Do you frequently use your vehicle to access local forest land? Do you camp, fish, hunt, hike, bike, or climb on that land? Do you like kicking up mud with your tires and being physically incapable of wiping a s**t eating grin off your face?
Then you’re built for UTVing.
Let me explain.
Among overlanders, there’s a subset of folks who prefer small side-by-side buggies or UTV’s (Utility Terrain Vehicles) as their vehicle of choice. In these smaller rigs, and with the right gear, you can do anything from evening cruises on nearby property to week-long overlanding excursions. It’s most common for UTVs to be used for personal land management or local day trips, but multi-day overlanding trips are possible, too. They’re lighter and more maneuverable than a truck, so they’re great for quickly accessing fishing holes or hunting spots, especially if the road is narrow or the terrain is unpredictable. Plus, they’re fun as hell.
In this article, we explore UTVing—what it is, fundamental gear, and pro tips for getting out there safely.
To introduce us to the world of wonder-buggies, we tapped ACLIM8 Ambassador Drew Baker. Drew is a seasoned UTVer who’s learned a ton while exploring Montana’s forest roads in his side-by-side (SxS). Heed his advice, and you might see more wild country in the next year than you’ve seen in your entire life.
Around the same time that Covid19 hit ACLIM8 ambassador Drew Baker's home state of Montana, he bought himself a UTV. He'd only gone a handful of times with friends who had them, but knowing he'd soon have more time to spend outdoors, he knew it would be a solid investment.
"With work and whatnot shutting down, we had to find some way to escape to the mountains efficiently, which is still my primary use for my UTV (outside of the 'run-around-town' rig)."
For Drew, it's the ability to get further back on a rough or tight road that a bigger vehicle might not be able to get down that makes UTVing great. "I’ve seen more in the last few years with that [UTV] then I have in the previous 20+ years leading up to my purchase," he says.
What is UTVing?
"UTVing is any activity involving a side-by-side," says Drew. "But, to me, UTVing is mainly a tool to get me outside, whether that's into the mountains to explore, work, trail riding, hauling out an elk, or even a quick trip to the post office."
One of the beautiful things about UTVing is that it can support a huge array of outdoor activities. For Drew, it's hunting, fishing, and camping in new places. But you can use a UTV to access rock climbing routes, hiking trails, mountain biking trails—whatever you’re into.
How Long Can You Go For?
When it comes to extended expeditions, Drew has made some smaller, sub-50 mile, multi-day trips, broken up by mountain lake swims and campfire cookouts. Living in Montana, Drew doesn't need to travel far to get amongst it. "We have such good riding around my hometown that I have never given too much thought into hauling my UTV very far unless it were to hunt, which in that case, I'd be in Missouri dealing with that nasty mud that shows up every fall when chasing [bull elk] around with a bow—if I drew a tag of course." But, he says,
“As long as you have the fuel to keep going, you could ride trails until you were blue in the face.”
In other words, think of UTV overlanding like overlanding in concentrated doses. For basic reasons, including storage capacity and fuel capacity, it’s difficult to do multi-week expeditions in a UTV. Two or three-nighters, though, are well within the realm of possibility. And the adventure of navigating complex terrain that’s at the heart of the overlanding experience can be glimpsed in just an hour or two of riding.
Packing & Safety Tips
When UTVing, there is always a new challenge to face, a new lesson to learn.
"Being over-prepared is the biggest tip I have picked up. Bring gear such as a COMBAR, snatch blocks, a tow rope, an extra coat, a satellite texting tool, a first aid kit, a pistol, a flashlight…etc. It can make or break your trip (or potentially save your life in a worst-case scenario)."
If he’s going overnight, Drew adds more food and camping supplies, but he tries to keep it simple—just a backpacking tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and an external battery pack for his phone and Garmin.
(For more on overlanding loadout must-haves, check out our blog on overlanding emergency kit essentials.)
When it comes to ensuring your safety on and off the road, he says he uses a Garmin in-reach mini as his satellite texting tool, and it has saved him on multiple occasions when he's been stuck miles from a cell signal. "I've also seen a situation where a stick got kicked into the cab of a friend's UTV. With a first aid kit and some proper know-how, we were able to patch him up and get him safely to the hospital."
Before UTVing, Drew always triple checks his packing list to make sure he’s prepared. After that it's extra fuel and then a spot check of the general mechanical health of his rig. Another big one to check, depending where you live, is forest fire activity. "I think it goes without saying, but you don't want to get trapped anywhere there is a forest fire."
Uses for Your COMBAR While UTVing
Speaking of fire, that's Drew's primary use for his COMBAR. He uses it for both gathering wood and then extinguishing the fire. But that's not all.
"Once, I forgot cooking supplies and cooked eggs and bacon over a fire on a rock. The COMBAR knife was my only kitchen utensil. It wasn't the prettiest meal, but at least no one starved.”
The COMBAR has so many utilizations—it's a must-have in Drew’s UTV loadout. "Whether you have to chop your way out on a trail after a windstorm with the ax or use the knife for cooking breakfast, the overall versatility is my favorite feature."
UTV Driving Tips
If you're just getting started with UTVing, Drew has some advice.
"Drive smart. Please don't push it too much. I've seen too many friends dump a ton of money into a new machine only to roll it showing off and then dump a pile of more money into it."
"They're a pricey investment, so you want to take care of it," he says. He also advises staying on designated roads and trails, both for your safety and the well-being of the roads. "All it takes is for one person to lay down some tracks around a mud puddle or downed tree, and before you know it, the trail is six lanes wide through the forest."
If you’ve made it this far without jumping to Craigslist to search for UTVs for sale, you must already have one. But whether you’re a current UTV owner or you’re thinking about getting one, you now have a foundation of knowledge that will help you prepare properly for your next SxS excursion.
Oh yeah, and Drew’s final piece of UTVing advice: Take advantage of the storage space—never leave home without a cooler filled with ice and your favorite beverages.
Want more overlanding content? Check out Overlanding? 5 Iconic Overlanding Routes In The Us: From Easy To Expert
Shop the gear from this article: