How far can you get with a 2WD and a shovel?


Every time I used 4x4 locals would come past me in a honda civic with 8 people in it.

6-8 people in a civic can go almost anywhere! When it gets stuck, everyone out and push. Dropping 800-1500 lbs of passengers and turning that into 12-16 legs planted in the dirt makes one heck of a recovery tool.

When you are only 1 person, or 2 in a much heavier 2wd rig, you have to think a bit more. Especially if you are in a place where you don't have friendly locals to help push... And not everyone with a tow strap is a friend with your best interests at heart. I've seen some cruel and improper tows because one asshat thought another needed a "lesson".

Happy Joe

Apprentice Geezer
For decades fools tearing up trails and getting nearly terminally stuck in substandard vehicles have been a source of trail closures and occasionally fatalities (no worries here, they will likely get found in the spring!).

Nothing that I say will, likely, change any attitudes or get you to properly select, prep, or drive your vehicles.

When you get into some place that you can't drive out of; I just hope you are willing to pay the (substantial) off road tow bill after you walk out.

"Winch?; Na, it's broke..."

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High-Tech Redneck
Yep, that sort of **** is far more than I'd attempt with anything.
Well, you kind of missed the warning in there, maybe I should explain further.

I wasn't looking to get stuck there. I was not on some gnarly 4x4 trail. It was a fairly smooth gravel and dirt 2-track forest road. It was a good day, I was having a ball and had been on several trails that presented little challenge other than some weed overgrowth and shallow mud.

It was the first questionable puddle I came to and I thought I could squeeze by it. I pushed forward some, then seeing more ahead made the decision that what lie beyond wasn't worth it, and started to back up. That is when I slipped off the high ground and into the muck.

Your will to press forward is powerful. You don't want to stop just because one slight obstacle lie in your path after miles of uneventful road. You want to believe that if you can just get by this one spot that miles more decent road lie ahead, and what a shame it would be to loose your progress because of one little thing.

The lesson I learned with my Escape is that while I wanted to believe it was capable, it was junk. I liked my Escape, I really did, and I thought I could take it lots of places. I did not really learn this and grasp the scale of it until after I owned a more capable vehicle and realized that what I'd have to pucker up on in the Escape wasn't even enough to raise concern in a real 4x4.

With my Xterra I'm presented with the same situation, but now it usually comes down to the road becomes too scary for me as opposed to the vehicle not being able to handle it. When I'm getting into stuff the Xterra can't handle I'm already loosing my nerve and more than happy to retreat. That makes making the call easier. Plus, equipped with real recovery points and a winch to self extract, if I do misjudge a road, I'm in a much better situation to fix it.

I'm not knocking exploring in a 2wd or less capable vehicles off pavement. I'm all for it, I've done it, I enjoyed it, and it's a noble pursuit. Just don't forget that you might get more than you bargained for in a hurry, you have to be twice as sharp and 10x more careful than a properly set up rig, and you run a higher risk of getting into a mess you can't get out of. You also get disappointed more often because your adventure ends early if you are prudent enough to know when to call it.


I drove a bone-stock TJ Wrangler from Alaska to Argentina. (with 4x4)

Every time I used 4x4 locals would come past me in a honda civic with 8 people in it.

Same story on the West Coast of Africa.

You can travel the world in 2WD if you want to.

Will second this, having both seen and done it myself. Just be smart, pick your line, have some decent equipment, and don't be afraid to accept help from (and throw a couple bucks or beers to) locals if you get stuck.


Getting outdoors with 2wd can be a good tool for learning, I've done a fair bit of it.

Budget for some quality tires, and make sure you get underneath your vehicle before getting out there so you can take mental notes on where the unprotected bits are.

Also budget for a decent tire inflator and gauge, since you're dragging a couple tires you'll want to be ready to deflate a little on loose surfaces like sand or cinders.

Have fun and don't forget to bring shovel, jack, maybe a traction board or two... and rock stacking is OK too if you stay on trail and tread lightly.


Someone once said that the main difference between a 4WD and a 2WD is how badly you get yourself stuck.

I'm not so sure about wanting a crossover of any description personally, but if that's what your heart is set on then that's what you'll get. For the proposed use, I would suggest that mileage, cost of use and clearance are probably the most important factors to consider, and in that order. Some Japanese crossover or an XC70 Volvo or similar slightly factory-raised wagon would probably be just the ticket. A shovel, some traction aids and a rope for when you need to ask someone for a tug will probably keep you out of any real trouble and let you confidently go as far as you can get before scraping something.

