Tire pressure is one of the most important parts of off-road driving. It doesn’t matter if you’re on the beach, on the hills, in the mud, or on the rocks, correct tire pressure is what’s going to get your vehicle going in those harsh driving environments.
But what is the correct tire pressure for off-roading? The answer is more complicated because there are many types of off-road. In order to provide you with the best possible answer, I talked to a couple of off-road experts on correct tire pressure for off-roading.
What I found out was very interesting.
Why Lowering Tire Pressure is Important For Off-road
By lowering the tire pressure, you are getting the vehicle to sit up on top of the terrain instead of getting bogged down into it. The more that you can get the tires to sit up on top, the easier off-road driving is going to be.
When you lower the tire pressure, you increase the amount of contact patch between the tire and the terrain. The bigger the tire footprint is, the less pressure per square inch the vehicle is putting on the terrain.
The important thing is not how wide the contact patch gets but how long it gets.
Actually, lowering the tire pressure has more than one benefit. If I had to separate the main reasons why lowering the tire pressure when driving off-road is important. Here are the benefits of lowering tire pressure for off-roading:
1. Improves the comfort of the vehicle
Lowering the tire pressure when driving off-road improves the comfort of the vehicle. Regardless of whether you are traveling across rough terrain, corrugations, or rocky steep hills, lowering the tire pressure actually enhances how the suspension works and greatly improves the comfort of the vehicle.
2. Increases the traction
Reducing the tire pressure for off-road driving improves the traction of the vehicle. By lowering the tire pressure, you are greatly increasing the footprint of the tire. This means there is more rubber on the ground. More rubber on the ground results in more traction.
With increased traction, the vehicle will travel over the rough terrain far more easily.
3. Protects the tires from punctures
Lowering the tire pressure when driving off-road protects the tires from punctures because the less air you have in the tires, the more they can deform and flex over objects like rocks and sticks.
On other hand, if you have a lot of air in the tires, there is less flex in the tires and it is more likely for the tire to get punctured.
4. Prevents unnecessary wheel spinning
With lower tire pressure and increased tire traction, you are protecting the environment because the more traction your vehicle has, the less scrabbling and less tearing at the terrain will occur.
Lowering the tire pressure prevents unnecessary wheel spinning, therefore protecting the terrain.
Types of Off-roading and Correct PSI For Each
There are different types of off-roading. It is important to note that each off-roading environment needs to be driven with different PSI. Therefore, I am putting up a list of the correct PSI for all types of off-road driving.
Driving on soft sand requires a tire pressure anywhere between 10 PSI to about 18 PSI. Most people will find somewhere in that bracket that will work for them.
However, you can get into some completely ridiculously soft powdery sand and you may have to go lower just to get yourself out of there. But, once you are out of that sand, inflate the tires back between 10 and 18 PSI.
Having the correct tire pressure when off-roading will make your vehicle move easily through the soft sand.
The correct tire pressure for driving on hard sand is anywhere between 16 PSi to 25 PSI. By hard sand I mean sand that has had traffic gone over it and made it a bit firmer than normal sand. I usually start at about 20 to 25 PSI and work my way down from there.
The correct tire pressure for dune bashing is anywhere between 16 PSI to 20 PSI. The tire pressure will be different for different vehicles. So, I suggest you start from 20 PSI and then lower your tire pressure until you see what works best for your vehicle.
Ensuring that you have the correct tire pressure when off-roading will make your vehicle go easily on the dunes.
The correct tire pressure for cross-country off-road is anywhere between 16 PSI to 35 PSI. The corrugated roads are a bit tricky. If you can do high speed on that particular terrain, start at 35 PSI and then lower the tire pressure if needed.
The tire pressure of between 16 PSI and 35 PSI will provide better traction and will prevent premature tire wear while driving cross-country.
The key here is to find the correct tire pressure that will give you the least bone-rattling experience. However, if there are a lot of tight turns and corners on the trail and you can only go about 35 miles at max speed, then perhaps go a bit lower on your tire pressure.
Mudding and mud plugging
The correct tire pressure for off-road driving through muddy terrains is anywhere between 16 PSI and 25 PSI. This is what will work for most vehicles. However, sometimes you need to go to the high end because you need to be able to spin your wheels a bit more to clean your tires.
Momentum is key when driving in muddy terrains. One thing that you need to be careful of is if you go too low, you could slam into the banks and risk damaging the tire.
Rock crawling is an extreme type of off-road driving that requires a tire pressure of anywhere between 16 PSI and 22 PSI. Lowering the tire pressure will make the tires more flexible. The tires will be able to deform and flex over objects without puncturing.
The key here is to choose the correct tire pressure that will get your vehicle the traction and tire flexibility it needs, but also avoid the whole vehicle being too low to the ground.
What Is The Lowest Tire Pressure You Can Go?
The lowest tire pressure you can go is 5 PSI. If you deflate your tires below 5 PSI, the wheels will start spinning around the tire. The only situation where you would want to deflate your tires to about 5 PSI is if you find yourself in a sandy or muddy terrain and you just can’t get out of it.
However, once you get unstuck, you should inflate your tires back up to 10 or 12 PSI immediately.
Should Front and Back Tires Have The Same Tire Pressure?
No, when off-roading, the tire pressure of the front and the back tires should be around four to five PSI difference, meaning, if your vehicle is heavier on the front side, then the front tires should be inflated more than the rear tires.
Some off-road vehicles are heavier on the rear side. In those cases, the rear tires should be inflated up to four or five PSI more than the front tires. The side with more weight should have more air in the tires because the weight of the vehicle is actually making the tire footprint bigger already.
It is important to always have the correct tire pressure. Otherwise, you are risking damaging your tires.
How Fast Can You Actually Go With Low Tire Pressure
With a tire pressure of 16 PSi, you shouldn’t go above 30 miles per hour. If your tires are inflated between 16 and 25 PSI, you shouldn’t be driving faster than 45 miles per hour. With a tire pressure between 25 and 30 PSI, you shouldn’t be going faster than 50 miles per hour while off-roading.