How to Drive on Sand

last updated 18/10/2017

Prepare yourself for an epic read. This article is the culmination of 12 years of research. It is the most comprehensive how to drive on sand guide in the universe. It’s so good it will be turned into a book. Perhaps a best seller. Grab a drink, relax and settle in for an extended read.

Sand driving is a common form of offroading. Beaches, dune systems, deserts – they’re all sandy. A country like Australia, with its expansive deserts and coastline distributed with beautiful sandy beaches, means sand driving is very common. I love driving on a sandy beach. Cruise along, elbow out window, watch the surf, explore the beach, pretend to know how to “read” the beach for fish producing areas, find a good spot and pull up for some fishing, relaxing, swimming and a few cold brews. It doesn’t come without risk though. This article is a comprehensive guide on how to drive on sand. Use at your own risk, this guide is based on my opinions and experiences. I am not an authority on any subject, just ask my wife (spatulacraft is one exception).

fishing on the beach like this requires driving on sand

exploring Australia's beautiful remote coast means driving on sand

fishing on beach, pipidinny, western australia, when it was still legal to drive there

What qualifies me to write this guide? A lot of sand driving in really boggy, soft sand. I owned a Suzuki Sierra  (also known as Samurai) for around 8 years, specifically purchased for beach work. In that time it did more km off road than it did on. Name a beach in Western Australia and I’ve probably driven on it. I spent most of my spare time exploring WA beaches, dune bashing through coastal dune systems, camping on the coast chasing salmon and general beach fishing. Since then I’ve got the Hilux and have continued to visit sandy places including beaches and inland sandy deserts throughout Australia. Some beaches in Australia are rather treacherous. Needless to say I’ve been in some difficult positions and have had plenty of varied experiences.

driving on beach, yeagarup, western australia

One of the most attractive highways you’ll find. Driving on the sand along a beach is tremendous.

Terminology

Approach Angle: the steepest angle a vehicle can approach and drive up without making contact with the ground.

Bust the bead: Separating the tyre bead from the rim, causing the air seal to be lost and the tyre to instantly deflate. In itself does not damage the tyre or rim, unless the vehicle is driven with the tyre deflated. Provided there is no tyre damage, the tyre can be reinflated using various methods to re-seat the bead.

Hump-dee-doo: deep, uneven ruts where vehicles have become bogged, usually due to running too high tyre pressures. They can typically be found on sand dune ascents. The action of the vehicle’s differentials causes two diagonally opposite wheels to create deeper ruts in the sand than the other diagonal wheels. Once formed, hump-dee-doos progressively get worse from other vehicles traversing the track. As the diagonally opposite wheels of a passing vehicle drop into the ruts, the action of the vehicle’s differentials cause the wheels in the deeper ruts to spin freely in the same manner that caused the ruts in the first place, making the ruts deeper with each vehicle passing.

Humpty Doo: a small town in Northern Territory, around 40km south east of Darwin.

Narrow, boggy, sloping beach: A beach with deep soft sand and little distance between the water’s edge and the dunes / vegetation. There is little to no level area of beach, it slopes down towards the water.

Tyre bead: The part of the tyre that makes contact with the rim. It forms the seal that keeps air in the tyre and is also where the rim transfers torque to the tyre.

Tyre profile: Height of tyre sidewall. That is, the distance from the tyre tread to the rim.

Tyre Pressure for Sand

You may have heard someone say “this model 4WD is crap, I once saw it sink straight down in sand.” You may have seen one 4WD effortlessly pass a struggling 4WD in sand, with an explanation that 4WD “A” is better than 4WD “B”. The reasoning in both scenarios is completely invalid. The observed differences can, with a high degree of certainty, be attributed to tyre pressure. The one thing that dominates a vehicle’s ability to drive in sand, to the extent that all other factors are largely insignificant, is tyre pressure.

Any guide to sand driving will make this point clear. Even the crappy guides. Reduce tyre pressures on sand! It makes so much difference. You will get further driving in sand in 2WD with correct tyre pressure than you can in 4WD with pressure that is too high. Under most conditions, if it feels like you are ploughing through the sand, then your tyres are too hard. You should be sitting on top. There aren’t many situations where you will churn through sand half bogged if your tyres are at the correct pressure.

Don’t reduce pressure just enough to make it through. Reduce so you are floating on top, comfortably driving through. It will improve fuel economy, reduce wear on your engine and minimize damage to the surface. Each time you force your way through sand at too high tyre pressure you make it harder for the next guy by cutting up the track. It also works your motor terribly hard. You can smell a vehicle that hasn’t aired down enough – the motor is cooking.

What is the best pressure for sand? The pressure that allows your vehicle to float on top of the sand. If you’re not floating on top your pressure is too high. The actual figure depends on vehicle weight, loading, the tyre and the sand. If you’re not sure, keep airing down in increments until your 4WD floats on top. You will feel it because the car becomes so easy to drive. Typical pressures for soft sand would be 18 psi for a heavy vehicle, 15 psi for an average vehicle or 12 psi for a light vehicle. Keep airing down until it feels right, but don’t reduce pressure to the extent that your rims could run on your tread. Keep an eye on how flat the tyre appears.

You may hear arguments from people against reducing tyre pressure due to the risk of busting a tyre bead. They’ve never had to air down, travel ok in sand with hard tyres so have no reason to take the risk of busting a bead. I’m not sure what sand they are driving on, but some beaches you won’t make two metres without airing down. If someone hasn’t aired down before, or only marginally aired down, then they have never driven in soft sand. There is no alternative. It is true that reduced pressure increases the risk of busting the bead. The lower the pressure, the greater the risk. At around 15 psi it’s pretty difficult to bust a bead. Usually it would only happen whilst showing off or hooning. Otherwise around 15 psi is safe if you take some care and don’t drive too aggressively. Out of the thousands of km I have run at reduced pressure, I have busted the bead on one occasion. That was when running extreme low pressure, around 6 psi, and trying to out do a friend up a sand dune.

busted tyre bead from low tyre pressure, two rocks, western australia

A friend busted the bead on a tyre in sand whilst dune bashing. This is a risk when running low tyre pressure for sand driving. Driving cautiously almost completely eliminates the risk.

Tyre pressure can be reduced further as required, but care needs to be taken not to bottom out your rim into the tyre tread, and not to bust the bead. Avoid impacts, sudden turns and any violent manoeuvres. I’ve driven at 8 psi all day up and down a soft beach and through sand dune tracks without a problem. I was careful. At very low tyre pressures you also risk sand getting trapped between the bead and rim, causing a slow air leak as the bead no longer seals adequately. This has happened to me a few times and is annoying to rectify, as you have to break the bead to clean the sand out. Driving carefully to avoid busting the bead will also avoid sand between the bead and rim.

You’ll need some sort of pressure gauge or a set of tyre deflators to air down. I use tyre deflators because I drive on sand so regularly. They save time and effort. All four tyres are aired down at the same time, and they stop automatically at the set pressure. A pressure gauge is still required to check pressure and air down further as required. If you plan to do a lot of sand driving you should get a pressure gauge designed specifically to measure low tyre pressures. Ordinary pressure gauges lose accuracy at typical sand driving pressures and are pretty useless below 10 psi. You’ll also need a compressor to air up once you’ve finished on the sand. My compressor is hard wired and permanently installed with air hose in the back of the Hilux, ready to go at any time. Again that’s because I use it so much.

