Key Up On A Useful Tool

As a cotter key “puller” for the base of a Hi-Lift Jack. Leave it there for the next time.

We four wheelers are known for being resourceful. You know, fix just about anything anywhere – especially while off road – using the most unusual tools or items. Sometimes you need to use what you have to get through a pinch.

But it is true that we can make use of the oddest items laying around: rubber bands, paper clips, duct tape. To that list I’d like to add the split key ring. If you’re like me, you’ve collected a bunch over the years. You can pick up a pocketful walking the floor of any trade show. Do you actually use them? Probably not. My guess is you toss ‘em in a junk box or drawer, rarely to be seen again.

Turns out that humble key ring can fill many roles. As you’ll see from the images, I’m referring only to the split-ring type of key ring. Throw away whatever plastic doohickey is attached; all you need is the ring. Herewith, in no particular order, are some ways to use the split key ring beyond the norm.


To identify pieces of gear and cooking items like a Dutch oven. Inscribe your initials in a piece of metal (brass or aluminum are fine), then attach that to the item with a key ring.

Replace the handle of a zipper that’s broken off. Loop the key ring through the eyelet on top of the zipper, and—voila!—you have a new handle. And a better one, in fact. You can grab it with a finger. On a jacket this is much cleaner than say a zip tie solution.

At the end of the pull string on an overhead light. Tie a key ring at the end and, like with your zipper, you can loop a finger through and easily turn the light on and off. This can work in the garage too as an indicator of where to stop the car.









In place of a broken or missing swivel on a gun sling.

Use two as a quick way to make a belt buckle or cinch strap around your bed roll.

A key ring will also work in place of a lock for a clasp on a foot locker or similar storage unit. Secure a latch and keep crows, burros, and vagrants out!








Gang them together to gain some additional length for something. DO NOT use key rings on tools that generate force or tension (like a winch). As you can imagine, the key rings aren’t strong enough to withstand that force. Use the proper size of chain, rope or strap for those types of applications.

As a temporary replacement for the trailer hitch pin clip. It may take a little finessing (and a few choice words), but a sturdy key ring works in a pinch. Replace it with the real deal when you get home.

Do you have an ongoing problem or need for a small wrench? Use a key ring to hang a wrench under the hood for quick access. Put it somewhere it doesn’t rattle or short out the batteries.










Some other ideas:

  • Hang a banner. Slip the ring through the grommet holes. This will work for either wall-mounted or suspended banners.
  • As part of the anchoring system for a tent. Plant the tent pole and stake inside the ring. The ring is particularly useful in cold climates or other areas where the tent stake tends to get stuck in the ground. Just grab the ring and pull the tent stake loose.
  • To attach gear to something. Some shirts and jackets have D ring sewn in. Want to carry a flashlight or whistle? Use a key ring to attach the item to your clothing, including a belt loop.
  • Of course you can always put keys on it!

As you can see, the split key ring has many important uses around the home and in the great outdoors. Dig through your junk boxes to see if you saved any key rings. If so, add two or three to your survival kit, tool box, even your camp box. You’re sure to find a use for one someday.


Bubba Rope

The Bubba Rope – Renegade Model Breaking Strength is 19,000.
This rope has already seen hard use in my class.

I have been experimenting with a Bubba rope now for a few months. The one I have is the recently released Renegade model. It is designed primarily for 2 door jeep size vehicles. This one is rated at 19,000 lb. breaking strength and is 20 feet long.

The Bubba rope is representative of the higher end manufactures in that they have a tag attached on one end of the rope with all the specs. This is important – don’t use anything for recovery if you do not know the ratings for which it is designed. If you buy any recovery gear that does not have a tag, write, carve or engrave the information from the package onto the product.

The Bubba rope is the brand name for a class of ropes referred to as KERR – kinetic energy recovery rope. Kinetic energy recovery ropes have been around for a long time. I made my own version back in the 70’s and am a firm believer in using them.

War Story

One rainy fall day in southern Michigan, I wanted to go wheeling but had no one to back me up. I drove my 70 CJ5 out to a local spot and waited for someone else to show up. It was a short wait. Another vehicle agreed to go with me. It was fun – just enough mud on mostly flat ground to be challenging. About an hour into it, we rounded a thicket of trees to find 3 full size pickups buried in the mud. My observation was that one vehicle was going too fast and could not make a required turn and ended up in the swap. How the other vehicles got stuck I don’t know but it was obvious that his buddy hooked up to him with a chain and tried to tug him out. The result was he spun his wheels until he was buried to his axles.

So this reminds me of a couple more rules (besides don’t go alone):
1) Never use chain in a “dynamic” recovery. Something or someone is sure to be damaged.
2) On soft and wet stuff always start with a “snatch” not a tug. And if the other vehicle does not move with you when you hit the end of the rope get off the power immediately.

Using my homemade version of a Bubba rope, I was able to pull all 3 pickups out even though they out weighted my vehicle by 2 to 3 times. Not only did they weigh more, they were stuck in mud. As a rule of thumb you can assume you will need to pull up to 70% of the GVW of the stuck vehicle if they are stuck to the bottom of the rims in mud (we call that “shallowly” stuck) and 100% of the GVW if they are grounded on their axles.

BTW, just as I left, I watched the first vehicle try to negotiate that turn in the same manner as he had the first time – too fast. I left him stuck in the swap right where I pulled him out. Maybe his buddies pulled him out.

The Bubba rope can stretch up to 30 % unlike flat straps that only give you 10-15% stretch. The ability to stretch more allows you to make a faster harder snatch resulting in creating more energy to pull out the stuck vehicle. When you don’t need that much force the Bubba rope pull will just feel much smoother.

The Bubba Rope – Renegade Model

So why do most people only carry a flat strap?

My opinion is cost and space. A KERR can be as much as 3 times the cost of the flat strap. And a 30 foot 7/8” KERR is quite a big pile of rope. I didn’t confirm this with the Bubba people but I suspect the new Renegade addressed the space issue. By matching the rating to a typical 20 foot flat strap (20,000 lb. typical flat strap vs. 19,000 lb. Bubba rope) allows the use of 3/4“rope. So a 20 feet rope is actually manageable.

I feel the 20 foot strap however is too short and 30’ would be better. If you need the extra energy, 20 feet does not give you enough room to build up momentum particular on slippery stuff or starting off uphill. I feel 30’ is the minimum. Again I will leave it up to the Bubba boys to tell me whether the ¾ inch diameter is up to the task at 30’ or if we need to move up to the next bigger diameter.

I would like to see the 20 foot Bubba rope come in a larger bag. I have no intentions of spending the time to coil it up and put the Velcro strap on. I just want to shove it into the bag. I guess a compression type bag would be ideal for quickly tossing it in but still making it into a small package. But any bag is better than none when it comes to storing it in the vehicle. A bag is more manageable and more likely you will take your rope along for the ride.


