The very best recovery tool is . . .

I know, I know . . . there are several much more glamorous bits of equipment with which to decorate a 4WD vehicle—many that are well worth having. But I can’t think of any with the same combination of, 1) Affordability, 2) Reliability, 3) Versatility, and 4) Simplicity, as this most basic of tools. 

A great many vehicle boggings occur when two or more tires spin down through whatever substrate you are trying to negotiate, until depth and friction prevent them climbing out. Assuming you’ve already aired down, the simplest way to extract yourself is to scoop out four ramps for the tires to climb. Even if you have a set of MaxTrax to employ, it’s smart to give them a head start with some digging.

You can also use a shovel to add substrate to a hole you have to drive through. If you need to fill a bigger hole with rocks, a shovel will help you pry half-buried candidates out of the ground. If you high-center on a rock or dirt, the shovel can help free you. And of course a shovel is handy for innumerable other tasks, which can’t be said for most recovery-specific products.

So what sort of shovel to have? That’s in many ways up to personal preference. However, I’ve found several characteristics that I think make a shovel better suited for recovery work. 

Length: Some experts recommend a full-length handle, to enable you to reach all the way under a vehicle that might need sand cleared from its chassis, for example. However, a long shovel is awkward for most other uses in the field, and much more of a pain to carry in a vehicle. I like one no longer than about 40 inches total, and have found that this length actually works better in a majority of cirumstances. 

Handle: I strongly prefer a T or D handle, and if you haven’t tried one I bet you’ll agree with me. A handle perpendicular to the shaft offers far more comfort, control, and power when punching it under a tire to clear sand, and it’s far easier to put sideways torque on the blade when needed.

Shaft: It’s hard to criticize an all-welded-steel shovel such as the Wolverine DH15DP above, which I wrote about here. For sheer indestructibility it has no peer. However, a proper ash or hickory shaft/handle will be perfectly sturdy and is nicer to use in heat or cold. 

Combination tools: Not a fan. Again this is personal preference, but I’ve found the tools that combine a single handle with, for example, a removeable shovel blade, axe head, and sledge to be generally heavy and not very good as any individual tool. The axe function, in particular, is invariably miserably balanced and completely lacking in grace. An axe should be a living thing—and, frankly, that balance and grace is a safety issue when you’re swinging a sharp blade. Buy yourself a proper axe and leave the shovel as a shovel.

Folding entrenching tool: Definitely, absolutely better than nothing, but c’mon—you’re not carrying it in an A.L.I.C.E. pack with MREs, you’ve got a vehicle. Get a real shovel. If you really want or need something that compact get one of the brilliant surplus German one-piece shovels like this:

 . . . which typically have one side of the blade sharpened as a makeshift axe (or a nasty self-defense weapon that doesn’t look like a weapon to authorities in authoritarian countries). 

My favorite recovery shovel is about as prosaic as you can get: It’s the Land Rover T-handled tool that comes in the evocatively named “Pioneer Kit,” which also includes a very functional take-down pickaxe. You’ve seen these clipped to the front wing of inumerable Series vehicles. My first close encounter with one was in Namibia, on a guide’s battered Series IIA that also sported an entire sofa bolted to the roof for tourists to ride on. The shovel was so well-used in Namib sand that the blade was visibly shortened, and shiny as glass.

The Pioneer Kit is available through UK surplus stores online; occasionally as NOS (New Old Stock). If you happen to be there you can find them for less at one of the myriad four-wheel-drive shows. The shovel’s blade extends to a long shank that encloses nearly half the wood (ash?)  shaft. If anything the blade is a bit thicker than it needs to be. In any case it will demonstrably last through years of abuse in the Namib, probably a lot longer if you aren’t constantly needing to dig out a Land Rover with a sofa on the roof.

U.S. manufacturer A.M. Leonard offers a forged D-handle shovel that looks excellent, although I’ve not seen one in person. Ditto with U.K. maker Richard Carter.

