We Get Questions

Are you new to four-wheeling? Welcome! There is a lot to this fun hobby, though sometimes it can seem overwhelming. Not to worry. You may proceed at your own pace (no pun intended!).

Here are some tips to help you in the fun world of four-wheeling.

How to find a four-wheeling buddy

Four-wheeling, by its nature is a skill-based hobby. It’s not something that a person should jump into by himself or herself. A mentor can help shorten the learning curve and make the introduction to four-wheeling fun and interesting ( So can taking a class from a certified International 4WD trainer ). If you know a four-wheeler, approach that person and ask if you can join on planned trips. If that’s not an option, look for a four-wheeling club in your area.

California residents are encouraged to check out the California Four Wheel Drive Association at Cal4Wheel.com. Search for clubs by clicking on the “Join” link at the top of the home page, then selecting “Club Directory” from the drop-down list.

If outside of California, search for ‘four-wheeling clubs’ or ‘4×4 clubs’ in your area. Many western states have four-wheeling associations to help narrow the search.

Regardless of which club(s) you’re interested in, plan on attending at least three meetings and three outings. This is for your benefit as well as the club’s. You need to know if the club is a good fit.

Study the club and its focus. Is it family oriented or more aggressive (rock crawling, for example)? What are you looking for as regards club atmosphere and style? Spend time thinking about that before contacting the clubs. Once you join a club, ask around for a four-wheeling buddy.

It’s also good to see what types of vehicles the other members are driving. Ideally, your vehicle should be at least in the middle in terms of capability. You don’t want to be the weakest one, but you certainly don’t need the best, most decked-out machine.

Important maps for four-wheeling

Yes, we’re in the electronic age. And, yes, those electronic gadgets are useful while off-road – to a point. Fact is, they could get broken or otherwise be useless. You should always have a least one type of paper map; two or three are even better. Paper maps are always readable – unless you spill coffee all over them, of course or use them to start your camp fire.

The U.S. Forest Service offers all kinds of maps. Probably the best one is the Visitor maps. These cover a wide area, and tend to show roads pretty well. These are large maps when unfolded. They cost $15-$20.

A good map to have is a Forest Service Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUMs). These depict where all the legal trails in the BLM land are. Unfortunately, they’re just line drawings with reference points such as one or two major highways. They don’t show towns or landmarks. https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/inyo/maps-pubs/?cid=stelprdb5441969

BLM’s (Bureau of Land Management’s)  Surface Management Status Maps are 1:100,000 scale topographic maps. They’re based on USGS geological surveys. Each map is the sum of 32 15 minute (1:24,000) maps. BLM publishes an index of maps to help narrow your search. Maps cost $4 to $5 and are ordered through BLM.

Another important resource is AAA. They’re known for their comprehensive collection of state highway maps. These provide an overview of where you’re going and what’s going on. They also print an assortment of specialty maps (E.G. Death Valley).

Then there are very specialized maps, such as for the San Rafael Swell. It’s a great map, because it’s has a full UTM (Universal Transverse Mercator) grid. The BLM administers the Swell, so contact the BLM if you’re interested in one of those.

I always carry maps from the BLM, the U.S. Forest Service, and AAA (for the given area).

Important communication devices for four-wheeling

Reliable communication is critical for four-wheeling. At a minimum, you want the capability to call out in the event of an emergency. And there are important issues that aren’t life threatening.

Most people instinctively think of a satellite phone. A cheaper alternative are the messaging devices offered by InReach, SPOT and Zeleo to name a few of the key ones. Subscription-based services, the devices allow you to send messages via a satellite. (The service isn’t set up to handle voice calls.) The recipient receives your message on their cell phone. They can reply with a text message even without being subscribed to that service.

One day a friend’s vehicle broke down while on Mt. Patterson. My buddy used his InReach device to send me – at home in Redondo Beach – a message that he needed help. (He didn’t have cell service.) I was able to ask him questions and communicate with him to organize help without having InReach.

Of the three messaging devices, I recommend InReach, because it uses the Iridium satellite network, which I feel is better than the Globalstar system.

Ditto for satellite phones. If you buy one, select a model that accesses the Iridium satellite network.

For more on these types of communication devices, go to gearjunkie.com.

