Tips for Safe Trail-Riding

Ready to hit the trail? Whether you’re new to the sport of trail-riding or an experienced wheeler, safety should always be your first concern.

Before the Ride

First things first, never wheel alone. Always use the buddy system. If you get stuck or break down, another rig will be there to help. Make sure someone who is not riding knows the area you will be in and your expected end time. Spending the night in the woods is no way to end your ride.

Before you set out, convene your drivers for a meeting to cover where you are riding and the rules for the area you are going to be in. This is a good time to discuss things like:

  • Leaving trails cleaner than you found them.
  • Rules like “no driver left behind” and “no off-trail riding” (particularly on state land).
  • A review of each driver’s equipment, such as CB radios and proper tow points.
  • Who’s leading the ride and who’s running “tail gunner.”

Off the Road

Speed is not your friend. The off-road driver’s idea is “as slow as possible, as fast as necessary.” And keep in mind the old adage that, sometimes, you can’t get there from here. With that in mind:

  • Stay on the trail.
  • If you feel uncomfortable, walk the area first, pick your track, and use a spotter if necessary.
  • Listen to spotters and other, more experienced Jeepers.
  • Tell someone if you need help and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Safety Gear

The safety equipment that absolutely, positively needs to be in your rig includes:

  • CB or ham radio.
  • Proper tow points.
  • A “crash bag” of hand tools that includes a 3/8-inch socket set, jumper cables, zip ties, proper jack, lug wrench, and spare tire.
  • Small air pump and some tire plugs.
  • Fire extinguisher.
  • Plenty of food and water.
  • First aid kit and bug spray.


When it’s time to winch, use proper tow straps or a Bubba Rope-style stretching cable. Never, ever use a chain. Whenever you are pulling or winching a rig out, make sure everyone stands far enough away to avoid the whip of a broken cable. And don’t forget to bring:

  • A smaller strap that can be wrapped around a tree, beneath the cable, to protect the bark.
  • A proper-size block for your winch line.

Remember that accidents only happen when Jeepers become complacent.

Happy trails!

Nuts and Bolts

Ted Johns is president of Bear Off-Road Alliance.

Moab Is for Jeepers

Q: I am planning a trip to Moab. What is the minimum lift, tire size and gear needed, and can you recommend some challenging trails?

A: Moab has every level of trail you could want. You can come with a stock Jeep and hit some beautiful trails, or you can come with all the best mods and hit some hardcore trails. To answer your question, upgrade it for what you want to experience, and Moab will form fit for you. Just choose the trails that your Jeep can do.

For example, you can take on one of our more difficult trails, like Hell’s Revenge, in a stock Jeep, but there will be obstacles along the way you will need to bypass. The slick rock terrain makes Moab like no other. However, we also have the La Sal Mountains just a couple miles away. If you want to cool down with a splash through the creek, do the Kane Creek Trail (difficult) or the Onion Creek Trail (easy).

Our company offers both ride-along and follow-along tours, but we do not provide the vehicle. We have had up to 60 vehicles follow before, but one to 10 vehicles is a lot more enjoyable. There is nothing wrong with striking out on your own, especially if you have a buddy who knows the area.

Nuts and Bolts

Richard Mick was born and raised in Moab, Utah, where he runs the trails with his father and the rest of the Dan Mick’s Jeep Tours team. He says the area offers trails for every experience level, along with terrain — and views — you can’t find anywhere else.
Dan Mick’s Jeep Tours

If you’re new to Moab and you hire us, we can teach you the basics. We also know the best routes to take for the optimal experience on the trail. Having that extra security helps, especially if you are in town alone. For those who have a little more experience, we can hit more of the difficult trails that even the best drivers need someone to spot them over.

Cliffhanger and Metal Masher are a couple of my favorites. Those are tough trails, but I can get most vehicles with lockers and 35-inch-plus tires through. Pritchett Canyon is the most difficult Jeep safari trail. We try to only do that one a couple times a year because there is a high possibility of damage. You would need a tube buggy or a highly built JK to get through Pritchett Canyon.

If that does not satisfy you, go to Area BFE. They have some insane trails in that area. Rear Steer would be hands down the hardest. You would need something like a single seater comp buggy to get through that.

Join the Club!

What are the benefits of joining a Jeep group?

