Repair and Recovery Gear

If you are traveling into the backcountry you will probably eventually run into a situation where either something breaks or you get stuck. If you stick to well traveled areas you can get away with not really carrying much of anything. If you are in a group you might still get away with not bringing too much stuff along.

If you don't think that the above will necessarily apply to you, you should probably bring more than beer and hot dogs with you lest you get stuck with a long walk.

First a huge disclaimer, this is some of the junk I carry around, this does not make it the best or most efficient utilization of resources. Sometimes the thing that was on sale or a good deal at an auction is what I have rather than what I probaly should have. In addition the stuff that is most important will vary a great deal depending on where you are going and what you are doing there. Since a lot of the things below are either sharp or meant to move something heavy, please assume I'm lying and trying to get you killed so when you actually manage to hurt yourself, you say, "aha, he was telling the truth when he said he was a sociopath trying to kill me and I still fell right into it."

The list is mostly organized by how it fits into my truck so don't expect all that much logic behind things.

Cutting Down and Digging Out

This is the stuff that will probably get the most use and I think is probably the most important.

Axe - Use it to split firewood at the provincial campground, hammer in tent pegs and chop up the deadfall that is across the road you need to use to get home. Don't bother with those tiny little hatchets, get a decent 3/4 length felling axe. If you have the room a pulaski axe might be nice as the mattock side will do an admirable job for the times you want a pick to go with your shovel.

Bow Saw - Preferably one that folds into itself so it doesn't really take up any room. Lee Valley along with lots of camping supply stores sell them. This isn't super necessary most of the time but it shure is nice when you want a fire and there is lots of deadfall around. Most provincial campsites don't want you touching the deadfall but at forestry sites it is generally another story.

Shovel - Digging is fun, use it to make a place to poop or draw water away from your tent or dig out the scary sidehill so you can keep driving. You want it to be small enough that you can use it to move dirt and mud around under your car and big enough that it won't take six months to move the dirt you need. Flat blades are nice for moving snow and mud but spade style blades will be an advantage trying to shift hard dirt. More than once I wished I had a pick as well.

A word to the wise, while a chainsaw can replace the axe and bow saw and substantially reduce the amount of work you need to do, you should still carry an axe for when the chainsaw fails to work right or you have let it get so dull that you are just sanding the wood.

Pasenger Side Cubby, aka. Safety Gear

First Aid Kid - You know bandaids. The contents of a decent first aid kit is worth a page all by itself. Maybe I'll write one one day. Until then just buy a decent looking one and you should be good to go. Most decent ones will have crash scissors and a little first aid book at a minimum along with several miles of gauze. The tylenol 3s to recover from the hangover go in the glove box not the first aid kit otherwise they won't be there when you need them.

Fire Extinguisher - There are lots of opinions about what kind of extinguisher is best for automotive use as far as cleaning up later is concerned but the most important thing is that it is a fair size and is useful for type B (gas) and C (electrical) fires. Dry Chemical extiguishers are cheap but bad for the truck (apparently the stuff is pretty corrosive) and something called Halotron 1 won't wreck your car like the dry chemical one can but is expensive. I figure you probably will never use it on your car, so go cheap, after all we are talking about cleanup after there was already a fire...

Jumper Cables - The little electric cooler you just bought uses more power than you might guess. The normal failure mode for batteries that I have experienced is that every thing is fine up until one of the cells finally shorts out when the gunk that has dropped off the plates finally reaches the bottom of the plates. You probably aren't able to start the engine if one cell is gone but you will be able to drive home. Bouncing around off-road seems like the most likely time for a cell to finally give up the ghost although it always seems to be a gas station that gets me.

Ice Scraper - Where I live, you don't have to drive very far from the coast to find cold in the winter.

Load Straps - A million and one uses including carrying stuff on the roof rack. If things have really gone south you might even be able to hold the truck together with them although that is really what the bailing wire is for. The bigger ratcheting straps can be used for re-seating the bead on your tire if you don't want to use the lighter fluid and match method.

Driver Side Cubby, aka. Tools

Tire Pressure Gauge - Consistancy between the tires is probably more important than absolute pressure but that doesn't mean that you should trust the gauge at the gas station to be within 10psi of being correct.

