Pre Trip Checklist

We have all had the unfortunate experience of realising that we have packed too much unnecessary stuff like pots, pans, and camping chairs, and not enough essential equipment like tools, recovery gear, and spare parts when going on long off-road trips, but fortunately, it is a mistake most of us only make once.
Nonetheless, preparing for an overland trip through Africa is something entirely different from packing for the annual family holiday, and this article has as its main focus the compilation of a comprehensive pre trip checklist of things to do, things to remember, and things to pack, but most importantly, to assist prospective off-road tourists in the process of preparation for a long overland expedition.
While this list might sound like overkill to some, others might feel that many essentials were left out, but bear in mind that this checklist is aimed at people planning to do an overland trip through Africa: trips of shorter duration may require less equipment and fewer spare parts, so adapt the list to your requirements; however, the need to ensure your vehicle is in peak mechanical condition remains the same, regardless of how long your planned excursion is going to be.
While it might be possible to traverse the length of Africa with only one 4WD vehicle, no one in his right mind should attempt it. This kind of trip demands a minimum of two vehicles, each capable of towing the other for long distances, but experience has shown that parties with three 4WD vehicles have a much better chance of making it all the way through than parties with only two vehicles. However, just because there are three vehicles in the party does NOT mean that any one of them may be in less than perfect condition before the trip starts. Therefore, the logical place to start any checklist would be the things that need to be checked on the vehicles to reduce the chances of anything going wrong, so the first thing to do is to check your vehicle, then, check it again, but you need to start somewhere, and a good place to start would be to:


Checklist Contents:

Check the electrical system

If your 4×4 has a diagnostic function, do a comprehensive diagnostic check to be sure there are no incipient problems, and insist on seeing the diagnostic report. If there are no problems, the report will say something like- “No Fault Codes”, or, “No Fault Codes Stored”, or something similar. In any event, the report should be unambiguous about the fact that there are no current faults. If on the other hand, the report states that there are faults, and gives a fault code, which will always be a number that is sometimes preceded by a capital “P”, or some other letter depending on the diagnostic system, have it repaired immediately and do not leave on your trip before the problem is resolved.

However, it gets more serious when the test returns a fault code and says something like- “Refer to Relevant Technical Manual”: this means that only the authorized dealer for your 4×4 has the software to diagnose the problem. Again, do not leave on your trip before the problem is resolved because you do not know how serious the fault is; it might be something that is just waiting to let you down in the middle of the Sahel, or it could be something less serious that can be repaired in a few minutes. Either way, the problem must be resolved before you leave.

If your 4×4 does not have a diagnostic function, have the electrical system checked by a competent auto-electrician, and have him pay particular attention to the condition of the alternator and the battery (ies). Also, have him check the connections to all electrical accessories and if you do not have them already, ask him to make complete wiring diagrams of all the accessories; this will save you the hassle of trying to figure out which are standard wires and which are non-standard when you have an electrical problem in the bush.

Check the front suspension

Check all suspension components for free play, and lubricate everything that can be lubricated. Tie rod ends, ball joints, drag links, and steering idler arms should have no free play, but if any parts do have free play, no matter how little, replace them immediately. Also, replace any parts that have damaged dust boots, even if no free play is present. Water and dust will work into these components, and they will be damaged through excessive wear. In addition, be sure to check all suspension bushings such as the control arm bushes, stabilizer, or sway bar, caster control bushes, especially if you have a raised suspension, as well as the shock absorber mounting bushes.

Check the rear suspension

Check all shackle bushes for wear and free play. Also, check the nuts on the U-bolts holding the leaf springs onto the differential and re-torque them to their specified tightness. If you have an older vehicle on which the leaf springs have not been replaced in the last few years, have the springs assessed by an off-road suspension specialist. There is no reliable way to reset the temper of leaf springs, despite the claims of an army of “experts”. The only cure for sagging springs is replacement; while a reset leaf spring might last for a while on a road-going 4×4, in the off-road road environment reset leaf springs can break or sag without warning.

Check the prop shafts

Have the balance of your prop shaft checked because the vibration of an unbalanced shaft can damage your transmission and differential bearings. While you are about it, have the universal joints and centre bearing replaced with the most expensive ones on the market, because they last the longest. You are spending a fortune on the trip as it is, so the added cost of new universal joints should not make that much difference. The prop shaft is what transfers the engine power to the differentials, so make sure it is in the best condition it can be.

Check for fluid leaks

Your 4×4 should have absolutely no fluid leaks of any kind. It is not good enough to say, “…it is only sweating- it has been like that for the last two years”. Even the smallest signs of leakage and seeping of any fluid anywhere on the vehicle MUST be investigated and repaired. For instance, if the engine has been losing small amounts of coolant and there is no visible leak, add a couple of bottles of red food colouring to the water. It has no effect on the coolant and if the leak is external, the dyed coolant will pinpoint it, but if it does not, have the engine tested for the presence of coolant in the oil, and/or the presence of exhaust gasses in the coolant. Both conditions could indicate a leaking cylinder head gasket, or any one of several other internal problems. Any competent radiator shop can perform these tests, and they are usually free. Do not leave on your trip before the cause of the coolant loss has been found and corrected, because Africa has lots of empty and uninhabited space to be stranded in if you do not correct the problem before you leave.

A last word on oil leaks; never use generic after market seals to repair oil leaks. The seals you buy at the corner spares shop are usually industrial seals that are not designed for automotive applications, so if you do have to repair an oil leak, only use original OEM parts.

Check the brakes

The only way to check the condition of the brakes is to remove the wheels; the difference in getting home from your trip safely and driving over a cliff often lies in the condition of the brake system, and discs and drums that have the slightest evidence of being warped, burnt/glazed, cracked, or scored deeply enough to snag a finger nail must be replaced. Vibrations on the steering wheel when the brakes are applied can often be traced to defective or damaged brake discs, so do not leave home without having replaced less than perfect brake components.

The same goes for the rear wheels: if the brake shoes are worn, they MUST be replaced; however, store-bought brake shoes never fit the diameter of the drum closely enough to work effectively. Brake linings that do not follow the radius of the drum have a much smaller contact area with the drum, with the result that parts that do make contact overheat, thus glazing both the drum and the friction lining. The thing to do is to take both the drums and the old brake shoes to a brake-rebuilding specialist to have the drums machined to a workable surface to which new friction linings can be matched to ensure the biggest possible contact area between both surfaces.

Moreover, do not neglect to check the wheel slave cylinders for leaks, since it is possible for brake fluid lo leak past the seals without showing outward signs of a leak. Remove the dust covers from the cylinders and if you find the slightest visible trace of brake fluid, replace the cylinders as complete units. Merely replacing the rubber seals does not solve the problem because the pit marks caused by rust will only damage the new seals, and you will have the same problem. Brake fluid is highly hygroscopic, which means it attracts water, and since brake fluid must be replaced at least once a year anyway, do not neglect to replace yours, because it can prevent brake failure, and besides, it does not cost much.

The best way to test the actual working of the brake system is to have it tested on a “rolling road”; this will point out if there any differences in the braking forces of the wheels on each axle, which must be corrected immediately. Most privately owned road-worthy testing stations will perform this test for a small fee.

Check the engine

Apart from fluid leaks and electrical issues, other, equally important aspects of your engine’s operation need to be considered and checked before embarking on an extended trip through Africa. Below is a list of potential issues that could conceivably lead to engine failure, so be sure to have these points examined by competent persons before you leave on your trip.


Diesel engines rely on compression to generate the heat needed for ignition, and to run at maximum efficiency, the compression on all cylinders needs to be the same. While a difference of one or two percent is acceptable, larger differences could indicate any one of several mechanical issues, or a combination of several, so have the cause investigated and repaired.

Petrol engines are not quite as sensitive to compression differences as diesels, although differences in compression between individual cylinders should never exceed more than five or six percent, and even that is pushing it. The closer the compression readings between individual cylinders are the better, but if two adjacent cylinders are lower than the rest, and their readings are closely matched, have the cooling system checked for the presence of exhaust gasses since this type of compression problem is very often the first visible sign of a blown cylinder head gasket.

Inlet tract:

Check the inlet tract for leaks through which dust and sand can enter the engine. Check the seals around the lid of the air filter cap for damage, as well as all clamps on flexible parts of the tract. Also, if you have a turbo, check all hoses and connections for signs of damage through which boost pressure could be lost, and replace all the rubber parts of the inlet tract that show signs of perishing, swelling, or cracking.

Exhaust system:

Check the exhaust system for leaks, particularly around the seams of silencers. Gasbags that inflate with exhaust pressure are excellent recovery tools, but even very small exhaust leaks can prevent their effective use. Small rust spots on silencers can suddenly blow out under pressure, and a 4×4 could conceivably injure someone if the gasbag suddenly deflates under its weight.

