What is an expedition vehicle??????? Well, it can be whatever you want it to be, it may be a fully modified and equipped vehicle or a basic off roader with a few add on’s; it really depends upon what you want it to be.
Generally, an expedition vehicle is classified as a vehicle which is self sufficient, and capable of sustaining you living in it for a period of time, here is the disparity; some may require occasional weekend living, some may require a vehicle capable of living in for months.
Based upon this generalisation we could conclude that a vehicle with a towbar fitted and a caravan is an expedition vehicle, as is the same vehicle with camping gear thrown into the back, well yes, both are expedition vehicles which suit a purpose.
Being a 4X4, and a competent one means it is so much more than this, and will take you to places in which your average caravette or camper vehicle cannot travel, and this advantage can be exploited to take you to considerably more exciting places.
This section will cover many of the popular modifications for 4X4 vehicles, and the popular modifications which transform them, many of the modifications will have already been covered in detail in other chapters. Points already covered will be highlighted and references made to refer back through them for more in depth information. This section will also cover the most basic modifications, through to the more extensive and expensive modifications which will cover most peoples practical usage of such vehicles, so it is a case of choosing what you want or need from an expedition vehicle.
Begin as always with a plan, consider this carefully and decide which modifications suit your purpose, and as always what you can afford, what are essential modifications and what are luxuries you may desire fitting. Plan the work carefully, especially if you are to do the work in stages as time and finances permit, and consider any time the vehicle may require off road to undertake such modifications.
Many of the modifications may follow more than one route, we will look at the benefits and detrimental aspects of the differing routes to provide the practical information required to make informed decisions and not expensive mistakes.
ALWAYS REMEMBER THAT THE COST OF CONVERTING A VEHICLE FOR EXPEDITION USE WILL USUALLY COST FAR MORE THEN A VEHICLE IS ACTUALLY WORTH.
Suspension Modifications are something which requires very careful consideration, the plan needs to account for the additional weight which will be added to a vehicle, and this may be combined to other suspension modifications, such as a suspension lift. As a basic requirement I always advocate the replacement of the shock absorbers to one of the numerous gas shock absorbers, these operate much better off road than standard oil filled units, and with additional weight become a necessity.
If a suspension lift is to be undertaken I would recommend fitting a lift kit, these are proven, and people can check the considerable feedback online, the better kits will always receive good reviews in a variety of operating conditions. Kits are more beneficial as they include the longer shock absorbers which account for the additional lift height and the mounting rubbers and bushes which will undoubtedly be polyurethane, and these are covered in an earlier chapter. While on the subject of bushes, always use the uprated polyurethane bushes and replace the entire vehicles suspension bushes with polyurethane as they will stiffen and control the vehicles movement much better than rubber bushes.
Split Charging Systems are another necessity and are covered in detail in another chapter, always fit a good digital split charging system with an uprated alternator if necessary, and the largest auxiliary battery/s you can afford. If possible fit two large auxiliary batteries as this gives the scope to run multiple electrical loads such as fridges/freezers where extended trips are undertaken, fit one under the bonnet, and another in the rear of the vehicle with their own wiring circuits. Ensure batteries are fitted securely, and when fitting inside the vehicle, ensure it is fitted inside a substantial sealed plastic battery box with ventilation to the vehicles exterior, charging and discharging batteries emits explosive gases. These are not something wanted inside a vehicle, especially if the occupants are smokers, or cooking is undertaken inside the vehicle, with their naked flames.
Having a third battery in its own substantial box has other advantages, if it has a plug in socket in the vehicle it can be charged while driving, then detached from the vehicle for camp lighting inside a tent, useful if you have gas lighting and are low on gas. This gives more flexibility for those on longer expeditions, and gives two sources of lighting power, while retaining the vehicles original battery, plus one of its auxiliary batteries, and allows fridges to be removed from the vehicle and run in a tent. Recharging is as simple as returning the battery to the vehicle and plugging it in.
Roof Racks are essential for expedition vehicles, the only type to go for is the full length rack as this increases the vehicles storage capacity; consideration must be given to the weight designed to be carried on the roof. Most aftermarket fitments will suffice, but my preferred type is the “Outback” roof rack, this comes as individual pieces or sections, and fully adjustable brackets. These are made from extruded aluminium sections and all their brackets are the slider types, being fully adjustable on all planes, means they are suitable for stepped roofs as the brackets are height adjustable. These racks components are individual, so the basic frame can be mounted, and the slats can be purchased individually, meaning it can be a solid rack or have gaps as wide as you like between the slats, these are also flat on the top which is essential for certain items. As everything simply slides together you can align them and lock them with the tool provided, many accessories are available such as rails, and these may be just a front and rear rail section to retain items or the side pieces may be purchased separately. These may be expensive, but this additional cost is justified as they may be easily transferred between differing vehicles with just the purchase of the appropriate mounting brackets. Being extruded aluminium means light weight and many years of hard use, this considerable life offsets the initial expense, and any damaged sections may be individually purchased and replaced, saving the cost of a new roof rack.
Having a flat surface means they are suitable for roof tents, unlike the tubular items, and being able to purchase more slats to close the gaps means they are more comfortable, many sleep on them as is, with just a sleeping bag in summer.