This was our test bed for side by side comparison of a Bubba Rope and a flat strap. That is a 30 degree slope in dry sand. Roughly, the stuck load is about 125% of the GVW.

Part of my testing involved giving my students a chance to see and feel the difference between a flat strap and a Bubba rope. In one class we had 5 JKU’s (4 doors) and 1 JK (2 doors). Each vehicle was stuck in a sand berm and pulled up and out by another student with the flat strap and then the Bubba rope. Each student experienced being the stuckee and being the driver of the recovery vehicle.

The flat strap broke when the JK (2 door) tried to pull out a full size JKU (4 door). It is possible we over stressed the flat strap with the first 5 pulls. But I believe it was the necessary extra momentum the 2 door vehicle built up on his third attempt to pull out a much heavier vehicle and the strap exceeded its breaking strength. When we switched to the Bubba rope the smaller JK pulled out the larger JKU on the first try.

In the debriefing all the students preferred the Bubba rope. They agreed the Bubba rope made for a smoother pull.

I have gone through 2 flat straps and am on my third this year alone. That one broke and its replacement was frayed in another recovery involving a rock as an anchor. Once there is a fray or nick, retire the strap! It is not worth the risk to see if you can get by with it. As a rule it is not a good idea to incorporate a strap or kinetic energy recovery rope into the rigging for a winch extraction. The stretch built into them for a dynamic recovery, will preload the winch rigging and create even more recoil in the event of a line failure.

We use the “dynamic” recovery method- using a strap or rope – most of the time because generally vehicles are “shallowly stuck” and it is quick. As a result, we don’t always take the time to ensure a few safety steps. Whether a flat strap or Bubba rope, I recommend that you take the time to put a blanket over the rope or strap and keep everyone back out of the danger zone.

I hope that KERR as represented by the Bubba rope becomes the new standard for recovery when a winch is not called for. We will know that for sure when the “boulevard trucks” all have Bubba ropes as required accessories.

Help: I am stuck in an Endless Circle of Indecision (Rules for decision making)

What you plan to do impacts your need for modifications if any.

And I am enjoying it. I get to chew over every catalog, every Internet site and every vehicle I see. Maybe the analogy is a stretch, but it feels a bit like dating.

Four wheeling, as a rule, entails frequent changes or improvements to the vehicle and gear. You should understand that your vehicle will evolve as you develop more skills and a better understanding of the type of driving you will be doing.

Newer drivers tend to feel overwhelmed. There are just so many variables to consider. They fret: What modifications should I make? What do I need to get the vehicle ready for off-road driving? These are good questions, and are best answered when you know more about the type of driving you will be doing; how you will use the vehicle and who will ride with you.

But first, I want to assure you that these concerns and feelings are natural. All, or nearly all, new drivers go through this stage. Heck, I did. It was many years ago, and it took many years of driving to really understand how best to deck out a new vehicle to fit my needs. If fact, even today, I continue to make minor modifications over the course of a vehicle’s lifetime.

As with any hobby, money is an issue. And, yes, you can spend a boatload on your vehicle (both buying and modifying). Keep in mind that it is possible to enjoy this fascinating hobby with a modest budget. There is nothing wrong with keeping your vehicle stock. Most vehicles are pretty darn capable in their stock form. Most of us however, can’t leave it alone and decide to make some modification.

Sign This one rock is the only thing in your way to get to the camp site in the picture above.

Rule 1: Make a decision and run with it. Too often new drivers get caught up in “paralysis by analysis,” and never take the first step. You need to assure yourself that you’re going to make a generally sound decision. The vehicle you purchase and the accessories you add to it will allow you to drive under most conditions.

Rule 2: Part of being a newbie four-wheeler is understanding that you don’t know much about four wheeling. On top of that, you don’t know what you don’t know. And you probably already know you asked 10 people what to do and you now have 11 alternatives. But you know enough—especially about your current goals—to at least get started.

Rule 3: Don’t be shy about making mistakes. We all do. The best mistakes make good fodder around the camp fire. At some point you will realize that your vehicle is just the way you need it to be. Until then, you will still enjoy countless hours of off-road driving.

Rule 4: Understand that you can’t optimize everything, if your budget only allows a gradual build up. In addition, your needs and decisions change with experience which may well cause you to redo an earlier build. The key is to get out on the trails. Remember you can sell that old stuff on eBay!

Rule 5: One of the fundamental rules of 4-wheel drive decision making is the more analysis you do the more the solution will seem like a compromise. Don’t settle for ½-way steps even if it means you do less now. If you wanted 35” tires you will never be happy with 33” tires even if you can do everything you want with your vehicle on 33’s including the Rubicon trail.

Rule 6: How much will the other decision maker in my family let me spend?

Bottom line: Assume that your vehicle will evolve over time; you’re not capable of making all those decisions right from the start. Assume, too, that you will replace your vehicle at least one time. With the second vehicle you’ll be in a much better position to know what you want and the most optimal way to get there within your budget.

How long will this process take? That varies with the person, and depends on how often the person drives and where. You might be driving for year or two before modifying. Or, you may find after just a couple off-road excursions that your vehicle needs further modification. That’s normal.

This article is a pep talk, not a cookbook. If you have a sure-fire recipe for building up a vehicle and can convince me of that fact, I will publish it! Good luck!

Ok – so maybe you can think of some more rules. We ran out of tequila before we got past Rule 6 and things got hazy.

Camping Gear Repair Kit

Build a repair kit for your off-Road gear.

One of the keys to a successful off-road trip is preparation. I’ve written about that many times. Understandably, the focus is on preparing your vehicle and yourself for the journey. With this article I’d like to zero in on personal items and camping gear.

Do you know how to handle breaks, tears or holes in your camping gear, clothing or bedding? It begins with the proper tools and supplies. Let’s take a look at some of the items you should pack.

For camping

Several manufacturers offer camping repair kits. They appear to be pretty good, and you could probably get by with one of those. If you choose to build a kit, be sure to include these items:
Strap, Rope, Hardware

  • Terma-A-Rest sells replacement kits if you lost or used the one that came with the Therm-A-Rest.

    Patches and glue for the tent fabric, and a bottle of seam sealer.

  • Materials to repair broken tent poles. You can use short pieces of tube slightly larger than the tent poles, along with duct tape or other strong tape. Carry a few small hose clamps to clamp something solid on either side of the break. Camping kits contain the short tubes, known as tent pole ferrules, so you may be better off just buying a kit. Some kits also include Tenacious Tape, designed specifically for high-stress applications.
  • Extra mantel(s) and generator(s). If your lantern and stove use liquid gas, consider purchasing at least one extra generator. They wear out with heavy use. You can find those at camping stores and online. Also, make sure you have extra mantels on hand.
  • Patches for repairing holes in the air mattress. Therm-A-Rest mattresses come with patch kits. The patching process is a bit complicated, but it works great.

