Every time we head away, I’m on the lookout for ways to set our 4WD and camping arrangement up better. Its an elusive search, and I can pretty much conclude that there is no perfect 4WD and camping setup. No matter what you buy, or how you modify it, it will never be perfect.
Guaranteed that you will have to compromise in one way (or more than likely many). The only thing you can do is make your setup as close to what you need as possible. The tricky bit though, is working out what you need. Each person is different, and wants different things, but you have to pick what is most important to you and run with that.
What are the compromises?
Up front cost
Unless you’ve found a money tree somewhere, the cost of the gear you buy is going to be a pretty important factor. I’d love to be driving a new 200 Series Land Cruiser around, but I decided I didn’t want to spend that sort of money, and so here we are with a 2016 Isuzu Dmax.
Everyone has a budget to stick to, and you will have to sacrifice ‘nicer’ or ‘better’ 4WD’s to meet your budget.
The same applies to caravans, camper trailers and what ever else you might want to include in your setup. The trick is not to get caught out by trying to be too tight - A poor man buys twice.
Next up, its worth while looking into running costs. A Y62 patrol would be absolutely mint in my driveway, but again, I didn't want to spend the money on the fuel that they require. Our Dmax is the 4WD and family vehicle, and it does a few kilometres each year!
Likewise, you can't have the luxuries of a caravan that will follow your 4WD even on rough tracks and not expect to use a huge amount of extra fuel. It's just the way it goes.
Size and portability
A Unimog is going to kill most 4WDs in capability and storage, but they are so big and cumbersome that they can’t be used on a whole heap of tight 4WD tracks.
The same goes for 4WD trucks; while you can carry heaps more gear and do it reliably and safely, they just can’t get to some of the tighter places you can in a smaller 4WD.
Payload and weight restrictions
Every 4WD, camper trailer and caravan on the market has a maximum weight that they can be. Go over that, and your insurance is void and you risk doing nasty damage.
Hard floor camper trailers tend to have much smaller pay loads than soft floor ones. Caravan payloads are often ridiculously low, to the point where you have a lot of storage and no spare payload.
If you put 5 adults and a tiny bit of gear in a 200 series, you are already over the GVM, without any modifications done to the vehicle.
Dual cab utes are inherently weaker because the rear axle sits quite far forward relative to the tray. Keen to know more about this? Check out Is your Dual Cab's chassis likely to bend?
The heavier your trailer, the harder it is to take it off road. Towing a 1.5 tonne camper trailer down the beach is doable, but once that hits 2 tonnes and above it gets much more difficult. Good luck towing a full size caravan down any of the WA beaches; they are just too heavy.
Power and torque
There are some pretty amazing 4WD motors out there, that give great power and torque. However, they will be a compromise on different levels, especially fuel economy!
Capability and comfortably
A 4WD that is incredibly capable off road is often done so at a cost to its comfort. There’s a reason a lot of vehicles are going to independent front suspension – it rides much nicer on the road, and that is where (unfortunately) a lot of 4WD’s spend their lives.
Ability to serve more than one purpose
I’ve often thought about buying a 4WD truck, and using that to tour. The problem though, is it wouldn't be very useful to drive around as a family vehicle, and it certainly wouldn't fit in my garage.
When I buy something, I like it to be able to be used in a number of different ways, and you’ll often have to compromise on that too!
Things change as times pass
Not much stays the same these days. Your life will change, and as a result the way you travel often has to as well. As you get older having a few more creature comforts is a always appreciated, and when kids come along things change again.
I started off with cheap tents and a swag, then moved to an Oztent when Sarah came along, and then when our little boy came along we moved to a soft floor camper trailer.
I had an old, petrol and gas Hilux which was suitable for what I initially got it for, but useless for long term travelling, so that was replaced with a turbo diesel 80 series. That was great too, for a while, but we soon ran out of space, weight capacity and wanted something a bit newer, so along came the Dmax.
What's our setup, and is it perfect?
As of today, we have a 2016 Isuzu Dmax and an Expedition Deluxe Soft Floor Camper Trailer. We are self sufficient, and I'm really happy with the setup. However, its in no way perfect, and at times it can be very frustrating.
However, at this point in time I can't see anything that is more suitable to what we do, so it stays this way. Once our kids are a bit bigger, and out of the portacots we might move to a hard floor or hybrid camper trailer but they aren't suitable for us at this present time.
So, whats the point of all this rambling? Its to make you feel better about your choices. You wont get it right every time, and even when you do, it still wont be right all the time. As long as what you have does most of what you want it to, your on the road to success!
The idea is to sit down and really think about what it is that you want, what you are happy to forego and what is an absolute deal breaker.
Some people, like us, are happier to have a less luxurious setup that is smaller and weighs less so we can get to the more remote locations, but other people aren't willing to do this.
What's your setup? Are you happy with it? What would you change, or do differently next time?