Everybody has seen them: off-road jacks. Specifically, everyone has seen Hi-Lift Jacks, the fire-engine red jacks that are bolted to virtually every 4×4 vehicle in America. Although they may be perceived as visual flare more than a trail-recovery tool, they do serve a purpose if used properly.
However, that purpose isn’t what most people assume it is. Fair warning: I am likely about to blow some minds.
You should not use a Hi-Lift-style jack for lifting your rig on the trail for repairs — be it a tire change or otherwise. They’re simply not stable enough for that – even with a plastic or metal base plate beneath it. Hi-Lift-style jacks can tip over incredibly easily. And when a 6,000-pound truck comes crashing down, and the 45-pound jack goes flying, you risk damaging the vehicle and injuring — or worse yet killing someone.
Simply put: These types of jacks were designed for recovery, not repairs.
For example, you could lift your vehicle up, to get a tire out of a hole so that you can put a traction board beneath it.
Another use is utilizing the jack as a winch, slowly extracting your vehicle from a spot that you can’t winch yourself forward from. These are two recommended uses for Hi-Lift-style jacks.
If you want to safely lift your vehicle’s axle or wheel for a repair, the safest and best option is to use a bottle jack. Not just any bottle jack will do, though. You want one that is rated for a heavy 4×4 and has extensions that can safely lift a tall 4×4 off the ground. And, no, stacking logs you find trailside underneath your $15 Harbor Freight bottle jack is not a safe solution.
With that preamble out of the way, let’s look at some of the best overlanding jacks on the market.
ARB — Hydraulic Long-Travel Recovery Jack
ARB entered the jack game a few years ago with its distinctive hydraulic jack. It uses an air bladder and oil reservoir that it fills and pressurizes as you pump to lift the vehicle. It’s kind of like a shock absorber, but your pumping increases its strength.
Regardless of the engineering magic that goes into the jack, it can smoothly jack your vehicle up in half-inch increments. And it can be lowered easily, swiftly, and safely, too.
It can lift between 28 and 38 inches — enough for even the tallest overland rigs. It compresses down to 35 inches and can extend up to 58 inches. And it can hold 4,409 pounds — again enough for even very hefty 4x4s.
Like other jacks, we don’t recommend this jack be used for lifting your rig for repairs, just for recovery.
King Shock Screw Jack
This actuation screw has the same 3/4-inch hex as your lug nuts for quick tire changes. The cadmium plated steel body is sealed from the elements. The knurled jacking pin adjusts up or down to math the ride height of your vehicle. And billet aircraft quality aluminum components ensure it’s both strong and light weight. Finally, it boasts 14 inches of travel. Plus, it is made in the USA, which you can be proud of.
Hi-Lift — 48-inch All-Cast Jack
Here we come to the name in off-road jacks: Hi-Lift. They’re great for what they’re intended for: recovery. You can use it as a lift, a winch, or even as a clamp. But please don’t climb under your rig with one of these jacks holding it up. The 48-incher is a good all-round size. It can lift 7,000 pounds. Be sure to read the instructions before using it.
Also ensure you keep this thing lubricated, too. I like to douse mine in penetrating oil before I use it. That helps ensure it moves smoothly. I once got one jammed up with my Gladiator’s wheel in the air because it wasn’t properly lubricated. Getting the rig down was quite the ordeal and not one I’d like to replicate. So, learn from my mistakes and treat these things as directed.
HI-LIFT — 48-inch X-TREME JACK
For those who need a bit more power than the standard 48-incher can muster, there’s the X-TREME version. While it can lift 7,000 pounds like its non-X-TREME stablemate, this one can also winch, clamp, and spread 5,000 pounds. This is because all the bits are thicker and more heavy duty. So, if you need the most, get the X-TREME.