Tire Repair Kit - You can buy them just about anywhere and they can save your bacon if you get a flat. The kit consists of a T handled rasp that cleans up the puncture and gets any steel belts out of the way, some glue, some plugs, and another little T handled needle jobbie that you can use to insert the plug. With patience and enough plugs, a sidewall tear might even be repairable although if you do that, highway speeds are not going to be your friend until you get a new tire. On a simple puncture these can often be considered a permanent repair. Don't forget the tire pump if you want to use these.

Multimeter - On my old unimog this wasn't really all that important since the only thing that really needed electricity was the ignition system and that was pretty easy to trace around. On newer cars, you have an electric fuel pump and a myriad of other electrical things that are probably snaking around under the truck waiting to corrode away at an inconvienent time. A test light is probably good enough for most people but proper meters are pretty cheap these days.

Flashlight - My preference is one that takes a bunch of D-cells because the more batteries it has, the more likely it will still be able to light up when you need it. I figure I have changed the batteries in this one two or three times tops in the last 15 years and have never suffered from lack of light. This one stays in the truck and another zillion or so are carried around for camping. If you don't have a fifteen year old mag-light to carry around, LED lights are a pretty mature technology now, white LEDs weren't even invented yet when I bought this one. In fact if you have an old Mag light, you can get a LED replacement for the bulb now that is pretty slick. It's brighter, gives a more even and whiter light and the best part is that it's pretty much bomb proof. The only downside of using LEDs is that it will work at basically full brightness until the batteries are so completely pooched you will have nothing, unlike a regular incandecent bulb that warns you by slowly dimming to uselessness.

If you do get a mag-light, get the rubber boot that fits over the end, it provides some shock absorbtion which is nice but more importantly it is a hexagon so the light doesn't want to roll away every time you put it down.

Butane Torch - Light a fire or solder a wire...

Wire and Solder - If you have an electrical problem on the trail you may well need to replace a bit of corroded wire. A couple feet of 16 gauge wire is probably all you will ever need. Rosen core solder will help you solder a wire directly to that corroded stud although you will want to scrape or sand off enough rust to have some bare shiny metal to solder to.

Electrical Tape - Heat shrink is overkill for a trail side repair but you still have to insulate your new solder joints somehow.

Valve Tool - You will probably never actually need one of these but they are cheap, weigh nothing and aren't bulky. You can use it to remove and replace valve cores and chase the inner and outer threads on the valve. If you have really big tires, airing down is faster with the valve cores out completely although there are better, if more expensive solutions.

Bailing wire - Well ok the wire I have is stainless which is a bit up market for hay bales but none the less. Bailing wire can be used to reattach the bits that have fallen off your truck, improvise hose clamps when necessary and just about anything else you can think of. I would put this in the most important tools pile because it really is excedingly versatile.

Linesman Pliers - You need em if you are going to successfully do anything much with bailing wire.

Lug Wrench - My truck didn't come with a stock one so I improvised. A couple extra lug nuts or bolts aren't a bad idea since they really want to disappear when changing a tire in the dark.

Sawzall Handle and Blades - If you have ever used one of those little hacksaw holders to cut something in a tight spot you will love this. Milwaukee makes a handle that holds regular sawzall blades. Unlike hacksaw blades these are all plenty strong enough not to bend and you can get wood and metal blades up to a foot long easily. The bi-metal blades cut a fairly wide kerf which makes things a bit more work but it is easily worth it because you can actually cut all the way through something before bending or breaking the blade. This is a nice small backup wood saw and more importantly a metal saw. A metal cutting saw is potentially handy for a couple of reasons, you may one day end up picking up some wire on the road and wrapping it around an axle which is a pain to deal with if you can't easily cut it out or you might slide into something and have to cut some sheet metal out of a wheel well.

Zap Straps - Or if you prefer zip ties. The low rent version of bailing wire for less demanding jobs.

Misc - A couple valve cores just in case, some hose clamps just because, and maybe a couple bulbs for things that should make light.

Screw Drivers - I really expected to see a couple here, oh well. I always have a couple multi-tools around anyway.


Some sort of air pump or compressor is nice because there are times lowering the air pressure in your tires offers a huge advantage offroad (if for no other reason than keeping your teeth from vibrating out) and of course it is only a matter of time before you get a flat. Flat repair kits allow you to fix the tire while it is still on the wheel but you will need to get air back in it when you are done.

