The Ultimate Off-Roader Toolkit
When it comes to off roading, being prepared is key. Off roading is an adventure that can be challenging or exhilarating, and the difference (as with anything) lies in your preparedness.
To help you prepare for your first (or seventeenth) adventure, we’ve put together a list of things to do first, from some of the more obvious safety items to the less obvious tool that always comes in handy.
Know Your Car
What kind of car do you have? It’s a silly question but you’ll need the right car to go off roading. The best vehicles are undoubtedly trucks and SUVs, but we’ve seen modified sedans and wagons going off the beaten path as well.
Essentially, you’re going to want to make sure your car can handle what nature’s going to throw at it. Keep your location in mind: off roading in the cold with snow is very different from the heat and dirt.
Here’s a basic checklist to go over when it comes to your car:
- AWD or 4WD: We’ve all seen the AWD and 4x4 badges on cars. While 4WD (also known as 4x4) is preferred, all wheel drive will do the trick. Again, know your location.
- For more advanced trails, you’ll want 4WD with the option to select low or high range (essentially configuring whether you get more torque at lower or higher speeds).
- Locking Differentials: This might not be an easy one to wrap your head around (it certainly wasn’t for us), but a differential essentially controls your wheels while turning. Usually the inside wheel will turn slower.
- A locking differential will allow you to change that so your wheels always spin at the same speed, helping you get more traction.
- Traction Control: Most modern vehicles come with some sort of traction control setting. Less off road-oriented cars will automatically change between traction settings, while your Jeep Wranglers will allow you to select the terrain you’re on (snow, mud, road, etc.).
- Tires: A lot of off roaders cite tires as the most important part of your setup, and for good reason. A great car with a lot of power and bad tires isn’t going to perform well.
- For off roading, your tires will want to be capable of handling (you guessed it) the terrain you’ll be traversing. Snow tires for snow, mud tires for mud, etc. Ask your local dealer about the best tires for your car and the location.
- Suspension: The importance of suspension is often underestimated. A well-tuned suspension goes a long way in prolonging the life of major components in your car, especially the chassis. It’s also more comfortable to ride in.
- A hard suspension produces less roll when turning at speed, but it fairly uncomfortable on bumps. For most off road situations you’ll want a softer suspension that will absorb more bumps and be more comfortable.
- Lift kits may change your suspension configuration so always keep that in mind when lifting or lowering your vehicle.
- Lighting: Light bars, pods and custom headlights aren’t just for looks. They are extremely useful in the evening and at night - especially when you need to see everything in front of you as if it was day.
- Bad conditions like excessive fog, snow, and rain can cause problems when you’re just relying on headlights but light bars can make a huge difference in illuminating both the trail in front of you and the areas around you.
- Snorkel: If you’re expecting to cross streams or rivers, you’ll want to protect your engine with a snorkel. It will draw air from the top of the vehicle, making it safe for you to drive into deep water.
- Bumpers: You’re expecting to bump into things, so you’re going to want to beef up your front end a little. Bull bars will help protect your car from trees, brush, and even animals. Many rear bumpers add useful functionality like relocating the spare tire to the back.
- Interior: This won’t surprise you, but you’ll want to double-check your interior. It will need to have enough extra space for tools and items that you’ll be bringing along. And try to make it as comfortable as possible!
Going through these items will help make sure your car is prepared to handle nature at her finest. The next checklist covers things you’ll be bringing along for the ride.
Stock Up On Tools
Having your car physically prepared is not terribly useful if you bring nothing with you. Some tools will save your life, and others will save the car’s. Go through this list and make sure you’ve prepared accordingly.
- First Aid Kit: Well, it’s the most obvious. Always have handy a first aid kit that is fully stocked and easily accessible. We’ve seen people carrying multiple, but make a judgement call on what kind of kit you need and how many.
- Fire Extinguisher: No one likes a fire, especially in a vehicle. Do the obvious and attach a fire extinguisher to your vehicle.
- Food & Water: Always keep extra water in your car. Put as much water as you are comfortable holding, but never less than one bottle per seat (even if you’re the only one).
- Also carry iodine pills as they may help you make more drinkable water.
- For food, always have some granola (or similar) bars (the same rule applies with water bottles - enough for the maximum occupancy of your vehicle) ready.
- You can go one further and carry canned food, but again, make a judgement call on where you’re going and for how long.
- Tow Strap: The tow strap will be incredibly useful when there’s a downed tree in your way, or when you’re stuck and need to be unstuck, or when someone else is stuck.
- Work Gloves: Unless you’re a fan of major callouses, use work gloves to protect your hands (and keep them clean).
- Hatchet/Bone Saw: Like the bone saw, the hatchet will help in clearing out branches or other items in your way.
- Winch: A good quality winch is something that will eventually be worth more than its cost, even if used once. You’ll need it to pull yourself out of sticky situations.
- Manuals: Sometimes we buy something and immediately throw out the packaging and manuals. You’ll want to keep manuals or documentation that came with your car as well as any add-ons, modifications, accessories, and tools.
There are a wide variety of other specialized tools, but to start, these 9 things will cover you for most reasonable situations. We’ll wrap up with an important tip that will make off roading much easier:
Tire pressure is key to performing well in different terrain. You’ll generally want to lose tire pressure when rock crawling, driving through mud and sand, and in the snow.
Lower tire pressures increase the amount of contact the tire has with the ground, increasing traction drastically. Depending on your tire, you’ll be better off losing 20-30 psi. If you’re not sure about how much, start by losing 20 psi and going from there.
Did we miss any important tips, tricks, or tools? Let us know in the comments below.