Rock Crawling in Your UTV: A Beginners Guide

Rock crawling is taking off-road driving to the extreme with anything from stock vehicles, to exciting and highly customized UTVs made specifically for the pleasure of enthusiasts and competitive drivers alike.

However, it is not extreme in the way you may think it is. Rock crawlers are not road maniacs and speed demons; they are precision drivers, interested in finding the most efficient way to complete complex trails and obstacles. 

What is Rock Crawling?  

Most people believe that to get a thrill from driving, there has to be some kind of correlation between a vehicle and speed. Although reaching high speeds in the vehicle of your choice can be exciting, for this activity the speed demon theory could not be further from the truth.

The real thrill of this hobby is maintaining a firm command over a UTV through precise decision making and a superb control over its momentum. This is NOT a blunt force exercise! You are a surgeon, and every movement and decision must be meticulously executed. This approach allows drivers to traverse intensely difficult terrain.

Know Your Equipment

Here is where the old saying “built not bought” heavily applies. In fact, the majority of rock crawling enthusiasts have come to the consensus that it is the golden rule of the sport.

If you build your rig yourself, you are aware of every little part that it consists of. So not only are you in better position to be able to repair your vehicle in a prompt manner, but you also are also more equipped to understand your UTV and to manage it effectively on obstacles.

This is not to say that you should not partake in rock crawling if your UTV was built by a shop, but it is wise to make sure that you have a general understanding of how your vehicle is assembled and how it operates.

You should not have to rely on others to fix your vehicle for you, but if you do not understand the functionality of certain parts of your vehicle, there are endless resources that can help you gain an understanding of the application of every component you could dream of. 

Control Your Vehicle

Having solid control over the vehicle you are driving is one of the most important things you can do to ensure the safety of you and everyone around you. This means making sure you take proper precautions to avoid events like wheelspins or rollovers.

Throttle control is critical, as accelerating too much can cause you to miss your target and create a dangerous environment. Momentum will always be a useful ally but using unbridled speed over finesse is never the most effective way to complete an obstacle. In fact, it can lead to disaster. 

Understand Your Skill Level

Rock crawling is considered a sport, and just like any other sport, warming up is vital. Nobody that is intelligent would run a race before stretching, and rock crawlers, certainly beginners, should never hit trails of extreme difficulty without first understanding their limits.

Observe the Obstacle Ahead

Let’s face it, every obstacle is different, and though you can use a certain style for the way in which you approach obstacles in general, different situations require that you are ready to think on your feet.

From small rocks to big rocks, boulders to mountainsides, there are innumerable different shapes and sizes of obstacles that require an in-depth comprehension of where your vehicle’s tires will fall at all times.

You need to be able to memorize what lies ahead. Knowing ahead of time how you will approach each obstacle means that you will be able to predict what maneuvers need to be implemented to ensure its successful completion.

The goal is not just to clear the obstacle, but to also keep contact with ground with all four tires. Failure to do this can cause torque problems and lead to parts breaking.

Use a Spotter

An extremely important technique for efficient rock crawling is using a spotter. The role of a good spotter can be as important as that of the driver, as the spotter must know the extent of the vehicle’s capabilities, and be able to effectively communicate that information in a way in which the driver can use it to execute certain maneuvers. 

Go High

In many scenarios, the most effective way to clear obstacles is by driving over their highest peaks. With properly adjusted tire pressure and lockers engaged, this technique can be easily applied.

By placing their tires as high up on an obstacle as they can, a driver and spotter can gain a better perspective on the task ahead. As the first tire clears the top, gravity and momentum become allies, bringing the opposing tire and the rest of the vehicle along for the ride. 

Water Crossings

It happens to every rock crawler; eventually, you will have to confront a water crossing in some form or another, and it is imperative that you cross it with the utmost care.

Remember to assess the situation and how it correlates to your abilities as a driver. If you are unsure if a body of water is too deep to cross or moving too fast, it is better to play it safe and avoid damaging the trail or endangering lives. 

Extra Equipment

Don’t not write off extra equipment as being cosmetic and unnecessary, depending on the trails you plan to traverse, there is a lot of equipment that when taken full advantage of, can be a huge asset and expand your options for negotiating trails. 

Use Your Winch

It is not embarrassing to understand your limits. In reality, it is one of the major separations in the skill levels of professionals and novice drivers. Even the best drivers will get to a point where their UTV is just not going to be able to complete an obstacle unassisted.

Be able to recognize when your vehicle is struggling. We all want to avoid using our winch excessively, but in some cases, not using it is asking for parts to break. 

Spare Parts

Hubs, U-joints, axle shafts, nuts, bolts, fuses, and liquids. These are a few typical trouble spots on most rigs. It cannot be stressed enough; your equipment is going to break at some point, and it is proper that you be prepared for the situation in which it occurs. 

Be Smart

While off-roading and rock crawling are meant to push the boundaries of you and your UTV, drivers should understand that everything can break, no matter how high quality a rig may be. Know the limits of you and your vehicle, and most importantly, never trail alone. Take a buddy with you. 

Should You Rock Crawl?

Rock crawling is either something you would enjoy, or it is an exercise that would seem foreign and strange. It certainly isn’t for everybody, it isn’t a streamlined and popular sport, but it definitely is an activity, an art even, where you can express your passion. Should you rock crawl? That’s up to you. 

Are UTVs safe?

Having ridden motorcycles and ATVs since I was a kid and never being seriously injured, my immediate answer would be…