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Tips & Techniques for Off-Roading Outdoorsmen

The road to adventure can be a bumpy one, but using gear and equipment properly can smooth things out.

Tips & Techniques for Off-Roading Outdoorsmen

A proper 2-track trail, established by regular use. It’s important to stay on established trails on both public and private lands. (Photo courtesy of Tony Martins)

During my first backcountry deer hunt over 30 years ago after moving to Arizona, I learned valuable lessons that have served me well on countless off-road adventures since. Operating an auto service center and tire shop in the mountainous, east-central part of the state for 18 of those years added lessons in tire and equipment use and misuse. By sharing some of these experiences, I hope to help others embark on safer and more enjoyable outdoor experiences, free from travel problems and disruptions. Guaranteed!


After a couple of scouting trips and consulting friends, I chose the Timber Camp Mountains and surrounding area for my first Arizona hunt, targeting Coues whitetail. I set up camp around a 24-foot trailer towed in by my hunting vehicle, a heavy-duty 4x4 suburban, which sported two new front tires. Two days before the hunt, I drove to the end of a steep, rocky trail at daylight and hiked to a lookout point to glass for deer. On the way back to my vehicle later that afternoon, I noticed something was wrong with the front end of the truck – a flat tire! The tire was pancake flat on an uneven, rocky surface. Using an aftermarket hi-jacker lift in conjunction with the truck’s jack and rocks for blocks, I was able to install the spare in that precarious location but missed out on prime-time scouting that evening.

The following morning, I awoke to find the other front tire was flat! After inventing a few choice words and emptying two tire inflator cans, I spent the entire day limping around, begging for help, and finally made it to the nearest town, 40 miles away. Both tires – the two I had just purchased – were beyond repair and ruined. One had a “rock-break” in the tread, while the other succumbed to a sidewall puncture. I had to buy two new tires. Due to this setback, the final day of scouting before opening day was lost. Fortunately, I managed to take a nice 4x5 buck on a steep mountainside near the end of the hunt.

Coues whitetail buck on slope in Timber Camp Mountains
Author’s 4x5 Coues whitetail buck, taken on a precariously steep slope in Arizona’s rocky, cactus-laced, tire-destroying Timber Camp Mountains. (Photo courtesy of Tony Martins)

Lessons Learned:

  1. Now, I never go off-roading without two spare tires. With a second spare, I would have been able to drive into town for repair or replacement quickly, possibly in the evening to avoid sacrificing prime deer activity time.
  2. Tires with 3-ply sidewalls are worth the additional cost for the additional protection, particularly in rocky, prickly terrain. Making 5-point U-turns on narrow trails, especially in the dark, exposes sidewalls to unseen damage, like the desert agave spine that caused my sidewall puncture. Falken Tires Wildpeak premium off-road tire line sports proprietary 3-ply sidewall technology – called DURASPEC – on select sizes of their new AT4W All-Terrain, R/T Rugged Terrain, and M/T Mud Terrain models.

4WD TIP: Engage 4-wheel-drive immediately on rough or rocky surfaces, before rear tires slip or bog down. Slippage on rocks can tear rubber. Although not an issue in the above example, I admit to violating this one, particularly with older 4x4 models with manual locking hubs. 4WD is engaged electronically with the push of a button in most modern vehicles, so don’t wait… do it! This saves wear and tear on tires, and drivetrain components as well.


One of my passions is breeding, raising, and training Labrador Retriever bird dogs. Frankly, this has been an excellent excuse to do as much bird hunting as I can get away with! Quail hunting in the west is typically done in rocky, cactus-laced terrain. Duck hunting, however, can occur anywhere – from low desert wetlands and impoundments to high country lakes, streams, and stock watering tanks. My favorite – hunting ducks on an open prairie in cattle country – means driving – sometimes all day – to locate birds. Roads are rough and not maintained, trails are even rougher.

Lee Valley Lake in Arizona
Hunting ducks at Lee Valley Lake, Arizona’s highest elevation lake at 9420 feet, in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, where surprise snowstorms are not uncommon. (Photo courtesy of Tony Martins)

Where I often hunt, the soil is a mixture of clay and organics that will suck your boots off when wet and it is littered with tire-shredding volcanic rock called Malapai. Low areas can become impassible bogs after steady rain, or the occasional snowstorm, and these are typically near stock tanks where ducks aggregate. On the way to one of these tanks years ago, my partner and I, unprepared as we were, suffered through our worst episode of stuck-in-the-mud.

