4WD Tips & Tech (28)

Off-road tips that might actually be useful! Gear you might want to buy!

Saturday, 01 October 2016 00:39

Pop Top Prep

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Pop-top Prep

by Neal “Trust Me” Johns

The NorthStar Camper is not guaranteed for Off Road use as delivered. Several DE members have or did have these well built Campers. Here are the things that must be done before Off Road use for NorthStar and many other Campers:

1 Four angle iron brackets must be added where the upper hold down is attached to the Camper. These brackets should hold the vertical walls and horizontals together in rough country. Two DEers left them out to their dismay (A pulled apart horizontal and vertical section is a mess to fix). The owners  are both deceased now, no connection (bad pun). You can use one of the hold-down bracket bolts if you have small hands.

2 A 2X4 angle iron must be added across the rear of the bed (and another 2X4 added around the outside of the bottom of the Camper (if there are none). This is to help prevent the camper from sliding backwards on steep hills.

3 Adding 2X4s underneath moves the cab-over part of the Camper up over the truck cab to help clearance over bumps and rough roads also.

4 A Battery Brain (the device that disconnects the load from the battery when the battery is low, but has enough juice in it to start the engine is nice to have. Don’t ask me how I know.

                                          – Neal

Questions? (909) 887-1549

Saturday, 01 October 2016 00:37


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While touring Australia, the “Wonder Down Under” we looked around at a lot of things the Ozzies do that are different than they are here. Their off road vehicles are called a “ute” (utility vehicle) and we saw how they modify them. Any vehicle used for off roading has a specialized very heavy bumper called a “roo bar” or a “bull bar” and is designed to protect the vehicle if it collides with a kangaroo or range animal. A kangaroo can really mess up a car. They don’t believe in fences most of the time. The big exception is the dingo fence which runs across the continent to try keeping wild dingoes on one side and sheep on the other side.

Outdoor and off road activities are everyone’s diversion in Australia, such as driving up and down beaches, launching boats, driving across rivers and through mud in the jungle, or out in the desert, which is most of the country. One learns to be self reliant because there is no AAA to help you when and if you are stuck in snow, mud, or sand. Another favorite diversion is to find a private beach and make it clothing optional.

We read Australian off road magazines, prowled specialty automotive accessory stores, camping supplies, and hardware stores, and got a good education about what they do in their country, and what to do when something goes wrong. People tow camping trailers (caravans), utility trailers, and launch boats on sand, and they get stuck. They also know how to get unstuck.

We discovered a product called Max Trax, which are heavy duty plastic platforms which form a shovel at each end and a heavy treaded surface in the middle. If stuck in the sand, pull out the Max Trax and shovel the sand, mud, or snow out of the way and place one in front of each tire, drive out and keep going until your vehicle is on more solid ground. Repeat as necessary. I carry four of them at all times and have used them. As a predator hunter I am out at night and have been stuck in sand more than a few times. After returning from a trip down under I contacted the Max Trax company and ordered two pair and have saved a lot of time, energy, and good hunting trips simply by driving out of sand traps. They really work. Go to and be sure to watch the video.

– Jerry Dupree

Saturday, 01 October 2016 00:36

Navigating with Maverick

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There has been some interest in the navigation system I use in my Jeep, so I have been asked to present a tech article about it. What I concocted was a system that uses a laptop car mount to hold an Android tablet. The tablet runs an application called Maverick GPS. The advantages of this set up include:

1 Pre trip downloading and caching of maps for the areas I will be traveling in.

2 Switching back and forth between multiple map sets (i.e. USGS, ESRI
and others).

3 Large screen for ease of viewing.

4 Easily removable for security purposes.

5 Inexpensive (if you already own
a tablet.)

I am sure that a similar system can be created if you own an iPad, but I will limit my comments to the Android Operating System as that is what I am familiar with.