Injection timing and flame duration:

This can only be checked with a diagnostic computer, and any readings that fall outside of predefined parameters must be investigated because over fuelling causes reduced power, increased fuel consumption, dilution of the engine oil by unburnt fuel, and damage to catalytic converters, not to mention increased mechanical wear because of the diluted oil, and the destruction of the lubricating oil film on the cylinder walls because of the over rich mixture. Under fuelling causes reduced power, higher combustion temperatures that could lead to sudden and fatal overheating, and increased fuel consumption because of the fact that you have to use bigger throttle openings to achieve the same power output.

Changes in power delivery characteristics usually happen over long periods, so you may not be aware that a problem exists, so just to be certain there are no issues, ask your workshop to test this function specifically.

Timing belts and tensioners:

If your engine has a timing belt, and it has served around half of its recommended life, replace it along with all tensioning devices. Being off-road anywhere in Africa means that your timing belt is exposed to several times the amount of dust and sand it would have to deal with in urban driving, so to avoid a timing belt failure caused by abrasive dust and sand, replace the timing belt.

Worn timing belt-driven water pumps are a leading cause of premature timing belt failure. Over time, the bearings in a water pump develop wear, which causes the drive sprocket to run at an angle relative to the plane of the timing belt. The uneven load on different sides of the belt can reduce the life expectancy of a new belt by up to 50%, so if you have not replaced your timing belt-driven water pump for a few years, replace it along with the timing belt.

A timing belt failure on interference type engines can destroy the engine, and if this happens anywhere in Africa north of the Limpopo River, you are in deep trouble. This type of repair is impossible to perform in the bush since much of the repair work involves specialized engineering, so do NOT trust to luck and hope your timing belt will last- if it has seen some off-road driving, replace it, because it might not survive a trip through Africa.

Engine and transmission mountings:

Engine mountings are among the hardest working components of any 4WD vehicle; they have to cope with the huge amounts of torque developed in off-road driving, and since they are the main components holding your engine steady under high torque conditions, they cannot be expected to last forever. There is virtually no chance of finding replacement engine and transmission mountings outside of South Africa, so play it safe, and replace all the mountings on your 4×4 before you leave on your overland expedition because you cannot use the full power of your 4×4 if it has broken mountings, which means you might have to be towed over and through some obstacles, which is unfair towards the other drivers in the party because of the increased strain it puts on their vehicles.

Mechanical engine noises:

Although a modern engine develops a lot of internal noise, most if it is normal and cannot be heard unless there is something wrong with it. Of course, this does not mean that just because you do not actually hear knocking and thudding noises coming from the engine, there is nothing wrong with it. By the time anyone hears anything knocking or thudding, the problem could already be in its terminal phase, so take your 4×4 to an experienced mechanic to examine the engine with a stethoscope.

A mechanics’ stethoscope amplifies the internal sounds of an engine, and is therefore still the most effective way to identify incipient mechanical problems. An experienced mechanic is able to identify virtually any mechanical problem relating to crankshafts, pistons, con rods, timing chains, camshafts, alternator- and water pump bearings, A/C compressors, and much else besides. Unless your engine is brand new, you will be well advised to have your engine listened to before you venture into the hinterland of Africa, before you discover that the funny ticking noise you have been hearing for the past few months turns out to be a loose valve seat that cannot be repaired in the bush.

Replace differential oil

Do not assume that the oil in the differentials is up to the task; gear oil has a finite service life, and because differentials do not have oil filters, the metal particles that are shaved off the gear teeth during normal operation remain in suspension in the oil, where they are perfectly placed to damage bearings and oil seals.

Water-contaminated gear oil loses much, if not most of its lubricity, but not only that, the water vapour condenses on the inside walls of the diff housing where it causes rust. Eventually this rust ends up in the oil, where with metal particles from the gear teeth, it will form a sort of grinding paste. Therefore, if you have been doing a lot of deep-water crossings, and notwithstanding the fact that you replaced the gear oil immediately afterwards each time, you will be well advised to have your differentials inspected by a specialist before embarking on an expedition through Africa.

Although differentials can endure a lot of abuse before they fail completely, there is no need for you test the limits of endurance of your differentials while you are touring Africa: rather have a specialist service your differentials by stripping them down to bare bones, cleaning out all the gunk, rust, and metal particles in the process. Replace all bearings that show the slightest signs of wear, and replace the wheel bearings as well, because there is no way to replace a wheel bearing in the bush without damaging it.

This might sound like a serious case of overkill, and it is bound to be expensive, but your differentials work extremely hard, and by having them serviced and repaired now, you will ensure a trouble free trip, besides the fact that you will have serviceable differentials for the next several years.

Replace manual transmission oil

Much of what goes for differentials goes for manual transmissions as well, except for the fact that it is not advisable to have a manual transmission stripped down unless there is something wrong with it. It is virtually impossible to reassemble a manual transmission with a mixture of old and new parts without it being noisy. The best way to flush a manual transmission is to give it several oil changes a few days apart. Never use diesel or paraffin to flush it because it is impossible to get it all out again and what remains, dilutes the oil. If there is nothing wrong with your transmission, do not try to fix it; just replace the oil with the most expensive oil you can find because it works best, provided of course, you use the correct grade and formulation.

Replace automatic transmission fluid

These days, the fluid on many automatic transmissions cannot be replaced because they have something called “lifetime fills”, although it is not clear whose life the manufacturers are referring to- yours, or that of the transmission. Nonetheless, if you cannot change the fluid because there is no provision for it, leave the transmission alone if there is nothing wrong with it. However, if you can change the fluid and filter on your automatic transmission, have it done at a specialist transmission shop, which, for an additional charge of course, will also check and readjust the clutch packs if they need readjusting. There is no way to repair a slipping automatic transmission in the bush anywhere in Africa, so spend the money to prevent any transmission issues in the bush.

However, some automatic transmissions require very specific fluid formulations, so use this resource to make sure you get the correct grade and formulation of fluid:

Replace transfer case oil

Transfer cases often work with different oil from the main transmission, so if that is the case with your transfer case, make sure you replace that as well; the oil I mean, not the transfer case. If your transfer case has bronze parts and you find many bronze particles in the oil, the chances are good that the transfer case had been filled with the wrong oil: some oil formulations contain additives that actively attack yellow metals such as bronze and brass, so you want to make sure you use the correct oil in your transfer case. However, some formulations use particular additives called “deactivators” to eliminate the chemical attack of some extreme pressure additives on yellow metals, but do not trust the salespersons at the corner spares shop on this, or for that matter, the sales department at you dealer; none of them know anything about gear oil, instead use a resource such as the one below:,

Replace the power steering fluid

The single biggest cause of power steering failures is the fact that the fluid is hardly ever replaced, and since power steering systems do not have filters, the accumulated dirt starts to attack not only internal seals, but also the moving parts of the pump.

Another factor is the fact that the anti-friction additives in the fluid breaks down after a while, which means that if the fluid is not changed regularly, you are driving around with fluid that has little or no lubricating properties. As a rule, your power steering fluid must be replaced at least once a year, regardless of what the manufacturers say, because of the fact that the power steering fluid reservoir is to all intents and purposes open to the atmosphere, which means that in the off-road environment, the system is exposed to several times the dust load as compared to a system that never, or very rarely goes off-road.

Although power steering fluid is the same as automatic transmission fluid, take note that some power steering systems require hydraulic oil, which is something completely different and cannot be used in any other power steering system because it will destroy all the seals. Nonetheless, if you have ATF in your power steering, it should be bright red and transparent. Fluid that is not transparent, or has a brown or black appearance, is old and must be replaced. In many cases, you will notice an immediate improvement in the steering action of your 4×4 after a steering fluid replacement, and in some cases, a noisy or whining pump may start running quietly again.

If you decide to fit a hydraulic winch, bear in mind that it works off the power steering pump, so it makes good sense to have the pump and fluid in the best possible condition, since while your power steering pump might be fine for steering purposes, it might not survive the load placed on it by a winch, which is not the time to discover that you should have replaced the fluid more regularly.

Check the clutch

There is no reliable way to estimate the condition of any clutch, short of removing it and inspecting it visually. Even though this is an expensive undertaking, it might be a good idea to replace the clutch regardless of how old it is if you are going on an overland trip through Africa, and especially so if you had done some deep-water crossings with it, or it has suffered even just a single episode of slipping or overheating. You are going to depend on your clutch all the time you are in Africa, and since it is very, very difficult to replace a clutch in the bush, just grin, and bear the cost of a clutch replacement, since replacing it now will always be cheaper than recovering your 4×4 from the depths of Africa in the future if the clutch should fail.

