Photo: CC

Thinking about doing some off-roading? There’s a lot more to it than just jumping in your 4WD and pointing your headlights toward the dunes. You’ve got to have essential gear on your truck and in your truck to make sure your day is filled with a lot more riding, and a lot less “How the hell am I gonna get outta this?”

I spoke to several off-roading enthusiasts, and they told me the groups and clubs they ride with all have a mandatory set of required gear every truck has to have to take part in any off-road excursions.

Jeremy Regnerus, product marketing manager for SolidWorks and an avid off-roader, told me the requirements for the 35″+ tire club he rides with in Massachusetts. They may vary from state to state and club to club, but it’s a good idea to make sure your truck it outfitted with these items at the bare minimum.

Club Requirements for Off-Roading:

(Photos in this section are from

Off Road Tires

Many groups have certain specifications in order to participate in club activities. In Mass for example, 35″ is the threshold for several groups.

Fire Extinguisher

This must be an A, B & C extinguisher. This is required both by off road clubs, as well as some local governments for off-road activities.

Hi-Lift Jack

This is a unique type of jack designed exclusively for off road. It must also in many cases have a suitably broad base as either an accessory, or via a wooden board. This is required by most clubs and for a National Sea Shores Road Permit.

DOT Approved Tow Strap

This is required by local government and most clubs. It’s a multi woven synthetic strap rated to exceed specific loads.

CB Radio

Not required by local government, but required by many clubs.


Most 35″+ clubs require a front mounted winch for self recovery while off road. The basic set up consists of a winch with a minimum of 2x the vehicle’s Gross Vehicle Weight.

Extras (Not required, but a good idea to have):

Suspension Lift

This gives you the ability to install larger tires. The lift is not what gives the vehicle more ground clearance, but the larger tires. A suspension lift also gains extra articulation throughout the suspension’s range of travel. (Suspension articulation basically is what allows you to go over more and more uneven terrain.)

Roll Cage

Most extreme off-roaders install these as an added safety feature.

Sway Bar Disconnects

These allow a solid axle suspension system to further articulate beyond the limitations of a vehicle with a sway bar. A sway bar gives vehicles stability at high speed by keeping opposite wheels in movement with each other throughout their range of travel. Off road, this isn’t ideal because you want each wheel to be able to move independently of each other.


Most vehicles come with a limited slip differential to aid in delivering power to the road, while eliminating wheel slip caused by wheels needing to move at different speeds while negotiating a turn. The inside wheel needs to turn slower than the outside wheel. A locking differential locks both wheels on an axle to deliver power from the drivetrain to all 4 wheels. Most 4x4s actually only deliver power to 2 wheels at a time.

And then there’s the stuff a lot of off-roaders would never leave behind on a ride. Eric Olsen, an off-roader from San Jose, CA who recently destroyed his transfer case on a ride just east of Ukiah, CA, had to limp back to town — and be towed a couple of times by a buddy — told me his first rule is never go alone. “Two vehicle minimum,” he says. “Things can happen.”

When he heads off the trail, his off-road kit always includes:

  • Straps

  • Shackles

  • Work gloves

  • Food and water

  • Fire extinguisher

  • Tools

  • Jumper cables

  • Flashlight

  • Shovel

  • Hatchet

  • CB radio

  • GPS with USGS chip

  • Maps

  • Extra clothing

While that may seem like a lot of gear, Michael Green from OffRoad Experience has a much longer list of required gear that they recommend you have to take part in one of their trips. It’s 32 items long, and besides the items above, it includes things to have on hand like motor oil, radiator water, a rain suit, a full set of spark plugs with wrench, and a full set of belts and filters. A bit extreme? Maybe, but like Olsen says, “More is better.”

And there is always the favorite must-have gear off-roaders like to bring in addition. Like the sand ladders off-roader Michael Gibson relies on to give him traction to get out of deep sand or mud. ” I lived in the Middle East and Africa for over 10 years, and would never go anywhere without sand ladders,” he says. “I made my own out of the aluminum sections used to make walkways and keep four 4-foot sections inside my HZJ 78.”