Don’t drive on a hard surface with under-inflated tyres. You risk tyre overheating, tyre damage and / or blowout. Don’t drive on rocky or jagged surfaces with very low tyre pressure. Again you risk tyre damage. Tyres are very vulnerable to hard, rough or sharp objects when at very low pressure, especially the bulging sidewalls. If you need to traverse a rocky outcrop when your tyres are set to very low pressure, the official recommendation would be to air up. However airing up and down a hundred times a day is not practical. If you aren’t going to air up, drive over the rocky outcrop with extreme care. Idle through in first gear low range. Pick your line carefully to avoid the worst rocks. Pay special attention to any areas where the tyre sidewall may contact the rocks. Eject your heaviest passengers and get them to walk. Minimize the risk of tyre damage. The best tyre pressure for rock is less than highway pressure to give the tyre some flex and reduce impact loads and stress fractures, but greater than sand pressure to protect the tyre from pinches and side wall damage. See this article for a complete guide to tyre pressure.

tyre deflators

Tyre deflators colour coded for front / rear, which at the moment I run at different pressures due to the heavy load in the back. Good to have if you regularly reduce tyre pressure for sand driving.

compressor in Hilux

Compressor permanently mounted beside drawers in tray of Hilux. You will use your compressor every time you drive in sand.

Tyres

Tyres don’t make much difference. Flotation is key on sand, and that is governed by tyre pressure. Wide tyres don’t have much effect. Tyre surface contact with the ground is again governed by tyre pressure and not the dimensions of the tyre. Click here to see why.

Tyre profile is important if you want to traverse soft sand. Low profile tyres have little capacity to reduce pressure, as the rim will contact the inside tread and damage the tyre. So larger diameter tyres, and smaller rims or wheels, are better because they afford more room to reduce tyre pressures. The trendy new 4WDs with large wheels and low profile tyres are no good for soft sand. There is no room to deform the tyre through reduced pressure. At least they look good.

Larger overall diameter, independent of ability to reduce pressure, is helpful in sand too. As a tyre penetrates the surface of the sand (becomes bogged) some parts of the contact patch are no longer horizontal and the relationship between pressure and contact patch becomes distorted. Pressure dictates contact patch perpendicular to the direction of force. When penetrating the surface the tyre’s contact patch becomes larger than what the pressure dictates since some of the contact patch is no longer perpendicular to the weight of the vehicle. A larger diameter tyre will provide better flotation under these conditions. A good example are the huge rear wheels on tractors and their incredible ability to not get bogged.

Tread pattern doesn’t matter much when driving on sand. Some say less aggressive tread patterns are better because they don’t dig as much, providing better flotation. Same story for worn tyres being better than new. Sounds logical but I can’t say I’ve noticed much difference in the field.

You still want a strong tyre for serious sand work. Best option in my opinion is an all terrain tyre with a good reputation. I’m running Bridgestone D694LT (also known as Revo 2). There are some exotic specialist tyres out there but they’re not suitable for touring.

Vehicle Setup for Sand Driving

The following vehicle characteristics are best for sand driving:

– Light weight. You won’t see any photos of the Sierra bogged in this article. It’s almost unboggable. It’s just too light. It may stop advancing up a hill or in very deep sand, but if you continue spinning the wheels it won’t sink and will easily back out with reduced tyre pressure.

driving on sand - sierra through sand dunes, yeagarup, western australia

Sierra can easily negotiate sand because it is very light weight.

– Plenty of power. This helps driving up long sand dunes and through deep sand. A diesel performance chip can help if you have a diesel and you’re doing a lot of soft sand work. The Sierra is under powered, and although it would never get bogged it did fail to reach the top of several sand dunes simply from running out of speed due to insufficient engine power.

– High approach angle. To conquer large and / or steep sand dunes you are likely going to need a run up, and that means smashing into the foot of the sand dune at speed. I’ve seen vehicles damaged in this manner. My Hilux had a close encounter with a dune face, denting the bash plate nicely and giving me some macho clout. Some bullbars provide better approach angle than others. I reckon if I had the big bulbous chrome looking Toyota bull bar on my vehicle it may have got left behind in the dune after impact. The ARB bullbar I’ve got affords a better approach angle. If you do bottom out at speed into the foot of a dune, check that you haven’t left anything behind in the sand – number plate, bumper, underbody guards, parts of the chassis, etc.

Hilux bent bash plate

The bent bash plate of my Hilux, caused by a love tap from a sand dune face.

damage to front of vehicle after driving on sand

Damaged guarding on a soft roader. Poor ground clearance and approach angle means there’s a good chance it will clip the ground, especially on sand dune approaches. We were lucky to keep the bottom plastic portion of the bumper on this model after some dune bashing. Nothing that sticky tape couldn’t fix.

– Reasonable ground clearance. Doesn’t need to be huge, just enough to not bottom out in wheel ruts. Soft roaders, despite their poor ground clearance, can still be used on sand that isn’t too boggy. Deep sand is best reserved for vehicles with good ground clearance.

– Low range gearbox for soft sand. Get bogged and you’ll need it. Taking off in deep soft sand works a vehicle very hard. Without low range you’ll struggle to take off, the engine will stall, you will bugger the clutch or overheat the transmission. I’ve seen owners of big powerful 8 cylinder 4WDs too proud to use low range due to plenty of low end grunt. In one case it was a bogged brand new automatic V8 landcruiser. He was down to the axles in sand so he aired down and tried to take off in high range. The engine roared, the revs climbed high but the wheels barely moved. All that slippage and heat transfer through the automatic gearbox cannot be good and he had to revert to low range to get out anyway. In general you should always use low range in soft sand.

sand driving bogged on beach, near lancelin, western australia

A nice sandy bogging of a friend’s car. Reduced tyre pressure, some shovel work and grinding through in first gear low range got this car out without any external assistance.

sand driving bogged on beach, wedge island, western australia

Another bogging in soft sand requiring first gear low range and very low tyre pressure to drive out unassisted.

Diff lockers don’t make much difference for general sand driving, except for climbing firmer sand tracks with hump-dee-doos that may lift a wheel off the ground. If driving through soft sand diff lockers can make it worse, rapidly digging in both sides of the vehicle when bogged and beaching the car on it’s chassis. Without a diff locker, as you become bogged, it’s likely one wheel per axle won’t spin much. The wheels that are spinning will unweighten as they articulate down and as they continue to spin the reduced weight will cause them to dig in less, whilst the wheel that isn’t spinning won’t dig in at all. This means less shovel work when recovering from the bog. However having all wheels spin with a diff locker can be enough to power through deep sand, so it’s a trade off. Regardless, diff lockers aren’t crucial for capable sand performance. My old Suzuki Sierra was the best on sand vehicle I’ve ever driven or traveled with, yet it had completely open diffs and poor articulation from the stiff stock leaf springs.

– All these factors combined are less important than tyre pressure. The bulk of a vehicle’s ability to traverse sand comes from running correct air pressure.

Effect of Slope When Driving on Sand

The two bogged vehicles in the photos above have one thing in common. They are driving across a cross slope (a beach sloping down towards the water). Driving downhill or over level sand is easy. At the right tyre pressure you will float on top, regardless of how soft and deep the sand is. Cross slopes and up hill slopes introduce problems. Slope only has to be minor, almost unnoticeable, to start making a significant impact in sand. Traversing a cross slope causes a 4WD to slip sideways down the slope, with the driver correcting by turning up the slope. The sand provides very little lateral support to prevent the sideways slide. Ploughing sideways through soft sand bleeds off speed quickly and the end result is often getting bogged. Driving up hill of course is against gravity which again makes progress difficult.

When stopped, bogged or not, the surest way of being able to advance again is by driving down hill. Regardless of how small the slope is, it makes a difference. Taking off on a cross slope or up hill is difficult.

Driving Techniques for Sand

So you’ve chucked the shovel in the back, you’ve aired down and you’re ready to go. Here are some techniques to help with sand driving.

– Use low range for anything apart from hard packed sand. It will reduce wear on your drivetrain and make it easier to take off.

– Maintain adequate speed through boggy sand or up sand dunes. As soon as your engine rpm drops, respond with more throttle input. Don’t wait for your car to noticeably slow down. Anticipate speed drops up inclines and through boggy sand by adjusting throttle in advance. You need to avoid losing momentum in boggy sand. It’s very hard to get going once you’re stuck.

sand driving ascending steep sand dune, ledge point, western australia

First try failed up this short steep sand dune near Two Rocks in WA. Second go with a bit more speed was no problem.

