TOWING IN ANY TERRAIN

Got a big adventure coming up? Here’s your exclusive guide to conquering the tough stuff with a trailer in tow

WORDS BY MICHAEL BORG IMAGES BY CAMPER TRAILER LIFESTYLE

Rock, sand, mud, ruts, hill climbs, bull dust and snow are just some of the things good old Mother Nature’s got installed for the keen four-wheel driver. And when you’ve got a camper trailer hanging off the back of your rig you can bet your bottom dollar you’re in for a challenge. Now if you are a little bit apprehensive about getting into the thick off it, we thought we’d divulge a few of the real world techniques you’ll need to conquer some of the toughest off-road terrains in the world, safely. 

ELECTRIC BRAKE CONTROLLERS

Being able to apply the trailers’ brakes independently to the tow vehicle can come in super helpful in a whole range of different scenarios. Here’s how.

TIGHT TURNS: Applying the trailer brakes (independently to your 4WD) while you’re reversing backwards on full lock will cause the trailer to jack-knife much quicker than usual, which comes in handy if you’re doing a U-turn on a tight track.

ROSK STEPS: Instead of using your 4WD’s brakes on your way down a rock step, try activating your camper trailers brakes to slow you down. You see, it’s generally safer to lock the camper trailers wheels up then your 4WD’s – if your front wheels skid it affects your steering and control.       

TYRE PRESSURES

Sharp rocks have a nasty habit of puncturing overinflated tyres, which makes “airing down” an absolute must for rocky terrain. How much? Well, how long’s a piece of string? It’s hard to tell what the ideal tyre pressure is because everyone’s set-up differs (weight and tyre sizes especially). As a guide, 17psi – 25psi will generally get you out of trouble. The idea is to knock enough air out of the tyres to allow the tread to mould around sharp rocks and absorb the bumps instead of puncturing holes left, right and centre.

LOOSE SHALE

You’ll find choosing a safe speed to travel at is hands-down the best way to maintain traction on loose terrain. Avoid overly aggressive breaking or steering movements and adjust your electric trailer brakes so they don’t lock-up the instant you hit the brakes. Oh, and the shoulder of most shaly tracks is a lot slipperier than the centre. This is due to the build-up of loose rock and dirt.

NASTY ANGLES

Off-camber angles are a real danger in true low-range terrain, so it’s important to have a think about how your vehicle will react before you point it a rock step. But here’s a tip, if you feel like the vehicle is going to roll over – stop! If it’s too late for that, your next best bet is to turn into the roll, which means to point your wheels in the same direction the vehicle is leaning to.

SAND DRIVING

Hands down, the key to conquering the sand is pure old-fashioned momentum! That doesn’t mean you need to race around like a hoon at a 100km an hour, you just need enough oomph to push you through any soft patches. Try keeping your gear changes to a minimum so the sand doesn’t wash off too much speed. On that note, if you’ve got electric trailer brakes, turn them right down as low as possible, you won’t need help stopping!

BOGGED DOWN

If your vehicle starts to really bog-down and labour, it’s quite important to stop accelerating once you stop moving forward. After all, if you’re not moving forward, you’re only digging yourself down. Yep, you’re far better off admitting defeat early to avoid making matters even worse. 

Sometimes it’s possible to gently reverse back over the sand that’s just been compressed and have another go. Just remember to take off gently as wheel spin only digs you down.

TOP TIPS

1. If you have to stop, try and do it on hard sand so you can take off again when you want. If this isn’t possible, try and face the vehicle down a slope so gravity is on your side.

2. Drive in the ruts. The sand is already compressed hard, so your vehicle won’t have to work as hard. Plus, the ruts can help guide you, which is particularly handy if you need to reverse back for another go at a steep dune.

3. If you need to chuck a U-turn, stick to the high side of the beach, and turn down towards the beach so you’re not trying to slow down, turn and conquer a hill all at the same time.

WHEEL TRACK WIDTH MATTERS

if the width of your camper trailers wheel base matches the tow vehicles  your 4WD won’t need to work overtime to drag the camper trailer though virgin, soft sand. If you’re not too sure if your wheel tracks match, measure between the inside of your 4WD’s back tyres and compare it to your trailers wheel track. There’s a few ways you can alter the width of your camper trailers wheel track – you could change the off-set of your rims to make up for any slight differences, or you can look at installing a custom length axle.

STEEP HILLS – WHY LOW RANGE?

There’s just nothing quite like clawing your way to the peak of a mountain and taking in the sights of an absolutely gobsmacking view, but getting to that view isn’t always an easy task! Especially when we strap a camper trailer to the back of a 4WD! Nevertheless, you’d be amazed at where you can go with a bit of knowledge and the right gear on board. So, if you’re new to 4WDing lets start with the basics – Low Range is your biggest friend on steep hills! It basically increases the available torque from your engine, and keeps your speed under control through engine braking on the way back down. Even on moderately steep hills, it’s worth chucking it in low range purely to help stop the engine from working harder than it has too. 

 GO’EN UP

Steep hills are hard enough to tackle on their own, let alone having a big boat anchor dangling off the back of your rig too. So, naturally when it comes to sizing an obstacle up you’ll have to make a few allowances in terms of how capable you are. Selecting low-range is essential. Even if the hill isn’t too steep, low range gearing increases the available engine torque making life easier for your 4WD.

CHOOSE YOUR LINE

Choosing a line and sticking to it is about the smartest thing you can do in this situation. Why? Well, who’s got a better chance at making a smart, educated decision – the bloke who takes a few minutes to think about where he wants to go and why, or the fella who’s forced to make a decision on the fly half-way up a mountain with a pocket full of nervous tension and a jumpy right foot? 

