The best compressor for expeditionary travel is the one that works best for you. There are many compressors from which to choose, and your needs are unique to your vehicle and your style of travel.
If you are going to drive around the world, it is a good idea to get a compressor that has parts and service worldwide. It’s also helpful to have a design that you can rebuild yourself when you order the parts and have them shipped in by DHL to some remote corner of planet earth.
The compressor should fit the duty cycle required by your trip. You need to decide whether you are going to use air tools, reseat broken beads, or simply reinflate your tires during and after an offroad adventure.
When we lived in Arabia, we used ARB compressors because that was the best of what was available at the time. We drove in the sand dunes at least 30 weekends a year, and that means we pumped four tires from 16 PSI to 35-45 PSI on almost all trips. On our Land Rover Defender Michelin XS tires, we spent five to six minutes per tire to reach road pressures at the end of our weekend in the dunes. With that type of duty cycle, we found that an ARB compressor lasted 2 years before it needed to be rebuilt. After two years, it took longer and longer to pump the tires unless we rebuilt the compressor.
It was rare to lose a bead in the dunes, but when it happened, our ARB compressors were not up to the task of restoring the bead on the large Shaheen sand tires that were on some trucks. We always carried two spare tires in the desert, and on one week long trip in the Empty Quarter, one of our friends was down to no spares after he broke the bead on his Shaheens. In the northern Empty Quarter, we met a water truck with a compressor large enough to reset the bead.
Compressors are also great ways to clean a vehicle from desert dust. Whenever we left the desert, we always took our car to a service station to have the desert dust and sand blown out of the truck with a compressor. We took all our gear out of the truck, and an hour later, the truck was dust free and ready for another adventure.
That’s the background of experiences that have shaped my perspective on what I want a compressor to be able to do for me.
1. I want to pump four tires up to road pressures in ten to fifteen minutes.
2. I want to be able to reseat the bead on my tires with my compressor.
3. I want to be able to blow the dirt/dust out of my truck when I am traveling in expeditionary mode.
The other primary consideration is that the compressor must fit the space that you have available. You want to have good ventilation so the compressor does not overheat. You want it to not take up valuable space that could be used for other expeditionary gear. You don’t want to have to build your truck around the compressor. That means you look at the space you have available, and you pick a compressor that fits into that space. You also have to decide whether the compressor is going to be inside the truck, under the hood, outside the truck in a portable box or even mounted to the frame at a convenient location. And you have to decide whether you want an air tank to run air tools and to run lockers. There are lots of decisions that need to be made.
In my case, I wanted a compressor hard mounted in a well-ventilated unused space that offered good access. I also wanted to mount the compressor switch in a convenient location that could easily be turned on without having to worry about it coming on by something accidently coming up against the switch.
I also wanted a compressor with a good duty cycle. A 100 percent duty cycle is optimal and there are several compressors out there that meet this demand with the help of a fan that cools them sufficiently for a 100 percent duty cycle.
Finally, I wanted a compressor that has redundancy. A single compressor has no redundancy, but a compressor with two motors means that if one motor/compressor goes down, you still have the second one to do the job.
When I looked at all the compressors on the market and at the space I had on the inside of my truck, I decided on the ARB CKMTA12 Twin On-Board Air Compressor. This unusual compressor is actually two air compressors hooked together to function as one high output unit through one air chuck. A fan mounted on the unit cools both of the compressors when you turn on the switch. The fan runs as long as the compressors are on. Even when the compressors shut off because they reach cut off pressure, the fan continues to run to cool the units. The fans are critical to the 100 percent duty cycle so that you don’t burn up the compressors.
I mounted my compressor upside down under the platform that also supports the ARB fridge/freezer above. This location puts the compressor out of the way, affords good ventilation, and is close to the batteries.
The dual compressors have good redundancy. Each compressor has its own 40 amp fuse which means that even if one compressor goes down, the other is available to get the job done. It will be half as efficient, but it will keep pumping air.
The ARB compressor also has a complete wiring harness that contains all the connections necessary for the installation of front and rear lockers. It is a plug and play solution. A single wiring harness does it all. When you install the compressor, the locker wiring harness is present and ready for action. If you ever decide to install lockers, you plug one part of the harness into the locker switches and the other end into the locker solenoids.
The ARB CKMTA12 compressor is expensive, and it is not for everyone. I installed it because it is a good fit to my vehicle, and it is an excellent fit to the way I use air in my overland vehicles. The compressor has a worldwide warranty and spare parts around the world.
The best compressor for overland travel is the one that works best for you.