– When ascending steep sand dunes, approach square to the dune, at right angles to the slope. Gain speed and select a gear that will provide the right balance of speed and torque before hitting the base of the dune. Maintain speed by adjusting throttle according to the point above, responding quickly to any change in engine rpm. Don’t wait for the car to slow down. If your engine is dying at full throttle but you’re not getting bogged, you might need a lower gear. If your engine is holding rpm but you are bogging down you might need more speed and a higher gear. Reduce speed as you approach the top. Judge your slow down so that you can stop safely at the top of the dune in case of oncoming traffic and to give you a chance to assess what’s on the other side. In fact it’s a good idea to check the other side on foot before attempting it in the vehicle in case of hazards on the other side.

– When descending steep dunes you need to keep the car square to the dune slope. You can descend much steeper dunes then what is possible to ascend, so it’s extremely important to align correctly as there is increased roll over risk on steeper angles. Align your car before entering the descent. If very steep get out and check your car’s alignment with the dune. Make a plan, pick your route, find a target to aim for, or get a spotter to help you maintain alignment square to the dune. Inch down in first or second gear low range, feet off the pedals or very light constant throttle input. Some suggest second gear is better to avoid going too slow. Both first and second have worked for me. Never use the brakes – doing so will increase the risk of sideways action. Don’t change gears. Don’t operate the clutch. Be ready to gently blip the throttle to help re-align the car if it drifts sideways. Adjust your alignment first by steering gently rather than blipping the throttle. Respond early if the car comes out of alignment with square to the dune face. The earlier you correct, the gentler you can do it and the less rollover risk you introduce. Blipping the throttle will help re-align the car if steering alone can’t, however it is dangerous. There is potential to over correct, lose control of the vehicle, and tumble down the slope.

sand driving descending steep sand dune, lancelin sand dunes, western australia

When traversing steep slopes in sand the most important thing to remember is keep the car square to the slope.

– If you fail to advance up a steep sand dune and you need to reverse, take care. This is a dangerous situation. You need to maintain the car at right angles to the dune face, which is harder to do in reverse. It is especially dangerous if the dune falls off to the sides of the track, introducing an additional roll over hazard if you simply reverse off track. Follow the same strategies as driving down a steep dune as in the point above. If the dune is really steep there is a greater case for a spotter because it’s harder to judge your position when reversing. Most of the time a dune you attempt to ascend won’t be excessively steep so this circumstance is rare. If you are planning a very steep dune ascent, first consider what will happen if you don’t make it.

– In a vehicle with automatic transmission, you may need to manually select gears to preventing gear hunting and to ensure the correct gear stays locked in whilst you negotiate a dune or obstacle.

– Take care around blind corners through dune tracks and over crests. Head on collisions have occurred.

– Use the minimum speed you can get away with. Don’t be a hoon. Keep it safe among other vehicles and people using the beach or dunes. This also minimizes wear on your vehicle.

– Make wide, gentle turns. Sharp turns take away speed and risk bogging. They also risk a roll over, even on level sand, if the outside wheels dig into the sand. Plus they risk busting tyre beads.

– Switch off electronic traction aids. Your wheels will continuously experience some level of slip on sand, causing electronic traction aids to go berserk. Your car will be constantly beeping at you and will always be shuddering with the traction control going into overdrive as it tries to eliminate wheel spin. The constant activation of traction control in sand wears out the electronic brake actuators and brake pads and also transmits a shock load through your drivetrain which can contribute to drivetrain failure. So turn traction aids off. Turn electronic traction aids back on (or diff lockers if you have them) if you encounter hump-dee-doos.

– Keep your distance from the car in front. This gives you options if they get bogged or decide to stop somewhere inconvenient.

– If you are the leading vehicle in a convoy, consider those behind you before stopping and placing them in difficult positions.

– Follow the tracks or wheel ruts of previous vehicles. The sand is more compacted there. Make your own compacted sand by going forward and reverse over a section. This will create an area where you can gain more speed over a short distance for advancing up a dune or recovering another vehicle. If the ruts have been traversed by a vehicle with hard tyres then it can be more boggy in the ruts so keep that in mind for deeply chopped up ruts.

– Allow ruts to hold your car straight and use only gentle steering input. Often people over-use the steering wheel, especially since steering feedback is so poor on sand, not allowing the vehicle to fall into and follow ruts. This causes the car to plough sideways through the sand which digs the vehicle down and makes it difficult to advance. Don’t fight the ruts. Use the ruts rather than steering to keep your car straight or to follow a bend.

– Once bogged first try backing up on your tracks. If that doesn’t work, stop. Keep your feet off the pedals. Avoid making it worse. Get out, have a look, air down more, use a shovel to clear the chassis from the sand and from impeding the wheels, make a plan. If you avoid making it worse you will nearly always be able to self extract without too much effort. Very rarely is snatching necessary.

– If stuck, try to get free in the direction that is most down hill, and turn your front wheels to the side that will point your car more into the direction of the down hill slope. If you are struggling, churning through some deep sand with little progress, often all that’s required is to turn the wheels the other way and / or go in reverse to get the advantage of the slope, freeing the car and allowing it to come back to the surface. Then you can give the direction you wanted to go initially another try or make a new plan to get through.

– If stuck on a cross slope and you’d like to go down the cross slope to make it easier to become unstuck, it may be better to go in reverse. When travelling forward the rear end may slide down faster than what the front wheels can turn down, keeping your vehicle in an uphill orientation. When reversing ,the sideways sliding rear end helps to arrange the car so it’s travelling down the cross slope making it easier to advance.

– Look out for sudden drop offs. On a beach they are formed by wave erosion, especially during storms, and by small creeks emptying into the ocean. In dune systems they are formed by wind. They can cause vehicle damage and roll overs if descended incorrectly. Be especially vigilant around midday, when the high sun, lack of shadows and uniform colour of sand can make drop offs difficult to spot. Descend drop offs using the same strategies as descending steep dunes.

– If traversing a cross slope and you lose the rear end down the slope, avoid turning up the slope to correct. It’s likely you will lose speed and get bogged. If the track permits, turn down the slope, straighten up the car, get some speed, then drive up.

– Bury your spare tyre deep in sand if you need an anchor point for winching. Dig to at least 1m deep. Use a tree protector or similar to avoid damaging your wheel. Allow several beers to provide energy for so much shovel work.

spare tyre burial for winch recovery in sand, tamala station, western australia

Burying the spare tyre in sand to act as a winch anchor. Some rocks are thrown in for good measure.

spare tyre burial for winch recovery in sand, tamala station, western australia

Refilling in progress, anchor almost ready for winching.

– Anticipate understeer, especially when accelerating. Reduce throttle input to reduce understeer.

– If driving in a rut which you wish to exit, be wary of the vehicle suddenly veering off to the side once the ruts are clear – you may find yourself heading into oncoming traffic or off the side of a dune. A technique to minimize this risk is to jerk the steering wheel in the direction you want to exit, then return it to centre. Always return to centre regardless of the vehicle’s response. You don’t know whether the vehicle will stay in the ruts or free itself. Returning the steering wheel to centre will ensure you don’t suddenly veer off to the side. If it stays in the rut, repeat the process until you get free, each time returning the steering wheel to centre. If you have difficulty exiting a rut, lift off the accelerator pedal at the same time you jerk the wheel to help the front wheels bite and the rear end swing around.

– Keep thumbs on the outside of the steering wheel to avoid them getting broken.

– Recovery tracks are good in sand. Get a set if you plan to do a lot of sand work. If your vehicle is completely beached, resting on its underbelly, with the tyres barely touching the ground, dig the sand out from under the car before using recovery tracks. Otherwise your wheels will simply spin on the recovery tracks, wearing them out.

bogged at davenport creek beach maxtrax receovery

Recovery tracks being used to recover a vehicle bogged in sand.

– Take a tide chart for the area you are beach driving. Don’t drive along the beach on a rising tide. Plan your travels around a dropping or low tide. If you are not organized enough to take a tide chart or be familiar with the forecast tides, stick to flat wide beaches, keep away from the high tide mark and avoid treacherous sections of beach altogether.

