Click for Coverage
Due to the EU’s Global Data Protection Regulation, our website is currently unavailable to visitors from most European countries. We apologize for this inconvenience and encourage you to visit for the latest on new cars, car reviews and news, concept cars and auto show coverage, awards and much more.MOTORTREND.COM
  • JP Magazine
  • Dirt Sports + Off-Road
  • 4-Wheel & Off-Road
  • Four Wheeler

Ten Survival Tools For Off Roading - Top 10 Trail Tools

Posted in Product Reviews on April 1, 2002
Share this
Photographers: Craig Perronne

If we lived in a perfect world you could go four-wheeling for hours and your truck would never get stuck, never suffer a flat tire, and never break down. But of course this isn't a perfect world, and any of these things can happen at any time, and sometimes, they can all happen at the same time-especially when you least expect them to. When one or more of these aggravating things come calling, you need to be prepared to help yourself. A bit of advance preparation can spell the difference between a major problem and a minor inconvenience. To help you avoid having a miserable experience, we've assembled what we consider to be the top 10 trail tools needed by thoughtful and careful four-wheelers. Next to the obvious trail items that should reside in your vehicle (extra fuel, drinking water, enough regular handtools and extra parts to fix your rig), these items are arguably the most important things you can venture off the highway with. Should a problem rear its ugly head, having them may ensure that your explorations remain a good memory and not a bad one.

Nice Recovery
Since trees and rocks don't have built-in shackles for winching, it's important to bring along your own gear, like what's found in the Ramsey Off Road Winch Accessory Kit. The kit contains everything needed for a safe and environmentally friendly winch recovery. The items come contained in a heavy-duty carrying bag that can be easily stored in your vehicle. The kit contains a 3x72-inch tree-saver strap (long enough to easily wrap around a good-sized rock or tree), heavy-duty shackle (heat-treated forged steel, no less), a greasable snatch block (allows you to double your winch pulling power by doubling the winch cable), and a pair of thick gloves (so you won't injure yourself on frayed cable).

Kickin' Axe
The Max Multi Purpose Tool is exactly what its name implies, and this amazing device can be morphed into seven different tools in mere seconds. Its default configuration is a Hudson Bay-style axe, but in moments it can be transformed into a shovel, pick, broad pick, mattock, hoe, or rake. It's a scary thought to think about all the tools you'd have to stuff in your truck to equal one Max. The axe itself weighs 12.5 pounds, and it features a durable 36-inch handle made of lightweight composite polyglass. All of the attachments mount easily on the head of the ingeniously designed axe, and the rake and hoe are held in place by an easy to install locking bar with adjustable thumbscrew, while the shovel, pick, broad pick, and mattock are held on with locking pins. All of the attachments and locking devices are stored in an amazingly thin 9x13-inch cordura carrying case.

Air Force
Being able to repair a punctured tire on the trail is only good if you have compressed air to put back into the tire, and as we detailed in "Give Me Air" (June, '01), there are a lot of choices available to do just that. One of the popular choices is the portable Quick Air 2 (shown), which is a mid-priced unit that pulled a modest 24 amps and filled our 35x12.5-15 test tire to highway pressure in a respectable 4 minutes and 40 seconds. It's available in either a hard-mount or portable unit, and includes a 25-foot nylon coil hose with clip-on air chuck, clip-end power cable, and an on/off switch. Some of the heavy-duty compressors on the market can generate enough air to power air tools, and they're continuous-duty units that generate a minimum 100 psi.

Getting Connected
One of the cardinal rules of four-wheeling is that you never go alone. Another rule is that you should always carry a high-quality recovery strap like the Keeper 3-inch x 30-foot unit (shown), which is rated at a 30,000-pound pull capacity. Keeper offers six different straps, from a 2-inch x 20-foot strap with a 15,000-pound capacity, to a beefy 6-inch x 30-foot strap with a 60,000-pound capacity. These nylon straps are designed to stretch and recoil like a giant rubber band, and they're constructed of nylon webbing with loops at each end that are fastened with six-cord thread. This thread is sewn in a pattern that ensures that the loop meets or exceeds the strap's maximum capacity. What strap should you buy? The key is to purchase the heaviest strap you can afford, because you never know just how bad you're going to be stuck, and it's always better to be safe than sorry.

Lifting Off
If you're out on the trail and have the misfortune of getting a flat tire, or if you pop a tire's bead off a wheel, you can forget lifting your truck with the factory jack, because it's designed for low lifts on flat, solid ground, and chances are, that's not what you're on. The hot ticket here is a Hi-Lift jack, because this rugged device is designed to easily lift your vehicle in conditions that make other jacks useless. Hi-Lift offers five different lengths of jacks, and all are now powdercoated for durability. The stout HL485 (shown on the new Off Road Base, which alleviates jack sinkage on soft ground) weighs in at 28.16 pounds and measures 50.75x5x9.63 inches. But lifting is only half the story. A Hi-Lift jack can also be used to clamp up to 750 pounds and winch up to 5,000 pounds, which makes it an even more valuable tool in your arsenal of trail supplies.