Whatever you decide on, make sure you actually keep it with you. I give you my situation a few weeks ago, camped on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon with a few friends. Roseann and I had both our Tacoma/Four Wheel Camper and the FJ40 along, and when she needed to dig out an existing fire pit she asked me where she could find a shovel.

"Uh . . . "

Fortunately our friends were better prepared.

Update: Correspondent John Wilson tells me that the BLM in the Owyhee region (Oregon, Nevada, Idaho) requires one to carry a full-length shovel, presumably because it is easier to use to put out a spreading campfire. My own advice would be to make sure your damn campfire can't spread in the first place, but thanks to John for the heads up.


Recovering a semi truck

In my last post (here) I mentioned using a set of MaxTrax to recover a semi at the 2015 Overland Expo.

Found the video.

Also visible are the Crux Offroad aluminum bridging ladders (here), which also survived with only minor bending and were perfectly serviceable afterwards. Since bridging ladders are designed to be rigid, the fact that these—intended for vehicles the size of Land Cruisers—survived at all was equally impressive.

Originals versus copies

I remember distinctly my reaction when I first laid eyes on a set of the then-brand-new and revolutionary MaxTrax recovery mats. 

It was something along the lines of, “Eew.”

Plastic sand mats? Orange plastic sand mats?

At the time I was still firmly in the traditional PAP (perforated aluminum planking) camp—they were good enough for the Camel Trophy, right? If anything, I leaned toward the massive Mantec Bridging Ladders—bulky, heavy, but fully capable of spanning a void as well as providing soft-substrate flotation. And either simply looked right bolted to the roof rack of a Defender or Troopy.

Finally, under duress, I tried a set of MaxTrax, sort of squinting to one side the whole time so I didn’t have to look directly at them. And, well, they worked. Not only did they work, they worked better in sand than anything I’d ever tried—the combination of light weight, easy handling via molded-in handholds, and aggressive molded-in cleats resulted in blindingly quick and easy extraction. If they happened to kick up they didn’t produce the awful banging of PAP, much less the potential sheet-metal damage of the Mantecs (which to be fair are rigid and heavy enough that kick-up is rare). Even when torturously overloaded and distorted they sprang right back into shape—as when, for example, we used several sets to help recover the BFGoodrich semi truck that got stuck in the mud at Expo West. 

Suffice to say I was converted—to the point that, when we installed a set on our recently purchased and extremely pukka Land Cruiser Troopy, I didn’t even bother with one of the available earth tones. Our set is proudly the original and instantly recognizable MaxTrax orange—and they look just fine.

In the interim I discovered that MaxTrax work as well in mud as they do in sand (although a MaxTrax packed with mud quickly loses its “light weight” advantage), and that they don’t work very well on ice—devices with sharp metal edges seem to bite a bit better. But I still think they’re still the best-performing all-around traction device available.

The single most common gripe about MaxTrax has been their premium price (“Three hundred dollars for plastic sand mats?”), so it was inevitable that someone would—let’s be diplomatic and say replicate—the design and charge less. And several companies have done just that. The copies range from near-clones of good quality that sell for 20 to 30 percent less than the original, to absolute rubbish available for a third the price.

I’ll be honest up front and say that I find this business model extremely distasteful. Call it arbitrary prejudice, pointless idealism, or admirable moral high ground, per your own philosophy, but I’m firmly in John Ruskin’s camp on the issue. And considering MaxTrax versus competitors, I have some personal experience to reinforce the axiom that you get what you pay for. While that experience is by no means comprehensive enough to be considered statistically significant, I have never broken or even cracked a MaxTrax device, but I’ve now broken or been present at the breaking of no fewer than five lower-priced competitors.