– Do not stop in places that are hard to take off from. Stop only on firm sand, with the vehicle on level ground or pointing down hill.

– Monitor engine temperature. Driving slowly through soft sand heavily loads the engine and does not provide much air flow, potentially overheating your engine.

– If stuck due to uneven terrain or hump-dee-doos without diff lockers, dig out sand from under the tyres that have the most traction. This will place weight onto the tyres that are spinning freely and allow you to drive out. Using the brakes and accelerating at the same time (poor man’s diff lock) whilst stuck in this scenario doesn’t work if you have standard open diffs. Open diffs have no way of multiplying torque, regardless of the effect of braking. Braking and accelerating at the same time may help with diffs that are capable of multiplying torque, such as limited slip diffs.

wheel lifted on sand, two rocks, western australia

The sierra had no diff lockers and poor articulation and would often lift a wheel and get stuck on uneven terrain. In this case the left rear wheel of the car is not touching the ground and the car is unable to advance due to the action of the differentials.

stuck in sand, wheel lifted, start shovelling

A shovel operator removes sand from beneath the wheel with the most weight. This transfers traction to the wheel spinning freely. In this case the left rear wheel is in the air so dig under the right rear wheel to lower that side. Digging under the left front wheel would achieve the same result.

Narrow, Boggy, Sloping Beaches

Another name for a narrow, boggy, sloping beach is 4WD graveyard. If you get stuck anywhere else there is no problem. Take your time, crack open a beer, eat some lunch, try a few things, whip out the shovel, reduce tyre pressure. Get assistance if there are others nearby. Phone a friend. Set up camp and deal with it in the morning. Get stuck on a narrow, boggy, sloping beach and you have yourself a race against time and a potential catastrophe. To drive out, you need to drive up hill, away from the water. There is no option to retreat down hill. Your car will always want to drift down, into the water. The more you try to get out, the more your car ploughs sideways into the surf. As the waves wash in and out around your stricken car, they wash sand out from beneath the tyres, further pulling your car down. Throw in a rising tide and you have a recipe for a 4WD burial.

Driving on sand - Narrow, boggy, sloping beach, two rocks, western australia

This beach is narrow, boggy and sloping. High tide reaches to the base of the dunes. Low tide yields only a few metres of steeply sloping beach. A convenient place to write off your 4WD.

Narrow, boggy, sloping beaches get special treatment because of the unique risks they pose. The guidelines are:

– Avoid narrow, boggy, sloping beaches. Do not drive on them.

– Avoid the temptation to drive onto the wet sand. Sometimes it’s firm, sometimes it’s like quicksand, and you need to drive up hill to get out. If it’s a wide, flat, hard packed beach then driving on the wet sand is ok if you know it’s firm. Be wary of muddy areas on tidal flats.

fishing on fraser island

The wet intertidal zone of some wide, flat beach beaches, such as the one pictured on Fraser Island, is safe to drive on if it’s hard packed. In fact it’s preferable to drive on as the sand is much firmer and smoother than the deep, dry sand on the shoulder of the beach. However treat this as the exception rather than the rule. In general, for an average beach, the wet sand should be avoided. On many narrow beaches this area can turn into a boggy, mushy soup when the sand becomes water logged. Combined with a rising tide and a cross slope and you have the potential to write off a 4WD.

– When driving on a beach, pay attention to what’s ahead. Watch for the beach starting to become narrow and sloping. Stop before you get into a difficult position.

– If too risky to proceed, make a plan for turning around. Do not perform a U-turn into the water. The best option is to reverse over your tracks until the beach is wide and flat enough to safely perform a U-turn. Another option is to reverse into a break in the dunes, allowing you to drive out forward onto the beach in the other direction. Perhaps the shoulder at the top of the beach is wide enough to perform a 3-point turn. Just don’t drive down towards the water.

– When performing a U-turn your car will slow down as the turn progresses. The slowest part of the turn is the final part. This is the time where you are most likely to get stuck. So when performing a U-turn, gain speed and start the turn from closer to the water, and turn up the beach away from the water. The portion of the turn closest to the water will be at your highest speed so there is less risk of getting stuck. You will also have more momentum to continue the up hill portion of the turn. At the slowest part of the turn you are away from the water with space to drive downhill if you get into trouble while you exit the turn. Turn the other way, starting from the top of the beach and turning into the water, means at your slowest point you will be nearest to the water, and you need to drive uphill as you exit the turn.

landcruiser bogged in sand near catastrophe north of Lancelin

This landcruiser was almost lost at sea on a narrow, boggy, sloping beach at night north of Lancelin, Western Australia. Even with the vehicle completely empty and running very low tyre pressure, it was unable to drive out without assistance.

landcruiser recovery bogged in sand near catastrophe north of lancelin

The Sierra gets into position to recover the stricken landcruiser. Notice the thin trails of seaweed indicating where the waves are reaching – up to the left wheels of the landcruiser. This was a close call and the recovery was difficult. It was late at night on a remote beach with a rising tide. The owner needed counselling afterwards.

Using Snatch Straps

Snatch straps are dangerous. People die from using them. In sand you can reduce the risk by digging out the stricken car before attempting a snatch and reducing the stricken car’s tyre pressure as much as possible. If you don’t dig, the bogged car is like an anchor, and you will be placing recovery hitches, shackles and snatch strap under excessive stress, risking breakage, with sometimes fatal results. Free the car as best you can as if you were trying to drive it out, then snatch gently. Reduce tyre pressure so the stricken vehicle will contribute more to the recovery, allowing a gentler snatch. Follow normal snatch procedures – inspect strap before use, use only rated recovery hitches and shackles, place blankets over strap to dampen movement in case of breakage, only the driver remains in the vehicles, keep bystanders well away from the recovery and at right angles to the pulling direction, co-ordinate snatching between vehicles through CB radio or using horn or some other communication, snatch as gently as possible and if after a few attempts without success stop and re-assess rather than continuing to increase snatch speed. Something extra I like to do, if the recovery is occurring from behind, is slouch in the seat so my head is below the height of the headrest, protected from any flying shackles, recovery hitches or other pieces of 4WD. If the recovery is happening in front, duck down below the dashboard so you can barely see above it to minimize how much head you have exposed to potential projectiles.

If snatching on a narrow, boggy, sloping beach, the recovery vehicle will be higher on the shoulder of the beach, the bogged vehicle will be low towards the water and the snatch strap will be diagonally across the beach. The snatch strap will not be aligned with the pulling direction of the recovery vehicle. On any snatch you want the snatch strap and both vehicles aligned as much as possible in a straight line. When you go to snatch, there is insufficient lateral traction provided by the sand to keep the recovery vehicle up on the shoulder of the beach. The rear end of the recovery vehicle will get pulled down towards the water so that it is aligned with the direction of the snatch strap. This introduces two problems. Firstly the recovery vehicle is now pulling up hill, which means it’s much less effective at pulling. Secondly the recovery vehicle is now at risk of sliding down the beach and getting bogged.

An alternative approach to snatching in this scenario is to snatch very slowly. Both the bogged vehicle and the recovery vehicle crawl in first gear low range, churning through the sand, slowly making progress. This avoids the high impact force that would otherwise pull the rear end of the recovery vehicle down towards the water. The recovery vehicle can stay high on the beach without risking itself to the surf, and keep churning away slowly pulling out the bogged car. If both vehicles are running very low tyre pressures, it should work. You may need to reduce to around 6 psi. This method is also a less risky in terms of breaking the recovery gear.

In Case of Emergency

You’re stuck on a narrow, boggy, sloping beach. The tide is rising. There are no other vehicles to help. You have no winch or recovery tracks or other recovery equipment. If you want to save your vehicle you need to act quickly. Once the car is sucked into the sand by the water there is no way to recover. Act before that happens.

