Driving off road in your vehicle can be an exhilarating experience as you test your extreme driving skills on different terrains.
We asked some of our in-house off-road experts – Lyn Woodward, Jeff Glucker, Micah Muzio and Brian Moody – on essential items to pack 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 to help you enjoy the ride and stay safe.
Must-have items for off-road driving
First, you’ll need some basic supplies, including a first aid kit, water and food if you’re going off-road. Our expert team suggests you never leave your home without these, plus the following items:
- car jack: Make sure your jack is in good condition for any unforeseen repairs needed along the way.
- Compact Air Compressor and Inflator: Most people deflate their tires for better grip when off-roading, but will need to re-inflate them when back on paved roads. An accurate tire gauge will also be helpful. You’ll need this equipment-less “must never leave home” in your vehicle.
- Flashlight and flare: Always keep a strong flashlight and torch within reach.
- GPS navigation: If you are going off road, assume that your phone or vehicle navigation is not working. As a result, you need additional navigation to find your way around remote locations. Downloadable paid subscription apps like OnX or Hema Explorer let you track your position in real time using offline maps. Gaia GPS is another app to consider for planning backcountry trips.
- Jump starter and jumper cables: Never go off the main road without your jump starter. It is a portable battery bank with cables. Many have flashlights and can charge your mobile devices. Read our story starting a vehicle.
- Phone charger: Never leave home without a phone charger.
- Portable Battery Pack: For extra power in extreme situations, carry a portable battery pack to power your devices for those emergencies.
- recovery kit: Your recovery kit should include leather gloves, a sturdy metal shovel, bow shackles and recovery straps. Many preassembled kits for sale offer most or all of these items. You need everything to pull your vehicle out of traffic.
- Spare wheel and tire repair kit: Make sure you have a full size spare tire with you as sometimes you can’t plug a hole in the sidewall of your tire. Still, a tire repair kit can come in handy. Read our tire replacement story.
- Tire chains: If you go off-road in the winter, bring some tire chains for extra traction in icy conditions.
- toolbox: Keep your toolbox handy for unexpected needs on the go. In the toolbox you will need the most common sockets for the car (depending on the vehicle) and a socket for wheel nuts. You’ll also need a voltmeter, zip ties, flat and Phillips screwdrivers, pliers, hammer, duct tape, and crowbar for extra torque on a wrench when loosening fasteners.
- traction mats: Keeping traction boards on hand can help you get out of tricky situations. In addition to helping on loose surfaces, you can use recovery boards as bridges over rocks and over small gaps.
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Checklist for your car before hitting the trails
- Have your oil changed† Before you leave, check your oil level and make sure change oil if necessary.
- Pay attention to the tire pressure† Make it a habit to use your tire gauge regularly. Check the pressure before, during and after off-roading as you will likely deflate and inflate during your trip.
- Checking fluids† Inspect your coolant, transmission fluids, and differential fluids. It is essential to properly maintain your off-road vehicle. This includes flushing or changing these fluids when needed, especially if you’re planning long-haul trips without much hope of help.
- Top up windshield washer fluid. Add windshield washer fluid before you go as not seeing well on the trails can be dangerous.
- Inspect your spare wheel† Make sure your spare part is undamaged and filled with air.
- Fill your gas tank† Never drive off without a full tank of gas. It makes sense to carry some spare fuel with you when you go off the grid, but it’s only necessary for longer rides.
- Write down your medical information† Keep any critical medical records written down and in your wallet in case of an accident.
“Keep calm” when you encounter a dangerous situation, Glucker says. That’s the best you can do. Be prepared by following the packing list and completing your checklist before you go.
His advice is practical. “If you get a flat tire, you have the tools (and gloves) packed,” he says. “You can rectify the situation and then move on.”
Lyn Woodward reminds you that any time you go outside, it can be potentially dangerous.
“I’ve had some close contacts overcoming big rocks,” she says, “but I’m pretty conservative when it comes to off-road driving. One of my mentors always says that when it comes to rallying, your navigator can get you lost, but your driver can kill you. I take that very seriously, even if I’m driving for fun, and minimize the risk.”
She adds one more important thing to remember: “Proceed with caution and never drive anything you can’t see.”
“You’ll Have to Drive” [your off-road vehicle] on your adventure, but you also have to drive it home.”
And like the best off-roaders, you also learn on the trails of your mistakes.
Glucker says he once underestimated the nighttime cold and that his sleeping bag rating wasn’t good enough for the conditions.
“I froze… so I added some more layers, zipped up the top of the sleeping bag to get in deeper, and put myself together as best I could,” says Glucker. “In the future I will be better able to control the weather and temperatures and make sure my equipment is up to the conditions.”
He also plans to put an extra blanket in the car just to be safe. Now you can add that to your list.