Manta100 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…
Canvas, meet AluminumGetting acquainted with Eezi-Awn’s new hard-shell roof tent, the Stealth. Rumors of a hard-shelled Eezi-Awn had been crossing my desk for months when the confirmation hit my inbox, in the form of an ad request and a photo of the new tent. Pictured was a thing of beauty—a sleek, wingless fighter jet hovering over a snowy landscape—but we all know photos on the internet are only half of the story. As fate would have it, Paul May of Equipt was driving right past a photoshoot I was on in the Mojave Desert, so I arranged for us to meet up in camp to check out the Stealth personally. Full disclosure: yes, Equipt is one of my studio’s clients. If you know me, then you know that’s the strongest endorsement I can give—I’ll only work with businesses I believe in. First Impressions Flipping open four latches releases the lid of the matte black shell, which is raised and lowered easily by one person thanks to the aid of gas struts and conveniently placed handles. The golden light of dawn gleams and sparkles off the metal of massive scissor-lift hinges as the roof rises, stark contrast against the darkness of the Stealth’s chassis. This new tent makes an impression, towering nearly five feet above the roof rack once open. A ladder slides out from integrated storage in the floor, and can be placed for entry through any of the tent’s three doors (or anywhere along the roof rack). Quick-release bungees run along the front, rear, and side walls so that they’ll self-tuck when packing up the tent. Intended or not, rear latches and roof supports double as convenient hooks to hang your shoes…so long as it doesn’t rain. Vents are placed above either side door, and the lack of any sign of condensation proves their effectiveness against the usual cold-weather tent problems. As is typical with most hard-shell roof tents, the walls remain tight and silent in the wind. Thick olive-drab privacy mesh screens adorn all three doors, and canvas makes up the door panels themselves. Zippers are large and easy-moving as expected, and each panel has it’s own set of lashings so they can be easily tied open independent of each other. The rear door features a generously sized awning held out by quick-release legs, which Velcro into place both deployed and when packed. The awning is a separate panel from the door, so the door can be fully closed while leaving the awning set up. Climbing Inside Despite the shell being cold to the touch in…
Bulldust & Bad MapsRoutefinding for Hema Maps on El Camino del Diablo It was a questionable decision, running the Arizona border along Mexico in an antiquated truck with no support vehicle. A brand-new suspension had been fitted, and an extra 300 pounds of fatman-and-iron packed into the passenger side, but our little Hema Maps BJ-74 Land Cruiser stubbornly insisted on holding it’s five-degree lean to the driver’s side. The air conditioner sputters, laughs at us, then blasts hot air into the cabin. Chris and I roll down from the cool air of central Arizona’s highlands with the windows wide open. The adventure begins in the middle of Phoenix—a route declared “quickest” by Siri insists we exit the interstate in the ghetto, then brave three miles of surface streets to reach the BLM Field Office. A permit is required to traverse El Camino del Diablo. To obtain the permit, one must show up in person. From the eighth floor of a downtown high-rise a video drones on about not touching bombs, and the dangers of remote desert travel. Curiously efficient window architecture on the tower across the street prevents the summer sun from baking through the glass. My thoughts are interrupted by a disinterested federal rep as he hands over several pages of forms. I read through, then sign away any and all rights to sue the government if I’m kidnapped, injured, lasered, exploded, or a Predator drone falls from the sky and crashes onto the truck. With our lives signed away we flee the city, classic rock blaring from a set of phone-powered portable speakers as Highway 85 leads us south through an unseasonably green Sonoran. The desert heat is more humid than expected, but the freedom of this forsaken two-lane makes the journey worthwhile…even in our little tin oven. Ajo. We giggle at the potential pronunciations of the town’s name until the square rolls into view. It’s worth at least a short stop. The old Spanish architecture of covered walkways connects a derelict train depot with a converted mission, all surrounding a central park that’s in desperate need of a little rain. Dueling cameras round the plaza snapping away with abandon before we’re back in the truck. Tempting as the little café looks it’s not on the agenda—there’s a long drive ahead, and we have an unfortunately tight schedule to keep. The beauty of wide-open desert is broken by a single ominous sign at the intersection of two dirt roads, this must be the track. I hop out for a closer shot when the stillness is suddenly interrupted…
