Heads-Up: Tips For Better Trips

By Nena Barlow

This article originally appeared on fourwheeler.com.

When venturing out on the trail, most of us take at least basic precautions to deal with some common trail mishaps. We carry tools, emergency supplies, and a first aid kit. But those things only work if you use the most important piece of equipment—your brain. The ability to pay attention, recognize problems as they develop, and calmly utilize available assets are the best tools you can have.

Many calamities we hear about are often created by a series of bad decisions, not just one unfortunate moment. Recently, I was involved with the recovery of some people from a mountain pass. They were stuck in a snowy ditch with a flat tire and broken jack. It wasn’t just one mistake that created this circumstance. They didn’t heed the worsening weather or anticipate that the slushy rain would most definitely turn to snow as they ascended the mountain. Nor, at anytime recently, did they check that the jack was functioning. Lastly, they did not turn around after sliding off the road several times. When I asked why they so stubbornly pressed on they replied, “It would have taken six hours to turn around and go the other way.” Instead, they spent 15 cold hours waiting for rescue.

A moderate trail by day, a Jeep-eater by night. This guy couldn’t find his way down the trail after sunset, but kept pressing on until he drove into the ditch. High-centering on the differential kept him from going further and rolling down the hill.

Recognize that you must constantly make go-no-go decisions, both before and throughout the trip. Don’t let ego dictate your course of action. Consider a few critical factors before you leave the house, and then again as circumstances unfold on the trail.


How much of it do you have left? Even if you are prepared with off-road lights and great night vision, lack of sunlight means reduced visibility and mental alertness.


Do you know what the forecast is for your destination and everywhere in between? Are you prepared for conditions that can result in an unplanned overnight stay?

This guy was driving down a riverbed because he missed the road. Since he thought he was on the road, he pressed on, insisting that his Rover should be able to handle any road.

Escape Plan

Does someone know where you are and when you plan to return? More importantly, does that person have the inclination and resources to do something about it if you don’t return as planned?

Risk Assessment

What is the level of terrain you expect? At what point do you recognize that it is beyond the capabilities of your rig or driving skill? Too many times we have recovered people who were on a trail where the vehicle they were driving did not belong, but they thought if they just continued a little farther, surely it would get better.


A huge part of mitigating mishaps is recognizing when there is a problem and addressing it before it becomes more serious. This can be referred to as situational awareness. Most of us exercise some level of denial that anything is going wrong. Situational awareness (SA) is “the perception of environmental elements and events with respect to time or space, the comprehension of their significance, and the projection of their status after some variable has changed, such as time, distance, or some other variable.”

It’s after sunset. It’s snowing and starting to stick to the road. Is it a good idea to keep going? Do you have wet-weather tires? Do you have Maxtrax? Do you have snow boots and warm clothes? Can you see in the dark?

This means that you should be constantly and objectively analyzing the circumstances around you. For example, our friends on the mountain pass might have saved themselves a lot of time by recognizing that the rain had changed to snow, and with over 3,000 feet in elevation still to climb, they should have expected that conditions would only get worse and turned around sooner rather than later.

When things do go wrong, many times people fixate on one thing they forgot, instead of looking at what they do have and figuring out a way to use it to solve their current predicament. Be resourceful. Use what you have with you and around you. Stop, breathe, look, think. I have changed a tire by backing the vehicle up on a rock to get the flat tire off of the ground. I have used floor mats to get unstuck from a snow bank. The road to Rome is nothing compared to the number of rocks I have moved over the years to get unstuck.

Most importantly, keep things in perspective. Take care of yourself first, don’t be too proud to call for help, and learn from your mistakes.

Another rental car that thought that surely this road would get better if they could just get over this bumpy part.
Here are some people making good decisions (except in the “I’m walking barefoot and staring at my phone” department). A classic desert flash flood occurred, and instead of pressing on at all costs, these locals knew that we just wait twenty minutes and everything will recede to safe limits.

More Recommended Articles

Training 4wd Trainers

In recent years, I have found that even more than teaching people the art and science of 4wd, I enjoy teaching people to teach other people the art and science of 4wd…

Read More »

Gladiator Comparison

After months of waiting for my ordered Jeep Gladiator Launch Edition, I was dying to throw on a few “Barlow” modifications and hit the trail, and I needed to answer one question: How does the Gladiator measure up…

Read More »
About the Author
Nena Barlow
Nena Barlow

Barlow Adventures owner, Nena Barlow grew up in the Southwest, exploring the back roads by Jeep, horse, and hiking boots. She has been in the Jeep business since 1996, providing tours, 4wd instruction, location scouting, offroad event planning, trail mapping & photography, and recovery.

Explore Articles by Category