Roof Tents V Ordinary Tents ?????
Roof tents mount on a vehicles roof rack, they simply fold out and provide basic accommodation for two people, they are suitable for flat topped roof racks, but not the often tubular manufacturer supplied items. Roof mounted tents simply fold out and they are accessed from the side of the vehicle from a fold out ladder, they lack any height, and you can only sit up in them, and may be difficult to access, particularly if the alcohol has been flowing. These lack any kind of storage and the occupants must be good friends, but offer a quickly erected sleeping quarters as basic accommodation.
Roof tents limited height means you cannot cook in them, and they take up all the room on a roof rack, they often sway alarmingly in windy conditions, and being so high up on a vehicle, and are best used as basic accommodation for a couple of nights.
Ordinary tents have evolved, the newer tents fold up very small and come with their own storage bags, they are lightweight, much less than a roof tent, and take up very little room inside a vehicle, leaving the roof rack free for storage of other items. Many types and styles of tents are on the market at very reasonable prices, much less than the cost of a decent roof tent, and can accommodate many people, they are large enough to stand up in, and you can cook in them.
Many people assume it takes a long time to erect them, well, no is the real answer as their composite poles simply slide in and even the 6 or 8 berth tents can be erected in less than 5 minutes by an amateur. They do not sway like a roof tent, and can be left erected while you are away off roading, being so much larger means all your camping kit can be stored inside them, reducing your vehicles weight, and having many additions such as porches, are much more flexible. Many have separate sleeping areas or clip in individual bedrooms, these are beneficial if more than two people travel, and children or friends can have a little privacy to change as well as sleep, most also have integral groundsheets, something less to worry about.
My view is that for weekend expeditions with two people, roof tents provide a basic sleeping area, but for longer expeditions the ordinary tent offers so much more for less money, and the erection times are so similar. It is up to the individual to decide what works for them, and what they want or need, and purchase accordingly.
One other form of tent makes an appearance, although of limited applications, it is somewhere between the ordinary and roof tents, these are the awning tents, these connect to the rear of the vehicle, much like an awning on a caravan. These are smaller than some ordinary tents, but larger than a roof tent, they allow the rear of the vehicle to be used as storage space, or for cooking, and may be beneficial to a proportion of travellers, so worth considering.
One other option when a roof tent is used is an awning, this provides cover from the rain or the sun when you are forced to cook and live outside, these come as an integral unit and fit onto the roof or roof rack, and only need two poles and guy ropes. Most are high enough to stand under and provide a seating area to eat or just relax, and these just pull out from their holder, and roll back into their holder once you are finished with them.
Water Tanks and storage come in a range of differing sizes and shapes, there are rigid portable storage containers, fold up portable containers, and even vehicle mounted water storage tanks in a variety of materials and sizes. Water is a necessity, and it should always be carried on expeditions, the minimum requirement for water is 2 litres per person, per day; this gives an idea of what size storage container to aim for, but remember this is a minimum. If we are camping we will want cups of tea or coffee, we will be cooking, and we will be washing and washing up; this increases our requirement for water, so we need to carefully consider the quantities we will need and store according to these requirements.
Realistically we should aim for 1 gallon / 4.5 litres of water per person, per day; this is more realistic when we may not be camping on a camp site with its own water tap, and we cannot simply run to the tap and fill our containers as we need it.
Basic foldable water carriers are nothing more than heavy duty plastic bags fitted with a large screw filler hole and a tap, these fold flat when not in use, and are easily stored when empty, they are lightweight and cheap and I always advocate carrying one of these. Foldable carriers come in varying sizes, aim for a mid range size which is easily carried when it is full of water, they are great for filling larger water tanks and useful for keeping water from other tanks for normal activities such as cooking or washing up. These containers can be flimsy, so always look for the better brands as these are only pennies more expensive than the cheaper brands.
Rigid containers are manufactured from rigid plastic, these come in a variety of different sizes, and are more durable then the foldable types, they do take up more space then the foldable types, even when empty. Where space is an issue I would advocate more than one of the foldable types so you have at least one spare if one becomes punctured, rigid types are considerably more expensive than the foldable types.
Rigid containers usually come with a combined filler neck and tap, if it is stood upright in a vehicle to prevent leaks it means they have to be laid on their sides to be used.
Solid fixed tanks are the preserve of the more adventurous, these come in a range of rigid plastics and stainless steels, and these are normally fixed to the underside of the vehicle with a filler neck on the side of the vehicle. Fixed tanks hold considerably more water than the portable tanks, and being fixed low down on the vehicle means they are reducing the centre of gravity of the vehicle, beneficial for those using their vehicle for more adventurous expeditions, or longer duration trips.
Bespoke stainless steel tanks are more expensive than plastic, and are made to fit a specific location on a vehicle, they are more durable and correspondingly more expensive to purchase initially. Plastic tanks come in a range of standard sizes, so if one is fitted it needs to be of the correct size to fit between the chassis rails.
