Back in the day, if you could have taken a peak into a cowboy’s saddlebags, you would have seen a few things that every cowpoke made sure he had on him whenever he jumped onto his trusty steed. A good rope, a coffee pot and a few tools were part of every cowboy’s gear.
Like the cowhand’s horse, today’s sportsmen are using ATVs and UTVs to reach those places off the beaten path for their hunting and fishing adventures. These vehicles can go just about anywhere and haul just about anything. And, like a good horse, they’re pretty low maintenance.
There are a few things, however, that all riders should have with them when they head off down that dusty trail. ATVs and UTVs can be great tools and a lot of fun, but if you can’t make it back safe and sound, then what’s the point?
Some of the things you need to take with you are to keep your machine running; you must be able to make it back to the truck or to your home in case of mechanical issues. Some of the things you need to have with you are to keep you safe and sound; if your machine is running great but you aren’t able to ride it back, it doesn’t matter whether or not you had that screwdriver to fix that loose screw.
Most ATVs have storage compartments to haul the essential items. If not, you can always carry extra gear in a small backpack . Today’s side-by-side UTVs, like Kawasaki’s Mule Pro FXT or Teryx Camo, can haul weighty loads along with the proper trailside gear to keep your machine, and you, running should an issue come up.
When I was young and growing up on my family farm, I noticed something unique about my grandfather: each morning, when he went out and got on the tractor to go into one of the fields, he checked to make sure he had a few things with him in a metal storage box on the back of the old tractor. I remember asking him about it one time and he said, “You never know what might happen. Best to always be at least somewhat prepared.” That’s advice I have kept to heart. ATV and UTV riders should do the same.
Here are the must-carry, ATV essentials every sportsman should have on any ride:
I was cruising down a trail system. It was a nice day, there wasn’t any dust and the trail was groomed for riding, so it was very smooth and straight. Still, I wasn’t going too fast, and I was paying very close attention. I was riding an ATV and just enjoying the weather and the scenery. I crested a small hill and didn’t see the hole in the trail until I was right on top of it. The machine didn’t flip, but the jolt was enough to knock my foot loose and it was caught by the rear tire. I was thrown head first into the ground – slammed is more like it. If it wasn’t for the fact that I was wearing a helmet, I wouldn’t have made it back home. Plain and simple – helmets save lives!
Boots, goggles, gloves, long pants and sleeves are all good ideas, too. It doesn’t take much to severely damage the human eye, so you should always have some kind of eye protection on. Shoes that go over your ankles are also a safe bet. Think about the story I just shared. When my foot was caught by the rear tire, if I hadn’t been wearing decent boots I would have suffered a broken ankle for sure. As it was, my foot was just a little sore for a few days.
A basic tool kit is a must-have item, so much so that every manufacturer includes one with each machine. While a screwdriver and a pair of pliers, along with a few miscellaneous wrenches, are always good things to have along, every experienced rider knows that you need to add a few “real-world” items to your kit.
- Vise-grips are invaluable. Better than a pair of pliers, vise grips can do everything from breaking tough nuts loose to serving as a door handle if need be.
- Zip ties might possibly be the greatest thing ever created as a fix-all item. With enough zip ties, you could probably repair a broken drive shaft.
- Duct tape is a given. A small roll of Gorilla Tape should also be in every tool kit.
- A small, compact flashlight (with spare batteries) is handy when you don’t have natural light. While having a bigger flashlight on hand is helpful (you can never have enough light), a small penlight is great for helping you see any issues that may be tucked back in the nooks of your machine.
- Fire-starting essentials—butane lighter, waterproof matches, kindling or even some dry cotton balls in a waterproof baggie or container will help you get a blaze going in the event of an emergency.
- Multi-tool and/or Swiss Army knife
- Map and compass
Cellphone and Charger
Some of you may think that the whole point of going on an epic ride or hunting trip is to get away from it all, but taking along your cell phone is always good idea. The reason is not to keep you chained to the office but to keep you connected to the ones you love, just in case something happens.
In addition, if you have a mechanical or health issue, text messages can often get through when cell signals are weak. Using a good phone case is a must, as the point of having the phone is being able to use it when you need it most. And on longer adventures, a phone charger is another item you’ll need to have along. Most modern ATVs and UTVs, especially new Kawasaki’s, have at least one 12-volt power outlet .
