Being in a vehicle that can drive up, down, through and over pretty much any obstacle in its path can be empowering and exhilarating, but it can also be extremely dangerous. That pretty much sums up four-wheeling, whether the driver is speeding through water and mud, climbing rocks in the desert or cautiously trekking across snow and ice.
Four-wheeling is more than just hopping in a Jeep or truck, putting it in drive and stepping on the gas. There’s an art to it. There are safety procedures. There is proper technique.
Moab, Utah, is one of the meccas for outdoor adventure, with four-wheeling being near the top of the activities list, if not at the top. The southwestern town is situated between Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park, with a plethora of trails available for drivers to get behind the wheel and test their mettle and nerves, including on the famed and not-at-all-daunting-sounding Hell’s Revenge.
Outlaw Jeep Tours owners Jeremy and Heidi Rowan were kind enough to share their most helpful tips for four-wheeling, especially in the high desert.
Having the most expensive vehicle on the trail doesn’t necessarily mean you have the most efficient or safest. A Jeep Rubicon, for example, with a few modifications and proper equipment worth approximately $40,000 might be able to out-maneuver a $100,000 Jeep with unnecessary frills and thrills. Tires are especially key.
Heidi Rowan: Having the right equipment that works properly is very important. Having a good tire like the Cooper Tires we use here is key. They are amazing; they have very good grip and tread pattern that help you to stay on the red rock, but also gives you good climbing capabilities in different terrains… Pre-check your rig to make sure all your equipment is in working condition.
Jeremy Rowan: Make sure you have the right gear—you have the right tires, the right wench. The Cooper Tires STT Pros are incredible; we run them on all of our guide Jeeps. At this point I don’t think I’d go with anything else. We also recommend differential lockers on Jeeps out here.
Moab is the desert. It has sometimes been compared to Mars, well, because there isn’t much around and there are lots of red rocks. At an elevation of 4,026 feet (or higher depending on what activity you’re doing) and with some pretty high temperatures—the average high is 93–99°F between June and August—hydration is key while out on the trails. Even if you’re blasting the air conditioning in your vehicle, the sun will still be beaming through the windows.
HR: You want to stay hydrated. You want to be drinking at least a gallon of water a day out here. You also want to stay on your electrolyte levels, so you want to have a salty snack or a sweet snack. Gatorade is great to keep with you. Those are very essential.
JR: You’re in the high desert here and it gets very hot, so you can get dehydrated quickly. Water is key.
Anything can go wrong in the desert. Equipment malfunctions. Dehydration or injury. Vehicles getting stuck. Navigators getting lost. That’s why it’s important to keep someone aware of your plans or bring a friend along, either as a passenger or in another vehicle.
HR: I would say to not go alone, always go with somebody. If you are going alone, make sure you tell your buddies in town that if you don’t hear from me by this time, come for me.
JR: We always recommend going out with another vehicle or at least having another person with you. If you do go alone, tell somebody where you’re going, tell them you’re going on such-and-such trail and you’ll be back at whatever time.
A late-summer day on the trail could start with 90-degree heat but a wind or rain storm could blow through and drastically change the situation. The pouring rain cascades down the rock turning them into slippery mini waterfalls. In short, be prepared for all conditions.
HR: Always go prepared. Lots of water. … Bring recovery gear for your rig and make sure you know how to use it. If things get bad, stay calm and go nice and slow.
JR: Make sure you have the gear to be out there for a while—water, food, clothing. Trails can take 12-plus hours. In one day it can go from 95°F to 50°F and rainy. Be prepared for the conditions you’ll be in. Things can go pretty badly on the high desert, so make sure you have a plan if things go wrong.
Travel and accommodation in Moab, Utah, courtesy of Cooper Tires.