Speedy Stitcher – Made in America

For your clothing

Clothing takes a beating in the outdoors. A sewing kit will allows you to mend your clothing, as well as sleeping bags and backpacks. At a minimum the kit should include a needle, thread and buttons. For heavy-duty work (back pack seams and sleeping bags), pick up a Speedy Stitching Sewing Awl. These handy devices include two or three sturdy needles and heavy waxed thread.

I’ve used one of these to stitch up a tear in a canvas chair (hey, I’m a poet!), a seam on a tent pole bag and the seams on a backpack.
Pins, wire ties, Hardware

For general repairs

Not quite enough tab left? Use a zip tie!

Duct tape: The all-purpose repair “tool.” Enough said!

Rescue tape: Designed for applications involving high temperatures and pressures, like radiator and heater hoses. I’ve also used it to repair tent poles (in conjunction with a short piece of pipe). Rescue tape is so useful, I recommend you pack one roll along with other tools and gear.

Safety pins and wire ties: Very versatile and useful. For example, you can use either to replace the handle portion of a zipper that has broken off. Simple feed one end through the hole in the zipper body and form a loop. Your zipper works like new again. Of course, safety pins and wire ties have multiple uses. Best of all, they don’t take up much space. Pack a bunch of them.

Seal All – Great Glue!

All-purpose glue: Seal-All® glue is quite versatile and can have applications for your vehicle as well. The manufacture states:

“Repair and maintain oil pans, gasoline tanks, oil lines, golf club grips, fletching arrows, fishing rod tips and guides, tents, canoes, boats, outboard motors, fishing lures, woodworking, model kits, glass, china, crockery, leather, metal, porcelain, fiberglass, plastics, ornaments, figurines, linoleum, oilcloth, furniture, knobs and drawers, screens, tile, plumbing, gutters, and much more.”

You can see all the possible uses on an outdoor adventure. When my brother and I were teenagers, we glued patches on our jeans rather that sew them. The jeans even went through the washing machine without the patches coming off!

Don’t let a minor rip or hole put a tear in your off-road plans. Pack a repair kit and the proper supplies so you can deal with those issues that crop up during your off-road trip. The additional investment is minor, and it will allow you to keep on wheeling in comfort.

Keep Recovery Gear Accessible

Recovery strap or rope, two D rings, a shackle block and 2 hitch pins.

You’re in the middle of nowhere stuck in the sand. Your buddy waits patiently while you paw through your car looking for the recovery strap and gear needed to get you out of your bind.

“I know it’s in here somewhere!” you scream (along with a few choice words).

Your off-road adventure is becoming a disaster because you either didn’t pack a recovery strap, or you packed it so deeply it’ll take you a long time to find it.

Sometimes a vehicle is really stuck, but most situations can be resolved with a basic recovery strap (flat or rope). Problem is, the necessary equipment often isn’t within easy reach if it was packed at all.

Gear needed for proper recovery

It’s quite simple, really: a recovery strap or rope, two D rings, a shackle block and 2 hitch pins.

Recovery straps are typically 2 inches wide and 20 or 30 feet long. That width of strap is usually rated to 20,000 lbs. which is enough for most vehicles. (Check the label to make sure of the rating.)

Recovery ropes, formally called kinetic energy recovery ropes (KERR), are just that: a rope of recovery material. Generally ¾” or 7/8” diameter, they also come in 20 and 30 foot lengths.

Recovery straps are more popular because they’re less expensive, run around $20 to $70, and not as bulky. Recovery ropes, sometimes referred to by the brand name Bubba Rope, can run $120 to $180.

Though bulkier and more expensive, I’m warming up to recovery ropes. Why? They stretch more. Recovery straps offer 10% to 15% stretch. That’s fine in most instances. Recovery ropes, on the other hand, are designed to stretch up to 30%. That’s a significant gain and in my mind worth the added cost. Plus, that added stretch smooths out the jerking motion, making for a more comfortable recovery.

Use recovery straps, ropes safely

Before discussing the recovery process, it’s important to review the safety rules. Recovering a vehicle is a dangerous process. It requires your attention to detail.

Make sure the recovery strap(s) you’re using don’t have any metal hooks sewn in. The strap should have only a fabric loop at each end. And, never use D rings to attach two recovery straps together. Straps are under great tension during the recovery process. If one breaks, any attached metal becomes a flying missile. Severe injury and death can result as mentioned in this article. Deadly Mistakes – Don’t lose Your Head While Recovering a Vehicle.

As soon as both ends of the line are connected (but not yet under tension), treat the strap or rope as a “live line.” If you need to cross over the strap, step on it, as opposed to stepping over it. If the strap suddenly develops tension, you may be thrown, but you won’t suffer a nasty snap burn.

For further protection, I recommend using a heavy blanket as a parachute. Pack one for every off-road trip.

Once the recovery strap or rope is under tension, do not allow anyone to walk between the vehicles. It’s best that spectators are kept at a safe distance.

Recovery strap, rope must be accessible

In order for you to recover a vehicle, you’ve got to have the gear and it must be accessible. It’s useless if buried in at the bottom of a box; with two other boxes piled on top; and 3 more boxes you have to move that are in your way. Pack your gear—recovery strap or rope, D rings and hitch pins—in a separate bag. Much like your emergency Go Bag. Store it on the floor behind the driver’s seat or some other place that’s easily accessible. Then, should the need arise, you can quickly grab your gear and get started.

Gotta save your buddy? Grab your rope or strap, your bag of attachment hardware, and a pair of gloves. The minimal bit of hardware in the bag will let you fasten to both vehicles regardless of what you are present with. If they have a D ring that has been wrenched down so it will not vibrate off, throw one of your D rings on it. No need to go get tools. If they have a trailer hitch, slide in your shackle block and hold it in place with the hitch pin. Have to hook up to a second trailer hitch? Feed the loop inside and secure with your other hitch pin. If they have a hook, do not use any hardware. Just throw the loop over it.

Your recovery gear is as important as a first aid kit and tool kit. In fact, many off-road organizations include recovery gear in the preparation checklist.

If you drive off road regularly, you’re bound to experience or encounter a recovery situation. Pack the proper gear and store it where you can reach it easily.

You Gotta Have Good Wood to Go 4 Wheeling

Use the 2×6 to drive up on a tire to break the bead.

If you watch an experienced four wheeler unpack his vehicle, you’ll notice his gear includes various pieces of wood. Whattheheck, is he some kind of carpenter?

