Photography: Harry Wagner
Mud can easily be one of the most treacherous types of terrain you encounter and is definitely the messiest. We would not advise traveling through anything but the shallowest of mud puddles in a stock vehicle, especially if it is shod with all-season tires. Doing so could result in tow truck fees high enough to feed a third world country for a year. But if you wanted easy you would just stick to the pavement, right?
There is a lot to consider when building a vehicle to take on mud. A suspension that can handle a lot of power without axle wrap is more critical than articulation. Ground clearance is a factor, as you want to keep anything under the vehicle from pushing mud, if at all possible. If your rig is not sky high, make sure that at least your air intake is. Ingesting dirty water or mud into your engine will inevitably cause it an untimely death. A snorkel or pre-filter are cheap insurance when it comes to feeding your engine clean air.
Mud actually comes in a variety of consistencies that will require different techniques to conquer. It can be sticky, soupy, gooey or a combination of all three. Even if you know the consistency, it is difficult to gauge precisely how deep the mud is or know what is lurking beneath the surface. Mud is one situation where it may not be beneficial to let someone else go first particularly if they have larger tires than you. Often times the vehicle will dig holes and if those holes are big enough, you will find yourself resting on the frame or axles when your tires enter them. If you are the one with the large tires, you can often stay in the ruts and dig to the bottom of the hole to continue all the way through. Otherwise, it is wise to try and hug the edge of the ruts to maintain traction and forward momentum.
Regardless whether you are the first through the bog or not, it is necessary to keep your momentum up to get to the other side. This means being prepared. Once you start into the mud, it isn’t the time to think about whether you have locked the hubs or not or whether you have a tow strap with you in case you do not make it. Locking differentials are a huge benefit in the mud where traction is always at a premium. If you have selectable lockers, consider locking the rear differential for added traction, but leave the front differential open to aid steering input.
Even with the front differential unlocked, if the ruts are too deep your vehicle is going to take you wherever those ruts point, so make sure to keep your thumbs outside of the steering wheel. The key to maintaining forward progress in the mud is for the tires to keep biting and flinging the mud backward while your vehicle moves forward. If you don’t have the most aggressive tires, saw the wheel back and forth slightly as you progress through the bog. This has a dual effect as it helps to clean out the tread on the outside edges of your tires and it will allow those lugs to bite into the sides of ruts. With a few choice upgrades like a suspension lift, aggressive tires, and locking differentials you will be the one pulling other people other of the mud instead of the one getting stuck.