Best Off Road Vehicle List – Dodge Power Wagon

7. Dodge Power Wagon

The Dodge Power Wagon is one of the original off-road vehicles produced in the United States since the middle 1940s. The original version of the truck was based on the Dodge WW II military truck, and it has been an excellent off-road vehicle since that time. The original design of the vehicle was so tight, that it lasted into the 1970s. The newer models include improvements in style and even comfort items for those who don’t spend a lot of their time off-road in the vehicle. The current version of the Power Wagon includes large axels with lockers and a manual transmission 4:1 transfer case. The truck features a 126 inch wheelbase, and it comes with three different engine sizes to choose from: 3.8 liter (230 cubic inch) Flathead I6, 4.1 liter (251 cubic inch) Flathead I6, or a 5.2 liter (318 cubic inch) LA V8. No matter which variant you choose to drive, you are in for a fun time off-road with the Power Wagon.

Best Off Road Vehicle List – Jeep CJ-7

6. Jeep CJ-7 (1976-1986)

The Jeep CJ-7 was perhaps the most popular off-road vehicle produced between 1976 and 1986. With a 93.5 inch wheel-base, and a three speed T-150 transmission, the CJ-7 can just go places other 4×4 vehicles cannot. The CJ was available with three choices of engine type, the 232 cubic inch I-6, 258 I-6, or the 304 V-8. Many Jeep fans believe that the true “Era of the Jeep” ended when the last CJ was produced in 1986. When the model was first produced, it added an additional 10 inches of wheelbase to the vehicle when compared to previous models and it also include wider rear leaf springs that helped deliver a much more stable ride. Fans of the CJ-7 also love how easy it is to modify the vehicle with a lift kit, basic tools, and to even change out the engine. The CJ-7 remains one of the best off-road vehicles every produced.

Best Off Road Vehicle List – International Harvester Safari

5. International Harvester Safari II (1977-1979)

The International Harvester Safari II or the Super Scout II, was an American-made off-road vehicle produced in direct competition with the Jeep CJ. Also referred to as the “Cornbinder,” The Safari II / Super Scout II is one of the few 4×4’s that could be taken direct to work off road or to enjoy the trails from the dealership. It featured a whopping 106.5 inch wheelbase, and in later models had a V-8 (345 cubic inch) engine driving the T427 (BW-T19) manual transmission. The 1977-1979 models of the vehicle were the culmination of more than 10 years of tweaking with the vehicles design, axles, and engine), and remained a purpose-built automobile through the end of the decade.

Best Off Road Vehicle List – Ford Bronco

Ford Bronco (1966-1977)

The 4×4 Ford Bronco debuted in 1966 and was one of three true off-road choices for consumers in the United States at the time due to parts support for foreign made vehicles being almost non-existent. The Bronco from this era remains one of the best off-road vehicles produced, and it includes a 92 inch wheel base allowing it to enjoy a “Jeep-like” turning circle of just 33.8 feet. Later models of the Bronco could be purchased with Ford’s V8 (302 inch) engine), and the Dana 44 was debuted in 1971 for under the hood. The production line for the original Bronco lasted until 1978 when the company shifted the line to a F-150 based SUV. Despite this, you can still find models that are off-road worth, and they feature the Ford 3.03 three speed manual transmission which is fun to drive.

See our previous article for best off road vehicle here.

Best Off Road Vehicle List – Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

2. Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

The Jeep Wrangler Rubicon is a compact, four-wheel drive, off-road SUV that is one of the best off road vehicles every produced by a company. The vehicle is produced by Chrysler under the Jeep brand, and it is not directly related to the Jeep of WW2 fame. The small size makes the Rubicon perfect for driving on tight trails, and it features great off-road tires, a 4:1 transfer case, six speed transmission, a high torque inline six engine, an option for automatic transmission for those who can’t drive a manual one, and the ability to remove the hard top or zip down the soft top depending on the driver’s preference for configuration. The Rubicon comes with air conditioning, a heater, and a radio, with a number of “add-on’s” available during different years of production of the vehicle.

Best Off Road Vehicle List – Chevy Blazer

The Chevrolet K5 Blazer was built between 1988 and 1991 and gave off-road enthusiasts a full-size 4×4 vehicle that was just fun to drive off-road. The K5 was sold with the option of either a 5.7 liter 210 horsepower V8 or optionally a 6.2 liter V8 diesel with 130 horsepower. Assessed to have some of the best gearing amongst the popular off-road vehicles, the K5 also has a nice wheelbase at 106.5 inches and a removable top for those who like to feel the elements when going off of the highway. Chevy made some significant improvements to the V8 in the 1990 model which included a redesigned rear crankshaft seal amongst other upgrades. The tight turning radius of the SUV helped it go further off-road in tight places that larger trucks could manage as well. And like all off road vehicles, ensure to add LED Light Bars to be able to see at night.

