Category Archives: gear review

Learn what we think is important to have on an adventure and what you can do without. We’ll tell you how the gear holds up on an adventure after we’ve tested it out in the real world.

Let there be work light

Around the shop or in camp, light is always at a premium.  We always seem to have to work on parts that are tucked into a dark corner of the truck or start prepping camp meals as the sun is dipping below the horizon.  Until now the solution was head lamps, flashlights or old fashion trouble light.  These light sources are good but they don’t always provide enough light or put it where you want it.

Enter the FLOOD-IT pro LED rechargeable light.  This small but powerful free standing flood light has found it’s way into our kit.  So what makes it better than all the other 10w LED lights out there?

  • Compact free standing base with a handle that is easy to grab.
  • Magnetic feet.  Set the light on the ground, stick it to the hood, attach it to the truck frame.  This work light makes it easy to stage the unit so it illuminates where you need.
  • Cordless and rechargeable, lasting up to four hours. The work light comes with an AC adapter and a car charger making it easy to recharge in the shop or while driving to the next camp.
  • IP65 water and dust protection with a wide 120 degree beam spread.

For us its the compact size, rechargeablility and magnetic feet that make this work light a winner.  When on the trail the light sits magneticly tight on the rear floor where we can quickly grab it. In camp we stick it high on the truck and point the light right where we need it most, at the camp kitchen, and cooler.

The FLOOD-IT pro LED light is now a part of our off-road kit and a favorite around the shop.  Check out Red Kitty Industries for this and other rechargeable work lights.

Camp Cook Out

Everyone we know loves cooking out on the trail when camping on an off-road adventure.  And as you know the stove you have on hand will have a big influence on what you cook and how it turns out.

We love cooking over an open fire.  Grilled burgers, chicken, fish, boiling water for coffee you can do it all.  But you have to get the fire down to a good pile of hot coals, avoid hot spots and constantly regulate the fire. It can be tricky.  For us everything tastes better cooked over a fire, even a simple quesadilla.

The down side is that many times you will find a fire ban or heavy rains have dampened your chance of cooking over open fire.  In that case you need to turn your attention to a stove.

Backpacking stoves are compact, light weight and put out a lot of BTUs for their size.  They are extremely efficient at bringing liquids to a boil and making one pot meals (boil in bag) for one or two people.  They are not so good at simmering or cooking on anything but full blast.  Charred eggs, scorched sauces and pieces of bacon that are both burnt and under cooked at the same time are the norm if you’re not extremely careful.

Moving up to camp kitchen stoves allows you to rock your inner Wolfgang Puck.  Typically, these are propane based with multiple burners. Camp kitchen stoves provide enough surface area and heat to throw down a griddle to easily fry up bacon and eggs while allowing you to dial back the heat to gently simmer the most delicate sauces.  If you can cook it at home on your stove top, you can cook it on one of these camp kitchen stoves.

Camp kitchens do get bulky and depending on your choice may take up a significant amount of room when you add in all the pots, pans and fuel canisters you’ll need to create your gourmet meal.

Fuel is another choice to consider.  Propane is the driving force behind most camp kitchens and many backpacking stoves.  Propane is versatile, readily available (in the USA) and clean burning but you can’t reuse the small bottles and extreme cold temperatures can cause problems.  However for most situations propane is a good choice.

Liquid fuel such as white gas provides a lot of BTUs, performs well in all weather and is readily available (in the USA).  Care needs to be taken not to spill the fuel during stove setup and tear down.  Many stoves that run on liquid fuel are capable of running on more than one type of fuel including kerosene or unleaded gas (available worldwide) making the stove an extremely good choice for global travelers.

Depending on the location your traveling, size of your team and the meals you plan to prepare, the right cook stove option may be different for each trip.  Knowing the pluses and minuses of each cooking option will help you make the right choice.  Or you could just go out to eat.

BFGoodrich’s KM2 Mud Tires First Impressions

Our off-road adventures take us to places where AAA is not an option.  On our adventures we drive our FJ Cruiser over dirt, boulders and rocks that eat tires for breakfast.  In addition we usually have to cover thousands of miles of asphalt to find the end of the road.  Well built, tough as nails tires are not an luxury, they are a necessity.

