A major area where 4x4s suffer from their reputation is in load carrying – especially on overland trips. We’ve all seen the pics of some poor battered vehicle somewhere, laden up to the eyeballs with all manner of kit – people, goats, hay bales, ammunition, you name it. Many 4x4s (“traditional” Land Rovers especially) have massively strong chassis, so folk assume you can sling all sorts of “Expedition Kit” in there and she’ll be fine. Well, to an extent. But a big issue is weight. Weight = Fuel consumption = Engine temperature = Stability issues. It can also lead to structural failure, for example on the roof.
Loading an overland 4×4 is a bit of an art form. Many folk choose perceived ‘Overland Brands’ for their fitting out. A friend showed me his Defender fitted with a neat metal racking system which he’d made, and into which he slotted all his gear stowed in a dozen plastic military-spec heavy duty cases, a bit like suitcases, from a well-known brand. Open the rear door, and there it all was, neatly stashed and labelled. Lovely. And after all – these type of cases were used on the Camel Trophy weren’t they! So they must be ideal. Well, yes, and they are great bits of kit. But. They are heavy. They have to be, because they are so strong! One or two around your truck is a great idea – I have them around me all the time, for things like laptop, camera and so on. But the cases in question are not designed as a lightweight storage system. They add huge weight to your Land Rover even when empty. Added to this, weight stowed behind your rear axle (as these were) is weight that adds to your vehicle instability in a skid. Heavy parts of your load are best kept low down, and as close to the middle of your chassis as possible – things like water tanks and so on. And heavy cases!
When packing your vehicle for an overland trip, think hard about the boxes and storage systems you use. There’s a myriad of plastic boxes out there. Some are waterproof and dustproof. Some are not. Some are light, some are not. Some are strong enough to stand on and use as camp furniture. You can get liner systems which help organise what’s inside, and protect the kit from dust and water. Camp Cover are good suppliers of these. If you don’t want big chunky military-type plastic boxes, then check out http://www.plasticboxshop.co.uk online – their heavy duty plastic storage boxes are very good, as are their Warehouse Boxes and ALCs (Attached Lid Container). On Amazon, Really Useful Boxes are worth a look.
If you want metal storage, don’t use old ammunition boxes. They are massively heavy, and give African and Middle Eastern Customs officials and border guards a conniption. Generally any obviously military-looking kit in your Land Rover (for example MOLLE type webbing pouches) can start problems at border crossings, especially in Africa. Aluminium is the way forward for metal boxes – Zarges boxes are very good (Camel Trophy again) but I keep going back to Rich Poulton at http://www.metallicsuk.com who makes aluminium storage boxes for overland vehicles at whatever size and shape you want. He’s based near York and can be reached at 07545 922957.
Lastly, if, like me, you are a traveller who prefers to explore on their own and at their own pace, you might be interested in this range of guidebooks. When I was camped up in northern Spain about 20 years ago in my 110, I got chatting to a friendly Belgian traffic cop, also in a 110. He and I had both been on offroad explorations of the border country between France and Spain, but he was part of a project to map the trails there and turn them into a guidebook. This project has grown, and borne fruit, and now yields an amazing range of offroad guidebooks and “road books”. If you surf to vibraction.org you will find Drive-It-Yourself guidebooks to not only the Pyrenees (a traverse from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean) but also detailed offroad guides to Greece, Turkey, Morocco, Portugal, the Balkans and Spain. They aren’t cheap, but they are really good!