Nope, he’s just carrying some trail tools he’s found valuable. A muddy trail might call for something to keep his knees protected or to keep his high-lift jack from sinking into the muck. Ever tried to eat dinner off a paper plate held on your lap? Tried to cut a hose on the dirt? Well, I think you’re getting the idea. Good wood is necessary for a good time… off road.

Consider adding two or three select pieces of wood. These aren’t large pieces and, as you will see, each can be used in numerous ways. As a good start on your collection of good wood, I suggest: a piece of plywood roughly 12” to 15” by about 18” long and ¾” thick; a solid block: 4×5, 4×6,or 6×6 and around 18” long; and a 2×6 that is 2 or 3 feet long.

Where to Pack your Good Wood

Brush the mud off your jack board and use it as a lap table for supper by the fire.

Jack board Notice the rope on the jack board? In mud, the rope makes it easier to retrieve the board when finished.

You can pack it almost anywhere. I cut my jack board (aka the plywood) in the shape of one of the floor mats. When I am not using it to separate gear that might rub against each other, it disappears under the floor mat. The other pieces of good wood find similar homes doing double duty as packing spacers and separators.

Here are Some Ways to Use Your Plywood


  • Jack board (pad) for the jack to sit on to keep it from sinking into mud and sand
  • Plan on replacing it when you get home. Find a cheap source of wood if your jack board is used frequently as a target.

    On top of the jack (bottle jack) to spread the weight when lifting on the oil pan to avoid damage to the oil pan
    As a trivet for a hot pan when cooking

  • Cutting board for food – not sure how this works after using it as a jack board in the mud. Does the 15 minute rule apply?
  • Cutting board when repairing a hose (slide board under the hose; in the engine compartment)
  • Work bench when you need a smooth hard surface to change a U- joint
  • Under a tire on soft surfaces when breaking a bead to fix a tire so that you only break the top bead and not the inside bead
  • Protect sheet metal from the Hi-lift jack by placing it between the jack up right and the door panel. Not that I have ever seen a problem!
  • Platform on the roof rack to span several rungs for smaller items – works great to secure a solar shower.
  • The board keeps the tire off the chains and give room to adjust them.

    Something to kneel on when you’re working on mud or snow.
    Protect the top of an airbag jack.

  • Lap table: for eating around the campfire, in your vehicle; anywhere you need a flat writing surface.
  • Shower floor – throw a couple of 2×4’s under it to raise you out of the mud that is coming.
  • Target backdrop – of course of you are a good shot there will be one big hole in the middle.
  • As firewood in survival situation

Some Ways to Use A Block of Wood

  • Use to chock wheels when changing a tire, winching, anytime lifting on a jack
  • Use to fill in a hole under a tire for traction
  • Used as chock Stand on like a stool to work in the engine compartment. Open the hood – quickest way to bring the group together!

    Stand on like a stool to work in the engine compartment

  • Buffer between areas when packing the vehicle
  • Under (or on top of) a jack to gain extra height
  • Between the axle and frame to support vehicle with broken spring
  • Sit on it around camp fire (forgot your chair) or as a foot rest. Watch out for splinters.
  • As a “dead man” to start the roll when recovering a upside down vehicle
  • Level the vehicle so you can hook up an anti-sway bar or level the vehicle for a good night’s sleep in your roof top tent
  • Drive tire upon to lift it a bit when putting tire chains on
  • As a dead blow when you need force without damage from a hammer – for example, while removing bearings, seals, you need to push sheet metal out
  • Good paper weight to hold down one side of a map in the wind or to keep the table cloth from blowing away. As a bonus you can set a hot pot on so you don’t melt the table cloth.
  • Something to put a watermelon on top of before you hit it with a 12ga.
  • As fire wood in survival situation

Brush the mud off your jack board and use it as a lap table for supper by the fire.

Used as chock Use to chock wheels when changing a tire, winching, anytime lifting on a jack



Used as chock Not only does the block keep the table cloth from blowing away but a hot pot can be set on it.

Ways to Use A 2×6

  • Varmint whacker – snakes or mice that get into the tent
  • Ramp – one use is to drive your vehicle up on a tire laying on the ground in order to break the bead.
  • Lever
  • Fire poker – this is a high risk use. Someone may not recognize it as your “good piece of wood” and pitch it into the fire at the end of the night.
  • Straight edge & Ruler (mark it off in one inch increments before leaving home). Could be useful to see how deep the water is before driving in. Or use it to scrape a level spot for your tent.
  • Jam between the foot brake and the seat so you check if your brake lights are working
  • As firewood in survival situation

As you can see, there are lots of uses for simple pieces of wood. How many other items do you carry that have so much versatility? They can make your expedition a pleasure and, best of all, the price is right…FREE at your local construction site! Pack these pieces before your next trip. You probably will need to use a good piece of wood at some point.

When you have good wood you will be looking for a place to use it.

Expedient Field Repair – U Joints

There are two styles of clips that retain the caps on a u joint. The clips on the out side of the cap are typical of drive shaft u joints.
The “C” Clips that fit behind the cap is typical of an axle shaft.

Breakdowns and broken parts are about as common as dirt in your face and wind in your hair. In fact, considering the abuse a vehicle often takes, it’s a wonder that the breakdowns aren’t more severe.

In an earlier column I discuss ways to minimize hazards and therefore potential damage to your vehicle. Here I’ll show you how to replace a universal joint. U-joint replacement, while not as common as fixing tires or replacing tie rods, is an important skill to know. A broken U joint will cripple your vehicle; knowing how to handle the situation will get you back on the trail.

There are a variety of U-joints in both the front axle and drive shafts. The front drive shaft U-joints are different from the back drive shaft, and the U-joints at each end of the drive shaft could be different from each other.

Take a moment to review the U-joints found in your vehicle(s). Pack spare U-joints that are appropriate for your front axles and drive shafts. They are cheap insurance and take up little space.

If you have a spare U-joint and that’s the only thing that’s broken, swap in a good one. If the universal joint damaged the yoke it fits into, take the damaged part out so you can still drive (or tow) the vehicle.

One of the cardinal rules of four wheeling is to be prepared. Remember this: The more remote and the more difficult the trip, the more you need to take! That is when you take a spare drive shaft or axle(s) too.

By the way, I occasionally offer a one-day field repair class. I discuss U joint replacement and other topics. Contact me if you’re interested in learning more.

Replacing a universal joint

The tools and parts you’ll need for replacing a U-joint include:

  1. New U-joint
  2. Snap ring pliers or pliers
  3. Flat blade screw driver to push the “C” clips off – a thin blade is nice
  4. Big hammer
  5. Block of wood to work on
  6. Old socket that has the right OD (outside diameter) to fit inside the yoke holding the U-joint cap

How to change a u-joint:

(Follow the pictures below.)

