Overlanders need to prepare for the worst-case scenario. Vehicle extraction gear is a must, but so is readying yourself for the possibility that you might need to walk out of the desert or woods or call for help in places where your iPhone doesn’t work.
On a recent comparison, we found ourselves deep in the Mojave Desert, dozens of miles from the nearest paved road and further still from anything resembling an emergency clinic. We knew we needed to be ready when things went wrong.
“If you put yourself in interesting situations, at some point something will go wrong,” Preparation Concierge founder Jason Harper, who helped us find the gear to keep us safe, says. His site, PreparationConcierge.com, offers advice for regular people, not Rambo survivalists, and curates the best emergency gear for home and vehicles. “Once you get the right emergency gear together and learn to use it, you can stop worrying about it and let those adventures happen.”
Here’s the gear we took with us and why Harper likes it. If you’re planning an overland expedition of your own, consider similar equipment to ready yourself in case your vehicle (or your skill) fails you.
The Off-Road Preparedness List
“Water is by far the most important element to survival,” Harper says, “so in this case we adhere to the rule of threes: You want three different options to keep hydrated.”
Harper’s suggestion for carrying large amounts of water: WaterBrick’s 3.5-gallon containers ($35). These durable containers stack on top of each other and are easily lashed down inside a vehicle.
But you can only carry so much water with you, especially if your vehicle dies and you need to hike out. A filter like the LifeStraw Flex ($35) will filter even mucky stream water clean. You can attach them to water bottles or hydration packs. MotorTrend features editor Scott Evans has taken his to the wilds of Cambodia and Peru just in case bottled or filtered water can’t be found. As a bonus, the LifeStraw cuts down significantly on the waste you produce and need to pack out.
To clean lots of water for base camp, Harper is fond of the Platypus Gravityworks ($110), which allows you to dump up to 8 liters into the reservoir and then just hang the bag.
This should be a no-brainer, but not all first-aid kits are created equal. “Adventure Medical kits are by far the best in the market,” Harper says. “Everything is labeled and laid out smartly, and the products are first rate.”
He recommends the Sportsman 400 ($125), which he says is ideal for an overland trip with several vehicles and lots of people. (Adventure Medical suggests 10 people for up to 14 days.) It also comes with a first-aid field guide in case you’ve forgotten a few things from your Scouting days. It’s gear you never want to use but absolutely want to have before you leave pavement.
A dead battery in the desert can leave you fearing a similar fate for yourself.
“The Zeus ($150) is strong enough to start up even a high-performance V-8,” Harper says. “We’ve successfully tested it on a Ram 2500. It’s also got USB plugs, so it will recharge any of your small devices. It’s the only battery pack you need.”
A worst-case overlanding scenario: Out of cell range, a broken down vehicle, and a broken leg. “The answer is the Spot X ($200),” Harper says. “A two-way satellite messenger, it looks like a small Blackberry and allows texts, emails, and SOS to be sent almost anywhere in the world.”
It’s also good for confirming to your loved ones that you’re OK. Well out of cell range, we were still able to check in with family back home and send them coordinates with a link to Google Maps so they could see our exact location. It can also track your movements in intervals of 2.5 to 60 minutes, but we couldn’t get the phone app to show us our position, much less the route we’d traveled, which was disappointing.
The 10-hour battery life while tracking and the ability to summon Search and Rescue with the push of a button, though, put our minds at ease. Service charges can be paid annually or via a month-to-month flex plan.
Like with water, you’ll want multiple options should the first one fail you.
“If you’re scouting at night,” Harper says, “you need a handheld flashlight similar to the ones that firefighters and the police use.” His recommendation: the “awesome and reliable” Station D from 5.11 ($90).
You’ll also want a headlamp. “None are better than the Black Diamonds,” he says, and suggests the new Storm375 ($50) is the pick.
Finally, find yourself a camp lantern. The solar-powered Lighthouse 400 ($70)is incredibly bright (up to 400 lumens) and can recharge other devices (or the lantern itself) with solar power or a hand crank.
“Every bag (and every person) should have a multitool and quality folding knife,” Harper says. He’s partial to a range of SOG offerings, especially its PowerAccess Deluxe ($70) for its burliness and tough pliers.
Another handy SOG multitool when things go wrong: the deceptively simply Flint ($15). The emergency whistle and glass-breaking punch are obvious, but it also contains a flint and steel kit with a bit of steel wool tinder for fire-starting in the back woods.
If you only need a blade, Terminus folding blade ($60) can be opened and closed with one hand. If you prefer a straight-edged fixed blade but don’t want to look like you’re carrying the Jackhawk 9000, the Field Knife ($30) is simple and effective and features a slot in the sheath for safely cutting through stuck straps or even a seat belt in an emergency.
Whether clearing the trail or just making kindling, the Camp Axe ($45) is all you need to get the job done.
And if you have to dig out or just dig a latrine, the foldable Elite E-Tool shovel with saw attachment ($61) is pretty much bombproof.
“If you do end up hiking out, you want a tough backpack to lug all your gear in a smart, efficient way,” Harper says. “The company 5.11 supplies military and police types, and the Amp 24 or 72 ($190-$250) are the hardiest, best-fitting backpacks we’ve ever used.”
If you’re overlanding in a Jeep sans roof and doors, dust is an inevitability, and rocky trails can give your electronics a beating. And because those electronics might be your emergency lifeline, you need to make sure they’re protected. “Pelican has a small Ruck Case ($45-$65) that holds essentials,” Harper says. “It’s dust- and waterproof and almost impossible to crush.”
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