Manta: 100 Square Feet of Shelter You read that right: 100 square feet of canvas hides inside a thick black cover, ready to deploy a generous amount of shade or shelter in a moment’s notice. These are my impressions after four years of enjoying the Manta’s shade from the blazing desert sun, sheltering from storms underneath it, and putting it through tortures that have ripped lesser awnings to pieces. The Basics When fully deployed, the Manta’s shape provides a larger than 7-by-7-foot rectangle of coverage off the side of a vehicle or trailer, which wraps around the rear with an additional 14-by-7-foot triangle. When it’s time to hit the road, the entire mass of sturdy 260-gram waterproof ripstop canvas rolls up into a UV-resistant PVC cover that’s no bigger than an awning half the Manta’s size. The Manta’s chassis is made entirely of lightweight anodized aluminum. Adjustable legs with integrated stake holes recess inside C-channel rafter arms, which pivot away from a stout length of aluminum extrusion on stainless steel hinge bolts. All of this combines to create a structure that is sturdy, lightweight, and highly corrosion resistant, and easily repaired with basic hand tools and commonly available hardware. That’s not to say the awning is easy to damage—quite the contrary as you’ll read below—but I take comfort knowing that if the Manta gets damaged all of it’s components (including the canvas panels) are field-replaceable. The awning can be mounted to most roof racks or even load bars, thanks to standard 8mm hardware that can be placed nearly anywhere along the Manta’s 90-inch frame. Of course, if you’re running an Eezi-Awn K9 roof rack there is a convenient kit available to match. The legs are adjustable in height up to 92 inches, so it sits nicely on even the tallest adventure mobiles. Setup or Teardown in Seconds (yes, really) That’s not just marketing hype. The first time I set up a Manta I skipped the directions and took just under two minutes. Today I could do it in 30 seconds, or under two minutes with stakes at all four legs. Teardown—which is the messiest and most time-consuming task with most awnings—is just as easy. Better still, you can pack the Manta away without getting the canvas all up in your face. If you’ve ever covered yourself in the previous night’s dust and campfire ashes you know just how important that is. Of all the awning systems I’ve…
Sleeper: Converting a Disco into a Camper I’m not fond of ground tents, roof tents, or any other piece of canvas-walled silliness—such shelters should be tolerated when the destination or mode-of-transport leave’s no other option, not adopted as the go-to solution. I hate rattles. I can’t stand clutter. I abhor loose, unsecured gear. I don’t have kids and I don’t take prisonerscarry passengers. I do prefer the comfort of hard walls, lockable doors, and a well-equipped galley…so long as they don’t limit my options on a journey. I also happen to have a Discovery II at my disposal, essentially a trail-ready postal truck disguised as a luxury station wagon. The rear of a Discovery II is downright cavernous, especially when gutted. 46 inches from carpeted floor to headlined ceiling, 63 inches from wall to wall, and nearly seven feet of length to work with over the center console (front seats forward). The Discovery II is why I don’t own a teardrop trailer. The Cargo (and on-board systems) The goal was to keep weight low and clutter non-existent, with a full camping load-out below the deck. In practice there is also room for clothes and personal gear, except for hanging jackets/shirts and my camera gear of course. The cubbies from top to bottom, left to right contian: driver’s clothing and personal gear, water tank, passenger’s clothing and personal gear, standard sleeping gear (pads, pillows, blankets), more water tank, complete toolkit (everything I need for every task on a Discovery), optional trip-specific gear (cold-weather sleeping gear, Little Red Campfire, shower mat, etc), slide-out galley (and food), and freezer/fridge (beverages and food). On-board water flows from an 11-gallon tank riding low and center under the deck. In the rear passenger footwell hangs a SHURflo 3.0GPM water pump, water distribution lines, and a back-up gravity fed tap (just in case). Taps are located at the rear passenger door and above the galley. The rest of this space holds recovery tools so they can be accessed without opening doors (just move the seats), and to keep weight low. It’s also a good place to stuff flip-flops and muddy boots while sleeping. Sleeper and galley systems are powered by a secondary Group 31 battery behind the rear left wheel, which recharges via solar or while the engine is running. This placement is opposite the spare tire and main battery to help maintain weight balance. 12-volt extension cords, fold-up solar panel, and other accessories are also stored in this…