Best Off Road Vehicle List – Toyota FJ40

1. Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser (1974 – 1983)

The Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser was one of the best off-road vehicles every produced. The Land Cruiser is well-known for needing little to no modifications straight out of the factory and its stock four wheel drive was capable of overcoming just about any obstacle placed in its path by the driver. There are still FJ40s found throughout the world with more than several hundred thousand miles on them with both the stock engine as well as a popular Chevy small-block that produced even more power and better fuel economy. The vehicle is able to comfortably fit two adults in the front with two small children or equipment in the back of the auto. Air conditioning and power steering did not appear in the vehicle builds until 1979, and front disc brakes became standard in 1975. It’s smart to add a few after market LED Lights to ensure safety at night.

Guide to Off Roading

Today’s trucks are amazing machines. They’re built to comfortably handle highways, but are just as adept once your turn off the pavement and onto the dirt. And, really, what’s the point of 4×4 if you’re not actually going to use it, at least occasionally? But simply going off-road isn’t as simple as it sounds. It’s an adventure that can be challenging and confusing, especially if you’re not prepared. To help remove a little of the worry, we talked to some experts and asked them to explain some of the basics of heading into the wilderness on four wheels.

1. Understand Your Vehicle

Your truck has a number of key systems that play a role off-road. It’s important to understand them, and what they do.

Traction Control: Most modern 4×4 vehicles will have some level of traction control. Depending on what conditions the vehicle was designed to conquer, it could have a simple on/off setting, or a complex system with multiple settings programmed for different traction situations. No matter the system, traction control uses either the brakes and/or the 4×4 mechanicals to limit wheel slip and ensuring torque is being transferred from the tire to the trail. “Traction control tells the onboard computer how to monitor wheel spin and it will brake accordingly to keep the vehicle moving forward,” adds Clay Croft, Creator and Expedition Leader of Expedition Overland. Since there are so many kinds of traction control systems, we encourage you to read up on yours and its many settings in your owner’s manual.

4WD High vs. 4WD Low: Low and High speeds refer to the gearing of your transfer case. 4WD High is what you drive around in day to day. It allows for better top-end speed but lower torque to the wheels when stopped. When you go to 4WD Low, you have more torque on low-end speeds, but your top speed is maxed out pretty quickly. “In short: when you need a lot of low-end power at low speeds on the trail, go to 4WD Low,” Croft says. “When you need to travel fast and keep momentum, you need to be in 4WD High.”

Locking Differentials: A locking differential essentially locks the turning of the left and right wheel together. In normal on-road driving, the wheel on the inside of a corner turns more slowly, as it travels less distance than the outside. In this instance, you’d want the wheels to turn at different speeds. In an all-wheel-drive system, the computer is constantly making adjustments, shifting power to where it’s needed most. On the trail, however, this inconsistent speed between the left and right sides can lead to a loss of traction, as the power will go to the wheel with the least resistance — often the wheel that’s slipping or not getting traction. That’s why you want the ability to go full-time 4×4. Doing this forces both wheels to spin at the same rate, ensuring the power remains with the wheel with the most traction. In the old days you had to get out and manually lock the hubs, but most new 4x4s allow you to lock the differentials using just a button push. “If you can buy a vehicle with a factory locker in it, you are ahead of the game as a novice getting into this world,” said Croft. “Being able to get into a vehicle that has a locking differential in it is a huge plus for the off-road capability of that vehicle.”

2. Do You Need Any Special Equipment?

Tires: Getting a good set of tires to match the most common types of surfaces and terrain that you’re going to encounter is essential. Tires are what ensure traction between your vehicle and the terrain. Their importance cannot be overstated. No matter how stout your rig, if it doesn’t have good tires, it’ll be feckless, and mud tires are different than tires for sand and rock. We suggest you go to a local tire shop and talk to some experts.

Suspension: Don’t make the common mistake of getting a cheap body lift kit. Believe it or not, a fundamental element to off-road vehicle reliability is the shock absorber; it’s the thing that takes all the abuse of the trail and helps to not translate it to the vehicle or driver. Think of suspension as one of your biggest foundational elements to building your vehicle, because, as you go to add new things — a drawer system for organization, for example, or a rooftop tent — you’ll burden the suspension even more. And the more your suspension can handle, the easier your trek will be.