  1. Remove the axle or drive shaft so you can get to the U joint (seems we might need to cover that in another article).
  2. Remove the snap rings on both ends (some have a C clip on the inside – push them off with a screw driver).
  3. Use an old socket (spark plug socket is about right) to drive the cap in on one side forcing the cap out the other side. This will destroy the socket, which is why I recommend you use an old one.
  4. Remove the cap that comes out the far side of the yoke.
  5. If you can, work the other cap off on the inside of the journal. If not, drive it back out its original side.
  6. When you put the new caps on make sure all the needle bearings are in place and that none have fallen out. If one is lying in the bottom of the cap, you will not be able to get the snap ring back in and will have to start over. Set the other caps aside so they are not damaged or fall off as you hammer the one you are working on.

This is what a drive shaft u joint looks like. Only 2 of the caps have retention clips. The other two ends have u bolts or straps that hold them to the output shaft of the T-case or the pinion of the axle. If you need to save this u joint – tape the other two caps to each other so they can not fall off.

When you unbolt the u joint from the drive shaft, run a bit of tape – like this – to ensure the two caps not in the yoke do not fall off and spill their needle bearings. In this picture, we have already removed the other two caps from the yoke.

This is what a front axle u joint looks like. Look carefully and you can see the “C” clips clearly on at least one of the caps.

You don’t want to see needle bearings falling out of a cap you need to use / reuse. Our friend “Pappy” meticulously found every one in the dirt one day and put them back in place. There was no other option – we did not have a second spare u joint.

Use pliers to remove the snap ring in this type u joint or use a screw driver to remove the c clips on the other type u joint. Normally you will find fresh snap rings or c clips in the box with the new u joint. However, keep track of the old ones. With limited resources, you may just find you need it if one goes flying off never to be found!

Set all the other new caps to the side to avoid spilling the needle bearings. Start the first cap from the bottom so you can keep it up right and not drop the needle bearings. Carefully insert the journal into the cap to ensure none of the needle bearings fall down into the bottom of the cap. Use a large hammer on the weld ring of the drive shaft to seat the cap. If even one needle bearing falls down into the bottom of the cap, it will prevent you from having enough clearance to seat the snap rings into their groove. If that happens (it has to just about everyone) you need to start over by driving out the caps again. Think of it as good practice!

Hold the journal so it stays in the first cap and turn the yoke over. Start the second cap from the bottom. Carefully lower the journal into it.

Use the hammer again to seat the second cap. Use the socket to tap them down until you can replace the snap rings on both ends. Make sure the snap rings fit fully into their grove.

A Primer on Winching, Part 2

A winching operation is serious business and should be treated as such. Take your time to think it through before proceeding.

Following up on last month’s article, A Primer on Winching, Part 1 , we’ll delve deeper into the winching process. As with the previous column, this information comes from my exclusive Winch Recovery Bandana, which you can purchase from the Badlands Off-Road Adventures web site.

Winch kit

All successful winching starts with a good winch kit. That kit should include a pair of sturdy, loose fitting leather gloves, a tree strap 15 to 16 feet long, a heavy blanket, four to six D-rings, and a piece of 70 grade 3/8” chain (10 feet is long enough). Let’s look at each component.

Sturdy leather gloves are mandatory. Steel winch line develops small broken wires that will tear into your hands. Loose fitting gloves allow you to pull your hand out if the gloves become caught in the winch or line. A tree strap that is at least 15 feet long will be long enough to go around larger trees. This is done to protect the tree. A chain or cable will cut into the bark, mortally wounding the tree. Also, cable that’s wrapped around a tree and hooked back on itself develops a kink, which weakens the cable. The blanket is used as a “parachute” and placed over the winch line during winching to dampen recoil should the winch line break.

The chain, by the way, needs to be sturdy. Chain strength is given in grades; the higher the number, the stronger the chain. The Working Load limit (WLL) of the chain needs to be in the same range as the rest of your gear. Using higher grade chain (like grade 70) allows appropriate strength in a smaller link size which is easier to store and manage. Chain found at hardware stores is typically around a 43 grade. You will need quite a large link size at that grade. Go with 70 grade (or higher if you can afford it). Higher grade chains have each link welded for extra strength. Finally, having four to six D-rings puts more options at your disposal, especially for complicated winching.

What is working load limit?

I want to stress one thing: Never use equipment whose rating – either working load limit (WLL) or breaking limit – you don’t know. If that information is not on the item, do not use the part. You could put yourself and everyone else in danger.

Working load limit, previously called safe working limit, is just what it means: the maximum stress that the item is designed to handle while in use. For safety reasons, the WLL of winching components is about one-fifth of the item’s breaking strength. Let’s look at some examples. The WLL for grade 70 3/8” chain is 6,600 lbs. D-rings should have a minimum of 3/4” pin. That size has a WLL of 9,500 lbs. You can find the WLL for other sizes of parts on my winching bandana.

After purchasing the parts, if the WLL is only indicated on the package it comes in, make sure you transfer the WLL onto the part permanently. A permanent marker (magic marker or Sharpie) works great on tree straps, whose packaging you pitch after opening. For pulleys and D-rings, carve the information with an engraving pen into the metal. Original sticky labels and markings tend to wear off over time.

Also, never use a recovery strap for winching. Recovery straps are designed to stretch. That stretching builds energy, which is used to snatch a stuck vehicle free. A jerking action while winching is dangerous because of all the metal parts used. A recovery strap adds additional recoil to the winch rigging which is not desirable. If that strap were to break, you’d have a bunch of steel missiles flying around. (For more information on risks of using a recovery strap, see “Don’t Lose Your Head While Recovering a Vehicle.” ) For winching, we want a nice, steady pull.

Winching starts with a vehicle recovery plan

A winching operation is serious business and should be treated as such. Take your time to think it through before proceeding. The following steps are outlined under the Vehicle Recovery Plan section of the bandana.

Make sure everyone in the affected vehicle is safe, especially if the vehicle rolled over. Be prepared to provide first aid, but also make sure the vehicle itself is stable. If not, you may need to attach straps or cables first. Also, look for any hazards that could endanger the recovery crew.

Be careful if the vehicle is perched on its side. You don’t want it dropping on top of you while you’re attaching the cable.

A vehicle recovery plan is essential. Gather everyone together. Get their input, and determine the best course of action. Don’t let anyone start rigging up until you’ve decided what to do. If need be, appoint a leader. Have someone (that could be you) take charge of the situation. The winching should be done in an orderly manner.

Inspect the vehicle. Are there any broken of dangling parts that could affect the recovery? What about leaking liquids? Do something to capture those until you can devote time to the environmental issues and clean up.

