Survey it first
Hills off-road can become dangerous when descended without due care and attention. This is principally because you are faced with a potential rollover situation if the vehicle either gets into a side slide or the back end lifts up. So always stop at the top of a serious hill, get out and walk down the route. You are looking for hidden potholes, ridges, rocks, sudden changes in gradient and whether the surface has reasonable traction or not. If there is no established track down the hill, then you are looking for a viable route down and it is worthwhile putting markers down if there are particular obstacles to be avoided. try to choose a route that is a direct line and does not require any corrective steering on the way down. You may also find it useful to remove fallen timber or rocks that may be blocking an otherwise preferred route. You need to have all four wheels in contact with the ground at all times on a descent. If the ground is smooth clay and it sticks to your boots then don't even think about attempting to descend the hill, even if you have mud tyres fitted. Snow, ice and wet grass are slippery. Loose gravel and sand can cause steering issues.
Can you begin and end safely ?
At the top of a steep descent, your wheels should be directed straight ahead and you should look for a land mark to aim for at the bottom of the hill. This helps to keep your descent in a straight line and so minimises the risk of slide-slips.
Whilst at the top of the hill, assess whether there would be any danger presented by commencing the descent - as the saying goes "Look Before You Leap". You are thinking about things like entry and departure angles of the vehicle if there is a sudden dip at the start of the descent you do not want to become high-centred. If there is a sudden rise at the end of the descent you need to consider if your 4x4 has a sufficiently large approach angle.
Is it worth it?
There is no shame in not attempting the descent of a hill and certainly practise should be gained with hills of increasing incline before attempting one that has you falling towards the steering wheel wondering if you are going to make it or not. It should also be noted that good engine compression aids hill descent so don't attempt to descend a steep hill with a worn engine.
Take it slow
4x4 vehicles and engines vary a lot, some are manual, others automatic and some have sophisticated hill descent control. It's important to know how your 4x4 is intended to be handled on steep descents - read the handbook! For less sophiscated transmissions, a good general approach is to select first gear and descend the hill with feet off all the pedals. The idea is to maintain forward motion without losing traction. Braking or accelerating is your enemy in situations like this and once traction is lost it can become difficult to regain it.
Getting out of trouble
The two main potentially dangerous situations you can find yourself in when descending a steep hill are slide slips and forward rollovers.
If the vehicle begins to slide or lose traction, just briefly and gently press the accelerator sufficiently to match the wheel and ground speed to regain control again. Always steer down a slope to correct a slide, not up it.
Forward rollovers: You are more likely to encounter this when descending too quickly in a short-wheelbase 4x4 than a long-wheelbase vehicle - the reason is because the ctre of gravity is more easily able to move towards the front axle as the vehicle tips forwards. For all 4x4's it is necessary to store all heavy items as low in the vehicle as possible and especially not to have a weighty loaded roof rack. As with a slide slip, if you feel the back end is about to lift or you are losing trction there then touch the accelerator briefly to move the vehicle forward and centre of gravity backwards.
Learn from experience
When you have descended a hill, then do a self-critism of what you did right and what you could have done better.
Practise first before attempting a steep off-road descent.
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