4WD Tips & Tech (26)

Off-road tips that might actually be useful! Gear you might want to buy!

Sunday, 29 July 2018 12:26

Wildlife Photography Tricks

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Wildlife Photography Tricks 

by Jerry Dupree

As most of you know I enjoy wildlife photography. I have always loved the outdoors as a hunter, camper, hiker, off roader and happy wanderer. I like to show my photos to anyone who will hold still and I enter photography competitions and enjoy the outdoors. I am out in the desert or up in the mountains at least once a week and try to get out on trails, up in canyons, river beds, and hopefully beyond the beer cans. I look for areas devoid of vehicle tracks, human footprints, and follow animal trails in hopes of locating burrows, nests, and evidence of animal activity.

I have been an avid photographer for years. Cameras have evolved smaller, cheaper, smarter, and sim.pler. I would like to have the money I have invested in cameras, flashes, lenses, and other accessories. I have game cameras that I try to conceal and place them in the shade under trees and I place cameras in pairs with one set on video and the other on still. They are operated on motion detectors that trigger the shutter. They have infrared lights to photograph at night. Most animals are nocturnal and it is amazing the variety of animals that are out there. I have shots of coyotes, gray foxes, kit foxes, bobcats, badgers, deer, bighorn sheep, hawks, owls, vultures. The cameras are also sensitive to wind and moving branches, leaves, and grass. I have a lot of pictures of each. I place my cameras facing north so they are not exposed to direct sunlight into the lens. I record the camera locations by GPS coordinates so I can find them again. I would have lost cameras if I hadn't marked their locations from GPS readings.

Animals are curious, especially foxes. They examine the cameras and knock them over. They come with straps to buckle them around trees, but there are very few straight trees in the desert. Pesky foxes like to chew on the straps and drag the cameras away. I havefound straps that have been chewed through, and cameras that have been dragged a few 

feet away. I have out of focus close ups of eyes, noses, and other parts of coyotes, foxes, deer, squirrels, mice, kangaroo rats, and other unidentified animals. I have taken off the straps.

I locate cameras a little higher than surrounding terrain for camera position and prevention from flooding in summer storms and rain showers.

I use dry dog food for bait. I am not trying to feed animals, but to attract them. I pour dog food in bushes so the target animals will spend more time 'posing' for the cameras. I add a small can of cat food which has a stronger scent and is more likely to draw animals from longer distances. The cameras and bait piles are where there are animal tracks along natural game trails.

Another method I use is an electronic predator call. They are rechargeable and have channels that can be changed to call different animals. The sounds of the calls are animal distress sounds such as rabbits, quail, and other sounds. Animals will follow any high pitched squeal because they are curious. There are times when they will answer the call in 30 seconds to five minutes, and other times when they won't appear for more than a half hour. They usually circle and catch the scent. I have had animals come in, catch my scent, and then run away. They usually stop and come back because they are very curious. I will usually place my call in a river bed or a wash crossing a road. River beds and water courses are freeways for  animals. I will position myself far enough away from the cameras for a good photo and for my own safety. I carry emergency and safety equipment at all times, which includes ‘snake repellant’ which is a pocket size pistol of .38 cal. or .357 magnum. The first two chambers are loaded with shot shells which are easier to aim and hit a snake hopefully before he gets his chance at me. I always have a hiking stick for balance and to poke over rocks and logs and in bushes before I take a step. I have known people who have been snake bitten and listened to their stories about how they got bit.

My usual walking around camera is a Nikon P900 digital camera. They are not prohibitively expensive and they have an incredible 84X lens which focuses on every detail from a long distance.

I carry a lot of stuff in my pack which includes a small folding shovel, level, compass, GPS, and a satellite phone and Personal Locator Beacon.

There are probably a lot of other things I do automatically just because I have been doing it so long. There are things not to do. Spend as little time as possible setting up. Don't contaminate the area with too much human scent, and for sure don't urinate near the setup. I change locations and am careful not to habituate animals where there is a free meal. 'A fed animal is a dead animal' when they become dependent on humans feeding them. I am not sure, but spotlights and electronic calls may not be legal in national parks.

