DESTINATIONS - PLANNING & PACKING
What and how you pack may determine how happy your bush travel experience will be.
Most first-timers take too much ‘stuff’ away with them, so every campsite is a potential drama scene, where piles of gear are unloaded and then have to be forced back in again.
The best arrangement for in-vehicle storage is where there’s a minimum of daily unpacking and repacking. That needs a careful analysis of your travel kit, starting with the heaviest gear: recovery equipment, liquids, tools and spares.
Don’t pack things you don’t use. The top of that list is usually a high-lift jack. Most modern 4WDs can’t be lifted with a high-lift, unless they’re fitted with special bars front and rear.
Don’t carry enough oil to do a full service: top-up engine oil is usually all you’ll need to carry.
Don’t carry a full garage tool kit: check what tools you’ll need for bush patch-up jobs and leave the rest at home.
Don’t take every piece of recovery gear you own: agree with other convoy members on who will take what.
Water requirements range from two to five litres per person per day, depending on where you are and at what time of the year. It’s essential to carry water, even on day trips, because you never know when you’ll get stuck.
The best place to store water is in a purpose-built tank, positioned low-down in the vehicle, or underneath.
Fridges need air circulation around their condensers, so some free space at one end of the fridge is essential if it’s to work properly.
A set of drawers in the back of your wagon or ute with the fridge on top or to one side works well for most people. Tools, the stove, spares and recovery gear can slide away in the drawers.
You need to pack everything so that you can do daily checks without difficulty. Gas bottle cocks, for instance, need to be easily reached, because corrugated roads can work wonders on screw threads.
If it’s still obvious that the pile of stuff won’t fit inside, a roof rack is an option. However, if your roof rack is carrying a tent or swags, folding camping chairs and table, a second spare tyre, empty jerry cans and a couple of small gas bottles, it’s full.
A car-topper-tent is another sleeping option that affects your packing potential. A roof-top home means a quick, safe bed at the end of a day’s travel, without the need to clear the ground and pitch a conventional tent. Bedding can be left intact, so you don’t even need to make up the sack.
When you’ve crammed everything in, take a trip down to your nearest registered weighbridge and check the loaded weight of your machine – then compare that figure with the maker’s rated gross mass. Heavy, isn’t it? That’s why people blow tyres and break suspensions.
The first item you must ‘pack’ into the back of any 4WD wagon is an Australian-Standard-approved cargo barrier. When the barrier goes in, unbolt the third-row seats and leave them at home, rather than lose the storage space they take up.
You have to solve the problem of the fridge before you do anything else. Once you’ve got that worked out, it’s time for the heavy essentials: recovery gear, tools, food, cooking equipment and essential fluids. Heavy stuff should be loaded as far forward and as low in the cargo area as possible, even if it means unloading light stuff to get at the hardware.
You can protect carpet by using a wagon liner designed for your vehicle.
Crew-cab utes are popular alternatives to 4WD wagons, but they have the same weight distribution problem as wagons, because most of the cargo space is behind the rear axle. It’s important to load the heavy stuff right up front of the tray.
A canopy allows you to double a ute’s storage volume, but don’t expect the same degree of security and weatherproofing you get with a wagon. All the canopies we’ve evaluated have leaked a little water and varying amounts of dust, particularly around the tailgates. You need easy side access in a canopy, so look for one that has large, lift-up windows.
It’s possible to get FRP canopies that can accept roof racks and steel canopies do it easily.
Another storage option is to buy a cab/chassis and fit a purpose-built body to it.
The great advantage of a camping trailer or off-road caravan is that it can be a self-contained unit, with gas, food, water and spare tyre packed securely.
A trailer is a simple way of keeping most of your gear out of the wagon or ute, but trailers bring their own problems. For instance, they’re not easy to tow in soft, sandy conditions.
Trailers are also inherently unstable – they fall on their drawbars when unsupported – so they need to be packed with weight distribution in mind. The downward load on the towing vehicle’s coupling must never exceed the rating stamped on the bar.
Whatever vehicle type and storage mode you choose, it’s important that the vehicle behaves well on and off road, that your necessities are protected from dust and water, and that everyone is safely and comfortably seated.