Starting with the laptop mount, there are many of these available onthe market. I choose one from a company called Jeniko that was fairly inexpensive, but has proved to be sturdy and doesn’t shake a lot when traveling off road. It incorporated a “universal” mount that bolts to the base of you passenger seat. In the case of my Jeep Grand Cherokee, it didn’t quite give me the fit I wanted, but a short piece of 2” angle iron with three holes drilled in it did the trick. The mount is adjustable for a wide range of positions so you can get it right where you want it.

The tablet is a Lenovo Android tablet with a 10” diagonal screen and built in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities. These are usually all of the interfaces I need. If I need to access the internet on the road, I utilize the Wi-Fi hotspot capability of my cell phone (assuming there is a cell tower in range). Also of critical importance is a built-in GPS receiver. However, nearly every Android device now comes standard with GPS. Nearly all Android devices use a mini USB jack for charging. By buying a cheap USB charging unit that plugs into your cigarette lighter socket, you can keep the tablet going around the clock.

Maverick is only one of several similar applications for GPS navigation that can be used. I have also tried the US Topo Maps Pro application. The important thing to look for in one of these applications is the ability to cache maps in advance as we usually travel in areas without internet access. Another feature to look for is the ability to import track and waypoint data from other sources, such as Google Earth. Beyond that, choose the application that appeals to you the most. In the case of Maverick, the application comes in two flavors. The basic application is free so you can install it from the Google Play Store and play with it to see if that is what you want. You can then install the “Pro” version for just a few dollars that allows you to download and cache maps. All of these maps can be downloaded for free. Instead of downloading complete quadrangles, this application allows you to download much smaller “tiles” that follow the route that you wish to take. This can be a real time saver. For example, on the Great Western Trail trip this last March, my downloaded map tiles added up to 1.6 GB of data (whew.) Once you purchase the Pro version, you can then choose which of many different maps you want to view. Play with this feature. Different maps might be the best for you on different trips.

Some of the other features of Maverick include:

  •         The ability to zoom in and out at will.

  •         Freeze the map while you are moving, then quickly recenter the map on your current position.

  •         Record your moving track and display/export it later.

  •         Add and annotate way points on the fly to record interesting or important information.

  •         Maverick can import most of the commonly used way point and track formats used by different manufacturers.

Since I already had the tablet, the total cost was under $100.00. If you start from scratch, you can get the whole system for around $300.00. Keep in mind that the tablet does so much more than a dedicated GPS receiver that you could get from say, Garmin or Magellan. It does email, web surfing, takes photos and videos, file sharing, word processing, etc.

All in all I have been very happy with this set up. I have noted a few gotchas though. It is important to set aside enough time for the tablet to download all of the tiles before shutting off the program. For a long trip, this could take as much as 18-24 hours depending on your internet link speed. If you don’t, you can occasionally have the map details disappear on you in the closer in zoom settings. Fortunately, it this occurs, zoom out and you get your info back on the screen at lower resolution. As these map files can be huge, you should have a large capacity SD card installed in the memory expansion port and set up Maverick to cache files to the SD card rather than the built-in memory.

Anyone interested in getting one of these or something similar is more than welcome to contact me at my email address This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

– Happy navigating, Bill Powell

Saturday, 01 October 2016 00:33

Low Tech Cheap Tricks

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Low Tech Cheap Tricks from Jerry Dupree

Have you ever been stuck or helped someone else out of a jam? There are so many ways to get stuck, such as in sand, snow, mud, or high centered on a large rock, sand dune, or a wash out. At one time or another I have experienced most of them. Of all the things to bring with you, such as a winch, a good set of tools, a Swiss Army knife and a Leatherman multi tool, consider some light weight low cost or free items that take very little room and are very useful. “If I had only brought a..., or some...“

I have a real shovel and not one of those folding military fox hole “E tools.” It could mean the difference of minutes vs. hours of digging. I also carry a garden hoe because it is a lot easier to pull dirt or sand from under a vehicle than dig and lift it. I also use it for reaching my equipment from the truck. I have seen or helped a lot of people who have ended up in very difficult situations to extricate a vehicle. I have seen two vehicles that were high centered on huge rocks. In one case the owner dug a hole big deep enough that the rock dropped into the hole enough to allow the vehicle to clear. The other one raised the vehicle high enough to place scraps of lumber under the front wheels to form a ramp and free the vehicle up and over the rock.

