I’m not old, per-se, but I’ve been “overlanding” long enough to remember when it was just called “camping”. Overlanding is all the rage today and it’s really not hard to see why – it’s a love of cars, a sense of wanderlust and a passion for the outdoors rolled into one muddy box wrapped with cool accessories. There is an abundance of choice for gear in the market now where not long ago there wasn’t and at costs that make the price of entry much more palatable. Tuff Stuff Overland, a new brand to the AutoAnything family, aims to hit that sweet spot in-between quality and affordability. They make just about everything you need to get started and then some; seeing their broad catalog got me thinking about what I would consider essential gear.
While I’m still of the opinion that the experience should always trump the gear, some gear shouldn’t be optional, after all, being stuck is not what I would call a great experience.
So without further ado, here are my top 5 must haves to get started overlanding:
As far as I’m concerned a well built, high power/high volume portable compressor is not an optional item for the overlander or even casual off-roader. Airing down, or lowering tire pressure, reduces fatigue, decreases wear on components and should be your first remedy for getting unstuck. There are good deflators on the market (though a key works too in a pinch) that will take the air out. However, getting air back in is much more critical. Running on low tire pressures at high speeds and on paved roads is extremely dangerous and damaging to your tires and should never be done for any period of time and that includes “just running into to town to air up.”
For that reason, a compressor should always be part of your kit.
So called “inflators” that you can find online for cheap and plug into a cigarette lighter are meant to inflate toys and bike tires and are not suitable for full size tires. Don’t run aired down tires on the road. Don’t trust toy inflators.
Off Road Jack
A jack is an essential tool for backcountry travel for several reasons, including trail repair as well as recovery, and the trusty cast farm jack like the one available from Tuff Stuff Overland will prove to be a welcome companion with backcountry travelers for years. I’ve used mine to bend metal back into shape, perform trailside repairs, winch and even dislodge a vehicle from a tree. A tool that does more than one thing and is field repairable is the best tool for rugged travel. It’s a simple and sturdy tool that in the right hands is like a vehicular multi-tool. Be advised, however, to carefully read and follow instructions as these designs, while versatile, are unkind to the careless operator.
One thing you will need in order to take advantage of a tool like the farm jack or ANY recovery effort is a recovery point. Stock vehicles aren’t equipped to be jacked from a farm jack and doing so will severely damage your vehicle. Likewise, stock vehicles are rarely equipped with rated recovery points that can handle the forces necessary to unstick a vehicle. It’s critical you don’t attempt a recovery with a vehicle’s factory “shipping loops”. Shipping loops look like they could be recovery points but are used to hold the vehicle down during shipping and are not meant for the forces of recovery.
An easy way to add a recovery point to most vehicles is with something like a receiver point with rated shackle that goes into your 2 inch hitch receiver. This allows you to recover and be recovered up to the SWL (safe working limit) of the shackle, often in the 4-5 ton rating range. Choose a recovery point that is at least 2x your vehicles Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR).
A recovery point like this is also strong enough to jack from using your farm jack. While it wouldn’t be safe to change a tire from this location, you could safely winch off of it or use it to “pole” the vehicle off an object you’re high centered on or out of deep ruts. Heavy duty aftermarket bumpers often include jack points that allow you to safely lift from.
With a rated recovery point you need to include the rest of a basic recovery kit. A recovery kit should, at a minimum, consist of a snatch strap, a tree protector, shackles and recovery damper. If you have a which you should also have a snatch block and a few additional shackles.
There are 2 types of shackles available:
Hard shackles are typically steel and are rated in tons SWL (safe working load). This is the maximum load they can happily sustain all day long with a substantial safety margin remaining. Buy a hard shackle rated to 1-2x the GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) of your vehicle. For example, a vehicle with a 8900 lb GVWR should have a shackle that is rated to AT LEAST 4 1/2T SWL.
Soft shackles are relatively new to the market but offer many benefits, they are made of rope and are lighter, easier to use and fail in a way that is generally safer than hard shackles. Soft shackles are rated by breaking strength. This is the point at which a representative sample actually fails at. Buy soft shackles at 3-4x rated breaking strength of your vehicles GVWR. For example a vehicle with an 8900 lb GVWR would need a soft shackle rated to AT LEAST 26,700 lb breaking strength.
A snatch strap is a dynamic rope or strap that is designed with a certain amount of stretch so that energy is distributed more gradually that a static rope, making recoveries safer and easier on persons and gear. A tow strap is not a snatch strap! Snatch straps should be used for recovery and not for static towing or winching and vice versa. Buy snatch straps at 3-4x the vehicles GVWR rated breaking strength. Don’t buy a snatch strap that is over rated for your vehicles weight otherwise you won’t realize the benefits of the stretch.
A tree protector is a short section of static strap that can be used to tow, winch or protect a winch anchor. A rated tow strap can be used in place of a dedicated tree protector and may be a more versatile piece of gear for starting out.
Other things you should consider having in your recovery kit are gloves, 3/8 proof chain (for using a farm jack to winch) as well as any adapters you may need to safely use any of your equipment – for example a wheel adapter for your farm jack if you don’t have safe jacking points on your vehicle.
Last but not least a tire repair kit like this one from Tuff Stuff should be considered essential gear. You should have at least one full size and matching spare tire if you are going to do remote travel but in the event of a second failure or failure of the spare tire to damage you will need to consider plugging the tire with a quality repair kit. These won’t take the place of a proper patch at a tire center and shouldn’t be treated as permanent but they will get you off the trail. You will find less quality kits at gas stations but their reamers and plungers won’t stand up to the forces needed for truck tires.
Well that’s it for the basics, now you need to get out and explore. Stay tuned for more overland guides and advice.