You will probably be able to fill your tire in under a half an hour with a normal floor standing bike pump, good enough for emergency use.

A bit over a hundred bucks buys an electric compressor that will fill a tire in under ten minutes. With the electric compressors, keep in mind that proper ones draw thirty or more amps so if you are looking at one in Canadian Tire for Eight bucks that plugs into the cigarette lighter (I have one of these too) it will take longer than just using the bike pump to get anywhere.

If you have lots of cash kicking around you can get a compressed CO2 system to fill your tires or run air tools, expect to spend 500 bucks for a power tank or the equivelant.

One nice thing about my truck it that it has a winch plug behind the front bumper so I have a nice convienient high power outlet for the electric compressor.


Jack - You should be carrying some sort of jack so you can change a tire, and if you have the space and a little care, a Jack-All is a good choice, having said that, I also carry a little hydraulic jack around for my more tame jacking needs as well.

A Jack All or High Lift jack can be rather nice for a few reasons. You can jack up a vehicle without having to get under anything. The jacks are tall (mine is five feet) so you can jack up a wheel that you have dropped into a hole or some deep mud and be able to get something under it for traction, in fact you can even spin a vehicle around by jacking up one end and pushing the jack over. With the appropriate accessories the jack can even be used as a poor man's winch.

A high lift type jack can be used as a winch but there are some limitations to keep in mind. Your straight pull distance is limited to the length of the jack minus the amount of stretch in your rigging. This may not be a big deal in mud where the truck will just stay where ever you stop pulling but if you are going up a steep hill where one or more wheels are off the ground this sucks. You can still use the jack by securing the tow chain to the bottom of the jack's rack with a shackle before lowering the jack on the rack for the next bout of winching. Either way this is slow and will require lots of rigging and re-rigging. Perhaps why this method is only used by the really budget concious and those who want a backup but don't really expect to get stuck. All your rigging on the moving side of the jack should be chain (see below) but the fixed side can be anything as long as it isn't strechy. I suggest that if you planning on using this method, you buy three jackmates and the five foot version of the jack. One jackmate with a shackle on it for the standing (fixed) part of the rigging, one at the bottom of the jack with a shackle to secure the load while lowering the jack and one on the jack foot itself so you can secure the chain in the chain slot and advance it easily. I suggest the top and bottom jackmates because the largest shackle that will fit in the rack's holes is too small to be safely used. One more note about the jack, the hole under the foot can be used with a small shackle or something to keep the chain from sliding off the foot but is not meant to actually carry any load so don't just hook a shackle through the hole and hope for the best.

Beware anything that is just described as a farm jack. You only use these things to lift or move dangerously heavy stuff and the name brand ones are still pretty cheap. One thing that may not be obvious is that the ratings on these sorts of jacks are with the beam in compression for some tiny length of the beam's travel or just in tension, so a four tonne capacity jack will bend like a pretzel if you are actually trying to lift that heavy a load to the top of the rack. There was always a visible bow in mine when I was jacking up the unimog which is a pretty good reminder that things can go wrong quick. I figured the side force from a well placed kick would have turned it into a dangerous flailing U shape. One other note, the jack works by having two little pawls that engage the rack as you use the handle, never stop jacking unless both of the pawls are engaged in the rack for two reasons, this is safer because you aren't relying on just one little piece of metal to hold up your truck and because these jacks have a strong desire to lower the load with rapid movements of the handle unexpectedly if you aren't careful.

JackMate - This is an accessory currently manufactured by the Jack-All people (Maasdam) that gives the jack a few more capabilities. It adds a four tonne rated shoe to the jack that allows the jack to be used for spreading, crushing and winching. the Jackmate also has a toothy base that digs in better allowing jacking to be a bit more safe than with the normal base in some circumstances. Note that the chain slot only works for 3/8" chain.

Plastic Clip Thingy - Daytech and a couple other companies make a little plastic clip that will hold the jack handle to the rack so it doesn't rattle and flop around. They all seem to be sized for the slightly smaller handle on a high-lift jack but it isn't hard to widen out the notches with round file or something if you have the Jackall version.

