hiking. You are going to be on foot. The more experience you get, the more you’ll want to be out on extreme terrain and the more you’re going to be on foot.
4. Don’t Modify Without Experiencing the Jeep First
Tires are your number one thing. Everybody wants to go out and get a lift and a winch. The stock vehicles these days are so capable and engineered so well. When you start modifying stuff, you’re getting further away from that engineering. I really like it when people go out and get to know their vehicle before they start making modifications. Then, you can modify to what you actually need.
5. No Universal Tire Pressure
We joke about this all the time: 15 PSI, that’s what your tires need. There’s no one answer for every tire and every terrain. Your tire pressure should depend on the construction of your tire, the size of your wheels compared to the height of your sidewall, how many plys of sidewall you have, the weight of your vehicle, and the weight distribution of your vehicle. It’s a lot of math, but it’s worthwhile studying that. Just letting a little air out of your tires is one of the cheapest and easiest tricks you can do to have a better experience out there for you and your vehicle.
If you aren’t sure, let 5-10 PSI out and you’re going to notice a huge difference, then go from there.
6. You Will Get Stuck
When you do get stuck, because there are only two types of off-roaders – those who have been stuck and those who will get stuck unless something’s on fire, you really do need to take your time, assess your situation, and figure out the safest and most efficient way to get unstuck.
The hardest thing to teach is resourcefulness. Somebody that can think through some options is better because your brain is your best recovery tool. I’ve seen people recover vehicles with items inside their vehicle while others have called a tow truck. You always have to think about what you have on hand.