Tag: training

Trail Fixes You Should Know

By Nena Barlow
This article originally appeared on fourwheeler.com.

Many people pack their Jeep with hundreds of pounds of spare parts, tools, and equipment for dealing with all possible scenarios of broken. While I am often guilty of over-packing, I go through my equipment regularly to see what I use, what is used up, and what is just taking up space.

My kit changes seasonally and by location, but some items that are a must for any of my backcountry trips are a pair of ratchet straps and a couple of two-foot lengths of 3/16-inch, grade-30 chain with a few bolts, nuts, and washers. With these items I can limp out vehicles with a wide variety of ailments. Here are some ways in which I have used my cute little pieces of chain and my colorful ratchet straps over the years.

Continue reading “Trail Fixes You Should Know”

Best Steps to a Safe Vehicle Recovery

By Nena Barlow
This article originally appeared on fourwheeler.com.

There are only two types of wheelers: those that have been stuck and those that will be stuck. It can happen through mechanical failure or operator error, but when a rig is stuck, the first thing to do is make sure that the vehicle is stable and the people are safe. It’s natural that everyone involved wants to jump out and rush to be heroic, but safety must come first.

Once any true emergencies have been eliminated (i.e. something is on fire or someone is injured), a vehicle recovery should be executed in a calm, thorough, and systematic manner.

Continue reading “Best Steps to a Safe Vehicle Recovery”

Speaking up on the Trail

A few years ago, I wrote an article about the social dynamics of groups on the trail--how sometimes in a sticky situation there are too many people shouting opposing opinions at the same time, and how at other times no one speaks up when they should. Recent mishaps with weather calls and recovery snafus have brought this topic back to mind.

Remember that, in most cases, it pays to take an extra few seconds to think things through, discuss circumstances calmly, clearly, and thoroughly. Unless, for example, someone's rig is on fire, or sliding out of control towards a cliff, there is usually no need for urgent action. Step back and explore all the options.

In a spotting situation, there shouldn't be a bunch of people yelling out all at once. Observers should communicate their concerns through the designated spotter.

Finally, and very importantly, a good trail leader should not be offended by someone in the group asking for clarification on a judgement call or recovery staging, BUT it's better to risk offending that person rather than risk personal safety or vehicle damage. As a professional instructor, I expect to be explaining what I see and the judgements I make all day long as a way to help others develop their own on-trail decision-making skills. Ultimately, you, the driver, are responsible for the "go" or "no-go" call for yourself, so, in my book, it is ALWAYS okay to ask for more information.

Happy trails!

Recommended 4-wheeling Equipment

By popular request...from our Jeep School workbook--the Equipment list for 4-wheeling! It is in written form, below the photos, so you can cut and paste, but for a better format, see the attached photo.


Recommended Equipment for Four Wheeling

Basic Outdoor Preparedness Gear (stuff for your own self-preservation):

Water & food
Extra Clothing (know the weather forecast)
First Aid Kit
Matches, Lighter, Candles, FIRE
Toilet Paper, Paper Towels, Trash Bags, wet wipes, hand sanitizer
Detailed Road Maps, Topo Maps, Compass, Watch, Knife
Tarp, rain gear
Cell phone, CB, HAMM radio, or Personal GPS Locator Beacon
Flares, signal mirror, police whistle
Flashlight (windable, or with extra batteries)

These are the most used recovery items. Invest in quality items.

  1. TIRE CARE: Jack, spare tire, repair kit, tire pressure guage, air compressor. Keep your spare tire inflated and in good condition. Make sure you have the correct lug wrench for your wheels.
  2. VEHICLE PULLING: Tow Strap. A tow strap should be at approximately 10-15 feet long and rated for at least twice your vehicle’s gross weight. Buy good quality strap with loops on the ends, not hooks.
  3. DIGGING OUT: Compact folding shovel/axe/saw. A Forester Tool, Handle-All, or plain old shovel is an invaluable all-purpose tool for getting yourself unstuck in a variety of circumstances, and are also useful for general survival.

These items are an important part of your regular excursion kit:

Heavy duty work gloves
Jumper Cables
Fire Extinguisher
Recovery Strap (20' to 50', with loops, rated at 3-4 times the vehicle weight)
Baling wire, Duct tape, Zip ties, Ratchet Straps, bungee cords, equipment tie-downs
Stop Leak radiator repair, Motor Oil, Transmission Fluid, extra water
Replacement fuses and electrical tape
Basic tools: wrenches, pliers, mallet, ratchet, spark plug socket, vehicle-specific tools
Variety of hoses, clamps, nuts, bolts, washers, parts specific to your vehicle

Additional equipment to consider for more extensive excursions:

Extreme caution is urged for the use of these items. Make sure you are thoroughly familiar with their function and operation. Read owner’s manuals thoroughly and follow all safety precautions:

Hi-Lift Jack
Full-size Shovel (especially for sand, mud, or snow areas)
Full-size Axe, Bow Saw, Chain Saw (in heavily-forested areas)
Winch with accessories: tree strap, clevis, snatch block, chain
Extra gas


Eliminate “Off-Road” Abuse!

