The Best Gifts for Novice Off-Roaders
Make sure your friends and family don't leave home without these essentials.
Off-roading, overlanding, and camping have seen a resurgence at a level we haven’t seen since National Lampoon’s Vacation aired. Even Lamborghinis want to get in on the off-roading act. People just want to get out of town and explore, breathe fresh air, tackle unpaved roads, and sleep under the stars. If this includes you, you're going to want to make sure you have the right gear before you set off into the wilds of the closest dirt road or challenging rock-crawling routes. The last thing you want is to get off the grid and find that you can’t get back on the grid because you’re stuck or ill-prepared.
Based on my own off-roading experiences as well as some of the expertise of my colleagues, I came up with a list to help you equip your own rig or for someone you love. This will get you started, and you'll want to add some of your own as you notch a few trips yourself. Ready for some ideas? Start here.
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Tow Straps Keep You on the Road
My top pick is a tow recovery strap from Gear America for a number of reasons. Right out of the gate, it includes includes a storage bag and a lifetime warranty, which is hard to beat. Plus, a portion of the proceeds are donated to St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital with every purchase, and I like that a lot.
These tow straps are rated for a 10,000-pound working load limit. For scale, a 2022 Toyota Tundra maxes out at about 6,200 pounds, so you could easily recover the truck and everything inside, even if you’re carrying four sumo wrestlers. The strap is three inches thick and 20 feet long and is plenty strong. Gear America's tow strap won't break the bank at all, and it has double-reinforced looped ends in a vibrant orange, which makes it easy to find in your gear bag.
Shackles Connect Your Tow Strap
You know if you have tow straps, you’re going to need shackles, too. One way to go is to pick up a set of soft shackles like the ones I prefer from Bubba Rope. The Gator-Jaw Pro Synthetic Soft Shackles are designed with a self-tightening loop, which makes them easy to use, and they’re available at breaking strength between 11,000 pounds and a jaw-dropping 125,000 pounds. Need to recover a Transformer? You’re all set.
The other way to go is to buy a kit that includes a D-ring shackle and tow strap, and Rhino USA offers a smart option. The strap is rated to handle up to 41,850 pounds before it breaks, which is much more than most people need (but it’s good to know). Rhino USA offers a 100% guarantee, so if you don’t like it for any reason the company will refund your money.
Gloves Protect Your Hands
When you need to handle said tow strap, recovery strap, hi-lift jack, or shackles, you're going to want to be wearing gloves. Trust me; I smashed my thumb in the door when my team was competing in the Land Rover Trek Tour, and you do not want to do that if you can avoid it, and gloves help. My pick to pack in your gear bag are Carhartt's Flex Tough II High Dexterity gloves. They're made with textured, breathable spandex with synthetic palm and foam padding and they have Neoprene-reinforced knuckles.
Headlamps Light the Way
Odds are, you’re going to find yourself stumbling around at night when you’re out camping, if only to find the bathrooms in the dark. Having a headlamp is a must to avoid tripping over a tent line or errant log, as well as to illuminate the way when you need to make a repair after the sun sets (or before it rises).
Our reviews team checked out a bunch of headlamps and found the Foxelli LED rechargeable headlamp to have the best value. This headlamp is USB rechargeable in four hours for 40 hours of consistent light, and it offers a 180-lumen beam for 300 feet ahead of you. Choose between red and white lights depending on where you are and what kind of light you need (or split into teams and play capture the flag). And if you drop it in the water while you’re out canoeing or splashing through puddles, it’s not going to die on you because it’s waterproof.
Light Bars Blast through the Dark
Speaking of illumination, there's nothing like a good light bar to drastically increase visibility all around you. When you need to navigate off-road outside of daylight hours, having a light bar can make a huge difference in how far and how fast you can travel, and it's a must for any off-roading rig.
I'm a big fan of Rigid Industries' light products, and the company's E-Series Pro 20" Spot/Flood Combo LED Light Bar is stellar. You can use it in a variety of ways, and it comes with several beam options: Spot, Flood, Driving, Hyperspot, Diffused, Driving/Spot combo, Spot/Flood combo, Spot/Hyperspot combo, and Midnight Edition. And let's go ahead and put it out there: this is not the cheapest light bar out there by far. But it's as bright as an alien spaceship beam and it's probably going to last long past the apocalypse. If it doesn't, Rigid will probably still honor its warranty. If you're looking for something a bit less expensive, Rigid's Midnight Edition SR Series LED Light is a great light bar for about a third of the price.