Destinations: Poncho HouseA side hike into ancient history with the Diné. The unmolested desert stretched out before us without so much as a bent branch or dimpled dune to hint at the correct course. We’d only been making our way through the sand and shrubs for an hour, but the silence and isolation made it feel like days. A combination of dead reckoning and a flashing dot on the GPS were keeping us close to the old two-track trail, which had been wiped clear by last winter’s brutal storms. Finally a landmark, the southernmost point of Tséyík’áán (Comb Ridge) jutting up on the horizon. Moving map technology is neat…when it works. Cautiously we made our way down the cliffs, breaking ground on a new trail to reach the valley floor through the most stable looking notch. At the bottom an old corral clearly marks the start of the foot trail, and off we set for the mile-plus hike up Chinle Creek. As we approached a bend in the canyon I looked up, and looming overhead, a massive citadel clinging to an alcove in the cliff wall. Planning a tour of Tsé Bii’ Ndzisgaii (Monument Valley) or Tséyi’ (Canyon de Chelly)? Ask your guide to include a stop off the beaten path to explore this must-visit destination. Information on (mandatory) guide services in reservation lands can be found at discovernavajo.com. Originally licensed to American Adventurist for publishing on May 11th, 2016.…
Mojave WanderlustSolitude on the Beaten Path Windows down. Sunroof open. Summer air rushes through the cabin. Tires screech in protest as they fight against another turn they’re simply not designed for. The engine roars back up through the power band, and the heavy beast remembers what continent it was born on as it catapults out of another curve. Ulysses is happy today, she wants to run. A glance in the mirror before I enter the next turn reveals no sign of the stock Discovery 3 running with us, either I’m hauling ass or he’s dragging it. I glance at the speedometer—it’s me. 33-inch mud terrains wail in anguish once more as they’re pushed to the edge of traction. I push the accelerator down farther and smile with a joy that only comes from driving a slow car fast. The Escape I’m relieved the event is over. Don’t get me wrong, I love the community and visiting with the people that bring it together, I just wasn’t wired for large gatherings in fixed locations. Three days is just about right, then it’s time for my cure: an equal number of days wandering. Soaring. Eastbound above the smog along Rim of the World Highway. Chris catches up as I roll to a stop next to the old, long abandoned Cliffhanger. I’ve known him since I was 14, but never would I have guessed he’d want to race down this twisted tarmac, hopping from tavern to tavern, on a never-ending quest to find the world’s best tuna melt. So go our conversations and revelations over a pint at the first of two bars in the entire town of Crestline. We hit the next bar, so we can say we’ve hit every bar in town—tuna melt ordered, and we watch as the attractive brunette behind the bar grabs a muddler and sets about making a proper mojito. She’s lived here her entire life. She owns the place. It dawns on Chris what she’s making for me. He orders one too, and she skips through the back door again for another bundle of fresh-picked mint from the garden. The tuna melt arrives, and all is right with the world. Conversations with more of the locals reveal the location of an “edge of the world” campsite just outside town. The view on arrival does not disappoint, not a bad end to the first (half) day. With Abandon Rounding the next bend I’m blinded by the full force of the rising sun.…
Relics: The Richardson HomesteadIt’s amazing what you can find just off the highway. Highways have been standardized to keep the flow of traffic moving swiftly and smoothly onward. White lines flash by in time with the gentle hum of the motor, yellow lines keep you subconsciously floating down the right side of the tarmac, and the repetitive consistency brings on a state of semi-hypnosis. Most of the time the system works, commuters arrive safely, and travelers continue on oblivious to the treasures that might be hidden over the edge of the manicured medians. Over one such edge, on the eastbound side of Arizona Highway 68 as it winds through Union Pass, rests a crumbling gravel ramp. At the end of that ramp stands a nondescript ADOT gate—standard issue, except that this gate is unlocked, and what’s left of the road beyond is open to the public. At the bottom of the hill lies the abandoned Old Kingman Highway, and not far beyond that the ruins of an unnamed town homesteaded by Jonathan Draper Richardson and his family. Originally licensed to American Adventurist for publishing on May 11th, 2016.…
Destinations: Dale Mining DistrictDiscovering an overlooked gem just outside Joshua Tree. Once upon a time I lived in California, moving every year in search of a place I liked enough to settle down (and expecting, perhaps hoping, never to find it). Before crossing the river into the Arid Zone I lived in Twentynine Palms, about 15 minutes from the northeast gate to Joshua Tree National Park. The Dale Mining District was stumbled upon during an outing that was one-part “Where’s that road go?” and two-parts not wanting to pay the entrance fee at Joshua Tree (a mere $10 at the time, I didn’t have a pass yet). Just outside of National Park boundaries, Dale can be reached (for free) via Gold Crown Road from Highway 62 to the north. Access from the south is within the park, via Old Dale / Eagle Mine Road from Pinto Basin Road. The region can be appreciated in a long weekend, but it’s just as easy to spend a week wandering through the various mines and abandoned structures. I leave discovering the rest to you, exploration is half the fun… Over the course of a few days we wandered to and fro, dazzled by the drastic color changes the desert experiences over a matter of hours, or a matter of mere yards. Old Dale is about as isolated as one can get in the south Mojave, particularly so while baking under the summer sun. The O.K. Mine, seen above, is one of two larger gatherings of abandoned structures, shafts, and equipment. Opportunities to explore the remains of this operation are ripe, but venture in at your own risk—help is many hours away, as is cellular service. Darkness swept in fast on approach to the National Park border, and with it another dramatic show of shifting colors and fading light. The decaying carcasses of dead classics litter the floor of Pinto Basin below the site of the abandoned Goldenrod mine, which was well worth the short climb to explore. Crossing the next ridge revealed the best campsite in the entire Joshua Tree region—Gold Rose Cabin features a huge raised patio, fire pit, chairs, tables, a fire place, cots, supplies, and no pesky roof to block out the night sky. The owners of the nearby claim have set this up adopt-a-cabin style, with a leave-it-if-you-can-spare-it, use-it-if-you-need-it policy for visitors passing through (we borrowed chairs for the night and left cases of water, fair trade). Morning required a swift, calm, creative evac—bees, thirsty in this parched terrain, arrived at…