Ham radio is another option, especially in western states. The mountain ranges are dotted with VHF and UHF repeaters. There’s a good chance of communicating with someone outside the area.

How to carry spare gas

Of the gas cans on the market, I like Wedco’s cans. They’re equipped with the NATO-style cap, so the cans won’t spill gas even if stored on a side or lying flat.


Spare gas should be stored outside the vehicle. Roof racks are great starting solution for this purpose. They can do double duty as useful for carrying all sorts of gear.

Try to avoid hanging the gas can along with the spare tire. I’m concerned about all that weight on the tailgate hinges (even on so called beefed up hinges). A swing-out bumper is a much better situation. Find a heavy-duty, aftermarket bumper with a pivot and arm on one end. That will hold a gas can, a Hi-Lift Jack, and a spare tire.

Reaching into the grab bag

Assorted questions from the Inbox:

How to avoid breaking an axle: Simply put, don’t use your lockers aggressively. Also, don’t spin your wheels. If you’re not moving, don’t get on the accelerator and try to power out by spinning the wheels. Another possibility is to upgrade the axles to a stronger alloy or more splines.

Possible to get a tow in Death Valley? Sure, but it’s terribly expensive. Miller Towing, of Long Pine, California, serves Death Valley. Recently a driver with a Ford F150 Lightning broke down in Saline Valley part of Death Valley NP. Miller Towing quoted $3,000 to come out and tow it. Despite the high rates, Miller Towing is the best service for Death Valley.

If you need a tow, how do you call? Use a satellite phone or messaging system like InReach. Call the towing firm directly, though, as the Rangers aren’t equipped to help you.

Recommendations for a winch: Go with a good brand, such as WARN, Mile Marker, Superwinch, Come UP, and Ramsey. The better firms stand behind their products. Look for one with sealed solenoids. Water and corrosion are death to a solenoid. Order synthetic line with a roller fairlead, not a Hawse fairlead. The winch’s capacity should be at least 1.5 times the vehicle’s gross weight rating.

Good first-aid kit: I recommend the Sportsman Series 400 from Adventure® Medical Kits. This is a comprehensive first-aid kit with compartments and pockets for the various supplies. It’s a very neat and orderly first-aid kit designed with the help of a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) instructor.

But make it even better by tailoring the first-aid kit to your needs or the areas you drive in. Adding supplies, you become very familiar with the layout of all the supplies.

OK to attach a rack to a trailer hitch? NO! The rack or other implements you insert into the receiver tend to move around; It is difficult to secure it well. That’s a big issue with gas cans. Plus, any rack reduces the departure angle.  You don’t want to drive off-road in that condition.

Four-wheeling may seem intimidating at first. It isn’t, especially with the right mentoring. Learn at a pace that’s comfortable for you. Then, get out and enjoy the trails.

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What to read more on these topic?

Check out these prior posts in the Articles section of the www.4x4training.com web site.

“Go Exploring” November 2018.)

“Know How To Read A Map, And You May Stay Alive” May 2008

“Communications Equipment is Critical for Off-Road Driving” January 2008

“Extra Fuel Cans Are a Real Gas” May 2015

“Synthetic Rope For Winching” April 2024

Did you miss recent previous articles?



Some Upcoming Events (click on the link for details)

The 2024 schedule of clinics and adventures trips has been posted on the web site.

If you are interested in the Rubicon trip let me know. It is time to start making preparations.

See the entire 2024 Schedule

June 2024

June 15, 2024 Starting Rock Crawling
June 21, 2024 OAUSA Field Day

July 2024

July 5, 2024 Independence Day Club Run
July 13, 2024 Tire Repair and Hi Lift Mini Clinic – LA Area
July 20, 2024 Starting Rock Crawling

August 2024

August 12, 2024 Rubicon Adventure
August 24, 2024 Sand Dune Off-Road Driving – Oceano Dunes
August 25, 2024 Self Recovery Clinic – LA Area

I hope to see you on the trails!
Tom Severin, President Badlands Off Road Adventures, Inc.
4-Wheel Drive School
Make it Fun. Keep it Safe.

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Copyright 2024, Badlands Off-Road Adventures, Inc.

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