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8 Things We Learned from 4WD Master Trainer Nena Barlow

Photography by Richard Giordano

If you flip to the masthead section of Overland Journal magazine, there lies a list of folks whose names you may never see grace the bylines, but their roles are incredibly important. A small but mighty team sees to the day-to-day operation of Expedition Portal and Overland Journal; individuals come from a variety of backgrounds, states, even countries, and our 4WD experience varies widely too.

Several of us were offered the chance to train with 2021 Rebelle Rally champion and I4WDTA Master Trainer Nena Barlow last week, and we enthusiastically jumped at the opportunity. Senior Editor Matt Swartz, Overland Journal Podcast Producer Paula Burr, Editor-in-Chief Tena Overacker, and I hit the trails for a day of off-pavement training and basic recovery. We have unique knowledge bases, each with our strengths and weaknesses, so there are likely gems in here for everyone.

Matt Swartz

“Recovery equipment can be dangerous, and getting proper training so that you can use it safely is very important. Every time I work on developing my off-highway driving skills with a professional instructor like Nena, my confidence in the equipment and my judgment in terms of smart and safe decision-making are enhanced. This lets me go further in my off-highway and overland pursuits while staying safe and having fun.”

Paula Burr

“Training with Nena was such a wonderful experience. Her expertise in her field and ability to teach all drivers in the class made me feel like I had the confidence to conquer any trail.

Her knowledge runs deep, and you can see how passionate she is when explaining topics, all while keeping control of tense moments for us newer drivers and making it fun.

When we had a snack break, topics came up about recovery gear, one being the Hi-Lift. She walked us through the setup and operation, which I feel everyone should know and try. We also got creative and learned how to take up slack for winching, and she taught us a nifty trick with knotwork and a “dog bone.” Training was a ton of fun and around every turn was an educational moment.”

Tena Overacker

“Words of 4WD wisdom spill from Nena’s mouth like a tap running hot and fast, but watching her in action is a fantastic way to learn. I walked away from our training session with an increased appreciation for the importance of practicing patience, whether while spotting, driving, or during recovery. The few extra moments taken will likely save time in the long run and inspire a higher level of confidence among your team.

The newer vehicles with all the bonus features are fantastic—when they work. Another takeaway was the importance of getting to know individual vehicles before you drive them, including how to use all of the manual control options available to you.”

Ashley Giordano

“No mosh pit, just ballet.” This phrase from Nena was a great reminder of the importance of exuding elegance during off-pavement driving. In a world where extreme driving is prized (sometimes for a good reason—hello, Extreme E and Formula One!), technique and skill can be underrated.

Another tip I loved was to think about your back tires. I’m always so focused on the front tires and the undercarriage that I often forget about the back tires. They need to get out of it in one piece too.

To learn more about training with Barlow Adventures, visit barlows.us.

Thank you to Summit 4×4 Company for generously supplying our crew with vehicles for the day.

Our No Compromise Clause: We carefully screen all contributors to make sure they are independent and impartial. We never have and never will accept advertorial, and we do not allow advertising to influence our product or destination.

Ashley Giordano completed a 48,800-kilometer overland journey from Canada to Argentina with her husband, Richard, in their well-loved but antiquated Toyota pickup. On the zig-zag route south, she hiked craggy peaks in the Andes, discovered diverse cultures in 15 different countries, and filled her tummy with spicy ceviche, Baja fish tacos, and Argentinian Malbec. As Senior Editor at Overland Journal, you can usually find Ashley buried in a pile of travel books, poring over maps, or writing about the unsung women of overlanding history. @desktoglory_ash