If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’ve dreamt of tackling some of those tougher, more adventurous touring destinations, right? Maybe you’ve been itching to give the blacktop the flick in favour of some dusty, dirt-road adventures?
Obviously, you’ll need a caravan capable enough to handle the rigours of the rough stuff, but once you’ve got the right van with the right gear for the job, it all comes down to you!
Even with a capable off-roader, you’ll still need a few basic skills to get the most from your rig and navigate your way safely through any hair-raising obstacles.
1. CONTROL YOUR SPEED
If you’re new to the caravanning scene, just new to offroading, or an old-hand who likes to brush-up on your skills and techniques, there are a few basic things to keep in mind when towing offroad.
The first one, and the most important of all, is speed – you’ve gotta keep it under control! Most of us are pretty well behaved on the road, but we often underestimate how dicey things can get on dirt or gravel roads. Reduced traction is the major issue here; it’s a heck of a lot harder for your tyres to hang on and grip the road, especially as you negotiate a bend. Chuck in corrugations and pot holes and things get even dicier. The problem is when these bumps cause the suspension to unload, or lift pressure off the wheel, thus reducing traction. When this happens on a bend at speed, well, you’ll probably make the six o’clock news!
While a good suspension system is absolutely crucial in these circumstances, as we found with AL-KO’s Enduro Outback, less speed means there’s less momentum, so there’s less chance of bouncing, skipping, hopping and flipping.
2. AVOID DEAD-END TRACKS
Another common mistake which, admittedly, catches the best of us out at some point or another, is getting stuck up a dead-end track. You don’t need me to explain how frustrating and difficult it is to turn around with an 18ft caravan sitting pretty in the rear-view! If possible, do a recce first or use an unhitched scout car to poke its nose up suspect tracks first. That won’t always be an option, especially if you’re travelling solo, however, even sending a scout ahead on foot could alleviate some issues.
On these sorts of tracks, you’ll find low hanging tree branches can be a concern as well. You might need to drop some air out of the tyres to give you that little bit more clearance.
3. KNOW YOUR LIMITS
Pushing the limits is all well and good – until something goes wrong.
If you’re serious about offroading, there’s a good chance you’ll wind up neck-deep down a track that’s tuned out little worse than you first thought. The most sensible thing here is to ensure you know both your own limitations and those of your 4WD and caravan. Ground clearance, weight, length and a heck of a lot more factors have a big impact on how capable your setup is, and where you can go safely. And you need to know all of that info in advance.
If you’re confident you can conquer a tricky obstacle, whether it’s a tight turn or deep rut, try and keep a plan-B up your sleeve and stop and have a think about what your options are if something goes wrong.
4. PICKING THE RIGHT LINE
For the really technical stuff, you need to be aware of how your increased turning circle (with caravan in tow) can impact things if you don’t swing wide enough to account for it.
When it comes to picking the right line to negotiate rocks and boulders, you’ll need to consider where the vulnerable, low-hanging parts of the undercarriage are for your caravan and 4WD. Things like water tanks and taps are usually the first to cop an impact but it’s often avoidable if you pick the right line. And when it comes to exiting river bed crossings and the like, a little bit of smooth momentum can help account for the extra weight in tow – so no throttle-stomping madness! If you do get stuck, sometimes the slightest shift in positioning can make all the difference, so don’t be afraid to try a different line. Just make sure you don’t end up with the caravan sitting sideways on an incline – that’s a recipe for disaster!
5. TIGHT TURNS
Tight tracks sure make performing a U-turn with a caravan in tow an absolute mission! But there are a few little tricks of the trade that can really help. The first one is to activate your trailer’s brakes independently to your vehicle as you start to reverse. It will cause the caravan to jack-knife much faster than usual which, in this circumstance, can actually be quite useful.
I often see drivers having to take a few swings at straightening the car and caravan up after a tight turn. Believe it or not, it isn’t always as simple as driving straight if you don’t have enough room ahead of you. Instead, exaggerating the turn both ways before you end up straight should get the job done a bit quicker. Give it a go, it works for me!
6. GEAR SELECTION
The right gear selection plays a massive role in successful offroad driving, especially when you’re halfway up a steep descent with a 2-3 tonne anchor on the back! On steep hills, you really want to avoid shifting gears if you can – you’ll lose valuable momentum on the way up, and engaging the clutch on the way down means you lose engine braking, which allows the vehicle to free roll down hill and pick up unwanted speed. So, the best tip I can give you is to pick a gear and stick to it.
Low-range gearing will be your biggest ally but, contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to be tackling a gnarly stretch of track to warrant the use of the stubby stick.
MEET THE AUTHOR
Michael “Borgy” Borg
Borgy’s one of those blokes who lives and breathes offroad adventure. He’s travelled to almost every extremity of the Australian continent, built 4WDs and camper trailers from the ground up and tackled some of the most epic adventures Australia has to offer.
Being a mechanic by trade, he’s customising both of his Toyota LandCruisers, ‘Toot’ the Troop Carrier and ‘Uncle Grump’, his big red 80 Series Cruiser. With plenty of tough low range kays under his belt, you can bet your bottom dollar he’s learnt the art of bush mechanic fixes. In fact, Borgy reckons relaxing around the campfire after an epic day on the tracks is what 4WDing is all about, not to mention that feeling of freedom you get when you lock in the hubs!