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How to Change a Flat Tire with a Leave No Trace Trowel


Have you ever tried to use the cheap jack that comes with your car to change a flat tire? If it won’t raise your car high enough to get your tire off, try digging a hole under it with your LNT trowel.

We were 3 miles from the US/Canada border on a backcountry gravel road in northern New Hampshire and about 10 miles from the nearest paved road when my buddy Ken got a flat. We didn’t have any cell phone service and the only way we were going to get out of there was to put Ken’s spare tire on. But first, we had to get the flat tire off the car.

Ken got out the jack that came with his car and started cranking it up to lift the car, but the jack wouldn’t go high enough. Then Ken had the brilliant idea of digging a hole under the tire to get the required amount of clearance. It worked and his orange trowel saved the day.

Ken is a mountaineering guide with Redline Guiding in North Conway, NH and we’ve had many adventures together over the years. This latest bikepacking trip to Northern New Hampshire reminded us of how uncertain off-the-grid travel can be when the maps you have are out of date and lack important detail, you’re off the cell phone grid, and your car breaks down far from help.


  1. Those mini donut tires should always go on the rear of the car, not the front.

    Reminds me of the military humvees. The tool rack containing the jack, axe and shovel were folded underneath the rear of the vehicle. Wasn’t a very convenient place if you had a flat or was stuck in mud or snow.

  2. Great example of improvising, and self reliance. I guess I’m old. I remember when cars had a real Jack and a real tire as well. Guess the egg heads in the automotive industry do not think it is important.

  3. I’ll take the bait…

    Looks like that jacks was a piece of … crap.

  4. WTF, he could have just re-inflated the flat with his Sawyer Squeeze filter!

    • We tried that. Huge hole in the tire and tube. Looked like it’d been shot. Drove 40 miles to get the tire fixed. $35. Nuked the day, but we found a great place to get tires fixed in Colebrook, NH.

  5. Why didn’t he place a flat rock beneath the jack? That seems like it would be a lot quicker than digging a hole and would cause a whole lot less damage to the road. (Donut spares and scissors jacks replaced the real things to save weight, reduce volume and increase gas mileage.)

    • We did that too. Still not high enough. Part of the problem is also that the underside of this particular car is mostly plastic and there aren’t any good places to put a jack. We also restored the road to it’s former glory before we left.

  6. Reminds me of the time a friend used an ice axe to get his car out of a frozen parking space after a blizzard.

  7. This is just a reminder that the most important tool in the kit resides between your ears. Well done.

  8. Before you buy a hydraulic jack, make sure that it’s not too tall to fit under you car.

  9. The best tool to have in your kit. ” Ingenuity”. Well done.

  10. Many modern vehicles have specific lifting points where the jack must be placed. If the jack is not properly placed, damage to the vehicle or personal pain or death may result. The owner’s manual should have this info.

  11. I noticed you plan to get a four way iron for your car. While that will be an improvement over the standard small lug wrench found in most cars, I would suggest a breaker bar at least 24 inches long with a socket sized to your lug nuts.

  12. You could have placed a piece of wood or flat rock on the jack to extend it’s reach. That’s what I do at home, usually a board of some type. :)

  13. Great lesson. hitting the dirt one should make sure the jack has good place to work under for this car or any other similar plastic car.

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