That should get everyone's attention! 😀 What I am actually referring to is the overuse of the term "off road" as opposed to "off highway," "off pavement," or "4-wheeling." For as long as I can remember, the recreational sport of 4-wheeling has been called "off-roading," as in "Hey, y'all, let's load up the Jeep and spend the weekend offroading!" Somewhere along the way, the legal definition of "OFF road" came to mean when you are NOT on an established public thoroughfare.

As a group, those of us who engage in the use of unpaved roads and trails for recreation need to update our vocabulary to more legally accurate terms, and here is why: I frequently experience incidents where a mere misunderstanding of each party's definitions have caused unnecessary conflict and confusion.

For example, when a local Forest Service district announced they were considering eliminating all off-road use, the local Jeep club came unglued, until the fine print was reviewed, revealing that what was actually proposed was the elimination of allowing people to drive off of the established trails onto virgin terrain--our favorite 4-wheeling trails were not actually in peril (that time).

Another common confusion I encounter is in the Jeep rental business. We frequently have guests tell us "I'm not sure if my insurance covers me off road," to which we reply "That's fine since you aren't actually going off road today." Then we explain it: The legal definition of "off road" by land management agencies and insurance companies is "off of an established public thoroughfare." When a ranger or insurance adjuster says "off road", what they mean is "were you on a named and/or numbered, identifiably established trail?" Even trails like Smasher Canyon and Broken Arrow are officially-recognized public thoroughfares--legally, you are "ON road". 

Therefore, I have been trying to catch myself whenever I say "off-road" and changing it to "4-wheeling," "off-highway," "trail riding" or " rock crawling." I should also mention that the term "trail" in Forest Service-ese means hiking, so mindful of that, too. Sheesh! 
Bottom line: stay off of the topsoil, ask about the local rules, and don't be afraid to ask for clarification. 
Happy trails!

Winter Driving: On and Off Pavement

I am always appalled when a driver speeds past me on an icy highway, refusing to drop below the speed limit regardless of road conditions. More often than not, you see that same driver slide out into the median some miles up. And, also more often than not, when you ask them what they were thinking they reply, “It’s 4-wheel-drive!”

Today’s new vehicles almost all provide some sort of anti-skid program. On Jeeps it’s called ESP (Electronic Stability Program), which senses when the vehicle is going to slide and uses the brake system (ABS) to correct the vehicle. However, ice is still ice, and though an anti-skid program may prevent you from doing a triple sow cow with a double axle (a lovely spinning figure skating maneuver--I have done this particular maneuver before, in a 2wd pickup in Colorado), slide you will if you don’t employ good driving BEFORE hitting the ice.

Regardless of your vehicles programming, you are better off preparing in advance for what may come than trying to recover from it after you have made some driving errors. Slow down and try to just maintain a steady pace rather than “making good time”. The goal is to get home in one piece, not necessarily on time. Be alert to changing conditions and anticipate what changes may occur on the road surface.

The concept of situational awareness and constant vigilance while driving, in any conditions, is one I attempted to relate to the author of a survival book who came to me for advice about what to do if your car careens down a steep mountainside. I told him “If you have already made the series of wrong choices that led to you careening off of the road in the first place, it is unlikely that you will be able to properly execute the techniques to save your hide as you are sliding down the hillside.” I humored him anyway, but my opinion stays the same: it is preferable to properly prepare than to engage in recovery.

Here are a few tips for winter driving conditions, applicable to both paved and unpaved driving:

