4x4 gear and gadgets

Have you ever been caught out in a situation where, after months of planning and preparation, you are a day or two out from home on your big trip before you realise you have left that essential piece of equipment back in the shed?

The one piece of gear you can’t go on without yet somehow managed to overlook putting it in the car. Your only choices are to either turn back and get it, taking valuable time out of your trip, or take the gamble of being able to pick one up in the next town if it is something that might be readily available.

Everyone has their own way of packing gear for a four-wheel drive trip and their own ideas on what to take. Walk into any 4X4 accessories store or one of the camping mega-marts and there is so much stuff on offer that you could fill several trailers with gadgets and do-dads, much of which you could probably do without.

Not only are you wasting valuable space by packing them, but you need to keep in mind the GVM of your vehicle when filling it up and whether you really want to be pulling a heavy trailer across sand dunes or through narrow tracks.

So what are the essential pieces of equipment you should always have on board for a 4X4 trip? This will differ from person to person, depending on how they like to travel, how far they are going, and whether they’re solo roamers or a touring family. It also depends on the size of their vehicle, how many people are in it and if they are towing a trailer or camper.

We asked a few of the 4X4 Australia touring experts what gear they don’t leave home without. What equipment always goes into the back or on the roof of their vehicle whenever they leave home to answer the call of the bush. The answers were as varied as the places they have collectively visited, but the key themes were pre-trip preparation, keeping it simple and getting it right before you leave home and realise that something’s missing when it might be too late.

THE KISS PRINCIPLE: Matt Raudonikis
I like to keep things in readiness so I can go bush at the drop of a hat and with little preparation. For this reason I keep all my gear in covered boxes that are cleaned out and re-stocked at the end of each trip and ready-to-go in the garage.

The four things I don’t leave home without for any trip, no matter how long or short, are my swag, ARB fridge, the box of cooking gear and cutlery, and a basic vehicle recovery/winching kit. The first aid kit, fire extinguisher, some vehicle spares, tyre repair kit, tools,

Hema 4WD Road Atlas, 12-volt lights and a few other small items are always at hand in the LandCruiser. The trick is remembering to get them out of my vehicle and into another if I am road testing, and then swapping them back later on.

The plastic storage boxes I use simply slide under the false floor in the back of my Cruiser, and they are easily stacked and strapped down if I need to carry them in a different vehicle.

The cooking gear comprises a two-burner LPG stove and I’ve recently started using the lightweight, recyclable fuel canisters from Coleman as they are easier to carry than a traditional LPG bottle. They carry 465 grams of fuel but can’t be refilled, so you’ll need a few of them, depending on the length of your trip.

I also carry one of those $20 single-burner butane stoves and a couple of spare fuel canisters for back-up, plus the Jet Boil for boiling up a quick cuppa or light meal. A folding hotplate slides in under the boxes on trips when an open fire might be used for cooking, but it doesn’t always make the trip.

A cast-iron frypan is used as a hotplate on either butane or LPG stoves, while a billy and small saucepan are used for vegies and the like. All the cutlery, plates, cups, stubbie coolers, etc, go in the same box and they are cleaned and restocked in the box at the end of each trip to be ready for the next.

Another box carries some basic non-perishable foodstuff like cooking oil, canned and dried food, tea and sugar that, again, are always ready to go. Fresh food and drink are the only items that need to be bought in preparation, but if it’s only a few nights away, these can often be grabbed from the home fridge.

I carry fresh water in one or two 20-litre plastic jerry-can containers, depending on the planned duration of the trip, although I am looking at fitting a water tank to the Cruiser. These plastic containers also slide under the false floor in my vehicle or can be tied down in the back of others. A plastic tub does for washing up and bush baths.

I sleep in a swag most nights as I like the ease of use and comfort it gives, and because I generally travel alone, its size isn’t an issue in the car. But canvas swags aren’t much fun in the wet, so I also carry a small lightweight tent that is big enough to roll the swag out inside if it is raining and compact enough to stow under a seat when not needed.

