When you need to air down (see “air down” below) your tires you also need a way to iar them up again once you are back on solid ground. For this reason, an onboard air compressor is mandatory when traveling offroad with your 4×4. Relying on other cars’ in the group compressors is not a good idea since a portable compressor is not so fast in inflating a big offroad tire (it could take several minutes for each tire) and they usually became quite hot in the process: nobody will be happy to borrow it to you! Also, you need to wait for somebody else to finish with his tires, slowing down the entire group. In other words, you need your own air compressor. Buy a good quality one, specifically designed for offroad use. General store small portable air compressors designed for standard cars are not powerful enough and will probably meltdown before completing the task.
Things to keep in mind:
1. you need long and high-quality cables to connect your compressors directly to the 4×4 battery. Remember to keep your engine running while inflating!
2. You need a good quality tire inflation gun to attach to the compressor. Pay attention to the type of connector needed and don’t save on the gun!
When you put your tires on the sand the first thing to do is to deflate them! Even better: deflate them BEFORE hitting the sand! A 4×4 with tires inflated to road pressure has very little chance of not getting bogged in soft sand, no matter your driving skills, tire type or size, horsepower and so on. The right pressure really depends on a lot of different factors but it could usually be between 15 Psi and 25 Psi (1 to 1.7 bars). Lower pressures are possible but you are increasing the risk of having one of your tires get off the rim: you must drive very slowly, avoiding quick turns. Also, the risk of sidewall punctures is greatly increased with deflated tires so inflate them back to normal pressure as soon as you leave the sandy area!
You must spend money on this or your devices will fall down from your windshield because cheap suction caps can’t stand the strength and frequency of bumps you are going to undergo during an offroad trip. Go for well-established professional brands, as ram mounts.
The lighter the better! And when you can’t go light, at least go LOW! heavy loads must be placed as low in the vehicle as possible. Forget Camel Trophy childhood memories: ideally, the roof of your car should be empty. If you need to load it because you have not other option consider placing light gear only. The roof is NOT the right place to load additional fuel, spare tires, water tanks, and so on. Most of the overlanding vehicles you see around are heavily loaded on the roof for the “adventure style” esthetic, and not for real functional reasons. Sometimes you have no other options, especially when you are facing a long trip into remote areas, but loading your roof must be your last resort.
Maps for navigation
You need an old-style paper map and a GPS navigator. Yes, you need both. Paper maps need no power and have the important advantage to give you a better overview of the surroundings. For GPS navigation it is up to personal preferences. You can purchase a stand-alone unit or load a navigation app on phones and tablets. In this second scenario make sure to download a good quality and well-established app as Gaia gps or Osmand. It is vital that you can download maps before starting the trip because data coverage is not always granted. Even better choose an app with offline maps (Osmand has them). Keep in mind that usually phones and tablets are not as tough as dedicated devices and are more prone to fail due to sand. Also, the heat of sunlight in hot climates can (and will) force your device to shut down to cool down. Always insert your designated device into a rugged cover and set up the mounting system in a shaded area.
Entire books and tons of discussions everywhere are available on this topic. Offroad tires are different from road tires in two aspects: tread and toughness. Offroad tires are built more heavily, with more rubber and stronger sidewalls to prevent punctures. Generally speaking a more “extreme” tire in terms of the tread also has stronger sidewalls (but this is not always the case). There are two main categories of tires suitable for overlanding and offroad tourism: all-terrain (AT) and mud-terrain (MT). All-terrain tires are designed to be comfortable and safe on paved roads, sometimes have good performances on snow as well, and are very good on sand. Mud terrain tires are more aggressive in terms of tread patterns and are usually tougher to better resist punctures from rocks and debris. The more wide and deep tread pattern helps to grab on slippery or very rough terrain and also help to eject mud with the tire rotation with a self-cleaning effect. On the other side, they are noisy on paved roads, have worst grip on tarmac, especially when wet and they usually don’t perform very well on snow. It is important to note that they are generally speaking also worst on sand if compared to all-terrain tires (and sometimes even if compared to road tires). This could be counterintuitive but the reality is that over sand you have the best chances of floating over if you avoid breaking the hard surface that a sandy ground usually presents. For this reason, a less aggressive tread is better on the sand in general. There are also tires specifically designed for sand but they are really good only with that kind of terrain and are also quite hard to find. Regarding tire dimensions, it really depends on personal preferences and the internet is full of harsh debates about this topic. Anyway, here you can find some well-established concepts: 1. the “taller” the batter. A bigger tire has better performance offroad. 2. you need a small rim with a think tire, not the opposite. More rubber is better. Usually, 16 inches is a perfect choice! A tire with a higher shoulder performs better when deflated and protects the rim from impacts with rocks. When choosing a tire size keep in mind where you are going: in underdeveloped countries tire size selection is very limited! If you wanna be sure to find plenties of spares go for the “African size”: 235/85/16.
Sand plates are basically flat strips of plastic or metal, slightly wider than your tires. They come in various lengths. When your car is stuck in sand or mud or whatever is preventing you to advance you just put them under your tires and drive over them. They are designed to provide “portable traction” when you can’t get such a thing from the ground. The old-style metal ones are big and heavy and are being replaced by smaller a lighters plastic model (Maxxtracs style). They are not critical, especially if you are traveling in a group (and it is always recommended to do so for safety) since there always be another car to help you in getting out when stuck.
It is a metal “hook” usually U-shaped. A pin is screwed across the “mouth” of the U shape. It is the strop companion and is used to secure the strop (or a winch hook) to the car during recovery maneuvers. As everything else must be rated according to the weight of your car and must be replaced if damaged. It should be replaced in any case when not in perfect conditions. When a shackles break during recovery it can be projected at a very high speed and being quite a solid piece of metal it could cause severe damage and even fatal injuries. When securing the pin before starting the recovery consider unscrewing it a little from the fully screwed in position to allow easier removal of the pin when the recovery is finished!
An essential piece of gear. It is basically a rope used to pull a vehicle when is bogged or cant proceed for any reason. Quality strops are a must and they must be rated according to the weight of your car or truck! A damaged strop must immediately be changed with a new one.
Another essential piece of gear. It is mounted on the front of the car and is usually electrically operated from the car battery. A must if you going for an offroad trip alone, even if we discourage you to do so, always better to go at least with 2 cars, to help each other! The winch must be rated according to the weight of your car. It is usually suggested to buy a winch rated for pulling 1.5x your car weight. The capacity is usually expressed in LBS (12’000 lbs equals 5.4 tons).