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Four-wheel drive prep: how and what to pack

Four-wheel drive prep: how and what to pack

Packing a four-wheel drive efficiently is quite a skill, and one that certainly improves with practice. These handy hints will help you pack right and pack light before you head off-road.  


When packing for a four-wheel drive trip, the first thing to understand is that weight and weight distribution are critical. You must therefore ensure that you only pack the bare necessities. So, start with the essentials: vehicle spares, tools and recovery equipment. After that, look to your navigational aids, such as good-quality maps (kept in waterproof containers), a compass, and a GPS and satellite phone if needed.

Next, ensure that you have sufficient water in several containers. Don’t just rely on one container or tank – it’s the four-wheel drive equivalent of putting all your eggs in one basket. Each person should also carry a decent-sized personal water bottle and be responsible for filling it up whenever they can.

As you’re packing, cast an especially critical eye over your camping gear, as many people tend to carry more of this than they need. Camping essentials include plenty of fire starters and lighters, a few good-sized tarps and some extra lengths of rope. It’s also pretty handy to have something to sit on, and some kind of shelter from the rain and sun.

Lastly, pack a comprehensive first-aid kid, a fire extinguisher, sunscreen, a hat and some insect repellent near the top where they are easily accessible. You’ll want to know exactly where these things are so you can get to them easily and quickly when you need them.


The basic principle of packing for a four-wheel drive journey is that you should pack the heavy stuff – tools, spares and recovery gear – first, gradually working your way to the lighter equipment on top. This ensures that the vehicle will maintain a low centre of gravity, taking the strain off the suspension and making your vehicle safer to drive.

The other golden rule of packing your vehicle is to distribute the weight of your cargo as evenly as possible. Over the course of a trip, even small imbalances in weight can add up, and these imbalances can eventually cause you to lose vehicle control, compromise safety or fork out more for mechanical costs.

Many cargo set-ups these days make use of customised drawer fit-outs, which allow you to take advantage of the most available space. Working out the best way for everything to fit in is sometimes like a life-sized game of Tetris, but once you’ve figured out a system that is practical and safe, and have used it on a few trips, you’ll soon be able to mentally locate every item you’ve packed in a matter of seconds.

Don’t forget that liquids should be packed in leak-proof containers, and special care should be taken with anything in glass. Jars can be wrapped in tea towels or wedged between toilet rolls to keep them protected. Meanwhile, your sleeping bags and the few clothes you’ll need should be packed in soft bags so that they can be squeezed into awkward gaps when packing (they can also double as pillows at night).


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