Why is this? Two potential reasons rise to the top. First, it’s possible that my experience is purely coincidental, and that a MaxTrax would also have broken if one had been in use in place of any or all of the units that failed. There is no way to confirm this—even side-by-side field testing cannot control for minute variations in stress. However, it’s also possible that the construction and the material used in the MaxTrax is superior, and less likely to fail under extreme conditions. MaxTrax are made from reinforced nylon, a material I have yet to find listed on any competitor’s product sheet. There’s polyolefin, polypropylene, and simply, mysteriously, “plastic.” Broadly speaking, “nylon” technically can refer to a number of polyamide thermoplastics, so the actual MaxTrax formula is difficult to specify (and no doubt a jealously guarded secret); however, Brad McCarthy, the creative force behind the company, told me it is a “mineral-filled, impact-modified, UV-stabilized Nylon 6.” 

Whatever the proprietary formula, it’s obviously tough. Like all polymer traction products, you must exercise care not to spin your tires wildly when performing a recovery and climbing on to the MaxTrax—it’s possible to melt the cleats. If you do screw up, the MaxTrax has ramps at both ends, unlike some other products, so you can swap the leading edge. They even work pretty well upside down. (I note that the original discount copy and major competitor Tred now advertises a “pro” model with traction cleats claimed to be resistant to friction-induced melting—and a retail price higher than MaxTrax. An interesting approach.)

I don’t think less of those who choose to save on the purchase price and pick a copy of the MaxTrax. But for me, the original is worth the extra cost, both as a reward for imagining, developing, and proving the product in the first place—a massive investment—as well as for what I’ve concluded is arguably higher quality, which, as I’ve mentioned many times, often results in lower cost in the long run.

Not quite ready for prime time . . .

Any time you can reduce the potential kinetic energy in a winch system it is a Good Thing. PKE, as we’ll call it, comprises any part of the system that could become a projectile in the event of a failure of itself or any other component. In the vast majority of winch mishaps it’s the line that breaks, but shackles, shackle mounts, tree straps, even entire bumpers are unlikely but potential sources of high-velocity widow-making destruction.

The advent of synthetic winch line reduced the risks inherent in winch recovery by an order of magnitude. Although they both display about the same amount of stetch under load (less than one percent), synthetic winch line—typically SK-75 Dyneema—weighs one seventh of the same length and load-rated steel cable, and its 12-strand woven construction prevents the violent untwisting motion that occurs when a steel cable breaks. (For much more on steel versus synthetic winch line, see here.) 

Recently, several companies have introduced soft shackles made from material identical to synthetic winch line. Soft shackles lock via a deceptively simple-looking turks’ head knot on one end and a spliced loop on the other—no threaded pin, in fact no metal at all. As with Dyneema winch line, the mass of the part is hugely reduced, along with its PKE. (Report soon.)

One frequently used winch accessory, however, stubbornly retains its mass: the pulley block, or snatch block, used to construct a redirected pull or increase the pulling power of the winch. Since the pulley itself must be of significant diameter to avoid damaging the line, the cheek blocks that support it must also be large and stout, and the axle of sufficient diameter to ensure a suitable working load limit (WLL) with a substantial safety margin. As a result, for example, even ARB’s excellent “Ultra Lite” winch pulley weighs 5.3 pounds, and their standard pulley is close to eight pounds.

That’s now changed—at least somewhat—with Research In Recovery’s aluminum Recovery Blok (sic). At four pounds even, the RIR pulley boasts a 25 percent reduction in mass over ARB’s lightest model. 

To be honest, that 1.3-pound savings represents less of a safety enhancement than a simple reduction in handling weight. If you’re ever unspooled 75 feet of steel winch cable up a hill while carrying several steel shackles, a tree strap, and a standard steel pulley block you’ll appreciate this. Still, if the worst happens and you find a winch pulley headed toward you at 40 feet per second or so, better it weighs four pounds than five and a quarter . . . 

Since such accidents in a properly set up and monitored winch system are vanishingly rare, let’s look at the RIR pulley from a practical point of view, first giving due credit to the welcome lightness. Next up of note is the very fine production quality. The body of the pulley is beautifully machined billet 6061 aluminum, given an attractive tumbled finish. All the edges are rounded, and shallow raised ridges protect the ends of the stainless-steel axle, which is secured with external snap rings for ease of maintenance and cleaning. The polymer pulley is smooth and spins easily; its semi-circular groove is 1/2-inch wide, thus suitable for most winch lines.