Portable Anchor
A winch is nothing more than a beefy front bumper ornament if there's nothing to attach the winch cable to. And as we all know, sometimes there isn't a suitable anchor point available when we're stuck. Obviously, we have no control over situations like these, but we do have control over how we solve this problem. The best way to ensure that you don't have to take a hike is to make sure that a Pull-Pal is in your vehicle. This foldable device creates an instant winch anchor in almost any type of terrain. Simply unfold the Pull-Pal, attach the blade, hook up your winch cable, and as you spool in the cable the Pull-Pal digs itself into the ground to offer a solid anchor. The Pull Pal is ruggedly constructed with a chrome-moly plow assembly, and the unit is assembled with grade 8 bolts for strength. It folds into a compact package that is easily storable inside or outside of your vehicle.

Tool For You
You may not consider a first-aid kit a tool per se, but it's most definitely a must-have on the trail, because our 4x4s often carry us far from the necessities of modern life, including health care. There are many first-aid kits available, from a virtual Level One Trauma Center in a box, to a simple kit containing the basics for cuts and insect bites. The first-aid kit included in the 2002 Lexus 470 (shown) is an example of what you need to take on the trail. This compact bag contains a quick guide to first aid, a collection of bandages and wraps, antiseptic towelettes, bandage scissors, tweezer/magnifier, and insect sting treatment. First-aid kits can be purchased at hundreds of locations including most discount stores and via the Internet.

Plug The Leak
Most trailside flat tires are simple tread punctures that easily can be fixed at a tire shop after the trail ride. However, what happens if you get another flat before you can get your first flat repaired? We've had numerous situations on the trail where multiple flats become an inconvenient and unfortunate reality-the last being our most recent Pickup Truck Of The Year comparison test, during which we endured four punctured tires in the first day of testing-two of them on the same vehicle. The answer is the Safety Seal Off Road Tire Repair Kit. This handy kit includes a T-handle Probe Spiral (for cleaning and expanding the diameter of puncture hole), T-handle Insertion Tool (for inserting the self-vulcanizing repair), lube (to help insert the Insertion Tool into the puncture hole), and 30 Safety Seal repairs. All of these items come in a hard-shell kit that easily fits into your rig. One of the neat things about the Off Road Tire Repair Kit, is that the repairs can be completed in a muddy or dirty environment by simply wiping away the excess dirt or mud immediately surrounding the puncture hole-no special cleaning procedures are required. The Safety Seal repairs are permanent-testing has shown that most repairs last the life of the tire with no leakage or failure, though clearly the right way to repair a regular tread puncture is with an internal patch. Though we don't recommend this, we've even seen these kits used to repair sidewall cuts.

The Mighty Winch
Arguably, one of the most important modifications you can make to your truck is to install a winch. But which one? There are currently scores available, and Warn Industries offers 13 different models of truck winches ranging from the M6000 Short Drum Portable Winch for small sport-utility vehicles, to the gargantuan M15000 for extra large trucks and SUVs. Included in the lineup are high-speed winches, like the HS9500i, which has a blistering top-line speed of 62 feet per minute. In order to calculate the minimum size winch for your vehicle, multiply your vehicle's gross weight (this info is found on the inside panel of the driver's door), including the weight of your gear, by 1.5. As with recovery straps, it's best to overbuy and purchase the largest winch you can afford, because it'll give you the power needed to tug out vehicles bigger than yours, as well as guaranteeing that you'll have plenty of power on tap to extricate your own rig.

No Smoking
An often-overlooked trail tool is a fire extinguisher, yet it has the potential of saving a 4x4 from total destruction. An average vehicle contains many gallons of flammable liquids, and when you stop and think about it, it's crazy to hit the trail without some way of quelling a potential fire. Often, a vehicle fire starts with something as simple as a fuel leak, so if you can crush the flames as soon as they ignite, you can potentially fix the problem and continue. However, if you have no fire extinguisher, we hope you have good insurance and a stout pair of hiking shoes. So what should you look for in a fire extinguisher? It's best to purchase an ABC-rated unit, because it's designed to put out all the major types of fires, like trash, wood, paper, liquid, grease, and electrical fires. Fire extinguishers are available at stores everywhere. Make sure to mount yours securely in your vehicle, but so that it can be easily accessed in an emergency.


Ramsey Winch
Tulsa, OH 74116
Hi-Lift Jack Company
Bloomfield, IN 47424
Warn Industries
Clackamas, OR 97015
Safety Seal
Forrest Tool Company
Sun Performance Products
Keeper Corporation

Connect With Us

Newsletter Sign Up

Subscribe to the Magazine

Browse Articles By Vehicle

See Results