Top Tips: Improve your Driving Skills in Inclement Weather

Top Tips: Improve your Driving Skills in Inclement Weather

by Stephan Edwards

The crew here at Overlander has learned a lot from our adventures both close to home and in far flung places around the globe. We’ve experienced some intoxicating highs, and some deep basement lows - and one thing we’ve learned is that we don’t know it all. We’re still building our overlanding knowledge and discovering lots of new things about travel and about ourselves.

Along the way we’ve picked up useful skills for making your life on the road safer, more comfortable, and a lot more fun. From time to time, we'll share some of those skills with the Overlander community - and we want to hear what you've learned from your time on the trails, too! Be sure to drop a line down in the comments, and on the Overlander Instagram feed and Facebook page.  

 

Toyota Tacoma on ice road

 

One of overland life's certainties is that you will at some point have to drive through some kind of terrible weather. Adventure travel is not all sunshine and epic beach campsites. Ice storm, blizzard, fog, downpour - maybe all four at once - inevitably, you will find yourself behind the wheel when the weather goes sideways. How do you prepare for this contingency? How do you power through when you find yourself in the thick of it? Clay from Expedition Overland has some excellent insight in the video below.

Prepare, Evaluate, Slow Down

When we think about preparing ourselves for difficult driving conditions, it's easy to think first about our vehicle, or our tires, or our recovery and communication tools. Equally important, and before the rest, it pays to prepare mentally. What do we mean by this? First, evaluate the conditions as they develop and ask yourself it you really need to travel on that day. Can your destination or goal wait until the conditions improve? Minimizing risk sometimes means taking no risks at all. If you do decide to drive, prepare your mental approach. Traveling in inclement weather demands more attention and more focus. Are you feeling tired? Distracted? Stressed out? Determine if these mental states will negatively affect your driving. Reconcile yourself with the fact that you will likely reach your destination much later than you may have planned. Trying to hit an arbitrary arrival time when the conditions don't allow for it is a recipe for disaster

4x4 in snow with MaxTrax


In fact, you should embrace the delay. Slow your roll. Never use cruise control. Dialing back speeds will increase your reaction times, decrease your braking distances, and improve traction (not to mention fuel economy). Enjoy the winter wonderland you may be be driving through and use your 4x4 system to its fullest potential. That comes with one important caveat - as Clay says, "four wheel drive is not the same thing as four wheel stop". Modern four wheel drive and traction systems are frighteningly good at propelling your vehicle forward, but they're helpless when it comes to stopping. Braking distances will always be longer in icy and snowy conditions, no matter how good your four wheel drive is. That all depends on your tires. Speaking of which...

Tires for Inclement Weather

As with nearly every possible traction variable you may encounter, your tires will make all the difference. We've discussed tire choice at length here on the Notebook, and there are plenty of choices out there for both the new and the experienced overlander. If you find yourself driving frequently in freezing and wet weather conditions, especially snow, a set of dedicated snow tires will perform over and above all others. Dedicated cold weather rubber compounds and aggressive siping make snow tires the champs in the white stuff, but they're not a year-round solution. The same technologies that make snow tires perform like magic in cold weather lead to fast wear on gravel and squirrelly handling on dry roads.

Land Rover driving through snow


Mud terrain tires, due to their large tread blocks that shed mud, tend to perform poorly in slippery and snowy conditions. The most common compromise for overlanders is the all terrain tire - plenty of off-road traction on dirt and rocks, decent performance on road, and reliable handling and braking on ice and snow. The standard bearer in this segment is the BF Goodrich T/A All Terrain KA02. Found in every corner of the globe and available in dozens of sizes, it's hard to go wrong with the KA02. 

Recovery Tools and Supplies

Sometimes, despite your best preparation, the conditions may get the best of you. You might find yourself stuck on a lonely road somewhere with snow up to your running boards and daylight fading fast. Here is where preparation of your vehicle and recovery equipment is essential. Do you have plenty of fuel? Living in Montana, my long distance winter driving rule is never to let the tank drop below half way (I often carry a spare jerry can of fuel as well). That extra fuel will keep your engine running, and thus you warm and your water from freezing if you find yourself stranded. Ensuring your rig's maintenance is up to date is also key - breakdowns in cold weather can be extra dangerous.

Snowy road through a windshield


Getting unstuck, of course, will solve the problem. Robust, and weight-rated tow straps and snatch straps offer a literal lifeline when another vehicle is available to assist. In fact, you may be called upon to rescue other motorists more often than needing it for yourself, so good training is key. Knowing how to securely extract a stuck vehicle is handy in plenty of situations, and having the right equipment makes it much safer and easier. ARB's line of tow straps and snatch straps are expedition proven and Trail Tested.

When you're truly alone, though, there is no better self-recovery tool than the traction board. Overlander will be shipping MaxTrax orders in August, and these versatile tools can extract you from a wide variety of situations. Pro tip - buy your MaxTrax in bright colors to assist in finding them when they unavoidably get buried under two feet of powder snow.

 


Lastly, keep a small bag of cold weather gear and personal supplies, including water (in the cab of your pickup) and non-perishable food on hand when traveling in bad conditions. You never know when you might need it either for yourself or others. 

What kinds of lousy weather travel tips do you have? Let us know here in the Notebook comments, or on social media! Stay safe out there.


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