I think it is a fun hobby and enjoy just getting out for a walk on the wild side and the challenge of getting some good photos. I compare it to fishing. Sometimes you get lucky and get the right animal in the right pose in the right lighting. It is always successful because I get to spend a day by myself in the wilderness. ~ Jerry

Friday, 25 May 2018 22:01

Local History Website

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Local History Website

By Craig Baker

I found a useful website that lists historical markers around the Southwest, and around the world. It’s the Historical Marker Data Base, at

Each marker listing has a map, directions, marker text, photos, and nearby markers. Some have website links, additional information, or comments. You can search for markers by city, zip code, county, name, etc. Find historic sites you didn’t know about, or read the text of markers that are missing.

If you want to add to the database, you can sign up and add additional markers by filling out the easy online form. Read the guidelines. Each listing must have a historical marker, existing or missing, and it must be outdoors.

Take a closeup photo showing the marker text, a photo showing the marker in its surroundings, and one or two photos of the marker’s subject. You can add to an existing marker, or make corrections and updates. For more tips, email me, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . New additions are usually published after a couple weeks, but it sometimes takes a couple months, or just a couple seconds. Don’t worry about supplying all the location details, just use their map to drop a pin at the marker location. Or they will get the GPS coordinates from your mobile device photo. If you see an amazing photo with my name on it, click on it to read the embedded data. My camera is an iPod Touch music player.

Some posts have incorrect dates or names, and some look like a bad social media website, but most are useful and interesting. I was surprised to find some important historical markers in the Los Angeles area that were not yet posted. My favorite marker that I’ve added: Lummis Home. ~ Craig

Tuesday, 20 February 2018 22:50

Hiking Sticks

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A very useful and versatile accessory for hiking in the outdoors is a hiking stick. I have tried different types including “trekking poles” which are very similar to ski poles and collapse to anyone’s preferred length and are made of some kind of composite like fiberglass or aluminum. I think the trekking poles would be great for hiking on a trail and allow the arms to assist in walking. The problem I have with them is they probably wouldn’t support my weight if I were off balance. I have a weak leg from an old injury, so a hiking stick helps maintain balance in case I trip or fall. Falling would be a problem if I were to land on a rock or into a sticker bush. I have stepped into and caved in animal burrows and have fallen in sandy river beds. The hiking stick helps to get back up.

I feel more secure having a hiking stick for self defense from whatever is out there including snakes. I use the hiking stick to poke in bushes, behind rocks, or logs before I step. Snakes are timid creatures and very well camouflaged. Most of the time they lay motionless to avoid harm from their predators. Snakes are a feast for roadrunners. I have had close encounters with snakes and accidentally stepped on a rattler. I always poke around before stepping near a bush or over a rock or log.

Walking out in the wilds can be treacherous when stepping on stones, leaves, pine needles, shale, or other unstable surfaces. A hiking stick is very helpful, especially when walking downhill as it provides brakes and can prevent a twisted ankle.

Hiking sticks come in different types of material and lengths. I found a company in Texas who makes hiking sticks of various kinds of wood which are strong enough to assist me when poking around. They are online at Brazos Walking Sticks in Waco, Texas ( They are available in oak, sassafras, hickory, in plain natural to ornately customized with fancy handles and even cases. There are other companies who make walking or hiking sticks, canes, staffs, and similar assists for whatever a hiker’s preference might be. I keep mine in my truck with the rubber tip facing me because I once tried pulling my hiking stick out of a loaded vehicle and pulled off the rubber tip and couldn’t retrieve it until I unloaded the truck.      ~ Jerry

Sunday, 11 February 2018 17:55

Tire Plug Kit

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Vehicle Preparation:

Tire Plug Kit

By Steve Marschke

I’ve had more flat tires out in the desert than I can count (some well-de.served). Having a spare tire is a no brainer. For your consideration, ask yourself “To plug, or not to plug?” Do you carry a tire plug kit? If you don’t have one you should probably get one. These are the kind of tools that tire shops aren’t allowed to use anymore (liability insurance?) but private parties can still use them and they work pret.ty well. You can pay about $50 for a high-quality kit (Saf-T-Seal) but I have found the $10 Pep Boys or Amazon model to work just fine. The reason for the kit is simple: when you get a flat tire offroad, you will change over to your spare (you have one, right?) At this point you will be back in motion. If you are on your way out of the wilderness, no prob.lem. However, what if you just got start.ed on your trip or haven’t even made it to your destination? Are you going to keep going and get even farther into the boondocks without a spare tire? Maybe, but you will probably start worrying. What if you get another flat or two at one time? With a plug kit you just might be able to patch the flat tire and keep your spare for later. Or you can patch more than one tire. You have a choice now to continue on your itinerary with.out worrying that you will be stranded. Or you can be someone’s hero – chances are you have traveled with someone who was not prepared and now is a liability to the whole group. You may not find out who has not properly prepared their vehicle to go off road until something bad happens, but you can be a part of a successful recovery. Even if you never use it on your own vehicle, it’s a must have.

