Off-roading adventures will take many forms and can differ between people and vehicles. Some individuals take their overland rigs to places that are even difficult to hike while others appeal to dispersed campgrounds using backroads. Whether your van is already a 4×4 sprinter, a converted off-road 4WD camper, or even a 2WD van, you’ll need some 4×4 accessories to bring with you on the next trip. Since there are a lot of individuals taking their campervans off the beaten path we’ve curated a list of accessories and gear to carry if you’re Overlanding or off-roading.
Ability to read terrain and obstacles
I know what you’re thinking, show me a blog about accessories just to start it off with some hoopla about knowledge is power and blah blah blah. In all honesty, though, you will find yourself in far fewer sticky situations when you know when and why it is appropriate to turn back or simply go around an obstacle. Yes, this does require some walking down the trail, some poking around in the dirt, and maybe even taking down a branch or two if they are in your way. Remember that the only thing more sketchy than going down a trail that’s outside of your abilities is doing that same trail in reverse. No thanks! Keep an eye out for soft sand, if your shoes sink in, your tires will too. Check that puddle out to make sure it is indeed just water and not a liquid layer over goopy nastiness. Double-check rocks and branches both on the ground of the trail and around the sides and top of it. Sure you can clear that 8” rock, but how about that limb that is only 8’ off the ground? If the trail is wet, think to yourself what will happen if you slide a foot or two off your intended line. At the end of the day, the best way to get out of being stuck is to not get stuck in the first place. It’s fun to push the limits, but personally, I would rather spend those 4 hours sipping a beer by the campfire, not digging out a muddy mess.
Good Off-Road Tires
There are a variety of essential tools for off-roading but the single most important item of them all is a good set of all-terrain tires. While there are other tires that outperform all-terrains in sand, snow, dirt, and mud, nothing is designed to work as well on all those surfaces as this one does. If you’re planning on driving your 4×4 van in all seasons and to a variety of topography, make sure to invest in all-terrain tires. Don’t let your tires be the reason you couldn’t go to a specific location, get that extra confidence for the road and upgrade your tires today. We suggest General Grabber ATx or BFG All Terrain K02/K03. Both of these tires have the 3 Peak snowflake emblem on the sidewall, which is another good indicator of a tire’s ability to perform in snowy conditions.
After a set of all-terrain tires, the next best accessory for heading off road is a pair of recovery boards. Whether it be a ditch, deep sand, slippery mud, or even a snowbank, you will likely find yourself spinning your wheels and in need of an extraction one day. You may have used your floor mats in the past but those get beat up, ripped apart, and don’t compare to a set of ultra-durable engineering-grade nylon recovery boards.
The most popular one of them all is the MaxTrax brand which is both lightweight, highly durable, and recommended by thousands of people who have used them. How they work is when you are stuck and the wheels are spinning you wedge them underneath the front of the tire and use them as a traction pad to (slowly) get yourself out. Remember to not spin your tires! The boards also work well as a makeshift shovel, a ramp to help clear abrupt dips or cracks in the trail, or leveling blocks.
These are great options for people who are off-roading by themselves and don’t have an extra vehicle for assistance. The recovery boards often extend to almost 4’ long so many van lifers will put them on the roof rack or even bolt on the side ladder if need be.
We’ve mainly covered recovery gear essentials for off-roading but one way to prevent even getting stuck is by airing down. Airing down your tires is said to give you up to 250% more traction on soft surfaces. When you drop your tire pressure to 30% from normal street pressure you’ll be floating on top of surfaces that your tire will be able to conform around objects.
So how do you air down? Instead of manually deflating, one of the fastest ways is using a Staun Automatic Tire Deflators which you can pre-set to any specified psi – We suggest 18-25 psi based on your specific vehicle weight. All you have to do is screw them on and it’ll automatically drop your tire pressure down to that fixed psi level. Once aired down, don’t forget to remove them before hitting the road again.