Going exploring in some godawful plastic-fantastic crossover-contraption is always going to be a better alternative than driving a camel trophy truck to the mall.


You may want to look at a Subaru Forester or Outback. Pretty nice AWD that will get better MPG than a 2WD Jeep. Or at least be on par.
^This. For forest roads and whatnot, Subies have a great AWD system and carry a fairload with great MPGs. I love my truck, but I've been taking my fiance's Crosstrek out lately on some daytrips through the forests, and it has shocked me. Much more comfortable ride, doesn't get stuck, can shimmy up some serious grades, and got ~30 MPG while doing it all day. Choose the right tool for the job.


A good seat of all-terrain tires will affect your mpg's more than having 4wd/awd.
And then you can get both... and heavy skidplates! And lift it so you are exposing more (not aerodynamic) tire to the wind! And heavy rock sliders! And heavy, not-aerodynamic bumpers! And a heavy winch! And your spare tire won't fit in the stock location anymore so put that on the roof for even worse aero!


p nut

^This. For forest roads and whatnot, Subies have a great AWD system and carry a fairload with great MPGs. I love my truck, but I've been taking my fiance's Crosstrek out lately on some daytrips through the forests, and it has shocked me. Much more comfortable ride, doesn't get stuck, can shimmy up some serious grades, and got ~30 MPG while doing it all day. Choose the right tool for the job.
Yeah, it's surprising what those Sub's can do. Good ground clearance (almost 9") and excellent AWD system = lots of trails to explore. We've got a late-gen Outback, which has been excellent. If I were single, Crosstrek would be an awesome vehicle.


Expedition Leader
I drive a jku rubicon for work and occasionally a patriot with the offroad package thingy. So far the patriot has gone everywhere the rubi has except one truly awful old atv track. Fact is, there are very few places you need the full capablity of something like a wrangler. I will say fuel economy on the Patriot is less than impressive.


I would never go exploring muddy of road trails in 2 wheel drive,,dry roads yes..snowy yes,,mud no,,Id buy a 4x4 if I wanted to go anywhere,anytime..
been thru very deep snow in Canada every winter with only 2 wheel drive and g80 locker,,simply puting heavy weight in the bacl of the truck to get traction is all one need,,plus good grippy Michelins..


I have seen some folks force the issue with 2 Wheel drive and drive at light speed to get up terrain. They risked creating way more damage than if they just had 4WD.
There is risk in doing speed, but used only rarely it isn't too bad. Check the gear ratio in first gear, for sure. Don't get yourself into something you can't get out of and keep the speed right, not too fast not too slow.

FWIW, I drive a high clearance compact pickup.

Happy Joe

Apprentice Geezer
My daily driver is a 2wd Ranger pickup; its kind of amazing on road, especially in the snow; BUT it has a real problem when the tires do not provide grip (ice, mud non level roads, really steep gravel roads (slight washouts, especially with loose rocks) etc.).
In my younger (less intelligent) days, 2wd vehicles were all that I had so they were taken many places where 2wds should not go (and showed the damage that resulted).
Pretty much anyone that has at least an inferior 4wd (if it need help to in and out of our "easy" campsites, its inferior), or even AWD will admit that 2wd is not as good as 4w when the going gets rough; especially for inexperienced off road drivers; Note this statement is highly driver skill dependent but over the years has proven true, in general. 4wd is NOT a magic cure-all for stucks; BUT a well driven, properly prepped, 4wd vehicle very seldom has any issues.

Given the potential for the resulting trail and vehicle damage, IMO, 2wd is for folks that ride at least semi maintained roads.
(over the years I have had many friends try to keep up, off road many with stock 4wds could barely make it up the maintained roads in the snow to get to the trailhead(let alone manage to get off the road through the plowed snow bank; after a snow, one especially dense one in a junk 4wd pickup decided to show his girlfriend where we sometimes camp off an easy, semi maintained (once every year or 2) trail (needless to say they got terrifically stuck and except for some well prepped 4 wheelers their trip could have ended in disaster.

If you are going off road be intelligent and select the vehicle, its accessories, trail and conditions well; most of all drive smart (and gracefully).