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Gear You Don’t Need in the Western Deserts – Save Your Money

 

    Connie & I have been wandering around the western deserts for many years and during that time we have seen the accessories market for 4WD vehicles go through the roof, both in price and the variety of gear available. Gone are the days when you could knock up a bit of a bullbar or roofrack at home with the welder, chuck in some jerry cans, swag and head off for a month. It appears these days that if you don’t have the full 4WD package from such & such your vehicle won’t survive even the mildest outback adventure, at least that is what they want you to believe. The following are a few things you don’t need in the western desert country. See what you think.

 

Max Trax

    When I went to school I was taught that deserts were regions of very low rainfall. Having now worked in desert country for quite a few years I find that my old geography teachers were spot on. So if the joint is normally dry as a chip, what are Max Trax for? Can’t be for mud surely......If it is that wet then the best thing to do is camp & let the country dry out a bit instead of making a mess of the tracks. I guess the other situation the experts will say that Max Trax are for soft sand. Yes, the deserts have quite a bit of soft sand but we haven’t found anything that tyre pressure won’t fix, and everyone should have an air compressor! Max Trax seem quite expensive, the money is better spent on fuel in my opinion. (I call them "mouse traps" because people get caught buying them......$$$.)

 

Max Trax

 

Hi Lift Jack

    About all you will use a Hi Lift jack for in the desert is changing a flat tyre. Not that many years ago bullbars & rear bars did not have the proper attach points for a Hi Lift jack. These days they do which is a lot safer for the inexperienced. Put simply using a Hi Lift jack to change a tyre means you have to lift the vehicle a very long way off the ground because you have to let the suspension fall to its maximum length before the tyre is clear & free to change. This makes a vehicle quite unstable regardless of how the jack is attached to the vehicle. Just about everyone will hang the jack off the roof-rack or on the rear bar with a special attachment. Trouble with this is the jack gets full of dust and the mechanism will need a clean before using it. The other problem with Hi Lift jacks is that folks don’t know how to use them. Hi Lift jacks & the old Wallaby jacks before them require a bit of technique & strength to use them. Most folks never use them enough to get the hang of them. In inexperienced hands it’s very easy to draw blood, mark my words.

 

High Lift Jack

 

Chainsaw (of any description)

    Pretty much all of the wood in the desert burns very well. The reason being it grows very slowly so is very dense & hard, that means you don’t need much wood to give heat & provide a cooking platform. Chainsaws in most cases are used poorly as folks are too lazy to go far for some wood. How many campsites have you seen with stumps & limbs cut with a chainsaw? How many parks & areas have been restricted due to damage from campers with poor behaviour, many times chainsaws being the reason. We’ve lost count of how many times we have seen campers set up camp, drive 100-200m down the track, cut a tree down and drag it back to camp. If you are fair dinkum about looking after the bush just collect a bit of wood during the day each time you stop. That way you choose wood the right size that doesn’t need cutting, saves a lot of effort. Leave the chainsaw at home folks.

 

Chainsaw

    This is my personal saw, a 288XP Husky which I bought in the late 1990s. I made a living with this saw now & again over the years and the old thing keeps on working even now. No way would I ever take it into the desert for cutting firewood, a chainsaw of any description just isn’t necessary.

 

Mud Terrain Tyres

    Once again deserts are rarely wet, why would Mud Terrain tyres be better for long range touring? Have a look at the tread patterns and the breakdown of use for tyres such as 20% sand-80% dirt etc. You’ll see that the more sand the tyre can do the more passive the tread will be. So have a think about how much of Australia is dry & dusty. The disadvantages with Mud Terrain tyres are rarely mentioned, but it’s simple.

  1. They are normally more expensive
  2. Blocky tread patterns will normally wear out quicker because there is less rubber on the road
  3. Mud Terrain tyres will use more fuel, because they dig into the road surface increasing friction
  4. People will attempt stupid things because they think their mud tyres will get them out of anywhere
  5. If you get bogged aggressive tread just digs you deeper.....
  6. Road noise on the highway

 

Mud Terrain Tyres
Tyres designed for wet boggy conditions, hence the name mud....

    I guess the experts will say they are safer off-road etc. The experts may be right, I say slow down a bit when you are in the desert, save fuel and see the country better. After all that is why you are there aren’t you?

 

Driving Lights

    If you don’t drive at night you don’t need driving lights! It also pays to remember that modern headlights are very good, and there are upgrade kits for your standard lights, a much better way to go. I’ve lost count of how many driving lights I have seen on the side of the track & how many I have taken off bull-bars because they have rattled to bits on the corrugated roads in the western deserts.

Driving Lights
A few hours into a desert trip these lights already seem a little "off".

 

Side Rails

    You do not need those rails that run back from the bull-bar. They only protect the panels from large animals & the trunks of trees. It’d be much better to watch where you are going......Seriously, side rails don’t protect your panels from scratches which are the main problem when travelling in the western desert country, all that will happen is behind the rail will be good and either side will be damaged because scrub & bushes are about vehicle height so the branches & limbs just go above & below the bar, think about it.

Side Rails
Side-rails; in fact the bull-bar is much better for drying your towel on.

 

Winch

    I have seen dozens of winches on vehicles in the desert over many years, never seen one used yet. Not much else to say is there.......

Winch
Typical winch on a modern bull-bar.

 

    Save your money, better off spending it on fuel & tucker while seeing the country in the vehicle you bought for that very purpose. There are a few gadgets that are very handy in desert country and should be on the short list for anyone buying a new vehicle and looking at doing long range desert touring. Remember I come from a time when you put together a tucker box, grabbed your swag, some tools, a map and an extra spare tyre and headed bush for weeks in very remote country. That doesn’t mean we didn’t plan and research, just that things were or seemed much simpler "last century". If you wanted an accessory to do this or that job you often had to design and make it yourself or help a mate do it for you. The 4WD industry was in its infancy and apart from that we couldn’t afford shop bought gear and if we could there weren’t a lot of products to choose from.

    Below are what we consider to be necessities for long range desert touring & I have listed them by priority;

  1. Stronger suspension, particularly in the rear to carry the extra weight
  2. Tyre pressure monitors – wonderful gadgets, they save stress & money
  3. 6th spare tyre and tyre repair gear (very large subject) – normally the only trouble you will have will be a flat tyre
  4. Fuel capacity – most vehicles need more volume, might need bigger tank, extra tank or it could be as simple as a heap of jerries if you have somewhere to put them. It will depend on your trip distances
  5. Shade cloth – to cover the radiator/A/C condenser/intercooler
  6. Bull-bar, there are times you can’t avoid hitting something large on the road

    Anyway it’s a case of personal choice as with most things. All we can say to you is consider things very carefully before spending large amounts of money on accessories. Western desert travel isn’t that difficult, there just aren’t many folks driving past.

 

 

Safe travels,
MICK HUTTON
COPYRIGHT Feb 2019

 

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