Overlanding with a 2wd vehicle — can it make it offroad?

driving offroad 2wd

The possibilities are not endless, but you can still have fun. Let’s cut to the chase here. Overlanding & offroading with a 2wd truck or SUV isn’t the ideal, but it’s doable. Having a 4×4 is always the best route and this article isn’t meant to be another 4wd vs. 2wd for offroading debate. But the old saying “use what you got” can apply in this scenario if you take the proper steps.

Best gear for 2wd Offroading/Overlanding? Air-down and back up with an air compressor. Read my Viair 88P Review.

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You just have to be more careful when heading out to remote locations with half the traction of a true off-road vehicle. I am in no way advocating to buy a 2wd truck if you have the slightest urge to explore. By all means if you’re in the market for a offroad overland vehicle, get a 4×4. However, if you’re like me and purchased a Toyota Tacoma Prerunner — not having any clue that in the future you’d like to go explore off the beaten path — there is still hope.

Precautions when off-roading and overlanding a 2wd vehicle

  • This should go without saying — TIRES. A good set of all-terrain tires can make a huge difference offroad. I’d recommend something from Cooper or BFG. Once I hit the trail I always air down to about 20psi. This gives you more traction and a softer ride.
  • Be proficient at getting un-stuck. Bring plenty of off-road recovery gear such as traction boards, snatch straps (to get pulled out), a hi-lift jack or something safer to get the wheels up easily, a winch/come-along, tire deflator and air compressor, and of course tools in case something breaks.
  • Have plenty of experience. This is huge, especially if you decide to go out alone. Join your local off-road club or find an online community where you can partake in trail runs and meetups. I have been a member over at tacomaworld.com for a few years and gained invaluable experience just from reading and joining a few group runs. Picking your lines on off-camber or steep areas will get you through most ugly stuff. Avoid sand like the plague and be careful where you decide to stop. The gas pedal is your friend.
  • Try to go with a 4-wheel drive buddy. You can relax mentally and enjoy the trail a lot more when you know you have a friend that doesn’t mind pulling you out if things go wrong. This brings me back to my second tip about having recovery gear. Don’t make your friend use his snatch straps and gear to get you out. Have your straps ready and make sure you know your recovery points around the truck. If you don’t have good recovery points then you’d better work on getting some fabricated and installed.

Many 2wd overland tips also apply to 4×4 drivers

You might notice that most of the tips in this article can also be applied to overlanders and offroaders with 4×4. You can still get stuck in 4-wheel drive and you’ll need a way to get out. It’s just a lot more crucial to a 2wd owner to be prepared since the chances of having no wheel power is a lot higher. Be smart about where you go and know when to turn around. Don’t try anything stupid if you’re alone.

Modifications that help make a 2wd vehicle more offroad capable

Don’t go too crazy spending a ton of money on “mods”. My Toyota Tacoma has a lift and modest suspension upgrade to help with bigger tires and ground clearance. These two mods have proved to be helpful on trails where I would have been nervous about hitting something underneath or getting hung up on rocks.

Locking Differential for 2wd trucks

A rear locking differential or mechanical limited slip will go a long way to keeping your back wheels moving even if one side is up in the air. Toyota sells a 2wd model that comes with a locking rear differential dubbed “TRD OFFROAD”. A lot of people think the TRD Offroad automatically means 4×4. It does not in the Toyota world. You can get it in two-wheel drive and it has a rear locker. Everything else about this truck is the same as the 4×4, just without the transfer case In Southern California you can’t drive more than five minutes without seeing at least one TRD Offroad Prerunner. If you don’t have one from factory you can always go with an aftermarket locker or limited slip.

Winch for 2wd offroaders

Lastly, a winch can obviously get you out of some trouble if you’re alone. It won’t help much in the desert or beach, but in forests you can find a tree to help get you un-stuck. If you have it mounted on your truck you might need a custom bumper that will house the winch and make it safe to use. If I go this route I’ll probably end up with low profile winch bumper that’s lightweight and retains the factory look.

Tell someone your detailed overland plans

I can’t stress this enough. Again, this is also necessary for 4×4 expedition vehicles with all the bells and whistles. Let a family member, friend, or both, know about your detailed trip plans. Include daily locations and times you intend to follow and when you should be expected home. This will give rescuers the best chance of helping you if you become stranded or disabled in a desolate area. GPS tracking devices such as SPOT or inReach can send your location hourly and allow you to send text messages via satellite in areas your phone will not have reception. I haven’t picked one of these up myself but I plan to in the near future. If you break down in the middle of Death Valley you’ll be glad you have a way to ask for help.

COMMS are important

I have a HAM radio, but I haven’t figured out how to use repeaters yet. If you have a license (not hard to get) you can communicate with a HAM radio on frequencies and repeaters where you can call for help should something go bad. I know a few people who set it up to use multiple repeater towers to speak with loved ones at home via the internet. Pretty amazing stuff and I can’t wait to dive into the HAM radio world.

Let us know your experiences with offroading and overlanding with a 2wd vehicle. Be sure to check out the article Turn Your 2WD into a Badass Overland Vehicle by the guys over at Adventure Journal. It’s a damn good read! And if you want even more 2wd offroad reading material head over to Offroad Xtreme for some really good content.

Are you ready to go? Take plenty of water and provisions and have a blast! Happy wheelin!

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