Thursday, September 21, 2023


Backroad or offroad RVing: Don’t get stuck!

By Russ and Tiña De Maris
One of the great joys of RVing is to get closer to nature and farther away from the noise and problems of “civilization.” Of course, getting away from civilization can also mean getting away from paved roads – and, at times, that can put you in the way of getting your rig stuck.

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We can vouch for the truth of this maxim: The best way to get your RV unstuck is not to get stuck in the first place. If you’re heading away from civilization and pavement, use plenty of foresight – use your eyes, without the RV, wherever possible. Scouting ahead on foot or with a tow vehicle (preferably one equipped with four-wheel drive) can help you identify hazards. Mud is obviously something to steer clear of, but check the terrain carefully. It may be good today while it’s dry, but what if rain comes. Will that perfect “spot” suddenly become a mire?

Foresight and best intentions aside, conditions can change rapidly and unexpectedly. Here are some tips for dealing with those undesirable situations that can come up (and into) your path.

When hitting a soft spot or a mud hole

Keep the wheels as straight as possible. Turning the wheels will increase your forward rolling resistance.

Keep forward momentum – don’t jazz the accelerator, but don’t slack off either.

Look for firm ground for a spot to turn around and get away from the soft stuff. If you have to stop, try to find a place where you’ll be pointed downhill when you take off.

Towing a trailer with a two-wheel drive tow vehicle? Release the weight distribution hitch to put the weight back on the rear of your tow vehicle and off the front.

When the worst happens

OK, you’re stuck. What now? Much depends on what you’re stuck in. If caught in sand, reducing the pressure of your tires until the sidewalls bulge a bit may increase your in-sand traction. DON’T flatten the tires, you can roll the rims out of the tires. Once unstuck, use a portable compressor to reinflate the tires.

Stuck in mud? Don’t let air out of the tires. Do your best to keep moving if at all possible. Spinning your tires will dig you in deeper. Shift to low gear and gently apply pressure to the accelerator. “Rocking” in mud may help, but don’t slam from a forward gear to reverse – let the wheels stop moving before shifting, unless you want to torture-test your transmission.

Got tire chains? Tire chains have been used to successfully induce a stuck rig out of mud. The more cross-links in the tire chain, the less likelihood there is of spinning the tires and making conditions worse. No tire chains? Try finding dry material to stick under the tires. Stuff can be thrown out from under a spinning tire – keep people clear of the area.

One motorhomer caught in the muck tried the approach of using his leveling jacks to raise the coach and stuff materials under his tires. He learned to his chagrin that unless one is very careful to keep the frame of the motorhome evenly lifted it can “rack.” He wasn’t only stuck – the strain on the rig’s frame broke the windshield.

Keep the right tools on hand for backroads

If you frequent areas where you might get stuck, keeping the right tools and equipment on hand may help bail you out. A long-handled shovel is nicer to use – you don’t have to bend over so far. A long tow strap. A “come-along” (cable hoist). Dimensional lumber like 2 x 10s to stick under tires. Be “knowledge prepared,” too. Know in advance what points on your unit are safe to jack on, and to attach a tow strap or cable to, so as to not damage your rig.

Keep safety in mind, too. If you hook up a rope or cable to help you winch your rig out of trouble, keep everyone well clear of the operation. A snapped cable or chain can rip-saw back like a whip. There are plenty of dead loggers whose stories attest to the damage a whipping cable can do to the human body.

If you have a truck camper or tow vehicle with 4-wheel drive, steer slowly left to right and repeat that over and over while your front wheels are spinning, always following the route that will give you the best traction. This may get you going again.

Finally, a word on RV tow service. We learned the hard way one fine day when our tow rig skidded off a slick private road into a cow pasture. We called our road service company, who dispatched a tow truck to help us out. When the driver arrived he announced that since we weren’t on a public road, the road service plan wouldn’t cover the “extraction.” Read the fine print in your agreement to make sure where – and where not – you’re coverage applies.


Russ and Tiña De Maris
Russ and Tiña De Maris
Russ and Tiña went from childhood tent camping to RVing in the 1980s when the ground got too hard. They've been tutored in the ways of RVing (and RV repair) by a series of rigs, from truck campers, to a fifth-wheel, and several travel trailers. In addition to writing scores of articles on RVing topics, they've also taught college classes for folks new to RVing. They authored the book, RV Boondocking Basics.


  1. The Boondockers Welcome host said park anywhere in the 30+ acres. “You may want to avoid that muddy area”, so I got out and walked what appeared to be solid. Oopsie, it sank our Class A to the jacks. We dug out a path behind but it wasn’t working. Then the host’s other half showed up with a Dodge Ram 3500 dualie and a strap and popped us out like a cork. A good laugh was had by all.

  2. I would suggest too never scout out an area or enter an unknown location with 4WD engaged. If you get stuck 4WD may be able to get you “un-stuck” but if you get stuck in a location that 4WD got you into you will have something external like a winch or tow truck to get you un-stuck.

  3. 2WD is somewhat of a misnomer.

    If your RV or tow vehicle has an “open differential”, only one wheel gets most of the power in stuck conditions. That’s why one wheel spins when stuck in mud or snow.

    The other options are a “limited slip differential” or an electronic locker. Both power two wheels and are more likely to get you unstuck.


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