Winches and big tires are fun and showy add-ons, but these off-road accessories will provide the most bang for your buck and are vital for getting unstuck.
When traversing deep sand and rock, it's best to air down tires to increase traction. Because large off-road tires often need to go from street pressures above 30 psi to well below 15 psi, the process can take a long time. An ARB E-Z Deflator actually screws onto the valve stem and allows you to remove the valve core, letting air zoom out when you need it to. It makes airing down simple, precise, and quick, and you can check the pressure as you go with the heavy-duty gauge calibrated to read accurately at lower pressures. When one tire is finished, simply screw in the valve core and move on to the next tire. It's a handy device to keep in the glovebox.
If you don't have a Warn electric winch sitting on your front bumper to extract your rig from sticky situations, you can still add a winch accessory kit to aid in recovery. A couple recovery straps, shackles, and a Hi-Lift jack can help you get out of most situations. If you are on a highly trafficked trail, there's a good chance someone with a winch will drive by, and if you've got a recovery kit then you've got a good chance of getting unstuck.
Frankly, the old trick of sliding a floor mat under a stuck tire doesn't really work very well. That's why we sometimes pack a set of traction ramps. These are invaluable, especially if you are traveling alone (which we don't recommend, by the way), because you could get unstuck without the help of another vehicle. Simply unfold the ramps and wedge them under the stuck tires—providing them some much-needed grip in muddy, sandy, or snowy conditions. There's a reason you see traction ramps mounted to the roof racks of expedition vehicles—they work.
When you're done playing in the rocks and dirt, though, you'll need to air the tires up again, but a convenient source of air probably won't be close by. That's why experienced four-wheeling enthusiasts pack an air compressor. This model from Slime is powered by your truck battery or any other 12 volt power source. Keep your vehicle while running to prevent your battery from draining.
A shovel is the number one tool you need to extract your vehicle when you are stuck. When your wheels are spinning you'll need a shovel to clear out the soft dirt and insert rocks, sticks, or traction device. A folding shovel fits anywhere, but if you want a bit more strength and leverage, then a short works.
Don't rely on the weak-kneed tire jack that came with your 4x4. The Hi-Lift is a tall jack, as the name implies, and it can do more than simply raise a vehicle. It can be used as a hand winch, spreader, or clamper. Its accessories allow you to lift a vehicle in deeper sand or lift from the vehicle's wheel instead of a bumper or frame section. The Hi-Lift (originally called the Automatic Combination Tool or Handyman Jack) has been one of the most popular tools for 4WD enthusiasts since the hobby began.
An off-road excursion wouldn't be much fun if it didn't take you far away from civilization. But if a medical emergency happens miles from a paved road, you'll want to have some basics on board. A generic first-aid kit should be considered the bare minimum any four-wheeler should take with them. A better solution would be to have a full medical kit.
The more extreme the trail, the more likely it is that you'll break parts on your way. So it's smart to pack along a toolbox (or tool bag to save space and keep stuff from rattling) specifically for your vehicle and type of terrain. In addition to the usual wrenches, pliers, vise grips, and drivers, there are a few lifesavers we like to have with us. One is JB Weld epoxy, which is so strong it can patch a fairly large hole in a cast-iron differential and get you home. Packing various gear and engine oils is smart, too, along with a container of WD-40, a Leatherman multitool, and a tire-plug kit. Numerous sizes and strengths of rope, wire, and tape also make sense.
Even on short off-road trips you'll want to pack food and water. Trouble is, most coolers are not built to last in harsh environments—the hinges, wheels, and handles of basic coolers break. Tough soft coolers are now just as rugged as their grizzly proof counterparts, but at a fraction of their weight. This new cooler from Pelican can sit in the seat next to you and can be transported to your favorite lookout spot or with you on a hike.
It's always smart to install a B-rated (liquids) and C-rated (electrical equipment) fire extinguisher in a 4WD vehicle. After all, there are plenty of fire accelerants right on board every vehicle, including antifreeze, oils, and those hot exhaust pipes. Be prepared.
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