Overlanders looking for a simple way to improve off-road ride quality and performance automatically look to expensive bypass shock absorbers, lift kits to fit bigger tires, aftermarket coils, and burly leaf springs. While all of those components will improve the quality of your off-road travels, the simplest thing is the thing that many people don’t or won’t do: Air down.
I know, it’s an anticlimactic answer, right?
Airing down (i.e. lowering your tire pressure) to suit trail conditions is the easiest thing you can do to enhance your time off-road. A drop of just 10 pounds per square inch (PSI) from your typical street pressure elongates your tire’s footprint giving you better traction. That’s because more tire is in contact with the trail. More tire on the trail causes less slippage and less trail destruction and erosion as a result. Running lower PSI can also take the jolt out of washboard roads, saving your vehicle from costly repairs over time and your back from costly chiropractor appointments when you get back home.
You can find recommended tire pressures in your owner’s manual or on the door placard on the inside of the driver’s side door of your vehicle. Though overlanders running heavier vehicles will run a higher PSI than recommended
Typical highway/ street PSI is anywhere from 35 to 37, so a ten PSI decrease equates to a 30 percent decrease in overall tire pressure — and that is just a starting point. I often run my tires at 15 to 20 PSI while I’m out on the trail depending on conditions. Obviously, you shouldn’t be thinking about lowering your tire pressure if you don’t have a way to re-inflate your tires once you get back to the tarmac. Rolling with low pressure at highway speeds so you can get to a gas station to air back up is dangerous and should never be attempted.
What is the best way to deflate and inflate your tires?
Of course, there are tons of nifty gadgets to make airing down and airing up a breeze. I thought I’d go over a few of these to help you make a decision.
The least expensive option are static, screw-on deflators like the Lisle 19860 Tire Deflator. These tire deflators simply screw onto the valve stem and contain a pin that depresses the valve core allowing air pressure to escape. You must watch this type of deflator constantly as there is no stopping point and they will lower your tires to near zero. I still use this type of deflator on the trail.
If you’re worried about constantly watching your tires, you can go with an automatic deflator like the Staun Tire Deflator. Simply set your target PSI, screw the four deflators onto your valve stems and make a cuppa. The Staun deflators will let air out until it reaches your set PSI and then they stop. No more worries!
For those who want to focus on one tire at a time, you can go with the ARB E-Z Deflator Kit. This system permits the valve core to be removed to deflate the tire at an amplified speed. The gauge is easy to read and makes the process simple.
People looking for something a little more automatic might want to consider the two or four hose Indeflate system. This system allows you deflate two or four tires simultaneously (it also allows your to air up two or four tires simultaneously too).
Real talk, skip the 12V units in the $20 – $75 price range that plug into your 12V outlet. They’re a headache and they just don’t have the power to inflate large tires. I mean, you can do it. You just shouldn’t do it. It will take forever. The sun is hot. You will get hangry. Bad things will be said that you can’t take back. Instead, invest in one of the following:
The Power Tank is a reliable, fast, and portable, CO2 tank (filled with CO2 from your local fire extinguisher service). A single tank can fill a tire from 10 PSI to 30 PSI in 45 seconds, it can reseat a tire with a broken bead, and it can power air tools. It is a great option if you don’t want to hard wire an onboard compressor.
The ARB Onboard Air Compressor, either the single or the twin sets the standard for onboard air. I’ve been using my twin compressor for ten years and it is a workhorse. Coupled with the Indeflate system I mentioned above, this will give you many years of service and it will make it extremely easy to air up.
Whatever you choose, just make sure you pick a system that will make things easier for you. You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on a whole system, but when you think of how much you will be airing up and down, you’ll want something that makes it a better experience.
Header image credit: Bryon Dorr