Don’t Get Caught Off-guard Cruising from a Base Camp

A base camp allows you to bring lots of extra “comfort” gear that you do not need to take with you each day.

As you prepare for your next 4WD excursion, I’m sure you put a lot of thought into what to take. Naturally, that depends on what types of trails you’ll drive on and what destinations you expect to visit. Included are some thoughts about recovery and survival.

But, once you’re started your journey, do you still think about safety and survival? Specifically, if you’re traveling from a base camp, have you given much thought to what if?

Cruise vs. base camp

Once off-road, trips tend to fall into one of two categories, cruise and base camp.

With a cruise, you drive to new destinations each day, and set up camp each night.

A base camp, on the other hand, involves setting up camp in one spot. Each day you head out on the trail, and return by the end of the day. The advantage of a base camp is that 1) you can take more stuff, including comfort items and gear which you leave it in camp, 2) you spend less time breaking camp each day which translates into more time on the trails (or sleeping in), and 3) you have more options for trails since most gear is at camp, resulting in a lighter and more nimble vehicle.

You could use a combination, of course. That’s common for multi-day events.

A base camp allows you more options for trails since most gear is at camp, resulting in a lighter and more nimble vehicle.

With cruising, you have all your gear with you during the day. So all your backup planning is reflected in the gear on board and you really give it very little more thought. You can camp where ever the day ends, you can change travel plans and go in a different direction, you are not limited on how far you travel away from camp, and are not concerned about theft of gear left behind. I haven’t experienced theft, but it’s a possibility.

The drawback to setting a base camp is that your vehicle normally doesn’t contain much gear during the trips away from camp, including survival needs. You are returning later in the day, and don’t expect to run into problems, especially any that could keep you over night. But it can happen.

On a trip to the mountains several years ago, my group encountered really heavy snow. Battling drifts and stuck vehicles, we were running late and were hours from the base camp. Most of the vehicles were lightly packed.

Fortunately, we made it back to base camp late that night. While it wouldn’t have become a life-or-death situation, I’m sure a number of folks in our party would’ve been quite miserable had they been stuck in their rigs overnight.

It’s not just snow and cold you need to worry about. Desert conditions can be deadly, especially in the summer.

As you prepare to leave for the trail each morning, ask yourself, Do I have what’s necessary to survive, even though I have other vehicles and people with me? Do I have the basics to survive the night or the typical 72 hours it takes for someone to rescue us?

At a minimum, you should have:

  1. Water
  2. Food
  3. Blanket or sleeping bag; both if room allows

You should consider leaving these basic items in your vehicle year-round. Regardless of where you live, you could get stuck somewhere overnight, or longer.

Always remember this important rule of off-road driving: The more remote or difficult the trail is the more you take with you. Act like NASA and be redundant. In your gear, anyway. I keep an extra blanket, sleeping bag and pair of Sorels (with dry socks) in my vehicle at all times. In addition, I always pack a satellite phone. That backs up my two-way radios and cell phone.

And never go out alone. A seemingly simple trip could turn nasty, as noted above. A base camp is a great way to explore the outdoors. Just remember that things could turn sour. Weather can change in an instant. A vehicle could break down or get stuck. Any number of factors could upset your plans, forcing you to settle in for the night right there. If you choose to use a base camp for your next 4WD trip, remember to pack some survival material in your vehicle. You just may need it one night.

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