When these under floor tanks are fitted they must be used with underbody protection on off road vehicles, puncturing one will ensure you lose all your water, and the remaining water will become contaminated by the dirt and debris of off roading. Under floor tanks come with a variety of accessories, these are usually electric water pumps to supply a tap, or a simple electric level gauge, this allows us to pump into smaller containers for cooking or washing up. Working with significantly larger quantities of water means only periodical fill up’s are required for long trips.
Fixed tanks offer another advantage, if a caravan type filler is installed you can use one of the electric pumps to fill from an ordinary storage container, the pump is dropped into the container, the filler pipe connected, and the wire plugged in. This saves considerable effort in filling a large tank, and allows you to pick up water as it is used, without moving your vehicle to the tap and connecting a filler hose.
One useful water tank is coming to the market, and is popular in a number of other countries, this is the reinforced internal floor mounted tank; this is a one piece plastic moulded tank with its own flush mountings which are installed to the vehicle. These are supplied with a 12 or 24 volt electric pump, visible contents indicator, outlet pipe and tap. These are reinforced so will fit flush to the floor and allow up to 400Kg to be stood on top of them if it is evenly distributed, they can be easily removed and stored at home, and fitted just for an expedition, they come in a range of sizes and prices.
Replacement Steel Bumpers are a useful asset, particularly for more adventurous travellers as they can be used to house heavier equipment lower on the vehicle as well as providing a useful step for roof rack equipped vehicles. Having a steel replacement bumper means hinged spare wheel carriers may be mounted which may hold the necessary two spare wheels, they may be modified with chequer of 5 bar tread plate to act as non slip treads, or house removable access ladders to gain access to the roof rack.
In addition to these useful features they may come with winch mounting plates installed, or a range of brackets to allow the fitting or carrying of Jerry cans for additional fuel or water, they are a useful fitment front and rear.
Long range Fuel Tanks are beneficial for longer off road trips as they provide a considerable range between fill up’s, or useful when there are limited fuel supplies available, particularly in third world countries.
Long range tanks may be a larger replacement for the original fuel tank, or be two or more tanks interconnected with a feed pipe and a breather, stainless tanks are best, but extremely expensive when compared to plastic or mild steel tanks. Designing your vehicle needs particular attention when considering long range tanks, will it fit? What about other under floor fitments such as water tanks, and do I really need a long range tank when I can purchase Jerry cans much more cheaply, and carry these instead.
Cooking Facilities come in a variety of types and sizes as well as being powered by a variety of fuels, the most popular is gas, and these come in a variety of types and styles as well as a variety of gases or gas mixtures. Many newer cooking facilities come as complete camp kitchens, these are usually a twin burner hob with a grill underneath, and these are the best types for beginners as they are one compact unit which are fairly portable. These combined units are flexible as they can be permanently installed and used in the back of a vehicle for trips, or removed and placed on a table in an ordinary tent, having a grill is a bonus for many people. Many of these units now come with legs and under shelving which is easily slotted together to form a cooker at a reasonable working height, and with some storage for food or pots and pans, aluminium is the best stand material as hot pans can be stood on them.
Single burner units are available for gas, some fit piercable gas cartridges in a variety of sizes, others screw or lock onto bottles with a click-lock system, or a screw thread, most single burners fit onto the smaller gas bottles, cookers need the larger bottles. More recently we have seen the introduction of even smaller and compact disposable gas containers, these are aimed at the hikers and useless for expedition vehicle travel due to their limited cooking times.
Gas cookers became popular due to the ease of supplies of portable gas containers within European countries, and the fact they are easily assembled and disassembled by anyone of any ability, they are safe if handled correctly, and cook reasonably well. Gas units are the cheapest due to their popularity and vast quantities manufactured throughout the world, and the relative durability in surviving hostile winters and baking summers, and the careful design and mass production of durable storage cylinders.
Gas cylinder descriptions will be based upon the most synonymous name in portable gas supplies, this is Camping Gaz, their blue cylinders are known, or recognised by most people, and are easily available; most appliance manufacturers manufacture to fit these bottles.
Piercable cylinders fit a variety of equipment, this ranges from single burner cookers, heaters, lights, and many more items; a specific sized container is clipped to an item of equipment where it pierces the top, once fitted it cannot be removed until empty. These cylinders are being phased out due to modern replacements becoming available, but will still be available in a limited number of sizes for many years to come due to abundance of equipment which survives, and uses these containers.
Click – Lock cylinders are a modern derivative of the early piercable cylinders, which were popular for decades, instead of piercing the top of a cylinder an item of equipment pushes into a special top and twists to lock it fully. These have the ability to be removed from an appliance as they are self sealing, and may used between several appliances if another appliance runs its cylinder empty.
Recent times have seen the popularity of very narrow, but tall cylinders become popular, these are the type fitted to gas powered blow torches as used by plumbers, these now have become dedicated to a range of small lightweight equipment. These have gained popularity due to the upsurge, thus demand, from those hiking and camping, and more cyclists becoming touring campers, these cylinders usually fit inside a piece of equipment, so are dedicated screw in cylinders. These are of no use to expedition vehicles, so should also be ignored.
Click – Lock, dedicated screw on, and piercable containers are disposable containers, and cannot be reused or refilled when empty.