A few days back we received a set of BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain T/A KM2 tires to test out on our off-road adventures.  The KM2 is BFGoodrich’s second generation of their toughest “E” rated off-road tire.  The KM2 protects against punctures with three layers of polyester and two more belts of steel.  In addition BFGoodrich wraps the KM2 with three ply sidewall construction to resist cuts and bruises in order to take the edge off of rocks and other off-road hazards.

We chose to mount the 285x75x17 KM2 tires on our Walker Evens beadlock wheels and balance the mud tires with Dyna Beads.  The first thing we noticed is that these tires look good on our Toyota FJ Cruiser.  Aggressive tread blocks and 34″ stance, these BFGoodrich KM2 tires seem to weep testosterone.

In order to get a good first impression of these BFGoodrich tires we decided to leave the state and head over to Browns Camp Off-Highway-Vehicle (OHV) area in Oregon’s Tillamook Forest.

Mud tires are notoriously loud on the highway however BFGoodrich’s KM2 Mud tires were surprisingly quiet and smooth as we motored the 300 miles of highway down to Browns Camp.  The tires provided good road feel as we navigated the twisty asphalt that leads through the foot hills of the coastal range to the trail head.

At the trail head we aired down allowing the tires to soften the bumps and ruts of the trails.  On the dirt and gravel we easily made our way as the KM2 Mud tires dug in and carried us over the 4×4 trails.

When it came to the tougher rock crawling sections of firebreak 5 we discovered that we had left way too much air in the tires.  At 28psi the tires could not conform and grab the boulder’s edges.  The smart thing to do would have been to bleed off 10 psi and let the tires work for us…  that would have been the smart thing to do.  We kept the tires at 28 psi, worked back and forth through the steep boulder infested hill and climbed to the top.

For this initial impression we drove 600 miles of highway and spent a full day driving several levels of trails (easy, moderate and difficult, we stayed away from the extreme and sever rated trails…  after all we still had to drive home).  Our first impression is that the KM2 provides solid performance on and off-road.  The KM2s are well behaved on the road and deliver good footing off-road (next time we’ll give firebreak 5 a try with 18 psi). Over the next few months we’ll count on these tires to take us on several more off-road adventures and we will let you know how they perform.

Metal Tech’s Rear Long Travel Review

Metal Tech 4×4 is known for its leadership in off-road protection, suspension performance and 4-wheeling innovation.  We thought we’d look at their recent suspension contribution.

The first big advancement in long travel for the Toyota FJ Cruiser  and 4-Runner came  in 2008 from Total Chaos taking the front end from eight inches to 12 inches of travel with their front 2″ long travel kit.  This step forward provided a big improvement to the front IFS but left the rear-end unattended.

Realizing the need for balance in off-road suspension performance, Metal Tech 4×4 introduced their rear long travel and has created the next evolution in FJ Cruiser and 4-Runner suspension. Eleven and half inches of rear shock travel translating into 27 inches of wheel travel to help maintain four points of contact with the ground as you motor over all sorts of terrain.

To achieve this impressive range of motion, Metal Tech’s long travel kit includes offset lower links that eliminate binding, bump stop relocaters, longer stainless break-lines and taller two stage progressive springs.  Metal Tech has teamed with Icon to create longer rear shocks specifically designed to take advantage of the new geometry.

The Metal Tech long travel kit offers two progressive spring options:

  • Standard long travel springs have a free standing 19 1/4″ spring height that maintains a 2″ lift in the rear.  The bottom half the coil is rated at 250lbs of spring rate and the upper portion is at 105lbs of spring rate.
  • Expedition rated long travel springs have 3″ of rear lift. The bottom half of the coil is rated at 300lbs of spring rate and the upper portion is rated at 140lbs of spring rate to maintain ride height with the heavier loads associated with overland expeditions.

Using a progressive spring combination allows the spring to stay in it’s compressed position at ride height and expand out to it’s full free height on down travel keeping the wheels in contact with the ground.

But how does all this spring rating translate into seat of the pants performance? We tested both Metal Tech spring types and found some very interesting results.

