KEEPING THE LONE OFF-ROADER MOVING
THESE ESSENTIAL TRAIL TOOLS WILL KEEP YOU ROLLING.
These essential trail tools will keep you rolling.
Off-road driving is all about trust—trust in your vehicle, trust in your skills and trust in your partner and other drivers in your group. A wise off-road driver would not venture out to test his skill by himself.
Even so, accidents do occur, and it is good practice to have a minimum of two vehicles in the group, each equipped with recovery equipment, CB radios, repair equipment and spotters. On a good day, all these elements come together for the enjoyment of the driving party. But, on those off days—when there is only one car involved—critical links are missing, and trouble presents itself.
What provisions should be carried to improve chances of vehicle recovery when only a single vehicle is involved in an emergency situation?
I wanted to find out too, so, after procuring some equipment samples, I contacted my good friend and associate, Dwayne Unger (whose off-road skill and experience I trust), for a weekend of testing at Pennsylvania’s Rausch Creek Off-road Park.
PULL-PAL WINCH ANCHOR
The Pull-pal Winch Anchor creates a solid anchor point for use with a winch. Because my Toyota Tacoma is not equipped with a winch, Dwayne set up the land anchor using his Jeep.
Assembling the Pull-pal is easy. It comes from the factory in two basic components. A large spade digs into the earth and attaches to the leveraging bar (this bar folds when not in use). Using a single D shackle, the line connects easily to the attachment point of the Pull-pal.
We approached a hill with a very noticeable incline. I retrieved the Pull-pal anchor while Dwayne unspooled the synthetic winch line.
Dwayne sat behind the steering wheel with the winch remote, and I helped guide the Pull-pal into place as the line took up. Even in the mixed soil, which was mostly rock, the spade dug deeply. Under tension, the leverage bar pushes hard against the ground, and the spade grips the soil around it.
Assuming there is no other vehicle to utilize a recovery strap, and assuming there are no trees or anchoring points (think open field, mud pit or beach), the Pull-pal is essential for self-rescue. In a traditional multi-vehicle scenario, it can be used to set up a back anchor for a vehicle on slick terrain—where winching otherwise causes the rescue vehicle to lose purchase and pull toward the vehicle being rescued. Without a Pull-pal, the occupants of the lone vehicle would have to bury the spare tire as a
THE THREE SYSTEMS DWAYNE AND I TESTED … PERFORMED TO A STANDARD THAT MET OR EXCEEDED OUR EXPECTATIONS.
deadman anchor or use multiple stakes in a 1-2-3 anchor configuration. The Pull-pal makes life easier, indeed.
The Bushranger X-jack is a great piece of gear to carry—whether in a lone vehicle or not. Utilizing an inflation source such as an air compressor, foot pump or, as designed, the vehicle’s exhaust, the
X-jack inflates a bag under the vehicle that lifts it high enough to unstick it from deep mud. Given the wide footprint of the airbag, it will not sink into soft soil like a traditional jack might.
The X-jack comes with a protective mat that shields the bag with an extra layer of protection. The bottom of the X-jack features traction spikes to hold it in place. Once it is positioned, all that is required to inflate the X-jack is a driver behind the wheel pressing the gas pedal down.
We positioned the Jeep on a sandy area near Lake Christy at Rausch Creek. Dwayne did his part to surround the tires with sand, and I placed the X-jack under the vehicle in a location where no sharp, protruding points could puncture it.
When Dwayne and I tested the X-jack the first time, we were both very cautious. The warning label clearly states to avoid inflating beyond 10 psi; and, before we attached a pressure gauge (you can’t be too cautious) to the standard valve, we did not over-inflate the X-jack for fear it would explode. Once we set up the gauge, we realized how low the psi was at the point we were previously (only around
2 or 3 psi), and we decided to trust the equipment a little more.
As we ran the engine in the “park” position, the bag inflated. Slowly—due, in part, to the generous 3-inch lift and longarm kit that provides a lot of suspension travel—the Jeep began to rise.
Dwayne noted, “Most vehicles would have lifted much faster, but the X-jack was up for the task of getting me off the ground enough to change a tire, if needed.”
Somewhere around 8 psi, the Jeep was noticeably clear from the dirt. In addition, at that point, the holes worn into the soil
THE PULL-PAL … CREATES A SOLID ANCHOR POINT FOR USE WITH A WINCH.
could have been filled in with rocks, sand or any other filler before the Jeep would be lowered onto it.
Lowering was just as easy as elevating. All that is required is to disconnect the exhaust hose between the main connection and extension in order to prevent disconnecting the X-jack at the airbag— where the vehicle could come down on top of the user.
The X-jack is much lighter than a traditional Hi-lift Jack and requires less physical exertion. It is perfect for travel where digging out could be a likely scenario. If two vehicles are traveling together and one vehicle is stuck in a location where a Hi-lift would be difficult to use—and where the exhaust is buried or under water—the running vehicle can fill the airbag.