The cheek blocks are finely finished exactly flush with the edge of the pulley; this is attractive but, as Camel Trophy veteran Duncan Barbour pointed out when I showed it to him, would fail to protect the line from abrasion if the pulley wound up vertically in contact with the ground or a rock with line being pulled through it. The ARB Ultra Lite pulley incorporates shoulders on the flanks of the pulley which would help prevent this. If the Recovery Blok’s cheek blocks extended even a quarter inch there would be enough stand-off space to provide some protection.

Of more potential hassle is the securing hole at the head of the unit. It is sized so that only the pin of a shackle will fit through it, not the loop. Thus, for example, if you wanted to attach the pulley to a typical winch bumper, the shackle mounts of which also only take the pin of the shackle, you’d need to insert a second shackle, loop to loop, to connect the RIR pulley—thus negating all your reduction in PKE and handling weight. This wouldn’t be a factor if, say, you’re rigging a redirected pull off a tree using a tree saver strap. The loop of the shackle will fit through the loops in the strap, and the pin can then secure the pulley. (A soft shackle fits as well.)

Last to consider, but far from the least important, is the working load limit and breaking strength. WLL of the Recovery Blok is 20,000 pounds, identical to that of the ARB Ultra Lite unit (and superior to their standard pulley), and suitable for winches in the 9,000 to 12,000-pound range.

Unfortunately—critically, in fact—Research in Recovery does not yet know the breaking strength of the Recovery Blok. ARB lists the breaking strength of the Ultra Lite pulley at 38,500 pounds—nearly a two-to-one safety margin. While it’s possible the RIR pulley will exhibit a similar margin once it is tested (the company says they should have the information by the end of the year), without a solid figure it would be foolish to assume it is anything above the WLL, and that is insufficient for a piece of equipment that will be employed in potentially hazardous situations. Despite the high quality of the RIR pulley and its welcome weight savings, until I see a documented safety factor I can’t recommend it. I’ll update here if I learn more.

RIR is here.

The winch that wouldn't work

My friends are always sending me photos of vehicles they know will intrigue (or horrify) me. Most Series I, II, and III Land Rovers fit in the former category (although there are exceptions). The one here, spotted by Bruce Douglas in Seattle, looked nearly perfect at first glance—mostly stock, not quite concours and thus drivable without angst, lovely contrast of the dark green bodywork and tan hood, proper skinny tires on factory wheels.

The aftermarket seats were a bit much, although given stock Series II seats somewhat understandable—but why not just install the appropriate and excellent Defender items? Still it was a striking vehicle.

Then I noticed the winch.

Like quite a few early Land Rovers, this one was equipped with a capstan winch (whether from the factory or added later is impossible to say). A capstan winch differs from the more modern and much more common horizontal drum winch in having an upright drum, or capstan, like a winch on a sailboat. The capstan is powered by the engine, normally via a driveshaft connected to the front of the crankshaft. Unlike your Warn, Ramsey, or Superwinch, the capstan winch is designed to be used with a free length of rope, which is attached to the object to be winched (or to an anchor if winching the vehicle itself) and then wound around the capstan three or four times to provide friction. When the capstan is engaged, the operator pulls the free end of the rope to provide tension, and the capstan pulls in the attached end at slow speed. The advantage to this system is that there is no practical limit to the length of rope—if you need a 200-foot pull for some reason and have a 220-foot length of suitable rope, you’re good to go. It will also work as long as the engine is running, without overheating the winch or overtaxing the alternator. Disadvantages include limited power (most were rated at just 3,000 pounds, suitable for the 3/4-inch manila rope used) and the fact that if the engine isn’t running the winch isn’t either. Finally, solo recovery of a bogged vehicle is extremely awkward if not impossible. These downsides explain why capstan winches have been almost universally superceded by much more powerful horizontal drum winches that store their own line. 

