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Ready To Rock Crawl? OA’s Guide To Get Started

Ready To Rock Crawl? OA’s Guide To Get Started

9 minute read

Whether or not it’s their primary passion once they get off the asphalt, many off-road truck and SUV owners will give crawling a try. Whether you have dreams of building your Jeep into a rock crawler or just have a rock crawling suspension on your Tundra and want to give it a shot, learning to drive on rocks is a good skill for any off-roader to have a passing familiarity with, at the least. Overlanding, mudding, camping, or just leaving the rat race behind for a day with some friends can all mean encountering stony obstacles in the field, and you didn’t exactly get an off-road vehicle to go around obstacles, did you? We’re going to talk about the basics of making sure you and your truck are ready to hit the rocks.

Know Before You Go

Before you set out in your new Jeep to be a rock crawler prodigy, you need to make sure you have some basic information. The old adage about proper planning and preparation preventing poor performance definitely applies to off-roading. If you take the time to do your research, make good decisions, and ensure you and your truck are ready, you’ll have more fun and gain more knowledge to apply next time.

Understand Your Vehicle

Before you get your vehicle off the road, get under it and make sure you have a suspension that is up to the task. We carry a full range of off-road suspension parts to get your truck where it needs to be to take on big bumps while keeping you in control. That includes limit straps for when the wheels go up, bump stops for when they come back down, and the heavy-duty springs and shocks that make sure you don’t tear your vehicle up doing either. ICON Vehicle Dynamics, Fox, and Bilstein are well known within the off-roading community, and if you’re building a Jeep Rock Crawler, TerraFlex should be your first stop when picking out parts.

You’ll want to spend a little time getting familiar with your vehicle and how it performs on regular ground before tackling the rocks. Get a feel for its power through the proper range of gears, how its handling changes on different inclines, and the clearance it offers. Make sure you know where your differential cases are. This point on your axle offers lower clearance, creating a higher damage risk when maneuvering over sharp stones, even with a rock crawling suspension.

Get The Lay Of The Land

When you’re planning your rock crawling trip, take the time to get to know the land you’re navigating as well as possible beforehand. This includes safety information like local emergency numbers, where you can stay for the night, nearest gas, food, and wrecker service, and the owner of the land or ranger station information, depending on whether you’re using public or private land. You’ll also want to get to know the area via maps, pick out landmarks, and look for first-hand accounts from rock crawlers who have been through the area previously.

This is also the time to make sure your navigation system is ready to go. It should be charged, have its firmware updated, and download any maps covering the area. As your vehicle dips in and out of rocky ranges, valleys, and gulleys, coverage can become spotty for even the best of systems. Making sure your set-up is properly mounted, powered, and connected with quality navigation accessories helps you make sure your digital map is at hand, ready to go, and you are on track for a successful outing.

Gear Up For The Challenge

Your rock crawling suspension is just the start. If you want to turn your truck or Jeep into a true rock crawler, you’ll need a bit more equipment for a good run at some serious rocks. Luckily, you’re likely to have some of this gear on your customized off-road vehicle already, but if you’re just getting started, there are a few more steps you need to take first.

Toughen Up Your Ride

Rock crawling can be fun, but it can also be unforgiving. Protecting your truck or SUV and its tender powertrain parts is an essential step toward ensuring you don’t have to make it home on the end of a tow line. You want to be sure that–in addition to knowing where your vehicle is the most susceptible to damage–your truck has protective equipment installed before you start asking it to take up full-contact off-roading.

Rock sliders or rocker guards may offer a helpful step up into the cab, but they also protect your frame and body along each side of your vehicle. Skid plates provide literal armor to protect your most sensitive motor, transmission, and suspension components. Aftermarket bumpers and brush guards can take more head-on or rear-end impacts while also clearing the way for larger tires and steeper angles of attack. Top brands like Shrockworks and RCI Metalworks have been turning heads with looks that also turn away damage before it happens, so they’re a great place to start your search.

Light It Up

Any off-roading day can turn long, but when light levels start getting low, picking the wrong line while rock crawling can get difficult. Adding exterior lighting in the form of fog lights, rock lights, and spots can turn night into day to help you find your way. When it comes to lighting, the old dogs still have plenty of bark and bite to go around, so a quality custom set-up from RIGID or Baja Designs gives you plenty of choice and flexibility.

Air Down For The Fun, Air Up For The Trip Back

It is common for off-roaders to deflate their tires to give them a larger footprint for better traction. This can be especially true with Truck and Jeep rock crawlers that need to channel more power to a limited surface area to manage a challenging incline. Dropping your tire pressure to 20 psi is generally a good starting place, but for rock crawling, going as low as 13-14 psi isn’t uncommon in the face of extreme terrain and traction demands. An onboard air compressor can be a good investment, but failing that, an ARB portable compressor gives you the power to get oversized tires road-ready again, no matter how low you go.

Be Recovery Ready

You may not need a snatch strap to get free, but another off-roader in trouble might. Recovery gear is about being ready to avoid or manage the mishaps that can happen when you’re pushing your driving skills and your vehicle to the limit. As an off-roader, you should consider a standard recovery kit that gives you the basics you need to help dig, pull, push, or guide a vehicle back toward a successful crawl. It’s also a good idea to equip your rock crawler Jeep or truck with a good winch, like the Warn ZEON 12S Platinum, and a solid Factor 55 Ultrahook. They make sure your vehicle can pull itself on, through, off, or past obstacles should the need arise.

Rock Crawling Is A Community Sport

When you’re on the rocks, it’s you and your truck or Jeep–rock crawler versus the rocks. That doesn’t mean you should or have to go it alone. The rocks can be fun, but they can also be dangerous, especially for newcomers, so take advantage of the opportunity to improve your build and driving skills while creating friendships.

Hit The Spot

Take a spotter. Rock crawling drives different than other off-roading sports, with a lot of time at extremely slow speeds, sitting forward to stare past the edge of your hood at the rocks creeping underneath or hanging out your drivers-side window to get a good view of your front wheel. Take a spotter to help you navigate, get good at listening to them, and buy them a round afterward. Radios, walkie-talkies, and other communications equipment can help you stay connected to them as you maneuver and keep you in touch with any other vehicles in your party.

Have Some Fun Together

At the end of a long day of fun on the rocks, don’t miss the chance to have some fun as a group. When you’re rock crawling, of course, you’ll have your buddies with you, but along the way you’ll meet and climb with veteran rock crawlers driving battered Jeeps, hot shots fresh off the car lot that should have known to install a rock crawling suspension (but didn’t), and everyone in between. Some you can learn from—others you can learn what not to do by watching. Most of them will be ready to talk shop, lend a hand when needed, and be supportive of your journey as an off-roader exploring “their” rocks. Throw down a grill, get out the coolers, and get to know everyone.

Get Ready To Rock Out

As truck enthusiasts, we’re ready to help you bring out the rock crawler in your Jeep, truck, or SUV. Give us a call if you need help finding the right parts or want to talk to someone about installation. Our pros are ready to help you with the old-school customer service that comes with loving what you do. Get ready to hit the rocks with Off-road Alliance.

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