Full disclosure here: we run the Metal Tech 3-link setup with their lower links, springs, bump stops, extended bake line and Sway-A-Way 2 1/2″, remote reserve, 12″ travel, triple by-pass shocks on our setup.  Travel numbers are for a 4-link set up and some of the test were using Metal Tech’s FJC running a 4-link set up and their long travel kit.  Both springs were tested on our rig to provide same/same comparison over a longer duration to see the difference in ride comfort, sag and spring response. We also left the bypass shocks at the same setting for all the spring tests.

First we tested the standard springs on some forest roads and local trails which offer a number of different levels of challenge.  Driving on highway, around town or on wash board gravel the standard long travel springs provide an amazingly comfortable ride.  While the heavier rated bottom half of the coil keeps a level ride height, the softer upper portion gives and takes the impacts of pot holes, cracks and bumps in the road.  On the 4×4 trails the springs open up nicely, allowing the rear wheels to travel their full arc keeping the rig steady as you crawl over large rocks or drop a wheel into a hole.  The three wheeled wave so familiar to FJC drivers who play on the bigger obstacles is a thing of the past (within reason).  Carrying lighter loads on the local logging roads (a few spare parts. tools and camp gear) the springs provide the stability needed to move quickly down half dirt, half gravel twisty terrain and absorb all the bumps and ruts allowing for solid control and comfort.

The expedition long travel springs are new…  in fact we were the first to grab a pair off the rack and test them.  These springs were designed to support the heavier loads of overland expeditions without sagging and giving up ride height (translate ride height into upward wheel travel).  In order to run the new expedition long travel springs through their paces we piled all the gear needed to be self sufficient for six days on the famed Rubicon Trail… and it was a lot of gear. On the big Rubicon rocks of Little Sluice, Big Sluice and Cadillac Hill the expedition springs carried the weight and still granted the rear axle full travel along the length of its arc allowing the wheels to remain in contact with the granite as we crawled up and over obstacles.  On all the obstacles the springs kept the rig stable, never feeling sloppy or sagging under the weight of all the camping gear, food, tools, spare parts, camera gear and gallons of water and fuel.

Of course you have to give up something with these heavier springs right…  These springs are designed to ride level with a load so empty you will notice your FJC has a bit of rake like it did when it came off the show room floor. Driving around town with the expedition springs and an empty rig reminds you you’re a driving a truck. Not harsh, looking for a kidney belt, rattle your teeth loose ride but not the supple smooth ride of the Metal Tech standard long travel springs either.

When we first upgraded the front end to the Total Chaos long travel we had one complaint…  the rear end just could not keep up as we took our rig through the Baja, Rubicon (the first time back in 09) and the backcountry discovery routes of Utah and Washington.  Now with the Metal Tech long travel and their choice of springs we have the balance we’ve been looking for as we travel the road less traveled.

If your looking for an upgrade that will provide you with gobs of rear travel and you want to be able to carry all the gear you need to be self sufficient on long expedition in a Toyota 4-Runner or FJ Cruiser then give Metal Tech 4×4 a call to talk about their six different rear long travel kit options.

Cam Cans Can

Long off-road adventures mean you are carrying what you need…  tools, parts, recovery gear, fluids or anything else you may require to be self sufficient.  But where do you put it all so that you don’t have to dig through your entire truck to get to it when you need it?

We are always looking for ways to store stuff so that is it organizes, accessible, and safe.  Our friends over at Auto Anything sent us a set of Daystar Cam Cans to try out.

Cam Cans are an ingenious way of providing storage space for liquids (antifreeze, water, oil, and other fluids) or trail tools on the outside of your rig so they remain easily accessible.  Their tech says “All containers are constructed of Daystar’s patented polyurethane construction which makes them resistant to warping, crushing, or degrading from UV rays and the elements.” We found them to be pretty durable as they got kick around the garage for several weeks while we waited for our off-road FJ Cruiser to return so we could mount them up.

The containers mount to the spare tire where you can carry one or two Cam Cans locked together.  We opted for a water storage  (you can go a long time without food but run out of water and it gets ugly fast) and the blaze orange tool box.  There is a green for other fluids.

Mounting them up is simple and only takes a few minutes to replace the lugs on the spare with Daystar’s mounting kit hardware.  Each container slides on, twists and their cams (hence the name) locks into place.  No tools required to access them on the trail, just twist and slide off.