Disco Specs: An on-going, ever-changing list of equipment and modifications Basic Equipment: 4.6L Land Rover V8, factory drivetrain, 3-inch lift, LT285/65R18 tyres (33-inch tires) Project Goals: mid-range exploration and overland travel, moderate load carrying capability over challenging terrain, in-camp comfort and convenience Modifications and Upgrades: OME Constant HD 2-inch Lift, Columbia Overland 1-inch Spacers, ARB Bullbar with 12k TJM Winch, custom rear bumper and swing-out, HLCfab Sliders, fuel tank skid, front and rear QT diff skids, dual Odyssey 2150s, Lightforce LED 180 forward lighting, LED rock/camp lights, custom roof storage and rear awning (in development), 2-meter/70cm radio, Viair on-board air, inline thermostat, 35-qt. fridge/freezer, 11-gallon on-board water system, Triton water heater (camp shower), WindowSOX, upgraded rear door panel, on-board galley (in development), nano-camper conversion with permanent camping loadout…
Swing-out: Wrapping up the Bumper Project At long last: here’s the details on Ulysses’ rear swing-out. This swing-out carries a full-size 285/65R18 (33×11.50) spare, Hi-Lift Jack, small Eezi-Awn K9 Table, 42-liter Alubox to store water/propane hoses and the water heater, and a 10# propane tank to fuel the stove, water heater, and fire pit. License plate lighting is provided from a set of LED bolt lights. The framework is made almost entirely from upcycled steel salvaged from a friend’s old teardrop frame, and it all rides on an A-to-Z Fab Mega-Duty Hinge. Building the swing-out atop the already squared and straight bumper was a much simpler feat than building the bumper, so on to the fabrication photos……
Rear Bumper: Sometimes you just have to D-I-Y After two years of waiting for either delivery of the rear bumper I purchased, or a full refund of the rather large deposit, I’d had enough: it was time to look elsewhere. Discovery II rear bumpers are a tricky thing—a combination of unusual curves and angles, lack of frame tie-in points on the long overhang, and the general lack of symmetry on these trucks creates many challenges in the design process. As a result, most bumpers on the market are either prohibitively expensive or extremely ugly. RTE Fabrication’s rear bumper is arguably the best looking of the bunch and has a beautifully near-factory appearance, but I couldn’t get over the jungle gym they use for their swing-out. It was clear there was only one way to get what I wanted: a custom build. Once again I enlisted help from the exceptionally talented Dave Argust to design and fabricate all the little (and big) parts necessary to pull this project off. Prototyping on something like a Jeep can be fairly easy—straight lines and a body tub that ends cleanly before the bumper mean you can bolt on practically anything from the frame back. While the mounts are similar on a Discovery, the body is blended into the (frame mounted) bumper through several pieces of molded plastic, all designed to flex and bend just enough to allow for body movement. This meant building much of the bumper in place on the vehicle, and installing and removing the bumper dozens of times to check clearances…tedious work. I’m not a huge fan of the ubiquitous 2 x 6″ oval lights found on so many aftermarket bumpers, but I do understand now why they are used so often: few DOT-legal brake lights exist that are small enough to fit on a slim 4-inch bumper. I wanted brake lights, not for legality, but because I needed the “high” lamp to restore the rear fog functionality Land Rover gave us. Fortunately, just as the bumper was nearing completion Grote released a brand new tail/brake lamp with integrated reverse lights dubbed the “2-in-1.” Installation hardware attaches via the original bumper mounts on the frame. Access to the bolts hides underneath the new lights, which sit almost exactly where the original reverse and rear fog lamps once did. As an added bonus the trailer wiring is now safely up and away from trail obstacles, with 4- and 7-pin connections built in. Building…
Lightforce LED 180: Lighting the way with Lightforce’s rugged LED driving light. I’ve long been a fan of LED lighting on vehicles. Spending a great deal of time behind the wheel at night, the usefulness of a color-rich, long-lasting, low-current solution for running lights, dash illumination, and indicators was an easy sell for me. Like many fellow campers and wheelers I even went so far as to use them for rock lights on the trail and work lights around camp, but found the early examples of main driving lights to be laughable at best (“dangerously lacking” would be a more accurate statement). As recently as two years ago even the most expensive LED auxiliary lights barely achieved “almost as good” status when pitted against their halogen cousins, unacceptable when paying ten times the price. Needless