Toss in a folding camp chair and table, a headtorch, a spade and a slab of beer and the above kit will get me out of town for a single night or a month. An old hand once told me that everything you take bush should have at least two uses. While not always possible, it’s a principle I consider whenever including a new piece of kit.

READY FOR ANYTHING: Allan Whiting Because we’re often testing different gear in the bush we have to be flexible in what we take. Sometimes we’re testing a swag; sometimes a tent; and sometimes a camper trailer but, regardless of the test kit, there are some items we just don’t leave home without.

Safety is our first priority, so the first aid kit is the first item we pack. It’s in a canvas pack with a loop at the top, so we hang it off a door handle where it’s easy to see and grab in a hurry. We’ve hot-rodded our first aid kit by adding several burn pads and more Band-Aids.

Our communications and navigation bag holds a Hema Navigator, Iridium satphone, back-up CB radio, chargers and spare batteries. There’s also a 4X4 motoring atlas, listing vital phone numbers.

Rubber-faced, mesh-backed work gloves are ideal when setting up camp, because they protect hands from splinters and a dust bath that can cause skin cracking. They’re also handy when refuelling, keeping diesel smears off the steering wheel.

Our LED headtorches and wandering LED camp light are vital on any camping trip, regardless of what vehicles we’re checking out.

No matter what charging arrangement is supplied, we always take along our own 60-watt solar panel. It has a controller and a plug, so although the charge delivery isn’t optimum, it’s a lot better than no solar charge at all. We can plug it into a 4X4 or camper-trailer socket.

Another easily transportable item we always take is a power pack. We have three – 30 amp-hour, 56Ah and 75Ah – so we can tailor our reserve power supply to suit the test we’re doing. Even the little guy will run a fridge overnight. A rubber-backed, thick picnic rug is essential. We don’t usually use it as such, but it’s very handy for under-mattress insulation, particularly if we’re sleeping in a tent. We forgot to take it on one trip and froze.

A back-up, el cheapo stove goes with us everywhere. It’s the best 20-buck investment we’ve ever made and saves setting up the proper stove if all we want is a cuppa in the middle of the day.

We have all our picnic kit – cups, plates, cutlery, can opener, matches, emergency food, water filter – in a carry bag, so no matter what gear we’re testing, we’re never caught short.

Our music travels easily these days: in our smart phones!

MY KITCHEN RULES! Glenn Torrens I decided to stop raiding my kitchen drawers every time I wanted to go bush and assemble a proper kit for bush cooking. A fold-up table and modest gas barbecue were obvious and easy, but it was a fair-dinkum kitchen-in-a-box that was my main ambition. My kit was to do double-duty: as well as my own bush getaways, it was to feed a bunch of blokes driving or assisting with magazine vehicle tests.

With the complexities of magazine production and the logistics of collecting 4X4 vehicles, there isn’t always the opportunity to take a vehicle home and carefully pack it for a bush or outback trip. My equipment needed to be grab-n-go and be able to be packed into a 4X4 vehicle – or caravan or camper trailer – at a moment’s notice.

After looking at various homemaker shops I decided a simple lidded storage crate would be ideal. My kit didn’t need to be dropped from a helicopter so I didn’t need an ammo box; I bought a $20 Aussie Crate from K-Mart with the idea that I would upgrade later if required.

In it, I packed a propane single-burner gas stove (with grill/hotplate), a billy/teapot, two washing tubs; plates, bowls, utensils and cups for four people, roll of paper towel, tongs and spoon, a large general-purpose kitchen knife, egg rings, tea towels, two cutting boards and a potato peeler. There are also four stubbie holders, rolls of foil and Gladwrap, salt and pepper, sugar, tea, coffee, cooking oil, washing liquid and a scouring pad. Oh, and three general-purpose plastic bowls.

By stacking the plates, bowls and cups – and the utensils themselves stored in a plastic Klip-Lok container – in the wash tubs, I can lift everything out quickly and easily and be making sandwiches in seconds. The sugar sticks and tea bags live in take-away food containers to easily plonk on a rock, table or tailgate. The plates and bowls are stainless steel, far less likely than plastic to split or melt. Ditto for the four old-school enamel mugs that are large enough for Cup-a-Soups.

