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Trail Tools to Make Your Life Easier When Things Go South

Posted in Features on January 22, 2019
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Having a shop full of tools with an air compressor and a lift doesn’t do you much good when you are out on the trail in the middle of nowhere. As the old saying goes, you can’t take it with you—at least not everything in the garage. Depending on how much space you have, the full 72-piece wrench set might have to stay home in favor of a crescent wrench. After years on the trail we have a pretty good idea what to bring, although sometimes we still get stumped. We tend to bring less expensive tools on the trail than we have at home in case we need to “modify” one or give it to someone else, but we always replace the tools when we get home, and add anything that we needed but didn’t have with us.

Harry Wagner

Freelancer

ARB JACK

Farm jacks have been the standard on the trail for decades. While they are useful, they leave a lot to be desired. ARB’s new JACK has the features we like about a farm jack (large foot, wide range of motion) but relies on hydraulics instead of mechanical pins that can get stuck or ratchet down suddenly. The JACK even has dual lowering speeds for when you want to slowly align something like a sway bar endlink. Running up the body, nine hooking points offer the foot a wide range of lifting heights. The JACK is capable of lifting up to 4,400 pounds. Of course, there’s a catch: All of these features come at a pretty steep price. Source: ARB USA, 866.293.9078, arbusa.com

Klinzmann Stash A Stand

Carrying actual jackstands on the trail has never been particularly practical—until now. Stash A Stand collapsible off-road jack stands can hold up to 4 tons each, yet fold up safely and can be stored in any vehicle. They fit in an average-sized tool bag when folded, hardly taking up any room. Stash A Stands jackstands are engineered and tested to meet ASME standards and requirements and use locking pins for an extra margin of safety. Now you don’t have to use a log or spare tire under your rig when you are working on it on the trail. Source: Klinzmann Fabrication, 970.310.3157, klinzmannfabricationllc.com

DMOS Collective Alpha 2 Shovel

We don’t use shovels much in the rocks, but they are worth their weight in gold when you are stuck in sand or snow. In the past we have used cheap plastic snow shovels, but they don’t hold a candle to the DMOS Collective Alpha 2 shovel. Originally designed for backcountry use and ski resorts, the Alpha 2 is perfectly at home in your rig and hardly takes up any space when the handle is collapsed. The blade is made from 6061 T6 aluminum and is 18- inches wide to move a lot of snow or sand quickly. And the handle telescopes to allow you to reach way under your vehicle when you are high-centered. Source: DMOS Collective, 307.203.2975, dmoscollective.com

CLC Tool Backpack

Rescue missions come with the territory when you spend a lot of time off-road. After packing tools and parts in to a friend with a broken steering box, he repaid the favor by giving us this CLC backpack to hold all of our tools. It is made of ballistic polyester fabric and has 75 pockets to hold all of our wrenches, screwdrivers, and more. Six compartments keep your tools organized, and the heavy-duty zippers and padded shoulder straps make rescue missions more comfortable than ever. Source: Custom Leather Craft, 800.325.0455, goclc.com

Leatherman Crunch

Multitools are really handy on the trail. They fit on your belt and can cut hoses, strip wires, and loosen and tighten screws. Our favorite is the Leatherman Crunch, which replaces the standard pliers on a multitool with locking pliers with a 1-inch jaw. Under the adjusting screw for the locking pliers is a hex bit adapter, and all of the tools lock into place so they won’t close on your hand while you are using them. Source: Leatherman, 800.847.8665, leatherman.com


Christian Hazel

Editor

Power Tank

The regulators used to ice up. The tanks were ugly. The carrying systems was questionable, too. But contractors have been using CO2 tanks as makeshift alternatives to gasoline-powered or electric air compressors for what seems like forever. Then along came Power Tank to make things right. For over two decades Power Tank has been continually improving the CO2 tank game with ever-evolving advancements in regulators, handles, accessories, mountings, and chucks. Offering blazing-fast air-up times compared to compressors, free-flowing regulators that don’t ice up, and beautiful powdercoated or polished tanks in several sizes that can be fitted either to your mount or one of many custom mounts Power Tank offers for popular applications (like this new Jeep JKU and JLU Wrangler setup), it is simply the finest quality stuff in the marketplace—period. Source: Power Tank, 209.366.2163, powertank.com