Determine your exit path, and get a lay of the land. See if there are any obstacles you’ll need to overcome. What is the best direction to go? It’s always easier to go downhill, but you may find that pulling a few feet up and over a hill or obstacle makes more sense.

If the vehicle is on a slope, set the emergency brake. You don’t want the vehicle rolling downhill once it’s freed up.

Plan the rigging. Estimate your stuck load, and calculate whether you have the capability to handle the load. (See the sidebar for more information.) Pulleys add friction, so remember to add 10% to the load for each pulley used.

But pulleys also aid in pulling. A full discussion is beyond the scope of this article. Just remember that when you use one “moving” pulley, the winch “sees” only one-half of the total load. (Only one-third, if two “moving” pulleys are used.) The total load may be 10,000 lbs. but the winch needs to pull only 5,500 lbs. (10,000 plus 10% for the pulley divided by 2).

Last step

Set up the rigging and double check it. Take up the slack and re-inspect for correct assembly. Proceed with the recovery.

This may seem like a lot of steps—especially when you’re following off the bandana—but after doing a couple, it’s easy to pick up the fundamentals of winching. For additional, hands-on training, sign up for one of my winching courses.

A number of variables go into estimating the stuck load:

Stuck Factors are:

  • Weight of the vehicle and its contents (aka Gross Vehicle Weight –GVW)
  • Type of material it’s stuck in and how deep
  • Slope to be pulled up or down

Ground Conditions Resistance

For only shallowly stuck (i.e. no traction) here are the numbers for various types of ground. Don’t try to memorize them all. Assume 70% for mud and 35% for any other type of ground. Those numbers will get you close enough in your calculations in the field.

    % OF GVW

  • Pavement/ Hard Surface 2-4%
  • Grass 8-14%
  • Wet sand 15-20%
  • Gravel 10-20%
  • Soft, Dry sand 25-35%
  • Light, shallow mud 30-35%
  • Heavy, deep mud 40-60%
  • Deep Clay Mud 50-70%

Depth Resistance

(Overrides ground condition – use this instead of the shallowly stuck numbers above.)

  • Up to axles 100% of GVW
  • Top of the tires 200% of GVW
  • Hood / Body 300% of GVW

Slope Resistance

(Gravity has to be taken into account. It adds to the load for uphill pull)
Slope in degrees divided by 60 times the vehicle’s weight up to a 60-degree slope. For a more severe angle, use 100% of vehicle weight.

Let’s say the vehicle is on a 30-degree slope: 30 degrees / 60 = 50% x 5,000 GVW = 2,500 lbs.

Finally Calculation

Add ground conditions resistance (or depth resistance) to slope resistance for load estimate.

A Primer on Winching, Part 1

Rigging a “floating” pulley. 2nd parachute will be added next.

If you spend any significant amount of time in difficult terrain, you’re bound to encounter a recovery situation at some point. It could be either your vehicle or someone else’s. And a winch may be the proper tool at that time. This is a good time to review recovery, and winching in particular.

The steps that follow are taken from my nifty and exclusive Winch Recovery Bandana. Keep in mind that these tips and the information provided on the bandana are not a substitute for proper training, sound judgment and quality equipment.

Every winching operation should start with a plan in your mind as to how you’ll rig it up. Winching is a risky procedure; proceed very slowly and methodically. You’re dealing with material and parts that are subject to a tremendous amount of force. A mistake can be fatal, as I pointed out in “Don’t Lose Your Head While Recovering a Vehicle.” Take your time.

Winching begins with a walkthrough. You want to inspect all parts and lines while the system is under light tension. If everything looks good, you can power up and proceed with the recovery.

The vehicle doing the recovery is kept in neutral with the emergency brake on. Having the transmission in neutral protects the parking pawl. Chock the front wheels if you can. (Some people even anchor this vehicle to a tree or other vehicle.) You do not want that vehicle to move. Start the winch slowly so you take up some of the slack.

Lines that are slack while on ground take on a new dimension when under tension. You need to check them before proceeding with the recovery. The lines may be binding or twisting. They could be rubbing against an edge on the bumper or other body part. In some cases the lines end up right over a taillight. Under load those lines will smash the cover and bulb.

Check all connections. Start at one end of the line and work your way through. Are any connections about to be pulled through the pulley? Adjust as needed.

Keep the engine running, or its battery will be drained dry. Even though the emergency brake is on, someone should be in the recovery vehicle applying pressure to the brakes. Now review the winch cable as it is leaving the winch. Does it leave at greater than a 15 degree angle? If so, it will start to pile up on one side of the drum, causing the cable to snag and possibly break that side of the winch. If you see the cable starting to pile up, stop winching. Disconnect the cable, pull it out manually, and wind it up neatly. Always start with your cable properly wound on the drum. Then, consider moving the recovery vehicle or pulley to decrease the angle of pull.

When you winch at greater than a 15 degree angle, there’s a greater chance of the cable rubbing or getting caught on the bumper of the recovery vehicle. There may be times when you have no choice but to winch at a severe angle. Just watch the cable closely.

As you’re paying out the cable, remember the Rule of 5: Keep at least five turns of cable on the drum at all times (eight turns for synthetic cable, because it’s slippery). If you don’t keep a minimum amount, the tremendous force of recovery will pull the rest of the cable right off the drum.

If you have a large blanket, toss it over the pulley. (See image. ) Called a parachute by 4-wheelers, this blanket will absorb some of the energy should the cable snap.

Keep an eye on the parachute during winching. It has a tendency to ride up the cable. You don’t need that jamming into the pulley or winch. Stop the winching if necessary to move the blanket.

Position spotters to watch the lines and pulley. (They should off to the sides of the vehicles. No one should be in the path of the lines.) Winch slowly, and pay particular attention to portions of cables nearest the vehicles. You’re watching for any binding, rubbing and twisting. Make sure, also, that the vehicle being recovered is behaving properly. You may need to stop the winching and adjust the whole arrangement.

As I mentioned at the beginning, this is just part of the entire winching process. Next month we’ll review the corresponding steps, which take more of a strategic view.

Until then, good winching!

Go here for Part 2!

12 Must Have Books for the 4 Wheeler

Summer is here, and the newspapers have released their lists of favorite books to enjoy while you’re lounging in an easy chair somewhere. Reading isn’t just for fun, though. It can be educational, as well.

Over the decades I’ve amassed quite a collection of books devoted to 4 wheeling and other outdoor activities. Some of these are real gems. If you are serious about spending time outdoors, you owe it to yourself to begin building a library of reference materials. With perhaps hundreds of titles to choose from, the task can be challenging. Allow me to help you with this assignment.

The following list covers many aspects of outdoor activity, broken down by skill set. With these books you tap into the knowledge and experience of some of the top names in outdoor recreation.

