Mud, snow and cold. Those are some of the givens for wintertime off-roading. Your ATV can handle all three conditions. But can you? There is more to ATV riding in winter than bundling up to beat the chill.
Understanding how cold weather affects your machine is a must. So is knowing how to operate the ATV in mud, snow and chilly temperatures. Preventive maintenance, common sense and the right cold weather gear—for you and your ATV—are essential to keep it fun and safe.
The good news is that while the weather is cold, you can adapt and find even more reasons and ways to make off-roading a year-round adventure. Here are 10 winter ATV riding safety tips you need to know, along with a bonus—if the winters are longer and colder where you live, you can trick your ride with our top five accessories.
#1 Never ride alone
Topping the list is never ride alone during winter. More people are on the trails during the popular summertime off-roading season than during the dead of winter. Days are shorter and nights are longer. Should you have a mechanical breakdown, the repairs might take longer to do, if they can be done at all on the trail. Above all else, help can be far away and you can be exposed to hypothermia, which can be fatal. Riding with others is by far the safer and more enjoyable way to go.
#2 The layered look
The best way to beat the cold is by layering on protective clothing. Each of these three layers does a different job, and all work together to keep you warm and dry. Begin with a base layer, such as thermal underwear, that wicks sweat off your skin. Add an insulating middle layer that retains body heat to protect from the cold. A polyester fleece pullover will do. Then add an outer shell later that shields you from wind and rain. An uninsulated parka is a good example.
#3 Share the trail
If snowmobiling is popular in your area, check with the appropriate authorities about ATV use. If the trail is open to ATV use, respect all posted trail signs for speed limits, stop signs and more. Remember that snowmobiles are faster than ATVs. So be aware of your surroundings, especially in blind corners and long straightaways. Since you are on their turf, it’s also a good idea to yield to snowmobiles as a measure of good trail etiquette.
#4 Stay on the trail
There are even more reasons to ride on designated off-road trails in winter. On snow covered ground, you can’t always see what’s beneath the surface where you are riding. Think hidden boulders, fallen trees and even hidden drop-offs.
#5 No ice!
ATVs are reliable and popular modes of transportation for ice anglers. You can join the fun—just remember this good rule of thumb. Only drive on a frozen lake with at least six inches of solid ice. Whether you fish or not, this article about ice fishing safety and gear for ATVs is a good read.
#6 Use lower gear
Shifting into low gear can help the machine along deep, sticky mud. But there will be those times when you forget this, and maybe ruin your expensive drive belt in the process. You can also use 4x4 mode if your ATV has it. Getting all four wheels churning will help you get through with minimal danger to the driveline.
#7 Call for help
A fully charged mobile phone should be essential safety gear for every ATV rider. In winter, cold temperatures can quickly drain your phone’s battery. Bringing an external charger is a wise idea. Using the camera for videos and photos can drain the battery even quicker. Instead, bring along a camera to record those picture-perfect moments in the winter wonderland.
#8 Keep it charged
The starting battery can also fall victim to the chilly temperatures. It can drain quicker, on top of its intended job of cranking the engine. Before you head out, make sure the battery is fully charged. If your ride ends at a hunting camp, remove the battery and take it inside to preserve the charge.
#9 Got gear?
You should already carry a toolbox equipped with spare parts and tools for on-trail repairs. In winter, add a collapsible shovel for digging out of a snow bank or muddy rut. Portable traction pads are a good addition if you get stuck on ice.
#10 Thaw that winch
An electric winch is a wise investment for any ATV. In winter, it pays for itself by getting your vehicle unstuck in the mud or snow. Before you head back out in the chill, make sure the winch cable is free of ice. Otherwise, it can freeze and lock up when you try and unspool it. Adding a coat of spray-on oil will help do the trick to keep it running.
And here are the five accessories we recommend for harsh winters. The products are fitted for the TRACKER OFF ROAD 570 and 700 series models. Prices do not include installation.