Want to start gathering your own kit for off-roading? Here’s a dozen suggestions for some gear to include:

To Hold and Stow Your Gear:

Loop Rope

A revolutionary, secure fastening system, Loop Rope ($19.95-$22.95) never tangles, is safer than bungee cords, and is fully adjustable. You can use two or more together to create a cargo net. No need to tie knots, wonder if you have the right length rope, or getting whipped with hard hooks from bungee backlash.  Comes in 3 ft, 4 ft, and 5 ft lengths, complete with 2 stainless steel S-clips

Photo: Loop Rope

Pelican Cases

When you’ve got stuff that needs to arrive dry and one piece, and can absorb the punishment a day of off-roading can deliver, secure your gear in a water-resistant, crush-proof and dust-proof Pelican case. The new 1075 Hardback case can protect your electronic device in its high-impact, heat and chemical resistant composite shell with egg-shell foam interior. Want to make sure your mobile phone survives the ride? Lock it in the i1015 case. It’ll stay safe and secure from bumps and impacts, while the external jack allows full use of earbuds and mic.

Photos: Pelican

Dry Bags

Dry bags are essential for keeping extra clothes, gear and even lunch from falling victim to water, mud and sudden rain showers. These bags from Coghlan’s are made of lightweight, tear-resistant, rip-stop material — they’re not as bulky as traditional dry bags, and have waterproof taped seams. Available in 10-liter (7.5″x15″), 25-liter (10″x20″), and 55-liter (12″x30″) sizes.

Photo: Coghlan

To Find Your Way Back:

Coyote AT GPS

When there are no roads, knowing your exact location can mean the difference between getting back to civilization, and aimlessly driving around the desert with a rapidly emptying gas tank. The Coyote AT GPS system ($199 plus $19.99/month service), is designed to track and monitor your location, speed and heading. And their web based tracking app, NetTrack, can be accessed by someone at home on a PC or mobile phone, so should you not get back at a certain time, they know where to send the tow truck.

Photo: Track Your Truck

Backtrack D-Tour

A lightweight personal GPS, the Backtrack D-DTour (full review), has a self-calibrating digital compass and gives you the time, temp, altitude and your longitude and latitude. You can also upload data to Google Maps and store up to five favorite trails. ($120)

Photo: Bushnell

For Night Rides:

Energizer Hard Case Professional Area Lights

Engine cut out and need to see what’s going on under the hood in the dark? Slap an Energizer Hard Case Professional Area Light ($13.99) under there. The magnetic mount holds it in place on any metal surface, three wide angle LEDs deliver 50 lumens of area light, and the impact-absorbent rubber casing not only takes a beating, but can survive a 3 meter drop. Push-lens activated, and runs up to 31 hours on 3 AA batteries.

Photo: Energizer

HD Torch

When you’re searching for a lost item in the dirt at night,the last thing you want is a weak flashlight. Unlike traditional round-beamed flashlights, the new HD Torch ($109.95) delivers a perfectly square and uniform beam of 165-lumen light that is consistent from edge to edge, without dim areas. And without the shadows created by typical flashlights, objects stand out from the background making them easier to find.

Photo: Bushnell

Lighthouse Lantern

Stuck without batteries or power? Pack a crank-powered GoalZero Lighthouse Lantern ($54.99). It can be charged with an AC plug, DC plug, solar panel or with the dynamo crank function. It’ll even power other devices through its USB port. A 4-hour charge gives you 6 hours of light for your campsite or repair job… and the flashing alert mode can summon help.

Photo: GoalZero

In Case of Emergency:

All-In-One Charger

Need a jump start? Got a flat? Need to power some tools or gear? The All-In-One Charger ($149.99) from Energizer covers them all in a compact unit you can stow anywhere. Charge the unit before you head off-road and you’ll have power to jump a car or small truck, inflate a flat tire in 10 minutes, and provide juice for power tools. And the flex-neck light lets you see what you’re doing.

Photo: Energizer

TurboDyne Axis

Co-licensed with the American Red Cross, the Axis ($70) is a crank-powered safety device that provides a radio signal (with NOAA weatherband), LED light source with flashing emergency beacon, clock and the ability to charge a cell phone via USB. Just one-minute of cranking yields 15 minutes of LED light and/or radio use, or enough for a 30 second phone call.

Photo: Eton

4-in-1 SafetyStick

Accidents happen. And when they do, you may need to get out fast. The waterproof 4-in-1 SafetyStick ($18.95) can slice through your seatbelt in seconds, shatter any window with just a tap, and then attach to your truck magnetically while the flashing red strobe alerts help to your location.

Photo: Safety Bright

Motorola Talkabout MS350

A CB radio may be required equipment for most rides, but having a pair of walkies may save you when you’re out of the truck. The Motorola Talkabout MS350 ($99.99) two-way radios keep you in touch with your off-road crew for up to 35 miles. Equipped with an LED flashlight, hands-free headset connector jack, 7 NOAA weather channels and alerts, and 8 repeater channels to improve coverage, these radios are completely waterproof and will even float.

Photo: Motorola