Refillable cylinders are the ones we are interested in, they carry much more gas and are the ones popular with caravanners and motorhomes, and they give a considerable life when compared to disposable cylinders, and are much cheaper in the long term.
Start up costs are much higher; you have to purchase a cylinder or pay a deposit, once this is paid you simply exchange an empty cylinder for a full one and pay for the gas, this works out much cheaper than disposables in the long term. In addition to paying a deposit you will have to purchase a regulator, these are standard screw in types, and a length of hose to connect the appliance from the regulator which is screwed into the gas bottle.
Many appliances screw straight into the top of these bottles, many single burner cookers now fit them, these are beneficial as their considerably increased size and weight makes them more stable for such applications where heavy pans are placed onto them. Always pay for a minimum of two bottles, but buy three regulators and three lengths of pipe, measure the pipe lengths carefully so you have enough pipe to stand your bottle on the floor, and have a little slack when it is connected to your cooker/appliance. Having your bottle on the floor means stability, and leaves any under cooker shelves free for hot pots and pans to stand on.
Camping Gaz do three refillable bottle sizes, these are:
R 901 400 Grammes of butane gas
R904 1.8Kg of butane gas
R907 2.75Kg of butane gas
The most popular size is the R 907 as it holds the most amounts of gas and this works out the cheapest Camping Gaz bottle size to buy and exchange.
Gases come in many types and mixtures, butane is the most popular, but is the coolest gas when cooking, it comes in the blue bottles and many suppliers now supply alternative bottles which are cheaper than Camping Gaz.
Butane / Propane mixes are hotter than butane and are becoming popular mixtures in the disposable cylinders as they reduce cooking times so are more efficient and last longer and are also supplied by many suppliers.
Propane is the hottest gas, this comes in the red/orange bottles and is mainly used by caravanners and motorhome enthusiasts, these bottles come in much larger sizes as these vehicles have a permanent mounting facility to securely house them. Being much hotter means reduced cooking times, thus less gas is used.
Choosing a gas and equipment type is essential, butane and butane / propane mixes will work on butane equipment, which is the majority, but will not work with propane as the burners and nozzles are different, so making this choice is important as it influences all your gas powered equipment.
Propane is much widely used in industrial applications, so to give a comparison I have compared propane and butane prices from a local retailer, these are for Camping Gaz and Calor, and from the same supplier to ensure an accurate price comparison.
Camping Gaz butane
R 907 – 2.75Kg refill £25.99
7Kg refill £18.99
15Kg refill £26.99
3.9Kg refill £13.99
13Kg refill £22.99
We can now see the price differences between different gas manufacturers, and why this would influence our type of equipment and its associated running costs, and why it is important to obtain the correct equipment for our requirements.
Some butane powered equipment from differing manufacturers may run on both types of gas, butane or propane, as conversion kits are available; these are usually the burner assemblies which can be purchased as accessories, or your gas type specified at the time of purchase. If you are an infrequent user it may be prudent to stick to the Camping Gaz bottles, but if you are a reasonably regular user it would pay to switch to Calor butane in the larger and cheaper bottles, or if you are out every weekend and holiday a switch to propane would be beneficial. These prices also explain why many caravanners and motorhome users are switching to the 13Kg propane as these are the largest units which can be accommodated in most gas lockers in these vehicles.
One other form of cooking equipment exists, this is the petrol powered cooking equipment, this is much more expensive to purchase initially, but the cooking heat is much higher than even the propane powered equipment for reduced cooking times. Petrol powered equipment runs off unleaded petrol or a special manufacturer supplied variant, unless a grill is a necessity this is much more superior and many long term campers now switch to this equipment due to its long term cost savings. Unleaded petrol is available throughout the world, and being so much hotter and economical means they are the cheapest to run by a considerable margin. The high initial cost takes longer to offset when compared to gas cookers, but the durability and long life of petrol equipment means it is beneficial for those out regularly, and decide to continue with expeditions and camping for many years.
Equipment costs for petrol items are around 5 times that of gas, this is because of the precision engineering and considerably higher quality of petrol powered equipment, and the fact much fewer units are made when compared to gas items. Petrol powered ranges of equipment are considerably smaller than gas, it is mainly confined to a range of cookers and mantle type lighting, but some accessories are available to allow more versatility.
Taking my oldest petrol powered two burner stove, it was purchased in 1949 by my grandfather, it is 61 years old this year, my youngest is 42 years old this year, they are still in production and spares are readily available. In 61 years it has only had its petrol pump seals changed twice, my youngest has had them changes once, this is at 30 year intervals, and they only require the burners cleaning at the end of every season, so we see the durability and reliability. The cleaning kit is supplied with them also, so no extra expense, this is why they are so initially expensive, gas cookers have a life of 5-10 years so you do the maths.
Based on today’s prices, and that includes petrol at £5 per gallon for unleaded we will make a cost comparison, a Camping Gaz bottle R 907 lasted for a week and a half, cooking three times a day for four people. Petrol cooking used 1 pint of unleaded a week, so 1.5 pints. We will base our figures for one and a half weeks consumption which is the same duration as a Camping Gaz bottle.