Extend all the differential and transmission breathers

To prevent the possibility of water entering the differentials and transmission, use some good quality fuel resistant hose to extend all the breathers to a point high enough to preclude water entering the hoses. It is also a good idea to fit a small inline petrol filter in each hose to prevent dust being sucked into the differentials and/or transmission when the air inside them contracts as they cool down.

Check the front wheel bearings

Wheel bearings on 4WD vehicles are probably the most overlooked and neglected items when it comes to servicing and routine maintenance. Worn or under adjusted wheel bearings can cause serious handling issues, so it is therefore important to check the free play in the bearings at least every time you service your 4×4. However, getting the pre-load adjustment right on a 4×4 can be a problem, so, if you are not comfortable doing this, have it done by a work shop that employs mechanics that have experience with 4×4 systems, and especially wheel bearings, because if you get it wrong by over adjusting the bearings, they will overheat and seize up as surely as if they had no grease in them.

Two things to remember about wheel bearing grease though: if you are going to service the bearings yourself, remember that greases are not created equal. Wheel bearings require a specific formulation because of the heavy loads they have to deal with, as well as the high temperatures that the brakes sometimes generate. You MUST use grease that is formulated for 4×4 wheel bearings to prevent the grease melting out of the bearings. The second thing to keep in mind is that no wheel bearing grease formulation sold in South Africa is black, and while colour is not necessarily an indication of the suitability of grease for a particular application, it is important to remember that no wheel bearing formulation is ever black in colour.

Black grease contains graphite, and these formulations are used mostly in CV-joints and in some open-gear applications. Grease that is suitable for 4×4 wheel bearings come in a variety of colours and consistencies, ranging from dark green, to blue, to caramel, to the colour of Vaseline, but never black. If you find black grease in your wheel bearings, it is the wrong grease, or it has been mixed with water. The same goes for grease that has the colour of rust, however, in this case, there is no doubt that it is mixed with water since the colour derives from actual rust.

Thus, if you find black or rust coloured grease, replace the bearings because they will have been damaged, and do not trust the corner spares shop to give you the correct grease for the job; they know nothing about grease, so use a reliable resource like: to find the exact formulation you need, because while it is possible to replace wheel bearings in the bush, all bush mechanics will tell you that is a messy, difficult job, and you are almost guaranteed to introduce sand into the bearings, which is sort of counter-productive to say the least, so replace the wheel bearings before you leave.

Check the tyres

Deciding on what type of tyre to use can be a thorny problem, even if base your decision on the terrain you are most likely to encounter. Africa is huge, and it contains all possible types of terrain; therefore, if you are going all the way from Cape Town to Cairo with a Central Africa detour; you will encounter paved roads, sand, mud, rocks, savannah, more sand, and even more mud.

While mud terrain tyres have their advantages, all-terrain tyres is a better choice because of the wide variety of off-road conditions that Africa offers. While all-terrain tyres are not all created equal, they offer a good compromise between the widely different off-road conditions of Africa, although they may be noisy and do not handle well on paved roads. However, if your tyres have less than 80% of their tread left, replace them with the best tyres you can buy, since you have to rely on their durability to get you home. Skimping on tyres is a foolish economy because bad tyres could kill you if they fail unexpectedly.

Recovery Equipment

Assuming that your 4×4 is in impeccable mechanical condition, the next group of items you cannot do without is your recovery gear, which should be packed in such a way that everything is immediately at hand should you need it, which is bound to be often, and it goes without saying that all items on this list must be rated for the job, in excellent condition, and not made in China; your life, as well as those of other persons in your party could be endangered by using cheap, substandard recovery equipment, so buy the best you can find.


A winch is an indispensable tool on a trip through Africa, so buy the best winch you can find, and get it from a reputable dealer. If you already have a winch, have it serviced, and replace the rope if there is even just one broken strand over the entire length of the rope. The chances of finding a replacement rope in Africa are slim at best, so replace it while you can.

Hi-lift jack:

Hi-lift jacks are not created equal: not all are capable of conversion to a winch or tirfor type recovery tool, so again, buy the best you can find, and mount it in such a way that it is immediately available, while making sure it cannot snag on low branches or other obstacles. Also, remember that not all hi-lift jacks fit all vehicles; buy a hi-lift jack that can accept the adaptors that will work on your vehicle, as well as the adaptors that will work on all of the other vehicles in your party. It is sometimes necessary to use more than one jack to get a 4×4 out of a hole or a bog, so make sure all the hi-lift jacks can be used on all the vehicles in the party.


Take at least one all-steel shovel or spade per vehicle. Shovels are indispensible recovery tools, and on a trip through Africa, you will have to dig yourselves out of holes several times.

Tirfor /Hand winch:

Tirfors and hand winches are good to have if you have to recover a 4×4 that has no battery power, which is a distinct possibility. Although both tirfors and hand winches can be bulky and on the heavy side, you cannot do without at least one of either in each vehicle. During the wet season, much of Africa resembles a giant mud pool, and you sometimes have to pull a 4×4 into a position from where the winch can be used, and for this purpose, you need something like tirfors and hand winches. Winches have been known to break down, and batteries to die, but if you have a couple of tirfors or hand winches available, you will not be completely helpless.

Kinetic straps (Snatch straps) and ropes:

You will need at least two kinetic straps or ropes per 4×4 in your party, since these ropes and straps need a recovery time of at least 24 hours after each use, during which they can stretch up to 30-40% of their length. However, before you use them, you MUST check their overall length and if they have not returned to their original length, they have lost their ability to stretch, and must NOT be used in any other way except as a pull rope. Kinetic straps and ropes must also be inspected for cuts, tears, and abrasions before each use and washed after each use to remove sand and other foreign objects from the braid. Also, bear in mind that kinetic ropes and straps are not UV resistant and must be stored out of both direct and indirect sun light.

There are various lengths and thicknesses available, but a good starting point would be a minimum length of around 25 meters and a breaking strain of around 20 tons. These specs should get you out of most situations; however, the effective use of kinetic ropes requires some skill and you MUST complete a course in 4×4 recovery techniques before you even think of embarking on an overland trip through Africa. You can have the best recovery equipment in the world but if you do not know how to use it, you are likely to kill yourself, or worse, someone else in your party.

Pull ropes:

You also need two non-stretching towropes per 4×4 for ordinary towing as well as for use as winch rope extensions. You can take only one but anything can happen in the bush, and your towrope may break, or it could be damaged in some other way, so it makes sense to have a spare.

Tree protectors:

It is difficult to say how many tree protectors you will need but always take a minimum of six per vehicle in lengths ranging from 2-4 meters. While tree protectors are meant to protect the bark of trees when they are used as anchoring points for winching operations, tree protectors can be used for many things, such as tow ropes when they are joined, so take as many as you think you might need, but preferably not fewer than six per vehicle.



The only safe way of connecting ropes and straps to a 4×4 for recovery purposes is with a rated and approved Bow-shackle. Bow shackles are preferred as they provide for greater angular usage compared to D-shackles. Manufacturers and distributors of Bow-shackles in South Africa are legally obliged to sell Bow-shackles that carry the SABS (South African Bureau of Standards) stamp of approval on both the pin and the body of the shackle. This mark must be clearly visible, as well as legible, and must state the safe working load of the shackle. For the purposes of 4×4 recovery, you will need around 8 Bow-shackles per vehicle, all rated for at least 4.7 tons, although it is difficult to say exactly how many to take. Again, take as many as you think you may need but preferably not fewer than 4 per vehicle.

Snatch blocks:

Snatch blocks are used to change the direction of the pull of a winch rope to effectively double or even triple the pulling power of the winch. Once again, it is difficult to say how many to take but you cannot go wrong if you take six per vehicle. However, snatch blocks are not created equal, so make sure you get yours from a reputable dealer in off-road equipment, and make sure they have a minimum breaking strength that exceeds 10-12 metric tons.

A snatch block that breaks under a say, ten ton pulling strain will hit your windscreen with the force of at least several tons per square centimetre, and if it hits you behind the windscreen, it will kill you. So, make sure you buy the best equipment you can find, and avoid anything without a brand name, as well as anything that is “made in China”.

Drag chains:

Drag chains are often overlooked as useful 4×4 recovery tools: it consists of a length of rated steel chain fitted with a clevis type hook on each end capable of hooking back on itself. You would typically hook a drag chain to points on a 4×4 where recovery hooks do not feature in order to balance the load when the chain forms a “V”, to which another cable or winch can be attached. In addition, drag chains can be used for any number of things such as:

• To wrap around rocks or other anchor points that might chafe or otherwise damage a woven strap.
• In conjunction with a hi-lift jack where there are no high-lift jacking points on a vehicle
• To wrap around obstacles such as trees that have to be removed from a road or track, because using a woven strap for this might damage the strap.

