Leveraging Your Options: Choosing the Right Jack for Overland Travel

Leveraging Your Options: Choosing the Right Jack for Overland Travel

by Stephan Edwards

The rear axle on old coil-sprung Land Rovers have a particular quirk. Given too much side-to-side articulation on a rough road, the spring can actually unseat itself from the upper perch.  

This is obviously not an ideal situation, but it is remedied easily with the right combination of strategy and tools. The tool you need? A simple jack. This very situation happened to me on a drive to the Needles Overlook in Utah's Canyonlands National Park earlier this spring. By supporting the axle with a hydraulic bottle jack, and then using my old Hi Lift jack to raise the frame upwards, I could take tension off the dislocated spring and create just enough space to wiggle it back into its mounting point. Bolt the wheel back on, lower the truck to the ground, and voila, I was off and running once again.

Land Rover broken down in Utah


The sharp-eyed among you will note that my Hi Lift could probably have used a bit more support at the base for optimal safety in this situation. I also did move the wheel under the axle after I took this photo to create a little extra margin of security, should the vehicle have moved on the bottle jack. Trail repairs are rarely performed in ideal contexts - in this case I was simply stopped in the middle of the track. But, by taking my time, moving deliberately, and planning a repair strategy before executing it, I minimized the risks involved, and my trip could continue as planned.

Whenever you need to deploy a jack of any kind you are necessarily dealing with huge physical forces. The weight of your vehicle is immense, and by jacking it up, much of that mass is concentrated on the relatively small footprint of your jack. It always pays to invest in quality tools, but when using them increases the risk of serious injury - or worse - you need to know you can trust your equipment.

What kinds of jacks are the most useful for overlanders?

Common Jacks

Every vehicle is delivered with its own jack standard from the factory. These come in several different styles. The most common among them is the "scissor" jack - this operates by turning a large screw to expand and contract the supports of the jack to raise and lower the vehicle. The scissor jack is an example of a mechanical jack. The other type of standard jack you're likely to encounter works with hydraulic force. These generally come in two flavors - the bottle jack, which is in some vehicles from the factory, and the floor jack, which almost never is. Wheeled floor jacks are heavy, and much more common as garage tools. In all cases, the mechanisms at work are simple, and when properly maintained very reliable.

While its uses are generally limited to raising your vehicle just far enough off the ground to swap a wheel, the factory jack still has an important place in your tool kit. Because it is designed by the vehicle manufacturer specifically to lift your truck from its designated jacking points, you know you'll have a stable platform every time you use it. The factory jack when it's collapsed is also able to slot into spaces where clearance is at a minimum. And, a product like AEV's Jack Base can increase its utility by expanding the footprint and offering a little boost in height.
 

AEV Jack Base
AEV's Jack Base for Jeep JL Wrangler

Off Road Jacks

As you build your overland tool kit and you're thinking about the challenging trails you plan to tackle on your adventures, you will need to consider upgrading your lifting capabilities. Why? 

A good off road jack not only makes road-side repairs easier (like with my suspension in Utah), it can also aid in vehicle recovery, be put into service as a winch, and even bend twisted metal back into shape. Additionally, off road jacks are designed to work in conditions you won't find in every day driving. 

The Hi Lift Jack

Commonly known as the "farm jack" in some corners of the world, the Hi Lift jack has been the go-to off road jack generations. Literally. Check out the Hi Lift patent drawings from 1921.

Hi Lift patent drawing


But old technology doesn't mean outdated technology. There are many good reasons why you see Hi Lift jacks bolted to roof racks and bumpers on rigs of all stripes everywhere. When it comes to versatility, they are hard to beat. Field serviceable, resistant to the elements, and extremely sturdy, the Hi Lift does exactly what it says. With its straightforward mechanical action and huge range of movement, this jack can not only lift your vehicle from all kinds of different angles, with the right training and the Hi Lift Off Road Kit, it can be put into service as a winch as well.
 

Hi Lift Jack used as a winch


The Hi Lift comes with handful of caveats, though. It is large and it is heavy - at 30 pounds, you'll need to account for its heft in your overall vehicle weight. When under load, the mechanics of the jack mean it can be very dangerous to inattentive users and bystanders. Education and practice is key with the Hi Lift, it's amazingly multitalented, but only if you know how to use it correctly. After a century of work on the farm and out in the wilderness, the knowledge in the community around Hi Lifts is vast. YouTube is your friend here, but there's no substitute for trying it out yourself. Just get that practice in before you really need it.
 

Hi Lift Jack on Land Rover


The ARB Jack

Yes, it's called the Jack. The principle behind this innovative new product is dead simple. Take the capability of the long-travel mechanical jack, but substitute the power of hydraulics in place of the heavy lever action on a Hi Lift. While not especially lighter or more compact than a mechanical jack, the Jack does eliminate the multiple moving parts and high tension stress that a Hi Lift shoulders under heavy loads.

ARB Jack


Highly adjustable, the Jack's action is smooth and consistent, and it lowers your vehicle slowly and predictably. It won't take on the variety of tasks that a mechanical jack can - like winching. But for most off road users, it will do nearly all you need, from repairs, to recovery, to repositioning wheels for optimum tracktion. Something to remember with both the Hi Lift and the Jack is that most factory body work will not survive the lifting loads that these tools exert. You will need sturdy bumpers, rock sliders, and other armor for your vehicle designed to hold up to those forces. 

The ARB Bushranger Inflatable X

Out of left field, the inflatable jack could be just what you need if you travel in conditions with exceptionally loose surfaces. Sand and snow can be a challenge for traditional jacks with a smaller footprint - whether hydraulic or mechanical. When the situation demands more surface area to lift your vehicle, the inflatable jack may be your only option. Filled with exhaust gases or air from your compressor, this seemingly humble bag can lift up to 4400 lbs with just 10 psi of pressure. ARB's Bushranger Inflatable X is the most reliable inflatable jack on the market, and its compact size and light weight make it easy to pack in your tool kit.

ARB  Bushranger Inflatable X


Getting a Lift

No matter how you cut it, lifting your vehicle is a dangerous proposition. It's key to put safety first when attempting a vehicle recovery or repair with the help of a jack, no matter which kind it is. Learning the procedures and use of your jack well ahead of time in controlled contexts means that when it's time to break out this indispensable tool on the trail, you'll have the confidence to do it right.

Questions about jacks? Hit us up in the comments or reach out directly to our team at Overlander directly.


Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.


Cold Weather Adventures Part II: Preparing Camp
Cold Weather Adventures Part II: Preparing Camp

by Stephan Edwards

Get you and your crew ready to tackle harsher expedition conditions than normal. 
Throw Me a Line: Warn Spydura Winch Cable
Throw Me a Line: Warn Spydura Winch Cable

by Stephan Edwards

Warn is a name synonymous with winches, and their high tech Spydura synthetic line will transform your vehicle recovery options.

Cold Weather Adventures Part I - Preparing Your Vehicle
Cold Weather Adventures Part I - Preparing Your Vehicle

by Stephan Edwards

A winter overland or camping trip is uniquely rewarding. It takes a little bit of extra planning, and some special kinds of preparation, but it opens a whole new world of exploration.

KNOW THE TOP 6 PROBLEMS THAT RUIN TRIPS?

Learn how to avoid them and keep your trek on track.

You’ll receive follow-up emails from Overlander. You can cancel at any time and your information will not be shared.