In this post I want to share what RRO deems the top 5 important things to keep in mind when planning an off-road adventure. Whether you plan to visit a nearby national or state park for a few days, get off the grid for a while on a remote camping trip, or you plan to drive from Florida to Alaska on an Arctic Overland expedition these scalable principals will apply to all land mobile excursions. They will enhance you and your group’s survivability by preventing unnecessary risk thereby maximizing your off-road experiences!
5) Land Navigation
It should go without saying that you should have redundant means of navigation whilst meandering off grid. In the most remote areas of North America where Wi-Fi and cellular service is nonexistent Google or Apple Maps isn’t going to cut it. Furthermore, electronic devices in general are not completely reliable as battery life dwindles or screens shatter. Therefore, I always recommend carrying paper maps of the areas you will be traversing as a means of backup in the event your mobile devices fail for one reason or another. Our primary tool for remote navigation is Gaia GPS. We absolutely love the features this application offer, especially the ability to have your pre-planned routes, waypoints, and maps downloaded and synced on all your mobile devices.
4) Contingent Routes
Now that you will have the means to navigate during your adventures let’s talk about route planning. I recently planned and lead a four-day expedition across multiple state lines exploring Death Valley National Park and the surrounding BLM areas. While planning where I wanted to go and what I wanted to share with my group I began linking these points on the map together creating a primary route. However, knowing Murphy’s Law strikes when you least expect it I then planned secondary and tertiary routes. It is important to mention that I collect data on any road closures or restricted areas that are in effect to limit the unexpected. Sometimes it is impossible for these backup routes to encompass all your planned waypoints, but it’s always better to have them and not need them then the converse. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve run into a locked gate, fallen tree, or washed out road and had to turn around only to do some significant backtracking to get where I wanted to go. In those frustrating situations it’s always nice to be able to default back to a secondary propane route.
3) Fuel Resupply Points
When planning an overland adventure it is best to segment the trip into different legs. Each leg should have a resupply point somewhere between the beginning, middle, or end. Using this model of trip planning a solid rule of thumb is to carry enough fuel to travel double the distance from your initial fuel point (FP) to your ending point. (e.g. FP1 –> FP2 –> FP1). This accounts for the potential that you get close to your next resupply point but the route is blocked for one reason or another and you have to back track all the way to your initial FP. Therefore, it is best to begin map reconnaissance and trip planning by plotting the FPs in the local area when planning your next remote off-road adventure. This ensures you can visually keep this principal in mind while you plan your routes and sites to see.
Disclaimer: a rule of thumb is a general suggestion, not a commandment. Fuel needs are different and can vary based on terrain, gross weight, etc. As always when in doubt bring more than you think you might need.
Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF): You absolutely need a way to signal for help in an emergency situation.
Communication is very important when traveling to remote places and positive communications should be maintained throughout the expedition. Sometimes have a cellular telephone in most places you may travel will get the job done. However, when there is no cell service how will you call for help if you need it?
Radio Frequency (RF) communication is the most diverse in mobile platforms, with HAM radios to CB radios, vehicle mounted or handheld, there are many different options with various ranges to reach out and touch someone. Satellite communication (SATCOM) devices are now very affordable and a viable option for the weekend warrior. There are a handful of one-way communication devices out there that use SATCOM to push-out a message for peace of mind. They are usually a subscription service that you will pay for in the event that you need it will pay back in dividends. The possible bands of RF communication include HF, VHF, and UHF. High Frequency, or HF, is the lowest in amplitude and can be bounced into the ionosphere to be received across the world. Whereas VHF/UHF frequencies and even CB radio channels are Line-of-Site (LOS), which means possible dead-zones in undulating terrain. RF radios are generally straight forward and can come in suites that cover one band to some that cover all RF bands. These radios are different than Citizen Band, or CB radios that have preset channels that anyone else who has a CB radio can tune in and transmit on. Cross-country tuckers usually use CB radios because of this ease of use. Nevertheless, it is recommend that those serious remote explorers invest in these emergency one-way SATCOM devices, as well as a HAM radio with an amateur HAM radio operator license. With a radio that can dial into HF, VHF, and UHF bands you can tap into local repeaters to contact the nearest ranger stations and other emergency channels, such as the NOAA weather broadcast that can give you early insight into changing weather conditions.
1) Vehicle Recovery
Our number one tip to ensure the overall success of your next overland adventure is to carry the bare minimum in recovery gear. I will add that the list of recovery gear grows tremendously if you are planning to go out by yourself. Even if you are in and out of civilization during your trip you may find yourself needing to repair a tire, change a tire, or pull your vehicle out of a sticky situation with no potential help for miles. I can tell you many stories about vehicles I’ve taken out that have been fortunate enough that the group had certain recovery items required for the specific situation. For example on my recent Death Valley expedition I had a vehicle that slashed both sidewalls of their passenger wheels while on a trail on the side of a mountain. We got them to flat ground, plugged the least damaged tire with jerky, and utilized another vehicles Hi-Lift jack to change the other damaged wheel with their spare. There are general guidelines so as to not get stuck in mud, sand, or snow, but if you find yourself mired in mud up to the chassis of your rig you better have some recovery gear to remedy the situation. As a general observation I find most off-road enthusiasts have some sort of winch, recovery points, shackles, and possibly even tow straps all of which they hope to not put to use. This DOES NOT mean buy cheap recovery gear because you don’t plan on using it. When it comes to recovery gear quality can make the difference of saving a vehicle or leaving one.
That’s it for a high-level view on Ruff Roads Overland’s Top 5 Overland Planning Tips. If you are interested in hearing more about a particular topic leave a brief description in the comment section below.
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