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Beginner Tips – What Gear to Choose When Off-Road

 photo by LandRoverV via iStock

Correct gear selection when out off-roading is one of the most important skills you can learn. 

Gear choice can be the difference between overcoming an obstacle or being defeated by it. 

If you have never driven off-road before – or even if you have limited experience, gear selection when in low range can be confusing. 

In today’s article, we are going through which low range gears are best suited for each specific situation. 

What Gear to Choose When Off-Road: Taking Off

Close up of 4x4 Tire

 photo by BelievelandPhoto via iStock

Let’s start with the complete basics – taking off. Normally, we are told to take off in 1st gear during everyday driving. However, in low range, 1st gear is very slow; therefore, you barely get moving.

The gear I use to get going most of the time is 2nd low – 1st gear is only used when taking off on a very steep hill.

Driving on Rocks or Rock Crawling

4x4 driving over boulder

 photo by molchanovdmitry via iStock

On this type of terrain, you need to go as slow as possible; therefore, 1st gear low is the best choice. It will provide control, torque and if you happen to hit something – minimal damage will be made because you are going slow. 

What Gear to Choose When Off-Road: On Flat Dirt Roads

SUV driving on dirt road

 photo by georgeclerk via iStock

If you are using a flat section of trail and you know that you will find another challenge up ahead you can use  4th gear low to avoid shifting back to high range. 

Avoid using 5th gear low because in most vehicles it is the transmission’s weak point and may fail under load. 

For example, if you are driving in boggy sand and revving the engine in 5th gear low to get up a hill you run the risk of damaging your transmission. 

The same is true for 5th gear high while towing on the street. If you struggle to make it up a steep hill it is better to shift down to 4th to protect the transmission. 

The last gear of any transmission is mostly there for fuel economy and cruising. Every vehicle is different though; therefore, this might not be an issue you have to worry about. The best thing to do is perform some research around your specific rig.

Learn More:

Hill Climbs

SUV climbing a hill

 photo by molchanovdmitry via iStock

In most cases, 1st or 2nd gear low will be best suited for climbing hills. Choose 1st gear if the climb is slow and technical. If you need momentum and power go for 2nd

Keep in mind that if you opt for a higher gear than 2nd low you may start bouncing around which can lead to broken axles. 

What Gear to Choose When Off-Road: Sand Dunes

4x4 driving on sand dune

 photo by PatrickPoendl via iStock

Sand dunes are a slightly trickier one – gear selection can vary from second gear low up to 4th gear low – it all depends on how steep and long the dune is. 

When driving up sand dunes momentum is key; so, you need to stay in a higher gear. 

When coming back down you want to use 2nd gear low – 1st gear is too slow and may lead to the front end digging in and the back end sliding over. 

Descending Hard-Packed Hills

View of a hill from an SUV

 photo by helivideo via iStock

When coming down steep hills 1st gear low is your friend – the engine’s compression will slow you down; therefore, the need to use the brakes will be minimized. 

What Gear to Choose When Off-Road: River Crossings

Truck driving through a river

 photo by Sjo via iStock

The best option for crossing rivers is 2nd gear low because 1st gear is too slow, and 3rd and 4th will lead to hitting the water too fast which may cause radiator or electrical damage.

The aim here is to create and maintain a bow wave and for this 2nd gear low is the best choice – it provides a lot of variance in speed while maintaining high amounts of torque. 

Bigger Tires Affect Crawl Ratio

Low angle of a truck driving on a dirt road

 photo by schlol via iStock

Since we are on the topic of low-range gearing, I decided to provide some information regarding larger tires and low range.

Larger tires will increase your 1st gear low crawl speed – that’s not a good thing. One of the most important reasons we use low range is to go as slow as possible. 

There are vehicles out there that have such a low crawl ratio that even when upgrading to 35s there is still no need to regear. However, some others may need regearing even with 33s.

Always do the necessary research before installing any upgrades on your 4×4 – you might do more harm than good. 

Hopefully, this article has made selecting the correct gear a bit easier. If you have any further questions or any other topics you would like to have covered let us know!

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