Choosing the best air compressor for your off-roading and overlanding needs shouldn’t be too difficult. Don’t overthink it. If you’re an occasional offroader like me then you probably don’t need to spend a ton of money. The VIAIR 88P ($60-70) has been reliable for 4 years now, always in my truck ready to go.
If you take your truck into dirt more than a few times a month — you’ll probably want to step to a ARB Onboard Air Compressor kit ($300+) that is permanently mounted on your rig. Or if you value portability go with the VIAIR 400P which is much more powerful than the 88P
Why I chose VIAIR 88P for my offroad needs
I can air up all 4 tires from 22psi to 32psi in about 10 minutes. Most of my offroading is to get to a cool destination or find a dispersed campsite up in the mountains or desert. I probably see dirt 4-6 times a year so I really couldn’t justify spending more than $100 to air back up. It’s helped save my ass a few times already.
One more benefit is it’s portable. My air compressor is always in my truck behind the rear seatback, but I can easily take it out and lend it to a friend whether it’s on the trail or in the parking lot at work. My buddy once borrowed it to air his slow-leak flat tire up to a safe level and drive to a tire shop a few miles away.
If I was consistently going down to 18psi and airing back up to 40+ then yeah — an ARB would be nice to have. Maybe someday I’ll have one if I get a rear air locker installed on the Toyota Tacoma. For now, the VIAIR is the best air compressor for my offroading and overlanding needs. And if I decide to upgrade I’ll likely go with the bigger brother, the VIAIR 400P.
When it’s time to step up to a ARB Onboard Air Compressor
Let’s face it. The VIAIR can be a little slow if you’re going from pavement to dirt and back to pavement quite often. And it gets pretty hot. The ARB is much more juice and makes the process less tedious. Plus it’s just cool as shit to have it permanently mounted in your truck bedside or under the hood.
At some point you might want a locking differential installed on your expedition vehicle and your best option is to go with a selectable air locker. In this case you’ll be knocking out two birds with one stone. On demand air to your differential and ability to air up those 35s in a few minutes. No brainer.
Check out ARB’s air compressor options at Amazon. It’s a bit more complex to setup but will be worth it in the end.
Why air down tires offroad?
I should have probably mentioned this at the beginning: Airing down your tires when going offroad is probably one of the most important things you can do. It increases the contact size with the ground, thus giving your tire a larger footprint. It allows the sidewall and tire to flex which protects you from jagged rocks and obstacles. On sand it increases your floatation which is absolutely crucial to not getting bogged down. And lastly it makes for a much smoother ride when driving at a decent pace over washboard and small rocks.
You’re going to need to air back up when you hit the pavement — do yourself a favor and get an air compressor before your next offroad or overland adventure. Be sure to air down only to a safe pressure for your tire and wheel combination. I usually keep it around 18-22psi.
Let me know what you think is the best air compressor for offroading and overlanding. There are probably more options out there. Happy trails!
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