But the capstan on the Seattle Land Rover was—bewilderingly—wound with a long length of steel cable. This configuration cannot possibly function properly. You cannot use steel cable on a capstan as it is intended to be used—there would not be enough friction on the capstan and you would find the cable impossible to grip. And you cannot attach the free end of a steel cable to the capstan and expect it to wind in like a horizontal drum. It simply wouldn’t work and would likely destroy the winch in short order if it didn’t result in some much more serious failure. Note the horizontal bar on the mount, under which the rope is designed to run to properly feed it on to the capstan. Even if you managed to attach the steel cable and attempted to winch with it, it would instantly bunch up at the bottom of the capstan. 

I’m at a complete loss to explain what the owner of this otherwise fine vehicle was thinking. I suspect he or she had no idea how a capstan winch worked and, seeing the steel cable attached to many horizontal winch drums, ordered one and somehow managed to attach and spool it on this poor capstan. To the uninformed it might look cool, but one can only hope its owner never attempts to put it to use for anything other than posing in front of some well-known Seattle coffee shop.



A proper shovel

While equipping our Land Cruisers for a trip across the Simpson Desert, we picked up a cheap shovel at a military-surplus-cum-Chinese-camping-gear store in Sydney. Just how cheap became apparent the first night we tried to dig a fire pit. The shovel literally bounced off the ground—the blade simply bent and sprang back under any force at all. It was so bad all we could do was laugh.

That won’t happen with this one. 

We needed indestructible shovels for the Camel Trophy Skills Area at the Overland Expo, and a short web search convinced me that those from Wolverine Hand Tools fit the bill perfectly.

If you name a shovel “Wolverine” it had better be tough, since its namesake is known for chasing grizzly bears off their kills to have a snack. Indeed, this one (DH15DP) is solid, welded steel except for a rubber foot brace (which can be changed side to side). The blade has a sharp wedge tip and most definitely will not bounce off the ground. The 26-inch shaft is steel, and welded to the blade around the perimeter of the joint on both sides. It’s not the prettiest weld on earth—there’s spatter under the paint—but it’s not going to come loose. Likewise, the D handle is steel and welded. 

It’s obviously not the lightest shovel you can buy, but its utility will extend beyond digging fire pits. Prying lodged rocks from under the frame rails of a high-centered truck should be no trouble. And the 15-inch blade offers plenty of surface area for scooping sand out from under a buried vehicle to insert Max Trax (there’s also a 12-inch version). Well-recommended.

Look for them here.

Airing down—and up—the pro way

One of the most frequent questions people ask me is, “What’s the the best thing I can do to improve my vehicle’s off-pavement performance?” Many of them seem distinctly disappointed when I answer, “Air down your tires.” I’m sure they’re hoping I’ll facilitate some expensive and impressive modification—diff locks, external-bypass shocks, three-piece titanium wheels, something that would justify putting a stylish brand sticker in a window. But the fact is that nothing is easier to do or more effective at providing several instant benefits than reducing your normal street tire pressures to suit the immediate conditions. I’ll repeat: Nothing.

First, lower pressure increases traction by increasing the contact area of the tire and allowing it to better deform around obstacles and grip them. Flotation in sand is enormously enhanced with the longer footprint provided by lower pressure (not so much greater width as many suppose).

But the advantages don’t end there. Lowering pressure alleviates stress on the vehicle by effectively reducing the spring rate—the tires flex enough to absorb impacts that would otherwise have to be dealt with by the springs and shocks. That translates to much greater comfort for the driver and passengers.

