One constant in four-wheeling is the need to pack properly. Because we’re off on our own – away from the conveniences of city life – we have to be self-sufficient. Not only do we prepare for the expected (camping, cookouts, and such), we must try to prepare for the unexpected.
So we pack axles, U-joints, starter motors, and other parts just in case.
All that in addition to a full complement of automotive and camping gear.
Over the years I’ve realized the need for many other incidentals. Some seem obvious; others not so. But all serve a very good purpose. Considering adding many (or all) of the following to your preparation checklists.
1. Emergency cash. Even deep into the Digital Age, there are times when cash is the only currency. Many people these days don’t even carry enough cash for a cup of coffee. You might need it to cover a tow or an after-hours repair at the mechanic’s house. I’ve heard of truck and trailer rentals that were done on a cash basis. Nothing talks louder than a couple of 100 dollar bills to induce a tow truck driver to pull you out of a remote stuck! I suggest big cash somewhere between $500 and $1,000. Hide it in your vehicle or split it with a buddy. Make sure your buddy has lots of cash too. So you can borrow it. As my dad always said – “if you can buy your way out you don’t have a problem”.
2. Washbasin and trash bag to catch fluids. Never drain your oil, coolant or other fluids directly onto the ground for a field repair. That’s true anywhere, but never more so than while on the trails and at campsites. You can really mess up the environment. The basin need not be large – 12” x 12” x 4” is sufficient. And it can be used for washing dishes, storing equipment, and other tasks. If gear oil is involved, double bag ( even triple bag) the trash bag. The smell of gear oil never comes out of the washbasin or your car’s carpet if it leaks. You can get a really nice collapsible version at the Container Store. Once extended you might not realize it is a collapsible basin.
3. On the subject of money, stash $5- $10 dollars’ worth of quarters somewhere in the vehicle or your gear. The car wash, laundromat, and shower facilities at campgrounds often require quarters. The same is true for water dispensers at convenience stores. Don’t assume the machines will accept dollar bills or there will be a working bill changer. I once had the longest solar-heated warm shower you can imagine for seventy-five cents. Of course, I had my stack of quarters ready in case it quit before all the soap was rinsed off. If you pre-run a trip that requires clean drinking water mid-trip from the machine at the convenience store, test that your water container will fit in the space both widths and height.
4. And since we brought up the subject of requiring a tow, buy long-distance (200-mile) towing insurance from AAA. You’re usually allowed one long tow per year, but that will be enough to save your hoard of big cash. Typically it is $10 per mile. The plans may also offer several 100-mile tows. If you’re ever in need of a long, professional tow, you’ll be glad you bought the coverage. AAA’s Plus plan is $90 per year and provides four 100-mile tows. The Premier Plan, at $120 per year, gives you three 100-mile tows and one 200-mile tow annually. You could save $2000 if you have to use it. If you are just beyond the 200-mile or 100-mile limit, do what you can to get inside the limit and save cash or save the 200-mile tow for next time. Check with your auto insurance carrier or go online for more options.
5. Chamois cloth and squeegee. These are great for cleaning the windows. One example the Rubicon trail in the summer is very dry and dusty. The Rubicon dust ( no matter how much you like the smell – ahhh I am on the Rubicon!) really coats the windows. The interplay of light and dark light through the trees makes it very hard to see the trail with dirty windows. Start fresh each morning with a clean windshield. To help conserve drinking water, consider using your old dishwater (use the washbasin above) to rinse off the windows. It really works, and you don’t get soapy streaks as you’d expect. [Ed – we could make a fortune if we could bottle and sell the Rubicon Dust Smell!]
6. Pack a spare key for your vehicle. You may need to be airlifted out, at which point a buddy can drive your vehicle out. Lend a key to a guest so he can access your vehicle for supplies or gear. If you lock yourself out, your buddy can open the door for you (for a beer, of course). Finally, if you need to get towed out, you can leave the spare in the ignition. That allows you to keep the main set of keys on you.
7. Speaking of helicopters, sign up for helicopter insurance. In Northern California (think Rubicon Trail) it is provided by CALSTAR. However, they are providers in the AirMedCare Network, America’s largest air medical membership program. The AirMedCare Network is an alliance among REACH Medical Holdings (REACH Air Medical Services, Cal-Ore Life Flight, CALSTAR Air Medical Services, Sierra Lifeflight, Woman’s AirCare and CareConnect), Med-Trans Corporation, Air Evac Lifeteam, and EagleMed. One of those companies should be available in your area. Membership costs just $85 a year for an entire household–or $65 a year for a senior household–and covers out-of-pocket expenses for a medically-necessary flight by any AirMedCare Network providers. This could make an excellent Christmas gift for your 4-Wheeling friends. https://calstar.org/membership or (800) 793-0010
8. Keep a few pieces of silverware in the glove compartment & a small salt and pepper shaker too. It can save you from digging out your camp box for lunch. Or you might get invited to share a pineapple upside-down cake by neighboring campers provided you bring a fork. Perhaps you do not have your camping gear in the rig, but you pick up a ready to eat hot chicken and an all in one salad bag at the supermarket. Along with a beer from the cooler and the utensils/condiments from the glove box supper is served. Now to be really prepared, slip a metal shot glass into the glove box.
9. Always pack an extra shirt. Even when going out only for the day. You never know when you will spill a cup of coffee (or much worse) on yourself. Put it in a zip lock bag if no other alternatives. Stores like Walmart and Target sell 2 gallon and 2.5-gallon zip lock bags. They make clean storage possible for a much larger range of items. For example, the toilet seat on one of those cheap aluminum X frames (about $12?) will just fit in the larger bag. That keeps the seat from rubbing on the aluminum and looking soiled when in fact it is not. Motor Vehicle Users Maps (MVUM) from the Forest Service fit in the big bags. Use one for each Forest.
10. Pack a can of dog food as part of your survival rations. Why dog food? No one will eat it before its time. If someone has suggestions on brands to stock, I’m all ears – saves me a lot of taste testing.
11. Download PDFs of important manuals on an electronic device you take with you. Down load Instructions manual for cameras, first aid, camping equipment, GPS, Phone, Radios (FM, Ham, CB), solar panel, vehicle repair, water filter, winch operation, etc. Back it up with the key paper manuals in case your device breaks or loses power. Specs and drawings are just a few taps away. If by chance you have the repair PDF for every Jeep made from the CJ to the JL, think how useful that would be to troubleshot a buddy’s vehicle.
12. Make copies of important documents. These can include your driver’s license, passport, ham radio license, national park pass, and recreational licenses. All these papers can be stored in a medium-sized envelope in the glovebox (maybe a duplicate copy at home?)
Some of these items may be familiar to you. Others, like the spare cash, may feel awkward. Once you encounter a situation calling for one of the extra handy items, you see why I included them here.