– Remove everything from the vehicle. Do not compromise. Do not waste time deciding what to take out. Small or large, heavy or light, take it out. Lots of small things accumulate to a significant weight – it all makes a difference. If the rear seats in the car are easy to remove, take them out too. There’s another reason why taking all your stuff out of your car is a good idea, which you’ll see below.

– Your wife, heavy or light, also needs to be removed and kept quiet. Yes you are stupid for putting the vehicle in this position, but for now everyone must work together and remain focused on the recovery.

– Reduce tyres to ridiculously low pressure. You are risking tyre damage and busting a tyre bead. The return for your risk is the chance to save your 4WD. Try a pressure of around 5 psi.

– Plan to drive out forward. It is extremely difficult to drive up a boggy sloping beach in reverse. The front end of the car is almost impossible to control. It swings around like a pendulum.

– Dig around your car so the chassis is clear of the ground and there is no sand impeding the front of each tyre.

– Throw crap under the tyres – floor mats, boogie board, blankets, sleeping bag, tent, tarps, vegetation, sticks, anything you can find. It will all get ruined, but may save your car. Hard things like camping tables and chairs may be too risky for your tyres and for people nearby.

– Apologise to the car for putting it into this position and for the pain you are about to inflict on it. Stroke the dashboard gently. Reminisce about the good times. There’s a chance this may be the last time you ever drive it.

– Do not hesitate when you go to move forward. You want maximum effort from the start. You may get traction for only a brief moment. In that time you want to gain as much speed as possible, hopefully enough to pull your car up out of the ruts and drive up the beach towards safety.

– Get anyone with you to help by pushing. It doesn’t do much, but could be the difference between getting out or not. Be careful if you’ve chucked stuff under the tyres – it could get thrown at the people pushing, causing injury.

– Select 1st gear low range, push the throttle hard and swiftly take off. If in an auto transmission, lock it in 1st. You don’t want it shifting up prematurely then bogging down from insufficient torque. Regulate throttle to maintain engine rpm just below redline. Engine rpm can drop quickly if you hit a patch of traction. Be ready for it so you maintain rpm and maximize speed gained. Churn through the sand and power up the beach. If you feel the car has pulled out and is easily floating on top, quickly change to second gear to get more speed to help travel up the sloping beach away from the water. If your car is churning through deep sand and making slow progress, continue to maintain rpm and do not change gear.

– If you’re still bogged you have one last thing to try. Dig out around your chassis and tyres again and attempt to take off in the same manner, but this time turn your front wheels down hill towards the water. Similar to a stalling plane, you are trying to point the nose down, gain some speed, then pull up to avoid the imminent catastrophe. This move is risky – failure will bring you further into the water. Maintain rpm, maximize speed and select gears according to the point above.

– Start turning up the beach, away from the water, and towards safety. Don’t slow down until you are completely clear. Don’t let the painful noise coming from your motor deter you from keeping your foot planted. Use every bit of speed you have.

– If this fails, take one last look at your car as it gets swallowed by the surf. Start thinking of a good story to explain to your insurance company. At least you’ve saved all your stuff.

Fatal beach bogging in sand, wedge island, western australia

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See also:

Diff Locker Front or Rear?

Why a Ute? Why Toyota Hilux?

Diff Locker vs Traction Control

Tyre Pressure Guide

Why Wide Tyres Don’t Help in Sand

How to Catch Mulloway

How to Catch Barramundi

XXXX Gold – The Great Mystery of the Top End

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64 replies »

  1. Wow! Thank you for such an awesome and comprehensive post!! I have a 2002 Isuzu Trooper that I plan to do alot of desert driving with in the UAE. I have a few questions for you:
    a) Would removing the jump seats and back seat help significantly? I also am considering removing the spare tire from the back and placing it on a rack on top. The rack will add weight but the spare will no longer weigh down the back side
    b) I’m pretty new to sand driving and got stuck quite a bit…I purchased a pair of Bushranger X-tracks and they did help a little. What do you think of them compared to the Mantek ones you showed in your post?
    c) Do you recommend the air bag jack or would you suggest the Hi-lift jack?
    d) Is a winch necessary if you have tracks, an air bag jack or what have you? I looked into the hi-lift jack as a manual winch
    Sorry for all the questions but I feel I can trust your recommendations based on your post and how you approached it

    Thanks again for such a great post!

    • Hey Omar thanks for checking out my article and your commendation. From what I’ve seen you have a great bounty of desert sand driving to exploit in UAE. Looks like good fun. Answers to your questions:
      a) Removing seats would make only a marginal difference. On a large 4WD you’d need to lose a couple of hundred kilos at least to feel any difference, however losing say 40kg in seats could help slightly when riding the limit. Nearly all of the time it wouldn’t really matter. So make your decision based on how often you’d want to carry extra passangers and the fact that most of the time having the seats removed wont really make much difference. I’d rather the spare tyre on the back than on the roof. Weight on the roof degrades a vehicle’s handling and increases rollover risk. I don’t think it would offer much advantage compared to having it on the back.
      b) I have never used the x-tracks. Mine are maxtrax. The x-tracks are longer than maxtrax so that is good. However being flexible, they tend to slip, bunch up and / or sag deep into sand, impeding the recovery. Rigid style recovery tracks work more reliably. Even if they slip, the slipping causes them to get shoved into the sand deeper until eventually the slipping stops and the vehicle can drive out. The flexible ones can just continue to bunch up and not recover the car. But the flexible ones might be more convenient to store, as they roll up.
      c) A jack can be useful. It’s just a matter of space / weight and how much stuff you want to carry. You can get away with no jack if you have a shovel and recovery tracks. But shoveling out the sand from beneath a car is harder work than jacking it up. Airbag jack is easier to deploy on soft, uneven surfaces. But it’s not as versatile as a hi-lift jack. I don’t have a jack. It may save me some time a couple of times a year but I didn’t think that was worth carrying a jack around the whole time.
      d) For sand driving, with a shovel, reduced tyre pressure and recovery tracks you will get yourself out of trouble 99% of the time. For the other 1% you may need a winch. For example if your vehicle is stuck sideways on a dune and close to rolling onto its side, driving out using recovery tracks would be too dangerous as it may trigger a roll over. You could use a winch to pull the car at an angle to reduce the rollover risk. Another case is if you are stuck on a boggy, steep sloping beach. The sideways slope may cause the vehicle’s tyres to slide off the side of the recovery tracks, making the recovery tracks not very useful and causing you to slide further down the beach and into the water. In this case a winch is better to pull you straight up the beach away from the water. So a winch is good to protect yourself against these circumstances. On the other hand you may never encounter such situations and never use the winch. So you need to weigh up the benefit vs the extra weight, cost and space of carrying a winch that you may never use. People with winches end up unnecessarily using them. They could have got out with reduced tyre pressure, some shovel work and recovery tracks. So just because people use their winch all the time doesn’t mean the winch is actually useful. It is a rare situation when a winch is really needed.

      Hope that helps. Good luck with your dune bashing. Stay safe!

  2. Thank you so much for your response! The UAE does have great dunes and am hoping to explore more and more but am in the process of learning on smaller dunes and prepping my car
    a) I will keep the seats and tire in the back – doesn’t seem worth the effort
    b) The flexible tracks did bunch up with us quite a bit which was very frustrating and am considering the Maxtrax
    c) The winch scares me and they tend to be expensive, so given your input I am not going to go that route. Am considering the air bag or the hi-lift jack since it can double as a manual winch

    I hate to ask one more question but what say I am on my own and have the hi-lift jack – would burying the spare work better than those winch anchors they sell that are supposed to dig into the sand?
    Thanks again for all your help and have actually been looking into possibly acquiring a Suzuki Samurai although they are incredibly hard to come by and cant be imported as the import laws here are very strict. Keep up the great work on the site. Your attention to detail is superb and so are your photos 🙂

    • I’ve never used a proper sand anchor. Burying the spare tyre is hard work. Lots of shovelling. Then extracting the tyre again is more hard work. I imagine a proper anchor would be much quicker and easier to deploy. But they are bulky and heavy. So again it’s a balancing act between having all the best recovery gear to ensure you are protected from all situations and not spending too much money and carrying too much stuff. I do a lot of sand driving and I don’t have an anchor. Maybe if I was doing more hard core trails and dunes I’d have a proper electric winch and an anchor. But I’m mainly just cruising around camping and fishing. With experience and careful driving it’s very rare for me to have to bury the spare tyre. Might happen once every few years.

