Far and away, the biggest investment is needing a capable & reliable off-road 4-wheel drive. A lot of good choices to start with (Jeeps, Tacomas, etc.), but I love my Nissan Xterra PRO-4X. Nissan no longer makes this vehicle, but the PRO-4X came off the assembly line ready to tackle some very rough terrain, winning several “4×4 of the Year” awards. Even though it came pretty well equipped, I’ve made some modifications to add to its capabilities. First & foremost are a set of upgraded tires that can handle the abuse of the desert & rocks. Next, I swapped out some of the suspension components and added a complete Old Man Emu upgrade with front & rear Nitrocharger shocks and heavy duty coils, add-a-leaf, 3″ lift and relocated the rear sway bar. The approach / descent angle of the factory bumper was too low, so I removed it and replaced it with a custom Hefty Fabworks bumper, along with 3/16″ steel skid plates underneath. For now, I’ve stayed away from a winch…in the desert, there are very few places you could winch from (trees, etc.).
I keep a toolbag full of extra tools in the cargo area of my truck. And, a few other items to help get out of tough spots: shovel, MaxTrax, tow strap, extra gas (usually 10 – 15 gallons), Hi-Lift jack, headlamp, etc.
There are endless choices for good, comfortable day packs, so look for one that holds a large water reservoir (3L) and lots of room for gear. I’ve tried several and settled on the Osprey Talon 22…lots of great features, custom fit and very comfortable. For multi-night camping trips, Osprey (and others) has a lot of choices for bigger backpacks.
I never go anywhere without Gaia GPS maps preloaded on my iPhone. With Gaia GPS you can put your phone in airplane mode and use its internal GPS capabilities. I usually carry a backup paper map (if available) and compass, too. An extra battery – waterproof and can be recharged via the sun – has been invaluable, too (don’t forget your cord!).
A lot of the time, I’ll be out of cell range. So, I puchased an Inmarsat satellite phone, which gives me peace of mind in being able to connect to anyone from anywhere. This phone also has SOS signal capabilities, pinpointing your location and sending out an emergency signal, if needed.
As you can tell, I’m far from a professional photographer, but a good camera is a necessity (and extra batteries). I chose the Panasonic Lumix FZ80 4K camera based on a lot of research, great reviews and its massive 60x zoom capability.
When camping overnight, I just use an old tent that I’ve had forever. Eventually, I’ll need to replace it, but for now it still gets the job done. Throw in a Coleman camp stove, a couple extra small propane tanks, maybe a JetBoil for coffee, etc. and you’ve got everything you need for food. I’ll bring along a couple of fold-up camp chairs for sitting around the fire at night, sleeping bag and mat and there’s not too much else you’ll need.