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Get Muddy: Mudding and Off-Roading Culture

Chris Kaiser

Since you were a kid, mom always told you to get out of that mud puddle. Now you’re grown, with a gnarly 4×4 and a hankering for some dirty fun. Come along to the bog and go mudding, off-roading at its messiest.

Lemons to Lemonade, Mud to Mud-pies: Making the Best of a Messy Situation

In South Dakota, my neck of the woods, you deal with all manner of extreme weather. Temperatures swing wildly, roads get flooded, iced over, blocked by five-foot snowdrifts. You take this in stride. You get used to driving carefully and calmly through hellacious thunderstorms and whiteout blizzards. And all this wild weather ends up as good practice for when things settle down enough to have some fun on four wheels. Having already mastered muddy dirt roads just to get from A to B, the motorsport of mudding (or mud bogging as it’s known in these parts) just comes naturally.

What is Mudding? (The Most Fun You Can Legally Have While Wearing Waders.)

Mudding, mud bogging, or mud racing involves taking a 4×4 vehicle, often specially modified to the task, and racing it through muddy terrain. These can be “bogs” or shallow depressions that gather moisture, low lying dirt roads that turn muddy in wet conditions, or dedicated mud tracks created for the purpose of mud racing (not uncommon at rural racetracks and fairgrounds). Typically, mudding races are run for time, though if the mud proves too difficult total distance traveled determines the winner.

Mudding means finally asserting your independence by reveling in the muck and mire you’ve always been told to avoid.Click To Tweet
Old truck mud bogging

What attracts people to this be-splattered niche of off-roading? Here’s my theory: Momma always told you to quit stomping around in that mud puddle. Mudding means finally asserting your independence by reveling in the muck and mire you’ve always been told to avoid. Mudding says, forget staying clean and just floor it.

Outdoor/4×4 festivals and events are held all over the country where folks congregate to collectively celebrate the timeless combination of horsepower and rugged terrain. These festivals carry names like the Mid-Michigan Mud Fest, the Crooked Creek Mud Bogg, and the Perkins Spring Sling. There are different classes for the size of engine and tires used as well as mud racing events for ATVs and motorcycles.

What Won’t Get Me Instantly Stuck in the Muck?

The only real requirement here is that the vehicle be four-wheel drive. From there choices vary widely based on region, fashion, and personal preference. The classic Jeep Wrangler is a very popular choice when traversing goopy trails. The solid frame, excellent natural clearance, and plenty of space for big, mud ready tires all make the Jeep a logical first pick.

Jeep driving through deep mud while mud bogging

Up here in South Dakota, old pickups are probably the most common mudders. Aging F-150s, Dodges, and GMCs are lifted to the skies, outfitted with bodacious tires, and sent straight for that soggy patch in the corner of the field. It’s a common sight in the spring to see young men of about 16-24 years rolling down Main street in a truck absolutely plastered with mud. Puts a smile on my face almost as big as the ones on theirs.

Because mudding is arguably the most punishing 4×4 driving when it comes to the demands it places on your vehicle, I’d highly recommend dedicating a vehicle to the sport rather than modifying a daily driver. Lifting a truck has its hazards both on the road (making you more top-heavy and reducing steering response) and mechanically (increasing wear and tear). Additionally, the best tires for mudding are not the best for the highway. And really, who wants to waste those dope (and expensive) off-roaders by wearing them down on pavement? As with most things, mudding is about choosing the right tool for the job.

I’m Sold, but This is Car Culture. I Get to Buy Accessories, Right?

Like many American car subcultures, mudding involves heavily modifying vehicles with upgrades and aftermarket accoutrements.

The single most distinguishing feature of a mudding modified truck is the lift. Now, many, many folks get their trucks lifted to ridiculous heights for no other reason than they think it looks cool (your results may vary). For mudding trucks, that’s only a side benefit. Clearance is king in mudding, keeping your 4×4 up and out of the muck greatly increases the likelihood that you’ll make it through the slop.

