Having a 4x4 at your disposal essentially means nothing is unreachable. You can wade through floods with ease or go over rough roads with no drama. In most cases, that will be the only hurdles most SUVs and pickups will ever have to endure as they are stuck in the city most of the time.
Nothing wrong with that, but these types of vehicles were purpose-built to take on the rough stuff. Most people forget that both pickups and SUVs were originally built for off-road use. It was only later that manufacturers had to make adjustments to 4x4s to suit them for city and highway driving as well.
With that in mind, Ford Philippines recently inivited us on an off-road and camping adventure in Rodriguez, Rizal. Our destination; Mt. Balagbag. It's not a simple drive up the mountain, mind you, as the trip meant we had to rough it out by going off the beaten path to reach the summit.
I'm no stranger to off-roading, but I'm not particularly adept in it as well. This presented an opportunity to be a refresher for myself as I'm also interested in taking more off-road trails in the future. This particular drive taught me several tips, as well as a few pointers on how to tackle trails.
Know Your Trail
Before anything else, know what you're getting into. In our cars, we had the benefit of being guided by professional off-road experts. If one is planning to duke it out alone, make sure you have an idea of the trail itself and what challenges one may encounter.
For Mt. Balagbag, the trail itself was fairly moderate, but there were some pretty tricky hills and switchbacks. On rainy weather, portions of the trail can become very slippery while mud pits can form easily, particularly just a few hundred meters below the summit.
Take your time, hurry up
First things first, this is a mountain climb, not a Dakar Rally. As much as it looks fun to barrel through the trail at great speed, a slower and steadier approach is the best course of action. Aside from being safer, going over at slower speeds mean drivers will have more control over the vehicle. In addition, the 4x4s have to be set to 4-Low almost all the time to guarantee traction and torque to all four wheels.
However, in such cases where there are slippery mud pits or uneven surfaces, one may have to 'gun it' in order to avoid getting stuck or losing momentum. Be careful, however, of over-revving (overworking) the engine in case your vehicle does get stuck. Have harnesses or a companion vehicle with you to get you out of tough situations. It also won't hurt to ask the locals or other off-roaders to ask for some assistance.
Mind the Gaps
Tall grass, thick shruberry and uneven terrain can hide hidden danger. Tight dirt roads could mean there's a ravine on both sides, while a seemingly shallow puddle can become a deep pool of water if not avoided entirely. When faced with sharp rocks or unknown debris, it would be best to avoid them completely.
In the event they cannot be avoided, one has to make sure that they will have to clear the debris in front of them by going over them, not running over them.
Let the car do it for you
Most 4x4s nowadays are fitted with all the neccesary tech and gizmos to get you through almost anything, and then some. Going down a steep incline? The range-topping Everest Titanium has hill-descent control as standard, making short work of climbing down the mountain. Rocky road up ahead? You can set the Everest's Terrain Management system to Rock mode and you'll be on your way.
Certain 4x4s with manual gearboxes also have a nifty featured called an 'anti-stall' device. Basically, it prevents the engine from stalling so the driver can focus on the task at hand instead of having to work the clutch during first gear.
Keep Moving, Maintain Momentum
Perhaps the most important rule in off-roading is this: when one loses momentum, they run the risk of rolling backwards, or worse, digging themselves deeper in soft soil or mud. Maintaining power is key when one has to climb up steep hills or wade through muddy water. Learn to modulate the throttle and maintain a certain speed for extended periods. Fail to do so and you might find yourself stuck or spinning a tire.
Always have your hands on the steering wheel. It sounds elementary but even the smallest of debris on the trail can suddenly change the direction of where you're going. Also, don't wrap your thumbs around the steering wheel. Should the front tires hit something and change the direction of the car, your thumbs can be dislocated by accident.
Maintain Distance, Follow The Line
Much like highway driving, one has to keep a fair distance between themselves and another car. Should another off-roader roll backwards or suffer damage, one can avoid the oncoming vehicle or simply overtake the other car easily, with the proper distance.
Another benefit of keeping a safe distance between another car is so that you can actually see the line they're taking.
In case you didn't notice, the Ranger Wildtraks and Everests we got to drive during the event were factory-spec, bone-stock units. No suspension lift kits, all-terrain or mud tires, aftermarket power winches or any other mods were installed on the vehicles. Ford wanted to show that both the Everest Titanium and Ranger Wildtrak units were ready for the elements fresh off the showroom. (Did I mention that the new batch of 2016 Ranger Wildtraks now have SYNC 3 and rear differential locks?)
So were we able to reach the summit of Mt. Balagbag? Yes we did. Awaiting us at the mountain top was a maginificent view overlooking Rizal, as well as the surrounding mountain range. Also waiting for us at the summit was our campsite which Ford had prepared. This ain't your typical camping trip, this was 'glamping'. Each tent had an airbed, while snacks, drinks and food were readily available and served by a dedicated crew, truly a nice way to cap off the drive up the mountain.
After getting to drive both the pickup and SUV up and down the trail, I can say that both vehicles were able to rise to the occasion. Sure they suffered some battle scars like dinged stepboards, torn-off mudguards and some paint scratches, but the fact that we were able to climb the summit just goes to show that Ford was able to bring their A-game to the table.
If Ford wanted to prove a point, they sure as hell made one strong statement about what it means to be both tough and smart.