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The Top Nine Mistakes Newbies Make Off-Road

Learn From Our Mistakes Before Making Them

We are not here to bash on newbies or rookies at all. That is in no way the intent of this article. Sure, some might enjoy to poking fun at the inexperienced. But all of us were once (or even still are) fairly new to spending any time in the dirt. Getting made fun of for simply being new to something is not enjoyable. And we don’t intend to do that here.

That said, there are more newbies and rookies out on the trail than ever before. The massive popularity of the Jeep JK, the increase of overlanding, and lots of other factors have led to plenty of new people heading out into the dirt. We think that’s great as it is always good to see more people enjoying the great outdoors and doing what we all love.

If you spend enough time on YouTube or any form of social media, though, it is easy to see that some people have no idea what they are doing. Since you don’t want to be the star of the next viral video of epic fails, we wrote this article. What follows is some of the most common mistakes we see people new to off-road make. A few we have even made ourselves. Learning from our mistakes and the mistakes of others will help make you less of a newb. Read on and hopefully you learn something.

Everyone wants to “go big” right away, but that is a sure path to disaster. Not respecting your limits or your vehicle’s can lead to severe damage to both you are your rig. Developing the skills to take on trails like this takes time and experience. You are going to have to exercise some patience. 

Not Understanding The Limits Of Your Vehicle

There have been a lot of social media posts lately popping up in on our feed of people rolling their vehicles. We usually shake our heads as undoubtedly it is going to be a costly lesson for them. Most of the time, these videos involve a newer, lightly modified rig that has no business being where it was. A Toyota Tacoma on 33-inch tires can’t cross a five-foot deep rain rut. There are the constants of gravity, ground clearance, tire size, and reality that keep it from happening. That doesn’t seem to prevent people from trying though.

Most of these rollovers stem from a lack of understanding of the limits of a vehicle. Knowing those limits and when you are close to them is something that takes time and experience to develop. It is not going to happen on your first time out (or even your fifth time out) on the trail. In this age of short attention spans, instant gratification, and zero patience that might not be what you want to hear, but it is true.

The key here is to build up to and explore those limits slowly. If you radically exceed those limits right away, you can wind up with a heavily damaged vehicle. Or worse, you can wind up severely injured. Neither of them are good options. Patience, young padawan.

Not Understanding The Limits Of Your Skills

Your skills have limits too. Admittedly, that skillset is going to be pretty low if you are just getting started. The big thing to remember is that’s okay. Just like finding the limits of your vehicle, expanding on your skills takes time and experience.

Respecting the limits of your skills is extremely important. Someone learning to ski doesn’t just strap on skis and hit the hardest run there is. Yet, we see people do that all the time off-road. Getting in over your head on the ski slopes might result in a crash and a busted leg. Doing the same off-road can result in a destroyed $50,000 rig and severe injuries. Again, use patience and take your time.

A lot of people think that it is their vehicle holding them back, but if you are just starting out that most likely isn’t the case. A built JK like this one is extremely capable, but won’t automatically make you a better driver. Skill is earned and not bought. 

You Can’t Buy Skill

Call them credit card wheelers or whatever you want. But there are people with a lot of disposable income that build insanely capable rigs as their first vehicle. Some people also think that they would be a much better ‘wheeler if they just had 37-inch tires or a coilover suspension. In some cases they might be right. But if you are just starting out, it is usually your skills that are holding you back.

Buying a Ferrari doesn’t instantly make you a great driver. The same can be said for an extremely built rig if you don’t have the skills to match it. Now, we aren’t saying you need to keep your rig stock forever. But ultimately you cannot buy skill. Focus on building your skills up and then match your modifications to them. It will make you a better driver in the long run. And, it won’t be so embarrassing as having a super built JK, but no idea how to use it.

Not Listening To A Spotter

You really should have a spotter as you start taking on more technical trails. A spotter can keep you from getting stuck and doing significant damage to your vehicle. A good spotter will go beyond just that. They will show you the right line up an obstacle and even when to hit the throttle or crawl up. Without one, you are left to your own devices to figure out how to make it up an obstacle.

With all of these benefits, we are surprised when some people don’t listen to a spotter. A more experienced wheeler can usually figure out a line, but without experience that is hard to do. Not only should you listen to one, but you should learn from one too. As a spotter guides you through an obstacle, you should be taking mental notes of why they are taking you up a specific line. Eventually, you will be able to pick out that line for yourself if you pay enough attention.