From memory, the total cost was around $300, but it’s been a great investment and I reckon I’ll have this equipment for life. I became very grateful for it only weeks after I’d assembled it, when over-nighting in a Troopie tied to a tree on a steep clay slope in Victoria in pissing rain surrounded by bogged and broken vehicles. I was able to cook my one and only meal of the day while others had to walk several kays to camp in the dark.

A second crate carries a folding hotplate, jaffle iron, saucepan, frypan and a plastic kitchen dish rack and is used as a tucker box for boxed and tinned food. After each trip, the tools get a lap of the dishwasher and the sugar, coffee and tea are restocked before the crates are stored in the garage, ready for the next adventure.

THE BUSH MECHANIC: Brad Newham When I head away by myself I generally pack pretty light, only the essentials like swag, chair, clothes, cutlery, etc. There is always a fridge, recovery gear, air compressor and tyre repair equipment, tools and spare parts. On the longer, more remote trips I take welding gear, steel, trolley jack and stands along with a much more comprehensive tool kit and spare parts.

When Sue and I go bush in the Troopie, most of the gear that we use is already packed away in its own place inside cupboards or under the rear seats. One important inclusion in the Troopie is the portable toilet, which Sue insists on taking. (I could fit another slab in without it!) Again, it depends on how many vehicles and how remote our destination is, as to what spares and tools I take along.

One thing that constantly amuses me is the amount of space that some travellers waste on items that are just for fun. When I was out in the Simpson Desert, I quite often came across a group of tourists camped in the middle of nowhere with trestle tables complete with white tablecloths, candles in elaborate holders, fancy plates, cutlery, an assortment of the correct wine glasses, wines and condiments.

For one meal! They would often also have golf clubs, volleyball nets, etc, just for one hour of fun. I can’t help but think of the extra space and weight that this takes up, giving the suspension a workout as well.

For these reasons, I try to travel as light as possible. I figure that you can always hire some clubs at a golf course if you are addicted to the little white balls!

THE RIGHT PLACE: Mick Matheson Until the other day, when I removed them, I’d become so used to having my drawers in the Navara that I wouldn’t have thought to include them in this yarn. Strewth, I miss them! The cargo system is at the top of my list of things I won’t leave home without.

Except that now I do leave home without them, because I regularly carry more than one passenger these days, and I’m kinda lost without them. Luckily, it only takes an hour to ditch the back seats and re-install the drawers, so for trips it’s all okay. The drawers make life easy because they create homes for all the other essential items – most of which form the next part of my list.

The middle drawers, accessible from the driver’s seat, hold a pair of GME’s little TX650 hand-held radios, pocket-sized UHFs that get used regularly for anything from keeping tabs on each other when wandering off in the bush (over short ranges, anyway) to guiding a driver from outside the vehicle when we’re in a tricky situation.

There’s a pen and notebook specifically for the Navara, full of notes about everything – really handy when it comes to remembering when tyres were last rotated, jogging memory about things that’ll need attention after a trip, and so on. The maps go in there, a lighter, multi-tool, tyre gauge, headtorch, and 12-volt chargers for the myriad devices we travel with.

I’ve never used the small fire extinguisher mounted to the outer framework of the drawers, just behind my left shoulder where it’s highly visible and easy to reach. But I’ve seen the results of vehicle fires and won’t go without one, particularly knowing I’ve had electrical mods done to the Nissan – dual batteries, winch, etc.

The 12-volt LED light and pole – the good 4X4 Equip set-up with its mount bolted to the rear bumper – lives in there, too, beside the hose and fittings for the under-bonnet ARB compressor. A rope, tyre-plugging kit and good first aid kit complete the internal essentials.

A shovel, bow saw and machete have their special spot, strapped into the back of the ute.

Apart from that, I’ll almost always carry the recovery kit if I’m going anywhere even slightly adventurous, plus the compact toolkit I’ve put together that doesn’t have anything I don’t need. The toolkit includes metal-bonding adhesive like Q-Bond, too, which has been a saviour several times.

The rest – food, water, camping gear, clothes and so on – is all dictated by the type of trip.

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