to say, I was biased against the very idea of an LED driving light, and skeptical that anyone would be bringing even an adequate model out anytime soon. Still, when I heard Lightforce was confident enough to put their name on a new set of spot- and combination-beam LEDs I jumped at the opportunity to see what they came up with. Breaking open the boxes to reveal the new lights I was immediately impressed by the clean, subdued looks and solid feel of the black and gray metal chassis. The included pedestal-style bracket mounts vertically or horizontally to the vehicle with either one or two bolts, and supports a wide range of angles when attaching the light housing. Additional mounting holes on either side of the housing are provided for direct mounting, as well as a top mount for attaching a stabilizing bar if the lights will be used for racing. Like most of Lightforce’s lights, the LED 180s are ruggedized against dust, water, impact and vibration (IP68 and mil-spec standards)—so they can handle the stress of being mounted low on a vehicle’s bumper. The LED modules are rated for a service life of 50,000+ hours. With the flexibility of the mounting options, installation and final adjustments are a breeze. Since the vehicle we would be testing the lights on had not been decided yet, we received a generic harness with the basics necessary to wire up the lights. Lightforce does offer harnesses with several different plug options for a plug-and-play connection with a variety of OEM vehicle wiring setups. Output from the LED 180 is nothing short of amazing—Lightforce has done a fantastic job bringing so much light out of an LED system while minimizing the negative effects typically found…
Cargo Door Panel: A little extra warmth and organization Most Discovery owners, if they’ve had the vehicle for any length of time, have figured out that the structure of the interior panel on the cargo door is barely adequate for the OEM tire changing kit Land Rover places in it’s large storage pocket. While suitable and inexpensive options are available, all of them are metal. Given the sleeping arrangements inside the vehicle, I wanted a panel with at least some inherent insulating properties… so I decided to build one out of some scrap 12mm birch left over from the sleeper project. While I was at it the door latch was moved to a more accessible location above the raised floor, and an organizer was added to provide additional storage. The finished product is coated in the same bed liner as the rest of the sleeper, and now noticeably reduces noise and heat loss.…
Utah: Sand and Mud: Sometimes it’s best to put away the maps and just wander. There are few places in the world quite as spectacular as southeastern Utah. Pinnacles of stone tower over a parched red desert floor, dusty backroads wind thousands of feet up narrow switchbacks precariously cut from vertical rock walls, and aspen forests reach for 11,000-foot snow-capped peaks. Late spring is my favorite time of year, when the summer thunderstorms are just getting started but the roads are still dry enough to be passable. With a canoe on the roof and a prototype trailer to test out we wandered north from Overland Expo in search of that picture-perfect mountain lake. As the first decent camp beyond the Navajo Nation, Valley of the Gods has become a kind of obligatory tradition when traveling north from eastern Arizona. That’s not to say it isn’t worth a visit—it’s only slightly less impressive to behold than Monument Valley, a campsite and campfire are practically guaranteed, and it’s absolutely free. Our first night’s camp greeted us with fierce wind-driven sand that blew well into the evening, but our spirits would not be diminished. As we huddled inside the massive canopy of the Kakadu tent sipping Corona and waiting for the storm to pass, the only smart member of our expedition mocked us from his clean, comfortable lair. Eventually the wind subsided and we settled into a fire-lit evening of tall tales and tall plans for the following day. I awoke to the smell of bacon and poked my head out into a calm, overcast morning to see if the scent was a lingering dream—it wasn’t. Adding to the delightful smell, bits of left-over filet mignon from the previous night’s dinner were joining the bacon, along with eggs, veggies, cheese and hot sauce. Minutes later, the Bacon Filet Mignon Breakfast Burrito was born. Departing from our mile-high camp we climbed higher up the Moki Dugway continuing our search for the perfect lake. Pulling in to the tiny Mormon settlement of Fruita we made a quick stop to top off our water tanks, and grab a bite for lunch… and pie. Ignoring the signs warning us of road closures and impending doom, we turned south to follow Pleasant Creek in hopes of winding our way up the massive form of Boulder Mountain in the distance. The first water crossing was little more than a trickle and a fun off-camber exit this time of year—while Google Maps will send you over Lippincott Pass in a Camry without a second thought, the slightest hint of water is enough to…
