Understanding trail ratings is the key to fun

GPS TrackIf you are like me, I do my homework before I hit the trail. I look for a GPS track from FunTreks or elsewhere, study the maps, read everything that I can find, look for videos about the trail, etc.

I want to know what to expect on any given trail; trail difficulty, obstacles, hazards, length, scenery etc. I want to be prepared for whatever I find.

Starting with the GPS track above, I know that the trail is at 9800’ above sea level so it may be cold and my Jeep will not have as much power as it does at sea level – unless, of course, you have a turbo charger which I do not. I also know that it is not too far from highway; therefore, I can probably find the trail, navigate to the end and get back out without too much difficulty. That may or may not be true because I do not know the difficulty of the trail.

Trail ratings can be confusing or frustrating at best and even dangerous at worst.

If you hear or read that a trail is rated “3”, and you assume that this is a very easy trail that can be accomplished with a stock SUV 2WD or 4WD with a set of off-road tires, you could be correct or you could be in for a big surprise. That’s because some people rate trails on a scale of 1 to 5 whereas others rate trails on a scale of 1 to 10. In both cases, trails rated 1 are easy dirt roads while the top rating, a 5 or 10 rated trail, will contain obstacles that will probably damage even the best equipped rig.

But what about trails rated in the middle; a 3 rating on a scale of 1 – 5 or a 5 rating on a scale of 1 – 10. (Confused yet?)

At what point will you need more ground clearance and therefore larger tires? When will you need lockers? How about a sway bar release and is a winch an absolute necessity?

The reason that trail ratings can be confusing is that most of the ratings are based on the equipment (i.e., how well equipped is the vehicle).

The other factor that is just as important is how qualified is the driver of the vehicle. What seems easy to one driver may be very difficult to another.

So, ask other people that have similar to experience to yours.

And always be prepared to stop and reverse course if it gets too difficult.

Never wheel alone.

Ensure that your vehicle is properly equipped for the trail that you are attempting.

Always error on the side of safety so you get back to camp in one piece!

Have fun!


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