Was this rollover caused by driver error, a bad spotter, or a bit of both? The driver’s instinct of rolling up the window was probably the correct move. 

Listening To A Spotter

Wait, didn’t we say that listening to a spotter is important? Yes, but hear us out. Ideally, a spotter should have experience and run the trail you are on several times before. They will know the right lines and exactly where to put your tires. But a spotter can also be some random person without a lot of experience. There is not a school or extensive accreditation process for spotters. Anyone can walk up and start doing it.

A “helpful” spotter without a lot of experience can quickly become a problem. Remember, you are not a robot behind the wheel. If a spotter is putting you into a situation you are highly uncomfortable with, speak up. And, if a spotter isn’t someone you know or trust, feel free to call an audible and swap them out with someone you do. We have done it plenty of times. The spotters on organized trail runs are almost always highly experienced. However, it is not uncommon to encounter a spotter that doesn’t know what they are doing when out wheeling with friends.

Not Carrying Any Recovery Gear

A mistake I made a couple of times when I first started ‘wheeling is not carrying any recovery gear. I was lucky the first time I got stuck as a friend had a tow strap that I could use. The second time my luck ran out and had to wait a couple of hours for one. After that, I learned from my mistake and always carried a tow strap at the bare minimum.

The lesson here is a pretty simple one: always carry recovery gear. Getting stuck is just a part of going off-road. And, you are even more likely to get stuck when you lack experience. Getting stuck with the right recovery gear isn’t that big of a deal. But without any tow straps, D-rings, jacks, or other equipment, you might be stuck for a very long time. For a story on what recovery gear we always carry on the trail follow the link here.

Not Carrying Any Spares Or Tools

It is also a sin to venture onto the trail without any spares or tools. Take some time to familiarize yourself with your vehicle and its common fail points. Do some research on the Internet if you don’t know what those common fail points are. Forums and other sites are often great resources for that type of information. There are also plenty of videos on YouTube that can walk you through the more common trail repairs. Take a spare and the tools needed to swap it out once you figure out what breaks often. 

Even if you aren’t comfortable making the repair yourself, having the right tools and spares make a difference. People on trail are usually friendly and more than happy to help you out. But they might not have the right tools or the spare part that you need. Carrying them can be the difference between a quick repair or getting towed off the trail at the end of a strap.

We don’t even know where to start with this video as there is so much wrong in it. Nevermind the analysis by the host as he doesn’t know what he is talking about. But if you go wheeling with a bunch of people who have no idea what they are doing, this can be the result. 

Wheeling With Idiots

“You are who you surround yourself with” is an old saying that has proven to be pretty damn accurate. If you go wheeling with a bunch of idiots, don’t be surprised if you turn into one. All the sweet videos and likes on Instagram might be fun at first. Eventually, you will get tired of paying for a bunch of broken parts. Every time you hit the trail getting turned into a hot mess of stupidity gets old quickly too.

Hit the trail with people that know what they are doing instead of surrounding yourself with idiots. Sure, you can throw in someone of low IQ to provide some free entertainment. And not everyone has to be a grizzled veteran that can carve a connecting rod from a pine tree. But a great way to learn is having someone out on the trail with you that has more experience.

When I first took to the dirt I was lucky as I was able to surround myself with some great people. Every one of them had lots of experience and had no problem sharing it with me. It was a bit like being trained by Yoda, Darth Vader, and Obi-Wan Kenobi all at once. I expanded my skills and shed my newb status quickly by absorbing all that shared knowledge. Find your off-road Yoda and let him or her show you the ways of the trail.

Being An Idiot Yourself

The most valuable tool you have off-road isn’t 40-inch tires, coilovers, a winch, or 1-ton axles. The absolute best tool you can use off-road is your brain. Things are going to be very hard for you if you shut off your brain on the trail. You can surround yourself with all the experienced people you want. But if you refuse to learn from them, you will repeat the same mistakes over and over again.

You are still going to make mistakes even after reading this. That is okay as it is just part of trying something new. The point is to learn from them. Learn from your mistakes, learn from doing, and learn from others. It all takes time and patience, but if you follow those steps you will quickly gain experience and knowledge.