Is there any enthusiast group more fortunate than the 4×4 community? Nothing, and we mean nothing, can stop them—not even the dead of winter. Off-road exploration may be hindered by snow, but the fun is only enhanced. That’s not to say there isn’t an exhaustive list of preparations when getting ready to hit the freshly-powered trails. We have a few winter wheeling posts lined up to assist off-roaders in everything from outfitting and equipment, specific techniques, and tips in recovery. Since your rig’s performance begins and ends with a proper setup, that’s where we’ll start.
The Winning Setup Starts With A Great Pair of Shoes
That 4×4 of yours is likely already set up to dominate in terms of suspension, lockers, exterior protection, recovery gear, and even important on-board essentials to get you out of a jam. You know what type of tires are best for the wheeling you typically do, but what about when a wintry mix is thrown in?
Generally, when navigating bad weather, narrower tires are ideal. They cut through the snow and make high-pressure contact with the asphalt buried underneath. But when off-roading, a wide base with low-pressure tires is going to help drivers remain atop the snow. So, a substantial tread with plenty of slipping is going to help you achieve max traction in those weather conditions. A set of studded or studless snow tires, therefore, are the best investment for winter wheeling.
Really, it’s no shocker that snow tires perform the best this time of year. However, Four Wheeler Network does point out one major issue for off-roaders. “Dedicated snow tires don’t come in sizes larger than 33s, so for some four wheelers, choosing the best tire for heavy winter driving boils down to choosing between mud or all-terrain treads.” The combination of knowledge here tells us that most off-roaders will need to use wide tread all-terrain or mud tires. The good news is that anyone with a tire that’s taller than a 33 on their truck likely already has just that and it’ll do just fine.
Additionally, snow chains are recommended for off-roading in the winter time. A contact patch with good tread works okay, but truthfully it will only go so far when it comes to getting a grip on the snow. The use of chains is a sure way to give that big wide footprint the bite it needs to roll forward.
Recover with Ease
Tires aside, you’ll be facing some major traction issues when winter wheeling. And those easy-going trails you’re used to can turn nightmarish—fast. This means your recovery gear needs to be in tip-top shape. That includes a winch, snatch blocks, straps, tree savers, shovels, axes—anything that gets what’s in your way, out of the way. Whether you already have some of these items or not, it’s important to run through the checklist and ensure you can rely on them when the time comes.
When it comes to the winch, you will be wondering what cable type is best suited for the atmosphere. Due to the snow and ice bringing a high level of moisture to the table, logic will obviously point toward synthetic ropes being the best choice. However, this isn’t to say that a steel cable won’t do the trick. You can use your steel cable during the winter season, but you will want to keep a winch cover on it when it’s not in use and pay special attention to cleaning it and keeping it as dry as possible.
Any time there’s snow on the ground, wheel spin is an issue. But when the entire environment is covered in snow, it can become extremely hard to find loose stones and logs to jam under your wheels to regain traction. Because of this, it’s a good idea to keep a product like X-Bull Recovery Traction Tracks in your winch bag.
In the Event of an Emergency
Speaking of recovery, you know what’s really hard to bounce back from? HYPOTHERMIA. When you’re out winter wheeling, you have to be prepared for the worst case scenario. Off-road adventures are just that—Off. Road. And the further out you get, the harder it is for someone to reach you, especially when you throw snow in the mix. That’s why you absolutely need to keep an emergency supply bag on hand.
First things first, pack those blankets and extra pairs of dry, thermal clothes. Not flimsy flannel—the real deal. Something that will wick away moisture and keep you insulated. North Face, Carhartt, Wolverine, and Columbia are all names you can trust. Even if you have a fully-charged phone (pack that too—plus backup chargers) and cell service (good luck), odds are you’re gonna be waiting awhile for someone to get you, unless you have a CB or Ham radio setup. Handwarmers help, and fire starter bricks that will burn anywhere, anytime are smart to have on hand. Throw in a windproof lighter and matches while you’re at it too.
Extra food is important, as you’ll be burning calories out on the trail. Ideally, you want to pack something that has a long shelf life that won’t take up a ton of space. Freeze-dried survival food packs and emergency bars like Mainstay Food Calorie Bars provide a ton of calories and nutrients in a small package. I once read an article by Xtreme Off-Road that stated instant coffee is a smart essential—fluids and some calories plus an energy boost.
Most important is extra water—and lots of it. If you’re winter wheeling in a particularly cold climate and are concerned about liquids freezing, Mainstay also offers emergency water pouches with a tough packaging that keeps bacteria out and withstands temperature extremes from –40° F to 210° F. If you have the room, a small camping stove or potware is useful too. In a worst-case scenario you could always boil snow to drink.
In the wintertime it gets dark earlier, which means you’ll be relying on your lights a lot more. The problem is that the blue-white hue emitted by those powerful LED and HID lights you’ve got on board will reflect off the snow and right back into your eyes, making it hard to see. While a warmer-toned light would be easier on the eyes, it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to switch to halogen bulbs.
“Many manufacturers of LED and HID systems offer colored lenses that fit temporarily over their lights, tinting them to a lower, warmer Kelvin rating,” advises Street Side Auto. “This is an option to consider if your LED or HID systems become too stressful for your eyes.”
If you do decide to swap in halogens, it’s worth noting that halogen lights are actually physically hotter than HID and LED bulbs. Why is this helpful? Because as snow and ice build up on the lights when you’re out winter wheeling, those halogen bulbs will stay warm and melt off any chunks that could reduce visibility.
A Little Something Special for Jeep Fans
If you’re a Jeeper looking for something really special, consider JW Speaker—a brand that is taking the Jeep community by storm. “With the release of the Evolution J2 Series in 2018, J.W. Speaker improved upon what many felt was the best available replacement Jeep Headlight,” says Kris Lavery, Marketing Coordinator at Keystone Automotive. “Winter wheeling is usually done at a very slow, methodical pace and in many cases a high-quality headlight might be all that is needed. The recently announced J3 headlight will have even better performance, especially in winter.”
This headlight has it all. Offering unparalleled lighting, the J3 is the “first street-legal, DOT-approved, plug-and-play headlight with a built-in turn signal,” advertises JW Speaker. “It’s their brightest Jeep headlight to date,” adds Lavery. “And it includes an off-road mode only accessible by the new J-Link™ smartphone app. This is what allows it to maintain DOT/SAE compliance and outshine the competition on the trails.” It even comes with available SmartHeat® heated lenses to combat snow and ice during rough weather. And “the J-Link app also connects to the new Trail 6 off-road light, unlocking great features that can also greatly benefit winter wheeling. There’s even a ‘Guide’ mode, ideal for the lead Jeep or vehicle in the group,” he says.
The Number One Rule
Remember, it’s important not to go alone when it comes to off-road adventures, and that’s especially true during wintertime. The trails are much harder to travel and getting stuck is even more likely. Having friends around can be the difference between being stranded and breaking free. Besides, company is always the best way to make an adventure pleasant—hence packing that deck of cards.