We have started carrying our basic recovery kit (tree strap, shackle, gloves, and winch remote) in the tool box so that what we need most to get unstuck is quickly and easily accessible.  We can also throw a muddy strap back in the Cam Can tool box when were done and not worry about making a mess in the back of the rig.

And while we hope we are not digging into our recover gear too much, it is nice to know it will be right at our finger tips when we need it and out of the way when we don’t.

If you want to see their introduction at SEMA, here you go

 

Tracking Your Truck

This off-road adventure website was started five years ago for one reason… Let my mother know dad was ok and to track where he was on our original Arctic Ocean Adventure. A lot has changed since then and our off-road adventures have taken us through some extreme conditions and to amazing locations. But one thing hasn’t changed, when we take off, mom wants to know we’re safe and where the hell we are.

Recently the guys at Track Your Truck (www.trackyourtruck.com) asked us to give their tracking system a try.  These guys have satellite and cellular based real time GPS vehicle tracking.  Why would you need one of these?  Well how about dispatchers looking to keep their delivery trucks moving efficiently, helping lost drivers find an address and alerting customers for accurate arrival/departure time predictions.  Our personal favorite (and probably ever teenager’s father’s favorite feature) covert tracking of the car you lent to your teenager.  Or just to let those who worry about you know where you are.

We received the cellular based Coyote unit which provides

  • real-time vehicle location, speed and heading 24/7
  • 2-minute GPS tracking updates
  • Internal antennas and battery backup
  • Starter Kill—Vehicle only allowed to operate on predefined schedule
  • Accelerometer for excessive acceleration, deceleration events

The unit can be plugged into your rig’s power socket (cigarette lighter for those who remember when cars came with ashtrays) or hard wired in behind the dash.  We unpacked the unit, plugged it into the power socket and we were done.  That has to be the easiest install we’ve ever done.  We even moved it between vehicles a time or two in just seconds (I have a teenage daughter who asked to borrow one of our rigs for a weekend).

Once the unit is installed you can keep track of your fleet using Track Your Truck’s on-line software, NetTrack.  Log-in and NetTrack lets you see in real time, the locations of all your vehicles against Google Maps as well as review several spreadsheet based reports with tons of data including location points, dates, times, headings and speed.  You can also replay your vehicles’ routes using Google Maps or Google Earth.

All this functionality comes with a price.  The units start at $199 along with a monthly fee beginning at $19.99 for coverage and NetTrack access.  If you’re a fleet manager looking for an easy solution that allows you to track your vehicles and optimize their use in transit, Track Your Truck is worth a look.  The unit and software definitely performed well.

For our simpler needs, this technology is not the right match for us.  We’re not going to be taking advantage of real time traffic maps overlaid on our rigs location to optimize delivery times or looking to streamline routes across multiple vehicles.  And while the cellular based unit will cover our road trips, we’d need to bump up to the satellite coverage for off-road adventures.  And all that data in NetTrack is designed to be private so publicly publishing real time location goes against the grain.   However, speaking as a father that covert tracking and kill switch scheduling capability has some real appeal.

100 Series Land Cruiser Sliders

There is a long rich Land Cruisers heritage.  Over its long off-road history the Land Cruiser has led off-road adventures all around the world.

When we started getting serious about taking our FJ Cruiser on off-road adventures, a pair of rock rails (aka sliders) were installed (FJ Cruiser slider install) to keep the rocks from crushing our door sills and help the rig slide around an obstacle.

Over the years the Land Cruiser has taken on many sizes and now the popular 100 series has protection for whatever off-road adventure you have planned.

Recently Metal Tech announced the official release of their 100 series Land Cruiser sliders.  Over a year in the making, Metal Tech 4×4 is releasing their signature laser cut and formed sliders with their two stage rub rail design.

The unique Metal Tech look and engineered design protect your rig, enhance the looks and provide a solid step for reaching those items stowed on the roof rack.  The sliders are 100% bolt on, powder coated black and includes all the mounting hardware.

Falken Rocky Mountain ATS Review… Be Brutally Honest!

The folks over at Discount Tire asked us to put a set of Falken Rocky Mountain ATS to the test and then be brutally honest in our review.  It’s a tough job but somebody has to do it!