A: Local clubs are a great resource for any Jeep owner. Most people belong to several Jeep groups, so they can share a wide range of experiences. One group might go on great trail rides whereas another one might have great socials and another might focus on helping charities. For me, it’s a way to share knowledge, friendship and good times. Plus, not everyone knows everything, so a group of people gives you a better chance to resolve issues. There’s lots of different types of people in the groups and it opens you up to diversity.

Some clubs might be right for you, while another one might not be. It’s just one of those things that you need to feel comfortable in. And if you are really going to use your Jeep for what it was meant to be used for, it is good to go with people who know what they are doing. I started Tri-County Jeepers back in 2011 because I felt there was a need for a club south of Tampa. At the time, I was in Legion of Jeepers and a few others, and Tampa Jeep Krewe wasn’t around yet.

Nuts and Bolts

Tri-County Jeepers’ Andre Ferronyalka believes Jeep groups create a sense of community and make off-roading safer, smarter and more fun for their members.

Ultimately, it’s a broad question, but it has a simple answer: The benefits of joining a Jeep group include a diversity of expertise and adventures, but in the end, the biggest advantage is the spirit of friendship and camaraderie that makes Jeepin’ fun.

The Air Down There

When and why should I air down my tires? Will the tire come off the rim if I release too much air?

A: Airing down can help you gain traction, but airing down isn’t necessary for most off-roaders. Your recommended highway inflation pressures will perform nicely, both on the pavement and during off-road excursions, all without having to fiddle with tire pressure.

On the upside, what you can expect from airing down is a smoother off-road ride and better traction, mostly on rocks, sand and snow.

On the downside, you have to go through the trouble of airing down and then airing up again. You will need to buy some sort of portable air compressor or storage tank. When your tires are aired down, you will lose ground clearance, and you also run the risk of damaging your tires and rims.

If your rig has conventional wheels, you will have to do some experimentation to see what works best on different terrains. A good rule of thumb is to never air down below 15 pounds per square inch (psi) without beadlocks.

Snorkels Keep Jeeps High and Dry

I like to go way off-road, including trails with deep water. Do I need a snorkel?

Snorkels serve a unique purpose for Jeeps and other off-road vehicles. They essentially raise the air intake point of an engine. Jeepers do this for two reasons: First, a snorkeled vehicle’s engine is less prone to ingesting water. Second, the engine can breathe cooler, drier air with a slight ram air effect.

Before you add a snorkel to your Jeep, determine its water wading height. Most manufacturers will provide this information in the owner’s manual or online. For example, Jeep’s website says a 2017 Wrangler JK is capable of fording 30 inches of water in stock trim. But you would want to attack the water at a slow, consistent speed to avoid large waves or splashes.

There are many snorkel options for Jeeps. You will have your choice of styles, mounting locations and, most importantly, quality. When it comes to something that may be the difference in whether your engine survives and gets you home, this is not a place to cheap out.

American Expedition Vehicles sells a high-quality kit that mounts up great to a current JK, and has many accessories available for it. Injen sells a nice kit as well, but you must run their air intake as well, whereas AEV’s snorkel mounts to the stock air box.

Nuts and Bolts

Mike Hughes is the parts and service director at Ferman Chrysler Jeep Dodge of New Port Richey (Fla.). He recommends adding a snorkel to improve Jeepin’ performance through water hazards but cautions that, without proper installation, your engine, differentials and electrical components could still be at risk.

Be prepared to cut some holes in your body at some point for all the kits on the market. There is no going back to stock without a trip to a body shop, so make sure you really want it before you install it.

Remember, snorkels are not magic. Adding one will not turn your Jeep into a submarine! You still have to be concerned about water entering your gearbox and differentials, damaging electrical components, or letting water enter the cabin. Be sure to silicone all your snorkel connections and use dielectric grease on all your connecters. If you frequently ford deep water, routinely change your gearbox and differential fluids.

A high-quality, correctly installed snorkel can help prevent costly damage, but you must take every precaution to keep your Jeep high and dry.

Welcome to the Family!

Q: I am new to Jeepin’ but a longtime four-wheeler. When I took my F-150 out, it was all about the mud. The first time out with my Jeep, I saw that, in addition to the mud, most Jeepers also enjoy rock and hill climbing. I quickly learned you need a high level of expertise to climb rocks and hills safely and effectively — and that I do not currently have it. What advice do you have for someone making the transition from trucks to Jeeps?

