Off-Roading: Expert Tips on What to Take With You

Jeep on downhill off-road terrain
Off-roading in your vehicle can be an exhilarating experience while testing your extreme driving skills on various terrain.

We asked some of our in-house off-roading experts — Lyn Woodward, Jeff Glucker, Micah Muzio, and Brian Moody — about essential items you need to take with you for your off-road outings. We also used their expertise for a checklist to review before going off-road.

If you’re planning an off-road adventure, you’ll need this guide so you can enjoy the ride and stay safe.

Must-Have Items for Off-Roading

off-roading in a Jeep

First, you’ll need some basics, including a first aid kit, water, and food when you head off-road. Our expert team suggests you never leave your house without those, plus the following items:

  • Car jack: Be sure your jack is in working order for unforeseen fixes needed on the trail.
  • Compact air compressor and inflator: Most people deflate their tires for better grip when off-roading but will need to reinflate them when they get back on paved roads. An accurate tire gauge will be helpful, too. You’ll need this must-never-leave-home-without gear in your vehicle.
  • Flashlight and flare: Always keep a strong flashlight and a flare within easy reach.
  • GPS navigation: When going off-road, assume your phone or vehicle navigation will not work. As a result, you’ll need extra navigation to find your way around remote locations. Downloadable paid subscription apps like OnX or Hema Explorer allow you to track your position using offline maps in real-time. Gaia GPS is another app to consider for planning backcountry trips.
  • Jump-starter and jumper cables: Never get off the main road without your jump starter. It’s a portable battery bank with cables. Many come with flashlights, plus they can recharge your mobile devices. Read our story on jump-starting a vehicle.
  • Phone charger: Don’t leave home without a phone charger, ever.
  • Portable battery pack: For extra power while out in the extremes, bring a portable battery pack to power up your devices for those just-in-case situations.
  • Recovery kit: Your recovery kit needs to include leather gloves, a sturdy metal shovel, bow shackles, and recovery straps. Many pre-assembled kits for sale offer most or all of these items. You’ll need everything inside to pull your vehicle out of a jam.
  • Spare tire and tire repair kit: Make sure you carry a full-size spare tire because sometimes you can’t patch a hole in your tire’s sidewall. Still, a tire repair kit can come in handy. Read our story on tire replacement.
  • Tire chains: If off-roading in winter, bring some tire chains for extra traction in icy conditions.
  • Toolbox: Keep your toolbox at hand for any unexpected needs while out and about. Inside the toolbox, you’ll need the most common socket wrenches for the car (depending on the vehicle) and a socket for lug nuts. You’ll also need a voltmeter, zip ties, flathead and Phillips-head screwdrivers, pliers, mallet, duct tape, and breaker bar for extra torque on a wrench when loosening fasteners.
  • Traction mats: Keeping traction boards on hand will help you get out of sticky situations. In addition to helping on loose surfaces, you can use recovery boards as bridges over rocks and across small gaps.

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Your Car Checklist Before Hitting the Trails

Catching air in off-road adventure

  1. Get your oil changed. Before you go, check your oil level and take care of an oil change if needed.
  2. Pay attention to tire pressure. Get in the habit of using your tire gauge regularly. Check the pressure before, during, and after off-roading because you’ll likely deflate and reinflate during your journey.
  3. Check fluids. Inspect your coolant, transmission fluids, and differential fluids. It’s essential to keep your off-roading vehicle well-maintained. This includes getting these fluids flushed or changed when needed, especially if you plan trips way out in the extremes without much hope for assistance.
  4. Top off windshield wiper fluid. Add wiper fluid before leaving because not seeing well on the trails can be dangerous.
  5. Inspect your spare tire. Make sure your spare isn’t damaged and it’s filled with air.
  6. Fill up your gas tank. Never drive off without a full tank of gas. Carrying some spare fuel makes sense if you’re going off the grid, but that’s only necessary for longer trips.
  7. Write down your medical information. Keep any crucial medical details written down and in your wallet in the event of an accident.

What to Do If You Get Into a Dangerous Situation

Going off-road in a Jeep

“Remain calm” when you encounter a dangerous situation, Glucker says. That’s the best thing you can do. Be prepared by following the packing list and completing your checklist before leaving.

His advice is practical. “If you get a flat tire, you packed the tools (and gloves),” he says. “You can rectify the situation and then keep moving.”

Lyn Woodward offers a cautious reminder that every time you go out, it can potentially be dangerous.

“I’ve had some close calls with getting over big rocks,” she says, “but I’m pretty conservative when it comes to off-roading. One of my mentors always says when it comes to rally, your navigator can get you lost, but your driver can get you killed. I take that very seriously, even when I’m wheeling for fun, and keep risk at a minimum.”

She adds another important thing to remember: “Proceed with caution and never drive what you can’t see.”

“You’re going to need to drive [your off-road vehicle] on your adventure, but you’ll also need to drive it home.”

And like the best of off-roaders, you also learn from your mistakes out on the trails.

Glucker says that he once underestimated the nighttime cold, and his sleeping bag rating wasn’t good enough for the conditions.

“I was FREEZING … so I added some more layers, zipped up the top of the sleeping bag to get deeper inside of it, and bundled up as best I could,” Glucker says. “In the future, I’d better check the weather and temperatures and make sure my gear is rated to the conditions.”

He also plans to keep an extra blanket in the car to be safe. Now, you can add that to your list.

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