If you keep wheeling long enough you’ll break stuff, and eventually what you break will require serious metal surgery to get you (or a fellow four-wheeler) off the trail. We love a good challenging trail fix, and a welder is right there among those tools we’d recommend if you can find the space and spare change to fit and afford one. The spectrum of welding options is wide, so we focus here on just those that you can use away from home without a 220-volt power outlet nearby. This is trail welding technology at its best. Or field welding, fixing stuff around the house, or barn welding—pretty much any welding without local power.
The welding we’re discussing revolves around stick welding. Sure, TIG is sexy and MIG is easy, but stick is dirt-simple and tough. And really what we’re after here is simple and tough to get us off the trail and back home. That being said, we’d recommend some stick welding practice at home before you need to fix something in the dirt because welding is like riding a bike on a railroad track: It takes practice, but you’ll impress your friends if you get really good. More important, you’ll be the hero who everyone calls to help fix broken junk when they’re in the dirt, and that pretty much means you get to take whatever you want out of their cooler. That’s the rule.
The pinnacle of trail welders is the Premier Power Welder. This welder is powered by a special high-amp alternator on your engine that can switch from normal battery charging duty to welding duty when repairs are needed. The welder system includes a control box (ours is mounted under the dash) that your welding lead and ground cables plug into and can run a 115-volt DC tool such as a grinder or drill if needed during the fix as well as recharge a battery. The kit also has a hand throttle so you can increase the rpm and get the required current depending on whether you need to charge a battery, weld, or run a 115-volt tool. Premier Power offers high-amperage alternators for many different 4x4 engines, both gas and diesel, domestic and import.
Although the Premier welder is primarily used for stick welding of steel or aluminum, it can also be set up to power a TIG or MIG welder if desired. Most of the trail welding we see with stick uses 3/32-inch 7018 welding rod. This rod is good for steel but needs to be kept dry and free from damage to the outer flux. Another common rod is 6010 or 6011, which works well on dirty steel surfaces.
The other end of the spectrum is the Trail Weld multibattery welding kit. This is a system of cables designed to hook up 12-volt car batteries in series for welding. The combined voltage of the batteries (negative to positive) gives enough current to spark a stick welding rod. The Trail Weld kit comes in an airtight ammo can and includes the welding lead and ground, connecting cables, and welding goggles.
We were able to weld with two car batteries, but three is better. You would think that welding would kill the car batteries pretty fast, but if the batteries are in good shape they can last a long time welding and still start a vehicle, which can then be used to recharge them. It’s a bit of a hassle to pull two or three batteries from various vehicles so you can trail weld, but if the repair is required to get off the trail then pulling batteries is a small price to pay. Notice how the ground of the welding kit is on the positive battery terminal, then the negative is attached to the second batteries positive, and then the welding lead is attached to the negative terminal.
The Trail Weld is a more labor-intensive yet affordable alternative to the Premier Power, but one item we think either welder should accompany is this Miller Electric auto-darkening welding goggles. These goggles are more like a very slim mask that’s easy to wear and store, but it covers your complete face and the fabric hood protects your forehead from welding burn (which feels like sunburn). The mask packs up nice and small in an included carry bag. The lenses have optional magnifying lenses for small item welding. The helmet fits tight for protection while you’re welding in hard-to-reach areas.
We know that proper safety gear isn’t usually on everyone’s list of trail tools, but it’s important to protect yourself. We’ve all seen guys welding in flip-flops while wearing multiple pairs of sunglasses, but remember, like the sun, welding can cause gnarly skin burns and flash burns to your eyes. Too much exposure can cause cancer, so think about it and cover up before welding. And don’t forget to keep a fire extinguisher handy when trail welding.