OB13: Maintaining and Repairing Your Rig

It’s bound to happen to anyone who travels off-road at some point. Something is going to break on your rig, whether it’s at home or on the trail. Maintaining and repairing your rig is a vital part of preparing for the adventure. A weekend trail run doesn’t mean you have to pack a full toolkit. However, a week or more may mean packing more than you would take during a weekend run. Another factor to consider is the age of your rig. Newer vehicles aren’t going to need as much attention as the older ones will, however, you still may find yourself performing repairs regardless of age.

Understanding the ins and outs of your rig helps alleviate the frustrations when a breakdown happens. The built versus bought dilemma plays heavily into how much you know about your rig. Having even a basic knowledge of automotive repair, whether it’s self-taught or you’ve taken some courses, can go a long way. This means the difference between fixing your rig and getting going or having to call in someone who does, which can get very costly when you’re not on regular roads.

PMCS & Inspections

The military adheres to what they call Preventive Maintenance Checks and Services (PMCS). These checks and inspections occur at different intervals throughout the year as well as before, during, and after missions. Checks are done at an operator level as well as at a field maintainer level. Each check is different at the different levels. Field maintainer checks are more intrusive than operator checks and often involve required service for differentials, engines, transmissions, and more. Operator level checks are checking for damage to the vehicle, fluid levels, and the vehicle is operating how it should.

Planning PMCS for your vehicle is a good idea. Before, during, and after checks should happen while you are out on the trail. Interval checks should happen at specific times during the year such as monthly, weekly, or semi-annually. You can also set up a checklist of items to check before leaving for any trip that can include topping off fluids, checking tire pressures, checking for damage, etc.

Building a Toolkit and the Cost Factor

In order to get up and running with a toolkit, we have included the below list that details a basic setup you should consider carrying. By no means is this a complete list as you are sure to find something specific for your chosen rig. Google can also be an invaluable resource when deciding what to include in your toolkit by providing common failure data on certain parts and vehicle specific tools that might be necessary.

Lower cost tools might be enticing because of the entry point they provide for a full set, but rest assured the cost of more expensive kits is worth it. As overlanders, we tend to spend money on expensive upgrades to get us t that remote spot. Spending the money on a toolset, whether a full one or buying individual pieces will be more beneficial than buying low-cost tools.

In order to get you up and running with a toolkit, we have included the list below that details a basic setup you should consider carrying. By no means is this complete as you are sure to find something specific to your rig you will want to carry or even have a personal preference over certain tool types. Google is also your friend in determining what to carry, how to store it, and finding the best bargain on cost.

  • Toolbox/Storage:
    • Hex wrenches
    • Socket(s) and ratchet(s)
    • Vice grip(s)
    • Hammer
    • Channellock(s)
    • Adjustable wrench(es)
    • Box end wrench(es)
    • Plier(s)
    • Screwdriver(s)
  • Tire repair kit
  • Jumper cables
  • Expendable items:
    • Epoxies
    • JB Weld
    • Wire
    • Front and rear replacement bulbs
    • Fuses
    • Engine oil
    • Coolant
    • Transmission oil
    • Zip ties
    • Duct/Gorilla tape
  • Work gloves
  • Eye protection
  • Rags
  • Repair and/or maintenance manual(s)

Cleaning Your Rig after a Trip

It might seem trivial to say it’s important to clean and wash your rig, but it’s not. Depending on the conditions you encountered, not cleaning them off could cause damage. You should spray down and clean your vehicle after each trip. Along with the exterior, the interior of your rig should also be cleaned to keep seats and carpeting nice.

It’s a good idea to run your rig through a car wash after to get the underside cleaned off. Living in states that salt their roads can cause body damage and rust. Again, running through a car wash a couple of times over the winter goes a long way in preserving the body and metal parts.