Hi-Lift

It’s a jack. No, it’s a winch. No, wait! It’s a spreader. Oh, actually it’s a tie rod. On second thought, it’s a bar to strap across your rear tire to keep your busted axleshaft from pulling an Elvis and leaving the building. Actually, the ubiquitous Hi-Lift Jack is all that and more. But we don’t have to tell you that. For over 100 years Hi-Lift Jacks have been lifting rigs off-road. With a plethora of different-length models available, numerous accessories, and a pretty fair price, it’s a no-brainer why every off-road vehicle should have one of these jacks safely strapped inside or outside of it. For us, although the company offers different upgraded versions like the Hi-Lift Patriot, Hi-Lift Cast/Steel, and Hi-Lift Xtreme, we’ve had stellar success with even the base model Hi-Lift Cast jacks. For the life of us, we can’t figure why anybody would buy a cheap knockoff. Just get a real Hi-Lift, man. Source: Hi-Lift Jack, 800.233.2051, hi-lift.com

Warn Recovery Bag

Warn is the go-to company when it comes to quality off-road winches. Warn is just on a different level from every other manufacturer. And the same can be said for the company’s line of off-road winching and recovery accessories. We’ve been carrying Warn recovery bag systems in several different flavors for more than two decades, but recently we’ve been hauling Warn’s new Epic Winch Rigging Kit (PN 97565), which includes a includes two 3/4-inch shackles, a 14,400-pounds tree trunk protector, a 12,000-pound snatch block, premium recovery strap, gloves, and a black backpack to haul it all in. Source: Warn Industries, 800.543.9276, warn.com

Anti Aqua Ammo

You can usually buy genuine U.S. military ammo cans in several sizes for $5 from your local metal supplier or military surplus store, or from an online outlet. Heck, even the import versions you can get at places like Tractor Supply Warehouse are pretty good. Ammo cans come in a huge variety of sizes and feature durable all-steel construction and a locking removable lid with an all-but-waterproof rubber O-ring. They are a great place to store your trail tools because in our experience no matter what a waterproof tool bag may promise, if you get caught in a rainstorm or submerge your 4x4 in a water crossing your tools are gonna get wet. And who wants rusty tools? We use a 50-caliber can for most of our trips, but larger versions are available. Source: Military surplus stores and others.

Electric portable air compressor

We used to be air snobs, thinking we needed a hard-wired compressor mounted in each off-road vehicle we drove. And while it’s never a bad idea to have a permanent source of onboard air, more and more we’ve been relying on this simple Smittybilt High Performance Electric Air Compressor (PN 2781) to air up after wheeling, reseat blown beads, and even just blow the dust off our dash before heading back to civilization. The little compressor puts out 5.56 cmf and can be hard-mounted, but we keep it in an old military waterproof case and use the included battery clamps to power straight from the vehicle battery no matter which 4x4 we choose from our stable. Source: Smittybilt, 888.717.5797, smittybilt.com


Verne Simons

Tech Editor

Milwaukee 18V 1/2-inch Impact and 18V Hackzall

It seems like forever ago when we first bought an 18V Milwaukee 1/2-inch battery-powered impact gun. The idea was to use it at home, the junkyard, and on the trail, and it has been everywhere. It has gotten wet in the back of the Jeep, dropped countless times, and ugga-duggaed loose everything from pinion nuts to rusty U-bolts. Since then we bought a two-piece kit with a Milwaukee 18V battery-powered drill and this thing they call the Hackzall Saw. We were dubious of the usefulness of the Hackzall until we used it. It uses Sawzall blades and it cuts as well as a Sawzall. Frustratingly, it won’t stand up on the battery like the drill and impact, but we’ve used it on the trail to clear brush, trim fenders, cut U-bolts, and cut off plate steel tabs that were in the way during a repair. Source: Milwaukee Tool, 800.729.3878, milwaukeetool.com

Power Probe III

Good friends are the best gift. Our buddy Doug Lyons (a fulltime mechanic at ToyoMotors in Phoenix) told us about this tool that we had to have, a Power Probe III, and then he gave us one. We have since fallen in love with this thing for figuring out what’s wrong with electrical gremlins. It’s pretty simple. You hook it to your car’s battery and then you can test wires or connectors for ground or 12 volts. The screen will tell you the voltage of a wire if any is present. This can be handy if something is not getting adequate voltage. If something is dead (like an air compressor motor) you can also use the Power Probe to bypass your rig’s wiring and directly feed it 12 volts from the battery. It also has a built-in breaker if you accidentally feed 12 volts to a ground or ground a hot wire. Source: Power Probe, 888.201.9831, powerprobe.com

Bailing Wire

Let’s face it. More trail fixes have been done with the use of three simple consumable tools than with anything else: duct tape, zip ties, and bailing wire. The options for making repairs are nearly endless for these, but bailing wire is our personal favorite. We have used it to hold things like broken exhausts in place. It can be used like a band clamp on a hose that’s leaking, to cinch things together that don’t want to be together, and so much more. The key is learning how to use a Philips-head screwdriver to tighten bailing wire and having a wire that’s soft so it doesn’t just work-harden and break every time you try to use it. Also, even if you forgot to bring your roll you can often find bits of wire on the trail or near fences.

