Do You Have to Air Down When Off Roading
If you’re new to off-roading, you probably have heard that you need to air down your tires. Is it necessary, and should you air down your tires? From my off-roading experience, I can tell you that airing down is purely beneficial, and you want to.
In this comprehensive guide, I’ll delve into airing down your tires. We shall look at why you should air tires down, when to air them down, and when to air them up back.
When Should I Air Down?
Ideally, I would recommend airing down your tires pretty much anytime you’re on the trail. Somewhere around 15 to 20 PSI isn’t a bad idea, depending on the terrain, weight, existing conditions, and other variables.
We usually air our trucks down at the start of every trail and stay that way until we finish the trip. Short trips on pavement and at low PSI don’t necessarily hurt our tires.
Why Should I Air Down My Tires When Off-Roading? (5 Reasons You Should Air Your Tire When Off-Roading)
Here’re the main reasons why airing down is beneficial in of-roading:
1) More Traction
A huge benefit of airing down is that it increases the surface area of the tire that contacts the terrain. The lower the tire pressure, the more rubber on the ground.
And from an engineering standpoint, a bigger footprint translates to more traction. The increased contact patch makes it easier for the tires to grab all over whatever you’re trying to climb.
2) Reduced Risks of a Puncture
Generally, airing down your tire lowers the pressure, thus softening the tires and making them less susceptible to tire punctures.
I know this may sound counterintuitive, but several facts support this. The first one is that when you air down your tires, the load is distributed over a larger area, which yields a smaller pressure on the contact surface area. It thus lowers the risk of a puncture compared to a fully inflated, high-pressure tire.
But the most important factor is that aired-down tires can mold themselves around the sharpies. The squishy sidewalls on the tires can effortlessly conform to the rocks and resist punctures. It’s unlike the rigid, inflated tires with little give.
To illustrate this more, think about a balloon. Underinflated, it squishes around and stretches, but if fully inflated, it’s likelier to tear or pop because it’s under tension.
Of course, understand that airing down your tires doesn’t make you immune to punctures, but you’ll get away quite easily with more flexing before it breaks.
Lower pressures are called for in certain terrains, such as loose sand or snow. Airing down helps your tires stay on top of loose sand. It makes the footprint get big and prevents the tires from sinking. Instead, it skates on the sloppy top layer.
Furthermore, airing down reduces the rolling resistance. Picture a heavily loaded and fully inflated tire in the sand. The fully inflated tires have a smaller surface contact area, and when you pass them over the sand, they’re like an anchor and dig themselves more.
The fourth reason you should consider airing down your tires for off-roading is for comfort.
Airing downs makes your ride smoother. Under-inflated tires act as added suspensions and iron out most of the bumps. The added suspension and “give” on the bumps from the underinflated tires are particularly helpful when crossing the “washboard.”
5) Easy on Components
An unexpected benefit of a softer ride is that it’s easy on your truck’s components, especially the suspension.
Of course, the longevity is debatable and influenced by different factors, but I would imagine that if the suspension fluid is constantly working and getting hot, it won’t last as much as the tires are aired down, and the suspension doesn’t need to work quite as hard.
What is the Ideal PSI? How Much to Air Down?
Now that we’ve established the importance of airing down the tires when off-roading, the next question is how much I should air down.
How much you should air down is a tough one, and the truth is, there’s no specific figure. You see, how much your air down your tires depends on many variables. For example, what you air down to depends on the terrain, payload, speed, and your tire/wheel combo.
If you need to go a bit faster, you’ll want less of the air down. If the terrain isn’t as rugged, you can do away with airing down the front set.
But the general consensus among most off-roading enthusiasts is that you should use the rule of thirds.
Rule of Thirds
- Street/normal pressure= Recommended air pressure & @ 100% cruise speed
- Moderate trail pressure= 66% air pressures & @ 66% max speed
- Technical, rugged pressure = 33% air pressure & @ 33% cruise speed
10-20 PSI is a good tire pressure range for most non-technical terrains or mild-mid-difficulty trails. I usually go down to 12-15 PSI for most trails, but I can go even lower to 8-10 PSI in the snow.