Tire Plug Kits Are Much Easier than Changing a Tire
You can hope and wish all you want, but when you're off-roading frequently, you're probably going to experience tire troubles. With any luck, it's just a flesh wound and not a complete bust and you can repair it on the fly. In order to do that, you're going to need a good tire plug kit and the one I recommend is the Slime 50122 Flat Tire Puncture Emergency Kit. It comes with an analog inflator, 450 mL of sealant, accessories for inflatables (like a soccer ball, football, basketball, etc), instructions, and a storage bag.
Here's the best part, all you have to do is push the button and it takes ten minutes to repair and fully inflate your tire. There's no need to remove the wheel or the valve core, which is very handy if you're in a place (like a sandy beach or rocky trail) where a jack isn't going to work very well. It plugs right into your 12V charging socket and has a tire pressure monitoring display and a pressure release valve.
Survival Kit: Just In Case
Nobody plans to get stuck, but if you do, you’re going to want to have everything in the Kosin Emergency Survival Gear Kit. It includes 18 tools, including a compass, saw, firestarter, flashlight, heavy-duty tactical pen, emergency blanket, folding military knife, a whistle, and more. The packaging is waterproof, which could be important if you’re stuck out in the rain.
Each item is pretty spiffy in that it has multiple functions. For example, the bracelet holds a miniature compass, the clasp is a firestarter, and a scraper is hidden inside. The knife is also a bottle opener (in case you have a thirst emergency), a glass breaker, and a seat belt cutter. This is not a first aid kit, but if you required a way to cut up a shirt for a bandage, this is what you'd need.
There are two kinds of jacks: the bottle type and the high-lift type. I’d argue that both of them are essential for a truly prepared off-roading rig, and I can recommend one of each. The Powerbuilt Alltrade 640912 All-In-One 3-Ton Bottle Jack with Jack Stand is competitively priced, and it lifts and holds, combining a bottle jack with a jack stand. It can support vehicles up to three tons (6,000 pounds) with a lift range of 11 inches to 21 inches, and it’s rated for both unibody and body-on-frame trucks and SUVs. Its wide base gives you more area for soft surfaces, and the safety bar keeps it from lowering once it’s raised.
For even more capability, you can’t beat a 48-inch Hi-Lift jack. It's made for winching, lifting, hoisting and clamping, and the range is much higher than a bottle jack; this one can lift at least a foot higher than the max height of the Powerbuilt Alltrade example I mentioned above. Note that a high lift jack requires some training and practice – if you don’t know how to do it properly, you can get smacked right in the face with the handle, and that’s not going to feel good at all.
Get Unstuck with Recovery Boards
When you’re off-roading in the sand, snow, or mud, you need recovery tracks. Sure, you can choose from several different brands, but my favorites are Maxtrax, hands down. The Maxtrax MKII act as traction boards or shovels to dig you out of sticky situations; the rugged teeth dig into your tire treads and don’t let go until you want them to. They’re simple to mount on your vehicle and easy to use: place, set, and drive.
And while they come in 12 different colors, the orange reminds me of all of the kickass women I saw competing in the Rebelle Rally this year, and I’ll always associate that color with capable strength. This set is backed by a lifetime warranty from the factory in Australia. G'Day, mate.
Winches Give You Pulling Power
At the top of my list is the Rugged Ridge Trekker Winch, which features a heavy duty 6.6 horsepower series-wound motor and three-stage planetary gearbox. Pickup truck drivers will especially appreciate the 12,500-pound pull capacity and durability of the Rugged Ridge winch. You can choose between traditional steel cable with a wired remote or synthetic line with a handy wireless remote, and it’s guaranteed with a five-year warranty.
If you’re off-roading in an SUV, you might choose the Warn VR EVO 8 winch instead. This winch has an 8,000-pound pull line rating, which is plenty for just about any SUV out there (unless it’s armored). Either way you go, you’re going to need to make sure you’ve got the right mounting plate and installation expert to make sure it’s on your vehicle properly. It’s worth the extra effort.
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