What Qualities Make a Trailer More Off-Road Capable?

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I realize this is a very generic/vague question, but it is a legitimate one I have while planning a trailer build. What aspects of any given trailer allow it to make it through trails/terrain over others?

Some come to my mind, but I am more or less just guessing:
  • Approach / Departure Angle
  • Ground Clearance
  • Tires
  • Length?
As I said, I am planning a build and want to minimize the compromise for off-road capability. In other words, I want to limit the amount of times I say "I probably shouldn't try this trail with my trailer"
Thanks
 

80t0ylc

Hill & Gully Rider
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I think part of the reason you haven't got a reply yet is that there are many variables involved. Utility or teardrop style? - is an example. What tow rig will you use? What type of trails do you plan to tow on? All features you listed are important although controlling approach angle can be adjusted "on the fly" by fabbing in an adjustable tongue. You will want to use an off road hitch and I'd recommend the MaxCoupler because it was recommended to me and also things I've read. Weight is also an important consideration. Newer independent supension styles are slick, more expensive and can give you better ground clearance, but I like the simplicity of the straight axle/leaf spring. A longer trailer is easier to back up but doesn't handle tough and tight terrain as well. Tire/wheel matching tow vehicle is a good idea but may not work if trailer fenders won't allow. Trailer track matching tow vehicle pays dividends off road.

Here is a pic of the adjustable tongue (length) that I had on my utility trailer. The "receiver" tube went the full length of the trailer with a receiver on the rear, so in an extreme situation I could unhook from my tow rig, take the tongue off the front, put it in the rear and pull the trailer out backwards.
IMG_0948a (2).JPG

IMG_0950a.JPG


The receiver tongue was about 6 ft long, so there was plenty of adjustment available for all kinds of situations.
 
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@80t0ylc Thanks for the informed reply. Just to show you how much of a newbie I am to this topic, I have never heard of an off-road hitch before.
My tow vehicle is a 200 series LC with mild lift, 33's and rock sliders. Utility trailer is the plan. As far as trails, that is harder to define. Typically I'm on moderate-difficult mountain trails in the southern Appalachians. These have water crossings and some rock obstacles, but nothing i would consider severe.

Nice trailer btw! Is that a full custom build or did you start with an existing trailer?
 

80t0ylc

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Thanks! I bought it used. It was made by CVT, a Bend, OR based roof top tent company. You can read more about it on my thread "2017 CVT RTT trailer build" It was a very rugged & capable utility trailer. I made a few mods to it to suit my tastes, but pulled most of them off when I sold it.

Given your tow vehicle description and requirements, you might want to start with one of the military style trailers that are posted here in the trailer section of Mud and customize it however it suits you. Best of luck! :cheers:
:popcorn:
 
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alia176

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I realize this is a very generic/vague question, but it is a legitimate one I have while planning a trailer build. What aspects of any given trailer allow it to make it through trails/terrain over others?

Some come to my mind, but I am more or less just guessing:
  • Approach / Departure Angle
  • Ground Clearance
  • Tires
  • Length?
As I said, I am planning a build and want to minimize the compromise for off-road capability. In other words, I want to limit the amount of times I say "I probably shouldn't try this trail with my trailer"
Thanks


Suspension design typically separates an utility trailer from an offroad trailer. Folks that are converting their utility trailer to offroad trailers aren't utilizing the proper leaf springs and shocks design.

Tire choices are very subjective and runs the gammut. I'm not a fan of running the same size tires as my tow rig and I don't subscribe to sharing a spare between both the trailer and tow rig. Additionally, trailer tires don't need to be large and manly, that's a purely ego based decision. Most of us aren't taking our trailers through the Rubicon, notice, I said most! We simply want to haul all of our crap off the beaten path for a weekend of R&R. I prefer a C rated LT tire or even a P rated passenger tire for a trailer. An E rated tire can support an entire offroad trailer, for crying out loud, and that's way too much sidewall for this application. The trailer will get a pounding on washboards and rough trails, even if the tires are aired down.

Hitch connection choice is another one that often gets overlooked. I like a quiet, articulating receiver system like TREG that's on my camper but there are others out there. I am not a fan of pintle style of receivers that are clunky and noisy.

Length - really depends on the content lf you trailer and I wouldn't get fixated on a specific length. Design your trailer on paper (or CAD) and outfit with everything you need/want then see what the length ends up being. Water tanks over the axle or behind the axle will impact this dimension. Some folks like using springs from a 40/60 or even a Jeep Cherokee XJ. They're long and supple. Most utility trailer leaf springs are 25" or so and that's way too short to withstand the rigor of offroading, IMHO. Keep in mind that a longer trailer handles the bumps better and easier to backup while being less maneuverable around tight obstacles. Like they say, pros/cons and application driven.

