Timber Wolf, Lake Superior, Ontario

A lone timber wolf greets
paddlers along the north shore
of Lake Superior, Canada
(Photo by Michael Neiger)

The Rucksack Masthead
By Michael A. Neiger (aka: LandNavMan), Marquette, Michigan
Wilderness tripper: backpacking, winter camping, swift-water canoeing
Web site URL: http://therucksack.tripod.com • E-mail: mneiger@hotmail.com
Contents copyright © 1984-2007 by Michael A. Neiger • All rights reserved.

Bush skills

A RuckSack primer on...

road trips

By Michael A. Neiger
Copyright 2003


Last revised August 4, 2007

old jeep
rigged and
equipped for
road trips.
(Photo by Michael Neiger)

Sooner or later, your vehicle will end up stuck in a mud hole or hung up on a rock during a wilderness road trip. Naturally, your cell phone will be out of range too.

Since help will likely be miles away, it's wise to plan ahead and stow some essential woods tools in your vehicle before your next road trip. In addition, always let a responsible person know where you're going and when you plan to return.


A spade or round-point shovel will allow you to do some serious digging as well as fill in ruts and holes. Sharpen the blade with a file so it will be easy to dig with as well as chop roots with. A shovel with a long, sturdy handle is the best since if affords better leverage when prying. It can also reach further under a vehicle.

In the winter, carry a large snow shovel.


Carry a large, 36-inch bow saw for removing trees that block your route. A saw can also help you improvise a corduroy road in swampy areas. To prevent accidents, always use a scabbard to protect an exposed saw blade.


For chopping, splitting, and de-limbing trees, carry a good-quality axe with a 3.5-pound head. The hammerhead on a single-bit-style axe is useful for heavy-duty pounding. Many wilderness travelers favor the Hudson Bay axe with it's lighter, single-bit head. Like the saw, protect the business end of the axe with an edge guard or leather sheath. A light coating of oil will prevent it from rusting.


A portable, hand-operated, steel- or cast-iron-framed winch can snatch a vehicle from a mud hole with surprising ease. One of the best come-a-long units on the market is the two-ton-capacity "More Power Puller" manufactured by the Wyeth-Scott Company (www.wyeth-scott.com). Their best model for wilderness use comes with 35 feet of flexible wire rope and a pulley block. The one I bought 30 years ago is still pulling strong and it's paid for itself many times over.

High tension winching can be dangerous, so be careful. Always wear gloves and safety glasses, and make sure every component of the winch setup, from the anchor points at both ends, to the cables, chains, straps, and connectors in-between, are adequately rated. If a tree is used as an anchor point, always use a nylon strap around it. Don't wrap a cable or chain around a tree as it will injure or kill it.


Sold under a variety of names including "Hi-Lift" (www.hi-lift.com), "Handyman," and "Jack-All," these long, stout jacks are essential for lifting a vehicle that's hung up on a rock or stump, or that's broken through the wooden deck of an aging bridge. The most useful models can lift a 7,000-pound load over four feet. A thick, flat block of wood makes a good base in muddy areas. Most of these heavy-duty jacks are designed to double as strong, in-line winches too. I never stray very far from a paved road without mine.


For maximum flexibility, carry an assortment of 10- to 20-foot-long, heavy-duty cables, chains, and tow straps. The more the better since, in certain situations, your vehicle may be located a good distance from a suitable anchor point.


Keep a well-stocked, oversize day pack in your vehicle in case you are forced to spend the night or have to walk out. Your day pack should contain a sturdy knife, matches, fire starters, candle, flashlight with spare batteries, basic first-aid kit, compass, map, whistle, warm clothing, rain gear, water bottle, small cook pot, long-lasting snacks, small PVC tarp, and 100 feet of tarp-rigging rope. In cold weather, stow a sleeping bag in your vehicle too.


Check to make sure your vehicle has a full-size spare tire, which is properly inflated, and an appropriately-sized lug-nut wrench. Carrying a tire inflation device is a good idea.


Carry a set of long, battery jumper cables and a portable, jump-starter battery pack (many of these new units inflate tires, have a built-in light, and can even power low-amperage, 110-volt devices).


Last, but not least, stock a small toolbox with an assortment of common tools and parts, including duct tape, bailing wire, etc.


If your local auto parts dealer, hardware store, or sporting goods outlet don't have what you're looking for, check with one of the following vendors: Ben Meadows Company (1-800-241-6401, http://www.benmeadows.com), Forestry Suppliers, Inc. (1-800-647-5368, http://www.forestry-suppliers.com), J.C. Whitney (1-800-529-4486, http://www.jcwhitney.com), Cabela's (1-800-237-4444, http://www.cabelas.com), and Campmor (1-800-226-7667, http://www.campmor.com).


With a little forethought and planning before your next wilderness road trip, you can prevent an adventure from becoming a survival situation.

See you in the bush.

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In God's wilderness lies the hope of the world,
the great, fresh, unblighted, unredeemed wilderness.
— John Muir 1838-1914, Alaska Wilderness, 1890

Content Copyright © by Michael A. Neiger
All rights reserved.
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