Air Pump and Tire Plugs
Ever come out to your car after doing a little shopping and find a flat tire? You can call a tow truck to come fix it. Come back to your Teryx 35 miles up a mountain trail after sticking an arrow in the boiler room of a 6×6 bull elk and find a flat? AAA is not going to help you out.
In this case, a small 12-volt air compressor and a simple patch kit are worth their weight in gold. Patching a hole in a tubeless ATV tire is pretty easy, especially with a decent kit. Here’s a little trailside tip: if the tire comes off the rim, a flat-head screw driver can help you wrestle the tire back onto the rim. Two makes the job easier, but it can be done with one. Been there, done that.
It doesn’t take much for dehydration to kick in. Keeping a bottle or two of water handy every time you go for a ride, even just a short jaunt down a trail, is a great idea. Just about every machine, from the newest Kawasaki Brute Force models, down to the oldest machines running, have some sort of cargo area you can toss a couple of bottles of water into.
Riding, even at the easiest, most relaxed pace, takes more work than you think. With an ATV, you have to use your body to help steer the machine. It wears you out more than you may realize. The bonus of having some water handy is that on the off chance you overheat the engine, you can always use some of it in the radiator when you’re in a pinch. It’s not a perfect fix, but it sure beats not getting back home.
First Aid Kit
We once used our ATVs to get to a remote area for archery deer season. The ride itself was great, over 20 miles of rugged terrain, down old logging roads and two-tracks with the scent of fall filling our helmets and picturesque scenery around every bend. We got to our spot with plenty of time for our evening hunts. My buddy reached into his bow case strapped to the rack of his ATV and apparently didn’t see the loose broadhead. He sure felt it, however, as he ran it across the palm of his hand.
A first-aid kit of any kind is better than no first aid kit. It’s kind of like the helmet – the first aid kit is there for the unexpected. It’s the things you can’t think of that you’ll always want to make sure that you have one with you.
It’s bound to happen. Ride with your buddies long enough and someone at some point is going to need to need a tow back to the trucks. Having a tow/recovery strap ready is not only a good idea when you need to help a buddy out, it can also come in very handy for a number of other chores. Having one around, for example, can help drag out a
deer or an elk. I’ve used one for helping to set up ladder stands, moving fallen trees and much more.
So why do you need a winch? Get stuck in the mud or snow one time and then answer that question. You can use one to remove trail obstacles, and do many of the same jobs you could use the tow strap for, but there are some tasks that only a winch can get done. Loading your ATV onto your trailer or truck is a snap when you have a winch. They are also great when used with accessory snowplows for those of us who live in regions where that fluffy white stuff fills our driveways for several months of the year.
The winch is one of those items where it’s better to pay a little more upfront and get a quality product. Go the cheap route and you’ll end up needing to buy several over the life of your machine. It has been my experience that when you’re using a winch for something, it’s usually the type of project where, if the winch were to fail, it will be at the worst possible time.
Flat tires, minor mechanical issues, getting stuck in the mud – these are all things that you can get out of and back on a trail if you have to. You can always drive on a flat if need be. You can eventually get yourself out of the mud with enough time and minor mechanical issues can often be overcome. But if you run out of gas, you’re done.
Besides the humiliation of having to walk back to camp, running out of gas is bad for your engine. With modern electronic fuel injection systems, there’s even more stuff to worry about when it comes to damaging your machine if you run the tank dry. Get a good gas can with a solid spout/cap that ventilates well and keeps excess gas from spilling out. When you take off on longer rides into areas you’re not overly familiar with, taking gas along just makes sense.
The final item. It seems like a simple thing, right? Have some common sense when riding at all times. Back when I was in college, a buddy’s dad used to tell us when we were headed out for a night on the town, “Keep your head about you.” Be sure to do the same when riding.
Know Thy Self
Use good judgment when you’re riding. Know your limitations and abilities. Don’t get in over your head and be respectful of the environment by riding on designated trails. The great thing about ATVs and UTVs is that they can help us travel to some truly amazing places and have a lot of fun along the way. If you are unsure of your abilities, talk to the dealership where you bought the machine or any local dealership if you bought a used machine. There are several online safety courses available and many states require riders under 16 to take one of these types of programs. Excellent tips on how to ride in the backcountry responsibly can be found at Tread Lightly! .
The outdoors is a great place to be. Enjoying it safely with a dose of common sense is the only way to go.
Now that you’ve heard our list of items to take along on your next ATV adventure, check out the gallery of Kawasaki’s Teryx4 and share with us in the comments what you would never leave behind before hitting the trailhead.
All photos by Alphonse Palamina