Every tire carries a wealth of information…  the industry’s own version of truth in manufacturing.  To make informed tire choices you need to understand the ABCs of the tire industry.   A quick read of Discount Tire’s tire dictionary will give you a big leg up when comparing tires.

Some tire facts of the Falken Rocky Mountain ATS we tested: LT285/70R17D1 121S B

  • type- light truck
  • size – 285/70/17
  • construction – radial
  • plies – D (8 plies)
  • load – 121 (3,197 lbs)
  • speed rating – S (up to 112mph {don’t try to test this one})
  • temperature grade – B

In order to run these tires through a real world situation we opted to have the guys at Discount Tires mount up our 285/70/17 on stock rims with traditional lead weight balancing.   Our rig is part hard core 4×4 trail rig, part overland explorer and come Monday, daily driver.   That means these Rocky Mountain all terrains need to balance performance across all sorts of driving conditions.  The first thing we noticed is these tires look good on the rig.  Rugged, multi-angled grooves and blocked tread with a 50,000 mile warranty… But can they dance when the when things get a little dirty.

To us, all terrain means dirt, rocks, mud, hills, washboard gravel and water.  In order to tackle all these conditions we aired them down to 25 psi and hit the trails of the northwest.  On loose dirt and rocks where gravity pulls downhill, the tires maintained a grip on the ground without sliding, allowing our gears to work their magic and keep the rig motoring under control down the hills.

One of our favorite thing is to bomb down the old logging road (not so closed course and definitely not a professional driver). Opening it up on the gravel, the Rocky Mountain ATS’ felt confident as we zipped through the corners and raised a little dust.

When you think 4×4 adventures and off-road driving, climbing over stuff in the way is usually what comes to mind.  We motored over to the rock garden in order to see how the Falken tires held up to the boulders.  Even with mud all around, the all terrains grabbed and climbed up rocks as they contoured to the obstacles allowing us to keep a controlled forward momentum.

With all the dirt it was only a matter of time before we looked to wash off the rig and the north west has plenty of puddles to “clean up” in.  The tire’s aggressive tread design shed water and found traction in the mud below letting us make a big splash on the trail.

After a day of wheeling trails, we can honestly say Falken’s Rocky Mountain ATS are a strong tire capable of living up to its all terrain designation.

And what about daily driving?  We put 2,000 miles on these tires in a short two weeks.  Think four trips from Seattle WA. to Eugene OR…  Hula Betty just started university.  The rig covered wet high ways, worn down city streets  and pot hole filled back roads.  With that much travel, we appreciated the smooth quiet ride and sure footed grip, especially at 70+ mph on the wet pavement… Have you driven I5?  It’s a high speed trucking route where cars are allowed as long as they stay out of the way.

Balanced on and off road performance along with daily driver comfort makes Falken’s Rocky Mountain ATS a good choice for anyone interested in a tire that will play hard on the weekend and show up for work come Monday.

Guess our first impressions of the Falken Rocky Mountain ATS were right… Who Knew.

Rumors Of Its Death Are Highly Exaggerated (2011 FJ Cruiser)

Since the introduction of Toyota’s FJ Cruiser  in 2006 (it was called a 2007), rumors run rampant that THIS was the last year of production.   With forum poster trying to impress others with their insider scoop of the rigs demise, its death has been declared again and again.  Yet each year Toyota has continued to release a new model year.

Toyota has announced the 2011 FJ Cruiser (FJC) will be coming off the assembly line.  A couple of notable updates for the 2011 model year include:

  • Two new colors
    • Calvary Blue
    • Quicksand
  • New Trail Teams Special Edition in Army Green
  • New Audio Systems, Including  Available JBL Premium System
  • Standard Locking Rear Differential (standard on manual transmission/ optional for automatic)
  • Improved Visibility and Rear Seat Access (Didn’t know it needed improvement)
  • Standard iPod® Connectivity and XM Satellite Radio

Out of the box the FJC 4×4 has ground clearance of 9.6 inches, 260 hp @ 5,600 rpm, 271 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm, dual transfer case and a 41.84:1 crawl ratio making it a capable trail rig.  In fact for 2010 Consumer Reports put the Toyota FJ Cruiser at the top of its “Best Off-Road” vehicle list.

