Tires and air pressure: what’s the deal?

Let’s say you are one lucky son-of-a-gun who just bought a new Jeep Wrangler, Toyota 4Runner, or Ford Bronco. Once you get home, you start browsing the internet and social media and you discover there are groups all over the country that are specific to your brand, specific to the hobby of “overlanding,” and specific to 4-wheeling. You want to start buying gear for your badass off-road rig, but you have no idea where to start. My guess is the shiny upgrades like wheels, big tires, and a suspension lift are the first thing on most people’s mind. I’m here to tell you that’s not the route to go, and here’s why.

My suggestion is pretty simple: get to know your vehicle and it’s capabilities in stock form. You’d be pretty surprised at some of the cool trails and obstacles that you can tackle with a stock Jeep or Toyota. Be cognizant of what kind of equipment your vehicle has: is it optioned with front/rear lockers? Does it have skid plates or rock rails? A big one is this: what kind of tires does your vehicle have? If it’s on some basic run-of-the-mill street tires, the first modification you should consider is to upgrade to an all-terrain (A/T) or mud-terrain (M/T) tire. Doing so will be much more valuable and beneficial than new wheels or a suspension lift.

The second suggestion I’ve got is to make sure you invest money in high quality recovery gear. Some examples of awesome recovery gear that won’t break the bank are tow straps:

Tow straps are used to pull other vehicles out of sticky situations, and they can also be used to pull a vehicle with mechanical issues off of the trail. You should also buy shackles so that the strap can be used properly with your vehicle. If your vehicle isn’t equipped with a bumper with recovery points, you can purchase a hitch-mounted recovery point that slides into the receiver of your tow hitch. As a general rule, it’s not a good idea to use tow hooks as recovery points. Tow hooks are designed to hold a vehicle down on a tow truck- so they don’t have the strength needed to act as a recovery point with a tow strap or yank rope.

In addition to tow straps, and shackles, I recommend making sure that you have a first-aid kit, some basic vehicle repair tools, duct tape, JB-Weld, and anything else you could need for trail repairs. Also, don’t forget to keep an extra set of clothes, some water, and a long-lasting source of food (energy bars, etc.) in case you get stuck for a long period of time. My mantra has always been it’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. So, to review thus far: spend your money on high-quality tires and recovery gear before you get into the glamorous upgrades of wheels, suspension lifts, Offroad lights, etc.

Another relatively easy tactic to improve your vehicle’s off-road capability without spending a whole lot of money is to air-down your tires at the beginning of the trail. By reducing the tire pressure in your tires to about 17-20 p.s.i., you are actually widening the contact patch of the tire on the ground, which leads to way better traction on surfaces like rocks, snow, and sand. Another benefit is the tire becomes softer, which results in a better ride quality on the trail. There’s a lot of options for methods of tire deflation- but none are as easy as our system- the Thor’s Lightning Air Systems multi-tire deflation/inflation/equalization systems take all the guesswork out of deflating your tires- it automatically equalizes the tire pressure among all four tires, and gives you a single digital gauge readout so you know when you’ve hit that magic 17-20 p.s.i. Bonus: you can also use the system as a single-tire pressure gauge with the optional Tire Pressure Gauge accessory.

My hope is that you found this article useful- I’m a big fan of utilizing basic modifications in the beginning before going whole-hog on your rig. Now, I should are you that the hobbies of off-roading and overloading (vehicle-based camping) are extremely addictive! My Jeep that you see (with the trusty Midsize Air System attached, ha!) is about to look a whole lot different- bigger tires, bigger lift, new axles, new gears, etc. Before all that stuff though, I made sure I had good recovery gear and that I knew the basics of improving traction on the trail: managing tire pressure. Trust me when I say those basics will get you to where 99% of people are afraid to go in their pedestrian SUVs!

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