With a half-dozen deeply rutted, water-filled tracks on each side of the trail – now underwater – I attempted to drive around the farthest track out…and failed. The old Jeep Wagoneer became stuck, buried to the frame. With no extraction tools, except a shovel, we labored for eight hours until a passing woodcutter in a lifted truck with mud tires finally helped us out. It was a clear demonstration of the necessity for reliable mud tires like Falken Tires Wildpeak M/T, which are “built to get you there, and back.” Since that humbling experience, I've gone through several sets of mud tires.

muddy suburban
It’s wise to be prepared for nasty mud bogs with proper tires and extraction equipment when hunting ducks on the prairie in cattle country. (Photo courtesy of Tony Martins)

Lessons Learned:

  1. Be prepared with the proper tires, tools, and equipment for your outing. On daily or weekend jaunts, I carry the following: shovel, axe/pick, hand saw, hi-jacker lift, tow strap, spiked recovery boards, jump starter, battery cables, fire extinguisher, ratchet straps, nylon rope, hand tools, tire repair kit, tire inflator, flares, first-aid kit, and 2 spare tires. For longer outings, I add a chainsaw, a 6-ton come-along, and two 10-foot heavy-duty chains.
  2. Deflating tires somewhat will add traction to assist with extraction, particularly if the tires have aggressive upper sidewall rubber, like Falken’s Wildpeak line of premium off-road tires, in A/T, R/T and M/T.
  3. Where it’s apparent that others have been unsuccessful, don’t be the next to fail.

EXTRACTION TIPS: (1) Be careful to not deflate tires below 10 psi to avoid breaking the bead and unseating the tire from the rim, which can happen when spinning deflated tires aggressively while stuck. (2) Use a hi-jacker type lift to break suction on the vehicle undercarriage, and lift tires high enough to shove tree branches under them for traction and flotation. (3) When using a tow strap attached to a rescue vehicle, “jerk” the stuck vehicle to get it moving with no more than 5 feet of slack in the strap. Caution – Stand clear for safety in case the strap snaps.


“Ice-out” – when high-country lakes are first accessible in spring – is a favorite time of year for alpine trout fishermen. The fish are anxious to break out from under winter’s ice cap and eat something other than crustaceans and aquatic vegetation. Anglers are happy to oblige, however, getting there can present issues. Snow-covered trails that turn to mud, snowdrifts and ice in shady spots, and rock loosened by weathering pose navigational hazards.

Christmas Tree Lake on the White Mountain Apache Reservation in eastern Arizona
Christmas Tree Lake on the White Mountain Apache Reservation in eastern Arizona, home of the rare Apache Trout. Getting there in the spring on rocky, snowy, icy roads can be an adventure… be prepared. (Photo courtesy of Tony Martins)

Recently, I was among the first to fish Christmas Tree Lake, a crown jewel of the White Mountain Apache Reservation in eastern Arizona. Home to the rare Apache Trout, this 41-acre lake sits at 8,222 feet and is inaccessible before May 1st. Driving to the lake can be rough. Nine miles of paved road winds into the alpine wilderness on State Route 473, south of the SR260 turnoff. This was followed by 13 miles of icy, snowy, muddy, pot-holed primitive road, carved out of tire-shredding volcanic rock. Our drive in my new truck, with off-road suspension and rugged-terrain tires featuring 3-ply sidewalls – like Falken Tires Wildpeak R/T – was uneventful.

Others arriving in camp were less fortunate. Problems included sliding off the slippery trail into trees, and a stalled engine in a lengthy stretch of standing water. Not surprisingly, the most common problem was flat tires caused by rock impact, to both sidewalls and tread. For those of us who arrived at the lake problem-free, fishing was our only concern, and catching the beautiful trout was highly enjoyable!


Releasing an Apache Trout into a lake
Releasing a beautiful Apache Trout at Christmas Tree Lake on the White Mountain Apache Reservation in eastern Arizona. Getting there in the spring on rocky, snowy, icy roads can be an adventure. It’s worth it… but be prepared. (Photo courtesy of Tony Martins)

Lessons Learned:

  1. “Air-Down” when traveling off-road to soften the impact of rocks and hard debris and prevent irreparable “impact-breaks” and punctures. This also improves ride, handling, and control on “wash-boarded” roads. Experts recommend 20 psi as a starting point for most vehicles, dropping to no less than 10 psi, if necessary. Low pressure increases the contact patch of the tire, increasing traction on loose surfaces and flotation in mud, snow, and sand.
  2. Sliding off a slick trail can happen when tread on the front tires fills with mud or packed snow to the point where steering control is lost. Excessive speed for the conditions is often a factor. Tires with void spacing and shoulders designed to clear mud and snow – like Falken Tires Wildpeak M/T – offer better control to assist in avoiding this potential problem.