If you want the full scoop on the upcoming 2011 FJ Cruiser take a look at the Toyota 2011 FJ Cruiser product information from Toyota’s press room.

We’re glad to see the rig is maintaining its funky style, white roof and solid off-road performance. And while it’s not voodoo…  the new blue is pretty sick.

No idea how long Toyota will continue to produce this rig but we are sure it will be produced in 2011.

UPDATE: Toyota announced in 2013 that 2014 is the last year of production of the FJ Cruiser for the U.S. market. With thousands of Toyota FJ Cruisers on the road there will be plenty of them around for years to come so that everyone can continue to use them for what they were intended, off-road adventures.

Falken Rocky Mountain Tires First Impressions

After 65,000 miles it was time for some new tires…  These things don’t last forever you know.  Take a quick tour of the Internet and you quickly discover there are lots of choices out there so we had some decisions to make.

The Blue Bunny is part daily driver, part extreme off-road rig and part overland explorer which means we needed a tire that feels at home in all sorts of conditions including the rain and snow of the pacific northwest.  With this in mind we decided to turn to a pro and give Travis over at Discount Tires a call…  Ok really we just emailed him since it was 2:00 am, but let me tell the story in my own way.  After a few email exchanges back and forth as well as a real call to discuss what we wanted out these tires Travis had a suggestion for us.  He had just returned from the 2010 North America JK Experience where he had seen tires put through their paces in the one of the toughest Jeep challenges anywhere.

Newly developed by Falken the Rocky Mountain ATS tire delivers tough off-road traction while at the same time providing highway comfort and handling. Rugged design and long tread life makes it an exceptional value. Our 285/70/17 size (Rocky Mountain is available in 15-inch to 20-inch sizes) feature a 3-ply sidewall construction for great off-road durability.

Some of the features Travis pointed out included:

  • Four wide, aggressive multi-angled grooves for clearing out water, mud and snow
  • Block tread edges providing solid traction and control
  • Smooth quite ride (remember the Blue Bunny still serves daily driving duties)
  • Two steel belts and 3-ply sidewalls for protection and strength
  • 50,000 mile tread life warranty

Now as everyone knows, tires are only as good as the dealer who stands behind them.  Discount Tires has 750 stores in 22 states making it the world’s largest independent tire and wheel retailer today.  These guys will also drop ship tires directly to your doorstep if you plan on mounting them yourself or at another local tire shop.

We headed down to our local Discount Tire dealer in Bremerton, WA. where Nick and the guys took care of us.  One of the cool things about showing up with a handful camera gear is that it gets you into places that are normally off limits.  With the rig in the bay we got to go back and see everything as the guys quickly went to work.  Sure on the trail you can break a tire bead and pull it off a wheel with a hi-lift jack but when professionals mount tires they get to use all the cool tools.

In no time the guys had the new rubber mounted on our original stock rims and were throwing them on the balancing machine.  You really do have to credit the guy who figured out how to apply centrifugal force and computers together in a way that would perfectly balance all that alloy and rubber.

Ok I know I’m gushing a little but really the crew there was great.  We chatted about some of the adventures we’d been on and a couple still in the planning stages.  We talked tires… go figure…  and got to see how it all works behind the scenes.  While this wasn’t an NASCAR pit time, they did have us in and out in less than thirty minutes.  And remember that stand behind the tire thing.  These guys warrant their tires from any of those 750 stores across the country.

The first thing you notice…  dang these are smooth and quiet on the highway…  For a while now I thought I’ve been loosing my hearing having to crank the stereo up to obscene levels to hear it over the road noise…  But no more.  I can now enjoy the stereo and carry on a conversation cruising down the highway.  They also hold the road well and let us carve through the corners without worry…  Remember though we are in a rig not a Porsche so our carving is relative…  but it feels good through the corners.  And on a short jaunt down some two tracks the tires responded nicely.  Not to mention they look pretty sick on the rig.

Of course we plan on putting these Falken Rocky Mountain ATS through more serious off-road tests soon and we’ll let you know how well they hold up to the trails, mud and snow.  Look for a longer term review soon but for now these are looking like a good all-terrain choice.

—– follow up —-

Well after a bunch of miles we put up the results of our Tire Test of Falken Rocky Mountain All-Terrains.  Check out the video and write up for more info.