While you’re plotting your line, plan to keep your vehicle and camper trailer as straight as possible as a trailer on a different angle to your vehicle could drag your 4WD exactly where you don’t want to go. Where possible, stick to any pre-worn ruts available. That way, if you get have to reverse back down, they will help guide you in the right direction instead of jack-knifing halfway down. 

TOP TIPS

  • GEAR SELECTION: Pick a gear and stick to it! Well, when your clutch is engaged you are basically free-rolling which is a great way to lose control of your vehicle.
  • STEEP ANGLE STALLING: If you’ve got a manual choke, wind it up a few notches to bring the revs up and start releasing the clutch slowly as you accelerate. The idea is it will help reduce any unnecessary roll back.   

DRIVING DOWN DECLINES

There is one main thing to keep in mind when you’re heading down a steep hill – control! Gravity is constantly pushing you down, and it doesn’t take much to get caught up in an uncontrollable slide. Naturally, you’ll be in low-range to take full advantage of your engines braking. Now, the last thing you want to do is engage your clutch, which will basically cancel out the engine braking and let you free-roll, which makes you gain speed quickly. The faster you’re going, the higher the chances of entering a slide are if you hit the brakes. Oh, and if you’ve got a rear locker installed, engage it! It can really help give steady the back end of your vehicle by distributing drive evenly between your back wheels.

MUD AND SLOP

When it comes to driving in mud, your choice of tyre is critical. Normal highway terrain tyres will have you sliding around like Michael Jackson on ice! All-terrain or mud terrain tyres are definitely the go here – not only do they have a more aggressive tread pattern to fight for every bit of traction, they also incorporate some tread cleaning characteristics to help discourage the build-up of mud from turning them into slicks.

As you’d expect, low tyre pressures can play a crucial role here too. But believe it or not the effect it can have will depend on the type of mud you’re traversing. For example, a dirt road that’s recently received rain could have a very thin layer of mud on top, which means a thinner tyre that cuts straight through to the hard ground underneath will offer more traction. That’s why you see most farmers with cheese cutters fitted! On the other hand, if that layer of mud is too thick, floating up on top of it might just be your saviour! That’s where those big wide muddies come in handy!    

BOG HOLES – WHAT LIES BENEATH!  

There are a few potentially dangerous hazards to check for before diving straight into a bog hole. The first being the depth, the second being what hazards are submerged under the waters surface. So grab yourself a stick and carefully feel your way around the bog hole for large rocks, logs and even old car parts. While you’re there, check how sloppy the bottom is. Remember, your truck weighs a lot more than you can push a stick down, so if it’s sloppy for the stick, don’t say we didn’t warn you! Also, check how deep the wheel ruts are, or more precisely how big the hump in the middle is – if other 4WD’s with larger tyres have been through there, there’s a good chance they will have dug out larger wheel ruts. If this is the case, you could risk completely bellying your chassis out on the hump.   

TOP TIP – cleaning the tread!

Your tyres are pretty much useless if they are completely caked with mud. One little technique to help clean your tyres on the fly is to purposely spin the tyres rapidly for short bursts. It sounds funny but hear me out! The tyres self cleaning design along with a high rate of centrifugal force basically flicks the mud completely off leaving your tread blocks clean enough to keep on fighting the good fight.

DID YOU KNOW?

Popping your tyre off the bead is one of the most common problems when driving in thick mud. So be sure to carry a rag to help clean the bead, and an air compressor capable of reinflating the tyres from dead flat.

RIDING THE RUTS

There are not all that many options when it comes to tackling large ruts – you can either put your wheels inside them, or outside of them. Both lines have their risks, and when it comes to driving inside them the risk is you could end up on a particularly sketchy angle. If the ruts are quite slippery, slipping into an awkward position could become a real concern. In saying that, sometimes if you can brave some uncomfortable off-camber angles this method could actually be the best way to keep all four wheels in contact with the ground in order to maintain traction. Of course, this depends on the individual rut along with the different surprises it’s got installed for you. 

STRADDLING RUTS

Straddling the rut basically means to place the drivers’ side wheels on the right side of the rut and the passengers’ side on the left. The idea of this technique is to keep your vehicle as level as possible. In saying that, you’ll have to pick your ruts carefully, if a nasty rut gets too wide, or you just lose track of where your wheels are you could slip into the rut accidently. In some cases this isn’t a problem, but if you find yourself slipping into a deep one you could risk panel damage, or even end up rolling over onto your side. The other consideration to make is how well your trailer will follow you. For example, if the rut is fairly wide and has a few turns to follow, there’s a good chance your trailer will slip down into it, and possibly drag your 4WD in with it. 

TOP TIP – STRADDLING INSIDE THE RUTS

A good technique for wider ruts with a curved sidewall is to straddle the rut while you’re halfway inside it. The ruts sidewall only needs to give you enough space for the edge of your tyres to grab some traction to make  this a success. Remember to take it slow, and keep a close eye on your wheel placement the whole way through. 

FINAL THOUGHTS

Well there you have it, the tools you’ll need to tackle those tougher low range terrains with confidence are right here in front of you. That’s not saying you can go and tow your camper trailer absolutely anywhere, but if you do happen to come across a bit of a challenge, having a few techniques up your sleeve sure can go a long way. In fact, without a bit of low-range towing knowledge life in the world of adventure travel can get a little sketchy.  So, if you’re planning an epic adventure, remember, preparation is the key, and knowledge is power! Have fun guys.