Do you miss those camping basics like sleeping under the stars and campfire cooking? With the right RV tow vehicle, you can still have them. Building a custom overland camper as your toad might be the answer.
Getting started doesn’t require an expensive, customized high clearance vehicle like this one. But wise pre-planning is smart for any budget. Not sure how to get started? These overland vehicle planning tips can point you in the right direction.
Simple Tips to Build a Custom Overland Camper from Scratch
At the 2019 Rocky Mountain Overland Rally in Colorado, Overland Equipment and Adventure Trailer’s founder Mario Donovan shared his best tips for overland vehicle planning.
Donovan knows his subject matter well. For over twenty years the company has prepped vehicles and trailers for rugged off-road travel to places around the world. He is well-acquainted with what people love about their overland vehicles, and suggests aspiring overlanders explore a few simple questions before laying out any cash.
What kind of terrain will you explore? Have you considered the kinds of roads you’ll travel?
The best overland camper for you depends on how off-road you want to get. If you think you’ll mostly traverse serious back-country with technical terrain, you will need a beefier vehicle than one that mostly goes on graded fire roads.
Where will you go?
Think about the places where you want to travel in your overland vehicle, then research the availability of parts and fuel for your dream rig.
If your chosen adventure vehicle is a domestic model and you’re only traveling in the U.S., getting parts probably won’t be an issue. But if you’re dreaming of exploring South America, overlanding in a domestic model might be a problem, depending on your location.
For example, the Mercedes Benz 1113 4×4 L-series truck is a great rig for most international exploration. But as the Rigo family discovered when overlanding the States in their Mercedes fire truck, finding parts for it can be tough. A vehicle’s fuel type (gas or diesel?) can also present challenges in some locations.
“Some domestic vehicles are hard to get serviced around the world,” says Donovan. His favorite choice of rigs include diesel vehicles with a Cummins 5.9-liter engine.
When will you travel, with whom, and for how long will you live in your custom overland camper?
Mechanical logistics aside, aspiring overlanders need to consider factors that impact a vehicle’s storage capacity and gross vehicle weight ratio (GVWR). These factors include:
- The number passengers along for the ride.
- The farthest distances between re-supply locations on your routes.
- How often you’ll drive versus camp on the same trip.
- What kind of activities you’ll enjoy once you get there.
- And the time of year in which you will travel.
These factors directly impact your overland vehicle’s carrying capacity and house systems like the galley, holding tanks and sleeping quarters.
The frequency in which you’ll drive on any overlanding trip also impacts your choice of expedition vehicle. Driving hours determine if you need a robust solar electric power system to recharge your vehicle batteries during downtime.
On-board storage is another factor that needs serious consideration.
When building a custom overland camper, Donovan recommends making a list of everything you think you want to carry. Then ask yourself: “If we go without it, will our lives be in danger? Or will we just be inconvenienced?”
When it comes to overlanding, most enthusiasts don’t mind a little less stuff. Inconvenience is a small price to pay if it means getting off the beaten path. Ask ten different people what “bare minimum overlanding” means to them and you’ll get ten different answers. But all can agree on one thing: the real “must haves,” which are basic life-saving equipment and vehicle recovery tools.
Leaving your RV at home for an overland adventure takes some planning. But designing your custom overlanding camper isn’t rocket science. Talk to other enthusiasts at overlander rallies, stay patient and don’t buy any kind of overland vehicle until you understand exactly what it is you want and need from a rig.
Rene Agredano and her husband, Jim Nelson, became full-time RVers in 2007 and have been touring the country ever since. In her blog, Rene chronicles the ins and outs of the full-timing life and brings readers along to meet the fascinating people and amazing places they visit on the road. Her road trip adventures are chronicled in her blog at LiveWorkDream.com.
Amy Freeze says
Nice review of the rally. I looked at thier site to get more information about the upcoming ones, specifically the driving classes. I was confused because it seemed that even if you buy the top pass which gave you access to 6 classes, it sounded like it was a lottery to see who gets the slots for each class. Is this right? Did you guys participate in a driving class? Did you attend any other classes?
‘do not buy any kind of rig until you [develop your Requirements Statement] after you accumulate some backcountry miles’
Based on the intent of today’s column, could that be better stated as ‘…avoid believing ‘this rig is our forever rig”?
And perhaps ‘wait until developing your Requirements Statement prior to building your rig’?
2003, we took less than a week to convert a commercial truck to our concept of an ExpeditionVehicle.
After nearly two decades of full-time live-aboard, our rig is constantly evolving.