Vehicle Recovery 1

Winch/Tirfor - There are situations where to get through, you are pretty much limited to winching (this can sometimes be mitigated by skill or high speed). Once you decide that you want the ability to be able to winch your way out of trouble (or into it) you are setting yourself up for some pretty big expenses.

For a minimal winch setup using your jack, you are looking at probably a couple hundred bucks by the time you buy the jack and the necessary minimal accessories (see below). If you want a big electric winch on your truck, you are looking at probably an absolute minimum of a thousand bucks and probably double that if you need to get a bumper to put the winch in, and feel free to double it again for a high capacity winch and dual battery setup with all the appropriate isolators and such. A Tirfor or Griphoist or Greifzug fits in somewhere between buying an electric winch and a jack in price.

A very good description of how to use a Tirfor hand winch to recover a stuck vehicle appears here. Mine is a two tonne unit purchased at an auction for about 60 bucks, very rusty but mostly working. If you want a new one, you are looking at more like $1200CDN for the model I have. There are a few knockoffs available and Tractel do make a light duty range that are a fair bit cheaper for the same capacity but still these things aren't cheap. While not cheap and completely muscle dependant in use, they are very versatile since you can just carry it where it is needed and the only limitation on continuous towing distance is how much you are willing to pay for the wire rope. This is an industrial tool so don't expect to find them at home depot but they are pretty much ubiquitous around the oil patch and construction industries or anywhere where somebody's job description is rigger. Another thing that makes Tirfors nice is that you can winch forwards or backwards by just picking which handle you are pumping, and these movements can be done in a pretty much millimeter accurate way, while these features aren't absolutely necessary in a vehicle winch but make the whole process seem so much safer.

Tirfor Bag - I have over four hundred of these, mistakenly refered to as umbrella stroller bags over here. Buy ten.

Vehicle Recovery 1.1

Pulley - I initially forgot to take a picture of this. It is a two tonne working load pulley. A proper industrial pulley is a bit more money than the sheaves that Warn and such sell for off road use. I bought this rather than the normal 4x4 sort for a couple reasons. First, the normal 4x4 pulleys just have a failure rating and no safe working load rating, blech. Second, the 4x4 pulleys, to save weight and cost, are, as a rule bending the wire rope at too small a diameter for the ultimate health of the rope, the rope must be bent at a diameter of 40 times the rope's diameter to have its full strength (16 times its diameter gives 90% strength so it isn't completely dire). Besides a big full size pulley will last forever even if you are using around the house to set up drag lines and hauling it through the mud (as long as you keep it greased).

Vehicle Recovery 2

Chain - 20' of 3/8" Grade 70 chain, this gives a working load limit of 3,000kg (6,600lbs) which is just nicely higher than most off-road vehicles you will run into. It's breaking strength should be around about 12,000kg (26,400lbs) which is of course determined with perfect, new chain under careful lab conditions. Chain fails relatively undramatically compared to wire rope or old school rope, because it has basically no stretch, because of this it is less likely to kill you than a wire rope, having said that there will be one link that seems likely to fail elastically and I would not want to be anywhere near it.

Grade 70, also called transport chain is the strongest chain you can buy pretty much anywhere, it is not rated for overhead lifting which requires you to go to grade 80. Grade 70 chain is generally easily recognizable because it always has a gold dicromate coating which will help keep the chain from getting rusty. I bought 3/8" chain so that it would not be the weak point with any winching system I end up with and it is the size that fits properly into a jackmate.

I put one normal hook and one grab (slip) hook on the chain. The grab hook hooks between the chain links so you can make a loop of pretty much any size. The chain is for rigging situations where you need to hook around a rock or something that will not be damaged by the chain or where you can't avoid some abrasion on the ground.

The cheapest place I have managed to find chain around the lower mainland is Princess Auto. I did check a couple marine places but I didn't bother with any of the dedicated rigging stores. I believe it was about a buck fifty cheaper per foot than Home Depot so it is a very significant price difference.

Shackles - A couple 3/4" shackles with a working load limit of about 4 3/4 tonnes (metric I believe). Sizing the shackles is done with the same thinking as the chain. It should be strong enough that it will never be the point of failure in use. Only use shackles that have "WLL 4 3/4 T" or something like it on the shackle itself. Unmarked shackles are generally made out of stainless steel or styrofoam or something that will break in a scary manner or just bend so you need a sawzall to get it apart. In any particular situation you may not need a shackle at all but it is normally one of those cases where the more the merrier.