Truck mud bogging with high lifted body and huge tractor tires
hogwallermudbog.com

You’ll also need some serious tires too. While you can run with regular off-roaders there are also tires specially designed for mudding. These usually have huge lugs (the large rubber nodules on your tires) and wide gaps to prevent mud from sticking in between the lugs and reducing traction. Tires like the Interco Super Swamper TSL Boggers are perfect for the job but are not considered street legal. Many professional/dedicated mudding 4x4s will opt for full-on tractor tires. Similar to other off-roading, drivers will lower the psi on their tires to increase traction.

Other modifications and additions might include the following:

  1. Covering or actually moving your radiator to the rear. A clogged radiator is a common hazard of mudding and therefore a common cause of overheating and subsequent engine failure.
  2. Reducing the weight by stripping out components. Lighter means less sink.
  3. Installing bead locks, which are small bolts in your wheel rims which attach to your deflated tires and prevent them from coming loose (you know, because you deflated them).
  4. Bumper winch and tow ropes. You will get stuck.
  5. Bigger shocks, heavier axels, bigger drive shafts. All these will allow your 4×4 to weather all that twisting, smashing, and banging without just falling apart.
  6. Snorkel air intake. You don’t want all that muddy water getting sucked into your engine, bad scene.
  7. You might also want to bring your hip waders, because, again, you will get stuck.
ATV Mud bogging with snorkel intake
ATV with snorkel air intake from hogwallermudbog.com

Now that you’ve got the right vehicle with the right mods it’s time to get dirty.

How to Mud Bog: Or, How to Get Stuck Without Even Trying

Probably the biggest factor in success or failure in mudding is momentum. You might not think “delicate balance” when you see giant lifted 4x4s slinging mud into the air. Yet a delicate balance of momentum and control is precisely what’s called for. As with snow or sand, so too with mud, maintaining momentum can be the difference between sinking into rather than sailing across a troublesome surface.

Old truck mud bogging through deep muddy water

But you also need to be wary of just laying on the accelerator. You can easily lose control as the consistency of mud varies under your tires and you go from very little traction to too much traction. You risk finding yourself flying out of the mud at the end of the track and launching into a nearby field. And if, gosh forbid, you do lose momentum DO NOT try to power your way out. Once you’ve lost traction, spinning your wheels will only dig you deeper into the mud. Slow and steady low-end torque will be your only way free of the muck.

Clearance is king in mudding, keeping your 4x4 up and out of the muck greatly increases the likelihood that you’ll make it through the slop. Click To Tweet

It’s also important to know your terrain. Scouting the track for potential hazards like hidden rocks, tree stumps, and other debris can safeguard your vehicle against nasty surprises.

Start your wipers before you hit the mud. Maintaining visibility is important for keeping within an established track and avoiding deep ruts or other obstacles. Often mud will be heavy and/or sticky and that resistance can slow down or even break your wipers so keep them moving from the get-go.

 

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Be aware of who you’re following. Larger 4x4s with larger tires will leave wider, deeper ruts. If you’re in the smaller 4×4 following them you risk bottoming out, so try to hug the sides of any ruts that may prove too deep. You can also saw the wheels from side-to-side to momentarily improve traction if you don’t have the widest tires.

Don’t forget to Clean Up!

If somehow your 4×4 has made it through the trials of a day in the mud, you’ve still got to wash all that muck off your vehicle. Mud in the engine compartment can diminish the lifespan of parts. Mud left in the crevices between paneling can lead to premature rust. Mud inside your rims will unbalance your wheels. A hose and an attention to detail are usually all it takes to get things clean. A sprinkler can come in hand to get to undercarriage.

I know it sounds a little crazy and a lot dirty, but I promise you, one bound through the mud and you’ll have found your new off-road obsession.

Know of any other awesome automotive subcultures? Let us know all about them in the comments!

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Chris Kaiser
Chris Kaiser

Chris’ greatest passions include topiary, spelunking, and pushing aging compact cars well past 200,000 miles on cross-country road trips. His taste in cars runs from the classic and esoteric to the deeply practical with an abiding affection for VW Things, old Studebakers, and all things hybrid-crossover.

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