Prepping for a Rubicon Adventure in your UTV

The Kawasaki Teryx 4 may very well be the best all around 4 Wheel Drive I have ever owned. Big words from a guy who has been off-roading since 1975, and helped invent the King of the Hammers race.  Dollar for dollar its a hard vehicle to beat. While it is not a race inspired machine, it does do almost everything I want to do off-road extremely well. True I have modified the suspension, and added bigger tires but how many people who own toys resist the urge to add a personal touch? If you want great gas mileage, low maintenance, a low center of gravity, and the ability to pick your way around a trail there are few vehicles for the price you can find new. It does not hurt that its moves down the trail at a good pace, and is easy to drive. Even my wife likes how easy it is to get in and out, and truth be told, maybe I am getting old, but I kind of like that as well.


There was no question in my mind that the Teryx 4 would be my choice of vehicle for my first trip on the Rubicon trail. A trail that has been ruled by Jeeps, and recently found the Toyota Pick up in the lime light as a great choice to conquer the most famous of 4 wheel drive trails in the world. While I choose the Kawasaki Teryx 4 the things I learned on the trip are universal to all UTV owners who wish to embark on adventures into the backcountry. There are few vehicles from the factory that will out perform the Side X Side in this environment, and allow you to bring your family.


For almost 25 years the Rubicon has been on my bucket list of off-road adventures. Family and work have a way of stretching a dream into a 25-year obsession when you are looking at a 3-month window of opportunity for great weather in the Sierra’s. Taking a family into the wilderness becomes a daunting task for a host of reasons, but finally the timing was right for my wife and I to make the trip with our six-foot plus tall 16-year-old eating machine, named Cody. Read the full trip report here.


Space is by far the biggest concern for a 3-day trip into an area that has no services what so ever. Weight is an additional concern when you are looking at a vehicle of this type. The trail is rated difficult and lives up to its name. Three adults, and enough gear for three days will tax almost any vehicle, but in the end we found we still had enough space to allow 3 passengers to ride comfortably, and we did not sacrifice our view of the remarkable terrain.


Think like a backpacker.

You know you either packed too light, or did a damn good job, when a seasoned Rubicon trail guide asks you if you brought any food with you. I will admit, I was a little concerned when I saw the other vehicles ready for the trip at the staging area in Loon Lake.

With three adults on this trip we knew we had little choice than to employ a roof rack. We salvaged a roof rack from an abandoned project and it fit between the rear rails of the cage perfectly.  The roof rack would be reserved for light weight items and things we wanted to make sure stayed dry.  Two backpacking tents, three sleeping bags, sleeping pads, a rollup table, towels, and a mexican blanket would fill the small roof rack. We used super large zip locks bags to make sure everything would be dry in case of a thunder storm.

With only three of the four seats in use we ditched the unused seat and utilized the space for all of our food for the three days. Keeping everything cold would prove a simple task using my wife’s idea of three separate soft sided coolers from AO Cooler

We kept our first and second nights dinner as well as items for our third day in the largest cooler with the most ice. Rather than use cube ice we used our Deep freezer to freeze water bottles. We used the second cooler for snacks that need to be kept cool, and lunches. The third cooler was for drinks only. After the coolers where loaded we topped them off with cube ice before hitting the trail. The Second night we rearranged the remaining items that required refrigeration into the final cooler which still had ice after 5 days. The soft sided coolers are really the way to go when conserving space and looking to travel into the back country.

We used a lot of tricks from our experience racing in Baja. While some laughed at the method in which we stored our zip ties and tape,( wrapped around a roll bar tube) no-one laughed when they needed to use them and could find them easily. In fact I am pretty sure it was easier to use mine than dig for their own. Here you can see the plastic tote we used for our dry goods. We also kept a number of additional items in this location for camp. I would rather use a more durable tote such as an action packer next time, but this did work well.