Camping Gaz = £25.99
Calor Butane 7Kg = £7.46
Calor Butane 15Kg = £4.95
Calor Propane 3.9Kg = £9.86
Calor Propane 13Kg = £4.86
Unleaded Petrol £0.95p
Here we see the differences between the different sized bottles, gas types, and petrol; this explains why more people are switching to the petrol units when they have tried and liked camping, and intend carrying on with it for many years to come.
Much newer cooking equipment is new to the market in an attempt to lure buyers away from the traditional manufacturers, the latest piece is the three burner hob, and these are essentially longer two burner hobs with an additional central burner. In practise these are found lacking as when two normal pans are on the outer rings, the amount of space over the central burner is inadequate to fit a third cooking pan, even the smallest of them, so beware when buying.
Camp Lighting is something which needs considering as this comes in a range of types and styles, and can be powered by a variety of fuels, it may be prudent to assume that more than one type of light is required, so we will look at each type.
Battery powered lighting is the most popular, these come with disposable batteries or as rechargeable units with a charger, for our applications we will dismiss the ordinary disposable types as these have limited applications other than for emergencies.
Rechargeable lighting is the most popular, and for good reason, it can be used during the darkness and recharged from the vehicle or an auxiliary battery during the day.
Bulb or incandescent lighting has been around for years, many types of bulb lighting is available, these range from low to very high powered torches, through to a camping lantern fitted with one bulb and a diffused reflector. Bulb lighting is losing favour, but still popular as torches as these have been superceded by portable fluorescent lighting and LED lighting due to their superior bulb lives and much lower power consumption, and considerably superior running times. Many torches, particularly the higher powered varieties have as little as 1 hour running times, better units rarely run past 3 hours before requiring recharging due to the power consumption of bulbs.
When buying a torch it is advisable to forget the ordinary tungsten bulbs, aim for a krypton or halogen bulb as these provide considerably better light.
Fluorescent lighting is a much better proposition, it has a considerably longer running time over ordinary incandescent lighting, and many will run for a minimum of 6 hours, many will run for far longer. Many fluorescent camping lights will contain two tubes, this means they can have one tube switched off for longer running times, and many contain an integral incandescent torch, which is useful.
Fluorescent lighting does not have a long range like a torch, but emits its light over a much shorter, but much wider area; this is beneficial where this type of lighting is used inside a tent, or generally within a camp area.
LED lighting is the new kid on the block, it uses far less power than incandescent or fluorescent lighting, and its bonus is the reliability of the LED’s, which, unlike bulbs and fluorescent tubes, do not wear out or blow. Most LED lighting has a guarantee of 100,000 hours as a minimum for its LED’s, so most will fall to pieces before the LED’s fail.
LED’s are improving at an alarming rate, this means more reliability and higher light outputs as well as the considerably low power consumption, many will happily last for 20 hours on one charge, some will last as long as 40-60 hours on a charge. LED technology advancements means prices are dropping, so these will become the future, they do have a limited range like fluorescent lighting, but care needs to be taken with their selection.
Many manufacturers are offering third, fourth, or even older LED’s in their lights, this makes it imperative to try before you buy, these older LED’s are nowhere as good as the newer varieties, so avoid the cheaper units with these old LED’s. LED lighting comes as omni-directional or directional lighting, torches, and even lanterns; they are replacing bulbs and fluorescent tubes so style and choice is not an issue.
When buying rechargeable lighting we have a few considerations, these are; does it come with a mains voltage charger and vehicle charger, does it have its own charging base or is it a plug in charging lead, and what are the charging times.
Most units come with a mains charger but a 12 volt charging lead is essential, it is useless for an expedition vehicle if we have to stop for several hours at a mains supply to charge our rechargeable lighting.
If it has a charging base it becomes less useful and practical in an expedition vehicle, these need to be mounted and secure enough to hold the light when we are travelling over rough terrain, plug in leads are much better and more flexible.
Charging times are crucial, many older rechargeable items took many hours to charge, 14-16 hours was not uncommon, newer items use digital charging based on the peak delta system which measures feedback. These systems are considerably better as they recharge items in anything from 1-4 hours normally, and maintain the optimum charging current for our items; most are switch mode, this means they switch from charge to maintenance charges.
Detachable auxiliary batteries offer more scope for fixed lighting such as inside a tent, most systems will run off the battery and they will run considerably longer than rechargeable items. Lighting run from a 12 volt battery allows several lights to be connected to this portable power source, this is beneficial if a tent is pitched for several days, and it also allows other 12 volt powered items such as fans or kettles to be run, without gas or petrol.
Gas powered lighting is the most popular where lighting is usually in a fixed location such as inside tents, or outside if cooking and dining is undertaken there, they are light and fairly compact units. Gas lighting emits a better light then most battery powered lights, and only the best fluorescent units can match a basic gas lantern.
Most of the popular gas lanterns emit around 80 watts of light, this is a mantle driven lantern which produces the light, twin mantle lanterns emit up to 150 watts of light and use twice as much gas, reducing operating times by half. Gas lighting is popular for this reason, and many are used with disposable containers to keep them compact. Gas lanterns are adjustable, turn them down and their light is reduced, but their working life is increased, so are fine where a night light is required because children may get up in the night.