Tire patch kits are rather simple to use: first find the hole – this can be the hardest part, if you can’t see a nail or foreign object use some water and spread it around with your hand slowly. The escaping air might make a bubble but will usually make some hissing noise as the air and your hand partially block the opening. Most of the time you won’t have any trouble finding the hole – it’s right where that sharp rock or creosote stump is jutting into your tire. If you need to, drive a foot or two to get the hole to an orientation where you can work on it. Then insert the reamer part of the kit in and out of the hole a few times. Thread the plug (it’s like sticky rope) through the insert tool, coat it with the rubber cement, and carefully push it into the hole. Go slow here because you want the ends of the plug to stay outside, not all the way into the tire. Hold the ends of the plug down and remove the tool; the plug should slide out of the tool and stay in the tire. The ends of the plug will be hanging out. You can leave them or trim them off with a knife. Pump up the tire with your air compressor (Don’t have one? Better get one, even a cheapy cigarette lighter version.)

I find a couple helpful hints: if the hole is in the tread, keep tire inflated as much as possible as it will help keep the tire rigid making the insertion through the steel belts slightly easier. If the hole is in sidewall or the corner you can insert the plug with tire completely deflated, since there are few or no steel belts it will go in easily. If you have a large hole or a gash, keep inserting plugs side by side until hole is filled up. It helps to hold first plug with a nee.dle nose pliers to keep from pushing it into the tire as you insert the next plug. While off road and driving slowly, don’t worry too much but periodically check the plug to make sure it stayed put and the tire is holding air. Once you get back to the highway you should have a good idea if the tire is road worthy or not. By the time my tires reach 50,000 miles I usually have at least a couple plugs in each one.

Best part about using a plug – you just saved yourself the cost of a tire. If you get another puncture on the same tire – so what, that tire is already worn and you saved the replacement cost, how much will another plug hurt? Secondary benefit: a plug kit and small air compres.sor and far easier to pack (and cheaper) than a second spare tire – who has space for two anyway? Third benefit: You can buy a replacement tire that matches your other three instead of paying through the nose at the local garage and receiving a mismatched tire you never would have bought in the first place – when it’s all said and done, you’ve bought two tires (expensive lesson to learn).

Next time you get a low tire at home practice using your plug kit in your driveway so you’ll be ready. You can also watch videos on You Tube and get some free training. It’s much easier to learn when you are relaxed at home than it is when you are in the hinterlands, weighing your options.       ~ Steve

Friday, 15 September 2017 22:05

DIY First Aid Kit

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DIY First Aid Kit by Jerry Dupree

Anything can happen when we are out and about. We have all had scrapes, burns, splinters, etc. Have a good first aid kit and I have never seen one for sale that would be effective for a variety of injuries from something minor to a life threatening situation. I made a list of possibles that have happened in various situations. While in the Boy Scouts a boy suffered a deep cut from falling on a sharp rock and another one was seriously injured from an axe. There are possible eye injuries, broken bones, burns, cuts, heart attacks, strokes, snake bites, and allergic reactions to insect stings. The best first aid is a cell phone. Assistance can be requested for an ambulance, search and rescue, or a medivac helicopter. For quick assistance, a phone call to the nearest hospital can direct to immediate medical assistance and can give directions, advice, and procedures. Photographs can be taken of the injury and emailed so professional medical personnel can evaluate and advise care and treatment. We have special medical insurance that will cover search and rescue and helicopter evacuation.

With the advice of an emergency room nurse I made a list of items one should have when venturing to the outdoors or any trip. The nurse described many of the injuries that are frequently treated in emergency rooms at the hospital. I have also asked for advice from a fire fighter / EMT.

