Get in touch with your inner backpacker. Follow these tips and we’ll have you packing like a professional camper the first time around.
You know that saying, ‘all the gear, no idea’? It pretty much sums me up to a tee. Well, except for the fact I have been four-wheel driving for longer than I care to remember, so I’m not implying I am an off-road novice. The point here is my vehicle is becoming increasingly more setup for off-road travels, and while I have all the gear… I have no idea where to put it all! Over the weekend, I spent some time devising a plan of attack to fit all my touring paraphernalia in the old fourby, and it dawned on me that there is a real art to packing a four-wheel drive. Here are ten points that I feel will be real assets to anyone in the same situation.
Small camp chairs
We here at Unsealed 4X4 have been using compact camp chairs from companies such as Helinox and Front Runner recently, and with great success, too. The huge benefit of these camp chairs is they pack down into a bag the size of the pencil case you had in high school, yet they don’t take long to set up. They are also really comfortable, and they make for fantastic conversation pieces around the campfire.
This concept isn’t new in Australia it seems, but I guarantee you there will be more and more options appearing on the market. Helinox camp chairs start from $124 and they are worth the money. My Oztrail camp chair was purchased on sale for just $12.50 from my local supermarket. Yep, you read that right, $12.50! But it is heavier, and definitely not as comfortable. I wish I spent the extra money, basically.
Bent chassis are becoming a common sight in Outback workshops – don’t become another statistic. You might not have even thought about it, but the way you distribute weight through your vehicle is extremely important. If you place heavy items at the back of the vehicle for example, it is putting undue stress on the chassis and suspension components while turning your 4X4 into a seesaw on wheels.
The trick is to store heavy bits of gear as low as possible, assisting with keeping the centre of gravity down. You want these heavy loads to sit directly over the vehicle’s axle as much as possible, too. This spreads weight throughout the vehicle’s suspension and chassis, rather than dumping loads of pressure on isolated spots.
Do you really need five recovery kits in your travelling convoy? Or even five camp ovens? Nope, I didn’t think so. By being more organised in the planning stages of your trip, you can assemble what I have dubbed the ‘Who-Brings-What’ List. This frees up interior space, reduces the stress on your vehicle and best of all, it will save you money in fuel.
You see it time and time again while on trips… someone will ask to borrow a hammer, and two seconds later a handful of tools are presented from everyone at camp. Now, you still need to be prepared for any situation that can present itself – but a little communication between the vehicles on your trip before you leave just makes sense. This step will take some time to hone, but once your mates get into a groove it will become the way you camp for good.
Storage drawers are an amazing addition to any touring four-wheel drive. They allow for more gear to be stored safely, and give everything a home. Looking for the tomato sauce? It is in the left drawer at the front… you see where I am going here? I also use separate storage cases which are always packed and sitting in the shed ready to go at a moment’s notice, as well as a set of storage drawers in my own vehicle.
One box has all the cooking gear required and enough room for food. The second case houses all the required tools, spare parts and recovery gear I may need. This way I’m not carrying around unnecessary weight while commuting, but I can still be organised while at camp in a moment’s notice.
Too much food
I’m sure this is something we are all guilty of, and something that seems to happen on every trip I’ve been on. We bring too much food! For me, the allure of a roadside burger or pie is too hard to ignore – meaning the food in the fridge for lunch is now sitting around idle. But it isn’t just the amount of food we take; it is the way we carry it that causes issues, too.
Lately, I have been bringing away pre-made meals from Happy Camper as they are quick and easy to prepare without taking up much storage space. Vac-sealing meat is a smart idea for concise storage too – instead of bringing away the bulky packaging supermarkets insist on using. It all adds up, and if you put in the effort here it just might make it easier to say no to the roadside burgers.
If you have ever owned a Suzuki Sierra, you are probably also really good at packing (and playing Tetris). A tip I learned from my time bouncing around in a Zook is to only bring items that have two or three uses. Instead of packing a hammer, bring an axe that can be used as a hammer as well. Want to bring a hammock along? Sweet! Use it as a seat cover on the trip. Don’t just throw in your stubby holders; why not store your small jars of herbs and spices in them on the way?
Not only does this limit the amount of kit you pack, it also makes you think about the things you actually use while in the bush. Maybe that TV and hairdryer can stay at home… unless you are planning on opening a mobile off-road hair salon, that is. And I’m going to take a wild guess, and assume you aren’t.
Know your enemy – GVM
It is all well and good to say that if you want more space, then bring less stuff. The truth is, there is only so much weight a vehicle can carry before it is deemed to be unroadworthy. This is known as the vehicle’s Gross Vehicle Mass, and if you are a regular reader of Unsealed 4X4 you would have heard about this topic already. The point is, while it might be great to bring away everything including the kitchen sink, there is a limit to the amount you can carry.
This figure will be printed on your rego papers and stamped on the vehicle’s compliance plate. A trip to your local weighbridge fully loaded will let you know if you are safe. Considering how little room modern manufacturers allow for these days though, I guarantee you will be surprised at how quickly this number is reached. This is especially true if your 4X4 has been modified with barwork and other weighty accessories.
Leave those books at home, and I’m not just saying that as a dodgy tactic to keep you reading Unsealed 4X4 (cheers for reading, though). The reality is more and more publications are going digital. What this means is you don’t have to drag along a sack full of books on your next trip, if you have an iPad or similar tablet device. This saves loads of space while also reducing weight.
Download the books you wish to read before you leave, and swipe through them at your leisure. You also have the advantage of being able to store music and take images with the same device; and even run your navigation software while on the road. Remember that point we made about bringing one item that performs multiple tasks? A good tablet is the perfect example.
Access all areas
There are nooks and crannies all over your vehicle, which are just begging to be utilised. Think about the amount of space under just one of your front seats, and you will notice it is the perfect spot for a fire extinguisher. The rear panels in a wagon are another example of wasted space, which could be used to house recovery gear or even a small water tank.
One place I feel is completely wasted is the inside roof area. A trick I have seen before is to use a mesh cargo net to hold any light yet bulky items such as clothes and sleeping bags. The cargo net can be tied up to the roof grab handles, allowing for more interior space while keeping those necessities high and dry.
Seat and dash organisers
An excellent way to make the most of unused space is with a few ‘organisers’. As we all know, the little things tend to add up rather quickly – so by grabbing a few seat or dash organisers, you can de-clutter your interior simply and easily. Dash organisers are perfect for sunglasses and other items you need to keep close by. Seat organisers are perfect for your kids’ toys, or other small items like sunscreen, torches, umbrellas or cutlery… just to name a few.
For the minimal outlay, they really are an excellent addition to any touring vehicle. They don’t weigh very much at all, and they will enhance your camping experience. Imagine searching for that torch you always lose, and actually finding it where it should be? Off-road Nirvana right there, folks.