Tips: Sand Driving
Trent Webster, Editor, Australia
If you’re like me, then you’ve wasted many hours laughing at the carnage created by sand. Pages on facebooks like ” I got bogged at Inskip Point” highlight the dont’s when it comes to sand driving. So in an attempt to keep you from becoming a star, I have put together a few tips for keeping momentum.
Moreton Island, running 18 PSI in both truck and trailer tyres
Photograph by Not A Gap Year
Be Prepared

Most people who make the fail pages are those who don’t give sand the respect it deserves. Take the time to learn, practice if you can, but most of all, get the right gear.

I don’t think anyone should be planning trips down the sand without the following as an absolute minimum:

  • Gauge/Deflators – just putting a stick in the valve for 30 seconds doesn’t really count as lowering your tyre pressure. Without knowing what pressure your tyres are at, you are already on the back foot. In todays market you have heaps of options. The “Kwiky” style deflator incorporates the gauge and deflator in one unit. It allows for rapid deflation by unscrewing the valve itself. If you’re like me though and not a big fan of this method you still have options. The Staun style deflators allow you to just screw the little device on, and it let your tyres down to the preset PSI. (these come preset from the factory, or with instructions to setup yourself).
  • Recovery points – front and rear – google your truck  – there are heaps of bolt-on options out there. The hoops on the front are normally just to secure the vehicle when towing, meaning they aren’t rated for the forces applied during a sand recovery. Similar options are available for the rear, however there is a cheaper option too. You can buy a rated blocks that goes into the towbar receiver. AT NO TIME should you ever plan to just hook at strap around the tow ball. The chance of these shearing off under pressure during a recovery is high and people have died as a result.
  • Straps and Shackles – everyone who goes on the sand should have rated shackles and at least a snatch strap rated for the size of their vehicle. You don’t want to be the person who relies on everyone else to save your arse. They are cheap and compact so get them, and leave them in the truck so they are always there.

There are other things we take as well, and I go through that below, but if you are just doing the occasionally sand runs, and to spots that usually see a bit of traffic, then you should be sweet.

Tyre Pressure

All beaches and sands are different, but one thing will always be the same…the lower the pressure in your tyres, the easier your truck works and the less chance you have of getting bogged.

Over the years I have had many different trucks, some auto, some manual, but I have always had to run around the same pressure to keep moving forward.

In NSW we don’t have the big tides of Queensland so we do a lot more driving in the soft sand. This means, the tyre pressures are quite low. If we are just down on the sand with the truck, then we would normally let the tyres down to between 14-16 PSI. If we are towing the trailer then I would usually be down to around 12PSI in both truck and trailer. With pressure this low, you need to remember a few things…..keep the speed down and avoid going sharp turns (this will save you rolling the tyre off the rim).

When running around the harder beaches in Queensland, you can indeed keep your tyres harder, but the one thing that people seem to forget is that its usually pretty soft between the track entrances and the low tide mark.

Tyre pressure will be different on every beach you drive on.
Photograph by Not A Gap Year
For this reason, I usually still drop my tyres down to around 18PSI until I get a feel for the sand, and then adjust from there.
“The best tip I was ever taught to check if my pressure were low enough was to go in a straight line at around 20km/hour then put the car into neutral (or just your foot on the clutch) and see if it rolls. If you bog down instantly, then your tyres aren’t floating, so let a bit more out. If you cruise for a bit, then you are sorted.”
When the going gets really tough, then we have been as low as 8PSI. If you get to this, just keep the distance traveled to a minimum, and when you can, stop and put a bit of pressure back in the tyres. With no sharp turns and taking it easy, you wont have an issue running this low, and it may be all that you need to get out of soft sand.
Gear Selection and Throttle Control

In all the fail videos you see blokes with their foot to the floor and a massive rooster tail of sand going everywhere. Visually impressive, but they are going nowhere.

When you are on the sand, in an auto or manual, you need to be prepared that you’re are going to be working the truck hard. You need to keep your revs up, but you need to recognise when to back off too.

If you just stomp on it to get going, chances are you are going to bog down. Take it easy to get that bit of momentum and then keep going from there.

If you’re driving a manual, you will need to slip the clutch a bit to get going and once you’ve got the revs up, keeping momentum is all about having quick gear changes and maintaining revs.

In an auto, obviously it easier to get up and going, but you need to remember a few things. If you have the ability to select which gear you’re in, drive in that mode. If you drive in D, the torque converter will be working overtime, and heat kills auto transmissions. Rule of thumb, the harder the engine is working, the easier the transmission is.

Kangaroos on North Stradbroke Island, Main Beach.
Photograph by Not A Gap Year
Traction Aids

They come in many different brands, sizes and shapes, but what ever you call them, traction boards are essential if you are traveling on sand.

The idea is simple, you put the boards in front of the wheels and they give you a chance at getting forward momentum.

The rules I use are:

  • If your budget extends that far, have 1 board for each wheel. Ie. 4 for your truck and if towing another 2. If not, anything is better than nothing – same goes for brand.
  • Dig out around the tyres before you put the boards down. This usually means the truck will have to work less to get onto the boards.
  • DON’T spin your wheels flat out – this is something you will have to practice, but the idea is to do what you need throttle wise to get onto the boards, but then avoid spinning the wheels whilst you go across them. It just saves you damaging the boards and prolongs their life.
  • Put a strap on them. Trust me, you have no idea how deep these things can disappear into the sand. The straps sometimes stick out of the sand making it quicker to find them.

We use and recommend Maxtrax.

I have had the knock-off versions, and you know what, they could be all you need for that one recovery, but they are cheaper for a reason. The material isn’t as strong, the quality isn’t there in the construction, and I personally wouldn’t want to be using them regularly, especially if they are supporting any weight.

But, as I said above, anything is better than nothing.

Exploring the stretch of coastline between Hawkes Nest and Mungo Brush, NSW Australia
Photograph by Not A Gap Year
Traction control is an option lots of newer vehicles have and one that causes a lot of debate. Personally, I switch it OFF. I have just found that it causes more problems than anything else. Try it out though…..might be different in your vehicle.

For your first few trips, try and organise a crew to travel with, and if you can, give the recovery gear a go. You don’t need to bog yourself down to the axles to try it, but when it does hit the fan one day, at least then you can be cool under pressure (or in front of the camera).



Finding The Pines in
Barrington Tops
Island hopping in
South East Queensland
Following the Tele Track
to Cape York