11 ways to pack your 4WD better (how’s your Tetris skills?)

When it comes time to take your 4WD on the holiday you’ve been planning for months, the packing can be a bit of a nightmare. Out come the clothes bags, the food tubs, drinks, toys, fishing gear, jerry cans, more bags and the list goes on and on.

You can stand there, wondering how on earth you are going to fit it all in, or just get cracking and see how you go. What happens though, if it doesn’t all fit?

Dmax Canopy
How good are you at packing your 4WD?

Have a list

Before you pack anything into your 4WD, you should have a list. If you forget something essential, it can be a serious problem when remote, and its something you can easily avoid. We have a spreadsheet that we flick through before departing, and can add or remove columns based on what we are doing (fishing gear, electronics, diving gear, remote travel etc).

You need a first aid kit, you need plenty of water and food, and you should have adequate spares and tools to get you out of trouble. A satellite phone, or an EPIRB is a fantastic investment, and well and truly worth the cost.

Put heavy gear down low

Not only is it logical to put the light weight stuff on top of your heavy gear, but keeping anything that is heavy as low as possible is critical for maintaining a good centre of gravity.

Every time I see a big 4WD roll by with 4 jerry cans on the roof, water containers, toolboxes and half of the shed, I wonder how they handle on the road, let alone when they go off road and hit some nice side angles.

Anything that is heavy; water, fuel, tools, tinned food, recovery gear etc should be kept as low as possible, to improve your handling and allow you to pack the lighter stuff on top.

Dmax loaded
Keeping all of the heavy gear as low to the floor as possible

Items you need first should be easily accessible

One thing we learned many times up north was the need to not only pack so everything fits in, but to put it in an order that makes sense for when you arrive. Several times we had to unpack half of the car just to get something that we needed for a quick stop. Not really what you want to be doing, when all it takes is a bit of prior thinking to pack a little differently.

Using crates, or easily removable boxes makes this much easier, as you can pack and unpack faster, without having to move hundreds of smaller items around.

80 Series drawer system
Can you get items out quickly that you need?

Carry fuel outside of the vehicle

Carrying fuel inside your vehicle is not ideal. Diesel seems to be ok, but if you can avoid it, don’t carry it inside your car.

Unleaded and LPG are big no no’s; they are highly flammable, and LPG especially can be deadly if you develop a leak. There have been several cases of people killed by LPG explosions in their vehicles. In one particular instance, someone just opened their vehicle with the central locking, and the gas bottle had been leaking over night. Even from several meters from the car, he was killed instantly.

Its not worth the risk. You can get a number of LPG bottle holders, and the best place to have them is on your roof racks, or on the outside of a trailer (drawbars are common).

A long range fuel tank is a game changer. Seriously, if you are still using jerry cans, you have a need for more fuel and you plan on keeping the vehicle for some time, consider one. We got one on our Dmax recently and its made travelling so much easier, and better.

Put light weight, bulky items on the roof rack

Roof racks are not the ideal place to throw your 5 jerry cans. They increase the risk of a roll over significantly. The same goes for heavy gear. If you can avoid any heavy items on the roof, do so. I was out on a day trip with a good mate of mine who rolled his vehicle, and its not something I’d wish on anyone.

Keep your swags, tents, chairs, fishing rods, solar panels, shovels, Maxtrax etc up there; not your water, fuel, giant toolboxes full of heavy gear!

Roof racks on our 80
Roof racks should be used for light weight gear

Don’t take what you might not use

I’m sure you’ve all made the mistake of taking too much. Just because you might use it, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to take! If you aren’t going to use it on a regular basis, leave it at home, unless you have stacks of room and weight capacity.

Some people leave things at home that don’t have more than one use, and the more uses your gear has, the less you need to load and unload at every stop!

Load your 4WD up
Choose what you take wisely

Distribute your weight properly

The GVM meaning is the maximum weight your 4WD can carry. This is made up of the tare weight of your 4WD, plus the payload. This includes passengers, the driver, any accessories you fit, and the gear you carry. Your payload is split in two as well, with the front axle, and rear axle both having their own maximum weights.

You cannot load the rear of your 4WD up to the hilt, and expect to be legal. Not only will it be over the rear axle weight (particularly if you have a heavy tow ball mass), but it will handle terribly, and your chances of a severe accident are hugely increased.

The front of your vehicle does the majority of the braking, and of course the steering. Remove too much weight from the front (by having the rear loaded up) and your braking and steering will be drastically reduced to a dangerous level.

Dmax being weighed
Getting the rear axles weighed on our Isuzu Dmax

Secure your items

4WDing will test your ability to secure things, and tie them down properly. Even within a car, a few knocks and bumps can send your gear flying, and having a way of securing everything is critical to ensuring they stay in one piece, and you don’t destroy your vehicle. Our old Land Cruiser had a hugely damaged roof liner from the previous owner who’d clearly not been too worried about tying things down. 

Beyond that, if you have a serious accident the result of unsecured items can be catastrophic, and no one wants to be dealing with that. 

Find the nooks and crannies

We’ve become quite good at finding all of the spots within our vehicle, and canopy that most people probably wouldn’t use, and putting gear in there that you don’t need often. Whether its under the false floor in your canopy, or in the rear jack compartment you have a heap of room where you can store items you hope to never use. We keep things like radiator hoses, vee belts, emergency repair material and even rags and odds and ends.

A place for everything, and everything in its place

Packing for your first big trip can be daunting. Often you’ll start off thinking you have plenty of room, and half way through the packing realise that you aren’t going to fit everything in, and you have to start again. We find that by the end of a big trip away we’ve nailed where everything needs to go, and it just packs and unpacks a million times easier.

However, it pays to take the time to find a place for everything, and to make sure it goes there every time. We are onto our 4th or 5th revision of packing the canopy of the Dmax, and have finally got it to a reasonable level, where everything heavy is forward, its all secured well and we know where everything else is. 

Our Isuzu Dmax
The better you pack, the more chance it stays where you left it on rough tracks like this

You can’t take everything

If you’ve ever packed a 4WD before for a big trip, you’ll know its physically impossible to take a huge amount of gear. However, beyond the space constraints, you also cannot legally take too much or you’ll be overweight. You need to comply with the GVM (Gross Vehicle Mass) and its extremely easy to be overweight. If you are in this situation, you technically have an illegal vehicle and if you have an accident you can be in real trouble with insurance and the law. 

If you’ve never had your vehicle weighed, you should; its so easy to be over. We had a mobile weighing service come to our house a while back and weigh our Isuzu Dmax with a GVM upgrade, towing a relatively light weight hybrid camper trailer and we were only just legal.

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