However, the absolute minimum breaking strength must not be less than 8 tons and ideally, it must have a length of 3 metres as a minimum.

Recovery Blanket:

There are various ways of damping the rebound energy of the ends of a snapped winch rope; some are just pieces of heavy canvas hung over the cable, while others are more like tubes that fit over the rope or strap that is under tension during a 4×4 recovery.

The best designs incorporate pockets along the lower edges that can be filled with sand that supplies the weight that serves to dampen, or absorb, the rebound energy should the rope or cable fail. Depending on the details of the 4×4 recovery, two, or even more recovery blankets must be used to ensure that all the cables and ropes used in the recovery are adequately dampened should any part of the system fail, or break. The primary purpose of recovery blankets is to protect both the vehicles and the persons involved in the recovery, so do not skimp on this essential item in your list of recovery equipment. In this case, it is always better to have too much than too little, so take as many as you have room for per vehicle, but not less than enough to cover at least four points in any winch pull configuration.

Vehicle Recovery Points:

There is little use for many of the above mentioned recovery gear, if there is no or little place to attach them. As a minimum the 4×4 should have recovery point front and rear. It is best to have anchor points on the sides too, somewhere between the front and rear wheels. As with recovery gear these anchor points should be rated equipment that compliment the vehicle’s weight as a minimum. Do not mistake vehicle tie-down points for recovery points. If unsure visit your local 4×4 fitment centre or club. Keep in mind to only use hi-tensile bolts and nuts, bolted to the chassis. More accidents happens due to makeshift recovery points than failing recovery gear.

Rated Equipment

Although there does not seem to be a set of uniform quality standards specifically for off-road recovery equipment, and especially not for ropes and straps apart from steel winch ropes, proper high quality recovery ropes and straps are available from all reputable dealers in off-road equipment. However, the market also abounds in cheap and dangerous “Made-in-China” products, so make sure the equipment you buy is labelled with at least the following information:

• The manufacturers name
• Material used in the construction of the item
• The minimum or, nominal breaking strength of the item
• Length of the item (where applicable)
• Suitable application (s) of the item
• Safe Work Load Limit (SWL) or MRC (Maximum Rated Capacity)
• Factor of safety inherent in the design of the item

Traction aids

There is a multitude of traction aids on the market, ranging from perforated aluminium plates to ribbed plastic boards, and just about anything else you can think of in between. While some are better than others are, virtually none of them can be used to bridge trenches or deep holes. However, there exists an inflatable device capable of handling loads of up to 3.5 tons; you simply place it in the trench, and inflate it using a compressor. The inflated device fills up the hole or trench, and you just drive right over it. If you are stuck in mud, snow, or sand, you would use this device as you would a conventional sand ladder, but with the added advantage that you could lift the stuck 4×4 with this device in the same way as with a gasbag. Since these inflatable sand ladders take up very little space when they are deflated, take at least four per vehicle.

This list of recovery gear items includes just about everything you will ever need to get yourself out of a hole or bog; however, none of it is of any help to you if you do not know how to use it. Any 4×4 recovery is a dangerous business, so before you leave on your overland trip, add the most important item to this list, namely- COMPLETE A COURSE IN 4×4 RECOVERY!


Despite the fact that you had been keeping your 4×4 in impeccable mechanical condition, anything can happen on a long overland expedition. While you do not have to take along a workshop on wheels, some basic tools are must-have items, and you should never attempt an expedition of any length without the items on this list. If you have to go out and buy a toolkit, buy the best tools on the market- once you have them, you will have them for life, unless you lose some items. If on the other hand, you already own a good selection of tools, the following list contains all the tools you will need to take along to be able to do everything it is possible to do in the bush.

Workshop manual:

Even experienced mechanics sometimes need to refer to technical manuals, but if you are not a mechanic, you simply cannot do without a good workshop manual for your specific model. Some manuals however, do not include full wiring diagrams, so if you get a manual, get one with wiring diagrams, as well as systematic instructions and pictures that cover all the systems and components on your 4×4. Also, make sure the manual contains a list of the most commonly occurring problems on your 4×4, as well as their causes and remedies.

Choosing Tools:

With what you have in your toolkit, you must be able to easily remove and refit any fastener on your 4×4 without damaging it, or skinning your knuckles, which has a lot to do with the quality of your tools. As a rule, the shinier a tool is, the worse its quality; while there are one or two exceptions to this rule, if you are in doubt about the quality of the tools you see in the stores, get the opinions of the mechanics at some of the workshops in your area. Professional mechanics invariably work with the best tools on the market- not the best they can afford, which is a whole lot less than the best that is available, and since you cannot afford to damage the heads of the fasteners on your 4×4 when you are in the bush, ask around for the best tool brands.

Tensile strength of bolts:

However, before we get to the specifics, you must know why bolts and nuts are sometimes marked with different numbers, and why most of the fasteners on your 4×4 are not interchangeable, even if they may be the same length and diameter.

The numbers that are stamped on the heads of some fasteners indicate the strength of that fastener, as well as at what percentage of that load it will break if it has deformed only 2% of that value. It is a very complicated subject and the inter-relationships of diameter, thread pitch, material, length, and even the coating of the bolt are very intricate, so we will not go into that here, but suffice to say that the fasteners used in your 4×4 are designed to provide the highest clamping force at their specified torque figures. This means that the fasteners you have in your 4×4 are the best suited for their purpose and they should never be replaced with anything else than their exact equivalents to prevent the failure of critical attachment points.

Socket sets

• A complete ½” drive set with sizes ranging from 6mm to 36 mm, without missing a single size- there should be 30 sockets in the set.
• A complete 3/8″ drive set with sizes ranging from 4mm to 24 mm, without missing any- there should be 20 sockets in the set.
• A complete ¼” drive set with sizes ranging from 4mm to 19 mm, without missing any- there should be 15 sockets in the set.
• Deep sockets for each standard socket in all three drive sizes.
• A 450 mm power bar with a ½” drive with a deep socket that fits your wheel nuts or bolts. Paint this socket red to make it visible in the toolbox.
• Full internal AND external Torx socket sets in both ½” and 3/8″ drives. Add to this a set of Torx screwdrivers and Allen wrenches. Torx tools are used extensively on American and some German engines but they can be found in many other places as well, although not very often on Japanese products. These fasteners work nothing else, so you have to have them.
• A set of ½” drive hexagonal Allen wrench sockets ranging from 5mm to 24 mm.
• Two additional extensions for each length and drive size of the extensions included in the sets. Being able to extend the working reach of your socket sets means you do not have to crawl in under the 4×4 when you work on difficult to reach components.
• Two additional universal joints for each drive size.
• A proper ½” drive plug spanner with a rubber insert to prevent sparkplugs breaking when you remove or fit them.


  • A full set of ring/open spanners (wrenches) in sizes ranging from 6mm to 32mm. However, not all sets include all sizes so make sure the set you buy includes the following sizes:• 7mm
    • 9mm
    • 15mm
    • 16mm
    • 18mm
    • 21mm
    • 22mm
    • 23mm
    • 25mm
    • 26mm
    • 27mm
    • 28mm
    • 29mm• A set of stubby wrenches for working in confined spaces, of which there are many on modern 4WD vehicles.
    • Dedicated pipe wrenches in sizes ranging from 8mm to 24mm. Normal open ended wrenches often deform pipe nuts to the point where nothing will work on them. Pipe spanners are designed to loosen pipe nuts without damaging them.
    • A set of good quality German or American made ratchet spanners in sizes ranging from 8mm to 19mm. However, the Germans do not use the 14mm bolt head size; instead, they use either 15-or 16mm bolt heads.
    • There are many instances where you will need two wrenches, such as cable adjustments, prop shaft removal, and some other places, so it is a good idea to have doubles of the following sizes:
    • 10mm
    • 12mm
    • 13mm
    • 14mm
    • 17mm

Screw drivers

  • The best thing to do is to buy a set of screwdrivers that includes both number one and two flat and Phillips points. A set like this will have more than 20 items, but it will give you the right tool for the job every time. A good idea is to buy screwdrivers that have hexagonal drives on their handle ends; this allows you to use wrenches or sockets to help with the turning motion on tight screws.


  • • A normal flat nosed 150mm all-purpose pliers.
    • A 300mm flat nosed pliers to remove spring clamps around radiator hoses
    • A 300mm water pump pliers for spring clips that cannot be removed with the normal pliers.
    • One set of three long nosed pliers, starting at 150mm.
    • Internal and external circlip pliers; each type should have two sizes, starting at 150mm.