  3. Mate your post is like an encyclopedia .
    Shows heaps of knowledge and a good heart to share it.,
    Thanks heaps very useful.

  4. Excellent write-up. (I am a go-alone long time desert offroader with SWB Pajero 3.8.)

    AND this one regarding open diffs is not correct:

    – If stuck due to uneven terrain or hump-dee-doos without diff lockers, dig out sand from under the tyres that have the most traction. This will place weight onto the tyres that are spinning freely and allow you to drive out. CORRECT. Using the brakes and accelerating at the same time (poor man’s diff lock) whilst stuck in this scenario doesn’t work if you have standard open diffs. WHY WOULD YOU SAY THAT? Open diffs have no way of multiplying torque, regardless of the effect of braking. NO DIFFS OR DIFFLOCK MULTIPLIES TORQUE. Braking and accelerating at the same time may help with diffs that are capable of multiplying torque, such as limited slip diffs. FORGET TORQUE.

    Here my point is, dig a little to place the wheels on the ground. Apply the accelerator AND the brake moderately at the same time. This will act like a limited slip differential.

    I am using 3 difflocks now (rear, middle, front), so no need for this trick for me. Before I installed the front difflock, sometimes I needed to do the trick, when the traction became very little after lifting a front wheel, when crossing a dune.

    • Hey Nev thanks for your comment. I’ve tried braking and accelerating at the same time countless times on open diff vehicles, including my old suzuki sierra and my current toyota hilux (after replacing the factory limited slip diff with an air-locker). Every time I’ve tried I’ve had no result. I’ve had both of these vehicles stuck with diagonally opposite wheels spinning freely. With the vehicle stable and the wheels spinning I’ve played around with the brakes and hand brake and throttle in all sorts of ways and got exactly zero results. Not even a lurch forward or any sign of transferring torque to the wheels with traction. It makes sense in theory too for traditional open diffs. The brakes apply force to each side evenly. Any torque contribution from the brakes on the spinning side is exactly offset by extra resistance from the brake on the other side. So although the axle of the wheel with traction is experiencing torque the brake perfectly offsets that torque so there is no net torque to the wheel. Result is nothing happens when you apply the brakes. If you were able to apply the brakes on one side only then that would work but since both sides have the same amount of braking force there is no net gain. Open diffs always have the same torque on both sides, there can never be a difference in torque. This is what I mean by not being able to multiply torque.

      Some limited slip diffs multiply torque. For example if you have zero torque on one side then the other side also experiences zero torque since anything multiplied by zero is zero. So even with a limited slip diff, with one side spinning freely you get no drive and you’re stuck. But if one side has at least a small amount of torque then the other side experiences that torque multiplied to deliver even more torque. So if you apply the brakes, the side that was spinning freely now experiences some torque and this transfers to the other side with even more torque – enough to offset the brakes plus some extra to allow you to drive out.

      If you’ve had success with applying the brakes then I reckon you may have had some sort of limited slip diff. But this is just based on my experience and understanding of how it works.

      • Hey after reading this, I have decided to go on dune bashing the coming weekend. I have a question, please do help me out. Totally new to this.. How many people should I be maintaining in my Cruiser… ? WOuld it be a problem if there are 5 people and all r just weighing average.. or would u suggest me to get along one more drive.

      • Hey sanjay 5 people in your cruiser is fine. More people to help when you get stuck! Still would be good to have another vehicle if you’re a beginner in case you put your four wheel drive into a tricky position.

  5. As one who’s driven on sand for over thirty years I’m grateful to have come upon your concise and well-illustrated dissertation regarding driving on sand. In no way had I believed I’d seen it all during my adventures in true grit. Last year, in May of 2013, I even managed to get my Chevrolet Suburban (mighty, mighty U.S. made SUV; l o l) stuck in soft sand inside of the high tide line as the tide was still ebbing. As my SUV was too big to bury and forget and too well-stuck to extricate on my own I had to call-in an ‘old salt’ to pluck me out of my predicament.

    Walt, a gentleman of some years and experience, brought his ancient K20 Chevy 4X4 in front of my truck and attached a hawser to my Suburban; a stout rope that may’ve once secured an ocean-going salvage tug to a pier. After one failed attempt the Suburban came out of the hole like a champagne cork leaving a bottle on New Year’s Eve. I was chastened by this experience. I lost a day fishing as I ruminated over what I’d done wrong; which was to get into soft sand that had been churned by a hurricane (so-called Superstorm Sandy) just seven months earlier. I left the beach that day wiser and happy that I didn’t need to report the ‘sinking’ of my rig to the company that holds the insurance policy on it and relieved that no one outside of Walt and I would know of this sorry episode.

    • Hi Nostromo haha yeah the Suburban is too big to bury, nice work saving your truck. Those things weigh as much as a house which doesn’t help on soft sand. Twice as many cylinders as what you need.

      • Nice International Dateline response from you, Joe. I’m responding to you, here, when it is about four and three-quarters hours before your posting to me.

        I’ve always adapted what vehicle was at hand for sand/beach driving; fifteen times out of sixteen it was an eight cylinder truck or SUV and four wheel drive. So, for all of my professed experience in sand I have been fortunate to have gotten stuck but once. Curiously, my first time out was in a standard-shift 6 cylinder full-sized GMC pickup. My brother and I had just gotten the beach pass to drive in Ship Bottom, New Jersey. As we crept up to the passageway in the sand dunes I casually remarked to him; “Standby for some seriously manly sh*t!”. Well, we bogged down about 10 meters from the entrance, wheels churning, sand flying; I’m sure that you’ve seen the likes of it. One decent fellow came over to us and said; “You have to let some air out of your tires, greenhorn”. “Greenhorn” as I surely was, my face was certainly a bright red just then. Again, this was my very first shot at driving on sand in 1982 or 1983. Subsequently, and as I gained some experience, I was able to gauge what level of air pressure was needed for the conditions, the firmness of the sand. Typically the range which I’m running-in is 14 to 19 psi.

        Best wishes to you, Joe. I’m going to watch On the Beach with Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner and Fred Astaire in your honor. My mother introduced me to this film when I was at the tender age of five. She had my singing Waltzing Matilda with her in our home and as we hung wash outside and before I could grasp the significance of the song and its importance to the themes of the film. G’day to you!

      • Yeah I’ve seen many times people getting stuck a few meters in from the entry point into sand, pretty funny. Where abouts in the USA are you doing all your beach driving? On the Beach ay, I’ve never seen it. It’s really old. Worth watching? We don’t have any super 8 rental shops around here though.

  6. The New Jersey coast, Joe; in the communities of Surf City, Ship Bottom, Holgate and in the state park at Island Beach south of Seaside Heights, New Jersey. Island Beach State Park is a preserve and wildlife sanctuary. All of these places I’ve named are located roughly equidistant (within 60 miles or so) from the New York City, New York State and the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania metropolitan areas. This means that the best beach driving east of our Mississippi River (a colloquial device which is used to represent the eastern half of The United States; as the Mississippi is roughly seen as the midpoint) is located within driving distance for nearly 20 million American citizens.

    Fortunately for surf fishermen, as myself, not everyone nearby is keen to buy a 4-wheel drive vehicle and head “down the shore” (another, local, colloquialism). There are days, mostly during the middle of the week during summer here, June, July and August, when one can feel completely alone. Looking north and south on the beach it’s not uncommon to see no other vehicle, no other fishermen, much of the time. During spring and fall the fishing action is seasonally brisk and one might see a few other fisherman going through their paces running up and down the beach in their trucks looking for the fringes of a good riptide.