Width - I prefer the width to be the same as the tow rig but that's just me. I'm not a fan of tires and fenders sticking outside of the trailer box.

Weight - how much balls does your tow rig have and do you tow in the higher elevations? I have a V8 4runner that tows my 2600# Adrenaline like it's on steroids.

Height - try to keep it below the tow rig for aerodynamics and cross wind impact. Also, a low trailer can traverse off camber terrain and you won't be worried about flopping it. Speaking of flopping a trailer - you ever tried up right a flopped trailer? Yeah, neither have I, but think about the recovery points that aren't usually addressed by trailer builders, either DIY or professional.

Height - For ex: a 3,000 hard sided trailer is much harder to tow and will suck down the MPG vs a 3,000 popup trailer. Your tranny will thank you if you can lower the air drag going down the hwy at 75mph.

Material - I'm a fan of making the main chassis out of either 10 or 11g steel tubing (rect or square, doesn't matter) and thinner walls (maybe 14g?) for all gusseting and triangulatng braces. Making a chassis stupid heavy doesn't always mean it's going to be strong. Proper gusseting is the key, not thick walls! This isn't a millitary application but a weekend warrior who typically isn't doing a Baja style of driving with their family.

Lastly, build yourself a spreadsheet of cost and time vs purchasing a second hand trailer or an unfinished trailer. You might be surprised at the numbers, especially if you're a family man who has to prioritize other things in life.

Good luck amigo.
 
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ntsqd

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I think pintle hitches take a hit for noise when really it's caused by poor component selection. I was guilty of this, and advised against them for years. Then I found some military stds for the system and decided to try one that was sized correctly.
IF the lunette is correctly sized they don't bang around. I won't go so far as to say that they are stealth quiet because they're not, but when the correctly sized parts are used the noise that mine does make is very minimal. If you don't know what you're listening for you might just miss it entirely. IF you've got a noisy pintle system I'll venture that the lunette's cross sectional diameter is small for the opening in the pintle hitch.

This is a typical 2" socket receiver tube that I built to have a rotating lunette on the end of. Note how thick the lunette ring is compared to the receiver socket tube and those 7 inch long, Ø9/16 inch bolts. It doesn't bang and clunk because it nearly fills the opening in the pintle itself. That is the way that they are supposed to work.
i-2FvNcWv-XL.jpg

This is it in use, coming back from supporting my team's two racers in a remote pit at the 2019 Parker 425:
i-Jm5wRQz-L.jpg


I don't buy into the same tire size on the trailer either. The trailer that the above lunette coupler was built for (above) came to me on 33-12.50 BFG A/T's. I unknowingly towed it 300 miles with 5 psi in both tires! They weren't even warm when I checked them. The trailer now rolls on 31-10.50's and I'd have gone smaller but the tent was sized to work properly with that tire size. A smaller tire would have made for a tent that could never be pulled tight.
I do think that a sidewall with many plies is a good thing in a trailer tire. They don't always get to go over the easy path that the TR's tires got to. Sometimes there is no option but to run them over something or against something that you'd rather not. Strong sidewalls are a must in those situations.

If you're going to build a trailer there is one book on the topic worth having. I've seen others, but none are as good as:
Trailers; How to Design & Build vol.2
That is Part 2, I don't think Part 1 is worth the trouble, but some may want it. Given that they were self published and more or less out of print now I'd see if a library has a copy that you can look at first. This book is about the basic design aspects, not what is mentioned above.

I don't know why this forum software has so much trouble with amazon links, but it's infuriating!
 
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I think pintle hitches take a hit for noise when really it's caused by poor component selection. I was guilty of this, and advised against them for years. Then I found some military stds for the system and decided to try one that was sized correctly.
IF the lunette is correctly sized they don't bang around. I won't go so far as to say that they are stealth quiet because they're not, but when the correctly sized parts are used the noise that mine does make is very minimal. If you don't know what you're listening for you might just miss it entirely. IF you've got a noisy pintle system I'll venture that the lunette's cross sectional diameter is small for the opening in the pintle hitch.
Agreed, when I first starting towing my M101CDN I used a pintle/ball combo hitch on my cruiser and it clanked and banged around constantly. At the time it was worth the tradeoff to be able to use the same hitch with a car trailer.

Right now I use a 5ton (I think) pintle on the cruiser and the lunette fits much more snugly. I might occasionally hear something from the hitch but I would really need to be listening for it. I see zero need to spend any money upgrading it.
 

alia176

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Sizing the lunette for a pintle is really good info that y'all brought up. :clap:
 
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I put this together from a bed/frame. The hitch is longer than I need but it tows great. I used a standard 2" ball mount so I can easily use it on different vehicles. The truck springs allow a very nice ride for cargo and reduce the side to side banging around you'd see on typical short stiff trailer springs. I made an axle for it with 6x5.5 hubs and the tires are Kenda 235/70r16 load range C which were on sale for like $90 each. I have lots of wheels kicking around that will work and in a pinch can swap wheels between most of my rigs and trailer if needed.

