KEEP­ING THE LONE OFF-ROADER MOV­ING

THESE ES­SEN­TIAL TRAIL TOOLS WILL KEEP YOU ROLLING.

American Survival Guide - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - By Kevin Estela with Dwayne Unger

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.

BUSHRANGER X-JACK

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.

FINAL THOUGHTS

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.

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