A: In my opinion, it’s best to go trail riding in your Jeep with some seasoned Jeepers and get familiar with the way your vehicle operates on trails that have motels, ruts and some “off-camber” areas along the way. Follow the tracks of the Jeep in front of you in line. If that driver makes it through safe and easily, most likely you will as well.

Once you feel confident enough to try obstacles and rocks, it is very important that you do so with others who do this type of wheeling frequently. Most of all, you need a competent and experienced “spotter.” They can help you get over those rocks without doing damage to your Jeep or injuring yourself. Keep your eye on them and do exactly what they say.

Nuts and Bolts

Al Feliz is vice president of Blackwater Jeepers. He recommends off-roaders who are new to Jeeps to be open to advice from experienced riders and choose their modifications and equipment wisely.

As a Jeeper, you are a member of a community. Find us on the trails and on Facebook. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!

As your skills progress, you will want to try more difficult challenges. To climb hills, rocks and other obstacles, you will need to modify your Jeep. At the very least, expect to invest in a lift kit, 35-inch tires a front locker.

Jeeping experience comes from on the trail experience that you cannot learn in a book. Some trial and error is necessary and more practically, knowledge from more experienced Jeepers. Remember that we share a bond and we are always willing to help others when needed!

In Search of Obstacles

I have a small group of Jeepers looking for places to go Jeepin’ legally in Central Florida. I live approximately 35 minutes south of Orlando.

A: The first spot I would recommend is a Wildlife Management Area (WMA) called Green Swamp in Webster, Fla., about an hour southwest of Orlando. You’ll be running fire roads, which make WMAs ideal for beginners. When you are running WMA trails, you need to stay on the ones that are numbered or named. For larger groups, you will need to obtain a permit. Visit to get trail maps.

If there has been a heavy rain recently, there will be lots of mud holes and deep water. Be prepared for the trails to get more technical. If you want a totally different experience, you can do them at night.

While in a WMA, make note of the hunting seasons and zones. You are likely to get a big fine if you go off-trail. They may have trail cameras set up to spot license plates and unmarked vehicles that will pull you over. Don’t post any off-trail pictures or locations on social media. Better yet, just follow the rules and everyone will have a good time.

Nuts and Bolts

John Ryzowicz is an experienced mechanic and trail leader and the owner of Trinity Auto Worx in Odessa, Fla. He recommends three destinations for Jeepers in Central Florida:

• Green Swamp WMA / 28057 US Highway 471 33597
(863) 648-3200 /

• Hardrock Cycle Park / 6849 NW Gainesville Rd 34475
(352) 732-6697 /

• Lazy Springs Recreation Park / 9591 Florida 82 33930
(239) 206-9119 /

More experienced drivers can head two hours northwest of Orlando to Hardrock Cycle Park in Ocala, Fla., a motocross park with an off-road area on the back side. They charge $25 a vehicle per day, plus $5 for any passenger, and you will have to sign a waiver. It’s an old lime mine where nature has its way, forming challenging lines and natural features.

You’ll be running the lime rock trails with large obstacles, steep hills and drop-offs. If you are looking for something hardcore, there are plenty of places here to get off-camber. It will definitely test your capability, and newer drivers can find a way around obstacles to meet the group on the other side.

This last one I haven’t yet been able to visit, but is definitely on my Jeepin’ bucket list. It’s a manmade park in Lehigh Acres, Fla., three hours southwest of Orlando, called Lazy Springs Recreation Park. This is a challenging park with massive mudholes, rock hills, and an obstacle course with concrete features and culverts. Most larger manmade obstacles have bypasses for beginners. There is a whole range of situations, from easy to hard. Be sure to check out the “Know Before You Go” page on their website. You will have to sign a waiver and they only take cash.

Wherever you decide to go off-road, it is very important to have an experienced trail leader who understands their responsibilities. If you are the leader of your group, you should know the capabilities of each driver and vehicle before heading out. I always tell newer drivers we won’t push them to do anything they are not comfortable with. Every Jeep that rolls in under its own power will, hopefully, roll out under its own power, and remember: “No Jeep left behind.”