Feature: Gearing Up for Spring

Feature: Gearing Up for Spring

Story and photos by Albert Vandervelde

If you’re anything like me, when winter hit, your perfectly packed camping gear and tools started to walk out of your rig and into the garage and kitchen drawers. Your power went out, so you scavenged your flashlights and candles and used your camp stove to cook dinner, and now you’re out of batteries and camp gas. Or a buddy was broke, so you packed up some tools and headed to his (or her) place, and now your 10mm socket is gone and your drill bits are broken. It’s time to gear up for spring, and wheeling and camping season!

It’s the same every year for me – my stuff is everywhere. Getting ready for that first wheeling trip or camping expedition seems to take forever, as nothing is where is was last September. Everyone’s idea of off-road adventure is different. The last few years for me, it’s been more “Glamping” style; that’s where at the end of the trail day, I slide back to the Best Western for a soft bed and a pool and hot tub. Yeah, I’ve gone a bit soft. Then I see some people’s set-ups for Overlanding – you guys are dedicated! Roof-top tents, slide-out camping kitchens, camping trailers, 15 jerry cans with fuel, water, etc… nothing short of a nuclear explosion would keep you from your weekend getaways, and you and cockroaches and your freeze-dried packed camping food will be the only ones left if it did!

Tools and rig recovery gear

 First, go buy a new 10mm socket – those things just vanish and disappear to the same place as your other favourite sock. I always have a dedicated tool set. Right now I’ve been using it in the garage – I need to stop that. It’s always when you need your tools the most, you realize you left the tool you need in the garage on the bench. Figuring out what you need for your own rig is pretty selective – I shoot for multi-use tools to reduce the weight of packing 2 tons of steel tools with me. There are lots of great options. Also tools that are not affected by rust; as you know, your rig leaks or you will definitely do that creek crossing when you get to it. There are lots of great HD tool bags of all types and sizes. I like bags and wrench rolls better than those clamshell tool kits you can get. I have one – it’s just going to get redistributed into bags – standard tools in one, Metric in the other, electrical tools, connectors, fuses tape and wire in another. This saves digging and pulling everything out of one big bag all the time – that’s how you lose stuff and leave shiny cadmium plated tools (probably your 10mm) in the mud puddle for some other poor broke dude to find. Buy multiple colour bags to colour code your gear, or black sharpie your stuff.

In my new rig, Aqualu made me storage bins under my seats that are sealed and latch closed. One side will be recovery gear, the other side all my air up tools and tire repair kit – these are things I use all the time. Find spots for the common stuff so you don’t have to drag every single thing out of your rig to find that right tool bag.

Secure your stuff! Ever get hit in the head by a 20-lb bag of stuff when you tip over? I got hit in the head by a 6×9 speaker coming out of the side panel of a Fiat 124S once, when we rolled it off the side of the road going skiing when I was 16 – it hurts like hell and was a very early learning experience that prepared me for four-wheeling. It will knock you out! Oh, and don’t try rally racing a Fiat 124s in the snow – unless you have four guys. Four guys can pick it up and carry it out of said ditch and still go skiing once one guy with a lump on the side of his head wakes up – that’s another story. My underseat storage, a Tuffy roll-out cargo tray, locking centre console, straps over the cooler and fuel cans are number one in my rig!

I’m a pretty big promoter of buying a winch early on. Skip the light bars and angry eye grills and fancy wheels – buy a winch and the tools to go with it (snatch block, clevis hooks, gloves, tree saver strap etc…). A good winch will last a lifetime and can be swapped from rig to rig. If you cringe at the cost of some of the high-end winches, watch message boards and buy-and-sells; great deals come up all the time. I just helped Chris, my buddy, get the king of all winches set up on his new TJ. A used Warn 8274 for 300 bucks that needed a new control pack and controller and cable. He found a used aluminum hawse fairlead and synthetic rope on-line – though there is nothing wrong with less-expensive steel cable. In the end, for around $500, he has a refurbished winch that could literally pull his Jeep up a tree and last for years to come.

When it comes to camping, the choices are endless. For the overland crowd, roof top tents are all the rage. I’ll be getting one as well this year to mount on a trailer, as a guy who has reverted to using a term like “Glamping” in an article seriously needs to be off the dirt ground. One big thing I learned when I first started snow wheeling and camping was ditch the air mattress. What is the coldest thing around you in the winter? The air… What’s inside the thing your trying to sleep on? And god forbid it gets a hole (re: me glamping from too many flat air mattresses and sticks up my ass…). Foam is your friend – it warms up with your body heat. Seriously, we have vehicles; we are not back-packing in the Andes, we have room. My foam is right beside a 10-lb  full-down sleeping bag; nothing beats the feathers from some bald ducks to keep you warm, even wet…and you will get wet, and cold, and miserable, and at some point, it will make you think, hey, that old guy Albert and his Best Western rewards points may not be such a stupid wimpy idea after all. Wonder if there is a spare room!

Have a great wheeling season! I’m seriously looking forward to it and take some lessons from the pictures and thoughts here. Stay safe and have fun – that’s what its really all about!

Categories: Features, Off-Road Plus