QUICK GUIDE TO 4WD HILL CLIMBING
With gravity working against you, hill climbing is one of the hardest components of any 4×4 trail. Seeing the sky through your windscreen as your vehicle tackles a steep incline is enough to get anyone’s adrenaline flowing and heart racing. It is one of the reasons I love the sport of off-roading so much. Hill climbing is certainly daunting but equipped with the right know-how, the right technology and the optimum set-up, you will have no problem taking on even the most challenging hills.
ASSESSING THE HILL
Before you try and ascend a steep hill, take a moment to assess the surface of the hill. You need to know if the conditions are slippery or if the ground is uneven before you get halfway up the hill and it all goes wrong.
For a slippery surface, you will need to tackle the hill in a higher gear to gain enough traction. The less torque in higher gears will offer more grip. However, if the surface looks uneven, you will benefit from the increased control available from a lower gear and lower speed.
The best route up a hill is straight up it. This minimizes the side angles. If you begin to slide you will only slide straight back, which can be controlled much better than a side slide. However, there are some occasions when attacking a hill straight on is not possible. There may be trees or roots in the way or a rut in the surface.
To deal with these, try and follow the ruts. If your wheels are lodged in a channel, you won’t be able to start sliding sideways.
Hold the vehicle on the footbrake before you start the climb. Using the handbrake should be avoided as it is usually only effective on the rear wheels, while the footbrake acts on all four wheels.
Set the throttle at a comfortable rev for the power band. Something around 3000 revs should be sufficient. Climb the first few metres as a test. Is the surface too slippery? Will you need more momentum? Are you using the right gear for the climb? If you fail just a few metres up, the consequences will be much more manageable than if you dive right in and fail half way up the hill.
If you are getting enough grip on your test run, you can use the flat to give you enough momentum to tackle the climb. If you are not you will need to recover from the railed climb.
There are two main reasons why hill climbs sometimes fail. You don’t have enough grip, or you don’t have enough momentum. If your problem is due to momentum, your vehicle will likely stall. Recovering from a stall halfway up a hill can be a terrifying experience, but the most important thing is not to panic.
If you run out of steam but the engine is still running, the first thing you need to do is hit the brake pedal. Then make sure there is nothing behind you, and put the vehicle into reverse and release the clutch. Avoid using the brakes as you reverse, instead let the engine slow the vehicle’s descent. Then have another stab at the hill, but this time with more momentum built up on the flat.
If your engine has stalled and cut out, your procedure will be slightly different. Again, press the footbrake firmly down and check there is nothing behind you to impede your descent. Put the clutch down and engage reverse gear, but keep the engine off at this point. Release the clutch gently as you release the brake, holding the vehicle on the transmission alone. Restart the engine, this should initiate engine braking from the moment you restart the ignition. You can then bring the car safely down the hill, again, avoid using the footbrake and just let the engine slow you down.
Getting out of a sideways slide is slightly different again. Your immediate response will be to hammer the brakes or push the clutch down, but this will only make the situation worse by locking the wheels up. Simply turn the wheel to get the nose of the vehicle pointing down the hill. Try to do this without throttle, but if it is reluctant to turn you can engage the throttle to help things along. Once you are facing down the hill, you can let the engine do the braking and come off the pedals.
Armed with the knowledge of how to safely tackle hill climbs, and how to recover from them, there is nothing stopping you giving it a go. Once you have nailed the technique, there are few areas of off-roading that bring as much enjoyment as a challenging hill climb. Hit the trails and unlock your full potential.
Is there anything you can add from your experience? Share with everyone else in the comments section below.