  1. 4-wheel-drive vehicles are not invincible. Ice provides little or no traction, regardless of whether you have power to one wheel or four or eighteen. When I warn people about icy roads going to Flagstaff, and they shrug and say “I have a 4-wheel-drive”, I usually respond “…with studded tires? Because ice doesn’t care how-many-drive you have. No traction is no traction.” I’ll put my money on an experienced winter driver in a front-wheel-drive Toyota Corolla over an inexperienced driver in a 4wd Lincoln Navigator any day. Also, if you have huge lug gaps in some super aggressive rock tires, you can paddle powder like a champ, but your tires will be lost on ice.
  2. Slow and steady wins the race. When you find yourself on slippery roads, paved or not, maintaining a slow steady pace, with as few speed or course corrections as possible, will get you across the slick section better than hitting gas, slamming brake, or yanking wheels back and forth. On pavement, do NOT use cruise control on wet or icy roads. Do NOT use axle locks, except at low, slow speeds—driving a full time locked Jeep on a highway with icy patches was one of the most thrilling and frightening experiences of my life. All that said, the number one mistake I see is SPEED—whether on dry sandstone or icy highway, it seems that I am always yelling at people to slow down. But, inversely, you also don’t want to panic stop—if you are wheeling along a shelf road and you start sliding toward the edge, often a little more steady pressure on the throttle will keep you moving forward on the road, whereas braking will just enhance the slide. STEADY is the key. Did I mention that you should slow down?
  3. Give yourself some space. Not only should you allow plenty of extra time in winter conditions, but remember that the same dirt road that allows you to stop within 10 feet, may take 30-50 feet or more if it’s muddy or icy, depending on your momentum (see point 2, above, about slowing down!). If you are traveling with other vehicles, proceed one at a time up or down even hills that are easy when dry, that can become like a greased slide when wet.
  4. Plan ahead. Many tragedies can be averted by just a little planning, research, and preparation. What are the current conditions where you are going? At what altitudes will you be traveling? What is the weather forecast? What is the temperature range for your route (day and night)? What time does it get dark? Are you prepared to turn back if conditions get dicey? Are you prepared to be outdoors in cold/dark/wet conditions? Let’s say you blow a tire or your vehicle battery dies at night in a snow storm—do you have sufficient equipment and clothing for it NOT to become a life-threatening incident? Always have an escape plan—where is the best turn around point? Where is the closest point of civilization?
  5. Anticipate. It’s better to be proactive than reactive. If you come to a decline that is slushy, muddy or icy, and you have only driven it dry before, you should expect this descent to be quite different! You should anticipate it to be slippery. You should be reminding yourself that if the rear end starts to come around, you want to ease off the brake and turn the wheel into the slide or lean. If it’s solid ice, you may want to consider what the bumpstop is at the bottom, or decide not to proceed at all! All of these things should be mentally assessed BEFORE you proceed. Be alert--LOOK and THINK!

Even the most careful drivers and trip planners encounter problems. Here are some for recovering from sliding or getting unstuck:

  1. In a slide or a lean, turn your tires into the slide/lean for the best control. The instinct of many drivers is to turn away from the slide or lean, but that will actually diminish your traction and control. Watch what this guy does with the steering wheel when his Corvette starts to slide at the 27-second mark of the video.
  2. Understand where your best power is. The rear wheels are always pushing you forward. The more you crank your front tires to one side or another, the more resistance you are creating to the forward power which your rear wheels are trying to provide. Keep your front tires straight for maximum forward power.
  3. Balance the weight: if passengers or luggage can be shifted in the vehicle to balance the weight on the wheels, you have a better chance for traction with equal weight distribution between each of the 4 wheels. Sometimes, just lightening the load in the vehicle is enough to get you unstuck, by either getting passengers or luggage safely out and away from the vehicle.
  4. Give the tires something to grab: rocks, floor mats, salt or sand. If you have a tire on one side of the axle spinning and not the other, concentrate on giving the spinning tire the traction. Another trick for this situation is to use left-foot braking (if you have an automatic) or e-brake application (if you have a manual)—applying the brake, while applying a little throttle at the same time allows some power to transfer to the other wheel, arguably the one that does have traction.
  5. A winch or another vehicle with a strap is always a great option for a seriously lodged vehicle, but always remember personal safety first. Take the time to carefully assess the situation and make sure all PEOPLE are safe before proceeding with any recovery of a vehicle.

Some more reading about Winter 4-wheeling:

Happy trails!

GPS Locators: No Substitute for Proper Preparation

This week's blog is brief, but, once again, focuses on bad behavior.

By now, most of us have heard about or used a "Personal GPS Locator"--a device that allows you to use satellite communication to send a distress call. I often mention these during 4x4 clinics as a good tool to have in your bag of self-preservation goodies.

However, it is recently coming to public attention that GPS locators are being abused, wasting the resources of various emergency services for such trivial things as being scared by a thunderstorm, having bad-tasting water, or just an accidental activation. My favorite quote from a Search and Rescue administrator says "you send a message to a satellite and the government pulls your butt out of something you shouldn’t have been in in the first place.”

Though having a GPS-based locator can save lives, it should NEVER be used as a substitute for good preparation, including having adequate water, maps, a thorough weather and trail conditions check, and--what I hesitate to call "common" sense--a general awareness of one's surroundings, one's capabilities (and limitations) and a little knowledge about handling "the unexpected."

Even having a locator doesn't mean that you will have adequate signal or that conditions will allow rescuers to get to you. One should always approach a venture into the backcountry with the attitude that "no one is coming to rescue me--I have to rely on myself to get out and back", and plan accordingly, even if that plan means scrapping the excursion altogether. Know when NOT to go.

For a thorough article about the rising misuse of GPS locators, see http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/33470581/ns/us_news-life//

For more information on one specific device that I have used with great satisfaction, visit: http://www.findmespot.com

Happy trails!