Off Road Tool Kit Must Haves For Your 4×4
Photography by Agustin Jimenez
What are the right tools to pack in your rig? That’s a good question but what exactly do you need and why should you bring it along? Regardless of if you’re going for ride up your favorite trail, hitting the highway for summer vacation or just making your daily commute, it’s always a sound idea to carry a few tools in your 4×4. How elaborate your tool kit is will depend on your vehicle, its overall condition and your ability to be a savvy mechanic that can diagnose and repair what’s wrong. Obviously, if you’ve never even seen a screwdriver or a pair of pliers before, you should invest in a towing membership card, learn some repair skills or always bring a buddy that knows how to spin wrenches.
What to pack specifically will depend on the make and model of your 4×4. You clearly wouldn’t bring all SAE tools for your import 4×4 or all metric tools for your vintage domestic truck, and you might need a mix of both SAE and metric tools for some vehicles, which would not be unusual. Consider what size tools you use most when working on your 4×4 at home and start by including those in your traveling tool kit. Add in the common universal tools like pliers, screwdrivers, a hammer, wire cutters and so on and your tool kit will be well on its way to being complete. It’s also a good idea to save some space in whatever tool box or tool retention device you choose to use. You may need to add new tools as you learn you need them. Here is a breakdown of some common hand tools we might bring on a typical outing or extended road trip.
Portable Air Compressor
Your first trail tool should be an air source of some sort. An air source is needed to refill your tires at the end of the trail. There are many different types to choose from including portable CO2 tanks, hard-mounted electric air compressors and portable electric air compressors. Portable air sources have the advantage of being able to be moved from vehicle to vehicle if need be.
Tire Plug Kit
A flat tire will eventually be inevitable if you wheel enough. How you deal with it will be what separates the ones that have a miserable time in the dirt and the ones that have the best campfire stories hopefully before the sun goes down. A Tire Plug kit like this ARB Tire Repair Kit is ideal to fix everything from minor punctures to gnarly gashes just to get off the trail to a safe spot.
Off Road Trail Jack
Changing a tire is something you should always prepare for. Most of the time you’ll have to do this in the dirt so you’ll want to make sure your rig is equipped with some sort of lifting device like a trail jack or a dedicated floor jack like this Pro Eagle Off Road Jack. It’s built with harsh environments in mind and has proven itself both in the off-road racing world and deserts and trails since its introduction. The heavy duty wheels allow it to easily roll over rough terrain while maintaining a stable base and giving you the ability to lift your rig much easier than a conventional unit thanks to its ability to reach up high and not max out before the tire even gets off the ground which is very important if you’re swapping a tire in a silt bed or washout.
Basic Socket Set and Extensions
Start assembling your trail tool kit with the tools you use on your 4×4 at home most often. You should know if your 4×4 is made up of metric or SAE hardware. Keep in mind that some vehicles have a combination of metric and SAE hardware. The tools are interchangeable to some extent, but the correct size should always be used unless you are in a pinch.
Adjustable Wrenches and Locking Pliers
Include plenty of universal tools in your travel tool kit such as adjustable wrenches, pliers, locking pliers, a hammer and so on. These tools can often make up for the tool sizes and specialty tools that may not make sense to carry around all the time. Adjustable wrenches are ideal for larger bolt sizes because they are much more compact and lightweight than a complete large wrench set.
Screwdrivers, Hammers and Alighnment Pry Bars
An assortment of screwdrivers can be handy for basic repairs like tightening hose clamps. You’ll also want to carry a hefty small sledge and consider carrying a brass hammer or a dead blow hammer for tapping on delicate surfaces. An alignment bar will be a godsend when trying to line up boltholes for the hardware during reassembly of your trail repair.
Specialty and Universal Tools
A test light is a great addition, but a small multi-meter is even better for tracking down electrical issues. Needle nose vice grips and ratcheting wrenches can be very useful when making trail repairs and a tape measure is good to have for setting the toe on a bent steering tie rod or correcting the length of a bent suspension control arm. Specialty tools like hex wrenches, lock ring pliers and hub sockets can be selected for your specific application and added to your tool kit as needed.
Tool Roll Organizer
With all your tools selected, you’ll need a storage system. Tool rolls do a great job keeping tools organized and protected. Each tool fits into its own sleeve on these Atlas 46 Wrench Rolls which means the tools don’t rattle and clang around. The biggest benefit is that when working on something it’s much easier to find the tool you are looking for. The alternative is to incessantly dig around in a bottomless toolbox every time you need something.
Flashlight or Work Lamp
It should go without saying but you should always have a good dependable flashlight that works in your truck, Jeep or 4×4. The worst thing to do is having to call a tow truck because you didn’t have a working flashlight to see what fuse failed on your rig. If you frequently go night-wheeling or head out on long trips in the dirt, you might want to make sure you’ve got a work light as well as it will let you see in your engine bay or under your vehicle at night if you have to make some minor repairs to get back to camp. A headlamp is also a good idea just for walking around camp but make sure you aim it down a bit so you don’t blind your friends.
Handheld Dual Band Radio
Sometimes you might not be able to fix something, or you might need a friend to bring you spare parts you might not have packed and being able to radio up ahead to your friends that you’ve broken down can ensure that you don’t get stranded on your own. If you’re out on your own (Never Wheel Alone) away from cell phone reception, a VHF/UHF Dual Band Radio like this Rugged Radio 5 watt Handheld unit can allow you to hail another wheeler that might be able to come rescue you or assist you and who would have otherwise passed you by without either of you ever seeing each other. It’s a bit of an unlikely scenario but you’d be surprised how often unlikely scenarios pop up when the pavement ends.
Waterproof Tool Box
A padded waterproof tool box is another great way to store your tools, especially in an open top Jeep that sees inclement weather. The sealed box will keep your tools from becoming a rusty soup mess the next time you need them, while the padding in the box reduces loose tool rattling. A tool box like this Pelican 1510 Carry On Case can almost store all the hand tools you need to completely disassemble an entire vehicle. You’ll note the bright lime green color of this toolbox makes it way easier for your pals or other wheelers to spot you from far away should you need some assistance in the middle of nowhere.
How To Load Your Tools and Secure Them In Your Rig
Properly stored tools and gear should fit together tight like a Tetris game. Many different cargo nets, tie downs and tie down points are available to help keep your cooler, tools and other gear from bouncing around in the back of your 4×4 when driving off-road. Any gear that’s left loose can break a window, get lost out the back or wallop you and your passengers in the head so make sure you strap it down or secure it so it won’t come loose.