I recommend carrying some lengths of 2” x 4” and 4” x 4” boards that can make a bridge or ramp, and some scraps of 1/2” to 3/4” plywood to jack up a vehicle and place under a wheel to drive out. We came across a vehicle with the body lifted and had huge tires so the vehicle was too high for even a high lift jack to raise it up. I have a 3 ton floor jack that lifted it with ease from the axles with the help of a couple of pieces of plywood. I have two nylon tow straps. One is beaten up from helping others and the other is saved for me if I need help, and I have.

My son and I rescued a couple one year on Memorial Day weekend. They had been stuck for three days and were desperate and out of everything. If they had a few simple necessities they could have driven out of their predicament. The funny part is the guy was trying to tell me how to get him out. We gave them food and water. I carry military MRE’s (Meal Ready to Eat) for such emergencies.

I have a tool set of special tools for off roading. I drove a long way only to find a locked gate when I was low on fuel and time. I unbolted the gate, drove through, and put it back together and was on my way. I carry fence wire and two special fence tools in case I need to cut a fence and repair it in an emergency. Always bring duct tape and bailing wire. (Note: Rebar tie wire from Home Depot,

You can build a bridge over wash outs.

Storing scraps of lumber

Foot for jack

Variety of 2” x 4” and pieces of plywood

Real shovel and hoe

Harbor Freight or Lowes is a good substitute.) I knew a guy whose fuel tank fell out and he fixed it with bailing wire and some Okie ingenuity. A very simple piece of “equipment” that is light weight and doesn’t take much space are coat hangers. They are good for a lot of things besides roasting marshmallows. One time an off roader’s battery hold down broke due to corrosion and he made a sufficient one with a coat hanger and a piece of rubber fuel line. Another time a man wrapped a piece of a hanger around a water hose to replace a broken clamp and twisted it with pliers. Pack electrical wire and tools to repair things and plastic tape and fuses.

I asked an EMT and a nurse for advice on what to pack in a first aid kit. Be sure to check the supplies once in awhile and replace things such as dried up rubber gloves.

If anyone has had a flat and had to lower a spare tire from under a truck with the tools that came with the vehicle, they know it is difficult especially at night. Mine came in three pieces that made it nearly impossible to aim for the part that lowers the spare. I tried finding a better one in junk yards with no success until I found one laying in the street. I had a lug nut welded to it so I didn’t have to use the silly crank that came with the truck. I use a lug wrench.

An easy way to start a fire in any kind of weather or wind condition with wet or any kind of wood or charcoal; use a flare. You can make a fire regardless of conditions. I didn’t learn that in the Boy Scouts. There are lots of other tricks, but we are running out of space... more later.

– Jerry Dupree

Saturday, 01 October 2016 00:31

GPS system

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GPS Global Positioning System by Jerry Dupree

Technology changes so fast I can’t keep up with it.  I am grateful to the U.S. Government for launching 30 satellites that civilians can use for free.  I have a GPS receiver, a navigation unit, a tracker/locator, and a satellite phone.  All of them operate from satellites orbiting the earth. 

I have been wandering around the desert since I was a teenager and have hiked, explored, and blundered my way around a lot of territory.  People are lost or injured every weekend.  Our deserts and surrounding mountains can be dangerous places resulting in some very sad deaths.  Fortunately, modern digital electronics can help save a lot of problems for people who are out in wilderness areas. 

