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How Do You Drive a Manual Jeep Off-Road?

Driving a manual jeep is the old school method of off-roading. Most of the new vehicles come with easy to drive automatic transmissions, but still manual transmission is popular among most of the off road enthusiasts.

There are many reasons for that. We’ll look at them in the later part of this guide.


Is a manual transmission better for off roading?

Yes, manual transmission is better for off roading because it gives more control over your vehicle on most of the tough off road terrains.   

That’s why it’s still popular among most off- roaders.

But you should have a proper gearing set up matching with the tire sizes for a pain free free driving experience.

Pros of using manual transmission for off-roading.

Burns less fuel than an automatic transmission vehicle in off roading. 

Have more control over the vehicle in most of the off road terrains. But this can be changed according to the terrain.

There are some situations where an automatic vehicle can get more control than a manual vehicle.

Manual transmission is more responsive to drivers input than an automatic.

The reason for that is automatic transmission doesn’t have a mechanical clutch to connect the engine and transmission system.

It connects with fluid mechanism.

So when you select gear, press the gas and release the clutch, the manual can move suddenly, but the automatic can have a small delay.

That delay can be a disadvantage for some off roading terrains.

Less transmission overheating than an automatic vehicle.

Especially in prolonged low range four wheel driving situations automatic transmissions are more prone to overheating problems.

It’s common to have damages to the jeep mechanical parts while off-roading.

In situation of manual transmission damage, you can be able to drive your jeep somehow to a safe zone/ to the garage even if a clutch failure or transmission wheel damage happens.

You can’t move your jeep if such things happen in automatic transmission.

Even a transmission fluid leakage can strand you in the middle of a terrain, because automatic transmission works on a fluid mechanism.

If a dead battery situation occurs in the trails and you don’t have jump start facilities, you can start the jeep with pushing or towing.

In an automatic you can’t start the jeep without power.

Repairing cost of a manual transmission is lower than repairing an automatic transmission.

In steep downhills manuals can get more control.

Because we can put 4low, first gear and release all the pedals to slowly move the vehicle down with engine braking.

Cons. of using manual transmission for off roading.

More wearable parts than in an automatic transmission. Especially clutch plates easily wear off and could cause premature failures due to improper driving. 

We’ll look at how we can avoid such premature failures under upcoming subtopics in this guide!

In soft sand tracks like beaches, manuals can break the momentum. Because when changing gears in a manual we can’t do it smoothly like in automatic.

That small momentum breakings and sudden wheel spinning can easily bog the tires in soft sand.

You can read more about how to do sand off roading without stucking on sand by clicking here. 

In steep hill climbings automatic can give more control than a manual. 

In water crossing if you press the clutch of a manual, water can enter the clutch system and cause problems. 

Automatics don’t have such problems. Transmission system if fully sealed. No entry for water into that.

Those are some pros and cons of using a manual transmission for off-roading.

I just mentioned them here to take an idea of what are the capabilities and challenges that a manual transmission vehicle has on the off road trails.

Tips for driving manual jeeps for newbies.

Now it’s time for the most important part. You may be a newbie or have some experience with the stick jeeps.

I’ll take you through A to Z steps of driving a manual jeep for the first time.

You can get important tips you want to improve your standard jeep driving skills.

Actually I tried to learn driving a manual vehicles in my childhood, even without starting them.

I jump on to the driving seat and act like I’m driving the vehicle. Press the clutch pedal , put the gear and slowly release it while giving the gas by imitating the sound of the vehicle by mouth. 

Unintentionally that practice helped me to drive a vehicle by myself without anyone’s support when I grown up. 

I think the reason for that is I got the muscle memory from playing with the vehicles in my childhood.

When muscles are practiced to the gear stick and pedals, we press pedals and shift gears in correct time even without thinking and also without checking tachometers.

If you are completely new to this scenario it’s better to get used with pedals and gear shift without starting the engine.

Suitable place for practicing

Then the next step is finding a suitable place like a big open flat area without a crowd or empty parking lot to train with your jeep.

To practice, better to adjust your seat a bit forward. Then you can feel the depth clutch pedal can be pressed and at what depth the clutch engages with the gear. 

Using pedals properly

Now put the left foot on the clutch pedal and right foot on the brake pedal and start the engine after putting the gear in to neutral position.

Press the clutch pedal to the floor and shift to the first gear. (Normally a gear diagram is carved on the shift knob. You can find where is the first gear with that)

While pressing down the clutch and brake pedals release the parking brakes.