    Yes, the film, On The Beach, is an oldie. Australia figures prominently in the story. Best wishes to you.

    • Surf City, sounds nice. New Jersey, sounds cold. I’m surprised you can get some peace on those beaches with so many people in the region, that’s pretty good. In Australia near regions with a few million people there’s a butt load of 4WDs on the beach. But then the rest of our 30,000km of coastline is very isolated with bugger all people anywhere.

  7. Quite a contrast there, Joe. It is (still) amazing to me that I can feel isolated with all of the people just, literally, over-the-horizon, behind me. New Jersey gets its share of cold weather. Even in the summer some cloudy days with an onshore breeze can send vacationers along the shore scurrying indoors. I’ve had to put-on my neoprene hooded jacket once or twice over the years in summer as the wind shifted underneath leaden skies. We here like our 4WD vehicles but I’d venture a guess as to say that fewer than 10% of off-road vehicle owners ever take their vehicles off of the road. Driving in wintertime, when we get four or more inches of snow, is when everybody with 4WD decides that is the moment that they need to go to the store to get milk or head over to the coffeehouse to cluck over the weather. I’ve done that myself. Best wishes.

  8. A great how-to. Thanks for the distillation of your long experience.

    Light is indeed good (speaking as a Forester owner) but isn’t it better expressed as low weight per sq cm of contact patch?

    • Hey Ern no probs. Nah I don’t think that is a better way to express it. Weight per sq cm of contact patch is dictated by tyre pressure. If you have a heavy car and a light car at the same tyre pressure (and therefore same weight per unit area of contact patch) the light car is still better. Check out here for more info.

  9. Excellent write-up mate!!!! Thanks so much for all of the great advice :-). Just moved to WA myself and I’m really keen to explore all the beautiful beaches this state has to offer 🙂

  10. Great writeup in a common-sense style. Would have been handy to read before my first powder dry sandy track. Made every mistake in the book but thanks to beginners luck made it out and back. Looking forward to a rematch better armed. Did notice rear diff lock helped a little but way too much steering input almost bogged me. Just have to learn that the vehicle will follow the rusts. Will try your sharp yank and then straight. Actually surprisingly easy to get a lock of turn on and not know it for this newbie.

    • Hey mate thanks for the feedback hope the article was useful and your next mission goes well. I have seen people driving with their steering nearly full lock churning through a rut. It’s hard to tell it’s happening apart from sand flying everywhere and vehicle slowing down.

  11. Great article! Never been on sand but about to do so, hence researching. What pressures would you have 265/40 R21 on? These are low profile on a Mercedes ML350

    • Hey Ben, tyre profile increases the risk of pinching the tyre between rim and ground, other than that you just decrease tyre pressure until you are floating on top which depends on vehicle weight and depth of sand. Your vehicle may not be suitable for deep soft sand if the ground clearance is poor, it lacks a low range gearbox and has tyre profiles so low that tyre damage risk is too high. But I don’t know much about that vehicle. If the sand aint too soft then drop to whatever keeps you on top, maybe 25 psi or something, and you should be ok.

  12. Hi Ben, thank you for the “know how to” article. I’ll be driving on sand next week for the first time in my new Jeep Grand Cherokee which has select terrain. The jeep has standard tyres. Do I still need to deflate my tyres?

    • Hi Lars not sure if Ben is the right man to ask but I can reply if you like, seeing it’s outbackjoe.com. Yes you need to deflate your tyres for sand. “Select Terrain” wont do jack.

      • Sorry mate. Don’t know why I said Ben. Thanks for the tip. Had many different people say otherwise. Some say deflate and others say not to.

      • Select terrain probably changes how the traction control reacts. This doesn’t affect the interface between your vehicle and the ground which is governed by the tyres and the pressure in them. Hard tyres will have you immediately bogged in soft sand. Software in the traction control system cannot circumvent this. If someone says don’t deflate they have never been in soft sand.

  13. Cheers mate, a really good read. I look forward to doing a lot more beach driving now. Feeling a bit more confident after reading your article. Recently purchased some tyre deflators and set them to 15psi. South west wa beaches , here I come.

  14. Been only couple times driving in the beach, this article surely give much more info to improve my confidence for future trip. Thanks! Greeting from Queensland!

  15. Your article is nearly perfect, and it may be presumptuous of me to add two techniques.

    The first is the famous 1st Low Extremely Gentle Start. Low revs are involved. Once rolling on top of the sand, more throttle can be used, and, as speed increases, gear changes tend to be the usual high-revving affairs. If a gentle start doesn’t get it going, driving forward and back a metre or two for what feels like 8 times can make enough of a hard track to get going. Gently.

    Planks and lumps of wood are wonderful things. Permanently in my car, I have a big lump for the base of the jack, and four metre-long planks sideways, flat in the back of the vehicle. And 3 other bits. The plan is that I jack it up, fill in the wheel holes and – if necessary – put the planks on top, under the wheels. In soft sand with an incoming tide, these could hopefully guarantee a speed of 1m per few minutes, which is faster than my tides. This is very reassuring. In fact I have never used them on beaches, but they have got me unstuck quite quickly in my local hills on several occasions.

    Cheers,

    PB

  16. An excellent and very comprehensive article, however, I beg to differ regarding turning around on a beach. If you turn up the beach one loses momentum very quickly, due to turning and driving up hill at the same time. My preferred method is to accelerate to maximum safe speed and drive up the slope at a very slight angle, until one detects a slight loss of momentum due to the softer sand, then back off the power and turn down the beach in as tighter arc as possible accelerating in the last 90 degrees of the “U” turn, the wheels want to dig in but the vehicle is going down hill and gaining speed. Plant the boot until you are going straight and slowly work your way up the beach to the safety of the dry sand. Works for me, turning whilst driving up hill definitely doesn’t. The only advantage in turning up slope is the vehicle is further from the water when it bogs down and if the sand is really soft, it probably will. I would only turn up slope if the beach was too narrow to U turn and then use my Maxtrax (I have 4) to assist in a multi point turn, or winch as a last resort. On the subject of winching in sand, I always bury my spare wheel vertically, parallel to the front of the vehicle with a wheel brace behind the wheel centre to attach the winch cable or the recovery strap. This creates a greater surface area. Once I’ve de-bogged myself, I use the winch to extract the wheel, as I’m sure most people do.
    Something else worth mentioning is if one is stuck in wet sand, turn the engine off until you are ready to attempt the extraction, as the vibration of the engine will act like a concrete vibrator causing the vehicle to sink even deeper.
    Paul Kelley

  17. Oh, I noticed many of the vehicles in your article have alloy rims, I wouldn’t use my winching recovery method with alloys for fear of distorting or destroying the rim, your method would certainly be preferable if driving on alloys.
    Paul Kelley

  18. Finally some useful information on the internet…I have experienced almost all of the situations you have described mostly in North Carolina and Oregon. But I still learned something and the refresher was great. Ready to get back into 4WDing in North Carolina…I was looking at either the 4 door Jeeps or a Chevy 3500 Diesel….sounds like I should reconsider my neighbors little Suzuki. Thanks for taking the time to put this info together.

    • Hey Mike glad the article was useful, but surely there’s some other useful stuff on the net!

      Me and my wife traveled down the Oregon coast a couple of years ago, was awesome, we had a ball. Was one of our favourite bits of our trip around USA.

      My Sierra was the best couple of grand I’ve ever spent, that thing was legendary on sand.

  19. That was SO unbelievably useful! I am currently in the hunt for a 4b or ute to do exactly this! And the article has given me so much useful content to absorb and digest!
    But I think before I go out and drop big coin on a beast, I might invest a couple of grand on a little Suzuki (or similar) so if I do end up forcing its retirement and reminiscing on sunsets we’ve shared together, It won’t hurt so bad whilst I watch her being swallowed by the sea!! Or maybe it will. It’s hard to be sure . . .
    Thanks brother. Such a great read!