Four Corners, Four DaysWhen they offer to pay wandering fuel, take the job. It amazes me the lengths a person will go for that extra mile-per-hour. Even more surprising is how long it takes some folks to figure out that I’m going slower than they are, and maybe just maybe they should use that wide-open passing lane to, you know, pass… Mile twelve-hundred-and-eleventy-something of my new employ with Ye Olde Overland Shipping Company. No sooner do I get one trailer disconnected and another is hooked up—when Adventure Trailers offers to cover your fuel for a long weekend of wandering, if you can get a trailer to Durango by morning, it’s tough to say no. It’s nearly 8pm, and the lingering summer sun is closer than it appears. In spite of the tailgating, slow-to-pass speed demons, I’ve safely traversed Navajo territory with a nicely apportioned Horizon trailer silently in tow. The glow of Farmington, New Mexico is dead ahead. It’s midnight. I have Motel 6. I’m going to bed. Running late. Arriving early. The drive time into Colorado is a lot shorter than I imagined. The trailer delivery went off without a hitch (sorry, couldn’t resist). Mission accomplished, now it’s time to satisfy that wanderlust. That all too familiar Land Rover “ding” fills the cabin as I’m rounding the tight curves of the Million Dollar Highway somewhere above Silverton, and I glance down to find my speed reading zero. Speed pops up on a digital readout, intermittently, after a few button presses on the ScanGauge—much more helpful than an orange “check engine” light and a dead gauge. A check of the error code shows a wheel speed sensor is on the fritz, the Discovery is just old enough to not care so I press onward. It’s interesting how the things we stop and see or choose to skip can change when traveling solo. Without my wife’s love of old-fashioned trains and small towns to keep me company, Silverton just doesn’t have the same hold. After a brief lunch and an Americano in hand I’m anxious to hit the road. Ophir Pass appears quickly out of Silverton, and I’m reminded of that cliff-side gnome village spotted during the only other visit I’ve made to the San Juans. I’ve never been over 10,000 feet, at least not for any length of time. Slowly up the winding road toward the pass, ever cautious for signs of acute mountain sickness. Instead of the anticipated headache and dizziness the low pressure of altitude clears my sinuses more quickly than any pill ever could. Spectacular vistas swing…
BASECAMPEDA look at trailer life with the Jackwagon Basecamp. The one quality I appreciate most about a manufacturer, beyond making a good product, is their willingness to listen to customer feedback and continually improve the product based on that feedback. Jackwagon Off-Road is just that kind of company: when we returned the first trailer JR spent the afternoon chatting with us about our ideas. A week later he invited us to swing by and check out the new improvements. You already know how we feel about towing the Basecamp—here’s our take on packing and camping with this nimble and versatile trailer. Packing the Basecamp As mentioned previously, the cargo hold of the trailer is cavernous. We opted to pack as the name suggests: with a full set of oversized “basecamp” gear, plus two full sets of backpacking gear for an overnight hike away from the trailer. The basecamp gear consisted of: one huge cabin tent, two winter-weight sleeping bags, two camp mattresses, two ARB camp chairs, eight-foot camp table, dual-burner stove, full kitchen kit (in a Pelican 1550), cast-iron cookware, lanterns, and the “expedition” sized medical kit (in another Pelican 1550). The backpacking kit consisted of two full sets of: Nemo two-person backpacking tents, Nemo backpacking sleeping bags and pads, lightweight JetBoil-based kitchen kits, and a few pouches of dehydrated food. Sure, we didn’t have actual backpacks handy, but you get the point: all this gear filled just over half of the cargo hold. In it’s stock configuration the Basecamp features a simple twist-lock rail down each side for securing cargo. While it works well enough, I much preferred the optional L-track system, or the super beefy E-track option pictured above (rated for 6,000 pounds). If your cargo leaves a mess, the trailer also features a drain hole for easy clean-up. While it seems like a no-brainer, Jackwagon is the first manufacturer to offer this feature. Up front on the cooler rack we added a large cooler. We also tossed yet another Pelican 1550 (filled with charcoal and lighter fluid) next to the cooler, but a few bundles of firewood would fit much better here. Generous spacing between the floor and the frame allows for drainage, and easy lashing of cargo to the frame rails. Optionally, the cooler rack can be bordered with L-track. Our Hi-Lift and shovel tuck in neatly below the full-size spare tire. The tent bars bolt onto the sturdy reinforcement of the lid, and can handle even the largest trailer-top tents. Optionally, tie-downs can be…
