Best trail car/truck

Trip recommendations, current conditions, and other trail related Q&A
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sgyoung
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Best trail car/truck

Post by sgyoung » April 19th, 2021, 8:26 pm

Hey all - now that I'm an official PNW resident I need something high clearance and that's good in winter conditions in order to access trails. My Kia sedan admirably handled bumpy forest roads last summer, but faces from obvious limitations and is totally useless in the winter.

So, I'm looking for advice and suggestions for a good trail car/suv/whatever. So far I've looked at Subaru Foresters and various models of Jeeps (not very creative, I know). However, I bet the good folks here have some recommendations for options that I'm not thinking about.

To give some additional info, I'm looking for something used with no real preference for years. Thanks!

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teachpdx
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Re: Best trail car/truck

Post by teachpdx » April 20th, 2021, 6:33 am

75% of vehicles at trailheads are Subarus. Just a fact. So if you want to blend in with the crowd, get a Subaru. If not, get something else.

I was at the Vista Ridge TH a couple years back... 7 Subarus, 1 VW (mine).

I can get my GTI to maybe 75% of the trailheads around here, and then I have friends with bigger vehicles who drive for the other 25%.
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drm
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Re: Best trail car/truck

Post by drm » April 20th, 2021, 6:38 am

This can really start an argument. While Subaru is clearly the tops in the AWD crossover class - there are countless online videos and independent tests showing this, you can do more with a high clearance truck or jeep with compound low gears, but are you willing to? Most people never need to push their AWD/4WD vehicle remotely close to it's offroad limits, and wouldn't be willing to try if given the opportunity. I've seen Subaru owners park or turn around in conditions their car could easily handle.

So unless you think you would be willing to just go for it (and have some experience in choosing the best line, and - important - are capable of backing up on a narrow road, an essential skill), it doesn't matter that much, and issues like price and more mundane features should guide your choice.

I would add that if icy and slippery winter roads are in your plans regularly, then an AWD crossover is a better choice than a really high clearance vehicle. And again, Subaru's 1WD capability can be important on slippery roads with a few spots of traction.

On the other hand, if you really do plan on some really rough backcountry roads, then something in the Jeep CJ tradition will get you more places. The ground clearance spec is your guiding factor there. And maybe include the winch.

justpeachy
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Re: Best trail car/truck

Post by justpeachy » April 20th, 2021, 6:54 am

I drive a Subaru Outback because it's very capable on crappy Forest Service roads, has high clearance, has lots of cargo room for camping gear, AND it gets decent gas mileage for commuting to work. Good driving skills in a high-clearance AWD vehicle like the Outback will get you most places you want to go (unless you're going to get into off-roading).

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retired jerry
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Re: Best trail car/truck

Post by retired jerry » April 20th, 2021, 7:15 am

pickups have good ground clearance. I have a Tacoma. 2WD.

Webfoot
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Re: Best trail car/truck

Post by Webfoot » April 20th, 2021, 9:26 am

A Subaru does appear to be the de facto PNW standard and the range of common roads match it. All Terrain tires will help you avoid flats, and rock rails and skid plates will let you find your limits in safety. Get a 12 volt air compressor so you can optimize tire pressure for the conditions, then air up when you get back to highway.

Don't expect such a vehicle to get you through deep snow however, as even locked Wranglers and buggies on massive tires can struggle, and deep snow can hide holes big enough to cause rollovers.

If you do want to play on the more extreme end of things a Wrangler is far more capable, even in stock form but especially with modifications; they are the de facto standard in Utah for a reason. I hear they are not too pleasant for long trips however.

gallione11
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Re: Best trail car/truck

Post by gallione11 » April 20th, 2021, 9:35 am

I'm a little biased, since I don't like Subarus. Never understood the cargo space argument. They all look very small to me, and most end up need a roof cargo box, or at least that's pretty common.

I have a Ram 4X4 and good tires, but we also "glamp" a lot, have a 14 foot tandem kayak and have a hitch bike rack for some of our trips, so the extra space is used often. Comfortable for long trips for the two of us, and now that I'm working from home, the gas mileage commuting isn't an issue anymore.

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kelkev
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Re: Best trail car/truck

Post by kelkev » April 20th, 2021, 2:44 pm

Depends on where you like to go. For me, those rugged, nasty, sharp rock infested roads (like the one between FS route 46 and the PCT Trailhead to Park Ridge), my half ton 4x4 truck with decent ground clearance and multi-ply LT tires has never let me down. Gas mileage? Poor compared to Subarus and similar. But I don't drive it a lot, and it's comfortable, hauls plenty, and I never worry about scraping oil pans, getting flat tires, or getting stuck.
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sgyoung
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Re: Best trail car/truck

Post by sgyoung » April 20th, 2021, 3:51 pm

I appreciate all the input so far! Thanks so much taking the time to share. This all great info and genuinely helpful too.

To address a few points, I don't anticipate doing any serious off-roading but do want to have the capacity to navigate even the worst of FS roads. Having only a low clearance sedan this past year made some trails inaccessible without extra road walking (which isn't the worst, but isn't no ideal either).

For winter driving, I do appreciate that deep snow limits any vehicle. We're mainly looking to have more options for getting outdoors in the winter beyond trails immediately off major roads. And if we can navigate some snow it may mean later access to trailheads earlier access in the spring.

With this in mind, should AWD suffice? From my reading it seems like 4WD might not be necessary for our purposes, in which case Subaru is an option. But 4WD might be better, in which case a bunch more options present themselves.

I'd also like to note my disappointment that I wasn't issued a Subaru along with my WA license. I was pretty sure that was how it worked :)

Webfoot
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Re: Best trail car/truck

Post by Webfoot » April 20th, 2021, 4:13 pm

sgyoung wrote:
April 20th, 2021, 3:51 pm
With this in mind, should AWD suffice? From my reading it seems like 4WD might not be necessary for our purposes, in which case Subaru is an option. But 4WD might be better, in which case a bunch more options present themselves.
4WD is great but probably not needed from your description. Its best feature could be the low range transfer case for controlled descents of steep shelf roads where a brake failure could be fatal. A good AWD system should do everything else you want apart from that. Check that the traction control works in a rocker situation where you have diagonal wheels off the ground; with limited suspension travel that is a situation you will face, and using momentum to blast through obstacles should be a last resort, not Plan A.

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