Some gas lanterns come in stands for standing outside, these are poles which stick into the ground, I find these dangerous as they are easily toppled over by wind or children, and some come on short stands for tabletop use.
Petrol powered lighting is the ultimate in lighting, the most basic produce well over 100 watts of power, their types and styles are much less than gas lanterns, but this increased light output makes then suitable for large tents. Many recent or modern petrol powered lanterns emit well over 200 watts of lighting power, and being adjustable mantle lanterns means they can be turned down to reduce their light output and increase their working life on one fill.
Petrol lanterns are the most expensive to purchase, but offer considerably lower running costs, one advantage is the heat they emit, this can keep a small or medium tent warm in cooler climates, and this is why many who camp in winter use them.
Gas and petrol powered lighting gets hot, this must be considered where children are travelling, and being mantle powered, must be allowed to cool before transportation and transported upright in a vehicle as the mantle may become detached. Gas and petrol powered lanterns have the ability to be hung inside a tent, or stood on a solid and level surface such as a table; if correctly hung by their handles or stood on a table this heat is not a problem
Accessories are always needed and are an essential for some expedition vehicles, and a bonus in others.
Cool boxes have been around for a while and are a useful addition to any expedition vehicle, the basic boxes are heavily insulated plastic boxes fitted with insulated lids, these are handy where perishable food is carried, or milk is stored. Cool boxes operate by having frozen ice blocks placed in them, these are gel filled plastic tubs, most will operate for 8-12 hours with a single block, then the blocks need freezing again to maintain their cooling ability.
Electrical powered cool boxes are becoming popular and are more of a vanity item, particularly in the Unites States, but may be of use to expedition vehicles under certain circumstances, and these may be for short trips, or the odd day trip. Electrically powered units tend to operate by reducing the inside temperature to between 5-20 degrees below ambient air temperature, this limits their use if the ambient air temperature is excessive. If you travel in hot foreign climes and the temperature is 40 degrees, the best will only reduce the inside temperature to 20 degrees, this is useless if you store such items as milk, it will not keep for long. These units work be deceit, the contents of the box are cooler than the outside temperature so feel much cooler, particularly if cans of drink are stored.
Electrical freezers are much more useful, they can carry frozen food for long periods and be used in conjunction with the much cheaper standard cool boxes, and if several blocks are carried they can be frozen in the freezer and rotated to the cool box. Electric freezers do have negatives, these are the capacity and shape of some makes, and they never draw the current they claim to, they never give an accurate reading of temperature inside the freezer box itself, and yes I have tested these myself and found it to be true.
Power consumption is a major issue with 12 volt powered freezers as the manufacturer’s claims are somewhat wanting, particularly as many claim “average power consumption” figures only. We need to know what current they draw so we know how long they will run without flattening our auxiliary battery so we do not lose the contents, and the only way to do this is to measure them under varying conditions. Many freezers have more than one mode, this may be quick freeze where unfrozen produce is frozen in the freezer, and normal mode which keeps it frozen, the basic rule is never use quick freeze unless the engine is running and supplying power. In normal mode we need to connect an ammeter to ascertain just how much power is being consumed in this mode, many manufacturers power consumption claims can easily be doubled in reality.
Temperature readings are not taken inside the freezer storage compartment, they are taken at the temperature element, and this means the reading on the display is much lower than the actual freezing temperature inside the freezer storage compartment. There is only one way to accurately find out the real freezer compartment temperature and this is with a multimeter fitted with a temperature probe, this is inserted into the freezer compartment and the temperature measured under a variety of conditions. This gives a direct comparison of the disparity, and allows you to allow for the disparity in the temperature reading and the actual working temperature.
Fridge Freezers are not something of benefit for an expedition vehicle, these contain two compartments, one is the freezer and the other the fridge, and I have found the fridge side to be too small for most applications and the freezer side almost useless. My advice would be to opt for a freezer and a conventional cooler box with at least four cooling gel blocks, two can be used in the cooler box to extend its working time while the other two can be freezing in the freezer. These can be changed around every 12 hours to maintain the cool temperature inside the cool box, and this saves money as cool boxes with additional gel blocks are much cheaper than the cost of an electric cooler.
Many gas appliances and accessories are available, some are gimmicks while others may be of limited use for expedition vehicles, it is up to the individual to decide which are necessary and can be carried if space and weight permits.
Single gas burners may be useful as a spare, and handy if the two burner cooker is inadequate in certain circumstances, these come in a variety of types and styles and can be fitted to any type of gas bottle.
Gas heaters may be useful to those travelling in cold climates or British winters, they have a relatively low heat output and I consider most portable units to be little more than frost heaters, in cold weather they merely prevent freezing. Petrol lanterns offer as much, if not more heat than many of the portable heaters, and many portable gas heaters cannot be used inside a tent.
Gas barbeques are another gimmick for an expedition vehicle, why go to the trouble and expense of buying one and using more gas when disposable units are much better, cheaper, and only require a match to light them. Many cooker manufacturers offer a barbeque griddle as an optional accessory for their cookers at much less cost.
Low fat griddles are becoming available, these are basically griddles with a closing top and a series of grooves on a slope, these cook the food and allow the fat to drain away, so can also be considered a gimmick for an expedition vehicle.