UTILIZING AN INFLATION SOURCE … THE X-JACK INFLATES A BAG UNDER THE VEHICLE THAT LIFTS IT HIGH ENOUGH TO UNSTICK IT FROM DEEP MUD.
MAXTRAX RECOVERY BOARDS
The recovery equipment from MAXTRAX really stood out during this field test. To truly appreciate the strength of the MAXTRAX, keep in mind that Dwayne’s Jeep Rubicon has a total weight of approximately 5,600 pounds prior to adding the weight of accessories and a driver. That’s almost 3 tons!
As Dwayne drove the Rubicon over the MAXTRAX, they deflected less than anyone expected.
Dwayne and I were already aware of how these perform when a vehicle is buried in sand, mud or snow to get the required traction to get out. We were curious about their overall strength when it came to bridging a small gap—in which you would likely bottom out your vehicle without them.
We found a gap about 3 feet across and double-stacked the MAXTRAX. Upon inspection afterward, there were no cracks, chips or stress marks. We decided to one-up ourselves and try them in a single stack with both tires rolling over them. There was more deflection, but the MAXTRAX held firm—thanks to the spiked design on the bottom—and allowed for clearance of the gap.
For extra security, the MAXTRAX are designed to accept ground spikes to help hold them in place or link them together to attach multiple MAXTRAX boards together in a row. They can also be placed in front of a fallen log or rock if you need additional help getting the tires up and over the obstacle.
We used a little outside-of-the-box thinking when we used the MAXTRAX boards earlier in the day as makeshift shovels when working with the Bushranger X-jack.
Don’t worry about losing these in deep mud or sand; there is an attached webbing leash for easy location and recovery should the boards be completely submerged. The engineers got the design of the ramps right, and the attention to detail is obvious. These boards are musthaves for anyone spending time off-road or even for the casual outdoorsman who might find himself stuck on the soft shoulder of the road.
Anyone who spends any time off the beaten path greatly increases their odds of having to perform a self-rescue of their vehicle. Being prepared with both the proper equipment and the proper
knowledge of how each of these systems works is critical to ensure that your trip remains enjoyable, even if hardship comes your way.
The three systems Dwayne and I tested are just a few of those available on the market. They all performed to a standard that met or exceeded our expectations. They can be used in conjunction with each other—such as lifting a vehicle out of a buried wheel scenario with the X-jack and placing the MAXTRAX boards underneath the tire before deflating the airbag.
By adding this gear to our off-road kit, Dwayne and I are much more confident that our vehicles are better prepared for what lies ahead. In addition to these systems, a good first aid kit, fire-suppression device, quick shelter, food and water are also recommended for your load-out—in case something major happens and you are forced to spend the night outdoors before rescue can come.
As previously stated, off-roading is all about trust. These items can be relied on to perform when failure is a threat and not an option.
THE ENGINEERS GOT THE DESIGN OF THE RAMPS RIGHT, AND THE ATTENTION TO DETAIL IS OBVIOUS. THESE BOARDS ARE MUST-HAVES FOR ANYONE SPENDING TIME OFF-ROAD …
Ultimately, when speaking of trust, the most important form comes down to the driver and passenger working together to safely bring their vehicle through difficult terrain. This can’t be purchased, but it can be developed at places such as Rausch Creek Off-road Park.
Invest in quality products and plenty of time behind the wheel and, as your skills improve, you’ll decrease the chances of needing recovery equipment while increasing the amount of enjoyment you have.
Be safe—and happy wheeling!
Whenever possible, make sure to have a minimum of two well-equipped vehicles for any off-road trip.
Right: Moving the Pull-pal into position uphill from the location of the vehicles
Above: This is the assembled Pull-pal land anchor recovery system.
Right: Dwayne’s Jeep, weighing close to 3 tons (as tested), put a serious strain on the Pull-pal, but the anchor held its ground, as designed.
Below: A single shackle is all that is needed to attach a winch cable to the Pull-pal.
Below: Fully inflated, the Bushranger X-jack provided enough lift to raise Dwayne’s Jeep out of the “stuck” scenario. Vehicles with less ground clearance can be raised even h i g h e r.
Middle: Note that the exhaust tube is positioned where no kinks can form in the line.
Top: A tough, protective mat is provided with the Bushranger X-jack in case the airbag comes into contact with any sharp surfaces.
Below: MAXTRAX recovery boards can also be used as a bridging device. Despite heavy loading, the boards did not show signs of damage and bounced back into their original shape.
Left: MAXTRAX recovery boards can be used as a traction device in snow, sand, mud or muck.
Right: This is not the place you want your vehicle to get stuck. (That said, is there such a thing as a good place to get stuck?)
Above: A traditional Hi-lift Jack can be carried, because it can be used as a come-along jack and spreader device.