Now slowly release the brake pedal from the right foot and gently release the clutch pedal until you feel engaging of clutch with the gears. 

Don’t be in a hurry to move forward, stay calm and know how engaging of the clutch feels to your left foot. ( you can press and gently release the clutch few times, until you feel the engaging of the clutch)

(Don’t release the clutch pedal suddenly. It will stall the engine.)

If the engine stops don’t worry. Put the gear lever into neutral, start the engine again and follow from step one.)

When you gently release the clutch, vehicle will start to move forward slowly. (If the engine tends to stall gently press the gas pedal while slowly releasing the clutch pedal.)

Now you can press the gas pedal gently. Go easy with these pedals when you are training. Don’t try to rush the things.

Now release the gas pedal and gently press the brake pedal while pressing the clutch pedal to the floor to stop the jeep.

Again follow previous steps to move the vehicle forward. Don’t hurry to shift to the second gear.

Rev. up

After you get used to the clutch and gas pedal you can increase the RPM in the first gear for about 2500 – 3000 and put it into the second gear while pressing the clutch pedal to the floor.

Then you can gently release the clutch pedal while slowly  pressing the gas pedal to move forward.

When down shifting gently apply the brake and press the gas pedal to the floor. Then down shift one gear at a time.

If you like you can practice with putting the transfer case to the 4Low. It will be easier to practice for a newbie.

I wrote separate guide about how to use 4WD stick in jeep wranglers properly. You can check that by clicking here. 

Tips for off roading  with a manual jeep


Mudding in a manual transmission

First and foremost thing you should do before entering a mud hole is deflating the tires.

You can reduce tire pressure around 20 – 24 psi. (Only if you have a good off roading tire set like mud terrain tires)

Then check the depth of the mud and take an idea about the type of mud. You can do it by poking the mud with a wood stick.

Make sure there are no hidden logs or rocks under the mud!!

If your vehicle has traction control, turn it off. 

You can learn how traction control affects for you off roading performance by clicking here.

To beat muddy terrain you should drive in 4Low range. 

Shift to the first or second gear. This will depend on the situation.

But make sure to select the best gear that you can think of, to cross the mud hole without changing the gears in the middle of the mud.

Attempting to change gears in the middle of the mud, break the momentum and lose the forward traction.

So try to choose one gear and drive throughout that gear as much as possible until crossing the mud hole.

Try to follow the ruts created by the previous drivers if they are not deeper than your tire height. 

If they are deeper than your tire height, your jeep can get stuck in the middle of the mud because of the chassis sitting on the mud hump.

In such situations try to avoid those ruts as much as possible.

Slowly put the front wheels to the mud hole. Don’t mash the gas pedal. 

Make sure to keep the speed enough to cross the mud hole.

Too much speed will reduce the traction of the wheels and strand you in the middle of the mud. 

In manual jeeps you can burst spin the wheels with the help of clutch and gas pedals to throw away the mud clots blocked among tire treads.

But shouldn’t break the momentum or unnecessarily spin the wheels.

If the jeep gets stuck and doesn’t move forward, don’t press the gas pedal and spin the wheels unnecessarily. It will bog the wheels more in the mud. 

You can try steering back and forth while slowly spinning the wheels.

This will allow the wheel side walls to get the traction from the walls of the ruts and move forward.

If the jeep doesn’t move forward, then back up in the same wheel rut and try again slowly. 

After a few attempts you may be able to cross most of the mud holes.

If it’s impossible you can try adding some traction aids like gravel or rocks under the wheels and try again.

I wrote separate guides for water crossing safely without hydrolocking the engine and how to rock crawl with a manual jeep.

If you wish to do sand off roading I suggest you to check my guide on Sand off roading for beginners.   

If you wish to do snow off roading with your manual jeep, I suggest you to read How to do snow off roading like a pro guide before putting your jeep in snow.

I wrote separate guides for them because there are lots of tips and tricks, off roader should know before hitting those terrains. 

Wrapping up

So far I told you what are the pros and cons of off roading with a manual jeep, how to drive a manual jeep as a beginner, how to mudding with a manual jeep and good reference guides to beat other different off road terrains like sand, water, snow,rocks with your manual jeep.

If you think this guide may be helpful for someone else also, you can share this with them. You just have to hit a share button below for that.

Have fun and safe off roading pals!!  

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