Sports and Recreation
July 27, 2018
Four-wheeling is a hands-on experience. You can gather a lot of driving tips from online stories, magazine articles and books, but to really get a sense of how your 4x4 works on the trail, nothing beats getting out there and doing it yourself.
Yet heading to your local off-highway-vehicle area without any previous trail time is akin to jumping in the deep end of the pool without swimming lessons: You may survive, but it’s not the best or safest way to learn the technique.
Fortunately there are a lot of options open to newbie off-roaders (and more experienced ’wheelers who want to sharpen their skills or tackle new terrain). Joining a club and throwing in with like-minded locals will introduce you to the four-wheeling opportunities in your area. Signing up for an organized trail ride, like one of the many Jeep Jamborees around the country, will likewise put you with a knowledgeable community willing to help you negotiate the trail.
Even better, take a class from one of the many off-road driving schools located around the country. Here you’re not just tagging along hoping to learn driving tips. Instead, your off-roading experience is the focus, as instructors walk you through the basics of vehicle control and how to read terrain. Most of these classes include info on vehicle prep for the trail, what to bring (for you and the 4x4) and even how to get un-stuck when the inevitable happens. Class lengths range from an afternoon to multiple days.
Once you have the basics down, many of these schools offer advanced training, on topics like winching, negotiating specific terrain types, and even skills like geo-caching.
While some schools offer 4x4s for student use, many will teach you in your own vehicle, which we highly recommend. There’s no better way to learn the handling, throttle response and other particulars of your rig than with an experienced instructor spotting you or riding shotgun. And with many schools offering instruction on Forest Service lands and in other scenic off-roading areas, adding a day’s instruction onto a road-trip can be just the thing to build a vacation around.
Here are some of the top schools around the country.