- You can have creature comforts even when you're way off grid
- It allows you to have a basecamp for making forays deeper into the wilderness with your vehicle, bike, or on foot
- You have a safe means of having your supplies in the backcountry, yet inaccessible to predators
- You can have the trailer ready to go at a moment's notice when the mood strikes to get away and take photos
- Balance the weight in the tow vehicle too. Try to put heavy items in the middle of the vehicle to help balance out the tongue weight of the trailer.
- Lower the tire pressure when going off-road. This improves the ride while also giving the trailer and your tow vehicle a bit of a break on tough terrain.
- Use 4-low when going downhill. This is especially important when traveling down slick or slippery surfaces. Having a trailer with electric brakes will help slow you down without burning up your vehicle's brakes.
- If you get high-centered, use a Hi-Lift Jack to lift the trailer up. You can then use a shovel to build up the ground underneath the airborne wheel to get up and over the obstacle.
- Have a couple of gas cans to extend your vehicle's range. You won't get maximum fuel economy towing a trailer, so having spare gas can save you a lot of trouble. I have two four-gallon gas cans specifically for this reason.
If you follow PhotographyTalk, you probably know that we've started a new series called Photography Trek and Adventures.
Part of this series involves overlanding and doing so safely. That's the subject of today's tutorial.
But simply having these things isn't good enough for overlanding. I need to use them safely.
You can get a complete tour of my Turtleback Expedition trailer in the video above.
As an added bonus, there's a quick tour of the Arizona-based facility where the trailer was made.
With that, let's get to a few tips for overlanding safely!
Why an Off-Road Trailer?
The whole point of our Photography Trek and Adventure series is to highlight the many possibilities there are for getting out there and taking photos in your own backyard.
Living in southern California as I do, there is no shortage of places to explore. But in this era of social distancing, I want to get off the beaten path and explore places that allow me to be away from people.
My old Volvo was a good four-wheel-drive option. But it didn't have the ground clearance or the towing capacity for getting way out there.
So, I saddled up with a Jeep and an off-road worthy trailer.
Now, I didn't decide to pickup an off-road trailer on a whim. I researched for months and learned that an off-road trailer offers tons of benefits:
For me, these benefits made an off-road camper a much more viable option than something like a camper van or simply sleeping in my car. Plus, being able to unhook the trailer and still have use of my Jeep is a huge bonus.
Additionally, the Turtleback Expedition allowed me to add a roof-top tent on top, so not only do I have a trailer with a kitchenette, a solar system, and tons of storage, but I also have a comfortable place to rest my head at night!
What to Look for in an Off-Road Trailer
The options available with off-road trailers are mindboggling, but there are a few must-haves from my point of view.
First, be sure that it's actually specifically built for off-road use.
You want something that is ruggedly constructed and that can handle the rough-and-tumble trek overland. This includes having proper clearance so the trailer can get over obstacles as easily as the tow vehicle.
Second, an articulating hitch is a must for overlanding. Having the freedom of 360-degree rotation and movement on three axes will help you get through dicey terrain without damage to your tow vehicle or trailer.
Third, I wanted a trailer with electric brakes. There are a lot of steep grades in Southern California, and I didn't want to stress the brakes of the Jeep too much. Having electric brakes means the trailer can assist in slowing things down.
Fourth, an off-road trailer needs to have recovery points in the event you get stuck. For example, my Turtleback trailer has a 2-inch on-frame receiver on the back. Likewise, I have a Hi-Lift Jack that I can use to side winch in case the trailer tips over (or if I come upon someone else who's trailer has tipped). Having a powered winch on the front bumper of the tow vehicle is a good idea, but side winching with a Hi-Lift jack is much simpler to do.
Finally, be sure you inspect the kind of suspension the trailer has.
Like I mentioned before, I looked for months for an off-road trailer, and while I found many that looked good, upon researching their suspensions, I found many so-called off-road trailers to have subpar suspensions.
The last thing you want is to bust an axle when you're miles and miles from civilization, so be sure the trailer you invest in has a beefy suspesion that can stand up to the rigors of overlanding.
One of the things that impressed me the most about the Turtleback is the incredible suspension it has. It includes off-road suspension technology, Icon Vehicle Dynamics Remote Reservoir shocks, Hypercoil Custom Wound Dual-Rate Progressive Springs, and Daystar Kevlar Pivot Bushings. Not bad, right?!
Apart from the big-ticket items mentioned above, there are a host of other features that make using your off-road trailer easier.
For example, my Turtleback trailer has lights on the back of the trailer for added illumination. This is really handy when setting up my camp after the sun has set. It's also helpful for backing the trailer into a tight spot.
Also look for safety features that will keep you, your gear, and your trailer safe and sound while overlanding. I'm thinking specifically of the master switch and safety switch that's in my trailer.
You don't want to mess around with electrical or gas, so having the added layer of safety with this safety switch gives me a lot of peace of mind.
Storage is obviously a big deal, too, so be sure you know how much space you have for things like food, clothes, and, of course, your camera gear.
My trailer has more than 55 cubic feet of storage, so I can load up for a long trek and know that everything I'm bringing is safely stowed away and won't be rattling around as I head overland.
Towing an Off-Road Trailer
Towing a trailer off-road (or on-road, for that matter) is no small task. It can be challenging due to terrain, weather, other drivers, your skill behind the wheel, and a host of other factors.
You must practice towing the trailer before you set out. This includes getting a feel for how the added weight behind your vehicle impacts starting and stopping times, turn radius, and the like.
You can't replicate overland driving in the parking lot of your local Walmart. But what you can do is gain confidence in towing your trailer, that way you can get it, your vehicle, and you safely to your destination. Once there, do as much practicing as you can before you dive too deep into the wilderness. Better to learn on easy or moderate trails than sharp hairpin turns 50 miles from the nearest pavement!
I will say this about towing my trailer - it's much easier if I have some water weight in the back.
Having that extra weight helps ground the trailer and makes it less susceptible to fishtailing. It's also easier to tow in windy conditions if there's some weight in the trailer.
So, word to the wise - try to reserve some of your water so that weight can help you out on the drive home.
Speaking of weight, be sure you not only understand the towing capacity of your vehicle, but also how you need to distribute the weight in your trailer.
Typically, you want about 60 percent of the trailer weight in front of the axle and the remaining 40 percent behind the axle. Doing so ensures the proper tongue weight, which should be about 25 percent of the trailer's weight plus cargo.
Additional points to consider:
When you're off-road be very careful when you encounter quick up and downs in the trail.
Even small undulations like this can lead to disaster if you're going to fast. The slow and steady approach will get you much better results!
The same is true of crossing deep gulleys. Though the temptation might be to gun it so you can get up the other side, what will often occur is the hitch will dig into the ground. Speeding up will only make this worse.
Instead, take it slow, and if the hitch buries, be prepared to winch yourself out.
When you're navigating tight spaces, have a friend spot you to avoid getting high-centered or causing damage to the trailer.
The tires on the trailer will take a different path than your vehicle, so having an extra set of eyes will help you get through dicey spots.
As a final point, it's a good idea to have the same-sized wheels and tires on your tow vehicle and your trailer. This enables you to use the spare tire from the vehicle on the trailer if need be.
In my case, I have 35's on the truck and 33's on the trailer, but I have a spare tire for both the truck and trailer. I can do this because I have room. If you can only accommodate one spare, having the same size tires and wheels with the same bolt pattern all the way around is a good plan.