Getting Started in Four Wheeling - What You Need
I've had a built-up 4x4 for the past 16 years, so it has come as a bit of a shock to me to start all over again with a 1997 Jeep Cherokee that I picked up earlier this year. It already has 32" all terrain tires, and a 4.5" lift, so it has the off-road look. But it isn't really ready for off-roading, because it is missing the bare essentials. What are the bare essentials?
First Aid Kit
A lot of four wheelers don't have a first aid kit but it's an extremely important thing to have. When you're four wheeling, you're out in the bush, away from the safety network of emergency vehicles and hospitals. If you sustain an injury, it could be hours, or even days before you can reach professional medical help. You will be on your own, so make sure you have a first aid kit.
Spare Food / Water and Warm Blankets
This is basic woods wisdom. Bring enough food and water to keep you going for, at a minimum, three days. Being raised in an automobile culture, we measure travelling distance in terms of how fast we can get somewhere by car. But if your vehicle breaks down, that one hour you drove in your 4x4 could take you 12 hours to cover on foot. That immediately involves cooler, or even freezing, night time temperatures. That's what it's so crucial to have enough food and water for at least three days, and a blanket or warm clothing to keep you from losing your body heat at night.
A shovel isn't the flashiest accessory you can add to your 4x4, but given enough time, it can be surprisingly useful. It's cheap, light, and with enough work, it can help get your 4x4 unstuck. They're also useful around the camp, and at home, so make sure you have one.
I've seen a surprising number of trail-side breakdowns that were easily fixed with simple hand tools. A little bit of knowledge, a cheap volt/ohm meter, a socket set, some wrenches, screwdrivers, pliers, bailing wire, and duct tape have the potential to prevent a fun outing from turning into an expensive and aborted 4x4 trip. Don't have much experience with fixing vehicles? Take an introductory adult education automechanics or maintenance class, or start going out on open invite trail runs, and offer your help whenever someone is doing a trailside repair. You'll learn a lot and make new friends, too.
Tow Points and a Tow Strap
Vehicle recovery almost always requires a tow point. Using a proper tow point ensures that you'll be pulling on your vehicle in a safe way, and you won't be damaging the vehicle. You'd be surprised to know how often people get their factory bumpers torn off because they assume they can be used as a tow point. And pulling a vehicle by attaching a tow strap to a trailer hitch ball can be extremely dangerous. It's not rated for the sudden jerks that can occur when using a tow strap. If the ball tears free from the hitch, it becomes a deadly projectile.
Today's 4x4's often don't have suitable tow points on either the front or the rear of the vehicle. The easiest way to get one for the rear is to get a 2" receiver hitch installed. Then you can install a clevis hitch into it. For the front, it can be more complicated due to the safety requirements on today's vehicles, and the fact that some 4x4's are of unibody-style construction. In those cases, it's usually a good idea to replace the entire factory bumper with an aftermarket bumper that includes one or more tow points. That's where I'm at with Project XJ. I haven't bothered with making a front tow point because I've been waiting until I got an after marketfront bumper for it.
Tire Patch Kit and an Air Compressor
Until I moved up to aggressive 35" and taller tires, punctured tires were a constant concern. If you puncture a tire near the beginning of a week-long four-wheeling trip, it's hard to enjoy the rest of it, knowing that you've used up your only spare. Being able to plug a hole in your tire, and re-inflate it, can provide a huge margin of safety. I remember one time when my brother had FOUR flats over the course of a weekend 'wheeling trip. We had a cheap Canadian Tire tire plug kit and a cheap little air compressor, but it was enough to fix the tires and keep us moving. Ever since then, I've always carried a decent patch kit that included plugs and patches that could be placed on the inside of the tire, for dealing with large punctures and, in an emergency, sidewall punctures.
Air compressors have a tendency to fail due to neglect or over-use, so it's a good idea to have at least two compressors in your group. There are some pretty decent portable 12V units from ARB, Smittybilt, Viair, and a host of other companies. Spend around $120 or so to get a decent one, and you can more easily enjoy your off-road adventures without worrying about a simple flat tire ruining your fun.
So there you have it. The bare essentials required by any 4x4, whether it's heavily modified or not. Remember, there's tons and tons of fun to be had even with a stock 4x4. Just make sure that you've got the right emergency gear to keep your adventures safe. Have fun out there, and if you've got stories or pictures you'd like to share, please post 'em on our message board:
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