5 Tips for Safely and Comfortable Tackling Extreme Road Trips
- Gear Patrol Studios
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Santa Fe-based Bryan Rogala is the multi-talented founder of Mountain Standard Creative, a content-creation studio specializing in video and outdoor storytelling. As a filmmaker, presenter, writer and gear aficionado, Rogala has covered the intersection of outdoors and automotive extensively, focusing largely on overlanding and off-road vehicles.
We asked Rogala to weigh in on the idea of "extreme road trips" – those days-long cross-country drives we all take from time to time. He's well-versed in the vehicle preparation and logistical execution of truly extreme trips, as in those without resources like, you know… roads.
Rogala says overlanding and extreme road-tripping have a lot in common: "People who are smitten with these overlanding rigs might forget that 90 percent of the time you're on the pavement. The amount of time you actually spend on a technical trail pales in comparison to getting to that place."
There's plenty to take into consideration before hitting the highway for thousands of miles – while you're out there, plan to gas up with Sunoco Ultratech fuels, available in every octane grade at every Sunoco station. Ultratech is Top Tier certified, and meets or exceeds EPA requirements. Most importantly, Ultratech "includes the same detergent levels as the fuel Sunoco makes for NASCAR," meaning it's strategically formulated to improve overall engine longevity counteract the damaging effects of heat on fuel and clean out performance-diminishing carbon deposits.
Read on for Rogala's top tips, including advice about using quality fuel. And heed his overall philosophy: "Stay comfortable on the road because that's what's going to keep you out there. If you can eat well and sleep well, I think those are keys to a road trip success.
1: Never Get Lazy About Routine Maintenance, and Learn How to DIY
Check out some of Gear Patrol's basic car maintenance how-tos.
"Make sure that you're up to date on all of the maintenance for your vehicle. A fresh oil change, checking the fluid levels. As cars get newer and more difficult to work on yourself, some of those basic skills get glossed over. But you can really save yourself a lot of headaches just by checking your tire pressure and making sure you're not low on oil, and making sure you've got enough windshield washer fluid."
2: Fuel from Quality Sources Will Save Your Vehicle, Off-Road or On
It's not a marketing gimmick: engines really do run better on higher-quality fuel like Sunoco Ultratech. Your road-tripping rig may run most efficiently or even produce more power with good gas.
"Quality fuel plays a huge role, obviously. It's what gets you from point A to point B. I think we’ve all heard stories of somebody getting bad gas in their car. A Subaru that I owned – there wasn’t anything ever wrong with that vehicle, but at one point I purchased a lower quality fuel that ended up being defective and it just died on me. And thankfully, I was not on a long road trip, I was just coming home from work one evening. You want to make sure that you've got a pure, quality source of fuel.
"I think it comes into play in a major way if you are traveling outside of the United States or even in really rural areas of the U.S. – I'm thinking going down to Baja, anything like that. Fuel is a constant source of stress for folks that do that. Even carrying extra fuel with you can be a good idea if you're in really remote areas.
"Overlanders, in particular, love diesel vehicles and there are a lot of benefits to a diesel engine, but it can be really tricky. A lot of the newer diesel engines do not like low-quality fuel and they can go into "limp mode" and you leave you stranded. People will often go to all the trouble of installing these aftermarket fuel filters. I think an easier way to get around that is just to make sure that you're getting fuel from a quality source."
3: Fully Kitted-Out Rigs Aren't Necessarily the Best Road Trip Vehicles (also: Buy Snow Tires)
For advice on choosing the best car for your needs, check out our car-buying advice series, Find Your Ride – starting with Off-Road Vehicles that Satisfy Any Budget.
"'Wants versus needs' is really important to consider when you're picking a vehicle for an extreme road trip. It's very easy to get on Instagram and decide that you need a lifted truck running [35-inch tires] or whatever it might be. In actuality, you're probably fine with maybe a station wagon or a Subaru. You're going to be a lot more comfortable and spend a lot less on gas. Considering what your goals are on the road trip, whether you're going to be spending a lot of time on dirt roads or if you're just going to be on pavement the whole time – do you need four-wheel-drive?
"If you're doing a lot of driving during the winter, I would argue that snow tires are a much better investment than four-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive. Tires aren't the most exciting pieces of a vehicle, but they're the one component of your vehicle that is actually making contact with the road. Snow tires, in particular, that rubber compound is a lot softer than your traditional all-season tire that'll come on your vehicle from the factory and makes a massive difference not only in traction but in stopping distance. It's not only about having traction to get up the mountain road or whatever, but to stop quickly on snow and ice. A snow tire is going to do that far better than any other tire you can get."
4: Powered Refrigerators: An Essential In-Car Luxury
For more overlanding essentials, including a few you should pick up for an extreme road trip, check out our overlanding gear buying guide.
"One piece of gear that I tell everybody they should really consider picking up is a fridge/freezer like [one from] Dometic. They work really well, they're very efficient. I used to think they were just good for camping trips and stuff, but now I've got one that just lives in the back of the truck all the time and it's great for groceries or whatever you're doing, it's just kind of a nice thing to have.
"If you're going on a road trip, I think you could get a little 35-liter size ($980). A friend of mine replaced his center console with one and they just use it for drinks and snacks on the road and stuff like that. I think if you're on a really long road trip, little things like that to just make your life a little more comfortable and easier go a long way.
"And if you're camping, not having to get ice and not having to worry about your food getting soggy and all that sort of stuff is really, really nice. It's a luxury that I think a lot of people would do well to sort of splurge on."
5: Gear Go-Tos for Long Car Camping Trips
If you need a place to stash all your extreme road trip equipment, have a look through our best rooftop cargo boxes buying guide.
"If you're going to be doing a lot of camping, one thing that I have found really, really kind of cool is this thing called a Geyser System ($260). It gives you hot water to have a shower or to clean up gear, or do dishes wherever you are. It's probably the best portable shower situation I've ever used. That goes along with the comfort aspect – if you can eat well and sleep well, if you can stay clean while you're on the road too, life's going to be a lot better and you're going to stay out there longer. Which is the whole point of all this.
"And you could just dump water in a Jetboil ($87) and then add cold water to it and then there's this pump built in. You get probably a 10-minute sponge bath. The Jetboil is for whatever you're doing. You can do your own coffee situation, which is nice. You don't have to rely on gas station coffee. It's one thing that I always keep in the truck no matter what I'm doing.
"There is a newer company called Hest, they do [memory foam] sleeping pads and pillows and mattresses. Far and away the most comfortable sleeping pad I've ever used. They make these super comfy pillows, too, that are just a really nice kind of road trip pillow to take a nap on.
"And there's a new tent that I've been trying out that's pretty sweet and it's called the Rev Roof Top Tent from C6 Outdoors ($1,329). Basically, it's a rooftop tent but they have taken the base of it out. And so you get this tent that folds up into kind of a rooftop tent size, but it only weighs about 25 pounds. You can either sleep on the ground with it, you could sleep in the back of a truck or you could put it on a roof rack on top of your vehicle."
The Bottom Line
In sum, Rogala's advice is to be prepared. Make strategic decisions about every element of your trip, from vehicle choice to what goes inside. Especially since you're planning to go the distance, keep Sunoco Ultratech fuel top of mind – and keep your engine running for (many) future trips.