Off-Roading For Beginners

As with every adventure, exploring the unknown is part of the excitement. But with all new things, and especially when doing it in a 4x4 vehicle on rough terrain, doing your research and ensuring you are well-equipped is pertinent to having fun while braving the outdoor elements.

Take a ride as we explore the ins and outs of off-roading and overlanding. From safety precautions to vehicle maintenance, the best spots to visit in South Africa and more. So, fasten your seatbelts and get ready to learn some valuable tips and insights to set you up for a successful off-road adventure.

Off-Road vs overlanding

The first thing to know is what you are getting yourself into! Although off-roading and overlanding are terms often used interchangeably, it’s important to note that they refer to two different styles of off-road adventuring.

Off-roading, better known as 4x4-ing, is best described as a once-off challenge where you tackle a tricky terrain within set parameters. The goal is to safely travel along a route to get to the endpoint.

Overlanding, on the other hand, is more about the journey than the destination. Although overlanding does include travelling over treacherous terrains, the objective isn’t exclusively to push your 4x4 abilities to their max. Overlanding is a means to explore remote locations you otherwise wouldn’t have been able to with another type of vehicle and goes hand-in-hand with multi-day camping trips to off-grid destinations.


Top Tips For When Things Go Topsy-Turvy

Driving on unofficial, rocky or sandy roads can be dangerous, so it’s important to ensure you are equipped with the correct gear and take the necessary safety precautions. Here are our top tips:

  • Before getting in a 4x4 vehicle, always be aware of your abilities. The best way to familiarise yourself with off-road driving is by going on a ride-along and learning as much as you can from experienced off-road drivers.
  • Always study your route beforehand and pre-empt possible scenarios that might pop up on that specific route.
  • Avoid going off-roading alone. It’s always best to have another vehicle joining you on an off-road route in case a vehicle gets stuck or experiences an emergency.
  • Food and water are essential as you don’t always know how long you will be stuck or waiting along a route. Also, remember to pack water for your off-road vehicle in case it overheats.
  • Always have recovery gear like shackles and a snatch strap packed.
  • Even if you don’t plan on being out in the dark, have additional battery-operated lights on hand to prevent being stuck in the dark.
  • Adapting your tyre pressure (and knowing by how much for different terrains) will give you more traction to navigate through tricky spots along a route.
  • A battery pack is essential to be able to jumpstart your car should the battery die out on a route.
  • Make sure to take good care of your tyres by packing an inflation kit (to deflate and inflate your tyres depending on the terrain), a repair or patch kit and a spare tyre with air and that has no leaks.

Lock In Your Technique

Driving on remote roads requires skill and technique to keep you and your vehicle travelling safely. Knowing how to tackle different terrains and understanding your vehicle’s capabilities will give you the confidence to take on the various challenges each route may present.

Here’s how to get more comfortable driving off-road:

  • When you start out, have someone outside of the vehicle helping you guide the car across the path to understand what to look out for when approaching a sticky spot.
  • Practise fine-tuning your depth perception as it is key to be able to read correctly how deep a ditch or how high a rock is about the suspension of your vehicle and the probability of your vehicle being damaged.
  • Make sure you understand your vehicle well and are comfortable with it under different circumstances. For example, know when you need to switch between four high (driving over mud, loose sand or rocks) to four low (when you need extra pulling power to get out of a rough spot).
  • Understand the difference between balance and stability when your vehicle’s centre of gravity is impacted by the various types of terrains and ensure you always have at least two tyres on the ground to prevent your vehicle from falling over.
  • Always keep a consistent speed, avoid driving too fast and don’t stop or change gears in deep mud as the weight of your vehicle will allow it sink. Continue to a dry and even spot to safely take a break.
  • Always be aware of all your surroundings. Ditches or termite nests might be obscured by tall grass or a rock might be closer to your path than anticipated, but keeping a 360-degree awareness of your environment will help to reduce being faced by unexpected obstacles.

Popular Off-Road Routes and Destinations in South Africa

South Africa is spoiled for choice when it comes to planning an off-road adventure. From one-day excursions to multi-day expeditions, there are plenty of routes to match your expectations.

A special route to experience is the Sani Pass in the Drakensberg. Running from Kwa-Zulu Natal to Lesotho, this world heritage site makes for a fantastic scenic drive that starts at 1544m above sea level and descends until 1332m. These roads are by law only permitted to be travelled on with 4x4 vehicles which makes summer the best time to go as harsh winter conditions generally cause closures.

Another mesmerising route is the Knysna Forest 4x4 trail. Here, you get to not only experience the lush forest vegetation, but birdwatchers get the chance to see beautiful birds along the journey as well. This route is in the Garden Route National Park and although challenging, is not technically difficult.

Off-roading and overlanding adventures are a wonderful way to explore the beauty of South Africa and seek out an adrenaline rush. At Outdoor Warehouse, we have everything you need to set up for an unforgettable adventure! Visit one of our branches or head to our off-roading section online to stock up on your adventure essentials.