Off-Road Checklist - 12 (or so) Must Haves Before Leaving the Pavement


If you are getting ready to hit the trail for your first time, 100th time or anywhere in between here is a list of items to be sure that you have with you. This should all fit nicely in a small Rubbermaid Action Packer or other weather tight carrying case.

  1. Flashlights – Even if you intend to be back before dusk, always have at least one good working flashlight in your rig. Many adventures don’t end according to schedule, and finding your way back to the trailhead or looking for that dropped nut or bolt is no fun in the dark. Throw in a disposable lighter or waterproof matches in case you need to start a fire.

  2. Map & Compass – GPS and other electronic systems are great, until the batteries die or you lose coverage deep in the woods. Always have a printed hard copy of the area you will be in and a compass – and know how to use them.  Also make sure someone back home knows where you are going and when you plan to return.

  3. Radio – CBs or handheld 2-ways work great. Never go out alone and always maintain radio contact with the other vehicle(s).  Again cell phones are great, but their battery life and coverage can be very limited in remote areas. TIP: Got an older cellphone from before there were apps and when batteries lasted a week or more? Charge it up and throw it in your glovebox. Many US phones still allow an SOS call to 911 without a SIM card – or get a $5 SIM converter and move the modern SIM to your old phone if you get in a pinch.

  4. Gloves & Safety Glasses – Leather or mechanic-style gloves work best and can help avoid injury while clearing the trail or recovery stuck vehicles. Always wear glasses when winching or wrenching. And don’t go wheeling in flip-flops. You may be forced to hike back out to the trailhead, so make sure that you have good, comfortable hiking boots.

  5. Recovery & Tree Straps – Always carry a recovery strap. Different than a standard tow strap, a kinetic recovery strap or rope will stretch and then recoil to help get you unstuck. And remember you’ll need a tree strap if you plan on winching.  TIP: Throw in a roll of paracord – again it can be used for many different applications and won’t take up much space.

  6. First Aid Kit – Look to a future post on what specifically to include, but make sure that your First Aid Kit includes sunscreen, bug spray, and an assortment of bandages and remedies for bites, stings, burns, cuts and scrapes. Also an emergency blanket has about 100 different uses, so throw one in your kit before heading out. Don’t forget to pack some toilet paper or baby wipes too.

  7. Vehicle-Specific Tool Kit – Always carry at least a basic kit that includes not just general tools (wrenches, drivers, pliers, etc.) but also those that are specific for your rig. You will want to be prepared to perform common repairs on the trail.  Be sure you have the required tools to remove the cooling fan, spark plugs, wheels and hubs, oil/transmission/differential drain plugs, brake calipers/lines/hoses, belts, water pump and alternator.

  8. Shovel, Knife & Saw – Even though you intend to stay on the trail, things don’t always go as planned. It is good to have a tree saw, ax and/or shovel with you, as well as a pocket knife. And remember to stay out of the way of those clearing the trail to avoid any potential injury.

  9. Spray Lubricant – This can be used for many different things, so have some WD-40 or other similar product with you to free up winch hooks, shackles or rusty nuts and bolts. Visit for a list of 2000+ uses for spray lube.

  10. Tarp or Mat – Unexpected repairs can be even more frustrating when Mother Nature strikes.  Carry a small foam mat to lie on while working under your vehicle and a tarp to keep you covered and out of the sun or rain.

  11. Winch & Bumper – If you are planning on doing any off-roading, then invest in a good winch bumper and winch.   And make sure it works before each trip. Spend your time wheeling, not digging out or holding up those behind you.

  12. Spares – This includes, at a minimum, a spare key for the vehicle, a spare tire, spare batteries for any radios and, of course, some spare food and water and snacks in case you end up getting stranded for a while.

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