 

OB12: Planning and Preparing For Trips

Planning and preparing for trips is part of the overlanding experience. Being able to sort through gear, plan a route, and figuring out a food menu is part of the appeal for some people. Technology can become your best friend when planning, but it can also be a hindrance. The internet is a wealth of information when it comes to learning what to pack, what to use, what to cook, etc. You can find lists for every aspect of overlanding covered in this guide, but in the end, you need to do what works best for you.

Menu Planning

Cooking at camp can be an extremely relaxing and even easy endeavor, but it takes some planning in order to pull off. The best way to make sure you aren’t spending more time at the stove instead of around the campfire is to pre-plan your meals. Decide on what you want to eat well in advance, the simpler, the better. In the days leading up to your trip, prepare anything that needs to be cut or chopped up. You could even pre-cook meat so it only needs to be heated and you avoid potential illness. We cover creating a menu, food prep/storage, and more in Chapter 12.

Mapping

Technology is great in that allows us to be able to see where we want to go before even going there. The options for mapping and planning a trip are numerous. Digital mapping software is a great tool when looking for and routing out trails to hit. The satellite, street, and roadway maps they provide make it easy to figure out what is accessible and drivable.

Scouting premade maps can ensure you are not backtracking because of closures, blockages, and conditions of the trail you will be on. Maps of any kind are only going to provide so much information. Putting eyeballs on potential problems and obstacles are going to help you better plan and execute a trip.

If you are creating a map beforehand, consider adding in additional details. Knowing where the nearest hospitals, gas stations, and even grocery stores can be beneficial. Also, include some sites to see along the way to break up the monotony of driving. If you partake in off-rig activities, find some places to fish, hike, or bike and make sure to mark them as well.

  • Hospitals
  • Gas stations
  • Grocery stores
  • Breweries
  • Restaurants
  • Police station
  • Fire station
  • DNR office(s)
  • Hiking trails
  • Biking trails
  • Scenic sites

Setting a Budget

Most of us hold down full-time jobs, have families and do not get to travel exclusively around the country or around the world. This means having to maintain a budget that sustains our normal lives. When planning any length of trip, it’s a good idea to allocate some funds for certain things, whether they are planned expenses or unplanned expenses. Everyone is going to have a unique take on budgeting for a trip so make sure you do what works for you and try to stay within your allocated amount.

A good baseline to start with is to determine how far you will be driving and what gas is going to cost; what will groceries cost (if needed); and having an emergency fund for repairs or towing. Adding an additional 10%-20% into this corrects for any increases along the way. From there, factor in any additional things you may want to do, the cost of campsites, tolls, park entry fees, etc.

Weather Factors

Weather can play a big factor in how trail conditions are, the quality of a campsite, and your overall happiness on the trip. In the weeks leading up to your adventure, watch the weather forecast in the area you are traveling to in order to understand what you might be up against.

OB11: Navigating While On The Road

One way to enjoy overlanding is just to find a trail off the main road and see where it goes. Maybe your intent is to map an unexplored area and provide maps for others to use. Maybe just running a trail randomly is not what you want to do and planning is your thing. Either way, navigating while on the road and exploring is beneficial.

Paper Maps

In this day and age with every phone having GPS and maps it’s too easy to discount good old-fashioned paper maps. However, paper maps can still be extremely useful both as a primary navigation method as well as a back-up. Sometimes the paper maps are even more up to date than their digital counterparts.

GPS Units

A Global Position System (GPS) unit is probably the primary method for traveling. Most GPS units are only designed for on-road driving. However, there are a few companies equipping standalone GPS units with trail data for off-road use. The price point for a strictly off-road GPS unit can be pretty high.

Tablet/Phone

Almost all phones and some tablets come equipped with a GPS installed. This makes using your phone or tablet an easy choice for navigating. The ability to download a lot of maps for reference means you can have a whole states worth of trails right at your fingertips. And not just one type of map either, most mapping applications come with three or four different types and have the option to buy more.

There are several good applications that you can load onto a phone or tablet. Each offers their own unique take on mapping. Every mapping application and software has its own thing. The best thing to do is try each one and use what you like best. We’ve provided some examples below.