Miscellaneous tools and supplies

• One hammer of one kg head weight with a fibreglass handle, as well as a “4 pound” hammer with a rubber handle.
• Several rolls of duct tape per vehicle; duct tape has 1002 uses, and you will always have a need for it.
• Cable ties of various lengths and widths.
• Small roll of bailing wire.
• Radiator sealant.
• Fuel tank sealant.
• Super glue.
• Epoxy putty and adhesive.
• Silicone sealant, ideally the type that is suitable for gasket making to repair small oil leaks.
• A large piece of 0.5 mm Valemoid with which to make gaskets in case of oil leaks.
• Fuel siphoning hose.
• Fuel funnel.
• Several tubes of water-soluble hand cleaner.
• A 5kg bag of rags for cleaning and wiping up spills. Most spares shops sell rags in plastic bags for reasonable prices.
• A 10-12 meter length of good quality ski-rope. There are always things that need tying down, and ski-rope does not wear out, so you will have your money’s worth out of it.
• A pair of heavy-duty scissors.
• A set of hollow punches with which to make gaskets.
• A good quality carpet knife with spare blades.
• A small putty knife to serve as a scraper if you have to clean parts before repairs.
• A good quality steel wire brush, for the same purpose.
• A telescopic magnet with which to extract small parts that have a way of falling into inaccessible parts of the engine or chassis.
• A small telescopic mirror with which to see into inaccessible parts of the engine.
• A small telescopic torch with which to look into the dark recesses of the engine.
• A magnetized knife holder to keep bolts, nuts and other vital parts together, (and out of the sand) while you are working on your 4×4 in the bush.
• A thread file, with which to repair slightly damaged threads.
• A set of needle files with which to dress small imperfections on replacement parts.
• A set of larger, 150 mm files of various profiles.
• An impact wrench with ⅜” bits in both flat and Phillips points.
• A 600mm crowbar with which to dislodge stubborn ball joints and tie rod ends.

Additional tools and equipment

• At least two 25-litre capacity steel jerry cans of additional fuel per vehicle.
• Sufficient water containers to ensure that each person in the party has at least 5 litres of drinkable water per day for a period of three or four days. It is also a good idea to keep 20 litres or so of bottled water in each vehicle for emergencies.
• A fridge/freezer of at least 45 litres capacity, assuming the party consists of three vehicles and six persons. Add another freezer for larger parties; however, freezers should be able to run off 12V DC, both 220V and 110V AC current, as well as gas.
• Optional petrol powered electricity generator, capable of supplying power for the freezer (s).
• At least two spare wheels with new tyres per vehicle.
• One digital tyre pressure gauge per vehicle, including spare batteries.
• Spare wheel nuts/bolts/studs for each vehicle.
• One set of tyre levers per vehicle.
• Two tyre repair kits, with at least one hundred plugs and several tins of cleaner and adhesive per vehicle.
• At least 10 tyre valves per vehicle and two or three valve spanners to fit them. Valve spanners are very small and very easily lost.
• At least 12 tubeless type tyre valve stems per vehicle. Off-road road driving in rocky terrain can rip the valve out of the rim, so make sure you have spares and the proper tool to fit replacements.
• One 12 volt compressor for each vehicle, however, avoid compressors with all-plastic casings, these are generally of poor quality, instead, look for compressors that have aluminium casings since they are longer lasting and are vastly more efficient and reliable than the plastic variety. After all, you will be deflating and inflating your tires many times, so make sure you have the best compressor you can find.
• One hand or foot operated tyre pump, in case all the compressors in the party should fail.
• A supply of valve caps to keep sand out of the tyre valves.

Safety Items

• SABS approved safety glasses/goggles.
• Heavy-duty leather gloves for winching.
• SABS approved fire extinguisher per vehicle, and mounted where it can be reached easily.
• Emergency flares.
• Lightweight nylon tarpaulin at least five meters on a side and with eyes to tie it down should the need arise.
• LED flashlights or torches. LED torches are energy efficient so you do not have to carry dozens of spare batteries.
• Matches / lighter or other fire starting devices.
• Licensed two-way radios for communication between vehicles or during recovery operations.
• Satellite phone for long distance communications.
• GPS devices. Navigation in Africa can be challenging, so make sure your GPS devices have the latest updates on African roads.


• Enough engine oil per vehicle to perform an oil change.
• Enough gear oil per vehicle of the correct grade to perform at least two oil changes on both differentials after deep-water crossings.
• At least one litre of brake fluid per vehicle.
• One litre of power steering fluid per vehicle.
• Two litres of the correct grade of automatic transmission fluid per vehicle.
• Two litres of 100% antifreeze per vehicle.
• Wheel bearing grease of the same formulation as that currently in the bearings, since greases often do not mix well.
• Penetrating/water repellent spray.
• Battery terminal sealant.
• Windscreen washer detergent.

Spare Parts And Repair Items

• On diesel engines, two fuel filters, and at least one spare diesel injector.
• Two air filters per vehicle.
• Spare pollen filters for the A/C systems of each vehicle.
• Extra viscous fan for each vehicle.
• Two serpentine or two complete V-belt replacements per vehicle.
• Set of radiator hoses, heater hoses, fuel line, and two suitable flexible brake hoses for the front wheels of each vehicle.
• At least one spare thermostat for each vehicle.
• Spare universal joints, alternatively, complete drive shafts for each vehicle since buckled drive shafts cannot be repaired in the bush.
• One suitable drive shaft centre bearing for each vehicle.
• At least one suitable freewheeling hub per vehicle or in the case of automatic hubs, one spare that is suitable for each vehicle.
• An assortment of high tensile strength bolts with matching nuts, as well as a supply of matching flat and spring washers.
• Cotter pins, also known as split pins, in various sizes and lengths.
• At least two sets of wiper blades per vehicle.
• Complete wheel-bearing kits for each vehicle.
• One spare draglink for each vehicle.
• An assortment of ball joints and tie rod ends suitable for each vehicle.
• One set of brake pads for each vehicle.
• One set of brake shoes for each vehicle.
• At least one spare brake disc and brake drum for each vehicle.
• At least one brake wheel cylinder per vehicle.
• One complete clutch slave/master cylinder for each vehicle.
• Spare spring kits for rear brake assemblies; left and right hand kits are not interchangeable.
• Two complete (Left and Right hand) drive shafts for vehicles with independent front suspension.
• At least one front and one rear shock absorber for each vehicle.
• Complete leaf springs. Although leaf springs are very heavy and difficult to cart around Africa for weeks on end, a 4×4 with a broken leaf spring cannot be driven, so consider this fact when you prepare for an overland trip.
• Spare exhaust hangers for each vehicle.
• Exhaust sealer or exhaust bandage with which to repair small exhaust leaks.
• A selection of copper sealing washers that is suitable for all vehicles in the party.
• A selection of self-tapping screws with which to hold the interior of your 4×4 together.

Electrical Repair Kit

• Digital multimeter with a spare battery.
• A 12-volt test light.
• One spare new alternator for each vehicle.
• One spare starter motor for each vehicle.
• Circuit testers that plug into the fuse holder. These testers check all the circuits that are run off a specific fuse, and are thus indispensible fault finding tools.
• Spare fuses of all sizes and types used in your vehicle.
• Suitable spare relays for the fuel pump, indicator lights, starter motor and headlights for each vehicle.
• One spare ignition coil/coil pack per vehicle.
• One set of suitable high tension leads per petrol engine.
• Two sets of the correct sparkplugs for petrol engines.
• One set of suitable glow plugs for each diesel vehicle.
• Spare oil pressure and coolant temperature sensors for each vehicle.
• One spare oxygen sensor suitable for each petrol vehicle.
• One spare crank angle sensor suitable for each vehicle.
• If applicable, three sets of points and condensers.
• On EFI engines, two suitable fuel injectors for each vehicle.
• A spare fuel pump, and spare two petrol filters for each petrol vehicle.
• A good supply of electrical terminals in various shapes, sizes, and capacities.
• One gas operated blowtorch and at least ten spare gas cartridges per vehicle. A blowtorch is very handy to start campfires, or to heat soldering irons for electrical repairs.
• A small copper soldering iron and a roll of acid core solder.
• Several rolls of good quality, heat resistant electrical insulation tape per vehicle.
• Spare auto electrical wire, ideally, 6-meter lengths of various gauges.
• A pair of side cutters, for electrical work.
• A pair of electrical wire strippers.
• A high quality American or British made crimping tool to attach terminals to electrical wiring.
• A complete set of replacement bulbs for all the lights on each vehicle.
• Spare positive and negative battery terminals.