Finally, the above characteristics contribute to reduced impact on the trail. We saw first-hand evidence of this on a recent crossing of the Simpson Desert in Australia, via the Madigan Line—so-called after Dr. Cecil Madigan, who led the first scientific expedition across the area in 1939. The Madigan Line cuts directly across the huge field of parallel sand dunes that characterizes this part of the Simpson—1,130 sand dunes to be more or less precise. The dunes themselves are stabilized and well-vegetated, but the bare track still needs to ascend and descend each dune, and despite the very sparse traffic on this route the final approaches and crests are often cratered with “hoon holes,” where those who disdain airing down—or even engaging four wheel drive—have left huge divots from futilely spinning tires or frantic, lunging ascents.

Graham and I actually aired down our Land Cruisers prior to hitting the dunes, on the stretch leading to the old Andado Station, a fine track but well-known for its long stretches of corrugations (or washboard as we refer to them in the U.S.). I reduced our pressure from 40 psi, which we’d run on the paved Stuart Highway to Alice Springs, down to 32, and Graham did likewise (he’d found his tubed tires on split rims at a harsh 50 psi). It took much of the sting out of the sharp undulations and eliminated the skip-fishtailing that can occur with higher pressures. (An Australian writer described those corrugations as “brutal.” All I can say is he needs to see the corrugations on the seven-mile dirt track to our house in Arizona. Or those on the road from Namanga to Amboseli. But that’s another story.)

Once in the dunes, we further reduced pressure to around 22 psi. This is well above the 14 we might run in very soft sand, but it worked perfectly on the combination of flat, compacted inter-dune track and the chewed-up ascents and descents. We even summited the famous Big Red dune outside Birdsville with no drama.

Once past Birdsville, on the high-speed gravel Birdsville Developmental Road, we re-inflated—and that’s where the catch is for many people who grasp the concept of airing down, appreciate its advantages, but rarely if ever do it.

Why? Because a lot of those people carry a compressor that cost them as much as a couple of pizzas and is about as effective at actually adding air to a tire, despite the “150 PSI!” claims on the box. A single 45-minute session laboriously moving four tires from 25 psi to, say, 28, while their $29.95 compressor buzzes and vibrates in circles like an enraged chihuahua, and that’s it. The thing gets tossed in the bottom of the tools, to be used in the event of an actual flat, if at all. The same people likely used the point of their Swiss Army knife to depress the valve to deflate each tire, another laborious procedure. It’s little wonder they inflate the tires on their new truck to 40 psi and never budge from that.

We knew better. And we were, after all, in Australia, home of some of the best expedition equipment manufacturers on the planet. In Sydney we had picked up a pair of ARB E-Z deflators, and two ARB portable Twin compressor kits (CKMTP12). The single-cylinder ARB High Output compressor on our Tacoma has been working perfectly for several years operating a locker and inflating tires, so I was eager to compare the more powerful Twin in field use. 

Airing down takes less than a minute per tire with the E-Z deflator, which unscrews and captures the tire’s valve core, allowing a much greater volume of air to exit the valve stem, and gives you precise control with its sliding actuator. The only faster way I know to air down four tires is with a full set of the superb set-and-forget CB Developments Mil-Spec automatic deflators—but that full set will cost you $400, versus $40 for the ARB unit. An E-Z choice, if you will.

Regarding portable 12V compressors, as with so many other products it’s been my experience that you get what you pay for. The $30 units that plug into a cigarette lighter simply won’t cut it for field use. I know people who’ve been happy with the ubiquitous Masterflow MT50 and its variations, which are available for less than $100; these clip directly to the battery, meaning they can draw more amperage, but they are still achingly slow, and I can recall at least three failures related to me by users. Simply put, if you’re going to go the pro route for airing down (and repairing) tires, you need a pro-level compressor. You do not want to get caught after a section of soft sand with all your tires at 14 psi, no way to inflate them, and 30 miles of rocks ahead. (Especially when it's been six days since you've seen another human.)

Ignore the psi rating—virtually any pump will produce more than enough theoretical pressure. It’s the cfm (cubic feet per minute) rating and duty cycle you need to evaluate. The cfm is self-explanatory. Duty cycle refers to how long the unit can run before it needs to shut down and cool off. A 25-percent duty cycle means the pump can run for 15 minutes out of an hour. It’s easy to see the relationship: A high cfm rating means little if the duty cycle is poor, and a 100-percent duty cycle means little if the cfm rating is below standard. Furthermore, some compressors display an impressive cfm rating at zero psi, but will fall off significantly with higher pressures. Look for factory specs that list both. 

