Jeep Off-Road Toolkit
Don’t leave for the trail without this must-have gear
We've been off-roading at a hardcore level for decades. In all that time, on virtually every trail in the country, in all sorts of terrain there's one common denominator: Stuff breaks. It's just the nature of the beast. When you're out pushing the limits of traction, gravity, and (sometimes) commons sense, you're gonna bust stuff on your Jeep.
The most common off-road malady is a flat tire. Whether as simple as a blown tire bead on up to a gashed and tattered sidewall, your tires are generally the most vulnerable thing on your Jeep. Other common breakages are driveshaft and axleshaft U-joints. If you're lucky, you'll catch them before you damage more than the joint itself, but in more cases than not, a broken axleshaft U-joint will usually damage the axleshaft ears and sometimes ball joints, and a driveshaft U-joint can damage your yokes. Or sometimes it's the axleshaft or yoke itself that lets go.
Yet another casualty of the trail caused by undulating terrain that flexes suspensions and chassis over time: stress cracks or full breaks that form in suspension mounts, framerails, engine mounts, and other structural components. We've seen everything from severed frames to whole chunks of cast-iron engine blocks torn away on hard, twisty obstacles. And then there's the wildcard stuff, like bent steering linkages, snapped steering knuckles, blown-apart suspension joints, bent control arms, snapped track bars, and you name it. In many of these cases, you should have the stuff in your Jeep toolkit to be able to get your junk up and running well enough to drag you back to the trailhead and bum parts or a trailer ride to make it back to civilization. If not, at least have the courtesy of winching your immovable pile off to the side of the trail so others can get by. Here are five things we keep in our Jeep off-road toolkit and never leave without when hitting a hardcore trail.
When your tire goes flat, you need a way to air it back up. Whether a hard-mounted electric compressor, a portable electric compressor that attaches to your battery, a CO2 tank like a Power Tank, or even a hand-operated bicycle pump, you'll need something to let you get air back in your tires. For stuff like a blown bead, wrapping a ratchet strap around the circumference of the tire can be helpful in pushing the tire beads into the wheel to allow the beads to reseat. Just don't forget to take the strap off before fully inflating the tire. You'll also want to carry a patch and plug kit. We've been using an excellent kit from Power Tank () for over 15 years, and it's never failed to get us off the trail.
We could be cute and say "off-road jack" instead of Hi-Lift Jack, but all the knock-off competitors we've tried just don't come close to matching the quality and reliability of a good old Hi-Lift Jack (). It's available in several sizes and finishes, but we've generally had good luck with the standard Cast-Steel 48-inch model. We find that length provides a good compromise between being tall enough to lift a tire off the ground in most instances and still being short enough to be easily mounted in most 4x4s. If you have a super-long-travel suspension, it may be necessary to ratchet-strap your axle to the framerail to keep the suspension from dropping out and preventing the tire from lifting, but that's really never been an issue in any long-travel tire swap or repair we've ever performed on the trail.
Yes, an electric winch is a tool, not vehicular jewelry. Whether permanently mounted to your Jeep's front or rear bumper or on a removable hitch cradle, an electric winch can be a bacon saver during hardcore off-roading. Forget just using a winch to get unstuck. We've used electric winches in the field to straighten suspension and steering linkages, right rolled Jeeps, rig precariously perched vehicles to prevent them from rolling, and all manner of field fixes in between. A good electric winch like the Warn () shown in the photo will provide decades of good service.
If your vehicle use specialty fasteners, you'd better make sure you've got the means to remove them if they're blocking or attaching critical components. Two sockets every hardcore off-roader should never leave home without are a hub socket and a socket for each driveshaft yoke in your vehicle. Hub sockets can usually be bypassed by using a hammer and chisel to remove the hub nut, but you'd be hard-pressed to remove an axle yoke nut with a hammer and chisel if you suffer a busted yoke. Many auto parts stores stock specialty hub sockets for internal and externally splined nuts as well as hex nuts found on older axles like the kingpin Dana 44 shown here. And for you unit bearing guys, don't forget to grab a big, funky metric socket that fits your unit bearing stub shaft nut. You never know when they may come in handy.
We've run many types of onboard welders over the past few decades, but the one trusty standby that's still proudly manufactured in the USA is the Premier Power Welder system (). We've used Premier Power Welders on Top Truck Challenge, Ultimate Adventure, Jp Dirt N Drive, and our other events, as well as on dozens of regular trail rides, to stick together all manner of broken parts on every type of vehicle. But even if you don't have the coin for a complete onboard welding system, a pair of heavy-duty jumper cables, two batteries, and some welding rod will allow you to make a trail repair well enough to get yourself out to safety.