EP68 | Can I Handle That Trail? 4-Wheeling with TrailRecon’s Brad Kowitz

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Episode Description

We sit down with Brad Kowitz of TrailRecon to discuss how to get started driving more technical, 4WD-themed “trails.” What we’re thinking here is that there may be people who have traveled the entire length of the Pan-American Highway but have never considered attempting a challenging 4WD trail in the U.S. like the Rubicon, Magruder, or Colorado’s famous Black Bear or Imogene Passes. We decided to reach out to Brad to help all who can relate get started down the trail!

Brad jumps right in to share what he has learned about taking a variety of 4WD vehicles into America’s backcountry, from fully-built Jeeps to Sprinter Vans, offering tips on how to have fun getting started safely and responsibly.

To dig further into this topic, we explore the oft-underrated capabilities of O.E.M. vehicles and why it’s important to get to know your vehicle as it is before jumping into extensive modifications and accessorizing.

Listen in as Brad defines what a “trail” is, exactly, and what you can learn from how the U.S.F.S. identifies the roads it manages throughout our national forests. You will learn how to find trails in your area to get started on, off-road communities to learn from, and classes and courses you can take to improve your off-road driving skills.

We also chat a bit about the popular “BDRs” (Backcountry Discovery Routes) now found in the U.S., and how these can be a great opportunity for those interested in getting started in vehicle-based, off-road adventure.

Finally, Brad has some fun sharing some harrowing stories of his own adventures and misadventures along his path toward becoming an experienced off-roader and why he has come to push back against peer pressure when it comes to choosing his trails.

Whether you’re an experienced off-roader looking to get more into overland-style wheeling or an experienced overlander excited about hitting up more technical 4WD trails, you will find something of value in this episode with Brad Kowitz, who has found a happy middle ground within these two pursuits.

Detailed Episode Summary

Part 1 (0:40-9:38) Welcome Brad Kowitz of TrailRecon! We welcome TrailRecon’s, Brad Kowitz, onto the podcast for the first time and get right into this episode’s main topic: taking overland vehicles onto technical off-road “trails.” Brad discusses the importance of learning your vehicle, the surprising capabilities of stock vehicles, and the process of developing confidence in both your vehicle and your driving skills.

Other Resources and Podcast Episodes Mentioned in this Part of the Episode

XOVERLAND Podcast Q & A Episode with Clay Croft & Tanner Johnson

Part 2 (9:39-14:09) Find the Best Off-Road Trails: When you’re starting to think about hitting off-road/4WD trails, how do you find the right trails for your skills and your vehicle’s capabilities? Brad shares insight into getting started finding off-road trails, the trial & error process, and how to identify the difficulty of officially marked/labeled U.S.F.S. (United States Forest Service) trails/roads.

Part 3 (14:10-17:09) The Opportunities Provided by BDRs (Backcountry Discovery Routes): We discuss the many opportunities offered by the popular “BDRs” (Backcountry Discovery Routes) to off-roaders and overlanders looking for more trails and challenges around the U.S. Originally developed for adventure motorcycle riding, BDRs take place on trails and roads legally accessible by 4WD vehicles.

Part 4 (17:10-23:32) What EXACTLY is a “Trail” when it comes to off-roading, overlanding, and vehicle-based adventures of all kinds? Brad Kowitz is the man behind the popular YouTube channel, TrailRecon, so who better to ask to define “trail” in the context of vehicle-based adventure? Brad does his best to define this term and explain the differences among trails, county roads, and the variety of forest service roads available to vehicle-based recreationalists.

Part 5 (23:32-28:50) How do you find the trails to go 4-Wheeling and how do you get started? Now that we know what a trail is, how do we find them? Especially, how do we find trails that are well suited to our skills and vehicle’s capabilities? Brad provides tips and strategies for finding trails that are right for you and the benefits of finding 4WD communities to go 4-Wheeling with. Finally, Brad explains the value of being patient with yourself and your vehicle and the value of a positive, flexible attitude when you head out on the trails.

Part 6 (28:51-34:18) Off-Road Driving Skills, Tips, and Trail Stories: We discuss the value of taking classes and courses to improve your off-road driving skills and Brad shares some fun stories of being challenged on the trail and experiences along his own learning curve.

Part 7 (34:19-36:07) Keeping an Eye on the Sky: How Weather Can Affect Trail Difficulty: Brad explains the value of paying attention to the weather while you’re driving trails. Rain, flash floods, washouts, snow–all of these can dramatically change trail conditions from being relatively easy to outright treacherous. We discuss how to monitor conditions and keep yourself safe from extreme weather and how it can impact 4WD trails.

Part 8 (36:09-40:44) TrailRecon’s Brad Kowitz Shares his Most Terrifying Trail Story: Brad underscores the importance of not being pressured to take on trails that are outside of your capabilities and shares his own harrowing experience of caving into peer pressure on the Colorado trail, “Die Trying,” a 1.6-mile trail that took him and his team 6 hours to complete!

Part 9 (40:45-44:37) O.E.M Stock Vehicles Ready for the Trail: Brad shares some of the completely stock, O.E.M. vehicles he thinks are trail-ready right off the showroom–including the RIVIAN R1T. We discuss the potential danger of buying a vehicle that has capabilities beyond one’s skill set and the need to get the education you need to match your skills to your vehicle’s capabilities.

Part 10 (44:38-46:26) What is Brad’s YouTube channel, TrailRecon, and how did it begin? We ask Brad to share more about his popular YouTube channel, TrailRecon: How did he start it? What kinds of content does his channel feature? What can you learn there?

Part 11 (46:27-48:27) What’s on TrailRecon’s Brad Kowitz’s Bucket List? Just having returned from Australia, Brad shares some of the big items on his bucket list for the future, including particular trails like the Magruder in Idaho along with faraway places like Alaska and Australia.

Part 12 (48:28-56:08) Bridging the Gap Between “Off-Roading” and “Overlanding”: What are the differences between international travel/overlanding on a route like the Pan-American Highway and Off-roading/4-Wheeling and can these two pursuits be merged into something unique and extraordinary? Brad shares his own philosophy when it comes to adventuring, considering vehicles and their capabilities and one’s own desire to explore, camp, and have fun. Having traveled in everything from Jeeps to Power Wagons to Sprinter Vans, Brad shares the rationale behind his current preference of a Jeep combined with an off-road trailer along with some fun stories related to his experiences with this new arrangement.

Part 13 (56:09-58:05) What are TrailRecon’s Brad Kowitz’s Top Recommendations for Modifications and Accessories Before Hitting the Trails? Brad shares his top choices for off-road modifications and accessories for overland travelers interested in getting more serious about running trails, looking at items like winches, skidplates, tires, and recovery gear.

Part 14 (58:06-1:00:24) What are TrailRecon’s Brad Kowitz’s Top Recommendations for Camping Modifications and Accessories for Off-Roaders interested in Overlanding? Brad shares his suggestions for modifications and accessories for 4-wheeling enthusiasts interested in overlanding. Items like rooftop tents, powered refrigeration, and cooking arrangements are discussed through the lens of an experienced off-roader.

Part 15 (1:00:25-End) Brad’s Final Thoughts on Getting Out on the Trails: Brad offers words of encouragement and inspiration to all of those interested in hitting the trails and having some adventures of their own, captured in his mantra: Journey | Adventure | Explore

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