We should always carry a list of our prescription medications and existing medical conditions. If someone becomes incapacitated and not able to communicate the problem, it may not be possible to correctly treat it. I carry my medications and history with me at all times, as well as the name and phone number of any doctor or specialist who knows my conditions and has the files and history. It is best to have a starting point and a source of information before any procedure. Some treatments can compound the situation such as administering an aspirin to someone who is bleeding or is having a stroke.

I began acquiring supplies for my first aid kit. The usual are band aids, non stick tape, and something to to make a splint out of. Never try to re align a broken bone. Just stabilize it to transport the patient to a hospital. Two of us brought a victim of both broken wrists to a hospital and laid his arms on a pillow on his lap. Every slight bump on the freeway caused great pain. Any attempt to straighten a limb would be very painful and may cause further damage such as piercing a vein or an artery. Some items are not available from a pharmacy but may be online. I have an “air way” which is reversible for a child or an adult and fits down the throat for “mouth to mouth” respiration without touching the patient’s mouth when administering CPR. I also have nitroglycerine pills to relieve arteries in case of a heart attack.

List of First Aid Supplies

            1          Assorted bandages  and gauze pads

            2          Non stick tape

            3          Aspirin for various purposes including a heart attack,  but NOT for a stroke

            4          Surgical gloves

            5          Tweezers

            6          Anti bacterial towelettes

            7          Antiseptic liquid bandage

            8          Benadryl gel and tablets

            9          Sharp scissors

            10        Ipecac Syrup

            11        Betadyne

            12        Neosporin

            13        Finger splint

            14        Ace Bandages

            15        Eye stream

            16        Thermometer

            17        Wound seal powder

            18        Butterfly bandages

            19        Mole skin

            20        Blister bandages

            21        Saran wrap

            22        Scalpel

            23        Clamps

            24        Snake bite kit

The saran wrap is for covering wounds and wrapping to stop bleeding or using for a splint. Keep wrapping the injured area without cutting circulation. When the patient arrives for medical treatment, the first person will need to remove any bandages to call the appropriate specialist (orthopedic, burn, surgeon, neurosurgeon, vascular, etc). Any gauze or tape would be very painful. One advantage of using Saran wrap is the admitting personnel can see the wound without removal.

Always carry emergency blankets, including space blankets to treat hypothermia, shock, and to keep the patient warm, replace wet clothing, keeping the patient comfortable, etc. 

It is best to not apply ointments, creams, gels, etc, to lacerations or major wounds. The emergency team will have to scrape it out before closing and suturing. The best general treatment is to get the patient to professional medical care as soon as possible. First aid is first until a qualified medical team can begin their jobs.

Snake bites: We all fear poisonous snakes and what they can do. If a person is a snake bite victim the best treatment is evacuating to a hospital as soon as possible. Try to kill the snake and bring it to the hospital. Different breeds of snakes have different toxins. The nearest snake bite treatment center is Loma Linda Medical Center. The fastest way to reach it is the best, be it private transportation, ambulance, or helicopter. Contact by cell phone is the best help that can be done. If the bite is in a limb, keep it down from the heart and clean the wound. Snake bites usually become infected. I have known people who have been bitten and it is advisable not to cut the wound. Snake bite kits can be effective for sucking out as much poison without cutting.

It is advisable to keep up with the latest techniques and technology for first aid treatment. There are first aid and CPR classes given by the Red Cross and other agencies. If there is a defibrillator near by, there should also be people knowledgeable in using it. We all need refresher courses in first aid.    ~ Jerry

Sunday, 09 July 2017 09:22

Game Camera Photography

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Game Camera Photography

by Jerry Dupree

Photography really became fun when it went digital. Images could be cropped, color adjusted, things added and deleted, poor lighting could be adjusted, and there was no film to process. Photography went wild with video, miniature, under water, drones, Go Pro cameras on helmets, worn on chests, attached to rockets and parachutes.

Digital cameras got better, cheaper, and smarter by the year, Upscale digital cameras used to cost $25,000. Now anyone can be taking excellent photographs for a small fraction of that and achieve better results.

Now fast forward to game cameras that can be set for still or video with sound, and are motion sensor operated. Now we can find out what our cat does at night, or what goes on in the back yard with rodents, owls, raccoons, opossums, and other things that go bump in the night.