MasterCraft Safety Tool Bags

Some prefer to keep their tools in ammo cans or toolboxes. We like can and boxes, but they need to be permanently fixed in place so you don’t get brained by the corner of a 50-pound box or ammo can in a roll or other accident. By contrast, soft tool bags tend to nest into places where hard rectangles never fit. You can also easily secure them in your rig through the sewn-on handles with a tie-down, bungee cord, or ratchet strap. We recently got these awesome MasterCraft Safety tool bags from Rusty’s Off-Road. They are made out of durable materials, don’t rattle on the trail, and sure seem like they will last. Source: Rusty’s Off-Road, 256.442.0607, rustysoffroad.com

Locking Pliers

We have a variety of sizes of locking pliers around the shop, and we never hit the trail without at least one pair. They can be used as a third hand in many situations like tightening a bolt where you can’t get at the nut while tightening. Locking pliers can also be used to hold things in place temporarily if a weld breaks or a brake line fails. They can grab and bend metal that you need to move, like fenders that are rubbing those new bigger tires. We also recently used them when doing some battery arc welding with jumper cables. What a good idea!


Trent McGee

Nuts & Bolts Author

Tire Deflator

There are few tools that we can say we use every time we venture off the pavement, but an air-down tool is one of them. We’ve used many varieties over the years, but it’s hard to beat the rapid deflators that remove and hold a valve core while having a built-in gauge. The first ones we saw were manufactured by Currie, but now many different brands do the same basic thing. Removing the valve core enables a 37-inch tire to be dropped to trail pressure from street pressure in about a minute, and there’s no risk of losing the valve core in the weeds. The gauge makes it easy to hit the exact pressure you want, and reinstalling the core takes just a few seconds. It’s a genius design that makes a tedious chore much quicker and easier. Source: Currie Enterprises, 714.528.6957, currieenterprises.com

Fridge-Freezer

In our eyes, a tool is a piece of equipment that gets used all the time on the trail, and we never leave home without our portable fridge-freezer. Sure, you can’t fix a vehicle with a 12-volt fridge, but nothing adds more to the comfort of yourself and your passengers than reliably cold food and beverages, especially on extended trips. There are several different brands, sizes, and features, but they all do pretty much the same job. We often describe owning a fridge as life-changing, as you never have to worry about melted ice, soggy food, or leaky coolers ever again. It was gut-wrenching when we made the significant initial investment, but should our fridge ever die, we’ll order up a new one the same day.

Bottle Jack

We have carried Hi-Lift jacks and appreciate their usefulness, but there are many times when a bottle jack is easier, safer, or more stable. With a bottle jack you don’t have to worry about suspension flex. Irregular terrain is less of a concern as long as the area immediately under the jack is flat. They are lightweight and compact. We’ve often used a bottle jack in conjunction with a Hi-Lift to perform repairs, and we’ve even used a bottle jack as an impromptu porta-power a few times. The only trouble we’ve had with them is that they can freeze up if they are exposed to the elements and don’t get used much. We recently ran across a bottle jack that had a jackstand incorporated into it, which we thought was genius for trail repairs. Score one from a Toyota pickup in a junkyard if you don’t want to spend the money on a new bottle jack.

Headlamp

We like light, but we have a love/hate relationship with flashlights. They always require one hand to aim them, and it seems like most of the tasks after dark require two hands, whether it’s setting up camp, digging around in your rig for something, or working on a trail fix. Headlamps might look dorky, but having light whichever way your head is pointed makes the fashion faux pas well worth it. We like the ones that have adjustable intensities as well as a red or blue mode to help retain some of your night vision and prevent blinding fellow campers. Most headlamps these days are also LED, so a set of batteries lasts dozens of hours. The price of most headlamps is so low that we can afford to hang one from the rearview mirror of each of our rigs where it doesn’t take up any space and is much more functional that that dream catcher or tassel you currently have on the mirror.

Receiver Hitch Vise

Spend some time chasing a part around a tailgate during a trail fix and you’ll realize just how handy a vise can be on the trail. Many trail repairs are much easier when there’s a way to keep something clamped in place, whether you’re replacing a U-joint, removing a broken tie rod end, welding, or doing any number of other repairs. We confess that we’ve only recently mounted a vise on one of our trail rigs, but we’ve been thankful to have used several mounted on other rigs over the years while doing repairs. Mac’s Trail D-Vise is one of the nicest designs we have seen, and it doesn’t take up much room in the back when stored. While not essential, having a vise is one of the more beneficial trail tool luxuries we’ve encountered. Source: Mac’s Custom Tie Downs, 800.666.1586, macscustomtiedowns.com

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