Fire extinguishers are a necessity, particularly for an expedition vehicle carrying gas or petrol appliances, always fit two to a vehicle, one of which is in easy reach of the driver, and the other in the rear which is detachable. Being detachable means it can be placed inside a tent or within easy reach of the cooking area. Always go for dry powder extinguishers as they are designed for petrol and gas equipment, and put out many other classes of fire such as tents or vehicle fires should you be unfortunate to be in such a position.
First aid kits should always be carried, never use a basic kit, always go for something more advanced as they contain much more variety of useful first aid equipment, always add useful items such as burn sprays, or various creams such as Savlon. Tailor a kit to your requirements, this does need careful consideration.
Battery powered items may all not be rechargeable, so switching to a standard sized rechargeable battery size is beneficial, the most popular size is AA and these can be fitted to digital cameras, non rechargeable two way radios, radios and torches. Always buy equipment to suit your standard sized batteries and one of the superb top range of chargers which will work off mains and 12 volts so it can be used at home or in your vehicle.
Battery charging technology is moving at an alarming rate, always purchase a battery charger which charges individual batteries or multiple batteries individually; most only charge batteries as pairs, and ensure it is a one hour charger with a visual display of completion of charging. These chargers monitor and charge each individual battery rather than as a pair, and switch to maintenance charge when one cell is charged and charge each cell to its optimum. Most of these chargers charge up to four batteries at once as four individual batteries rather than two pairs of two batteries.
Many AA chargers will also house AAA cells, this is beneficial in allowing some smaller AAA battery powered equipment to be carried and their batteries charged. AA cells are extremely powerful as most operate within the 2000-2800 milliamps (2-2.8 amps) output range and both chargers and multi packs of rechargeable batteries are available from electronics suppliers at reasonable prices.
Vehicle security is another important consideration where expeditions are undertaken, if quantities of money are carried it is prudent to fit a safe, and upgrading the vehicles somewhat basic alarm system is advised where considerable equipment is carried. Many other solutions are possible to secure a vehicle, particularly as criminals soon figure out alarm systems and how to beat them, so a bespoke or unique system is a good idea for those travelling in problem areas.
Alarms fitted to older vehicles are way out of date and offer little protection when compared to a newer system, newer systems also combat the high power consumption of the older alarm systems.
Vehicle safes are a good idea, but not installed in a visible place, the best systems are installed under the floor with a removable panel, the panel can also be locked for additional security. This requires some fabrication but is well within the scope of most enthusiasts.
Additional deadlocks are useful, their deterrent effect is usually enough to deter the opportunist and will prevent the doors from being opened.
Window films are a good additional security measure when deadlocks are fitted, they do not prevent glass being smashed, but prevent it being smashed through and items stolen.
In line fuel isolation switches are a good idea, these are either electrically or manually operated, opt for the manually operated type as these are a simple valve and considerably more reliable. These can be fitted anywhere into the fuel feed, not the fuel return on fuel injected or diesel models, and are operated with a key; most people modify the floor and reroute the fuel lines so they can be operated from inside the vehicle. Normally they drill a hole and paint it, then just insert a rubber grommet, this just pulls out and the operating key is inserted through this hole.
Isolator switches are also used by some people, the ignition is routed through an ordinary electrical switch which is turned off, many crooks are wise to this method, and simply hot wire directly to the fuel injection pump, making these useless. If an ignition cut off switch is used it is better disguised as an original switch, find a vehicle with an option which is not fitted to your vehicle and obtain one or more of the switches. Install these in your vehicle so they look original, simply wire through one of these switches, and remember which switch you have to turn on though.
If you like a cup of tea or coffee during the day it is wise to carry a flask and a 12 volt kettle, when you cook breakfast and boil the kettle, add enough water to fill the flask, when you stop you fill the 12 volt kettle from the flask and boil. This saves the kettle and reduces its boiling time from 15-30 minutes to a couple of minutes.
Vehicle Storage requires careful consideration in an expedition vehicle as it is dependent upon how much kit you carry, how many passengers you carry, and the weight of the kit. Storage solutions need to follow a few basic rules which are not hard and fast, and are as varied as the positions depicted in the Karma Sutra, but it is important to work to a logical order.
Stack heavy items as low as possible to maintain the lowest possible centre of gravity, this is vital when travelling off road in an expedition vehicle due to the variety of operating angles you may encounter, and lighter items higher.
Keep any vital equipment inside the vehicle, tents may become damaged if they are stored on the roof rack if you are driving through heavily wooded areas or areas with considerable amounts of low or sharp vegetation. Metal jerry cans will just get scratched, or in the worst case scenario your roof will get a covering in diesel if the can becomes punctured.
Ensure equipment you require is stored in logical order, when you arrive at camp the first thing you will require is your tent unless you need your shovel to clear and level ground, so tent in last and out first.
Clothing may not be regularly needed so this may be stored in the least accessible position, so in first as it will be the last thing out.
Food may not be the first thing out, but if you stop to cook dinner it will need to be accessible fairly easily without disturbing everything else.