Google Maps & Google Earth

Google Maps and Google Earth are probably the best options if you do not want to pay for a mapping service. Google Maps allows for some basic editing and creation of maps. Google Earth expands on Maps functionality and offers better maps that show more detail in certain locations. Google Maps and Earth can be used on both iOS and Android.

GAIA

GAIA is currently the primary mapping tool we use at Michigan Overland. It provides all of the features we need including an online presence to store and edit maps. It offers several free maps and two premium memberships that give you access to more features.

Backcountry Navigator

Backcountry Navigator has had a long history of being the primary mapping tool for people who got outdoors. Primarily designed for backpacking, it can be used as an off-road navigation tool. We use Backcountry Navigator as a backup to GAIA for tracking our route. It has many of the same features as GAIA. However, it does not have an online presence like GAIA or even Google Maps. Everything is done through the app, which may be a drawback for some people.

LeadNav

LeadNav is an iOS-only application that is built for military and hardcore off-road usage. Route building is done completely within the app, or you can upload existing routes to use. LeadNav also offers hardware mounting options. The application functions similar to any regular road GPS in that it can provide audio cues for turns. The application has a purchase price of $20 and three levels of yearly subscriptions. We don’t use LeadNAv as a mapping application, but we’ve had our eye on it for a few years now.

Mapping File Formats

There are a number of different map file formats. The most commonly used ones are KML, KMZ, and GPX. There are differences between all three though. GPX is mostly for dedicated GPS files and is good for moving data. KML and KMZ are basically the same things, with KMZ files being essentially a zipped KML file that your computer will recognize. KML and KMZ are what Google Maps and Google Earth use and recognize. You can also find websites that will convert certain file types to other file types.

OB10: First Aid Kits

A first aid kit is something that should be carried in your vehicle regardless of whether you’re out running trails or driving around in the city. It’s an item that may never be needed, but you’ll be glad you have one if you do need it. A well-equipped first-aid kit is going to cost some money. The piece of mind it provides for dealing with emergencies is worth the price in purchasing a premade one or piecing one together yourself.

A basic first aid kit is not an overly expensive item to purchase and carry. Depending on who you travel with and the level of training you have, the cost can increase as more and more items are added to it. Traveling with kids, for example, doubles the types of medications you might carry because children’s medications and dosages are different than what an adult would take.

It’s a good idea to carry several first aid kits in different spots in your rig. Having an easily accessible one in the glovebox or center console and a larger more robust one in the cargo area is a good idea. The larger kit should include the smaller kit items plus more specialized and larger pieces that might only be needed in serious emergencies.

Training

Building or buying a first aid kit comes down to establishing a baseline kit and adding in additional items. Evaluate where you will be traveling, what you will be doing, and what some of the potential injuries are that you could encounter. Having the kit though doesn’t do any good if you don’t know how to use the items contained within it.

The best way to do this is through taking some training courses and repeating those courses frequently. Repetition allows the principles to become ingrained in your brain. Training every year also allows you to learn new techniques to build upon what you already have been taught. Start with basic first aid that can be applied anytime and work into more advanced first aid classes that get specific about topics.

The Basic Kit

The Red Cross has a pretty good listing of what you should start with as a baseline. From what is listed below, you can expand and add items in as you see fit. It goes without saying that you should have multiples of each of these items in your basic kit.

  • Adhesive bandages, assorted sizes
  • Antibiotic ointment packets
  • 3×3 sterile gauze pads
  • 4×4 sterile gauze pads
  • Antiseptic wipe packets
  • Aspirin packets
  • 5×9 absorbent compress dressings
  • Non-latex gloves
  • Hydrocortisone ointment packets
  • Triangular bandages
  • Space blanket
  • 10y x 1in roll adhesive cloth tape
  • Tweezers
  • Scissors
  • Breathing barrier
  • Oral thermometer
  • 3in roller bandage
  • 4in roller bandage
  • Instant cold compress
  • First-aid instruction booklet

Expanding Your Kit

The basic first aid kit contains most items you would find and use day-to-day. Once you’ve taken some first aid training, you can expand the basic kit with more advanced items. Some of the items in the expanded kit might also be out of your normal usage but are good to have if someone you’re traveling with works in the medical field.