Splitting Wedge - This obviously should be up at the top with the axe and stuff but I throw it in with the chain because otherwise I will lose it. You can split smallish stuff just with the axe but if things get bigger or you are dealing with a really tough wood, a wedge helps you keep your sanity. You can hit it with the back of your axe, unless you are just carrying a pulaski or a double bitted throwing axe (I'm in bc afterall) but a sledge is nicer except for the bit where you have to carry a sledge around. This is just kinda handy and I never bothered carrying one for years, still nice though.

Gloves - Gotta have gloves if you are going to mess around with wire rope unless you have the sorts of calouses that allow you to bend pennys at will.

Vehicle Recovery 3

Tree Strap - The most necessary winching accessory that isn't a winch. In all likelyhood (unless you are in the desert) you will be winching off a tree. So you need something to wrap around it that won't immediately kill the thing like a wire rope will. After all you might come back this way, and besides wrapping your wire rope around something and putting the hook around the wire rope kinks it and is very poor form. We'll know....

Kinetic Strap - Scary, dangerous, on-sale when I bought it and convienent. One vehicle on either end and a bunch of stretch in the middle, a perfect recipe for a quick extraction, the question is will it be the whole vehicle or just the bumper. Rule one for using these things is that you shouldn't ever use one with a shackle or anything else that will become a missle when it breaks. The other rule one is that the other guy should attach it to his truck so if it breaks something, it is clearly his fault, with you watching of course to make sure the real rule one isn't violated.

Mine is still in it's original shrink wrap, should tell ya something.

Axle Strap - You know you're gonna be out with somebody with a jeep liberty or something one day that has nothing to attach to. You could use your tree strap except that it is way more expensive, gonna get greasy and mangled and, oh yeah, around that tree. This will probably be the thing that breaks since it is going to be wrapped around a sharp A-arm or something so be careful.

Rope - It doesn't matter how much chain and wire rope you are carrying, it will be three feet too short. This is an old MEC roll end of 5/8" static rescue rope. If I had to guess, it would have a working load limit of around about a thousand pounds and a tensile strength about ten times that. Anything used for overhead lifting (doubly so lifting people) have huge safety factors.

I think I will be replacing this soon with a couple 50' sections of plasma rope. 7/16" Plasma rope is strong enough to be reasonable to use with all my other rigging (tensile strength of 21,000lbs) and is light, won't spear your hand with broken strands and can be packed much smaller than wire rope. Unfortunately the one thing it isn't is cheap, which is why it is on my to buy list and not just something packed away somewhere.

To use the rope you have to be able to tie some knots in it unless you just get loops spliced into the ends and wrap the extra around something. I recomend as a minimum learning how to tie a figure 8, a rewoven figure 8 , a butterfly knot , a double fisherman, some random hitches, and the bowline (on coil or not). When learning these knots (check out the groovy links to someone with more time on their hands than me) remember what they are for and what the likelyhood you will get them untied is.

Carrying Stuff

Ammo Boxes - I've looked and looked and the reality is that you just can't beat the army surplus ammo box for carrying junk around. They have good handles, are waterproof, very durable and cheap, what more could you ask for?

But you don't want ammo boxes for your stuff, you want to carry everything in tirfor bags. Man I can't even keep a straight face typing this, no seriously buy some, and stroll lights look cool on your tent too.

Where'd ya buy all this crap

The usual suspects for the most part, MEC, Princess Auto, KMS tools, Lee Valley Tools, Summit Tools, and probably a couple other places. Of course my Tirfor Bag came from borderlinetech.

I've never bought anything from these guys; Wesco Industries but they seem to sell an awful lot of the stuff I have talked about and are local (for me).

If you buy something from one of these places, tell 'em that some guy on the intraweb sent you, maybe I'll get a deal.

Actually one supplier has treated me very well indeed, great guys to deal with and you should immediately go buy a roof rack from them (or a shovel like on this page), Hannibal Safari Equipment Canada, this is of course after you go buy a Tirfor Bag.

Row o' Gs