Once you’re finished with your off-roading adventures and need to get back on the road, you’ll have to air up and fill the tires to the previous levels. A lot of adventure vans have built-in compressed air into the bumper or side of the van which is very helpful and easy. Viair makes a wide range of onboard air (oba) kits to fit your space and air needs. If you don’t have space, or want a portable solution that can be moved between vehicles, check out these Viair portable compressor kits which simply hook to the battery with alligator clips
A 4×4 Recovery Kit
A real must have piece of gear for your 4×4 van would be a recovery kit which entails straps, shackles, and sometimes a tree saver or snatch block. This kit is typical in overland vehicles that anticipate getting stuck because of the situations they put themselves in but if you’re serious about your off-roading adventures we recommend getting one. If you don’t have a winch, this is the next best thing as it is a safe and effective recovery but you do however need an extra vehicle to get you out. Having a recovery kit in the van is essentially having insurance on getting unstuck. Here are the main elements of the 4×4 Recovery Kit and the uses.
Recovery Straps – It serves the same purpose as ropes but it’s much more durable and easy to use. The straps are made of nylon and have loops at both ends which creates a simple way of attaching. We recommend that the recovery straps must match the weight of the vehicle you are pulling and should be able to handle at least 3 times the vehicle weight. Most modern straps are designed to stretch, store energy, and essentially slingshot the vehicle out of it’s hole. Just like a rubber band. Use caution as this stored energy can become dangerous if a strap breaks. Never use a strap that has visible cuts or damage. Be sure to always use a damper to protect yourself and anybody around you in the event a strap, cable, or shackle breaks.
Bow Shackles – A tow strap is useless if you have no way to safely attach it to your vehicle. These bow shackles allow larger straps to be used.
When the recovery tracks won’t work and you need to raise your vehicle to free yourself, the best option is a Hi-Lift Jack; This particular jack also allows you to lift, push, pull, winch and clamp. While there are many different jacks available, the Hi-Lift Jack is tried and true and really the best option. It’s best to practice with your jack and keep it oiled as these are not the most straightforward tools.
Other Essential Off Road Accessories
The products listed above should be in your must have 4×4 accessories but there are a ton of other off-roading essentials to use. Many of the people who own an adventure van want to have the option to take it to the desert, woods, rivers, and desolate back country with bigger obstacles. If you plan on taking your Mercedes Sprinter 4×4 to some of these places, we recommend some additional off road products for your camper.
Winch – If you are heading to more technical terrain and more challenging terrain you may want to invest in a winch. Compared to a strap, a winch is a precision instrument that can provide a very controlled motion in small increments.
Shovel – Sometimes all it takes is a shovel and 10 minutes of digging yourself out of sand or dirt. In CA you are required to carry a shovel if you want to have a campfire. It will also serve as your poop shovel if need be.
Tree Saver – If you are getting a winch then you will also want to get a tree saver because the straps, chains, or ropes will most likely damage the tree.
Snatch Block – In addition to the tree saver, a Snatch Block allows you to change the winch’s cable direction by off-setting the anchor point which will allow you to pill in a three-point motion.
Spare Tire and Repair Kit – All the recommended 4×4 accessories above won’t help you with a flat tire that won’t hold air. Always be sure to carry a spare tire that is the same size as your main 4. Double-check it’s properly aired up before each trip. This is even more important for Sprinters which have complex traction control systems which monitor individual wheel speeds. Remember that your spare tire is ONLY for when a field repair is not working or possible. That spare tire is your last resort, and if you blow that one as well you’re sh** out of luck. For that reason, you’ll want to get an off-road tire repair kit that gives you the ability to continue your trip and get off the trail safely. This kit has everything you need to repair punctures or broken valve stems. This tire slime also works well for small leaks that might not be easily patched with a plug
Tool Set – Every vehicle let alone a 4×4 van should have a tool bag handy. We suggest at least a basic socket set, wrenches, locking pliers, hammer, duct tape, large zip ties, WD-40, alignment pry bars, and a variety of specialty tools.
Gloves – It’s going to get dirty and most of the time you’re dealing with hard sharp objects, a pair of gloves will help immensely.
Fire Extinguisher – You never know and it’s always smart to have one in any case.
Medical Kit – If you’re off-roading your camper van then you’re likely far away from any type of medical services. In that case, you’ll want to have a robust medical kit to treat almost every scenario.
LED Lights Bars – What’s worse than getting stuck? Getting stuck at night without any light. A flashlight will help but an LED light bar on your adventure van will light up the scene for you to assess the situation.
Hood Solar Panel – Getting stuck sucks but losing power can make things even worse. A hood solar panel will make sure your battery stays full and it looks pretty cool too!
Snacks – Snacks won’t get you unstuck but they’ll certainly make the day better.