If you like to spend a lot of time in the outdoors, it’s important to learn how to take care of yourself. However, you should also learn how to take care of your vehicle and get it unstuck if bad luck comes your way. Let’s look at how to prepare an off-road recovery kit.
Adventures in the wild
A fresh blanket of snow covered the ground as I made my way down the overgrown two-track on a cold, December morning. I don’t know if I was more excited to call in coyotes that morning or to test out my new Tacoma 4×4.
Either way, at the top of the hill, I made a point to stop to switch the transfer case into low range. I even thought about putting on the tire chains, but then shrugged it off, knowing I only had to go a bit farther.
In actuality, it was cold, and I was just being lazy. The road headed downhill before turning sharply to a sidehill through a stand of pine trees, and that’s when a patch of ice hidden beneath the snow robbed my traction, and my forward momentum ceased.
You know that feeling when you realize you have no control and are forced to accept something bad is about to happen. That’s how it felt. Gravity was winning, and I was along for the ride, sliding downhill sideways toward a large old ponderosa that almost seemed like it grew there with malicious intent.
Lucky for me, an exposed root halted what was sure to be several thousand of dollars in repairs. After walking around to assess the situation, it seemed that the tire chains would now come in very handy. I was sure glad I decided to throw them in.
Unfortunately, I soon discovered they were the wrong size, because the new truck’s tires were bigger than on my old truck. That was just the beginning of the bad news.
I also didn’t have my shovel and gloves, along with my tow strap and other tools I usually keep in my old truck. Nice going, bozo, I thought.
Stacking a couple dead trees between a big stump and my tires acted as a saver to protect the passenger-side door, as I gave it some careful throttle work to manuever out of the mess. The coyotes stayed safe that morning, because I decided to cut my losses and head home.
The only damage was to my ego, but I was still disappointed with myself for not putting on the tire chains earlier or, better yet, transferring my recovery gear to the new truck as soon as I brought it home.
Admittedly, I have earned the nickname “Stuck” from my buddies after a couple of similar mishaps, but honestly—if you spend enough time off the beaten path, it is bound to happen.
The nature of driving on backcountry roads can be challenging enough. Combined with inclement weather, poor judgment and other drivers causing massive, slippery ruts, and it’s really only a matter of time.
To prepare yourself for such challenges, you need to have an off-road recovery kit.
Building your off-road recovery kit
There really is no way to be ready for anything and everything, but a tow strap, jumper cables, and tool kit stashed in your vehicle is a good start.
Murphy’s Law—vehicles break down or get stuck at the most inopportune times, like after dark or during bad weather— so a pair of mechanic’s gloves, a beanie (warm hat), and a headlamp are handy, too.
Every vehicle I’ve owned has had a compartment (or two) for storing the jack, and there is usually extra room you can take advantage of for storing this gear.
Keep your off-grid recovery tool simple when it comes to tools: a 3/8-inch ratchet with assorted standard and metric sockets for common sized nuts and bolts, a couple of boxes of wrenches for the tight spots, a multi-tool, tire plug tool with several plugs, electrical tape, a few hose clamps, and zip-ties, all stashed inside a zippered tool bag.
Also, don’t forget the duct tape—no tool kit is complete without it!
This minimal yet practical assortment of tools has been there for me when I had to swap out a couple of dead spark plugs, a lame fuel pump, and even a seized idler pulley to get me back on the road.
It would be easy to try to pack a complete mechanic’s tools set. However, with limited parts, there are only so many repairs that can be accomplished in the backcountry without running to town for more supplies.
5 Important Tips
1. Tow-Strap Hook-Up: Be careful where you attach tow rope or heavy chain. Do not attach it to suspension parts or body parts like the bumper. Instead, attach to the tow hook or receiver hitch. Last resort, you can attach to the frame but watch for brake lines or wiring.
2. Get Out and Improvise: Learn to stack rocks and logs to reduce climbing height and approach angles. This technique can also work for positive traction in big, muddy holes.
3. Floor Mats are Handy: Floor mats can be used to keep you out of the mud and snow when making repairs or hooking up a tow rope, but in a pinch, they can be slid under a tire for traction or wrapped around a tree to keep from hurting the tree with a chain or cable.
4. Try Different Angles: Sometimes, pulling right up to a stuck truck will only result in two stuck vehicles. Using a tow strap or cable and hardware can be used to pull/winch from different angles or from farther away. Also, remember that switching the direction of the cable using a pulley or snatch block basically doubles the pulling power.
5. Forget the Chainsaw: A bow saw takes up much less room than a chain saw and, with a little effort, will open the road should you encounter a downed tree blocking your path
Other important items for your off-road recovery kit
When heading to the hills, I like to add a set of tire chains (or two sets, if I expect really harsh weather), a shovel, Hi-Lift jack, an axe, handsaw, 50 feet of aircraft cable (or chain), and some tackle, including a shackle and a couple of pulleys before I set out.
Lastly, it’s a good idea to keep an extra serpentine belt and hold on to a couple of spark plugs from your last tune-up with the rest of this gear.
Make sure to do a dry run with the tire chains at home by putting them on, getting them adjusted, and making sure they will clear your suspension and brake lines, especially while turning the wheels. Doing this in the driveway beats struggling to figure it out when it’s snowing, or you’re stuck up to the axles in mud.
Bring a Good Jack
Most factory jacks are barely acceptable on pavement, so think about upgrading to a more substantial jack with a larger base for more stability. A better option yet is to purchase a handyman or Hi-Lift jack because, aside from lifting, they also work great as a winch.
I have even used the handle as a breaker bar to bust loose stubborn lug nuts and rusty bolts. Be sure to chock the wheels and keep the lifting to a minimum because they can be fairly unsteady on soft soil and cause serious injury and damage if they tip.
Maintenance: Timely oil changes and preventive maintenance is the best way to keep your vehicle on the road. During these service checks is a great time to keep an eye out for any small problems like an oil leak or a worn belt that may leave you stranded eventually.
Food and water: Keeping some water, a few granola bars, and a blanket would make an unexpected night much more comfortable.
Top off fuel: Fill up at the last town you go through, or better yet, bring along a 5-gallon gas can and fill it up, too. If everything goes well, you can top off your tank when you get home, but running out of fuel far from the nearest station spells big trouble.
Spare tire: Make sure it’s full and fits. If you have changed the size of the tires, make sure not to forget about the spare. Don’t forget the wheel lock key, either. On long trips, be sure to take two spares. Otherwise, you’ll have to head into town once that first flat occurs.
Karma: If you see someone else who is broken down or stuck, be sure you stop and help. Remember, that just may be you someday, so put yourself in their shoes and put your off-grid recovery kit to good use.
Your most important tool
Perhaps more important than anything in your off-grid recovery kit, always bring along your common sense when heading off-road. It’s the most important tool you have.
Mashing the throttle or being overly aggressive only gets you into trouble. Be smart. Be wise. Go slow and steady. Do this, and you’ll reach your destination safely, ready to hunt or fish in a remote honey hole.
Charles Houser has written this article for Prepper’s Will.
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