A few years ago I bought a GPS receiver and didn’t know how to use it or all of the functions it was capable of doing.  I learned there was an activity called geocaching where otherwise intelligent adults go looking for hidden treasures which were placed by others so that geocachers can go searching for them with the use of a GPS receiver.   It is a fun thing to do and people benefit from being outdoors looking for containers with completely useless toys like we used to get for free in a box of Cracker Jacks.  People record the location by coordinates of degrees of longitude and latitude.  I have done some geocaching to learn how to use the device, and was out with a friend of ours who is an enthusiastic geocacher who looks for caches everywhere he goes.  In this case we were in Big Bear for the Fourth of July and we had to take a break to look for buried toys.

I primarily use my GPS to locate my game cameras which are left in position which take pictures of anything that passes in front of the lens.  I have  taken a lot of pictures of coyotes, road runners, foxes, bobcats, raccoons, ravens, and a tortoise.  The cameras can be set on video with sound, or on still photography, and have IR night vision.  I leave them in the shade for a week.  Most people think there isn’t much going on out in the desert, but would be surprised to find the amount of wildlife there is at night.  I have two game cameras and place them together, one set on still and the other on video. 

I locate cameras where people are not likely to be near enough to find them.  Sadly they get stolen or maliciously damaged but I haven’t experienced any problems like that.  I record the coordinates of camera locations so I can return and find them.  The GPS also records the route one walks or drives and it shows on an LCD screen as a dotted line on a topo map, known to GPS users as a “bread crumb trail” or a “snail trail” so it can be followed to the exact location.  They are very accurate and can record within inches of their target.  They can also aim nuclear weapons, which is one of the purposes the military has spent the billions of dollars on the system (constellation) of satellites.  They are also used by truckers, police agencies, ships, airplanes, first responders, etc.  Depending on the brand and model, they show distances, compass, speed, altitude, water sources, local businesses, streets, roads, points of interest, etc.  Some include CB radios and cameras.  A GPS would be very important if anyone is lost or needs help with car breakdowns.  One never knows when we may come upon an accident scene, report a fire, or any illegal activity.  I have brought my GPS on an airplane and watched the map on the screen at 450 miles per hour.  The flight crew has told me not to use it. 

When I am out in the desert I leave a copy of my GPS camera location at home so I can be located if I am not home for dinner.  I am frequently out beyond cell phone range, so I have a satellite phone and can reach nearly anyone on planet Earth and have tested it to and from Hawaii and Alaska. 

I recently acquired a GPS tracker/locater which can find my location on a smart phone or computer monitor.  It emits a signal every 30 minutes, which flags my location.  I would prefer one that police use for surveillance or ankle bracelets, or biologists use to tag bears, whales, mountain lions, or bighorn sheep.  I have not found one online  and assume they are not available to the public or are too expensive.  Like I mentioned earlier, technology is rapidly changing, so I expect to see something like that on the horizon. 

I recommend getting a GPS with topo maps of North America.  There are several brands and grades of GPS receivers.  I have had Garmin and Magellan and they are available for about  $200 on up, and are worth it for your safety and help navigating to a desired destination.  Try to find one that you can carry with a strap, lanyard, or carabiner so you can keep your hands free for a walking stick, note pad, etc.  Always bring extra batteries.  I recommend lithium batteries as they last about twice as long as alkaline batteries

Saturday, 01 October 2016 00:27


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Four years or so ago I finally bit the bullet, paid the big bucks, and bought a new ARB Refrigerator/Freezer. In the thirty-seven plus years I have been off-roading all over the Western deserts; second only to my Tacoma, bar none, it is the second best investment in off-road equipment I have ever made!

I ordered it from Amazon. The fridges are price-fixed so shopping for a lower price may net you a buck or two savings, but it’s not worth the effort. The significant benefit of ordering from Amazon is you will have NO Sales Tax, Free Shipping, a 30 Day No Questions Asked Pre-Paid Return Shipping warranty. If there are any genuine problems (NOT likely, mine’s been bullet proof!), not just not liking the color!?

