Keep Your Guard Up!

By Nena Barlow

This article originally appeared on

Something we see over and over again in the four-wheeling world are mishaps at the places one would least expect it. We get through a nasty obstacle, breathe a sigh of relief, and then get stuck on a small rock we didn’t even notice. Or we spend all day on a grueling 4×4 trail, get through without a scratch, then on the way home, slide off of the gravel road into tree. Or we just head out without much thought on a trail we have done dozens of times, don’t check the weather, and get stranded on the wrong side of a wash during a flash flood.

The common thread? We let our guard down after the perceived threat is past. The solution? Don’t take anything for granted—keep your guard up until everyone is safely home on the couch. The following are a few things to think about before, during, and after your trip to help keep everyone safe.

This driver took his eyes off the narrow road for just a moment to check on his dogs in the backseat. Fortunately, all survived, except the Jeep.

A little preparation before your trip can go a long ways toward averting disaster. Research your intended routes for the latest trail conditions, status, and weather forecast. Talk to the land management agency for the area and a local club or 4×4 shop about the most current trail conditions. Think through the course, length, and severity of your excursion, and choose your gear accordingly.

Aside from alcohol consumption, mental and physical fatigue is the single biggest contributor to accidents on the trail. Be realistic about how many hours you can spend bumping along behind the wheel or scouting on foot in the expected temperatures and conditions of the trail, and still stay sharp. Extreme heat and cold wear you down faster. Combat these by staying well hydrated and carrying both sweet and salty snacks. Pack extra clothing for a variety of conditions. Stop for breaks at regular intervals—this helps keep you sharp as well as gives you a chance to enjoy the scenery.

This driver was in a hurry to park so he could watch the Jeep behind him climb an obstacle. He accidentally mashed the throttle, instead of the brake, careening off of the Jeep parked in front of him. Total bill for the damage to both Jeeps: $8000—a painful price to pay that doesn’t even earn any “trail cred.”

Traverse the whole trail with humility—give your attention to every foot of the trail. Be extra cautious when parking vehicles. Don’t park on blind corners where a dirt bike might not see you until it’s too late. Pay attention to the location of rocks, trees, and ledges around your vehicle so that when you get in to leave, you can avoid driving onto, into, or off of them. And don’t forget to actually put the rig in Park with the emergency brake on! This happens more often than you might think.

Have an escape plan. This means as you travel, make a mental note of the wide spots, the landmarks, and hills that you may have to climb instead of descend if you have to return the way you came. Never be too proud to call it a day and turn around. When you are hungry, cold, and tired, it is tempting to rush just for the sake of getting through. Be mindful of this and remind yourself to be patient and thorough. Don’t fall into the trap of “I’m sure it will get better soon.”

This driver crested a small rise in the trail with a little momentum, right onto this rock. Taking a moment to check the blind spot would have saved his steering stabilizer, his oil pan and some embarrassment.

When you do reach pavement, never bypass the few minutes it takes to look over your rig, tie everything down properly, air up your tires, etc. before heading out onto the highway. Something coming apart at highway speed is disastrous.

Once you are safely home, use what you learned on your trip to help you be even better prepared for the next outing. Make notes on your pre-trip checklist now because you will forget them in a week or two or whenever your next excursion will be.

Oh, yeah, and have a pre-trip checklist.

A Sample Checklist


  • Flash Light(s)
  • Ibuprofen, Imodium, Anbesol
  • Gum
  • Sun Screen
  • Mosquito Repellent
  • Space blankets/rain ponchos
  • Sat Phone
  • Wagbags
  • First Aid kit
  • Radios
  • Batteries: AAA, AA
  • Chargers: phone, gps, camera


  • Sockets, wrenches, 18 mm, 19 mm, 21 mm, 22 mm, 36 mm
  • Allen wrenches
  • Large adjustable wrench
  • Plier set: wire cutters, vise grips,
  • Baling wire, duct tape, zip ties
  • WD-40, BrakeKleen
  • ATF-4 (4), 5W-20 motor oil (4)
  • Radiator stop leak (2)
  • Hammer, mallet
  • Breaker Bar
  • Magnet
  • Air Compressor, air hose, tire chuck
  • Jumper Cables
  • Fuses, electrical tape
  • Tire Plug Kit, Rubber Cement, Plugs, Valve Stems& Cores
  • Tire Gauges, Air Down
  • Drain Hose (5ft, Water, Gas), funnels
  • Drying Towels
  • Tire Jack, Lug Wrench, Wheel lock Sockets


  • Winch accessories: tree strap, bow shackles, chain, snatch block
  • Winch remotes (check for match)
  • 20-30’ recovery strap, bow shackles
  • Transit cluster
  • Spill Kits, dust pan/broom
  • Chain, Bolts
  • Hi-lift jack
  • Jack accessories: jack-mate, lift-mate


  • Gas Can
  • Water Can
  • Stove/Grill
  • Trash Bags
  • Tarps
  • Mattresses
  • Tents
  • Sleeping Bags
  • Chairs
  • Tables
  • Twine/paracord

Kitchen boxes

  • Spatula, tongs, spoon
  • Can opener, wine/bottle opener
  • Knife, cutting board
  • Matches, lighter, oven mitts
  • Coffee pot, pan, pot w/lid
  • Salt, pepper, garlic, soy sauce


  • Vehicle Registration & Insurance
  • Permits
  • Maps & Atlas, compass, GPS
This is a basic list we use for all of our overnight trips. Some things are added or deleted, depending on the trip destination, duration, and rig type.

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About the Author
Nena Barlow
Nena Barlow

Barlow Adventures owner, Nena Barlow grew up in the Southwest, exploring the back roads by Jeep, horse, and hiking boots. She has been in the Jeep business since 1996, providing tours, 4wd instruction, location scouting, offroad event planning, trail mapping & photography, and recovery.

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