    • Hey Rhyno glad the article was useful. Yeah a Sierra is an awesome vehicle to cut your teeth on. It’s cheap, forgiving to mistakes and will get out of almost anything. Be careful when you upgrade, coz the ease of which the sierra handles sand can lead you to unknowingly put a big beast into risky situations.

  20. Good Article, what about mentioning furiously turning the wheel side to side when self recovering? I’ve found this really effective in some situations. Also rocking back and forth to flatten the sand and make a bit of a firm ramp to drive out on.

    I can totally relate to the ‘narrow’ beaches part. About a year ago, against my better judgement, myself and a mate rocked up at a narrow beach in SA ready for a bit of camping and fishing. When we arrived the tide was pretty high, but we decided to do a bit of reconnaissance and suss it out anyway. We got down ok but decided to turn back as the tide was coming up. Coming back we kind of slipped down towards the water (it was a really steep beach) and got hopelessly bogged. Meanwhile the weather turned to complete shit, wind, heavy raain, the tide came right in, waves hitting the drivers side, and the water was eroding the tires on the drives side, causing to car to be on about a 30 degree angle. We were both shitting ourselves, emptied the car, hooked the winch up to a buried tyre up higher on the beach to prevent rolling, and dug like mad men for about an hour. We seriously thought wed loose tee troopy, but we managed to level the car out, and I drove out of it like a mad man! I might add, the beach was about 20m wide at that stage with a sheer cliff backing straight onto the beach, nowhere to go! Needless to say I learnt a valuable lesson!

    Cheers.

  21. Wow I just finished reading your article and I have to say awsome tips. I have done lots of mud and trail off-road trips in my old 89′ wrangler I just purchased a new 4Runner sr5. I wanted trd but the wife wanted a sunroof. So anyways we go to North Carolina every summer. I have always wanted to drive on the beach. I’m just real nervous about getting bogged down and stuck. I can only imagine the LOOK I will get. I’m hoping this 4Runner makes it ok I will be following all your tips thanks

  22. Awesome tips mate, just finished reading all the sand driving tips and the comments by the off-road Gurus. Just got back last night after spending a good 2 hours of recovering my 2009 Pajero 3.5 V6 in deep sand dunes in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia under the super moon.

    “Hump-dee-doo” is always a night mare for me as I always tend to get into this situation by one of the feels hanging in air (guessing articulation isn’t much for Pajero). Still have to find the perfect technique to get out from this. 9/10 times have to use the snatch rope. I use Low Range with locking center diff most of the time. I reckon you recommend unlocking the diff-lock in this situation?

    • Hey Sarmad on uneven terrain diff lockers are king! Turn all your diff lockers and traction aids on when confronting hump-dee-doos. A rear diff locker, combined with your center diff locker, will make hump-dee-doos a piece of cake. Before you approach a hump-dee-doo you can shovel sand into the deepest parts to make it more even. If you do get stuck and the sand is soft and easy to dig then an option is to dig out sand from under the tyre that has the most weight on it. This transfers weight onto to the wheel that is spinning with no traction. Combine this with super low tyre pressure and your 9/10 snatch rope ratio will change to 1/10.

  23. Awesome article! We are planning a trip to Fraser Island soon in our new Pajero Sport and there is so much information to digest. This one article answered us so many questions! Cheers 🙂

  24. Dang near got my FJ Cruiser stuck during my first attempt at beach driving in Long Island, NY north shore. Having driven many times over the sugar sands of the Pine Barrens in NJ I thought I had nothing to worry about. Needless to say exit from the beach is an uphill into some really soft sand I I did not think I was going to get out of there. Shocked to say the least! After airing down and finding some rocks to start off on I made it off without needed a tow. Checking later I had only dropped the air from 45 to 30 psi – and I thought it was way lower! Of course my cheap stick type gauge was not working today either… Your article is well written and spot on. Thanks for taking the time to create it!

  25. Great article! I total agree that tire air pressure is the most important factor.

    A couple of years ago I was down in Baja with my 2001 Mercury Grand Marque…not exactly a dune buggy. My girlfriend wanted to go to a beach that was about a mile from the main highway. The dirt road that went to the beach was covered in deep sand in many places.. We started down the road (at the urging of my girlfriend and against my better judgement) and the sand was getting deeper and I was concerned about getting stuck (it was 110 outside). We started down a hill and it looked like really deep sand at the bottom, I decided to stop back out. Well, not surprisingly, the rear wheels dug in and we were stuck. I had no shovel or any recovery equipment of any sort. We had water and we were only about a quarter mile from the main highway so I wasn’t too worried…but my girlfriend was. I removed as much sand as I could by hand from around the tires and from under the chassis. Then let most of the air out of the rear tires and the big heavy Merc pull right out of the sand and I was able to drive it back to the main highway. I only had manual pump with me so had to re-inflate the tires by hand in 110 heat. I made a stupid mistake but letting the air out of the tires worked fantastically.

  26. Great article Joe and one I have read attempting to seek a solution to my bogging issue. I have a 5 acre bush block that has trees and shrubs on it and the soil/sand mix is quite like sand. I also have a Mitsubishi MT204 Tractor that constantly gets bogged and this is extremely frustrating. I have lowered the air pressure in the large rear tyres to 18psi and I still get bogged. Last time I had to pull the tractor out with the Pajero (this is just so wrong). I am wondering if the big chunky large tyres on the tractor are what is causing the issue, but reading this blog it does not seem so. However, I do not have a solution and I am writing on here in the hope of finding one if you can help or anyone has had a similar experience.

    • Some say aggressive tyres are worse for sand but I don’t know how much difference it makes. How flat do your tyres look at 18? If plenty of clearance in the profile then keep airing down.

  27. Hi Joe, thanks for your comments. At 18psi they still look like they were fully inflated. So I will deflate them some more and see what happens.
    When you look at the tread pattern behind the tractor when driving, the chunky tread just seems to break up the surface and sink in, and then dig it out on its way forward. So despite what one would think, I am beginning to believe that the chunky tread pattern is just not good for sand.
    I will reduce more and see what happens.
    Regards

  28. A very good article and probably the best I have read to date. However, most of the information (and pictures) relate to hard (typical in Australia) and not super soft sand(typical in deserts). In soft sand your feet sink 6-12 inches just by getting out of your vehicle. I train people to 4WD in Saud Arabia where we have 700 foot high slip-faces (great fun to drive down). If I was explaining to people how to prepare for sand driving I would talk about vehicles first and my preference would be 1. light vehicles, 2. high power to weight ration, 3. good clearance, and 4. choice of tyre.

    There are two major things I would disagree with when in soft sand. Any vehicle that uses low gear gets stuck instantly. It is just not possible to get across a soft sand bowl in low gear. As you indicate, momentum is key and you will not get sufficient momentum in low gear. Also you will need more gear changes, and each gear change is very expensive on momentum.

    Second you indicate that the tyre choice is not important. I would strongly disagree with that. A vehicle with a 100 profile sand tyre will far exceed a vehicle with a 75 profile mud tyre. It is chalk and cheese. Also, a sand tread allows vehicles to spin their wheels continuously allowing a vehicle to move forward extremely slowly without sinking, while doing the same with an all-terrain tyre will cause you to dig you self into a hole. Mud tyres instantly dig the vehicle into a hole.

    Regarding tyre pressure, I recommend my people to start with higher pressure so that they can feel the sand through the steering wheel and travel in greater safety. Letting the pressure down low too early certainly prevents you getting stuck, but also does not allow you to feel the sand to know that you are in the type of sand that will lead you to getting stuck quickly. Also, with higher pressure, you can get out quickly by lowering the tyre pressure, but if you are stuck with very low tyre pressure you don’t have any ‘quick’ options. By the way, most manufactures have minimum recommended deflation pressures related to rim width.

    I was an accredited 4WD instructor by the Australian 4WD Association but that didn’t prepare me for big dunes and vast soft deserts.

    As I said, this is the best article I have read, but if you plan to write a book you have missed a lot of important sand driving information, or some of the key points are lost in the verbiage.

    Well done.

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