We need air. We need it to breathe, and we need it for our off-road excursions. We can use the air to inflate tires to street pressure after a day of off-roading, perform work on our vehicles in the backcountry with air tools, and even reset beads if we're unfortunate enough to be driving in extreme conditions and the tire comes off the rim. Having a backcountry air source can mean the difference between making it back or not.
There are a number of air sources available for the off-road enthusiast, ranging from quick engine-driven compressors that work as fast as the big compressor at a garage to dismally slow cheap plastic 12-volt compressors that seldom work as advertised. Powertanks are another source of backcountry air and work as fast as (or faster) than engine-driven compressors.
Powertanks have been around since 1997 and have developed quite a following. Their speed is legendary, and the liquid CO2 allows quite a few tires to be aired up before needing to recharge the bottle. CO2 gas has about the same reaction to temperature as the air we breathe, so we can predict rises in pressure and such when the tires get warm. Carrying liquid CO2 also allows for much more volume than carrying nitrogen gas in a tank. With nitrogen, you might only be able to air up four 37-inch tires compared with the Powertank PT-10's 21 tires. Powertanks can also power air tools, such as the impact driver many of us carry, to make quick work of tire changing off-road.
There are two downsides to the Powertank. The first one is that all your friends want to use your Powertank when they see how fast you finished airing up. Here's a story to illustrate our point. We were out at the Hammers after a good day of off-roading. We both had Toyota pickups with 36x12.50-15LT Super Swamper TSL tires. We ran into some old friends on the lakebed, so, while our 'wheeling buddy took off for the highway to air up, we stopped and talked for a while. After saying goodbye, we joined our buddy at the roadside, now airing up his second Swamper with his trusty 12-volt compressor. We filled all four of our tires to 30 psi with the Powertank, then, since he was still on the same second tire, went over and aired his other two tires up. He was amazed. After that, we had to fight him away from our Powertank on every trip.
The second problem is that CO2 comes out of the tank freezing-cold. Old regulators or those that people buy at the welding supply stores can freeze up and quit working. Steve at Powertank has designed a new SuperFlow HP regulator, which increases tire inflation speed a whopping 33 percent faster than the old 2002 SuperFlow regulator, with no signs of freeze clogging at all.
Here are the improvements to the SuperFlow HP regulator:
1. A one-piece billet aluminum body for better heat transfer and improved performance
2. A new soft-rubber knob for improved grip with wet and gloved hands
3. Reengineered internal components for 33 percent higher flow and increased pressure output
4. A new easier-to-read gauge-face design with printed pressure-setting indications
5. A more compact design for better protection against bumps
6. A universal push-to-lock coupler that accepts most common styles of plugs, in case you have to borrow someone else's hose in the field
7. A hard-anodized black finish for long-lasting wear and rugged looks
8. A new never-lose seal that stays with the regulator
Powertank has also improved its mounting system and mounting bracket. The new SB-10 bracket is clean and strong, with a rustproof adjustable and lockable latch. There's no drilling required if used with Powertank's aluminum rollbar clamps.
We can get our two PT-10 bottles filled at the local industrial supply for $4.85 a tank. That's not bad, especially since we only have to visit the place every 42 inflations or so, which, for those of you who are arithmetic-challenged, is after about 10 trips into the backcountry.
A word of warning, though: Do not leave your Powertank with the welding or industrial supply place. The tank you'll get back won't be your pretty Powertank.
We've found that the Powertank gives us fast and easy air in the backcountry. While we also have another onboard air compressor in case we run into problems on long expedition-style trips, we use the Powertank as our only air source for day-to-day off-roading. If we had to choose one source of backcountry air that's fast, powerful, and portable, it's the Powertank. We also take the tank along whenever we're doing a road test. You never know when you'll need it.
Remember: We need air.