The King Shocks and Long Travel Industries suspension where not required but sure made the trip more pleasant as we rarely felt the small bumps on the trails. Coupled with the PRP seats I found we could have driven a lot longer if required. I installed a Lowrance GPS for KOH pre running but did not end up using it for the trail because it was well marked. However the Icom Race radio proved a very valuable tool when we separated from the rest of the group. This allowed us the ability to talk from Buck Island Lake all the way to Rubicon Springs.  We zip tied our Leatherman within easy reach, and again this tool received a lot of use since it was accessible quickly.  A pack shovel and Fire extinguisher where also mounted in an easy to reach location. Thanks fully we did not need either of them.


Since everything that goes with you on the Rubicon needs to come out with you including human waste we made up an ammo box with all the essential bathroom supplies including WAG bags, biodegradable soap, and one of the multiple types of bug repellent we took with us. Like other high use items we kept bug repellent in multiple locations, because the mosquitoes will carry you away in some locations on the trail. The other box you see here is an old tackle box that we kept our entire kitchen in. utilizing back packing equipment allowed us to keep the storage requirements for cooking reserved to just this small box. It included a stove, spoons, spatula, forks, fuel, spices, pots, pans, plates, bowls matches, and a couple items I might have forgotten. It was great to walk away from the SXS and have the whole kitchen in a single box. Our Bulldog winch was never needed but was a great insurance policy.

One of the best things about the Rubicon trail is the evening camp fire and we used it for most of our cooking. Potatoes rolled in foil, hot dogs, and carne asada. This beats back packing, as you can haul some really great food when you share with the entire camp as a pot luck. Camping only 50 feet from Buck Island lake afforded us plenty of water for cleaning and knocking the dust off with a solar shower, but we reserved soap use for away from the lake even with the biodegradable soap.

Its hard to believe we have 3 days worth of food, and camping gear for 3 adults stuffed in the Teryx 4 here. Notice the Burlap sack attached to the roll bar for our trash? We used a plastic bag inside the burlap which is much stronger than the plastic bags. Our personal items where spread between two bags in the bed. one for each tent. Preparing for almost any weather we left the bulky jackets at home and went for multiple layers in an effort to save space. We did splurge and included three folding camp chairs buried in the bed of the Teryx 4. Lastly we condensed our photo gear into a single bag. Rather than a tripod we used a small multi-folding tripod, and a walking stick that had a threaded top the same as our camera. Three Camera’s in all they were in easy reach in most circumstances.

The key to making this all work was keeping things organized, taking only items we could not live without, and not burying any item where we could not find it. We laid everything out in the front yard and packed it based on how often we would need it. What we learned is that there are only a few want items for next time, and a couple items we might not take next time. At the last minute I grabbed my 12 volt Vision X Pit lights for light at night. we attached them to a UTV for power and had great light. What we did not need was all 4 of them. Next time I will rig up a small flood and leave the rest at home. Tent foot prints are essential, thankfully we used the bikini top off the Teryx4 to replace the missing footprint for our son’s tent.  Hammocks while a romantic idea, may not get enough use to warrant the space, and because cold air gets under them, they are not a great nights sleep. A simple citronella candle  is a must have for our next trip. one large bag for two people worked OK, but several small bags might have been a better choice, as the contents ended up all over the place thrashing to find a pair of socks. Lastly a small tarp would have been a welcome addition to the entrance to our tent.


We had such a great time camping out of our Teryx4 that we are already making plans for an over night trip in the Southern California Mountains later this summer, and we will be returning to the Rubicon next year. After years of camping in our RV it was a nice change to camp like this. While a bed trumps sleeping on the ground; packing into a remote location like this is an amazing experience, a UTV seems a perfect match for the adventure.

About the Author

Jeff Knoll is the former Event Director for the King of the Hammers event. He has raced various classes in SCORE, BITD, MORE, and MDR. Following the California 200, Knoll travelled to Washington, DC to meet with BLM officials regarding the Special Recreation Permit policies of the BLM. Knoll serves on the BLM’s Desert Advisory Sub-Committee regarding Special Recreation Permits. Knoll also drafted language for Nevada’s Senate Bill 156 in 2011 regarding action sports safety.

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