Camping Gear

The list of camping equipment is usually the one that is the most difficult to compile, or if you have one, to keep to. Inexperienced campers usually pack too much of what they do not need: you want a comfortable camp life, but you do not want to be swamped with pots and pans that you never use, or enough utensils to cook a five-course meal with. It also depends on how much you want to rough it. Except for some must have items, try and take items that have more than one use. The following list will give you everything you need, without adding to the clutter of a bush campsite:

• All vehicles should have retractable awnings incorporated into their canopies on each side, as well as the back; this allows you to park the vehicles in almost any configuration and by merely extending the awnings in any direction, you have an instant campsite.
• 1.8-meter steel folding table.
• One folding camp chair per person.
• At least one steel shovel or spade per vehicle. Shovels are valuable recovery tools, but they are just as handy to level campsites, dig drainage ditches around campsites to divert rainwater, and a host of other things, such as emergency frying pans.
• Tents are optional and a matter of personal preference, but they are a great way to keep dry during the monsoon season in equatorial Africa.
• Folding camp bed and sleeping bag for each person:
Never sleep directly on the ground though, even on an inflatable mattress; your body heat might attract snakes and scorpions. Cobras especially, are prone to crawling into the beds of campers sleeping on the ground. While scorpions may also join you in bed, they are more likely to crawl into carelessly thrown about clothes and shoes. Always hang your clothes out of reach of scorpions, and shake out your shoes to check for the presence of scorpions before putting them on. Scorpion stings are incredibly painful, and some scorpion stings can be fatal if the sting is left untreated.
• One machete, one axe, and one bow saw with spare blades per vehicle for clearing of campsites.
• One two-burner gas stove per vehicle, each with its own (full) 9 kg gas cylinder.
• Two large frying pans, each big enough to prepare one-pan-meals for the entire party.
• One flat-bottomed cast iron pot with lid, large enough to prepare a stew for the entire party, or to bake bread in.
• One three-legged cast iron pot, large enough to prepare a meal for the entire party.
• One set of three small to medium enamel saucepans with lids.
• Tin mugs for hot beverages. Tin mugs are unbreakable and are easy to clean.
• One enamel kettle- around three litres capacity.
• One medium sized mixing bowl. Enamel is best for this because you can mix anything in it without damaging the surface. It is also easy to clean afterwards.
• Large, deep enamel dish for dishwashing.
• Set of cooking utensils, inclusive of a carbon steel (stainless steel knives do not hold their edges) butchers knife, egg lifter, spatula, eggbeater, can opener, bottle opener, and saw to cut through bone, since the meat you buy in Africa may not always be cut into portions.
• Braai tongs.
• Collapsible stainless steel braai grid. Stainless steel may be expensive, but it is vastly easier to keep clean than a mild steel grid.
• Enamel plates. They may be inelegant, but they are unbreakable and easy to clean.
• Paper towels.
• Dish washing liquid.
• Washable dishcloths.
• Drying rack for plates and cutlery.
• Large-ish dust proof container for plates, cutlery, and drinking mugs.
• Washable oven mittens.
• Cutlery.
• Gas Lanterns, with spare cylinders or cartridges.
• LED lanterns that can run off 12V DC current.
• Mosquito repellent candles or lanterns
• Lighter, matches, fire starter.
• Firewood. Always carry some dry firewood for the time when there may not be wood available, or all wood is wet.
• Lightweight tarpaulins to extend the awnings incorporated into the canopies of your vehicles.
• Windbreaks made from shade netting, with stakes, pegs, and adjustable cords. Windbreaks should ideally be 1.8 m high, and be able to shield at least 75% of the circumference of your campsite.
• Black garbage bags for the collection of refuse. Kitchen refuse should never be buried or disposed of in the bush: if you cannot burn it in the remains of your campfire, take it with you until you can dispose of it properly in a manner that does not pose a threat to any animal or other wildlife.

First-aid kit

First aid kits can be as complicated as you want to make them; however, the best thing to do is to consult your pharmacist, and/or doctor. If you are going on a long overland trip, you will obviously need more items because more things can go wrong, such as dangerous medicine interactions you did not know about, or allergies you may not know people in your party may have.”
When you start putting a first aid kit together, obtain as much information as you can about the people that are going with you. Some may be on chronic medication that may not be available in all the countries you plan to visit, or others may have allergies and intolerances to certain foodstuffs. Make a list of all these issues and get professional advice on suitable replacements, even if it means all your travelling partners have to consult their own doctors to get the most reliable information. Nonetheless, most of the items in first aid kits are straight forward, so use this list as a guide to form the basis of a good first aid kit.

Anti-malaria preparations:

There are many preparations on the market and following the dosage instructions is crucial in the prevention of malaria. The whole of Africa north of the Tugela River in South Africa, all the way to the Sahara Desert is considered a high-risk area, and proper precautions must be taken to prevent the possibility of contracting a disease that could kill you. However, no anti-malarial preparation is 100% effective, and it is essential to take additional precautions such as the use of insect repellent and mosquito nets to help prevent infection.

Snake bite kit:

Venomous snakes occur in all parts of Africa, and while some are only mildly so, many are deadly, and will kill you if the bite is not treated. However, there are too many venomous snake species in Africa to deal with them all here, so we will only briefly look at three of the more dangerous snakes, and the effects of their bites:

  •  Black Mamba:

The black mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis), occurs in most of Southern- and West Africa, and is considered by experts to be one of the most dangerous snakes in the world. Opinions on the level of aggression of this snake differ widely, as do opinions on the survivability of a bite. Similar to the Australian Taipan, a mamba can bite up to ten or twelve times in rapid succession, and in a variety of locations on the body. Untreated black mamba bites are almost invariably fatal and death through asphyxiation and cardiac arrest can occur as soon as 30 minutes to 2 hours after the bite. The only effective treatment is by the immediate administration of large volumes of specific antivenin, which is obtainable from

Puff Adder:

The puff adder (Bitis arietans), a member of the viper family, occurs throughout Africa, except in true deserts and rain forests, and its bite is responsible for more human fatalities in Africa than any other snake. Up to 50% of untreated bites are fatal, with death resulting 12-24 hours due to the cytotoxic nature of the venom.

A puff adder will not move away if you happen upon it since it depends on the element of surprise to catch its prey. If you disturb it, it will make no distinction between you and a mouse; it may strike without warning. Puff adders also have the fastest striking action of any snake in Africa, and its extraordinarily long fangs can penetrate leather shoes and boots. Immediate treatment in case of a bite is vital since part of the treatment involves blood transfusions to ensure survival of the bite. Specific anti venin is available from

Egyptian Cobra:

Also known by other names such as Snouted cobra, and Banded cobra, the Egyptian cobra (Naja annulifera) can be found all over Africa, with its southern most distribution being Gauteng in South Africa. Unsubstantiated reports from Asia recount instances of cobras killing elephants with a single bite; however, in humans the deadly neurotoxin can cause death through respiratory failure in less than ten minutes, with other cobra species known to kill humans in less than 60 minutes. In cases where the venom attacks the heart, mortality is close to 100%, making immediate treatment essential. Specific antivenin is available from

All snakes in the wild should be regarded as dangerous and contact must be avoided at all costs. Although only a few species out of more than 160 in Southern Africa are dangerous to humans, it takes an experienced herpetologist to identify a snake, since many factors influence features such as body build, colour markings, and habitat. Avoid trying to kill snakes, and in particular, the black mamba, because it will defend itself to the death if it is attacked or harassed in any way, and in a fight with a mamba, the death is very likely to be yours.

Another very good reason to avoid contact with snakes is the fact that if the bite does not kill you, the allergic reaction to the antivenin might. Although allergic reactions to snake antivenin is relatively rare, they do occur, and its effects could be deadlier than an actual snakebite. An essential part of your first aid kit should be an authoritative guide on the venomous snakes, scorpions, and spiders found in Africa.

Activated Charcoal:

Activated charcoal is often recommended in cases of poisoning, but unless you have a medical doctor in your party, DO NOT use activated charcoal to treat suspected cases of poisoning. Activated charcoal does not work in all cases of poisoning, and it should only be used under the direction of a medical doctor, or a Poison Control Centre. Since you cannot always be certain what substance caused the poisoning, DO NOT use activated charcoal, and prevent poisoning by not ingesting unfamiliar plant material or liquids, and especially not wild mushrooms, which can be fatal. Just because you see the local wild life eating wild fruit and berries, does not mean that it is safe for you to do so. An essential part of your medical kit should be an authoritative guide on the edible as well as poisonous plants of Africa.

