Last Update: 2/12/2018

What Are BLM and Forest Service Roads Like to Drive?

VW bus driving forest service road in mountains

If ya wanna get inta vanlife boondockin', ya likely been curious 'bout what it's like to drive unpaved backroads. That and what gear ya need. Let me tell ya!

Now, Vanholio ain't no offroad drivin' expert. But he's gone down plenty a forest service roads and other unpaved roads in near three years a vanlife. So he's got a view to the situation. Plus he's made plenty a mistakes and paid in hassle and repairs. So listen up!

Vanholio's Advice on Drivin' Forest Service Roads

Tire stuck on rock
Look what Vanholio! did to hisself!
This below conversation (edited somewhat) is from when Vanholio got hisself stuck last fall. A fellow handled "Antigroundhogday," who's workin' toward vanlife, wanted intel on the forest service roads. Been meanin' to post it for all ya'll's education for a while.

Antigroundhogday: What recovery gear do you roll with?

Vanholio: Not enough! Digging supplies [e.g., shovel], good jack, Slime, 12v air pump, spare tire, tow strap, tools. Really need some traction pads.

[I'd add to this list several days of food and water, blankets or sleeping bag, lighter, flashlight, first aid kit, cell phone (or satellite communicator if you're waaaay back), tree strap, and Come-a-Long winch or HiLift Jack.]

Antigroundhogday: As a guy who is sitting at a desk watching you live the life, I wish I knew what the terrain looked like, that requires rescue tools that you mentioned. There are these picture as places I see vandwellers go to, but I have a hard time associating them with tools required.

Vanholio: 95% a the time, forest service roads are pretty smooth, like these two below.

2 Average FSR in Good Repair

2 Average FSR in Good Repair

Sometimes they're a bit more wore down, like these two. Then ya just gotta watch for the occasional rock stickin' up a bit.

2 FSR Slightly Eroded But Passable

2 FSR Slightly Eroded But Passable

Where I get in trouble is when I hit mud, sand, a creek crossing, or serious erosion (like these last photos) and think to myself, "Oh, I can pick my way ..." 'cause I don't want to turn back.

2 FSR Highly Eroded, Mainly Jeep Trails

2 FSR Highly Eroded, Mainly Jeep Trails

Understand, I don't really got a offroad vehicle. I'm using something designed for street and pushing my luck.

[Vanholio's got a Ram Promaster City. Since this conversation, he's gotten a lift and all-terrain tires.]

Antigroundhogday: Many thanks for the photos. So these tougher roads... are they the road to these incredible places with views for miles or just you being a guy and saying "why not, let's see what's down here?"

Vanholio: Yeah, the latter mainly. Ya really don't need 4WD to get most places, including WOW places. In fact, WOW places often get the paved roads. The only thing I would really advise for any of the gravel or dirt roads is good tires. Don't go cheap on those. More clearance and 4WD or AWD gives you more slack and options [especially with snow, sand, and mud]. But it is far, far from a must.

Dig Deeper

Antigroundhogday posted ta the Cheap RV Living forum, seekin' more advice. Read the thread. It rounds out what Vanholio said and fills in the cracks. Ya might learn somethin'! I did!

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