I have always loved the outdoors and take a lot of photos of various birds and animals. One day I decided to buy a game camera and leave it in place to see what happens when there are no people around. I discovered there is a definite learning curve when using any specialized camera. Game cameras are not very expensive when considering what their capabilities are. They take stills, videos, and night photos of anything that walks in front of them. Early on I wanted to photograph in nature preserves, but found out they don’t like to give permission to walking off of approved trails and of course there are people who will steal them if they find them. I decided to go places where no one or at least very few people go. There are parts of national parks which are wilderness with no roads. I look for wheel and foot prints so I can place cameras where they are not likely to be found. I have learned to point the cameras north so the lens is not directly pointed toward the sun at any time. I began experimenting with bait to attract certain animals. I began with dry dog food and learned how to disguise it behind rocks or branches to make the scenes appear as natural as possible. I thought that if I used dry dog food and mixed in rabbit food and bird seed, that rabbits, birds, and rodents would attract owls, hawks, and other predators. I tried canned cat food for the strong scent plus inviting bobcats and hopefully a mountain lion or two. So far the cat food has been effective. I keep the cameras in the shade and clear the area in front of them between the camera and the bait and in the background. I have had problems with ravens stealing the bait. For some reason the raven population is much smaller than in past years. At least they are not eating all of my bait.

Foxes are pesky and knock over my cameras and chew on the straps. One time a fox drug one of my cameras a good distance away and it was a good thing I found it. Game cameras come with straps to fasten to trees. There are not many straight, tall trees in the desert, so I place them on the ground and level them. I leave the straps off after a few fox attacks.

At this time of the year I am hoping to attract animals with their newborn litters. Coyotes usually have their pups in May, so they should be up and around with their eyes open and learning to find food for themselves. My wife and I followed a trail one time which led to a den with baby coyotes. I got some photos of a quail family with nine babies. carry a hiking stick and poke around bushes, logs, and grass, before I step in or over them in case I find a rattlesnake. I have found several of them over the years.

Game camera photography has become an interesting hobby and is a little like fishing. Sometimes I get a good catch and am always trying new bait, areas to set up cameras.

I always carry a GPS and record the coordinates or I might not find my cameras. It is easy to become disoriented when hiking around the desert canyons or mountains. I am careful to bring emergency equipment including a satellite phone and a PLB (Personal Locator Beacon).   ~ Jerry

Sunday, 09 July 2017 07:59

Time To Get Creative

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Time to get creative

by Steve Marschke

I was out with the Wagoneer and ran out of gas. Since I knew our route and we would be putting on a lot of miles and my truck is a gas hog and only has a 20 gallon tank, I had planned ahead and brought a 5 jerry can. Unfortunately, the Wagoneer has a filler neck on the side of the body and there was no way to pour from the jerry can into the neck without a funnel or nozzle. I never carry a nozzle because they take up space, leak and create a mess to put away after use. I normally have a siphon hose, which is easier and cleaner, but I also normally drive the CJ5. I had forgotten the siphon hose on this trip (so much for planning ahead).

I managed to fabricate a temporary funnel from two water bottles and some duct tape. It leaked a bit but most of the gas went into the tank. Lesson to self: plan better. I now have another siphon hose in Wagoneer so I don’t have to move it from one truck to the other. Lesson to others: bring versatile, multi-purpose gear on every trip especially raw building materials. Whenever you are stuck, go through your gear inventory fashion (including the trash), brainstorm and ‘MacGyver’ a solution. ~ Steve Marschke

Note from Debbie Miller Marschke: you will notice that the duct tape actually has a pattern of "Mac N Cheese" on it.  I gave that silly duct tape to Steve as a joke.  He laughed and said he would never use it...but I guess he was wrong!  ~ DM

Sunday, 09 April 2017 20:57

Winch Accessories

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Winch Accessories

by Jerry Dupree

It is important to carry essential winch accessories when going off road, the most important of which are a good pair of gloves for handling cables, hooks, and connections. Never hook a winch cable to itself. Always use a “choker” to attach to the vehicle needing help. A choker is a short nylon tow strap with hooks at either end. A choker is also vital when connecting a winch to a tree to prevent damaging the tree. I have used my winch at least five times to help other people and a couple of times getting myself unstuck. On two occasions I used my winch to put vehicles back on their wheels because of a roll over. In those cases I used the car’s seat belts as they are in the middle of the car and they didn’t pivot the front or rear. The choker prevented further damage by not scratching or denting the other vehicle. One was a pickup and the other was an SUV. The roll overs caused extensive damage which probably totaled both vehicles. Fortunately no one was injured.

