“Why don’t you air down?”
“Ugh, because then I have to air back up!”
Is that the conversation that goes on in your rig? You already know the benefits of airing down. Even the off-road community’s newest members know that airing down gives you a bigger contact patch; more tire surface hitting the terrain means more traction. But sometimes, we just don’t want to do it because reinflating our tires to drive back on pavement sucks.
But it doesn’t have to.
It turns out, there are lots of great options for everything off-road nowadays. We identify three systems for those needing air while on the trail or when the trail wheeling is done. Of course, there are advantages and limitations to each of these available systems. With the speed of R & D, no doubt there are other options out there, these three are the most common and widely used today.
In no particular order, the three systems are as follows: portable 12-volt air systems, mounted 12-volt air systems, and portable compressed air systems. No one system is the end all be all for air system solutions; in fact, the best bet is to combine or carry two systems with you for different applications.
First up is portable 12-volt air systems. These units are typically small and easy to store in your vehicle. Most of the less expensive models are ok for refilling your tires if you don’t mind waiting. The more costly models are faster getting air back into those tires but are larger and get pricey quickly. Portable compressors have some drawbacks, they typically are the slowest method available, and they can overheat as they work to fill those larger tires we are known to use off-road. Heat is the enemy of these small air compressors. The larger, more expensive air compressors are faster, but make sure you’re buying one that is high volume and high pressure rated (VIAIR and ARB are both great brands). Another option may be a portable unit from one of the tool manufacturers like Makita, Ryobi, Dewalt, or Milwaukee. Anticipate carrying extra batteries with these, as run times may get long with oversized tires. With any of these portable systems, the most significant advantage would be the ability to move it from one vehicle to another.
Option #2 would be a permanently mounted dedicated air system. These are typically found in vehicles that have air lockers installed as well. The use of an air storage tank mounted in or on the vehicle also gives you the option to run air tools while on the trail. Extra air hoses or a longer single hose make these units so that one vehicle can share air with another. To run air for more than lockers, it is recommended you run a dual or double motor air compressor such as the ARB Onboard Twin or the VIAIR continuous duty OBA system. Both of these companies offer complete systems with air storage options.
The third option would be to have a portable compressed air (CO2) tank and air hose setup. Companies like PowerTank have been supplying these air systems for years. They come in different sizes depending on your needs. Advantages to these are portability, the power to run air tools, and reliability. Without needing a power supply, they can be used anywhere. The drawback is having to refill the tanks. If you use a custom, painted, polished or powder-coated tank, you’ll need to find a local welding supply or fire extinguisher store that can refill the CO2 on site. If you use a standard CO2 tank, the opportunities to refill expand as most welding shops can trade out your empty tank for a filled one. If you look to using this type of system, whether you build the system yourself or purchase a custom tank, look at the PowerTank high volume gauges and airflow re
gulator. They really make a difference, and PowerTank has done the research and sources the best equipment available.
Here is the 4Low recommendation, don’t leave for the trail with only one of the above three choices. Carry two of the three in your off-road vehicles. If you have air-lockers, you already have a mounted system, add a compressor or PowerTank. If you have larger tires, go with a larger PowerTank and a portable 12-volt high volume compressor system. Any way you decide to go, having the right air solutions with you is great peace of mind and gets you in the habit of airing up and down when you should.