What equipment is necessary for driving on 4x4 trails and rougher forest roads in the Northeast United States? This would include safety equipment, recovery equipment and any other equipment needed. The area of interest would be primarily the White Mountain National Forest, and my vehicle is a Subaru Forester, but answers for other areas and vehicles would be useful as well.

  • Are you thinking about driving on unpaved roads to get to trailheads and the like, or actually "going off-road-ing"? The latter is illegal on National Forest land.
    – jhch
    Commented Oct 2, 2019 at 14:20
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    The majority would be unpaved roads (forest roads or logging roads), but there would be some mild off-roading. The question I asked is not specific to the WMNF, but I thought it a good example. Do you have a source showing what exactly is illegal on National Forest land?
    – Yossarian
    Commented Oct 2, 2019 at 14:37
  • Good question! This one is mostly legalese fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5111683.pdf, and this one (while specific to mudding) gives some context usda.gov/media/blog/2013/07/17/…
    – jhch
    Commented Oct 2, 2019 at 16:01
  • @JohnHughes, that first link pertains only to the Superior National Forest, and the second does not cover the type of activity I'm referring to, in fact it says, "There is a difference between acceptable use of off-highway vehicles and mudding." I'm asking about acceptable use. If you have a source for the White Mountain National Forest, I'd appreciate it.
    – Yossarian
    Commented Oct 2, 2019 at 16:13
  • Motor Vehicle Use Maps are the appropriate things to look for. For the White Mountains, see fs.usda.gov/detail/whitemountain/maps-pubs/?cid=STELPRD3790936
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Oct 2, 2019 at 19:32

1 Answer 1


I talk a little about the different kinds of 4x4 vehicles in my answer to this question you don't say what type of vehicle you have, make sure the terrain you want to cross and your vehicle are comptable.

If you get in trouble you may be a long way from anyone, see This answer for some considerations on forest service roads.

Safety: (This should be in your vehicle always)

  • Assume that if/when you get in trouble there will not be cell service.
  • Map and compass (cell phone with downloaded maps is good also) and some knowledge on how to use them
  • First aid kit
  • Rain gear or tarp
  • Food and water for a couple of days
  • Change of clothes and good walking boots
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Tools for repairs, know if you vehicle is SAE or Metric (or both) and have the correct sockets and wrenches


  • A friend with a vehicle similar to yours, to help in the recovery. While not always practical, it is the number one most helpful item. Between the two of you should have at least one of the following.
  • Shovel
  • Tow strap rated for more than either vehicle weighs
  • Tow hooks mounted to the frame of your vehicle, if you have an AWD car or small SUV, this could be a problem
  • Winch, truck mounted electric or hand operated portable
  • Tree strap (protects trees if you need to winch to one)
  • Extra cable or chain for longer reaches
  • If no trees in the area, you will need a ground anchor
  • High lift jack (also called a farmers jack) 36 to 48 inches high
  • Axe with one sharp and one hammer side
  • Saw for cutting branches
  • Spare fluids for your vehicle, oil, transmission fluid, water. If you get stuck it is easy to overheat and boil off some fluids.
  • Full size spare tire. Some spares are smaller than the other 4, if you drove a long ways on big tires, driving out on a small spare may not be possible.

The above is general and not exhaustive, there are a lot of variables you will want at least the above items and know how and when to use them.

  • 1
    You might add a PLB to the safety section - cheap insurance for a real emergency. I also have a good ham radio in the truck which works well in my state with good repeater coverage. Traction boards (MaxxTrax and the like) are good as well even before adding a winch - they will get you out of some kinds of trouble more easily. And that is kind of key - different tools work on different kinds of problems. Knowing your tools and wrapping your head around the particular issues of the road you are on is what allows you to punt early before being stuck.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Oct 2, 2019 at 12:56
  • @JonCuster and for those not aware, a PLB is a Personal Locator Beacon Commented Oct 2, 2019 at 13:33
  • Personally I am not a fan of PLBs but we do have several posts about them Commented Oct 2, 2019 at 13:35
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    @JohnHughes - one could argue that a saw would be useful in clearing any dead fall onto the road - before you can cut the trunk with an axe or chainsaw you need to get the branches out of the way. But, yes, always follow the local rules.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Oct 2, 2019 at 14:37
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    @JohnHughes This summer, I went peakbagging in an area I visit regularly. I finished my hike in the middle of the night and decided to drive out to the main highway. There had been a storm in the evening and about 5km away from the highway, at a major bridge on the dirt road, there were several blown down trees. I didn't have my folding buck saw nor my chainsaw. I had to spend the night on the roadside until fishermen hacked a way through with an axe in the morning.
    – Gabriel
    Commented Oct 2, 2019 at 15:13

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