Ballistol Oil

A few blissful years ago, I stood near Lake Bodensee, which borders Germany, Switzerland, and Austria, helping a meticulous German man called Olaf attach a folding bracket and stainless steel sand ladders to my Land Rover. He worked diligently and took pride in his work; the bracket and sand ladders had been designed and manufactured by Olaf, and he installed these with the finest hardware and components available. His company is called Entreq, for you Defender lovers. Yes, the German people have a reputation for hard work and excellence, and I am happy to report that the sand ladder table has withstood the rigors of intercontinental overland travel and will likely stay on the Defender for many years. But, this article is not about sand ladders, stainless steel, or German proficiency. It is about the wonder oil that every overlander should keep in their workshop and carry on the vehicle. Before we left his workshop, Olaf handed me a can of Ballistol Multi-purpose Oil. “You need this more than I do; it is the best.” I was grateful and stowed the green, red, and white can with the rest of my lubes under the Landy.

At first, I used the Ballistol oil as if it was merely a common lubricant, but I soon realised this was no ordinary oil as we travelled across West Africa. Seized nuts and bolts would miraculously come to life after a spray of the good stuff. My tools and treasured Gransfors Bruk axe (wooden shaft, leather sheath, and steel head) are treated with it. The list goes on: hinges coated, headlights cleaned, pumps lubed, the possibilities are endless. This wonder oil works on everything and is an indispensable tool for travel.

“At the turn of the 20th century, the Imperial German Army began looking for a multipurpose oil that could be used to clean and maintain the metallic parts of a rifle, while also protecting its wooden stock and a soldier’s leather gear…In 1904, Dr. Helmut Klever succeeded in producing the special compound, which he named “Ballistol” (from the words “ballistic” and “oleum,” the Latin word for “oil”). In 1905, the Imperial German Army tested and adopted Ballistol, which stayed in use until 1945. By then, however, word had spread, and within a decade, hunters, boaters, hikers, and outdoorsmen in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland had converted to using this new miracle oil.”

To add to the appeal, Ballistol is biodegradable, non-carcinogenic, and skin safe. There are apparently 1,001 uses for the oil, which is so pure that it can be used to disinfect wounds. Such a versatile product is simply indispensable for those who carry only the essentials, i.e., soldiers and adventurers.

What is the catch? Well, Ballistol is not necessarily cheap. But, it is not expensive when you consider the value of the product and its application. Not much more than a precious squirt is required for most jobs, but the oil is available in a one-gallon can ($80) for the professional size or a small, portable 6-ounce size ($9) with various container sizes between the two.

For travel, we use the 6-ounce spray can and would not leave home without it.

Graeme Bell was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. Together with his wife and two children he has spent much of his adult life chasing momentous experiences and campfire smoke across five continents. He has traveled overland to Kilimanjaro from Cape Town, circumnavigated South America, explored from Argentina to Alaska, Europe to Asia, and across the entirety of coastal Western Africa, all in a trusty Land Rover. Graeme and the family are now encouraging their self-built Defender live-in camper (and permanent home since 2012) to find a way from Cape Town to Vladivostok. Graeme is a member of The Explorers Club, the author of five excellent books, and an Overland Journal contributor since 2015.