LED Floodlamps: High-output, low amperage peripheral lighting I’ve been wanting flood lights to either side since buying the vehicle. The front windows are tinted, which is a godsend during an Arizona summer day, but can make navigating tight trails in the dark a bit cumbersome. Having had great results with years of ordering smaller, inexpensive lights from Superbrightleds.com, I decided to try them out with something a little more expensive: high-output floods. I couldn’t be happier with the result. The LEDs have about the same output as a halogen flood, they’re exactly the color they’re supposed to be (identical to the forward firing 5000k HIDs), and the beam pattern is just right for filling in the nighttime blind spots. They are also submersible, waterproof to IP68 standards. The lights tuck in nice and safe between the roof and rack. Update: August 2014 The LEDs continue to perform flawlessly, though I’ve had to remove them due to the addition of a new awning. One set remains on the back to augment the reverse lights. I’ll have to come up with a new way to light up the sides, but at least the wiring is already done for forward and rear lights.…
Fetch the RRC This is the first time I’ve been in The People’s Republik since 2010… and then only off-pavement. When you’re subjected to a downward spiral on a daily basis it’s often easy to overlook just how far down things have gone. Remove yourself from the environment for a few years and the same fall jumps out in shocking detail. Such is the case on this brief excursion into California to fetch a Great Divide Edition Range Rover Classic as I travel east at a slowness well below the absurd state-mandated trailer speed limit of 55 MPH. The budget problems this state has been experiencing for the past decade are blatantly obvious with each pothole and stretch of completely missing pavement. Interstate 40 is in ruin. I’ve traveled better tarmac in Baja. As I cross the river into Arizona and throttle up to reach 75 MPH over the seemingly glass-smooth asphalt, I consider the freedoms we still have to flee a state fraught with corruption, mismanagement, and over-taxation for the greener pastures of a pro-liberty, pro-business society and it’s many benefits. Today, I am grateful to be in America.…
ARB Bullbar: It all started with a CRACK! In a matter of seconds, an old man with bad eyesight and a late-90s Dodge Dakota had reduced the front end of my Discovery to shattered plastic. I’m still amazed that my fellow motorists find it hard to see a seven foot tall truck in broad daylight—no, this isn’t the first time someone has run into my truck in a parking lot. Despite proper parking lot speeds too slow to register on the speedometer, the insurance adjuster informed me there was $1,600 worth of crumpled cosmetic complexity in need of repair. I smiled and thanked him for stopping by as he handed over the freshly printed funding for the next upgrade. Stout aftermarket bumpers have always been in the build plan for this truck, but rarely do I come across an example of a good looking bumper on a Discovery. It’s a strange market, where “industry leaders” frequently disappear under mysterious or dubious circumstances, and new companies pop up out of nowhere. The rest of my week was spent researching prices, weights, strength, options, accessories, compatibilities, mounting points, crash performances, horror stories, and most importantly—sexiness when paired with the beautiful front end of a 2004 Discovery. Throughout all this craziness only two companies have stood the test of time and continually delivered proven solutions. Only one of these met my strict aesthetic requirements, so I set aside the biases left over from my Big Jeep days and put in the request for an ARB Bullbar. A few weeks later a box nearly the size of the Discovery arrived. The Install Installing the bumper is a relatively straight-forward task, and ARB does an excellent job writing out detailed instructions (something surprisingly few manufacturers have mastered). However, there are still a few pointers that were left out, so I will focus on those here. First up… Install your winch before you install the Bullbar! As might seem obvious, getting the winch into the Bullbar is much easier with the Bullbar sitting face-down on the ground. What isn’t obvious is the bottom-heavy attitude the bumper will have when maneuvering it onto the truck and finalizing the fitting with a winch hanging off the back, which makes it all much easier to accomplish. All of this can be done before tearing down your truck, that way you still have wheels if you need to make a trip to the hardware store (I did, twice).…