Thursday, July 18, 2013

Off Roading in an RV? Really? What If You Get Stuck?

    I'm a boondocker. There, I've said it. I REALLY prefer unimproved campsites to organized campgrounds. Maybe it's because I lived in NYC among the masses for so long. Maybe I like the serenity of being in the middle of nowhere. In any case, some of the greatest places to park/camp aren't always along the beaten (or semi-beaten) path. Can you really go there in an RV or while hauling a trailer? You can go to more places than you'd expect!

One Type of Off Road 4x4 RV
With very few exceptions, motorized RVs aren't 4 wheel drive nor capable of true off roading. It's pretty easy to get stuck when driving a 30+ foot 15,000lb+ behemoth.That being said, most RVs do perfectly well on unimproved, unpaved roads. Many state parks, BLM lands and the like have dirt or packed sand access to some of the most beautiful places you can imagine. Sometimes you have to traverse a grassy field to get to the perfect lakeside campsite. As long as you take some basic precautions against getting mired in "who-knows-what" you should be fine. I am NOT recommending getting in above your skill level or in a place you couldn't easily extricate yourself! Leave that to the hardy folks that like 4 wheel drive and harsh trails for fun.

Typical Rubber Mat - Comes On A Roll
I always have good tires, some pieces of wood, long rubber carpet runners and a couple of jacks, just in case. The enemy here is soft or muddy ground. Anything that your tires will sink into or dig a deep rut in. Spinning tires is NOT the way to get unstuck if something goes wrong. Stop. Look the situation over. Is it one or more tires that aren't getting traction, front or back? If you haven't dug in too deep, a rubber mat or a section of 2x4 (or x6) inserted under the stuck tire will get you the traction you need to get  back out. MAKE SURE YOU INSERT IT THE RIGHT WAY! If you are backing out it goes behind the wheel, going forward it goes in front of the tire(s.) Set it all up then get back in and SLOWLY drive (in the correct direction) until you are on firm ground.

Be Careful! If In Doubt, DON'T TRY IT!

Before you venture onto unknown terrain, if it looks soft or doubtful, you can always get out and look/feel the surface. When in doubt DO NOT PROCEED. Better safe than stuck. The only time this is bad? When you are moving over a sandy or soft surface and you stop. Stopping in the soft stuff is a great way to get stuck. Keep moving at a walking pace until you are on solid/hard packed ground or pavement.

Bad Mojo!

You should also look out for stuff sticking out of the road or deep ruts and potholes. The ground clearance on a typical RV, with all the pipes, wires, bits and pieces hanging down isn't usually very much. Be careful you don't catch something or bottom out the RV! If you follow these simple rules, you should be fine. Even a little bit of off-pavement excursion will get you to A LOT more places!

If you're observant, plan ahead and are comfortable with the extrication process (and have the right tools!!) by all means try this out. At first go places that are relatively solid. Get comfortable with the handling, ground clearance and performance of YOUR rig. If you have any doubts Stick to the paved roads! I won't be able to come and get you out! Doing this stuff is at your own risk! I like doing it, have gotten stuck a few times and managed to get out easily. This is not always the case! Remember, not only do you have to get IN, but OUT too!

Caution is rewarded with a smooth trip to that once in a lifetime campsite. I've got a favorite by a lake in the Adirondacks. Absolutely beautiful. Quiet, amazing sunrises over the lake and a postcard view framed by every window.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"


  1. Tire chains can work if you can get them pretty much around the tires. If you use pieces of wood, be really careful that no one is directly in front of or in back of the direction the wheels are pointed: it's really easy for the driving wheels to kick out the wood piece at high speed and it can travel a long way unless it comes to a sudden stop against something like a leg. Also, they now have traction pads made out of what looks like stiff plastic steel wool; these are light weight, work well, and can be easily rinsed.

    1. Tom,
      Absolutely Correct! Be CAREFUL when using pieces of wood or other items that could fly out and kill someone. That's why I suggest SLOWLY moving forward. Don't blast the gas!

      Tire chains DO work, but you are right, a pain to get on and off, especially in bad conditions like mud.

      Rich" The Wanderman"

  2. WC,
    Another great idea. Just make sure you don't spin the tires and shoot gravel and bits possibly hitting someone or something.

    I've seen folks use their leveling pads for traction...worked wel, though they aren't usually that large.

    Rich "The Wanderman"

  3. Just out of curiosity, how do you know if the area you are driving through is public property and that you aren't trespassing? How do you find out about these places?

    1. Anon,
      The internet is your friend. Look at maps, tax and municipal government databases. If you start from a road that's municipal maintained you can usually find out where public vs. private property is. When in doubt....stay out!

      Rich "The Wanderman"


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