Begin with anything heavy which needs to be secured to the vehicle, the most obvious is the freezer if one is carried, locate this at the rear of the vehicle and bolt it or its mounting brackets to the floor, keep the brackets accessible if the freezer is to be removed at camp. Ensure you have enough height above the freezer to open the lid when it is installed, and fairly easy access to the cooking equipment.
Store everything in the numerous stackable plastic boxes with lids, this means everything has a place, and ensure everything is in its place, once you have devised a storage system, identify each box with a system such as a laminated list of what it contains.
To give an idea of basic storage I would suggest several storage boxes which fit your vehicle with the permanent equipment bolted in, this ensures a tight fit and nothing will move when you are off road, and nothing will get damaged.
Box 1 – Clothing, this should contain your clothing and packed with the least used items at the bottom, the most used items should be at the top, also carry anything associated with clothing in this box, this may be washing powder for longer trips.
Box 2 – Camping accessories and spares should be kept in this box, this may include spares for your tent and such items as spare tent pegs for use in rough ground, spare mallet for inserting pegs, and any spare tent poles or waterproofing equipment and repair kits.
Box 3 – Cooking equipment and utensils, pots and pans, and washing up equipment, this can be stacked in layers with the washing up bowl used to store the most used items, the washing up bowl can be lifted out on its own for cooking. If there is space left in this box the most commonly used cooking ingredients can be stored in the bottom of the box for ease of use and to fill it.
Box 4 – Bedding can be kept in this box, it is not required until the tent is erected, so not so important.
These are just a few examples of using commonly available boxes, they can be ratchet strapped into the vehicle, yet simply lifted out when they are required at camp, or when it dinner requires cooking. Many variations exist, so it is important to devise your own method for storing and packing in your vehicle, there are no hard and fast rules so just do what works for you, and be prepared to alter this system until you have got it right. Nobody gets it right first time as it is often trial and error.
Some other ideas for storage solutions which you may want to try, or even adapt for your own solutions:
Roof storage of tents can be simply done inside a vehicle, many vehicles have holes for attaching items which may or may not be used, and these are commonly grab rails or holes for accessories in different markets. Utilise these by making or finding suitable brackets and screw in at least four, purchase one of the cheap elasticated pallet cargo nets and a couple of heavy duty bungee cords, weave the bungee cords through the cargo net and clip to the brackets. When it is not in use it will pull tight to the inside of the roof, and the tent can be thrown into it and it will be pulled to the roof while travelling, this makes it easily accessible when pitching and saves floor space.
Gas and petrol lanterns need standing upright while travelling to prevent the mantles becoming detached make a wooden box if you are good with wood, shape apertures to fit the bases and the tops of the lanterns. These can be inserted into their respective holes and clipped in with short rubber straps over the top. One other variation of this idea is to insert brackets and fit all your rechargeable equipment to this box with a plug in power lead to recharge all your rechargeable appliances, bolt this to the floor for security. Where lanterns are fitted, line the holes with a little foam to prevent them moving and ensure they fit snugly.
If you come across someone with a better solution, then use it, take a few pictures and store them to copy their ideas.
Tools can be stored under the bonnet, many vehicles have a lot of unused space, if you are a reasonable metal worker you can fabricate your own bespoke storage boxes to fit your commonly carried tools and utilise this space. Do not use wood or plastic under a bonnet, and fabricate additional heat shields where hot components such as turbochargers and exhausts are in close proximity to these boxes.
If you run short of storage ideas it would be wise to go to a local caravan or motorhome dealer, these vehicles are becoming more innovative with storage solutions and yield some excellent ideas, also look to the marine market for ideas.
Before embarking on an expedition it would be wise to use your back lawn if you have one, to run through your vehicle and its packing and storage solutions. Remove your tent and pitch it, and try living from your vehicle and its equipment for a weekend, without going into the house, cook all your meals and sleep in the tent. This will give it and your ideas a shakedown, any deficiencies will be highlighted before you venture off and find you have omitted an important piece of kit or equipment.
One other benefit is this gives you a chance to become familiar with all your equipment, if you have rechargeable equipment, how long does it last before it needs recharging, and how long does it take to recharge. How long does the gas last when cooking, do I need to opt for a larger butane bottle from another supplier, and how does the cooker perform when compared to my home cooker, and can I cook on this cooker.
You may be surprised how many beginners arrive on site and do not know how to connect a gas bottle to their gas cooker, and they figure it out, only to find they have forgotten matches to light it with. They might have all the cooking equipment and utensils, washing up bowl and their washing up liquid, bit have forgotten to pack dish cloths, pan scourers, and tea towels to dry the pots.
With your vehicle fully loaded you can see how its driving characteristics alter, you have the opportunity to take it off road to check all your equipment is securely packed for such travel, and the opportunity to resolve any travelling issues. It gives familiarity and competency when you use your equipment, and this familiarity and experience is only gained through doing.
Expedition and camping people are ingenious, practical, and flexible, this translates to ingenious ideas and problem solving skills you never knew you had, it surprises many new campers when they experience using such skills.
Always remember the old expedition and camping adage “if theirs air in a storage box, it aint packed tightly enough” and “it will fit cause we’ll make it fit”.