Bumpers: Sometimes referred to as bull bars, aftermarket front bumpers protect the front of your vehicle from rock, tree, brush, and animal strikes, as well as other unavoidable trail obstacles. Off-roaders might also consider a back bumper, depending on what sort of driving you’re doing. A lot of aftermarket bumpers allow you to relocate the spare tire from underneath the vehicle and put it on the back of the vehicle, which, in the event of having a flat tire or being stuck in the mud hole and needing to swap that tire out, ensures it’s not buried under your vehicle when you need it.

Maxtrax: Designed by Australian Brad McCarthy, this is a traction device that goes under your wheels and allows you to crawl out of a hole by regaining traction and momentum. When you lose either traction or momentum, you’re more than likely going to get stuck or lose control. And when you start to lose traction, often you can’t regain the momentum essential to getting your vehicle going again. Maxtrax help you regain traction, to get up out of whatever you’re stuck in, and give you momentum back.

Winch: A winch is one of the first things that people mention: I need a winch if I’m going to go out in the back country! And they’re not wrong; it is an essential active recovery system. That said, winches require some pretty specific skill sets to use safely, and you’ll need some training to operate one effectively. A winch is invaluable when a vehicle is in a precarious situation, and when slow methodical recovery needs to take place. Bear in mind, there are a lot of cheap winches out there. As tempting as it might be to purchase an inexpensive one, the last thing you want is a cheap winches failing on your right when you need it most. So invest in a high-quality winch. It’s worth the money. Because you might not need a winch often, but when you do need it, you need it bad.

Snatch Straps: Snatch straps are a dynamic recovery strap, which is different than a tow strap. Think of climbing ropes; you have static and dynamic lines. A static rope is good for rappelling because it doesn’t stretch. A dynamic rope, however, is made for lead climbers; when they fall, it stretches and absorbs the energy of the fall. Snatch straps use that energy-absorbing stretch in reverse. “The recovery vehicle will back up with a little bit of momentum and load the stretch into that snap strap,” says Croft. “That energy that is now stored into that snatch strap. It will pull and release a vehicle out of the mud or the snow or whatever. It’s not a jerk; it’s dynamic.” This tactic should not be used with tow straps, though, as they do not stretch. Also, do not try to tow a stuck vehicle by attaching to a trailer hitch ball. They will snap and go flying off like a bullet.

Snorkel: If the nose of your vehicle is going into deep water, you run the risk of injesting water into the engine through the air intake and ruining it. Three pumps of a water-filled cylinder will total an engine. A common way to mitigate water ingestion is to equip your vehicle with a snorkel, which draws in air from near the roof of the vehicle.

LED Lights: Going off road sometimes leads you into the night. To get home safely you need the right lights. LED Light bars are one of the best options since they require very little battery power with the maximum light output. Some LED Light Bars are 10,000 lumens of light…and that is guaranteed to get you home safely in the dark.

3. Are you Prepared for Worst-Case Scenarios?

First-Aid Kit: A basic survival first-aid kit is important to carry. Though the kit won’t be able to solve all first-aid needs, a good one will have what you need to stop blood loss, patch and clean simple wounds, and tide you over until help arrives.

Seat-belt Cutter & Glass Breaker: There are scenarios in which you may need to cut your seat belt, break a window, and make an emergency exit from your vehicle. “I keep the Benchmade Houdini in the ashtray of all my vehicles,” Croft says. “Ashtrays aren’t used much these days and it’s an easily accessible place, if I should need to get out of my vehicle in a pinch.”

Fire Extinguisher: The last thing you need is for your rig to burn to the ground when you’re out on the trail. Affixing a fire extinguisher in the cab is an easy way to prevent fire damage. Plus, it looks cool.

Warm clothes:“Prepare your vehicle for the conditions you might encounter,” Croft says. “You will need to have the adequate clothing to be able to survive 24 hours outside the vehicle.” Even though your truck will have heat, if the engine isn’t running or a window breaks, you will be exposed to the elements. This means more than a rain layer — bring cold-weather insulation as well. It’s never bad to keep a couple blankets in the back or under a seat.

Food & Water: Always carry enough food for the maximum occupancy of the vehicle — even if you’re not hauling more than one passenger. The minimum should be at least one granola bar and one bottle of water per seat in the car. More is always welcome. “Iodine pills are also a good thing to carry,” Croft adds. “They don’t take up any space and can increase your access to drinkable water.”