It is very important that everyone stay completely clear of the cables, hooks, and the remote control. I know of a tragedy when a motor home got stuck in the sand and a man with a truck with a winch hooked up the motor home with a 9,000 lb. winch while the wife was standing too close video taping the event when the cable snapped, which caught her neck and killed her. A hook could also come loose if the rescued vehicle twists or pivots. Stay out of the “bite.”

A snatch block is a pulley used to double the force of the winch. The cable is passed through the pulley from the winch to the rescued vehicle. The winch will operate at half the speed while doubling the force. Given the choice I would prefer winching downhill rather than pulling against gravity. A man who was stuck for a couple of days was trying to tell me how to extricate his vehicle by pulling it uphill. I told him I was the one in charge and my decision was to pull his vehicle downhill, which proved to be the easiest way.

Shackles are used to attach the winch hook to the other vehicle. One is shown that will insert into a trailer hitch receiver which is a very strong connection and will pull in a straight line to the winch.

A friend of mine pulled a truck out of a small canyon up a hill. One time while hunting in Utah a motorhome slid off of an icy road up against a tree. Two vehicles with winches at either end “see sawed” the RV back up and on the road. Since the RV was on an angle to the tree, there wasn’t more serious damage to the coach.

Off roading is a fun hobby, but it can get us into serious trouble. Getting stuck is inevitable and having the right equipment helps a lot.

                        ~ Jerry

Wednesday, 18 January 2017 22:19

Pull Pal Off Road Rescue Equipment

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Pull Pal Off Road Rescue Equipment by Jerry Dupree

I am always interested in new equipment to help with off road adventures, especially when stuck or disabled. I am also a sucker for gimmicks and gadgets of all kinds and I have an extensive collection.

I found a device called a Pull Pal which is designed to use with a winch for pulling out sand, mud, or snow. It was designed by a man who got stuck in sand out in the desert and he thought of this device as he walked out to get help. The retailer who sold it to me had literature about how well it worked. The device was originally designed in two sizes, but they only had the large one in stock. The “shovel” or “plow” part of the device is removable and needs to be attached and locked in to place. The whole thing weighs about 40-50 pounds and takes up a lot of space in a vehicle.

Winches have their limitations, especially in the desert because there are few things large or strong enough to connect a winch to. Thus I thought I had a Eureka moment when I first saw a Pull Pal in an off road equipment store.

The Pull Pal is a device which resembles a cross between a sea anchor and a plow. When connected to a winch and pulled it is supposed to dig itself deeper, thus enabling the stuck vehicle to pull itself out of a hole. I felt secure in the belief that in the event of burying my wheels in a soft spot that I could confidently use my Pull Pal and place it ahead of me, turn on my winch, and be delivered to where I would have enough traction to continue on my journey.

One thing about a winch is the need to connect it to something solid that is at least as high as the center of the wheel of the vehicle. If the winch is too low, it will pull the front of the vehicle down, making it ineffective for pulling out of the stuck position. Under the best situation the Pull Pal would have to be higher than the wheels so the winch doesn’t pull the vehicle down. I needed to try using the Pull Pal on an occasion where I was stuck in soft sand. It could not dig itself in with any traction and there were no trees or large rocks. It just plowed itself toward me. I was fortunate enough to be in an area where there was cell phone reception and I contacted a four wheel friend who could come to my aid. I walked to a road so I could be found and we could return to my stuck truck.

I still have the Pull Pal because I paid for it and wouldn’t think of selling it to anyone I know. It is too big, heavy, and simply doesn’t work. It was a nice try though.                        ~ Jerry