Water System in a CanLife with Living Overland’s clever plug-and-play 12-Volt Overland H2O System The debate over stand-alone jerrycans versus integrated RV-style water systems has raged on since the first time a family went overland. Cans offer all the rugged reliability you could want and are easy to transfer from vehicle to vehicle, but lugging a full can out of the truck at each campsite is a pain. On-board water is the ultimate in convenience, but rough terrain can cause leaks and flood your interior or worse: leave you with no water. What if you could have your cake and eat it too? Living Overland’s 12-Volt Overland H2O System aims to provide just that. The Overland H2O System is available as a pre-assembled drop-in unit or as a DIY kit. The latter option is a good choice if you like to tinker or have any intention of customizing the setup (Anderson 12-volt connection, different style water tank, etc). I’m glad Beau sent us the DIY kit version, because popping a pre-assembled unit onto a jerrycan and saying “Look, running water!” would not have made for an informative evaluation. Yes, the completed assembly is really that easy to use. First up in building the kit is reading over the directions, then slicing off part of your beloved Scepter’s lid to make way for the faucet. The rest of the process reads like a Daft Punk song: drill it, tap it, splice it, solder it, heat it, thread it, fit it, fill it and in about an hour the assembly is ready for testing. I had doubts, but the grommet/wire combo seals quite well and passed the 5-gallons-upside-down-for-30-seconds test drip free. It’s a good idea to add a little silicone when you thread the faucet into the lid, especially if the hole wasn’t tapped cleanly. The finished product is ready for kitchen duty as quickly as flipping the faucet over and plugging it into a power point. The faucet folds nearly flat for travel, and transfers from can to can as easily as swapping lids. While the exposed faucet hardware does make the system a little more fragile than a regular can, that shouldn’t be a problem if you’ve properly strapped in your 45-pound can of water. The variable-speed Whale pump used in this system has plenty of pressure at over two gallons per minute, and at full-tilt will empty a can in just over two minutes. As a bonus, it also has a low enough draw to run directly off a 30-watt solar panel (at a slightly slower speed). Find the 12-Volt Overland H2O System in DIY kit or…
Kukenam XL RuggedizedWe spent an evening zipping, latching, clipping, and weathering out a storm in the biggest and baddest Tepui available. I’ve never been a fan of rooftop tents, and frankly, I’m still not. Oh they’re an excellent solution in an area where wildlife is a concern, but I’ve always preferred either the stealth afforded by a ground tent or the warmth of a hard-walled camper. I suppose that’s why this review was handed to me—disliking the general concept means I have no bias toward or against any particular manufacturer’s tent. Tepui is an example of a manufacturer that listens: they’ve done a great job accepting customer feedback over the years, and answering that feedback with a continually improving product line. The Kukenam XL Ruggedized is one such creation, its feature list reads like the wishlist from a certain forum thread. If my feelings on the matter of roof tents ever change the Ruggedized line of Tepui tents will be on my short list. The Kukenam XL Ruggedized is no lightweight. It’s a massive tent that weighs in at over 200 pounds (with annex) and provides more than fifty square feet of sleeping space when open. Even closed, the tent’s sizable 76″ x 48″ x 12″ bulk has a staggering presence, and it looks right at home on a large overland vehicle or trailer. The first thing to catch my eye when we sliced open the box was the Kukenam XL’s shiny metal floor. Most manufacturers use wood here, and though I’ve never seen wood become a problem it’s nice to see the added durability of aluminum finding it’s way onto roof tents. D-rings are present at each corner of the aluminum floor and make a great place to hang lanterns or muddy boots in camp. The next thing I noticed was the sharp looking black transit cover. Tepui included generously sized Velcro corners to ease zipping and unzipping of the cover, which double as a catch to keep the zipper pull tidily tucked away while on the road. The zipper is heavy duty, but it would have been nice to see a ratchet-and-strap method used for securing the cover (in fairness, most manufacturers use zippers here). Removing the cover reveals not two, but four compression straps securing the clamshell shut. Enough space is provided to keep bedding in the tent when folded up. An additional strap runs down the center of the folded tent to keep the ladder from bouncing around on the trail. A half-inch anti-condensation mat is included and does an excellent job keeping the underside of the mattress dry even in foul weather. Setting up the Kukenam XL…
