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Be Prepared - Trail Essentials

Posted in How To on June 1, 2007
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How many times have you found yourself on the trail digging through your recovery box, or found yourself in a position where one simple item could have saved you from a cold and lonely night in the backcountry? We've all experienced that one sudden moment where we look around and hope our friends are better prepared for the situation than we are. Here is our list of 10 of the most overlooked items you may want to pack in your recovery box or take with you before you hit the trail. You never know, it just might save your backside one day.

Definitely one of the most overlooked items is the serpentine belt. No longer do you have three or four belts running the underhood accessories, and if you break a belt, you re out of luck-no more charging system, water pump, or power steering. Also, there are so many different sizes, it's unlikely that someone wheeling with you is going to have a spare for your specific vehicle, and usually the tensioner doesn't have enough movement to compensate for even mildly different sizes if you do get lucky and someone happens to be carrying a belt. It's true that belt breakage is rare, but we are planning for the worst-case scenario here and we think you'd be smart to include a vehicle-specific belt with your recovery gear.

We carry these just because our buddies-ever since they figured out that their mini-screwdriver had a valve-core remover on the back of it-like to mess with us on the trail. But the real problems can occur if your valve stems are ripped off on an obstacle, or if you develop a slow leak because of dirt contamination in the core. Keep a set of these on hand and you'll be able to keep rolling.

How simple is this one? Just bring a piece of wood that your jack can rest on, spreading the load of the jack over a broader area. We can't tell you how many times we've spun a bead off the rim in the sand or mud, only to share blank expressions with each other when we find out the jack is sinking in the dirt and we have no support for the base.

What is a guy to do when he is stuck and has nowhere to winch from? Might we suggest a winching aid, such as the Pull Pal? In a situation like this, the Pull Pal is worth its weight in gold, because no matter how cool or capable that winch on the front of your rig is, it is worthless if you have nothing to hook it to.

Does your vehicle hail from the old school with standard nuts and bolts, or are the fasteners metric? Better yet, do you drive a late-model Ford? In that case, be prepared to add Torx and hex tools to your list. Another commonly overlooked tool is a lug-nut socket. Ever realize that those new forged wheels you just bought require a deep socket to remove the wheels? If a shop installed them, you might not realize this until you have a flat in the woods and your factory-supplied lug-nut wrench no longer reaches your lugs. Vehicle-specific tools are an important addition to any box.

Many vehicles use the hub as the weakest link in the front drivetrain, so if something is going to break, it may be those plastic factory auto hubs. Be sure to swap those things out for the premium metal manual hubs before any serious adventures, as well as carrying an extra set with you. Nothing is worse than being stuck on the trail in two-wheel drive with a several-mile hike, or more, back to civilization.

Think it can't happen to you? Unless you have a sealed gel-type battery under your hood, any type of high-speed or off-camber situation can cause your factory lead-acid battery to drain its contents, leaving your battery dry, with no way to start your rig. We always carry jumper cables in our box and have rescued a few souls in the desert who swore they were on their way to purchase an Optima when this happened. Stock batteries just aren't made for this type of vibration or terrain.

With the ever-increasing convenience of technology and as GPS becomes more popular, we see fewer paper maps out on the trails, but what if you're in an unfamiliar place and your GPS fails (forgot to pack those extra batteries, did you? Or was it the cheap model that wasn't waterproof of vibration-resistant?)? Much of the GPS mapping software lacks the detail of the surrounding terrain that a regular old-fashioned map book has. Buy one with GPS coordinates and you'll be better able to visualize your location, and even if your GPS is working, you'll know right where you are.

Believe it or not, some people forget about the basics that every wheeler should have on board. These are faithful stand-bys that have saved us many a time. In our gear, we carry a coat hanger (good for tying up exhausts if the hanger breaks, opening locked doors, or keeping broken sway-bar end links out of the way), WD40 (100 uses here, everything from drying out your distributor to lubricating stubborn bolts), duct tape (can you say makeshift CV axle boot or soft-top sealer?), silicone sealant (another item with countless uses-bring along the high-temp stuff so you have your bases covered), and JB Weld (need a quick fix on that hole in your tranny pan?). These items are the bare essentials and, when used creatively, will get you home.

We call it the "I'm just going for the day" syndrome. But the fact of the matter is, no matter how long you are planning to explore away from civilization, you should always be prepared to spend a few days out there. This means have plenty of water on any trip, some extra high-energy food to snack on, and some blankets to keep warm. These are items you should never leave behind.

This is our list-what's yours? We'd love to hear from you, so log on to and let us know what items we may have missed that you have on your list or in your box.

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