I didn't want it to sit super high and wasn't concerned with extreme off roading. I wanted it to be useful for day to day stuff as well as off road trips.
20220805_153059.jpg
 
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I put this together from a bed/frame. The hitch is longer than I need but it tows great. I used a standard 2" ball mount so I can easily use it on different vehicles. The truck springs allow a very nice ride for cargo and reduce the side to side banging around you'd see on typical short stiff trailer springs. I made an axle for it with 6x5.5 hubs and the tires are Kenda 235/70r16 load range C which were on sale for like $90 each. I have lots of wheels kicking around that will work and in a pinch can swap wheels between most of my rigs and trailer if needed.

I didn't want it to sit super high and wasn't concerned with extreme off roading. I wanted it to be useful for day to day stuff as well as off road trips. View attachment 3125750

It would be interesting if someone built a trailer that was designed to the specs of a pick up bed so that you could fit a canopy camper to it. (GFC, Alu Cab, Super Pacific, Project M, etc.)
 
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I’ve got a handful of trailers all with different couplers.

M101a - pintle, sized correctly makes nearly no noise
Sfarcraft 10R/T - converted to a MaxCoupler
Boat Trailer - standard 2” ball
Sasquatch Smuggler - ARK articulating coupler.

I’ve got the most offroad experience with the M101, probably close to 1000 miles of moderate mtn roads often overloaded with firewood. The trailer tows great and makes little noise with the pintle but when it does it does (loud)

The MaxCoupler works great, it’s silent. For my application kind of hard to hook up as the trailer is too heavy to move by hand on my gravel driveway. No complaints with the coupler itself.

Standard ball on the boat trailer not much to report. I don’t wheel that very hard.

The ARK coupler is new to me. Picked up the trailer last week and have only connected it twice for street use. Easy but the trailer is manageable by hand. Concept is similar to the MaxCoupler or Roll-n-Lock but fits a standard 2” ball. Pretty sure I’m going to like it but no real world use yet. https://www.etrailer.com/Straight-Tongue-Trailer-Coupler/Ark/AR44FR.html

I would say the coupler is really the only thing that needs to be off-road specific. That and reasonably sized tires. Like 29” or larger just so they will roll over bumps/rocks/roots. Otherwise everything else is a compromise in some way like any other trailer.
 

alia176

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Good inputs Corbet.

This past weekend we took my GF's 4" lifted Casita camping off grid and my buddy made a video of it while I towed it over bumps. Let me tell you, I HATE rubber suspension without shock absorbers. This one has Dexter TorqFlex independent suspension, which is what I have on my utility trailer and probably found on lots of trailers made in the USA. They simply boing boing down the road like a pogo stick.

Check out the video and crank up the volume, 'cause my buddy had a blast cranking his tunes while he recorded this with my phone. :clap:

I made this video while I was following her on the hwy. I built the receiver the day prior and wanted to see how much the bikes were getting tossed around on the hwys. Yes, there's indeed a cat in my car ;)

By no means, I'd consider the Casita an offroad trailer but it'll do just fine on dirt roads with mild obstacles as long as the speed is slow. The trailer is on a 4" lift which I think is too much given how top heavy the thing is so I'll lower it by 2". The PO had someone weld two 2x2 sq tubing on top of each other to get 4" of lift.

I tell you what though, that is one comfy little trailer and serves as a basecamp very nicely. After riding all day, it's nice to have a hot shower. I won't lie, going pee at 0500 inside a bathroom while the temps were subfreezing outside was lovely. Granted, the temps inside weren't exactly toasty either. Her GX460 with the six speed tranny tows it like a boss and I'm teaching my GF on driving it in manual mode while not being a lazy driver. It has a standard ball hitch and it does fine for this application.
 
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ntsqd

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That ARK coupler is interesting. Some of it's design features I like and others I dislike. The biggest thing that I dislike is the height offset, I'd rather that the swiveling fork was inline with the receiver tube. Using an existing ball is brilliant.

My trailer in the pic above is a Torflex axle. The guy who built the Baja back-roads rated frame for it added Rancho dampers at the beginning. If you search for info on these axles in off-road use you'll eventually find some old posts from one of the Adventure Trailer founders bashing them for failing due to grit getting into them and causing a failure. Curiously, pictures of that failure have never been found and his is the only instance of this that I know of. You'll also find posts from me pointing this out.