Jackwagon BasecampA first look at Jackwagon Off-Road’s flagship model: the Basecamp. Jackwagon Off-Road Trailers is a small manufacturer based right in or own back yard, who produces a bling-free and relatively inexpensive option for hauling more gear out on the trail. Shortly after speaking with the owner, JR, about what we had in mind, a beautifully modest black-and-green Basecamp showed up at our door for testing. We’ve spent a few weeks with the trailer so far, and it’s made a good first impression. At first glance the trailer feels much longer than the mere 11-feet it measures. A 6 x 4 x 2-foot aluminum cargo box rides centered over the axle providing 48 cubic feet of secure, weatherproof storage space, with a 4 x 2-foot open air cargo rack and spare tire mount sitting farther forward. Empty, the Basecamp weighs in at 950 pounds and has a 1,050-pound payload capacity. An additional 2-inch receiver is provided out back for bike racks or other accessories. When paired with 33-inch tires the ground clearance is about 17 inches (to the frame). Access to the cargo hold feels endless—with a tailgate, strut-assisted lid, and a drop-down hatch at the front of each side loading and unloading cargo is very convenient. Inside the box, adjustable tie-down rails run down the sides for securing cargo and double as extra reinforcement for the fenders. The floor is fitted with an easy to remove, easy to clean, protective mat. A pair of crossbars are bolted to the top of the lid for mounting a trailer-top tent or handling additional cargo such as a canoe or bikes. All points of access are lockable. As if the cavernous cargo box wasn’t enough, an additional exterior rack is nestled between the box and the spare tire for coolers or any dirty gear you don’t want on the inside. The spare tire carrier doubles as a High-Lift mount, a shovel mount, and an extra layer of security for the front rack’s cargo. On the rear of the trailer an integrated channel accepts the included counter-height work table. Despite the extra chassis length required for the forward cargo rack, our first experiences with the trailer on obstacles left us pleasantly surprised. The Basecamp proved just as nimble as our tow vehicle, and met every challenge without complaint. At higher speeds it follows along smoothly and predictably. In-camp convenience is on par with the better off-road trailers on the market. Thanks to the low-slung stance the Timbren Axle-Less suspension affords, minimal lifting is needed to get…
Lightforce LED 180Lighting 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…
Kitting It OutA Budget Overlander, Part III Wrapping up the Forester Project with a few simple upgrades to both vehicle and driver. The first time I packed up the Forester for an overnight camping trip the rear end sagged down to the bump stops, it clearly wasn’t the kind of “truck” I’m used to driving. Building this car has been a long lesson in keeping things simple and light. Though Subarus are built like Legos, modifications and cargo have to be carefully planned out to maintain a good balance between weight, handling, and power. Mechanical Upgrades The Forester’s brakes are adequate out of the box, but if you’re the type that enjoys long “spirited” drives through the mountains you might find them just a bit lacking. Brake fade is a particular endurance problem on the base model, which has drum brakes out back. Fortunately the fade can be minimized without the complexity of swapping in rear disc brakes. After looking at the Brembo option (which would have cost as much as the car itself), I decided to take a chance on the off-brand but highly praised Power Stop set of drilled and slotted rotors with high performance pads. The gamble paid off: for about $125 the brake fade is all but gone and the car now stops with confidence. The only other mechanical weak point we’ve run into are the front CV axles. Fortunately, even with the suspension lift they’re good for at least 50,000 miles. At first blush that might sound nuts, but bear in mind they only cost $45 and about 2 hours of work to replace. Electrical Upgrades A 90-amp alternator comes standard in the Forester, which seems perfectly matched to any reasonable accessory load for a vehicle this size. We’ve had no trouble running a variety of accessories simultaneously, from air compressors to radio equipment, so we chose instead to focus on preventative and convenience upgrades. First up was a DieHard Platinum Group 35 AGM battery (essentially an Odyssey PC1400) to replace the original lead-acid unit and ensure reliable power in the field. The DieHard features 850 cold cranking amps, plenty of reserve power for in-camp use, and a 4-year warranty. I love drop-in upgrades… Next we addressed communications. Though surprisingly capable, the Forester is more about adventure outside the vehicle than inside, so we opted for the flexibility of a hand-held radio. The Yaesu VX-8R ruggedized handheld allows for the convenience of a mobile unit when pared with an external mic and antenna, while retaining…
Power Wagon PerfectionUsing the KISS method to strike the perfect balance between useful truck and comfy camp. A completely self-contained camper—whether a slide-in, pop-top, or a custom built box—is a wonderful thing to have if you’re in the position of dedicating an entire truck to your adventure duties. For the rest of us, some sort of compromise between a home-on-wheels and a daily-driven truck needs to be found. Randy’s 2013 Power Wagon Tradesman is one such way to find that compromise. By opting for as many “factory original” options as possible and installing only essential modifications he’s created a reliable (and warrantied) tool that serves as a workhorse for the daily grind, and much more than a tent when out adventuring. At first glance the Power Wagon portrays a neat and tidy profile, with only subtle details revealing the capability contained within. From the factory the truck comes with a 5.7-liter HEMI, 4.56 axle gear ratio, trailer brake controller, front and rear axle lockers, front swaybar disconnect, heavy duty Bilstein shocks, underbody skid plates, and enough room to easily clear 33-inch tires (BF Goodrich all-terrains in this