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Versus! Trailer or Drive

What’s the Best Way to Get to and From the Trail?

Hamlet put it best when he said, “To trailer or not to trailer. That is the question.” Or something like that. These days we see people trailering late-model rigs like JKs, but that was not always the case. Back when trail rigs were a lot less posh, they were still typically driven to and from the trail.

Trailering is always a good idea when the rig just isn’t up to the task of getting there on its own. Maybe it’s “too built” to hit the road or it suffers from a maintenance issue. If you’re trailering because you want to save the tires, you want to have water in the tires, the top is junk and it’s cold outside, or something along those lines, you get a hall pass—this time. (However, having a maintenance issues on any rig raises the question, What’s wrong and how hard would it be it to fix?) A trailer provides a sense of security, but at the cost of not only the trailer itself but also a tow rig, insurance, and the space necessary to store all of these items.

So does it make more sense to trailer your rig or drive it to the trail? There’s certainly something to be said for driving your rig to the trail, and the people who do earn a measure of respect in my eyes. But at the same time, no one should look down on the people who trailer their rigs. That you’re out there wheeling is more important than how you got there.

Harry Wagner

Whether I trailer or drive my vehicle directly depends on how far away I’m going. I’m fortunate enough to live an hour away from the Rubicon and Fordyce, so I regularly drive my rigs to these trails. And to be honest, I am proud that I have vehicles that are properly engineered so that I can tackle these difficult trails and then air up the tires and drive home. When I started wheeling, this was my only option since I didn’t have a trailer. But back then I also tended to wheel much closer to home than I do now. Over time I have added a tow rig and a trailer to my stable. Still, everything I own is plated and street legal, which comes in handy when you are running trails like Pritchett Canyon that start and end in different locations. I may trailer to Moab (or Las Cruces, or Rapid City), but I’m driving my rig all around town when I get there.

Verne Simons

Tech Editor
For years I resisted the temptation to trailer off-road rigs to the trail. Trailering just wasn’t for me. I was a build-a-rig-and-daily-drive-it proponent (of course, I’m not sure I could have afforded a trailer and a tow rig at the time). Trailers are fine, but I want to drive. That’s a feeling I have wavered on, but still to this day I almost always want to drive a rig rather than load it up on a trailer. The trip to the trailhead is part of the experience even when it means pounding the pavement on a hot day in a 4x4 without A/C or a nice radio. Having said all that, I have and will trailer rigs to various events around the country. That’s because having a tow rig and a trailer just makes sense sometimes. Driving a rig to the trail is best left for those days when you have ample time to deal with the fun and adventure of such an undertaking.

Trent McGee

Nuts & Bolts author
I’ve done a lot of both, and I have to say I personally prefer trailering mostly for peace of mind. It’s more fun trying harder lines and pushing the limits of the rig when you know you can just rake the pieces back on the nearby trailer. When I know I’ll have to rely on the rig to get me home, I tend to be more conservative and take it easy. Unfortunately, hectic schedules often mean a limited amount of time to go four-wheeling, and I can usually cover long distances more quickly in my tow rig than I can in my trail rigs. Less time in transit means more time on the trails. But if I’m just wheeling locally, the trailer usually stays at home.

I guess it boils down to why you are trailering. If it’s because you’re traveling a great distance to go four-wheeling or your wheeling tastes are on the more extreme end and there’s a higher likelihood of breakage, that’s fine. If you’re trailering because of that wicked driveline vibration above 40 mph, or the gearing in your rig leaves the engine screaming at highway speeds, or you’re not sure how much longer the engine is going to stay together, that’s a different story. A trailer shouldn’t be a crutch for shoddy maintenance, a major compromise on a build, or an unaddressed issue.

Christian Hazel

Buying a trailer was one of the worst things I ever did for myself in this 4x4 hobby. You do dumb things when you have a trailer. There’s little-to-no sense of vehicular preservation because you know you only have to make it back to camp, not all the way home.

Not only does trailering your rig to the dirt increase your chances of making foolish decisions on the trail, but it also causes you to make foolish decisions in the garage. Years ago I removed the Spicer 18 and Overdrive setup from my 1953 Willys flatfender and installed a Dana 300 with 32-spline output shafts and non-CV driveshafts with offset trunions to live with the angularity. I created a bombproof setup, but I also made that vehicle all but undrivable on the street. And why? I had never busted a T-case output shaft or driveshaft U-joint before the change. But trailer . . . hardcore . . . trail only. Bah. Driving your trail rig on the street is one of the great joys of this hobby. Do yourself a favor and drive your hardcore 4x4. It’s an important element in what we do.