I ordered mine before the Tuesday night shipping deadline, paid for One Day Delivery, received it Wednesday evening, and left for Panamint Valley (Mahogany Flats/Telescope Peak actually), Thursday afternoon! It was mid-August; 120°+ on the Valley floor, and while my trail mates were running into Stove Pipe Wells to stock up on ICE every other day wasting considerable time, gas and money, I was relaxing back in camp without a thing to worry about! These coolers really work and are worth every penny you will pay for one in convenience, time and money!! Not to mention no more sloshing melted water,
SOGGY sandwiches or lousy ruined meats and veggies!

One caveat: you cannot have cold beer and frozen ice cream at the same time, they are not a refrigerator AND freezer. They can only be set as one or the other. They only have one compartment, and the temperature you set: 28°F, 32°F, 42°F, whatever, will be the temperature you will have. Having said that; there is one possible work-a-round, suggested by one of the ARB Tech guys. If you really need to take along some ice cream bars or ice lollies you can try setting the cooler at, say, 28°-30°; laying them at the very bottom of the cooler and covering them with a thick Styrofoam pad, and putting the rest of the food (beer) on top of the Styrofoam. They suggested that just may allow the upper part of the cooler to rise/remain slightly above freezing temperature? I haven’t tried it so I
can’t say!

It’s worth mentioning the ARB Customer Service and Tech’ guys up in Washington State are a great bunch of willing and helpful guys!

I’m not going to elaborate more.
If I can answer any specific question,
I’ll be more than willing to try. Give me call at: (760) 938-2970 or e-mail at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

– “Coop” Cooper. Big Pine

Saturday, 01 October 2016 00:24

Battery Brain

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Have you ever left a light on too long, or maybe left the CB on something else that drained the battery down so low that you would not have enough juice the next morning to start your vehicle? If so, this article is for you.

The Battery Brain is a gadget that disconnects the battery from everything when the battery gets low, but leaves enough in it to start the vehicle. You have to pop the hood and press a button on the small box that fits between the battery and the connector for the rest of the vehicle to reset it. There are enough links on the Battery Brain that it will fit any vehicle. There is also a more expensive model that will reset with a pushbutton inside the vehicle, no need to raise the hood. I have one in the Tacoma that carries my Pop-top around. I guess Marian must have left something on…. 

Wednesday, 28 September 2016 08:57

What is "A Martin"?

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A Martin

To do a Martin is to get stuck while deviating, for no apparent reason, from a well-marked, solid road; it is not to be confused with a Perko, which is to get stuck while on an imaginary road or a Lawrence, which is to get stuck on no road at all.

An example:

An example of a Martin

What's wrong with this picture?

This picture shows a typical Martin
[Note the Desert Explorer in the foreground, anxious to help
the hapless victim,
showing no concern for his own well-being
or potential damage to his vehicle,
especially the clutch]


Sunday, 17 November 2013 10:37

Tire pressure gauge/deflator

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Here is a great tool, introduced to us by Chuck Kalback, that makes letting the air out of your tire a breeze! No more looking for a twig to press on the valve stem, check remaining pressure with a tire gauge, back to the twig, back to the gauge, etc. Best of all it is one you can put together yourself with very little expense.

Sunday, 17 November 2013 10:12

Cooler report

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On a recently trip to Baja California, we brought along a new ice chest. We first heard of this new cooler from John Marnell who read about it in a magazine.

On Tuesday, December 29, at about 4:00 p.m., we put a 12"x8" block of ice into the "EXTREME" Cooler. Everything in the "EXTREME" cooler was prechilled. We also placed a block in my regular cooler. When we got home Sunday, January 3, at 11:00 p.m., everything was still cold, and we had a piece of ice left that was about 2-3" thick by about 6" square. Our regular cooler had to be replenished with ice on Dec. 31 at about 10:00 a.m. and was almost room temperature when we got home.

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