case). The HEMI generates 400 lb-ft. of torque, ample power to match the truck’s capacity: a 6.4-foot bed rated for 1,900 pounds of payload, and a nearly 12,000-pound tow rating. On closer inspection, a pair of Aluminess bumpers can be seen protecting the truck front and rear, with recovery points, winch and light mounting, and additional hidden storage out back for a mere 220-pounds of total weight gain. Up front a set of PEDIA fog lamps ride in the stock location, and a 44-inch Baja Designs LED light bar provides 30,000 lumens of separately switched spot, flood, and amber foul-weather lighting. Auxiliary floods and the factory reverse camera aid in night-time backing, and a “stubby” antenna stays out of the way on tight trails. Underneath the truck hides a commercial-grade, 12,000-pound WARN heavyweight winch designed specifically for the Power Wagon, with custom fairlead and 90 feet of 7/16 wire rope rated for 18,000 pounds. All vulnerable bits are protected from the factory by skid plates, and a pair of White Knuckle rock sliders keep the truck safely off the rocks. A Snugtop Rebel with full insect screens transforms the bed into a cozy and bug-free place to crash after a long day of adventuring. The shell has storage cubbys, clothes hangers, and lantern/gear hooks for in-camp convenience. The bed of the truck has been fitted with thick padded carpet for additional insulation and significant cushion. The truck also features clever storage cubbys throughout the interior, perfect for stowing recovery gear and tools. The…
Ironclad Ranchworx®A look at Ironclad’s flagship leather work glove Let’s face it, the six-dollar “railroad engineer” gloves so many of us have been carrying around are quite dated. They’re clumsy, uncomfortable, and lack the durability to survive the abuse our hands routinely face in the field. Their unnecessary bulkiness makes a good grip all but impossible, leading to dropped tools and damaged gear, or worse: injured hands when we throw off the gloves in frustration so we can actually get the job done. It’s time for something better. Enter Ranchworx®, a durable, extremely comfortable, well fitted glove from Ironclad. The glove is loaded up with old-school ingenuity and modern technology alike: Bullwhip™ leather, Kevlar® and Duraclad® reinforcement, Exo-Guard™ impact protection for the fingers, terrycloth sweat wipe, and a clever design for the stitching arrangement—dubbed Rolltop® Fingertips—which maximizes dexterity. All this adds up to a grippy and comfortable glove that’s tough enough to handle winching and trail work, yet provides enough control and tactile feedback for wrenching or driving. Bonus: the gloves are also machine washable and clean up well after a hard day’s work. So how well do the Ranchworx® hold up to prolonged torture? The team at Expedition Portal has been beating on these gloves for the last six months with everything from engine repair to chopping firewood, moving boulders to vehicle recovery. In spite of our continued abuse the leather and fabric are still in great shape, and the gloves continue to fit like a glove should fit. We like them so much they’ve become standard equipment in all of our vehicles. Consider the Ranchworx® gloves an investment in personal safety and convenience. Though a bit more expensive than those old engineer gloves, you can expect them to last for years instead of months. Pick up a pair directly from Ironclad, or for a limited time free with a one-year subscription to Overland Journal—your hands will thank you. Originally licensed to Expedition Portal for publishing on October 29th, 2014.…
So-Cal TeardropsWe head to California to see first-hand how teardrop trailers are built. There’s no disputing the cult-like following “teardrop” trailers have managed to achieve, and placing the little campers onto an off-road chassis for some backcountry fun seems only natural. So we headed out to California to pick up the next Expedition Portal camper project, spend the morning touring the So-Cal Teardrops facility, and chat with Gabe Pari to find out just what makes these little trailers so great. Q: When was So-Cal Teardrops started? A: We started the company back in 2004 and have been growing ever since Q: Who started the company? A: The Pari’s: being Mike, Gabe & Sierra Q: Why did you start it, and what were the driving factors? A: We wanted a teardrop trailer for camping, and we knew we had the skills and capability to build one. Building them for sale was not a part of the plan, until friends and family kept telling us how cool they were, and asking “How much to build a teardrop for me?” The rest is history. Q: How long did it take you to perfect your teardrop design, and how did that design change with the introduction into the off-road market? A: Our first teardrop took about 8 months to build, working nights and weekends. During that time we had to source a great many quality parts, and design and refine CAD programs for fabrication. Once we decided to produce an off-road teardrop, we started from the ground up. We knew our off-road teardrops had to be tough, rugged, and rival or exceed the capabilities of well equipped off-road tow machines, and our “Krawler” and “XS” models do just that. Q: I noticed you’re celebrating a decade in business, how has the company grown and changed in that time? A: Our company has grown to nine employes in our main facility, and we continue to do business as we started: on a personal basis, with a smile, a handshake, and a goal of perfection. Q: I’ve seen other teardrops that seem to be identical to yours, I assume these are part of your Regional Manufacturing plan. How many shops do you have and how many do you plan to expand to? A: We have four manufacturing facilities, including our primary plant in Upland and three RMF’s: Petaluma, CA; Phoenix, AZ; and Lowell, MI. Our plan is to have fourteen regional manufacturers nationally, enabling us to effectively service all areas of the USA with our top quality teardrops and service. Q: In your opinion what makes your products…