The Australian-built ARB Twin boasts a 100-percent duty cycle, produces 6.16 cfm at zero psi and an impressive 4.68 cfm at 29 psi. How does this relate to the real world? Back on the Birdsville Developmental Road to air up, I hooked up the Twin’s leads to our Land Cruiser’s battery, flipped the rocker switch, connected the chuck to the first tire (still at 22 psi), settled back on my heels to wait a couple minutes, and, er, what? The tire seemed to rise awfully quickly. I disconnected and checked the pressure: 42 psi. I was only aiming for 38 . . . 

I bled a bit out and moved to the other three tires. I didn’t set a watch to any of them, but it certainly took no more than a minute per tire to reinflate from 22 psi to 38. That rivals my benchmark for powerful compressors, the Extreme Outback ExtremeAir Magnum. And the ARB doesn't have a single "Extreme" in its name.

As a reliable and durable tool for remote use it would be hard to imagine a better configuration than the ARB Twin, given the extensive redundancy: Two all-ball-bearing motors, two cylinders, two inline fuses, and internal thermal protection for each motor. Twin air filters are washable sintered bronze, not paper. It’s highly moisture and dust resistant (the cooling fan is actually sealed to IP55 specs); the cylinder bores are hard anodized and the piston seals are Teflon-impregnated carbon fiber. In addition, the portable kit incorporates a four-liter aluminum air tank, which enables the system to run most air tools (it’s regulated to 150 psi). For the distinctly premium price, I wish the kit came with the ARB inflator that incorporates a dial gauge, rather than the simple clip-on chuck that is standard. But the waterproof case is strong, and the organizer pockets keep hoses and accessories neat—an underappreciated feature on expeditions where entropy nudges things toward clutter. The battery clamps are sturdy, the inline fuses easy to access if necessary, and there's a solidly mounted quick-release fitting for the air line next to the (lighted) power switch. You’ll know you’re dealing with a substantial piece of equipment when you pick it up—the whole package weighs 33 pounds, about as much as a Hi-Lift jack. The compressor alone weighs 19.4. 

If you prefer a built-in compressor (I normally do, but we haven’t yet decided on the final configuration in the Troopy), the air filters of the Twin can be relocated, rendering the entire unit submersible. ARB was not messing around when they designed this compressor.

The Twin is a significant investment ($830 for the kit; $520 for the compressor alone). But consider these two facts: 1) As stressed above, varying your tires’ pressures to suit conditions will do more than anything else to enhance your vehicle’s off-pavement prowess, your comfort, and the condition of the trail, and 2) Tire failure is by a significant margin the number one reason for breakdowns in the bush. With a high-quality compressor such as the ARB Twin you have both scenarios covered with professional-level ease.

New Safe Jack universal base plate . . . and a sale

I’ve written several times before about Safe Jack’s unique products. Read here and here about the expanded base plates they invented for the Hi-Lift jack and bottle jacks, which transform the nature of both kinds of lifting tools. 

Previously you had to choose which base you wanted. Now Richard Bogert of Safe Jack has introduced a universal base that accepts either a Hi-Lift base, or a clip-in plate on which almost any standard bottle jack can be clamped. So during a recovery situation in soft substrate, when you need the extra flotation for your Hi-Lift (or the clever and rock-solid guy-wire stabilizing system), you’ve got it, and when you shortly thereafter need to jack up one wheel for a tire repair, you can just snap in a bottle jack to the same base. Nice.

Safe Jack will be at Overland Expo WEST with show specials. If you won’t be there, don’t feel bad: Richard will be running a “Gear up for Overland Expo” web special through May 20th. The website is here, and the promo code is GEARUP2016.