Fungal/bacterial infections:

Consult a specialist in tropical diseases and infections on the subject of what suitable and effective antibiotics to include in your medical kit. In the damp conditions of equatorial Africa, even relatively small wounds and abrasions can become seriously infected in a matter of minutes, with gangrene following from otherwise insignificant wounds a distinct possibility, which makes proper, and prompt, wound care essential. When discussing antibiotics with a doctor, make a point of it to mention possible and actual allergies that any member of the party might have to some antibiotics. Allergic reactions to antibiotics can be severe, and even potentially fatal, and such cases require specialized treatment.

General first-aid kit

• Individually wrapped alcohol swabs.
• Assorted Band-Aids, or other adhesive wound coverings.
• Adhesive Tape.
• Space blanket.
• Several cold packs for sprains.
• Disposable gloves.
• Tweezers for the removal of thorns and splinters.
• Magnifying glass to see dust motes in eyes, and minute splinters in fingers and feet.
• Assorted gauze bandages and pads in sterile packaging.
• Compression bandages for sprains.
• Digital thermometer.
• Hand sterilizer that contains 60% alcohol as a minimum.
• Plastic Bags.
• Scissors.
• Eye patches.
• Scalpel and spare blades.
• Small Flashlight and Extra Batteries.
• Splints in various sizes to immobilize broken or sprained limbs and fingers.
• Several triangular bandages for use as arm slings.
• Disposable emergency blanket.
• Instant Hot pack.
• Earplugs.
• Mosquito nets.
• Dust masks.
• Sunglasses to reduce eyestrain in desert areas where harsh sunlight reflects off light coloured sand.


• Anti-diarrheal preparations.
• Antifungal ointments.
• Anti bacterial ointments.
• Antiseptic wound cleaner.
• Burn shields in various sizes to treat burns and scalds.
• Rehydration powder for effective treatment of dehydration.
• Various eye drops.
• Anti-itch ointments for the treatment of insect stings.
• Motion sickness preparations.
• Analgesics, such as Ibuprofen, paracetamol, aspirin, and codeine.
• Anti-pyretic preparations to reduce fevers such as acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen.
• Antihistamine against allergies such as pollen, dust, and insect stings. Epinephrine is beneficial for serious allergic reactions that could be fatal if not treated effectively.
• SPF 50 sunscreen.
• Aloe-based gel for severe sunburn.
• Several insect repellent formulations and preparations.
• Cough mixture.
• Antacids.
• Nasal decongestants, such as saline spray.
• Mild laxatives.
• Water purification tablets for use in areas where the water quality is dubious.
• Clove oil for the treatment of toothache.

This medical checklist is only a general guide and the personal circumstances of all the members of the party must be taken into account when the final list is prepared. Consult your medical practitioner or pharmacist regarding issues with possible drug interactions, allergic reactions, and emergency procedures, as well as specific information on which medications might be illegal or very strictly controlled in other African countries: for instance, ephedrine, an ingredient in some nasal decongestants, is a controlled substance in Botswana, and possession of it may result in criminal proceedings.
An essential item in your first aid kit must be a definitive and authoritative guide in practical first aid measures, as well as the do’s and don’ts of first aid treatment in the bush, and always ensure that at least one member of the party has a formal qualification in first aid.

Murphy’s Law and First-Aid Kits

This law states one the one hand that if you sacrifice quantity and quality for space, the first item you need will be the one you left behind because you did think you had room for it. On the other hand, it states that if you do not spend the money to buy a proper medical bag so your bandages and plasters can be separated from your medications, your entire first aid kit will invariably end up in the sand, or be covered in blood and gore at the first emergency. For this reason, it is important that you get a proper first aid bag or case to keep everything sorted and accounted for.
Travellers to Africa need to be up to date with their inoculations; in fact, some countries in Africa require proof of vaccination against several diseases for entry into those countries, therefore it is important to consult a medical practitioner or a dedicated travel clinic, with regard to inoculations and vaccines. Although not all countries require all vaccinations, it makes good sense to get booster shots for at least the following diseases:

• Hepatitis A
• Yellow Fever
• Meningitis
• Typhoid Fever
• Hepatitis B
• Polio
• Rabies
• Tetanus

Always make a particular point of enquiring about all required vaccinations at the time of making visa applications. Requirements vary from country to country, and even by season in some cases.

Travel Insurance

There are many travel insurance providers and options, but whatever option you choose, buying comprehensive travel insurance that includes medical evacuation and emergency hospitalisation as a minimum is a critical element in planning your trip. However, travel insurance policies and companies are not created equal, so shop around for the deal that gives you the most options, in particular, full medical and comprehensive vehicle insurance in ALL of the countries you plan to visit, and not only the best price.

Travel documents

Several countries in Africa require South African passport holders to obtain visas for entry into those countries. Therefore, as a first step in planning your overland trip through Africa, it is essential to contact the embassies or consulates of the countries you plan to visit, to enquire about visa requirements and costs. Visa requirements change all the time, however, below is a list of countries that currently (December 2014) require entry visas for South African passport holders:

• Angola
• Burkina Faso
• Burundi
• Cameroon
• Central African Republic
• Chad
• Congo
• Cote d’ Ivoire
• Eritrea
• Ethiopia
• Gambia
• Ghana
• Liberia
• Libya
• Madagascar
• Mali
• Mauritania
• Nigeria
• Sierra Leone
• Somalia
• Tunisia
• Uganda

This list is only a guide, since exemptions from the usual visa requirements can apply in certain circumstances. However, full knowledge and compliance with the regulations of each country is essential since overstaying your welcome, or failing to comply with regulations could result in arrest and imprisonment, blacklisting, deportation, and the almost certain loss of all your equipment, vehicles included. Full birth certificates (certified copy) and an official letter of permission from any unaccompanied parents for children under the age of 18 are required when crossing the South African border, inbound and on departure.
Additional documents

Driver’s Licence

South African driver’s licences are recognized only in the following Southern Africa countries:
• Namibia,
• Botswana,
• Zimbabwe,
• Mozambique,
• Lesotho
• Swaziland.

Other countries may require an international driver’s permit; check with the AA (South African Automobile Association) or enquiries can be made from individual embassies and consulates.

ZA sticker:

A sticker with the letters “ZA” is compulsory for all South African vehicles travelling across South Africa’s borders.

White and Red Reflective Tape:

Zimbabwe requires the presence of squares of reflective tape on the bumpers, front and rear of all motor vehicles. A full strip of reflective red tape is required for all commercial vehicles, like pick-ups. Other countries may have similar requirements. Contact individual embassies and consulates for details.

Yellow and Blue Mozambique Warning Triangle:

You require a warning triangle if you are towing a trailer in Mozambique.

Vehicle Registration/Vehicle License Papers:

These are required at all border posts, and you will be refused entry into any country without them, and must be the original, copies are not accepted

Police Clearance Certificate:

A police clearance certificate is required for entry into Zimbabwe for vehicles other than those belonging to the passport holder; however, other countries may also require a police clearance certificate in some cases, so enquire from individual embassies and consulates.

Letter of authority:

A letter of authority from your bank or car rental company is compulsory to show that you have the permission of these institutions to take the vehicle out of the country. Failure to produce such a document could result in arrest and imprisonment at several border posts, especially Zimbabwe.”

Border crossings

Entry into African countries is never free; costs vary from country to country, and even seasonally, so make sure you have sufficient cash and all required documentation ready at hand. This will minimise delays and frustration, which will go a long way towards making your trip enjoyable.


Certain fresh products cannot legally be taken across borders, checks the signs upon entering. Instead of throwing it away, rather give it to the local people. The types of food you take with you is largely a matter of personal preference, however, here are some quick tips and tricks to remember when you are planning a long overland trip:

  • Do not take more food than your party can consume in three or four days at the most. Plan your trip so that you are near a medium to large centre every few days; this will allow you to stock up regularly, and all your food will always be fresh.
  • South African supermarkets are reasonably well represented in several African countries, so make a point of buying perishable foodstuffs from them, since their merchandise is likely to be fresher than what you can get anywhere else.
  • Be cautious of meat like frozen fish, chicken and pork in some African countries. Due to the irregular power supply in some countries, frozen products could have been defrosted and frozen again.
  • The freezer/ice box you take must be capable of working with 12-volt DC vehicle current, 220 volt AC as well as 110-volt AC current. Your freezer is the only way to keep perishable food from spoiling, so make sure you have as many options as you can get when you buy a freezer.
  • Take a few days’ supply of staples such as rice, maize meal, bread/cake flour, dehydrated eggs, dehydrated vegetables, milk powder, soup powder, spices, sugar, salt, coffee, tea, and the like to your butcher shop and ask him to vacuum pack it for you in small portions. This will protect it against moisture, insects, dust, and other contaminants, and together with tinned meats, can serve as emergency rations.
  • Transfer liquids such as cooking oil and sauces to air tight containers with screw tops; this prevents spills and leaks, as well as attack by insects.
  • While in Africa, only buy food in sealed tins or other packaging that cannot easily be tampered with. It is possible to buy fresh food at roadside stalls and markets in small towns and villages, but exercise extreme caution when you buy food from stallholders, since you have no idea what contaminants it may have been in contact with, or how long it has been on the shelf.
  • Use common sense and good judgement when you buy food: only buy enough for a few days, and never buy food with which you are not familiar. For instance, cassava, an African staple, is extremely toxic unless it has undergone a long cooking time. Don’t buy it; because you do not know how to prepare it- it might kill you.”