Slow Car, Fast HouseMike and Geneva build a Ford-powered VW AdventureWagen for life on the road. The 1985 Volkswagen Vanagon Westfalia rested alone and unwanted in a field, baking under the Arizona sun until Mike and Geneva rescued the little camper from her gloomy fate. It wasn’t long before the modifications and updates started, including a hightop AdventureWagen conversion, Bostig Ford engine swap, and a multitude of clever alterations to enhance comfort and convenience for the long run. Dubbed Alta (Spanish for “tall”) for obvious reasons, she’s begun her new life as a home on wheels to Mike, Geneva, and their three dogs Seri, Zeb and Mango while they travel to points unknown. To say the Vanagon is well equipped would be an understatement—as I peek inside the cabinets and cubbies I can’t imagine not finding the right tool on board for any situation. External modifications include an original 8-foot awning and 10-foot Fiamma awning (both with attachable walls), cavernous secure storage boxes fore and aft, swing-out bike and spare tire racks, ladders for roof access, storage for tools and spares, and tables and racks for outdoor living. On the mechanical front, a Bostig engine conversion places a reliable Ford 2.0l DOHC motor where the 1.9l Volkswagen used to live. The transmission, axles, CV joints, cooling and brake systems have been replaced or rebuilt, and the electrical system has been updated to a stout dual-battery system with high-output solar charging. A practical selection of recovery gear stands at the ready, awaiting the inevitably muddy roads in Central and South America. A custom 20-gallon water tank replaces the factory unit, and ample spare propane allows for comfortable extended stays off the grid. A heavy duty GoWesty suspension with Koni shocks provides a smooth ride. Living and storage space abounds inside the spacious hightop. Cabinets and racks for cookware, dishes, food and spices surround the coveted Westfalia kitchen. Other additions and alterations include storage areas in the front and back of the hightop, blackout curtains for the windows, lighting, fans, and even a small library. Stretch netting serves double duty as cargo and canine management, and an impressive collection of Volkswagen paraphernalia decorates Alta inside and out. We look forward to reading about Mike and Geneva’s adventures on the road as they work their way south. Read more about Alta’s build or follow along with their journey at It’s not a slow car, it’s a fast house. Originally licensed to Expedition Portal for publishing on October 7th, 2014.…
Jerome Jamboree XXVIA gathering of Volkswagens and enthusiasts at a gold mine outside Jerome We set off from the safety of Prescott early in the morning to brave the steep, winding tarmac of Highway 89A over Mingus Mountain. The tantrum throwing, oil dripping Vanagon we’ve affectionately come to know as “Lana” was being uncharacteristically well behaved as we made the climb, caffeinated elixirs in hand (for lack of cup holders), toward Jerome, Arizona. Our destination: the 24th Jerome Jamboree put on by the folks at the Arizona Bus Club and hundreds of fellow Vdub aficionados. Some of our travels are best accompanied with narration. Other times, the storytelling is best left to the photography… Originally licensed to Expedition Portal for publishing on September 23rd, 2014.…
Running the RimFour days of wandering along the Mogollon Rim and eastern Arizona’s Coronado Trail. Winding through dense forest for 120 miles atop the most prominent section of the Mogollon Rim, the Rim Road (FR300) crosses the eastern half of Arizona from north of Payson to Apache country at the White Mountains. With a maze of roads twisting through the pines on top of the rim FR300 is a little tricky to follow on a map, but it’s fairly easy to stay with it on the ground. A few miles of pleasant driving through the trees reveal little, until the road reaches the edge of a 2,000-foot cliff as it turns sharply east. Starting out on a Tuesday, we’re able to explore in solitude and our focus stays with the scenery for much of the drive along the smooth surface of the Rim Road. In the entire length of FR300 between Highway 87 and 260 the face of the Rim is breached only once, where the Arizona Trail climbs to the top of the rim at Big Dry Wash. Good camping and lunch spots dot the sides of the road, some in the cool shade of dense pines, others with wide-open panoramic views of the lowlands to the south. In dry weather most of the Rim Road and historic locales are accessible by a 2WD vehicle with good ground clearance. The most scenic and secluded of the campsites on the Rim are hidden down the many side roads, but be warned: most degrade to rutted, rock-strewn trails shortly after leaving the main road. Lakes, ponds, and streams litter the countryside and support a variety of wildlife including deer, elk, mountain lion, and black bear. Camping is not allowed on the shorelines of most vehicle-accessible lakes in the area, but we had other plans… One of the many rutted, rocky and overgrown side roads designated FR764 leads south not far from Bear Canyon Lake. With a little patience and perseverance, the trail leads out from the Mogollon Rim to the edge of a 7,800-foot high mesa known as Promontory Butte. There, a small fire ring overlooks Christopher Creek and Highway 260 some 2,000 feet below. The road continues on for another 60-65 miles as the valley below gains elevation and the Mogollon Rim slowly disappears from sight outside the town of Pinetop, where the Rim Road rejoins Highway 260. Our route continues east, the pines giving way to groves of aspen, high plains, and blue lakes below the 11,421-foot peak of Dził Łigai (Mt. Baldy). Knowing sunset was just minutes away,…