4. Be Fully Aware of What You’re in For

Prepare Your Recovery: You need to think ahead and prepare for recovery, should you encounter any problems. Have a plan for if you get stuck, and what you’re going to do to get out, because that’s going to aid in when you decide to call it quits. Another key: once you realize you’re stuck, stop. Don’t keep spinning, that just makes it worse. You’ll know when you’re about to get stuck when you’re applying an even amount of throttle and you’re slowing down or losing momentum. As soon as you realize you’re losing momentum, stop the vehicle; don’t wait for it to get stuck. If you stop before it sticks on its own, it’s going to make the recovery much faster. Make sure you know where your tow strap is. Locate trees, etc. to which you can hook your winch. And have your Maxtrax easily accessible.

Airing Down: The best off-roaders — the people who get into places where other people can’t go — understand how to maintain traction. One quick way to help maintain traction is to air down your tires to around 20 to 25 psi. Airing down your tires increases the overall length of the tire tread in contact with the ground by 80 percent. Not only does airing down increase the traction patch, it also allows the rubber to transform to the shape of the ground, giving you more bite into whatever surface you’re dealing with. That pertains to rocks, particularly, as well as mud and other slippery surfaces. When you get into tricky surfaces like very deep mud or snow, lengthening the tread by airing down increases your float — the ability for your vehicle to sit on top of the surface, versus digging down and just getting stuck.

Activating Lockers: Remember that locking the differentials is critical to traction in slippery conditions — it essentially forces both wheels to turn at the same rate.


5. Do You Understand the Different Kinds of Conditions?

Mud, Sand, and Snow: Though seemingly distinct conditions, in terms of traction, mud, sand and snow are handled pretty much the same way. As such, many 4×4 makers will have a single traction control setting dedicated to all three.

That said, let’s focus on traversing mud, which can be the trickiest of the group. “First there are a couple things that you need to consider: How deep the mud is and how far you have to travel through it,” Croft says. “If it’s really deep and really far, you may not want do it at all. If it is within what you think you’re capable of driving, these are the things to do.” Air down to around 20 pounds of pressure. Then put your vehicle in 4WD high and turn traction control off. If you can select a gear, choose a higher gear so that you can toss more mud away and allow your mud tires to self-clean.

“Typically any off-roading, I would recommend going in four high,” says Filip Tomik, 4×4 Systems Development /Calibration Engineer for Ford. “Four low is a unique 4×4 setting and it’s predominantly used if you are doing a lot of sand dune driving.” To tackle any of these three conditions, you’re also going to need a lot of momentum, so you don’t want to be in too low of a gear. For sand, as with mud, it’s all about managing horsepower. So you want to put your vehicle in a position to maximize the horsepower and get through the tacky stuff. “In deep sand, you’d think that 4 Low is ideal,” added Tomik.”But actually you want 4 High, because when the sand starts grabbing the side of the tire, you start taxing the power train very quickly, which will start giving a lot of torque to negotiate the terrain.”

Rock:“When you get into rock, it’s more than likely you’re in what’s called a ‘crawl situation.'” says Croft.”You need to be methodical and precise with the movement and the power and the traction of the vehicle. If not, you’re going to get hung up on something. It’s important to keep speed low, because you could cause vehicle damage from something that hits your vehicle.”

So, air down and put the vehicle into 4WD low. Then pick a line, knowing which one best suits the approach, breakover, and departure angles of your vehicle. You also need to know the height, width, wheelbase of the rig, and the clearance of your differentials. If you don’t know these off-hand, your owner’s manual should specify. If you have an adjustable suspension, raise it up. Also, if you can select a “Rock” setting on your traction control, do that as well. As you roll into the rock, use a very light and consistent throttle. Managing the power with a delicate foot is the key to success in rock. Because you’re in a really low gear and the power is very responsive, you need to relax and slow down how you manage the throttle and keep it really smooth for a precise crawl.

Water fording: “Water fording is one of the most dangerous things that you could do to your vehicle…and potentially to you, so it needs to be done correctly,” Croft says. First, walk into the water source — especially if you can’t see the bottom. At a minimum, you need to have a clear understanding of its depth and what’s under the surface. The best way to do that is to check it out with your feet. Once you know how deep it is and what’s underneath, you can make a plan to cross. But respect its power: Two feet of rushing water is enough to sweep a car away.

When you’re ready to go, angle the truck slightly upstream. When you enter the water, you’ll create what is called a “wake bow.” You’ll then want to keep enough speed to maintain the wake bow, as it effectively lowers the level of water around the sides of your vehicle. As you drive across the water, it will push you downstream a little bit, so plan the drift on where you want to get out.

Finally, if the water’s deeper than your grill, you’re going to want a snorkel. So study the route ahead of time.