True, there are a lot of books here. But unlike your typical novel, you will keep these for years and refer to them often. You don’t need to buy all of them at once. If finances are tight, pick up one or two at a time. And hunt for bargains on eBay, Amazon, or at your local used-book store (when possible).

Happy reading and happy trails.

  1. Driving: 4-Wheeler’s Bible by Jim Allen
  2. Mechanical: Get the shop manual for your vehicle. Normally you need to contact a dealer for this, but check eBay. They are a bit pricey; expect to pay up to $125.00. The shop manual is more detailed than a Chilton’s book, because it is tailored to your make and model.
  3. Navigation: Staying Found: The Complete Map And Compass Handbook by June Fleming.
  4. Trail guides: You have several to choose from. Select the book that best describes the area(s) you will be visiting. This valuable resource helps you find trails in your area. Some of the passages have a little history about the trails, to make for interesting reading.
  5. Camping: The Complete Walker IV by Colin Fletcher and Chip Rawlins.
    1. Another great reference book is the Boy Scouts’ Field Book. I prefer the 3rd edition.
  6. Cooking: A camping trip isn’t the same without some great Dutch Oven cooking. The Field Guide of Dutch Oven Cooking: From Novice to Champion by the International Dutch Oven Society will turn you into a Dutch Oven pro. Or at least give you some bragging rights.
  7. Knot tying: A must-have skill for outdoor life. The Ashley Book of Knots by Clifford Ashley is considered the definitive book on knots. It’s huge, but you won’t find a better reference guide.
  8. Survival. Another important skill, especially if you like to head out to remote areas. Tom Brown’s Field Guide to Wilderness Survival just may save your life if you’re stuck in a difficult situation.
  9. First aid: Medicine for the Outdoors: The Essential Guide to Emergency Medical Procedures and First Aid by Paul S. Auerbach, MD. Covers everything from basic injuries to life-threatening situations. Professional help could be hours away. This book will help you make sound decisions.
  10. Communication: This is a more limited category. Ham radio operators will find a copy of ARRL’s Repeater Directory useful. Repeater info can change, so make sure the directory is not more than three years old. Non-hams should make sure they have a list of emergency and non-emergency numbers on them before they leave home.
  11. Leadership: This may sound strange, but leadership skills are important off road. That is especially true during crisis situations, but routine driving requires good management skills, as well. Pick up a copy of Outdoor Leadership Theory and Practice (Bruce Martin and others).
  12. Plant identification: It can be fun identifying the various plants. I have a copy of An Amateur Botanist’s Identification Manual For the Shrubs and Trees of Southern California Deserts by Jim W. Dole and Betty B. Rose. This book is very specific, but an Internet search will provide you an assortment of field guides for your area.

Rats. I know I promised only 12 books. Problem is, there are other great books to consider. These include:

  1. Knots for Climbers by Craig Luebbens
  2. Wilderness Navigation by Bob Burns and Mike Burns
  3. Be Expert with Map & Compass: The Complete Orienteering Handbook by Bjorn Kjellstrom
  4. The Field Guide of Wilderness & Rescue Medicine by Jim Morrissey, WEMT with David Johnson, MD. This is small enough to carry with you.
  5. Camping & Woodcraft by Horace Kephart. Written in 1917, it may be hard to find. Offers interesting information on how things were done at the turn of the century.
  6. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven R. Covey
  7. Fundamentals of Search & Rescue from the National Association for Search & Rescue
  8. Ghosts of the Glory Trail by Neill Murbarger. Intimate glimpses into 275 ghost towns in Nevada, California and Utah.

Having the right resource materials at your fingertips can make your outdoors experience a lot more enjoyable. Commit to building your reference library based upon these suggestions. Along with all the valuable information they offer, you will discover some good summertime (and wintertime) reading.


Maintain Your Edge

Outdoorsmen are quite skilled, generally speaking. But one of the less understood skills is how to sharpen knives properly. Most people have a vague idea of the process. Perhaps you’ve even tried using one of those gadgets you buy at the store. Knife sharpening involves certain tools and skills. With those, you can keep your knives in good working order for years.

The cutting edge on a knife may appear smooth, but at a microscopic level it is actually a row of very tiny saw teeth. With repeated use, those saw teeth get out of alignment. (This is true for all knives, whether for hunting, whittling, or preparing food.) The result is a duller blade. The first step is to use a knife sharpening steel.

How to sharpen a knife

A steel (not to be confused with a file) has numerous tiny ridges running lengthwise. Swiping a knife blade along the steel produces a straight and smooth edge. That may be all you need during the life of your knife. I’ve heard of knives that are 10 years old and still work great. The owner runs them over a steel before each use, and they hold up fine.

As with grinding, which I’ll get to next, you want to hold the blade at the proper angle on the steel. For hunting knives, that amounts to about a 30 degree angle. (Blade angle plus 10 degrees.) For kitchen knives, hold the knife at about a 20 to 25 degree angle relative to the steel. Swipe about a dozen times, alternating the side of the blade each time.

If you want to understand the impact of using a steel, test your blade on a piece of folded paper before and after using a steel. Beforehand, the blade cuts in a rough and jerky fashion, and often tears the paper’s edge. Afterward, the knife should cut through the paper smoothly. If the steel does not bring the edge back to a useful sharpness, you need to grind the blade. Grinding is also required if the blade has any nicks or dings in it.

Grinding is a precise process, too. Unless you’re an expert, don’t use a power grinder. Those heat up the metal, causing it to lose its temper. Also, avoid using those grinders often found in kitchens. The angle may not be proper, and they tend to just chew up the blade.

Proper grinding is done by hand, and involves a knife sharpening guide (sometimes called an angle guide) and sharpening stone. The sharpening guide is important because you have to hold the angle throughout the stroke. That’s almost impossible for most people to do by hand. The number one key to success is to use an angle guide. Without it, you won’t be able to grind at the proper angle, and your efforts will fail.

Edge Pro, Inc. makes two types. Their Apex model is sufficient for most people. (Mine is an older LoRay unit, and may be no longer available. DMT makes a very similar unit.) A quick Internet search will turn up other models to choose from.

For optimum grinding, you’ll need two stones. One is a medium grade (about 180 grit), and the other is finer (320 to 360 grit – about twice as fine as the first stone).

Proper use of a knife sharpening guide

Start with the medium grit stone. Set the angle of the knife sharpening guide to same angle as the blade. For hunting knives, that would be about 20 degrees. Each manufacturer has decided on the optimum angle. Until you have a lot of experience, it is best to maintain the same angle. A simple technique to achieve the same angle is to darken the edge with a Sharpie pen. Then adjust the angle so a very light grind removes the ink completely along the blade angle.

