The first key to responsible off-roading is having the proper equipment.  Anytime you go off the pavement, make sure you can answer these key questions:  Can I extract myself if my vehicle gets stuck?  If I somehow cannot get unstuck on my own, am I prepared to spend an extended time at that location?  Am I able to make any necessary repairs to the vehicle?  If the weather turns sour, am I able to stay warm, dry, and nourished?  How will I locate aid?  If I am injured, can I treat myself?  Do I have the means to call for assistance?

The equipment I carry has been categorized into three groups:

- Recovery & Repairs

- Navigation & Communication

- Camping & Survival


Recovery & Repairs

As far as your vehicle is concerned, the most important equipment is recovery and repair equipment.  This will allow you to get you and your vehicle unstuck, fixed, and hopefully out of potentially dangerous situations.  I purchased almost all of my recovery equipment from expedition exchange.  They are a great company to work with, and I would recommend them to anyone.

The most basic piece of recovery is the recovery (or snatch) strap.  I keep this in my strap case along with a few other items.

It's important not to skimp on a good recovery strap, that's why I went with the best in the business, ARB.  They have a range of straps that are rated for all sizes of truck.

Another component of strap case is the versatile Lift Mate.  This fits right over the tongue of the Hi-Lift and allows you to use it on vehicles without solid lift-points, such as the TrailBlazer.  With the sheet-metal wheel wells, and the plastic bumpers, you would surely damage something if you tried to lift the truck without the proper attachment.  The Lift Mate has two plastic covered hooks that can be used to lift at the wheel, or give you other options for lifting.

The case also holds a tree strap, a few shackles, gloves, and a static rigging strap (marked on all ends with an S).  On a TrailBlazer, a static strap is important for front pulls, as the stock tow-hooks are not necessarily strong enough for a full-out pull.  Luckily, if you rig up a static strap to both front hooks (shown on right), you can use the hooks for most any application.  The key is spreading the stress between the two hooks, depending on how you rig it, the force on each hook can be reduced by 50%.

For rear pulls, I also carry a receiver D-shackle.  Remember to buy a good hitch pin.  A rear D-shackle is important for any situation where you are recovering another vehicle.  You never want to pull out another vehicle when you are in reverse.  That is a quick way to destroy your drive train, as the gears are made to handle the power in one direction (that's why it makes that whining sound in reverse).

The second key elements are a decent shovel and a Hi-Lift jack:

The shovel is fairly basic.  I chose a shorter one so it could fit in the trunk easily.  You want to make sure it has a large, wide scoop (not the long skinny ones) and a right-angle handle on the end will help with control of the shorter shovel.  The shovel is key when you need to add soil under a tire or remove soil from under the frame; every situation is different.

The Hi-Lift is universally known in all off-roading circles, and serves many purposes.  The first is to, of course, jack a vehicle vertically off an obstacle.  The second, and possibly more important, is to winch a vehicle forward, or backwards.  The jack can also be used to clamp objects together.  They come in several varieties, including an X-treme version.  There are only a few minor differences between the jacks, such as length and a few components, and they are all have a working load limit (WLL) of 4,660 lbs.

With some key add-ons, the Hi-Lift can be the heart of your self-recovery toolbox.

My chain case includes the Hi-Lift winching accessories, and makes for quite a heavy case at about 50 lbs.

The heart of this bag is Hi-Lift's Off Road Kit.  The winch attachment and winch tensioner are nice components that make winching with the Hi-Lift a whole lot easier.  These work in a ratcheting method along the 20' grade 70 5/16" chain (WLL of 5k lbs).  Included in the Off Road Kit is an extra D-shackle for attaching the eye of the hi-lift to a strap.

Pertinent to this section but not included in this case is the off-road base for the hi-lift.  This plastic base improves hi-lift footing on unstable surfaces such as mud and sand by spreading the weight over a larger area.

For many off-roading trips, it is important to deflate tires to a more pliable level.  Its easy to air down, however airing back up for the trip home requires an additional piece of larger equipment.

I chose a Q-Industries portable compressor from 4-wheel parts.  The kit also comes with a nice carrying case and a decently long coil hose.  Most importantly, it was built strong.  For now, my compressor is staying portable, but it could be hard-wired under the hood.  It connects to the battery terminals by some heavy duty clips.  It can inflate a tire from 15 psi to 30 in about 90 seconds (depending on the tire volume).

For quick airing down, I carry a set of Staun Tire Deflators.  These little guys can save you time at the trailhead by acting as automatic shutoff valves.  Pre-set for 18psi (and adjustable), the deflators do all the work of stopping at the correct pressure for the tires.  No more poking the valve stem with a pencil.

