“Hey, look at that road. Is it worth taking?” I can answer that question. It always is. It doesn’t matter if the road is graded, two-track, or a trail; if it stretches off into the distance, drops into a canyon, goes over a mountain, or gets lost in trees or rocks ahead, it beckons the backcountry explorer with a siren song that’s impossible to ignore. Yes, even graded, easy roads are worth taking. You never know where that road will lead.
There are those in our sport/hobby/niche who think four-wheeling isn’t real four-wheeling unless the vehicles and drivers are hanging it out on vertical ledges that flip vehicles and that 40-inch tires or larger are required to make it through. Others wonder why we modify our vehicles at all because exploring means driving on graded dirt roads and OE vehicles work just fine. Between these extremes are the rest of us.
No one can dictate what constitutes real four-wheeling or backcountry exploring to another. Each person has his or her own likes, dislikes, and abilities. Each person or family has vehicles built (or not built) as their tastes and/or budgets dictate. Sneering at those who don’t match our idea of “real ’wheelers” is wrong.
I remember a road test of the Jeep Wrangler in an automotive magazine that complained about everything from on-highway comfort to skidpad results. These road tests were designed to quantify high-end luxury sports cars’ performance. No wonder the Wrangler didn’t shine. At the time, I commented on how poorly a Porsche 911 would do if driven up Sledgehammer. Neither vehicle does well when driven in places they weren’t designed to go. Does this make them worthy of our contempt?
I’ve gone through phases in my four-wheeling life. I started exploring with a two-wheel-drive Chevy pickup, then graduated to Jeeps and other 4x4s that were built to take on harder trails and obstacles. Soon I was one of those who sneered at “easy” exploring in favor of tough trails and tougher obstacles. About 30 years into my four-wheeling career, I thought a buggy was in my future.
It turned out a buggy was never in my future and as time went on, I enjoyed backcountry exploring again. Backcountry exploring in a competent vehicle that can tackle harder trails, that is.
How many times have you been exploring only to be turned back by a difficult obstacle? While exploring in any type of vehicle is fun, having a vehicle built with locking differentials, a winch, suspension, and protective armor allows us to go farther in safety. Tire size is another matter. While 44-inch meats will allow almost any obstacle to be tackled, they aren’t the best when it comes to the miles of pavement that are sometimes part of the exploring experience. If your exploring vehicle has 44-inch tires, that’s fine, but 37-inch-and-smaller tires weigh less, balance easier, and (usually) run down the road smoothly. My 4x4 is also my daily driver, so roadability is important.
Trail riders and day-trippers rule here at 4Wheel Drive & Sport Utility Magazine. You’re also going to be seeing more on backcountry exploring—in tech stories on vehicles built to do it and in travel/adventure features. These trips may require some camping, but many won’t. All the adventures will be in North America. Exploring the world is fun, but we’ll be exploring our world—nearer to your hearth and home.
While we’re doing it, I promise we’ll never, NEVER look down on you and what you’re driving. Is your vehicle a rock crawler with 44-inch tires now pressed into backcountry exploring duty? Is your vehicle stock? It doesn’t matter. We’re members of the same family—a family that enjoys getting off the beaten path to see the wonders of this beautiful planet and find how our forebears eked out livings in incredible places.
Yes, that road is worth taking.