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How To Pick The Right Line When Off-Roading

Getting into off-roading can be a intimidating for those new to it. I still recall feeling puzzled when I first heard about choosing a line, as the only thing I saw was an obstacle of towering rocks and boulders and I didn’t know what line they meant.

2n17x Gate Keeper

My first experience with rock crawling was on trail 2n17x (pilot fuel break trail), where I was guided to follow the line on the passenger side with the assistance of a spotter. The fear of flipping my vehicle made me anxious.


But, as I continued to explore different trails, I improved my skills and gained confidence in selecting the right line. When I returned to trail 2n17x a year after, I was like “Ah ha!” to find multiple lines to choose from, my experience much more enjoyable than my first time on the trail.

2n17 Gate Keeper After 1 1/2 Years

Despite my progress, I still see myself as a beginner in off-roading and not an expert. This article provides guidance for those who may be facing similar challenges.

Why Picking the Right Line is Important

In off-roading, the act of choosing the right line means finding the optimal route through difficult and rugged terrain. This is crucial as it enables you to overcome obstacles while keeping control of your vehicle, ensuring a safe and smooth journey without getting trapped or causing harm to it.

A well-chosen line can elevate your driving experience and maximize your enjoyment of off-roading. To make the correct line selection, it takes a blend of expertise, ability, and hands-on experience, as you must evaluate the terrain and make quick decisions. Here are some tips to help you navigate.

Understanding Your Vehicle when picking the right line

It is crucial to be aware of the capabilities and limitations of your vehicle when selecting a driving line, as this impacts your safety on rough terrain. Being familiar with these details enables you to make informed decisions while off-roading and avoid putting excessive strain on your vehicle.

Photo Credit: John Sevilla

Essential knowledge includes the vehicle’s off-roading capabilities, such as traction control, lockers, tires, suspension, and angles such as the approach angle, break-over angle, and departure angle is helpful in determining the right line.

1. Approach Angle

The approach angle refers to the maximum slope or obstacle that a vehicle can tackle without the front end of the vehicle striking it. Personal experience led me to choose a compact and sturdy steel bumper on my Jeep to improve my vehicle’s approach angle.

2. Break-over Angle

The break-over angle signifies the maximum slope that a vehicle can cross without the undercarriage touching the ground. For example, the break-over angle of a Jeep Wrangler is superior to that of a Jeep Gladiator.

This implies that the Jeep Wrangler, with its shorter wheelbase, might be able to navigate obstacles where the longer wheelbase Jeep Gladiator may experience undercarriage contact.

3. Departure Angle

The departure angle in off-roading signifies the steepest slope or obstacle that a vehicle can depart from without the rear making contact with it.

For individuals who engage in off-roading with vehicles that have a longer wheelbase, it’s common for their hitch to become damaged. This is why products such as Hitch Sliders are popular, as they provide protection for the tow hitch in the vehicles.

Remember that the route you choose can vary from other vehicles, especially when driving with a group of different types of vehicles. For example, the path taken by a Jeep Wrangler may not be suitable for a Toyota Tacoma. Do not automatically follow the path of others, as it may not be the most appropriate option for your vehicle

inspect the line

Instead of waiting for guidance from the spotter, it’s better for drivers to inspect the line themselves. This can be done by walking up the trail and mentally simulating their drive through the obstacles. This approach provides a better understanding of the route to be taken and enables drivers to continuously anticipate the terrain as they progress through each section.

Look Ahead

Photo Credit: John Sevilla

While examining the terrain and the obstacle, also take some time to understand the capabilities of your vehicle. Visualize the position of your tires. Don’t be afraid to go over rocks, as inexperienced drivers may choose to go around them, risking damages to the sides of their vehicle. Always keep an eye on what lies ahead, as sometimes the tougher route can provide a better starting point for the next obstacle.

Look for Traction

Select a route that provides a solid grip. Assess the ground to see if it is muddy, icy, dry, sandy, or silky. Think about whether your tires are suitable for the conditions and if you have enough traction to get through. On rough terrain, aim to keep the wheels as much on the higher side as possible. Determine the optimal path to take, being mindful that losing control could cause harm to your vehicle.

Left Foot Breaking

When driving an automatic vehicle, use your left foot for braking and your right foot for accelerating simultaneously. Left-foot braking is vital in off-roading as it increases the driver’s control over the vehicle, especially in challenging and unpredictable conditions.

Tip: For improved control of the gas throttle, gently press the accelerator while keeping your right foot firmly against the right side wall.

This approach gives the driver the ability to operate the brake with their left foot and control the accelerator with their right foot, making it easier to manage engine speed and maintain traction. In addition, left-foot braking reduces the risk of wheel lock-up and helps maintain stability, allowing the driver to stay in control and avoid skids.

Ask for spotter

It’s okay to ask for a spotter. When choosing a path, communicate with the spotter. The driver selects the path and communicates with the spotter due to limited visibility from the driver’s seat. The spotter offers extra eyes and a different viewpoint on the terrain and obstacles.

They assist the driver in navigating challenging or unfamiliar terrain by identifying potential dangers and suggesting the best route. The spotter also helps the driver stay within their vehicle’s limits and avoid any unnecessary risks that could result in damage or injury.


Gaining proficiency in choosing the correct line while off-roading can only be achieved through hands-on experience. As you engage in more off-roading activities, recognizing the ideal path will become increasingly easier.

It is suggested to utilize the off-roading features of your vehicle, such as lockers and traction control. Start with easy trails and gradually work your way up to more difficult ones. Observing other drivers and spotters can also provide valuable insight and enhance your own abilities.




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