Mud, snow and cold. Those are some of the givens for wintertime off-roading. Your ATV and side-by-side can handle all three conditions. But can you? There is more to ATV riding in winter than bundling up to beat the chill.
Understanding how cold weather affects your machine is a must. So is knowing how to operate an ATV in mud, snow and chilly temperatures. Preventive maintenance, common sense and the right cold weather gear—for you and your ATV—are essential to keep it fun and safe.
The good news is that while the weather is cold, you can adapt and find even more reasons and ways to make off-roading a year-round adventure. Here are 10 winter ATV riding safety tips you need to know, along with a bonus—if the winters are longer and colder where you live, you can trick your ride with our top five accessories.
#1 Never ride alone
Topping the list is never ride alone during winter. More people are on the trails during the popular summertime off-roading season than during the dead of winter. Days are shorter and nights are longer. Should you have a mechanical breakdown, the repairs might take longer to do, if they can be done at all on the trail. Above all else, help can be far away and you can be exposed to hypothermia, which can be fatal. Riding with others is by far the safer and more enjoyable way to go.
#2 The layered look
The best way to beat the cold is by layering on protective clothing. Each of these three layers does a different job, and all work together to keep you warm and dry. Begin with a base layer, such as thermal underwear, that wicks sweat off your skin. Add an insulating middle layer that retains body heat to protect from the cold. A polyester fleece pullover will do. Then add an outer shell later that shields you from wind and rain. An uninsulated parka is a good example.
Click to learn more about cold weather layering and late season clothing systems.
#3 Share the trail
If snowmobiling is popular in your area, check with the appropriate authorities about ATV use. If the trail is open to ATV use, respect all posted trail signs for speed limits, stop signs and more. Remember that snowmobiles are faster than ATVs. So be aware of your surroundings, especially in blind corners and long straightaways. Since you are on their turf, it’s also a good idea to yield to snowmobiles as a measure of good trail etiquette.
#4 Stay on the trail
There are even more reasons to ride on designated off-road trails in winter. On snow covered ground, you can’t always see what’s beneath the surface where you are riding. Think hidden boulders, fallen trees and even hidden drop-offs.
#5 Know ice!
ATVs are reliable and popular modes of transportation for ice anglers. You can join the fun—just remember this good rule of thumb. Only drive on a frozen lake with at least five to six inches of solid ice. Anything less and vehicles may be too heavy. If you are an ice angler, additional safety information in this article about ice fishing safety and gear is a good read.
#6 Keep it low gear
Low gear operation is a good idea when towing and also navigating more technical obstacles like hills, mud, rock, and of course, snow and ice. Lower gears keep speed down which helps with traction and control on slick surfaces.
#7 Call for help
A fully charged mobile phone or other device that can contact help should be essential safety gear for every ATV rider. In winter, cold temperatures can quickly drain your device’s battery. Bringing an external charger is a wise idea. Using a phone’s camera for videos and photos can drain the battery even quicker. Instead, bring along a separate camera to record those picture-perfect moments in the winter wonderland.
#8 Stay charged
The starting battery can also fall victim to the chilly temperatures. It can drain quicker, on top of its intended job of cranking the engine. Before you head out, make sure the battery is fully charged. If your ride ends at a hunting camp, remove the battery and take it inside to preserve the charge.
#9 Got tools?
You should always carry a toolbox equipped with spare parts and tools for on-trail repairs. In winter, add a collapsible shovel for digging out of a snow bank or muddy rut. Portable traction pads are a good addition if you get stuck on ice as well.
#10 Thaw that winch
An electric winch is a wise investment for any ATV. In winter, it pays for itself by getting your vehicle unstuck in the mud or snow. Before you head back out in the chill, make sure the winch cable is free of ice. Otherwise, it can freeze and lock up when you try and unspool it. Adding a coat of spray-on oil will help do the trick to keep it running.
Learn More About ATV Safety Operation
Here are five accessories fitted for the popular TRACKER OFF ROAD 570 and 700 ATVs that we recommend for harsh winters.
ATV TIRE CHAINS
These rear tire chains are made from hardened steel with a grippy V-bar design. They are easy to attach and provide a secure, solid fit when you need it.
ENGINE BLOCK HEATER
This handy accessory makes cold-weather starting smoother by pre-warming liquid-cooled engines with 375 watts of power.
Add another layer of protection over your gloves with these water- and wind-resistant nylon muffs. They are easily attached with hook-and-loop fastener straps with an elastic grip strap.
This is one accessory that will take the chill out of the ride. You can attach and remove this windshield in seconds with no tools required. The windshield is adjustable for drivers of all sizes, and comes in mid-height and full height versions. And it’s RAM mount ready and fits more than 200 RAM accessories.
Should you get stuck in mud or snow you can attach the winch hook to a tree or suitable object to pull the ATV. Includes 50' of durable wire cable, and a powerful motor with 3,000 pounds of pulling capacity. It comes with a handlebar-mounted rocker switch.