I have thought about this failure mode for a long time and I think that the grit came along after the actual failure. The actual failure was that the rubber got so hot that it's vulcanizing to either or both the axle bar and/or the axle tube failed. I see adding a damper as a crucial step in preventing this from happening as the damper becomes the heat emitter. Prior to my taking ownership of the trailer it had been dragged all over Baja and thru Mexico's Copper Canyon. It's seen some rough roads over long stretches and many years. No sign of any de-vulcation.

I like the idea of having tires and wheels that match your truck so that you have three extra spares if needed. Some trailer companies will match your wheels setup on the trailer.
If your TR is on 33's or shorter that makes some sense, but I think that even 33's are excessively large for a trailer. Putting a trailer on 40's because that is what the TR uses is just silly and has the real potential to be dangerous. That big of a tire will make the trailer hard to control. Even my trailer on the 33's that it came to me with could be difficult at times. The fact that those tires weren't even warm after being towed ~300 highway miles at 5 psi tells me that those 33-12.50's were way too big for the way that the trailer is loaded.
 

alia176

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If your TR is on 33's or shorter that makes some sense, but I think that even 33's are excessively large for a trailer. Putting a trailer on 40's because that is what the TR uses is just silly and has the real potential to be dangerous. That big of a tire will make the trailer hard to control. Even my trailer on the 33's that it came to me with could be difficult at times. The fact that those tires weren't even warm after being towed ~300 highway miles at 5 psi tells me that those 33-12.50's were way too big for the way that the trailer is loaded.

I agree with this statement, having giant tires on a trailer mostly serves one's ego and rarely is practical. My Adrenaline Rush trailer came with E rated 33" tires and those are too big, heavy and the wrong load rating. I want to downsize to 32" (235 85 16) but for the life of me, they don't exist in anything other than E rated size due to that size being a "commercial" size, I guess. :meh: one tire can support the entire trailer, which is 2600#, which means it's have to air down to 8 psi just to get some squish.
 
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That ARK coupler is interesting. Some of it's design features I like and others I dislike. The biggest thing that I dislike is the height offset, I'd rather that the swiveling fork was inline with the receiver tube. Using an existing ball is brilliant.

My trailer in the pic above is a Torflex axle. The guy who built the Baja back-roads rated frame for it added Rancho dampers at the beginning. If you search for info on these axles in off-road use you'll eventually find some old posts from one of the Adventure Trailer founders bashing them for failing due to grit getting into them and causing a failure. Curiously, pictures of that failure have never been found and his is the only instance of this that I know of. You'll also find posts from me pointing this out.

I have thought about this failure mode for a long time and I think that the grit came along after the actual failure. The actual failure was that the rubber got so hot that it's vulcanizing to either or both the axle bar and/or the axle tube failed. I see adding a damper as a crucial step in preventing this from happening as the damper becomes the heat emitter. Prior to my taking ownership of the trailer it had been dragged all over Baja and thru Mexico's Copper Canyon. It's seen some rough roads over long stretches and many years. No sign of any de-vulcation.


If your TR is on 33's or shorter that makes some sense, but I think that even 33's are excessively large for a trailer. Putting a trailer on 40's because that is what the TR uses is just silly and has the real potential to be dangerous. That big of a tire will make the trailer hard to control. Even my trailer on the 33's that it came to me with could be difficult at times. The fact that those tires weren't even warm after being towed ~300 highway miles at 5 psi tells me that those 33-12.50's were way too big for the way that the trailer is loaded.

The trailer I am interested in has 33" and you can option the Landcruiser 5-150 lug pattern which would be exactly what I would need.
 
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Agreed, when I first starting towing my M101CDN I used a pintle/ball combo hitch on my cruiser and it clanked and banged around constantly. At the time it was worth the tradeoff to be able to use the same hitch with a car trailer.

Right now I use a 5ton (I think) pintle on the cruiser and the lunette fits much more snugly. I might occasionally hear something from the hitch but I would really need to be listening for it. I see zero need to spend any money upgrading it.
Same here. Almost never notice my pintle. Easy to attach and I know it is not coming off, even if I flip it (ask me how I know). I have backed it up over hills when turning and never think about it.

Also agree with don’t bother matching the tire. It is a waste. These tires don’t drive the vehicle so only need to follow along. You want something that will roll easily and not slip side to side when going round corners or on mud. I put narrow AT scorpions on mine, even then these are probably overkill.

I have a CDN M101 and looked into extending the tongue. In the end I found I like it short. When I am cresting over rocks it feels like there is less worry about ground clearance or approach angle. I never did the math so I might be wrong here. It would be interesting to see the truth.

Keep the weight low and centred like a keel. I put too much weight up high with a RTT on mine. It takes a lot to flip it but it is now possible. Thinking about a water tank to help fix this.

Build it so you don’t care what happens to it. Steel and tough. Bolted connections are sometime better. They don’t crack from the vibrations off road.
 
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