The preferred technique is to sweep the blade back off of the stone. If you have a lot of metal to remove use a circular motion initially, and then switch to pulling the blade off the stone to raise a burr. Do this until you see (or feel) a burr piling up along the entire underside edge. This takes time and patience. Flip the unit over and repeat the process. The second key to success is to grind on the medium stone until you raise a burr all along the opposite edge.

Now repeat this entire process using the finer stone. This will remove any scratches in the metal left by the first stone. To test the blade, rest it on a pen, as shown in the image. The blade should dig in easily. Then lower the angle of the blade. If it is sharp it will continue to bite and not slip.

Use your steel when you are done grinding to smooth and straighten the edge.

You can use a piece of paper to test for sharpness. Hold an open sheet in one hand, and try to slice the paper. If these steps don’t work, try some more grinding.

For most of us, this process will result in a blade sharpness we are happy with. To go beyond, you need to continue step 2 with increasing finer grit stones (like 1000) and use a leather strop instead of a steel.

Knowing how to sharpen a knife is a skill everyone should master. It comes in handy in the home and out in the woods. The proper knife sharpening tools come at a price, but they last for years and allow you to get more use out of your knives.



Get Staked for Camping!

Though small, tent stakes play a vital role in your campout. Using inferior or insufficient tent stakes can mean a disaster for your outing. Proper staking is generally possible only with long, heavy duty tent stakes.

Many tents today come with thin, wire-like stakes. Those are fine in some situations, but won’t hold in many of the circumstances four wheelers face.

When traveling by car, weight isn’t as much a factor as it is for bikers and backpackers. Replace the original tent stakes with good, sturdy ones. They are larger and heavier, but you’re less likely to have related issues while camping.

You have many options to choose from. An Internet search for “heavy duty tent stakes” brings up numerous retailers and brands.

A few worth looking at:

Whichever brand or type you choose, it should be 5/16 or 3/8″ in diameter and at least 9″ long – plus you need at least 4 more that are 12″ long. While I referenced one sources above with 5/8″ diameter stakes, I feel they are a bit too much for our normal needs.

If you’re handy with a welder, you can fashion your own heavy duty tent stakes. My long ones are pieces of 3/8″ steel rod 12” long with a tab welded on the end. My short ones are 5/16″ recycled 9″ nail type stakes that originally came with a green plastic tab. The plastic tab lasted for about 2 trips. These work great in any type of ground, and will last for years. That tab makes it easy to pry up the stakes, too. This is about the size of rod most muffler shops use to fashion muffler hangers. Maybe you can get them to sell you a few lengths. Another advantage of metal stakes – you can always sacrifice one or two to make a vehicle trail repair!

We used 2 batteries & jumper cables to weld some of the tabs.

Home Depot 12″ Spike – someday I will weld on tabs.

Most any smooth steel rod will work. I don’t care for rebar for tent stakes. While they hold like nothing else, the ridges make it very difficult to pull up the stake. A 3/8″ round stake will feed through the grommet on most tarps too. They may be slightly too large for the holes in the foot of an easy up – something you should check if you own an easy up.

Visit Home Depot for a quick and inexpensive stake. They sell 3/8″ by 10″ and 12″ galvanized spikes for about 70 cents each. A short tab welded near the top will make them even better. Be sure to grind off the galvanizing where you plan to weld.

Can you get by with plastic tent stakes? Sure. The thicker ones hold well in dirt and are fine for summer camping. Their T shape allows for easy extraction, and the bright yellow color really stands out. If you have them, bring them along as “deep” backup!

When to use long or heavy duty tent stakes

As I mentioned, I highly recommend replacing original tent stakes with heavy duty ones. There are certain conditions which call for long and/or heavy duty stakes. These include:

  1. High winds: Don’t depend on the weight of your gear to hold you tent down. A high wind can move you, your gear, and your tent a long way.
  2. Hard ground: Will defeat wimpy stakes.
  3. Soft ground: Particularly if you’re tenting on sand, you’ll need long tent stakes. I recommend at least 12” in length. Carry at least 4 of the 12″ stakes for sand and to guy out the tent in very heavy winds.
  4. Frozen ground.

Use a screwdriver as a make shift stake. So far, no damage to the screwdriver.

You carry an attachment for your propane. Don’t you?

The big issue here is getting the stakes out afterward. The tent stakes may pound in easily enough. But if the ground freezes during your trip, the stake will be difficult to remove. You can use a torch to heat up steel tent stakes, especially heavy duty stakes. The key here is to use a small rope to attach the stake to the loops on the tent. Then you can untie the tent and remove it to avoid setting it on fire. Also, use another stake to dig out some of the dirt underneath, then to pry up on the tent stake.
A couple other conditions to watch for:

  • Tripping on tent stakes: First, make sure the tent stakes are pounded into the ground. The only thing sticking up should be the part needed to pull up the stake. Paint the tops of your tent stakes a bright color (mine are red). This also makes them easier to find if misplaced in the dirt/ sand.
  • Not enough/no stakes (wimpy ones did not work): Screwdrivers work pretty well. I can always come up with an extra 4 or 5 screwdrivers out of my tool box.
  • Camping on a slick rock slab: You can use rocks! You cannot pound in tent stakes, so you’re forced to use rocks. Make sure you tie the cord around the rock. Don’t just set the rock on the cord. That won’t hold, regardless of how heavy the rock is. Find big rocks you can carry without hurting yourself. Use one each to tie down the tent cord. Place one more between that rock and the tent to keep the anchoring rock in place. (It acts like a door stop.) Use extras to hold down the edges of the tent, the rain fly, and the corners of the tarp.

Removing tent stakes

What goes in must come out, as they say. One common frustration with campers is the difficulty of pulling out tent stakes. You can buy a tent stake puller. I have yet to find one that really seems worth carrying. They are either the size of my Hi-lift Jack (which would work if it was that bad) or they are as wimpy as the stakes they are designed to pull out.

Use another tent stake or similar tool to dig around the tent stake then pry it up. If you have a mini pry bar, try that. Twist the stake; just a quarter turn will often get it to release. Another possibility involves tying a piece of rope or chord around the stake just under the top. Depending on conditions, you might be able to pull up the tent stake. (Though you might have to loosen it first.) You may find it easier to tie the rope in loop, so you can pull up easier with two hands (A 6 foot cord tied in a loop gives the best results because it allows you to stand up and use your legs not your back). Resist the temptation to use the loop or rope sewn into the tent to pull up the stakes. If they break you have no way to set the tent up until they are repaired.

Don’t let your campout blow away – literally – due to poor staking. Buy or make heavy duty tent stakes, and you’ll rest easier.

For related reading, see Use a Checklist For Every Outing, Tom’s Tips for Tranquil Tenting, and Camp Box Tips.