Tricks for Better Off-Road Performance

By Nena Barlow

This article originally appeared on

Whether you are on a tight budget, skimping to save for any upgrade, or on an unlimited modification budget, the fundamentals are often underrated. Here are a few tricks that will only cost you a few minutes of your time to make your Jeep perform significantly better when you leave the pavement.

Take the time to identify what pressure is best for your tire, based on its construction, sidewall height, the relative weight of your rig, and the terrain you will be traversing. A fully aired-up tire would not be able to wrap around a rock ledge like this.

1. Air Down

Though I like to run at about 12 psi on most trails, not all tires and driving styles are appropriate for that. Even if you don’t know the ideal pressure for you and your rig’s tires yet, reducing the air pressure in your tires by just 10 psi will allow your tires to grip the trail noticeably better, reduce the likelihood of puncturing your tire on a sharp rock, and improve the ride quality for you, your passenger, and your Jeep’s components. You can always let a little more out to see if it helps if you find yourself constantly losing traction on the trail. Don’t think 4 psi can make a difference? Think of it this way: if you are at 20 psi and drop to 16 psi, you just increased your footprint, ergo traction, by 20 percent. But remember, it is always safer to have a way to air up before long trips home on the highway, especially when dropping below 20 psi.

2. Disconnect The Front Sway Bar

Remember when we used to just crawl under our rigs with wrenches and disconnect our front sway bars at the trailhead? This can still be done! OK, so maybe not totally free—you do have to invest in the correct wrench sizes and a set of heavy-duty zip ties, but shouldn’t you have those things anyway? Yes, you can spend $150 for a set of manual quick disconnects or up to $3,000 for the power sway bar disconnect on a JK Rubicon if you prefer to spend less time laying on the ground in front of your Jeep. Disconnecting the sway bar allows more wheel travel, which equates to not only a softer ride on the trail but better wheel contact with the terrain, and that means better traction. Don’t forget to reconnect before you get back on faster roads!

Not only is it good to clean out your Jeep on a regular basis to shed unnecessary weight, but it also gives you a chance to make sure everything you do need is in there and secured for safe driving. Load heavier items lower, and softer and lighter items up top. Not pictured here is my heavy tool bag which is tied down behind the driver seat, as close to the center of the Jeep as possible.

3. Lighten The Load

Too much weight or even just weight in the wrong places can negatively affect your Jeep’s traction and performance on the trail. I’m known for making passengers get out of my Jeep when I get stuck, often with the result of being able to just drive out. Think about it: if my Jeep weighs 5000 pounds, and two passengers at 250 pounds each get out, I have instantly reduced my Jeep weight by 10 percent. Sometimes that makes all the difference. What are you carrying on your Jeep that you don’t need? That CD collection of ’80s hits? The Chilton’s manual for the VW Bug at home in your garage? Carpet? A few pounds here and there add up. What weight you do carry is best carried as low and as close to the center as possible.

You will feel more stable in tippy spots if you have loaded your Jeep with the weight as low and close to the center as possible.

4. Drive Well

Last but not least, the most important no-cost modification you can make is to your driving choices—make good ones! Often, the difference between making it home in one piece versus limping home with expensive repairs needed is not the trail or line we choose, but the patience and care we exert in carefully and deliberately choosing a judicious path and easing our way through it. Take your time to assess the options, don’t let your ego dictate the line, and be gentle on the skinny pedal.

No more excuses about needing expensive upgrades. You spent a lot of money to acquire that fine piece of machinery. Use what you have. Go get it dirty.

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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.

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