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Every time I've gone to sand dunes somewhere I get comments from readers and wheelers - ah well I don't have the horsepower for the dunes. Then I mention some cool off-road trail and its 'I don't have enough lift or big enough tires'. Personally I really like the 'getting back to basics' sometimes. Strip out all the expensive 4x4 parts, giant tires and thousands of dollars of off-road parts and just get out and have some fun. The trails don't have to have the biggest, baddest rocks or deepest water - a lot of fun can be had with a totally stock rig - and the off-the-lot rigs are a whole lot better than when I started wheeling. That's not to say you shouldn't be prepared and know the limits of the vehicle your driving, but you just really don't need a rig on 40s to have fun. I was actually excited when I knew I wasn't going to get my CJK8 done for Moab this spring. It took a ton of pressure off finishing and Toyota stepped up and gave me wheels for an awesome week of wheeling. Ok so it came with a stock rear locker and crawl control for added front traction but beyond that it was a pretty stock rig, no rock sliders, factory Goodyear Wrangler tires and that oh so flexible front IFS suspension.
I hear on-line all the time - I bought a Jeep what do I need first? Well you really have everything you need to have fun. Throw in some recovery gear, food, water and snacks and pretty much go find a logging road and get on your off-road adventure. Now I will admit I've got a few years of off roading under my belt and I'm pretty comfortable with handling almost anything or as Gord Downie says 'I can get behind anything', but there is a thrill in stripping it down to the basics.
Check out the 'Toyota TRD on the trails' article and you will see we did a lot of things your average stock Toyota or Jeep owner would not be comfortable doing within the first 500KMS of owning their rig, but it sure was a great time with very minimal damage.
What it does is, it hones your skills and keeps them sharp, I will admit I like big tires more than most but it sure does make a lot of trails really easy.
One of my favorite things in Moab this year were a couple of old guys (kinda like me) in a stripped down Willys with no roll cage, window folded down taking on spots like Potato Salad Hill. Those boys knew how to drive. No factory Rubicon lockers, long travel suspension 4:1 transfer case and electronic sway bar disconnects - Just pure driving ability some military tires and the sense to have some fun!
So - No, you need nothing other than a 4x4 with low tire pressure and some driver control to have a blast on the sand dunes like we did - a buddy to get you unstuck with a tug while you learn would not be a bad thing to bring along though and a few things like a shovel, tug strap and a portable air compressor. And yes you can do the Rubicon trail on 33-inch tires and no lockers - ask me I did it in a CJ with a terrible lift kit, no lockers and 3.08 gears in 1994 (my first big 4x4 trip I ever did), then again in a 1987 4Runner with IFS on 33s in 2004 and this year in a stock Toyota Tacoma we had a blast in Moab and the St Anthony Dunes (A lot of things happened in between those trips as well). So I guess the moral of this ramble is - get off your duff stop making excuses - be careful, don't get over your head and don't bend to pear pressure to take on a trail your not ready for or start spending thousands on parts you really don't need to just to get started - but just have fun in this little hobby we call Four-Wheelin... Oh and while I was typing this I just got an email that my 44 Pitbull Rockers just shipped - but that's another story.