Photographic Faux-pas9 common mistakes, and how to avoid them Are you an aspiring photographer dreaming of getting your imagery published, or an author suddenly tasked with shooting your own photos? From a guy who gets stuck fixing all your photos, here’s a list of the most common—and easily avoidable—photographic mistakes made by both novice and experienced author-photographers alike. We’ve all done some (ok all) of these at one time or another, often without even realizing it. Watch for these mistakes every time you shoot and the quality of your photos will improve dramatically. Dust, Dirt, and Stains on Product No one wants to buy a muddy tent, a hair-covered jacket, or dust-covered kitchenware. Contrary to how easy a good photo editor makes it look, sweeping up your dirty floor while keeping the scene realistic takes an incredible amount of time, concentration, and skill—it’s far easier to simply wipe it down before shooting. It’s a dusty planet, so get in the habit of checking before each press of the shutter. A mini-broom, soft cloth or feather duster works well for dust; a damp rag or small mop comes in handy for difficult spots. In a pinch, I’ve even used my Rocket. Exception: deliberate filth to show how dirty something is, such as a blown shock leaking oil or a mud-covered trailer in a “torture-test” article. Inappropriate Scenes or Backgrounds I was working on a camp oven review when, about five shots in, it dawned on me there was a fuzzy-but-unmistakable roll of toilet paper in the background (the perfect garnish for medium-rare filet mignon and garlic mashed potatoes). Likewise, if your subject is a camp chair review, your chairs should be in an environment that at least somewhat resembles a camp, not your downtown apartment balcony. You can’t rely on a shallow depth-of-field here either, make sure anything that detracts from the subject is completely out of the frame. Keeping the scene realistic and true-to-purpose helps legitimize a product review. Would you trust the “stability rating” of a camp chair when all of the photos show it placed on a solid, flat balcony? A note on pets: we love animals, but it is best practice to keep the dogs and cats (and other pets) out of the background unless they are relevant to the story. Even then, do so sparingly—Fido should not be the subject of every single photo from your trek across South America. Inappropriate or Incomplete Props True story: during a table review for a certain…
Understanding Weights and Ratings When planning to tow a trailer there’s more to consider than just the rated towing capacity of the vehicle. Hitch rating, tongue weight rating, payload capacity, unbraked towing capacity (if a brake controller is not installed), aftermarket accessories, cargo, and passengers all affect the maximum trailer weight that a vehicle can safely tow. Adding to the confusion, manufacturers often exaggerate the tow ratings they give their vehicles in an effort to one-up the competition. Understanding how to calculate accurate values and how they’ll affect handling off-pavement is the key to knowing if your vehicle can safely tow that fancy off-road trailer you’ve always wanted. First, a few definitions to clarify the common acronyms: Curb Weight (or Dry Weight): the weight of the vehicle when empty Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR): the maximum safe loaded weight of a vehicle or trailer including all passengers, cargo, and accessories Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR): the maximum weight each axle is rated to carry, typically different for front and rear axles Towing Capacity (or Tow Rating): the theoretical maximum loaded weight of a trailer the vehicle can safely tow—payload capacity and tongue weight ratings are more often the limiting factor; ratings are usually provided for both braked and unbraked trailers Payload Capacity: the maximum weight of passengers, cargo, and accessories a vehicle can safely carry, including the tongue weight of a trailer Hitch Class: hitches are divided into general classes based on the weight they can handle; this rating is for the hitch hardware only, the vehicle may be rated lower or higher Gross Trailer Weight (GTW): the weight of a trailer when fully loaded Tongue Weight (TW): the amount of weight a trailer places on a vehicle’s hitch Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR): the maximum safe combined weight of a vehicle and trailer including all passengers, cargo, and accessories Payload Capacity The first thing you’ll need to determine before hitching up and hitting the road is how much weight your vehicle can safely carry on it’s own axles—also known as payload capacity. You’ll rarely encounter a clear rating in the capacities section of the vehicle owner’s manual, simply because there are so many variables that can affect it. However, all manufacturers will provide you with the vehicle’s dry weight (or curb weight) as delivered and gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR), which is all you need to determine the payload capacity of a vehicle. Typically these will be listed in the owner’s manual and on a decal affixed to the driver’s door. Note: pay careful attention to options or packages included with…