Many years ago, my dad, friends and I embarked on a 10-day, 1500-mile, trout fishing expedition one November, from California to Arizona to Utah. First stop was Lee’s Ferry and Marble Canyon, at the northernmost end of the Grand Canyon drainage. We had three days of great fishing on the Colorado River before a nasty storm moved in on departure day. Heading northwest toward Utah, rain turned to snow as we climbed in elevation to cross the 8,000-foot Kaibab Plateau. Approaching the summit at Jacob Lake, our highway tread tires lost traction, and we came to an abrupt stop with a 16-foot runabout boat in tow. Just a few hundred yards from the lodge and service station, we hiked up the road, hoping to buy tire chains for our 2-wheel drive truck. Unfortunately, it was after 9:00 PM and the station was closed.

After a warming cup of coffee and snacks, a snowplow pulled into the lodge. The driver correctly assumed the stranded truck was ours and offered help. He towed our truck and boat to the lodge and then suggested that we follow him down the highway as he plowed. The plan worked, but it was a white-knuckle drive that I will never forget! On return home, I purchased my first set of “traction” tires. All-terrain tires – like Falken Tires Wildpeak A/T4W – as a category, had not yet been invented.

vintage fishing photo
Vintage photo from the author’s first trip to Lee’s Ferry on the Colorado River, upstream from the Grand Canyon. Fishing was great but travel became hazardous due to poor preparation and having the wrong tires for the conditions encountered. (Photo courtesy of Tony Martins)

Lesson Learned:

  1. Although this snowstorm was a surprise, it’s wise to carry tire chains if snow might be encountered – particularly with a 2-wheel-drive vehicle!

SNOW TRAVEL TIP: Falken Tires' all-new Wildpeak A/T4W all-terrain tire is rated for “severe snow service” and thus, branded with the three-peak mountain snowflake symbol (SPMSF) on the sidewall. Tires with this rating provide a higher level of traction on packed snow than all-season tires rated M+S (mud and snow) and are an excellent option for SUVs as well.


  1. Slow down. Traffic control agencies report that excessive speed is the cause of most accidents. Off-roading is no exception. Most people do not realize the tremendous force a tire at speed exerts on impact with a potentially damaging object, like a jagged or upturned rock. Consider that reducing off-road speed by half – from say, 40 mph to 20 mph – reduces the likelihood of an impact break 4-fold.
  2. For vehicles used primarily on-road – where aggressive tires are not a practical option – consider carrying two mud tires for spares. These can be installed for off-road traction when needed, including on the front axle to assist with steering under extreme conditions, particularly in hilly terrain.
  3. Remember to air-up to normal operating pressure on return to pavement. Running under-inflated tires at speed can lead to overheating, excessive tread wear, and reduced fuel economy.


tire trail in field
Not a proper trail – A set of fresh tracks across an open meadow, made by an inconsiderate off-roader, who left the established trail trying to get a better view of the pronghorn herd bedded in the trees ahead. The author was stalking the herd on foot when this individual spooked them. (Photo courtesy of Tony Martins)

With more people participating in off-roading than ever before, understanding, and practicing, off-road etiquette is essential. Here are a few considerations:

  • Stay on roadways and trails. Vehicles are heavy and compact soil, damaging natural vegetation, inhibiting future plant growth, and increasing potential for erosion. Twice in the past year I have witnessed impatient individuals drive off-trail, leaving deep ruts, to pass a slower vehicle. Don’t be that guy.
  • Rock bars are built for erosion control, as well as to discourage motorists from proceeding on a trail that may not be officially closed, but under consideration for closure, without signage. Don’t drive over them.
  • Speeding past animals, domestic and wild, is bad business. It’s also dangerous. Injuring livestock can be costly and cause ranchers to deny access. Slow down, be observant and considerate.
  • Dust control is the responsibility of the vehicle operator. Be considerate of your dust plume on dry trails, particularly near buildings, agriculture, and livestock, and when approaching other vehicles.
  • Yield to vehicles traveling uphill, as well as groups of vehicles, allowing enough room for safe passage.
  • Gates are routinely encountered today on trails and backroads. If you open a gate, close it, and close it properly, after passing through.
  • Camping near waterholes discourages livestock and wildlife from drinking and is illegal in many states. Don’t.
  • Always leave trails and camping areas better than you found them.
  • Reckless driving is a serious problem, particularly on public lands where others might be subjected to the recklessness. Common sense goes a long way toward ensuring a safe and enjoyable off-roading experience for all.

Time for new tires? The Falken Tires Wildpeak line-up offers features and capabilities to conquer the most challenging environments, giving drivers confidence on- and off-road, in any terrain, any time of year.

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