Sometimes, pulling a trailer off-road is as easy as pulling one down the highway. All you gotta do is make sure you're hooked up correctly and plan ahead. Other times, pulling a trailer off-road can be extraordinarily difficult. The trailer can "hang" you on obstacles, get bogged down in mud, and keep you from climbing a steep or slippery incline.
This article will go over some of the more common challenges faced when pulling a trailer off-road, and then offer some suggestions for making things easier.
Common Off-Road Trailering Challenges
Getting hung up because the trailer is stuck on an obstacle. This is an extremely common scenario when you’re towing a trailer in off-road conditions — the tow vehicle will clear something, but the trailer isn’t having it! Something as little as a tree stump can catch the trailer and get up stuck, it doesn’t take much.
Not being able to get around a curve because you're too long. A sharp switch back is usually no problem for any off-road vehicle, but if a trailer is attached, these can become very challenging.
You can get in, but you can’t get out. This is a common occurrence at campsites for various reasons. Somehow you got the trailer in place, but it’s not coming back out. It may be because you don’t have sufficient "run" to get up a head of steam, or because weather has changed road conditions, or because it's harder to maneuver out that anticipated.
The trailer needs to be disconnected while off-roading because the tow vehicle is stuck. This is a problem within a problem — you need to disconnect the trailer because the vehicle is stuck, but once you disconnect, you've got a trailer that isn't attached to anything sitting on a trail.
How To Handle These Common Challenges
Dealing with these common off-road towing problems is equal parts prevention, technique, and tools. Here are some general guidelines.
Carefully map out your route. If you can, go ahead and scout out your route. Sometimes this isn’t possible, especially on a long trip, but your eyes on the ground will reveal a lot more than a map. If you can’t take a look yourself, your next best bet is to jump on off-roading forums and ask people in that area to alert you to obstacles.
NOTE: If you're about to try and pull over an obstacle or difficult route, walk it first. Every off-roader agrees walking an obstacle is a smart idea before you try driving it.
Don’t take your trailer somewhere it shouldn’t go. This is a common sense bit that many people seem to forget, but if there’s going to be ground clearance issues or impassable objects/angles in the way, don’t try to take a trailer with you.
Reduce tire pressure on the trailer and add weight to pivot. In sticky situations, it’s best the keep the tire pressure low to avoid getting stuck. Also, you can use weight distribution to your advantage when you need to pivot the trailer around various obstacles...add or remove weight from the front or back of the trailer, and gravity will help you "pull" the trailer where you want it to.
Use a winch and off-road trailer jack with a swivel wheel. Sometimes, the only way to get a trailer somewhere is to winch it. If you have a heavy-duty off-road trailer jack with a swivel wheel (like the XO Trailer Jack), you can jack up the trailer so it's resting on the wheel, detach the tow vehicle, and then use a winch to pull the trailer over/around whatever obstacle there us. The wheeled trailer jack can be steered easily enough, and assuming it's sufficiently tough, it will get your trailer out of trouble.