With all kinds of 4x4 accessories and off-road gear available to travellers these days, which pieces of gear are the real essentials and which ones are not worth the investment?
These tips have been provided by Australian Offroad Academy, the 4WD trainers trusted by Hema Maps.
A part of the job that I enjoy the most is checking out our client's builds and customisations. The fact of the matter is that unless you have a dedicated touring 4x4 that stays under a cover or in a shed until you head out on our adventures, we are all compromising our needs between a daily driving vehicle and our escape machine.
Gear you need
Recovery gear is the most underrated investment in most people’s off-road arsenal. If you don’t own any recovery gear, you’re running the gauntlet by assuming that you will never have any unexpected circumstances arise while out on the tracks – either with your own or someone else’s vehicle that you encounter out there. A full recovery kit that is well kept and stowed away somewhere safe is the insurance that all adventurous off-road travellers need at one stage or another. Add a set of Maxtrax to that list, which are an invaluable tool in a range of recovery situations. These should have a permanent home somewhere on your 4x4 - whether they’re attached to the spare tyre or your roof rack it does not matter - so long as they’re available when you need them.
Recovery gear is an essential investment for any four-wheel driver.
A quality and properly installed UHF radio is the next must-have. We all know what it's like talking to the one family in the convoy using a 1-Watt handheld. Consider the purchase of a quality 5-Watt installed radio an investment in maintaining your friendships, as well as quality assurance for when you need to listen to or contact someone nearby for many any number of reasons in remote areas.
Appropriate navigation is another piece of gear that you shouldn’t leave home without. We use a combination of Hema Explorer LINK (either on iPhone or iPad) plus our faithful HN7 LINK to know where we are and to guide our trips. This means that no matter where we go, we've always got a full Australian range of digital adventure maps at our disposal. We also have a selection of guidebooks and paper maps as guidance and navigational backup, but these get bulky and don't live in the car unless we are out exploring.
An oft-overlooked factor by many travellers is the inherent value of a simple storage system. This doesn't have to be a drawer 'system' - it could be as simple as a couple of crates tied down in your tray. I’ve seen some ingeniously simple storage solutions that suit their owners’ needs perfectly without them having to buy an over-the-top storage system. So long as you have a system which gives you easy access to most of your gear, then there’s no need to go complicating things further.
A good fridge/freezer transforms itself from a nicety to a downright essential item as the time you spend in remote areas increases. Once you have experienced the convenience and efficiency of guaranteed cold food out in the bush, it’s hard to remember what it was like travelling without one in the back.
Something that should go without saying (but I will anyway) is that you should always carry a First Aid Kit. It needs to be fully stocked, in your vehicle at all times and incredibly easy to access. We attach ours to the front side of the cargo barrier, or behind the back seat in the dual cab utes where they’re easy to find and easy to use.
Gear you don’t need
Any experienced four-wheel driver will tell you that it's better to pay more for accessories if it performs when it matters.
The next bit of kit that is often mythologized and misunderstood is aftermarket lights. Impressive lumen ratings look great on eBay, and that 52" curved light bar might be just what the neighbourhood guys and girls want to see, but is it really the best option for putting quality light where it needs to be? Our top tip: look for lights that talk up their Lux at around 400 meters, rather than their lumens. Too much bright light, up close, actually makes it harder to see where you really need to see. Reflections onto bonnets, bullbars, aerials and even windscreens from roof-mounted lights and lightbars are distracting, reducing your ability to see the road or skippy.
Badly maintained gear is another problem every adventurer can do without, yet is commonplace as it happens over time before catching us by surprise. Case in point, rusted in towbars - unless you've added some other way for passers-by to help get you out of trouble, how exactly are good Samaritans supposed to assist you? If you haven't taken your tow bar tongue out for a while, make it a rainy Saturday task to check that it hasn't become a fixed feature of your car.
Something else worth a look is the wiring to your winch controller – they live in a pretty hostile environment and your recovery effort can be quickly let down by a corroded, or loose, wire or fitting. Re-terminating those wires would be an hour well spent in the comfort of your shed if they are showing signs of wear and tear. Finally, your battery is a heavy piece of kit, and unfortunately we have known a few cases of either improperly mounted, or badly designed, battery trays collapsing under the weight of a battery and continued vibration of corrugations. At best this will be very inconvenient, at worst it could start a fire - so checking your battery and tray every now and then doesn't go astray.
The same goes for all gear susceptible to overuse, weathering and general wear and tear – keep a keen eye on what is in a state of disrepair and needs fixing or replacing, as it will save you in the long run.