OB09: Building a Camp Kitchen

This part of the Overlanding Basics series deals with building a camp kitchen that suites your needs. An essential part of cooking a good meal is having a good kitchen set up to work with. You could very easily get by with just some sticks and a package of hot dogs but where’s the fun in that? Most of the time, kitchen gear is probably just thrown into whatever bin is available on broken out on the most stable platform once you hit camp.

Storage

Before putting a kitchen kit together determine what type of storage you are going to use. Purpose built items like a chuck box offers a good amount of storage but generally have a high footprint in terms of vehicle Tetris. Using a plastic storage tote might offer more space for gear but doesn’t offer the organization a chuck box does.

Another option to consider is a slide out kitchen. There are several companies that purpose build kitchen slide outs with plenty of storage and organization. If buying doesn’t suit your needs, you can also build one yourself. There are plenty of resources available online to reference from.

Cookware and Utensils

The quantity of cookware and utensils carried can be determined by the number of people traveling with you and what you are deciding to cook. Dehydrated food only requires a pot, some water, and a spork.

If you want to get into more intricate “home-cooked” meals, then you’re going to need more. This doesn’t mean packing along the same sized kitchen utensils you have at home. There are plenty of companies who make purpose-built camp sized pots, pans, and cooking utensils.

There are also several different types of material to consider when talking about cookware. Titanium, aluminum, stainless steel, and cast iron are the most commonly used metals. Each has its pros and cons, and you should consider these when determining what to buy. Plastic is generally good for utensils, cups, bowls, and plates.

Cooking Methods

A campfire is a great way to cook food. However, it can take longer than using a portable camp stove. Most overland kitchens are built around usage of a camp stove. They are easy to use and mimic cooking at home, something most people should be comfortable with.

If you’re going to cook over a fire, there is some technique involved. Monitoring the food you are cooking becomes more intense. It’s not always as simple as building a fire and putting food on it. Most of the time, you want to use the coals from a fire to cook with. Practice makes perfect in this case.

Extras and Clean Up

You should consider carrying some additional items outside of the normal kitchen things. Tupperware comes in very handy for leftovers. You may learn this lesson after the first time you throw away a bunch of food because you don’t have anything to store it in. Additionally, if your utensil kit doesn’t include it, you should have a cutting surface and cutting knives as well. Trying to cut or chop food with a folding knife doesn’t work out very well, although it can be done.

Lastly, don’t forget to pack items for cleaning up. Washing and drying towels, dish soap, and paper towels can go a long way in preventing you from getting ill. Consider having a foldable camp sink or a small bucket to wash dishes in.

The Baseline Kitchen

The list below highlights some items to get you started in putting together a baseline kitchen. Not all of this has to be packed, and in the end, you will find you’re adding or subtracting things as you need them.

  • Stove & fuel
  • Cook/mess kit
    • Pot(s)
    • Pan(s)
    • Skillet
    • Plate(s)
    • Bowl(s)
    • Mug(s)
    • Cup(s)
  • Utensils
    • Fork(s)
    • Spoon(s)
    • Knife(ves)
    • Spatula(s)
    • Whisk(s)
    • Serving spoon(s)
  • Cutting/chopping knife set
  • Cutting board
  • Lighter/matches
  • Ziploc bags
  • Paper towels
  • Aluminum foil
  • Can opener
  • Vegetable peeler
  • Washing rag
  • Drying towel(s)
  • Dish soap
  • Tupperware
  • Spices
  • Garbage bags

With just the items listed above, you should be able to cook a good meal at camp.