Tuesday, 18 October 2016 00:29

Engel Fridge user review

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Engel Fridge User Review

by Steve Marschke

I have an older Engel refrigerator/freezer, which I keep in my Jeep CJ most of the time.  I had it before we went to Baja with John Marnell in 2005 and it still works perfectly today. At the time, ARB and Norcold also made almost exact copies.  Mine is two-tone grey, ARB was two-tone blue and Norcold was two-tone brown. Otherwise they’re exactly the same. It is a compressor based refrigerant system much like a home refrigerator but uses a Sawafuji ‘swing’ motor. The motor is supposed to be very efficient and the piston slides back and forth without a direct connecting rod, not rotary like a home fridge. The case is steel with bolt on steel handles. It uses about 2.5 amps max when compressing but doesn’t run all of the time unless it is very hot. Cool down time is amazing fast at least compared to RV refrigerators. It will go from ambient to 32 in about 20 minutes at my house when it’s about 70 degrees outside. When its 105° F, then it will run almost 100% of time.When really hot I can leave car parked about 24 to 30 hours and still start, but any more than that and I’ll have dead battery. If you have two batteries under the hood, then no worries at all. Otherwise drive your car about one hour or more each day to recharge. Usually when fourwheeling this isn’t a problem. We keep it on our Jeep CJ most of the time, but we’ve also used it on roadtrips in our Jeep Cherokee and VW Jetta Sportwagon. In fact, many years ago we had it in the Cherokee when we hiked to Panamint City. We meant to turn it off when we started hiking so we would not return to a dead battery. We forgot to turn it off after we took our food out. We had been gone more than 30 hours and to our relief, our single battery Cherokee started right back up when we returned. We used that experience as a lesson learned and improved our system by incorporating a portable solar panel into our system to work as a trickle charger. The solar panel does not provide enough energy to run the unit, but it does reduce the drain on the vehicle battery when we are parked. A 20 watt panel fits on the lid nicely. Another option we have used occasionally is simply plugging the unit into an extension cord and connecting to available power while  the car is parked somewhere. We do this at home when we pre-pack the night before we leave, but also at RV parks or friends residences. Once you have owned it, you will find all kinds of options to adapt and use it to match your mode of travel and style.

Inside there is just one wire basket to put your food in. I have 45 quart which might seem smallish but remember, no ice.  Holds about as much food as normal 60 quart cooler with ice. Shape is tall and narrow and takes some getting used to. I use an old tray from a cooler to help organize the food and it makes it easy to remove for access to bottom layer of food. Since you don’t have to worry about conserving ice you can store most of your drinks warm, then put them into fridge at end of day or in morning and let it cool them off... something you would probably never do with cooler as it would melt your ice.

One thing to keep in mind - you can’t really use this as a freezer and fridge simultaneously, it’s really one or the other, chosen by how cold you set the knob. The old model like mine only goes from 1 to 5. I usually have it set at 1.3 and that will keep things about 34°F while sitting on the back of my CJ without a top in direct sunlight in the desert with ambient at about 100° or even 110°F. I have run it inside my other cars with windows up and parked in sun and same thing. If the knob gets bumped to 2 it will freeze the water bottles by the time you try to get the next one out. Debbie used ours to transport an ice cream cake 50 miles from the point of purchase and it worked well (the clerk at Baskin-Robbins was so intrigued that she came out to the parking lot just to take a peek).

ARB has since updated their design and offers a plastic case. It has electronic thermostat and low battery protection. Also the interior is divided into two compartments. I have several buddies that have this newer model. Can’t say that it’s really better or worse than my old one. I like mine with the steel handles as I can strap it down really tight. 

I see that Smittybuilt is now making one that looks very much like the new ARB. I suppose it’s a copycat - Smittybuilt seems to make a lot of copycat products. I would stick with original, seems that Smittybuilt always cuts corners somewhere to get lower price.

Watch out for any thermoelectric coolers - they are not really refrigerators. Most of these are significantly cheaper and used to be found at Walmart, Target, etc. These utilize an entirely different physical principle for cooling. TE coolers are used on a lot of other products and are very efficient but only for small temperature changes. Usually they are only capable of cooling about 40°F below ambient. When it 100°F outside that means your cooler will be about 60°F - that’s barely even cold and really only good for part-day trips to keep your drinks from heating up too fast.

I love mine. Wouldn’t hesitate to buy another. I think by now I have saved enough ice money to pay for it but I didn’t really expect to. Mostly I purchased it for convenience and to avoid hassle of ice. No more side trips to replenish ice, which will cost you precious gas and time. I’ve eliminated that nasty “melt ice soup” that can ruin your food once the ice shifts and melts. In fact, unconsumed food is not wasted anymore and can come back home without danger of spoilage. No problem taking restaurant leftovers with you. Ask anyone who has taken the plunge and spent the money – the benefits do outweigh the cost and it will enhance your enjoyment of the trail. You will wonder why you waited so long to buy one.                  ~ Steve Marschke

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