Off-Road Tips: How to Air Down Your Tires

Schnebly Hill 4x4 Road - Truck Camper Adventure

Looking for a quick and easy way to improve the off-road performance of your truck camper rig? Try airing down your tires. Sure, you can spend big bucks on flashy, double barrel shocks, on locking differentials, and on air intake and exhaust upgrades, but why spend the money when you don’t have to? This article provides valuable off-road tips on how to air down your tires and which tire pressures to use.

Why Air Down?

How does airing down your tires improve off-road performance? Why is it so effective? First and foremost, airing down improves traction by increasing the contact area of the tire and allows your tires to deform around uneven obstacles thus maximizing grip. Second, tires that have been aired down are easier on your truck’s steering and suspension components. Third, airing down reduces the spring rate of your truck’s suspension system, meaning your tires will absorb impacts more than your springs and shocks. This reduced spring rate results in a softer, much more enjoyable ride. Nowhere were these improvements more apparent than on a recent run we made on Sedona Arizona’s Schnebly Hill Road in our Ram 3500 and Northstar Laredo truck camper.

Schnebly Hill Road (FR-153) isn’t particularly long, it’s only 12 miles in length, but parts of the drive are rough and uneven. The mountain road, which climbs nearly 2,000 feet, really isn’t maintained anymore with parts of it rocky, deeply rutted and pitted. We typically don’t bother airing down our Cooper Discoverer AT3-XLT all-terrain (AT) tires for short runs like Schnebly Hill Road, but after driving on the rough and rocky road for a couple of miles the wife and I were through. On a recent run on Moab’s White Rim Trail we had experimented with a combination of 35 psi front and 40 psi rear and those pressures worked well for us, so we decided to try those same pressures here. We immediately noticed a big difference in how well the truck handled after airing down. We still had to take it slow over the rough surfaces, but the jarring was much more tolerable.

In contrast with hard and rocky surfaces, the soft sand found in places like the Imperial Sand Dunes and the Virginia Capes provides its own set of unique challenges for the overlander. Sure, it’s smoother and easier on your dental work, but you can also lose traction if you don’t use proper tires pressures. In soft sand, we recommend using pressures of either 20 PSI front and 25 psi rear or 25 psi front and 30 psi rear. Other truck camper owners have used pressures as low as 15 psi front and 20 psi rear in the really soft stuff, but we’ve never gone that low. The bottom line is that you have to experiment with the sand you’re driving on.

While on the subject, here are a few tips for driving in sand. Avoid making sharp turns. Doing so with low pressures can peel the tires from off the rims. You’ll also want to avoid sudden stops and fast take offs since these can result in burying your tires. Finally, if you do a lot off-roading, you may want to consider buying a set of mud-terrain (MT) tires like the Cooper Discoverer STT Pro. Featuring aggressive tread patterns, MT tires offer outstanding traction in not only snow and mud, but also in all types of sand.

Recommended Tire Pressures

Truck Camper Adventure recommends the following tire pressures for 10 ply SRW Load Range E (max. 80 psi) tires:

  • Firm dirt surfaces – 50 psi front/55 psi rear
  • Rough and rocky surfaces – 35 psi front/40 psi rear
  • Sand – 25 psi front/30 psi rear
  • Soft deep sand – 20 psi front/25 psi rear

Deflating Devices

What devices can you use to air down our tires? You can do it the old-fashioned way with the tip of a screw driver, but that takes a long time. Instead, we like to use a set of Staun heavy duty tire deflators. These high-quality tire deflators makes the task of airing down quick and easy. The deflators come factory preset at 35 psi, so if you want a different setting you need to manually set them yourself. Setting them up isn’t that difficult. All you need to do is air down a tire to the pressure that you want, then install the deflator and adjust it until air is released. It’s that simple.

If you don’t find this method of deflating your tires appealing, then you might want to check out the ARB E-Z tire deflator. This pretty cool device rapidly deflates your tires, one at a time, by removing the tire’s valve stem core. Air is manually released using the easy to operate sliding valve. The benefit of going this route is that it allows you to quickly air down your tires to individual precise levels using the included tire pressure gauge. The price for the ARB E-Z tire deflator is also half the price of the Staun deflators.

White Rim Trail - Shafer Switchbacks - Truck Camper Adventure
Going down the Shaffer Switchbacks on the White Rim Trail. (N. Sturgeon)
VIAIR-450P Air Compressor - Truck Camper Adventure
The VIAIR 450P Portable Air Compressor
VIAIR-450P Air Compressor - Truck Camper Adventure
Airing up with the VIAIR 450P after a three-day run on the White Rim Trail.
VIAIR-450P Air Compressor - Truck Camper Adventure
Airing up with the VIAIR 450P.

Airing Up

Of course, after airing down your tires after a day on the trail, you’ll need an efficient way to air them back up before hitting the pavement. For this job we use the VIAIR 450P air portable compressor. This lightweight unit gets its power by connecting directly to your truck’s 12 volt battery. The VIAIR 450P generates an operating pressure of 150 psi for up to 40 minutes before it automatically shuts off for a period of time to cool. It delivers 1.80 CFM free flow at 0 psi while the maximum current draw is 20 amps. The VIAIR 450P comes with its own soft carrying bag, and includes everything you need to air up your tires, including a 25 foot coiled extension hose with quick connect coupler, a gas station style inflation gun with a 200 psi pressure gauge, and an 8-foot-long power cable.

Inflating each Cooper Discoverer AT-XLT tire from 40 to 80 psi takes about eight to 10 minutes, which is a little long, but it’s still within the 40 minute, 100 percent duty cycle spec. You can purchase the VIAIR 450P on Amazon.com for $297.00. Expensive? Yes, but like we always say, you get what you pay for. All things considered, this is a good price for a quality air compressor, especially when you factor in free shipping using Amazon.com Prime.

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About Mello Mike 453 Articles
Mello Mike is an Arizona native, author, and the founder of Truck Camper Adventure. He's been RV'ing since 2002, is a Jeep and truck camper enthusiast, and has restored several Airstream travel trailers. He currently drives a 2013 Ram 3500 4x4 pickup truck with a 2016 Northstar Laredo solar powered truck camper mounted on top. He enjoys football, music, hiking, travel, photography, and fishing. He retired from the U.S. Navy in 2004 as a CWO3 after 24 years, worked in project management until 2017, and now runs this website full-time. He also does some consulting and RV inspections on the side.

5 Comments

  1. I have Nitto ridge grappler 305x65r18 tires. I spoke with Nitto tech,He gave me 40lbs. front 60lbs rear for my truck weight. He said do not air down,at lower pressures damage will occur lower. Call Nitto and ask.

    • That’s true when driving at high speed. But no damage will occur if you drive at low speeds like we’re doing when we drive off-road. Generating heat is the problem and if you’re driving at low speeds you won’t generate much if at all.

  2. Thanks for all the info you put up for all to see. I have a question on this article. I just got a 2016 F-150 Fx4 with 20 inch wheels. I tow a Forest River a-frame pop up trailer, 3,000 lbs loaded. Should I lower my tire pressure on washboard roads to make it smoother. And should I also lower pressure on the trailer as well? Thanks for helping all.

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