It is not only important to have recovery items, but its also important to know the proper way to use these items.  Most importantly, get familiar with your equipment and use it in non-emergency situations for practice.  I would also recommend that anyone interested in off-roading purchase and watch Bill Burke's 'Getting Unstuck'.  He does a much better job than I could at explaining all the various recovery methods.  His videos are available from almost any off-road supplier, including expedition exchange.

I carry a full set of repair tools while on the trails: two cordless drills, batteries, and drivers.  (I recommend everyone get an impact wrench for hot-swapping a blown tire.  But keep the stock dog-leg wrench as a backup.)

Hand tools include hammer, pliers, wrenches, ratchets, allens, torx, drivers, etc.

You don't want to find yourself in a situation with two popped tires and only one spare, so I included ARB's tire repair kit in my arsenal.

I carry another case full of smaller specialty items.  Wire, strippers, needle nose, vice grips, super glue, JB weld, zip ties, battery charger, drill bits, spare bulbs, spare electrical connectors, stripped nut removers, etc.

Lastly, don't leave home without an emergency jump-starter kit.  I carry a simple and cheap unit from B&D.  Not only will it start the vehicle if I accidently leave a light on, it also provides mobile 12V power for things such as the air-mattress inflator.



Navigation & Communication

When you are out in the woods it can be easy to get disoriented, especially after making a couple turns on those back-woods roads.  Its important to always carry a good map of the area where you are traveling.

I keep three sources of navigation with me when I off road.  As a primary, I use Google Earth with my own overlays of detailed maps.  This is nice because of the aerial photography, but its still has a few bugs.  So I have a Navigon 2100 Max for road navigation and a backup off road navigator.  As my last resort, I carry a good old Delorme topographic map.


For communication, I've installed a CB radio, shown above.  Most all CB radios have the same performance, as they are limited to a legal transmission power of 4 Watts.  I chose a Cobra 19DX IV paired to a 3' Firestick.  I mounted the antenna to the rear quarter panel using a jeep hood mounting bracket and sheet metal screws.

I also carry a simple set of 2-way radios for communication while hiking and as a backup.  Cell phones will also generally work, but that is not always a given.  For this reason, I have thought about purchasing a personal satellite beacon from Spot (more about that at a future date).



Camping & Survival

Camping products are much less specialized, and can be easily found at your local sporting goods store.  The list of items can be amazingly long, so I will just go over some of the basics.

Shelter is one of the essentials of camping.  For basics, you need a dry shelter and a place to rest your head (sleeping bag).  As for the shelter, I chose a small 3-person tent from Ozark Trail.  Keep in mind that a 1 or 2 person tent is designed for minimal space.  If you want to fit two people in a tent, I would not recommend a 2 person tent; it will be quite tight.  A little bit of wiggle room is good, so I went with a compact 3-person unit.  The kit comes with a ground tarp and rain cover included.  The entire tent kit folds up into this 2' case which helps with packing the trunk.  The small size will also be nice incase I need to hike out.  I also chose one with a high-visibility color.  In the slim chance I do get stuck in the wilderness, I want to be as visible as possible to the rescuers.

The second key is food.  Yes, emergency food packets are important, but not really acceptable for 'gentleman's off roading'.  I chose a Coleman grill to serve as my camp stove.  The grill is larger than a mini stove burner, but the convenience is worth it.  The grill itself also packs well.  It closes up into a durable briefcase sized package, so I don't need to worry about packing it where it won't get crushed.  The fuel units are nice also, as they have a small size, and are quite cheap at about $2 a unit.

For keeping food and drinks cold, I currently use a small cooler.  This works for short outings, but even then the food can get a little warmer by the end of the day.  A plug-in 12V fridge is on 'the list'.  Of course, then I will need a second deep-cycle battery... and the mod cycle goes on.

As far as survival goes, I carry a few items in a compact interlocking container.  I felt the bright orange color denoted "emergency" fairly well.

The "medical/survival" box is full of... well just that.  The bright orange box is a first aid kit from Ozark Trail.  Its fairly extensive, holding everything from bandaids to trauma pads to light pain killers.  Med kits all basically hold the same things, just make sure you know what it contains.  Since I was an EMT, I also carry my own IV kit (to the left) which is only for extreme circumstances where someone has lost a large amount of blood and hypovolemia has set in.  Not a bad idea if you know what you're doing.

To the right is my mini survival kit.  Included in the kit are glow sticks, thread, monofilament, space-blanket, first aid, mini fire-starters, waterproof matches, and tons more.  Also, unless you love bug bites, don't forget some bug spray.  You'll forget that once, and never forget again.

For an extreme emergency, I carry two ready to eat meals (compliments to the special services).  The military version of these meals is idea because they include a heating element within the MRE packet.

When traveling in the winter, I carry a "cold weather" case.  This houses gloves, a rolled up jacket, rolled snow pants, goggles, and a balaclava.