Of course, this isn’t necessarily true for all terrains and may not work for your case, but the key takeaway is that airing down will generally make it easier for you to navigate the rugged terrain. The other thing is there are many variables that will influence your desired PSI.
Here’re some practical tips to keep in mind when airing down your tires for off-road use:
- A rule of thumb for new wheelers is they should lower the pressure enough so that they drop the sidewall height (rim to ground) by 25%
- You must decrease the safe load-carrying capacity as you air down the tires and lower the tire pressure. Failure to lower the load-carrying capacity runs the risk of the tires getting hotter.
- Several variables influence how far you can air down, notably the rim load, width, aspect ratio, and payload.
Personally, I’m hardly obsessed with these figures as much, but it’s because I’ve been off-roading for a while. I’ve played with the tire pressures more than enough times and in different situations, so I’m confident enough to know what my truck can handle.
You also don’t need to worry. Start with the 25% drop in height and run with that. And over time, as you learn more about the technical aspects of your ride, you can change the tire pressure.
Effects of Airing Down Too Much/ When Not to Air Down
Like anything in a lie, airing down too much is detrimental. There’re several big rubs that come with airing down too much. And in this section, we’ll examine why you should never air down too much.
Lose Ground Clearance: The first effect of airing down too much is that you will likely lose ground clearance. Generally, airing up gives you half an inch of ground clearance, but dropping the pressure gives away up to 2 inches of clearance.
Slow Ride: Airing down demands you only drive at a snail’s pace. Speeding up when aired down will build the heat in the side walls, and if you go too much faster, you risk delaminating the sidewalls and the tread. Of course, it’s not instantaneous, but it drastically shortens the lifespan of your tires over time and may risk a blowout much later.
Expose the Vulnerable Side of the Tires: Airing down too much exposes the vulnerable sidewalls to sharpies, and this makes sense because you’re likely to be-bead the tire. It’s also easy to pop the bead off the rim.
Steering: Airing down helps with traction, usually offset by bollock steering and excessive “roll.” Airing down too much sacrifices on the lateral control.
Even with all these shortcomings, understand that most of these side effects come when you air down too much- I’m thinking something below 5 PSI. On top of that, the effects are exacerbated when you’re in speed.
A low tire pressure won’t necessarily punish you when you drive slowly and are cautious. On the other hand, airing up your tires too much has the opposite effect; high-pressure tires usually have an extremely narrow band of conditions.
On those handfuls of conditions, the high-pressure tires work immaculately. But I need to emphasize how narrow this band is; if you get it wrong, the effects are catastrophic.
So, from a practical perspective, it’s better to air down than air up. When aired up, you’ll require to be more attentive to the conditions.
How to Air Down Off-Road Tires
There’re several tools you could use to air down your tires. However, I strongly suggest you avoid using fingernails or other Sharpies for the off-roading DIYers. It’s tempting but also an easy way to injure yourself or damage the stem valve.
One of the cheap methods is using a tire gauge. It resembles a small pen and is available in most gas stations. It’s simple to use since you only need to depress the valve core and monitor the tire pressure until you achieve your desired PSI.
Unfortunately, a tire gauge is a lot of work to use and takes a lot of time.
The alternative I would suggest, and which I usually use, is a deflator kit with a valve core removal tool. It’s designed for deflating tires much quicker, saving you a ton of time at the trailhead.
I always advise newbies never to count on a “slow ride to the gas station” when they need to air up their tires. It would be a long slow ride.
You know when it’s time to air up when you’ve some long distance on the highway or feel like you’ve started “slipping” to the side when making turns.
As far as bringing air back to the tires, a good compressor is all you need. You want the kind that clamps directly onto your battery and not on the cigarette lighter.
This video has been included for its clarification of the topic matter. Credit goes to
I can’t overemphasize the importance of airing down your tire when off-roading. There’re numerous benefits, including a better ride, smoother ride, more traction, and few punctures. Even then, you must be cautious about the process.
While airing down is hugely beneficial, it’s also easy to air down too much, which can be detrimental. You must consider several variables to determine a proper PSI for the current condition. Of course, with time, you’ll learn to do this intuitively.
Don’t forget to carry a compressor and inflator.