4x4 Offroading Checklist

I'll say upfront I'm no professional 4x4 guide like Bill Burke. But I am obsessive about researching my gear, and one of my recent obsessions is offroading. I've compiled my list of essential (or semi-essential) accessories that I carry in my FJ Cruiser while adventuring in the Rocky Mountains. This list is based on many conversations I've had, web sites and reviews I've read, DVDs I've watched, and of course the essential on-the-trail "boy I wish I had... [x]".

Full-Size Spare Tire

This one falls into the "when you need it, you'll really need it" category. Most offroad vehicles come with a full-size spare as standard equipment.


Utility Gloves

You really don't want to stack rocks or handle winch line with your bare hands. Always keep a good pair of gloves in your vehicle. Note: the Hi-Lift Off-Road Kit and RockStomper recovery kit both include decent gloves.


GPS + Maps

A GPS receiver is obviously quite handy when you're running around in the wilderness. I'd suggest carrying a paper map, too, in case your GPS runs out of juice. Tip: print some screen captures from Google Earth with latitute/longitude lines turned on if you don't have paper maps handy.


CB or Ham Radio

I'm a ham radio operator so I carry my 2m/70cm radio when I'm out. I'd recommend everyone carry some type of 2-way radio like the Cobra Road Trip CB for times when you're out of cell range. Certainly in the mountains where I drive my cell phone is useless.

Note for ham radio operators: be sure to carry the ARRL Repeater Directory if you're away from your usual stomping grounds. When you're not in range of a repeater, follow the Wilderness Protocol (see ARES manual (PDF) page 87).

Note for Toyota FJ Cruiser owners: here's a great CB install to check out, including an antenna bracket that mounts on the rear door hinge.


Tow/Tugging/Yanking/Recovery Strap

This is a strap you can use between two vehicles when one is stuck. These go by several names, but the important part is the strap must have some stretch. Most stretch about 20% under load, some nice "yanking ropes" as much as 50%. This smoothes out the force as it's applied to the stuck vehicle.

Note: most straps used for recovery have folded-over ends like pictured here. Do not use one with hooks on the end, those are meant for towing (like on a road) and don't stretch. Also don't use a tree-saver strap.

I bought this recovery strap from RockStomper as part of their basic recovery accessory kit. Very good stuff, highly recommended.


Air Compressor

I bought the Key Parts HV40 on a friend's recommendation, and this thing is a star. Great build quality and it runs smooth. It's not the fastest thing in the world, but it's the best that you can still plug into your car's accessory socket. (They make larger models that need to clip directly to the battery.) Regardless of driving offroad, you'll want this just to keep all your car's tires in shape.


Hi-Lift Jack

The Hi-Lift Jack serves double duty: it's both a jack and a winch. If you get a tire stuck and it's just spinning, you can jack up the tire and get something under it. If you can't anchor the jack for lifting, you can use the jack to (slowly) winch yourself out. Bill Burke recommends the 60 inch version; I bought the 48 inch jack because it fits in my truck a lot easier.

Essential accessories: the Hi-Lift Lift Mate attaches between the jack nose and your wheel, allowing you to raise the wheel directly instead of jacking from the nearest bumper. This is quite useful if you have plastic bumpers (like me) or a lift kit with lots of suspension travel.

The Hi-Lift Off-Road Kit includes the stuff you need for winching. There are some special pieces that attach to the nose and bar, complete with a decent length of chain. There's also a D-shackle, tree strap, and gloves. Nice kit, definitely worth it.

Last, the Hi-Lift Off-Road Base is handy if you're stuck in sand or mud. You'll either want this or some other wide surface you can attach to the foot of the jack. Tip: string some cord through a hole in the base to make it easier to fish out of the mud.


Winch Extension Line

If you're going to be doing winching, you'll likely need more length than the Hi-Lift ORK will give you. Bill Burke recommends the Amsteel Blue lines. I bought a 25 foot extension line from RockStomper. If you've got a power winch, you can replace your steel line with Amsteel Blue -- it's lighter, easier to handle, doesn't kink or rust. And for the safety-minded, if you pull this stuff to failure, it won't recoil when it snaps. Good stuff.


Shovel, Saw, Axe, etc.

I carry a small folding shovel in case I need to jack up a tire and scoop some dirt under it. You might also find a small saw or axe handy if there's a tree down across the trail.


Food + Water

Even if you're just going out for an afternoon, you could get stuck and wind up spending a night on the trail. Take a day's worth of food and water just in case. Besides, you never know when you'll get a beef jerkey craving.


First Aid Kit + Other Personal Essentials

A first aid kit is obvious. You'll also want sunscreen, bug spray, and a day's supply of any meds you take. It's not a bad idea to pack some extra socks or even a change of clothes. Bill Burke recommends putting together a "bug-out bag" in case your vehicle is totally stuck and you need to leave it there. (See his video below.)


Bill Burke's "Getting Unstuck" + "Getting Prepared" DVDs

Want to know how to hook up all the pieces for winching with your Hi-Lift Jack? Or the best approach for all four wheels stuck in sand? Definitely get Getting Unstuck and Bill Burke will walk you through everything. He covers recovery with both a Hi-Lift jack and a power winch. You'll want to watch this and practice the rigging techniques before you hit the trail. The Getting Prepared video has lots of great material about packing and planning your adventures.

So there you have it. You can skip some of these items if you're wheeling with a group, for example you might skip the jack and just take a recovery strap. I would suggest always having the spare tire, map, gloves, recovery strap, food, and water.

Got anything you'd add to this list? Please leave a comment below!

Recent entries in
Geek Radio Lives Again (Feb 17)
Moving Web Hosting (Apr 16)