Fun First, Safety Second! This is often our jokingly adopted motto for the adventure vanlife and randomly dropping into the ‘Stoopid’. The reality, though, is that success and self-sufficient vehicle based travel involves preparation, having the right gear, and knowledge of how to use it. This is particularly important when venturing into the backcountry with your 9,000 pound mountain condo. And, if you’re venturing out, it’s a matter of time before you will get a flat tire. Ya gotta have a dependable jack. The stock Ford 4 ton bottle jack that came with our van struggled a bit to lift our fully built out and loaded van but was “adequate” for changing a tire. But, with a lift kit and larger tires, we found that we needed to make a raised block (stacked leveling ramps) to get enough lift to remove and install tires. We can do better than this.
Our Ford Transit has VanCompass Rocker Guards, so we had both puck and Hi-Lift jack points near the front and rear wheels in addition to the axle/frame lift options when looking for a jack upgrade. We wanted a versatile and stable jack that could be used for tire change and also aid in recovery, if needed. Over the last few years we’ve attended a number of overland expos and rallys to get up to speed on off-road gear and technology. Here are the jack options we’ve seen, used, and considered for upgrading our jack setup:
Aah, the venerable and versatile Hi-Lift. These things can be used to lift your rig up higher than you’d want to (up to 48” or more), can be rigged up to winch out a vehicle (with additional gear/kit), and probably many other applications. The downside is that they can be finicky, unstable in many situations, weigh ~30 pounds, and are 48” long (read…difficult to store). Typically, a Hi-Lift costs around $100.
The legendary Australian company that makes everything off-road recently started offering a Hi-Lift alternative in the ARB Jack. Jack is an upright long-travel style hydraulic jack (similar to the Hi-Lift). The Jack has adjustable hook attachment point, a pivoting base for stability on uneven terrain, and the hydraulics make it super easy to raise/lower. Two things shut us down for getting this – first, the price $750!!! and second, the jack is 38” tall and must be stored upright. Sadly, not for us.
Safe Jack Recovery Kit
This company offers a Recovery Kit with 6 Ton Bottle Jack. The Safe Jack kit has a lift range from 8” to 36”. To achieve this the kit includes 3”, 6”, and adjustable 8.5”-12” jack extensions, a flat bottle jack pad, and a universal 3” round tube bottle jack pad (for axles, leaf spring, frame, etc lift points). The kit (with bottle jack) weighs 26 pounds, is compact, and fairly versatile. When used with a larger jack base, this setup can be substantially more stable & less prone to failure than the other two options. You can buy the extensions and jack pads separately if they are compatible with your existing jack, or buy the full 6 Ton Recovery Kit for ~$275.
We ultimately went with the Safe Jack Recovery Kit. We also ordered up the SafeJack Universal Bottle Jack Base for additional footprint when working in compressible or uneven terrain. It was a bit more than we’d planned to spend, but the versatility in lift point choice and compactness of the kit sealed the deal.
Our friends at DirtSunrise put together a nifty little video on Safe Jack Recovery kit here .
What else do we have along for backcountry travel and recovery? We have an assortment of shackles & attachment points, a recovery strap, and vehicle recovery boards, and an air compressor to re-inflate after lowering tire pressure for off-highway travel. Check out our Backcountry Travel and Recovery Gear Amazon Ideas List for other gear to consider throwing in the van.