6. A Few Final Things to Consider

Be Cautious of Whip: On difficult terrain, try to keep your thumbs outside the steering wheel, to account for something called “whip.” If the wheel is suddenly snapped in one direction or another, it can hurt your wrists, or worse, break your thumbs. Keep in mind this is mostly a problem in vehicles without a power steering damper box. Generally speaking, newer cars with damper boxes won’t suffer whip.

Don’t Over Steer: Try not to over steer when in ruts and on angles. When one side of your vehicle is up on an incline but the other is on flat ground, it feels natural to counteract the weight shift or unnatural lean by steering up toward the incline. Try to avoid it, as keeping the wheel straight is safest. Also, there will be times when your tires are locked into ruts previously cut by other vehicles. These ruts will be weirdly cut and cause your wheels to wander to the right or the left. Do not, however, let the steering wheel wander to the left or right. Even though the vehicle is still tracking straight, due to the ruts, your steering system could be at full lock. The issue there is that as soon as you leave the rut and fully regain traction, your vehicle might steer sharply to one side or the other, leading you into a tree, rocks, or other trail impediments.

Left Foot Braking: If you’re going to be doing lots of off-roading, it’s a good idea to master a technique called left-foot braking. And it’s as simple as it sounds. Keep your right foot on or over the accelerator pedal and apply the brakes with your left foot, rather than using your right foot for both pedals, the way we were all taught. Why? Because it can save you precious seconds and also give you a lot better vehicle control when you’re in rocks or other technical terrain.

This technique can also be used to apply power more evenly. You can use your right foot to keep your engine at 3,000 RPM and use the slow release of the brake with the left to apply that even level of torque to the ground. Utilize this technique sparingly, however, as you can burn out the brakes.

C.A.R: “This acronym was taught to me by the famous off-road racing driver Ivan Stewart. It stands for: Comfortable, Accurate, and Relaxed,” Croft says. What’s it mean? If you can comfortably drive down the road in a relaxed enough manner to keep a cup of coffee in the cup holder, then you know that you are within the vehicle’s and your capabilities and you’re not in danger of hurting the vehicle or yourself.

* This article is part of The Code, an editorial partnership between Road & Track and Ford F-150.

Off Road Driving Skills

Off Road Driving Skills

North America  encompasses 6.8 million square miles. Less than 0.1 percent of that is paved roadway. So, to see North America, to really know the place, you need to keep rolling after the street ends.

But don’t be intimidated. With mild modification, most four-wheel-drive vehicles, including pickups, can handle recreational wheeling. 13 Provinces and forty-one states offer Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) areas, backcountry trails on public land sequestered for motorized play. Places that are hard to get to and amazing to see once you’re there.  That doesn’t mean you should just hop in your truck and head out there.

Whether you’re just planning a day trip or a longer expedition. Leave being prepared. Preparation is most important thing to consider before you head off road.

Always be prepare. Whether its a travel medical kit or survival flashlight, be prepared with your provisions list: never assume you’ll have access to food, water, fuel, medication, or cell service. Protect anything that’s vulnerable to the elements. Paper maps, for example, can go inside a transparent zip bag. Aim to be self-sufficient. This is called building a bug out and you should have this if you want to go off road.

For vehicle upgrades, focus on tires, shocks, and LED lighting. Don’t cut corners, but shop smart; a couple grand buys serious capability. Still, Bower says, “they’re just tools.” Success ultimately rests with the person behind the wheel.

A huge mistake you can make is failing to respect the power of the terrain. Nature doesn’t let you hide from it. You will be soon tested by Mother Nature on how well you prepared.

One challenge for drivers who are used to pavement driving is learning to see those obstacles—boulders, logs, debris—as assets.

Trying to avoid the obstacles can lead to drivers punching out the side walls or bending bumpers or worse If you see a big, sharp rock on the path make sure you hit it with the center of your tire. It’s the hardest point. Consider you tire like a foot, you never hit the hardest step with your ankle so why would you do it with your tires?

Going off-road means adjusting how you think.

Pay attention to the details. This cannot be stressed enough. Something’s going to happen. The prepared off-roader lifts and assesses. But this all happens very quickly, quicker than you expect, even at 10 mph. Driving off road is an intense kind of awareness, and you might be going over all kinds of lumpy stuff for 12 hours. Oftentimes, people get rolling along and the routine and bumpy road lead to them becoming distracted. It’s kind of like driving the commute home from work. You sometimes wonder where the last 20 miles went by but your home.

Co-drivers help newbies stay vigilant. So read online forums for OHV outings or tag along on a four-by-four owners group meet-up. Find somebody who’s experienced, Bower suggests, and let them teach you. But even if you have to go it alone, the going is the important part.