Personal Items


Although not strictly personal, there must always be at least five litres of water available for each person in the party. This excludes the water needed for washing and cooking. Best to buy bottled water for drinking.

Stout, fully enclosed leather boots and/or shoes:

Sandals or canvas shoes cannot withstand the long, vicious thorns and sharp stones you will encounter almost every day. Another good reason not to wear sandals or canvas shoes is the fact that most bites from the viper family occur on the foot or ankle area, and while a puff adder can bite right through a leather boot, at least leather shoes offer some protection against puff adder bites, while sandals and canvas shoes offer none at all.

Full-length trousers or denims:

The reason for this is again protection against snakebite: many, if not most, cobra bites occur in the thigh area, as well as the lower arms and hands, but with thigh-area bites predominating. However, since cobras have relatively short fangs, around six millimetres or perhaps a bit longer, thick denim trousers offer a degree of protection: wearing shorts offers no protection at all. Purely as a matter of interest though, a black mamba can raise as much as two thirds of its body off the ground before striking, which is why most mamba bites occur on the upper torso, and even in the face or neck. A fully-grown mamba in attack posture can look you straight in the eye, because of its ability to raise so much of its body off the ground.

Warm clothing:

Temperatures in the desert areas of Africa can drop to below freezing point overnight, even in the middle of summer. At the very least, you need leather gloves, one or two warm windbreaker-type jackets, and a scarf, as well as a raincoat, or poncho.

Swimming trunks/ angling waders:

Under no circumstances should you swim in rivers and pools in Africa: you can contract any of several serious water borne diseases, such as cholera, dysentery, and typhoid fever, among a host of others. Swimming should only ever be done in swimming pools at game lodges and similar tourist oriented sites. The only time you should enter raw African water is to scout a route for a water crossing, and then only when wearing your personal waterproof wader. African rivers are also infested with crocodiles, and even if you do not see them, you can never be sure they are not present.

Detergent or washing powder for laundry:

Although it is a good idea to do laundry at every opportunity you get, you should also iron ALL of your freshly laundered clothes to kill the eggs of the Putzi Fly, (Cordylobia anthrophaga) which is common in East and Central Africa. This fly lays its eggs in the seams of garments hung out to dry, and if you do not kill these eggs, they will hatch while you are wearing your clean clothes, and the larvae will burrow into your skin. They are easy enough to remove, but the experience is less than pleasant.

Another fly to be on the lookout for is the Tsetse fly, which exists in two varieties, (T. b.gambiense) in West Africa, and (T.b. rhodesiense) in East Africa. Both species live in wooded thickets, and along dense riverine vegetation and a bite from both can cause African sleeping sickness, which is invariably fatal if the bite is not treated very soon. Tstese flies, which are about as big as honeybees, are for some reason attracted to cars and dark colours, so make sure you swat all large flies in your vehicle. The local population usually knows where the tsetse fly is concentrated, so ask around if you are looking for a campsite.

Access to cash:

Do not carry large amounts of cash with you all the time, but make sure your bank cards will work in all of the countries you plan to visit. Many countries in Africa accept US dollars, so keep some US currency with you, but make sure you have a means of checking on the daily exchange rates; you will be robbed blind by unscrupulous dealers, park rangers, and border guards if you do not.

Maps and route information:

Although a good GPS device can show you almost any road in Africa, they tell you nothing about their condition. Southern Africa abounds with game lodges, hunting camps, safari camps, and other tourist attractions owned or managed by South Africans, so make a point of visiting them on your way. They will always be glad to see you, and they are the most reliable sources of local knowledge with regard to routes, roads, and their condition. They also know where to shop for what, and at what prices, so use these opportunities to stock up on essentials.

It is also a good idea to announce yourself to South African embassies and consulates in the countries you visit. SA embassies are obliged to provide consular and diplomatic assistance to SA citizens in various kinds of trouble, and they cannot help you if they do not know you are there. For instance, if you are in an accident, or arrested and imprisoned unfairly, the embassy will provide a communication link, and all other assistance within its purview, such as notifying next-of-kin, or arranging for legal representation. South African diplomatic missions in Africa can also assist in replacing lost, stolen, or destroyed travel documents. These services or performed for a fee, but most other consular services are free of charge.

More personal Items:

  • List of the contact details of all the South African diplomatic missions in the countries you plan to visit.
  • Cameras- both still and video. If you play your cards right, you can turn the photographic record of your trip in to a TV documentary, which you can sell for millions to public broadcasters.
  • Reference guides on trees, snakes, general wildlife, and cultures.
  • All toiletries
  • Toilet paper
  • Lip balm
  • Wide brimmed hat
  • Sun glasses

Some quick packing tips

To some this list may seem excessive, while to others it leaves out many essentials; but it can easily be adapted for shorter trips. However, there is no way you are going to get all of this stuff into one vehicle, or even two, so the thing to do is to divide the load between the vehicles, with one carrying the tools, spare parts, and the bulk of the recovery equipment, while another carries the camping equipment, and another, everything else except the stuff that should be in every vehicle. This works well for some expeditions, but it how well it works depends on the way your vehicles are fitted out, so here are some things to think about:

Canopy for Bakkies (pick-ups, Utes):

Your canopy must be waterproof; proofing it against dust is less easy, but several local companies specialise in fitting out off-road vehicles, mostly with imported parts and accessories, so ask around. However, whatever arrangement of runners, shelves, boxes, and other features you choose, you must be able to get at what you need without unpacking the entire vehicle. For instance, your recovery equipment and medical kit must be available without having to dig through a mountain of camping equipment first.

Overall weight:

Divide the load between the vehicles so that no vehicle exceeds its maximum allowable gross weight. Overloaded vehicles are difficult to handle, and the excess weight is bound to cause damage and breakdowns at some point, but apart from that, vehicle overloading is illegal in all of Africa.

Remember the rollover angle:

Keep the centre of gravity of the vehicles as low as you can by loading the heaviest stuff at the bottom, and do not carry anything on roof racks. If you do not have room for everything inside your vehicles, rent an off-road trailer.

Organise and Label all packages:

Having a quality build storage system, be it a drawer system or stackable boxes like military style fox boxes, will not only store everything safe and secure, it will save time and frustration when digging around finding stuff. When you pack your spare parts, clearly mark each part by indicating on the packaging for which vehicle it is intended. That way you do not have to open packages unnecessarily, which is a good way to prevent dust and moisture entering the packaging, and possibly destroying the part. It does not matter how dust-proof your 4×4 is, Africa will let itself in.

Checking the pre-trip checklist

The last item on this list is more in the nature of advice than another thing to buy, or find room for, and it is this: once you have all the stuff on this checklist, or think you need, pack it all in your vehicles, and go on a short off-road trip. Just take a long weekend break to see how it all works out; see if your packing arrangements allow you to get at what you need without having to unpack everything. You will also have the opportunity to see what else you need, as well as what you do not need. However, once you are in Africa, you may not be able to find what you thought you did not need, or forgot to pack, so make sure you start things off right- by packing everything on this pre-trip inspection checklist.
Going on a trip with everything you will be taking with you into Africa is the best way to test this pre-trip inspection check list, as well as the best ways of packing it all, but once you have the bugs sorted out, you will have a great time on your overland expedition, without having to struggle with how to arrange things once you are in the bush.

…last words… even though of thought and experience has gone into the above pre trip checklist to do an extensive and remote African Overland Expedition, it only acts an a guideline. Vehicle, personal preferences, ages of those on the trip and what level of safety, comfort, and time constraints you have, will ultimately determine what is regarded as essential or not. An overland can be done with little preparation up to a point but can be impossible in some instances.

Be sure to pack some patients and loads of enthusiasm for what will be an unforgettable experience…

4x4 Africa © 2012 - 2017 Disclaimer and Copyright: ‎