IT'S TIME TO GO OVERLAND, CANADA
Overlanding is a relatively new word in the off-roader's dictionary, but self-reliant vehicle-based travel is hardly a new phenomenon. Ever since the invention of the automobile, people have wanted to travel further in their quest to experience adventure and new cultures; none more so than littleknown Canadian overland pioneer, Aloha Wanderwell.
The aptly named and restless teenager, who was born Idris Galcia in 1906, sought more than Winnipeg had to offer and when at sixteen years old, she saw an advertisement in the Paris Herald looking for young women with “Brains, Beauty,
and Breeches” to join a round-the-world expedition, she jumped at the chance.
The expedition lasted for six years and her story of overland travel in a Model-T Ford, through a world which wasn’t prepared for the automobile, is really something else and well worth the read; imagine having to use mashed banana skins as grease, or getting labourers to tow you for 129 kilometres because fuel wasn’t available - now that’s real adventure.
Even though today's overlander has a much easier life than the Wanderwell Expedition, being thoroughly prepared is still paramount as self-reliance is the key to any successful overland trip.
After a series of personal losses including his real estate career, ethnographer Eric Lobo embarked on a therapeutic 35,000 km around-the-world motorcycle trip without so much as a map or GPS, relying instead on the advice of other motorcyclists that he met along the way. His subsequent trip to the Canadian arctic on a 2015 Harley Davidson Street Bob was approached very differently, as serious planning was required to minimize risks from the extreme dangers that Lobo would face from the weather and terrain. One particular modification, outrigger skis to keep the bike upright, proved extremely effective as Lobo was stopped by local police who thought that their radar gun was broken and wanted to confirm that he was actually travelling at 115kmh on ice.
Every trip is different, and the essentials for equipping your vehicle
are going to vary according to what it is that you want to get from your overland experience. So, spend some time working out where you’re likely to go and what it is that you want to achieve before you spend your hard-earned cash on items that you later discover you don’t really need. Mike Cerutti spent two years planning exactly what he wanted from his vehicle before he went crazy spending money, but even so, he’s already re-configured his FJ Cruiser’s interior storage solutions five times.
Vehicle selection is equally important for the overlander and the FJ Cruiser was an automatic choice for Cerutti, just as the 80 Series Landcruiser was for Jason Butt. The FJ, while being an extremely capable vehicle, has limitations because of its size, but with the coil-sprung 80 Series being roomier –and having a solid front axle - it was a more obvious and practical choice for Butt and his teenage sons who were already avid campers.
An off-road vehicle isn’t essential for overland travel but it definitely helps if you really want to get off the beaten track and away from the crowds. You can travel across Canada in a mini-van and legitimately call yourself an overlander, and even though you won’t get to experience quite as much of the country as the 4x4 driver will, you’ll definitely experience much more than the motel-hoppers ever will.
There are also 4x4 panel vans available that would make perfect overland vehicles. The VW Syncro is a popular choice but it is becoming increasingly rare, and if you’re lucky enough to find one, a good clean model can be very expensive. At the other end of the scale is the Mercedes Sprinter 4x4 that comes available with limited factory options but would make an awesome base vehicle for your custom overland build project.
Once you’ve decided on which vehicle you need, the next priority is where you’re going to sleep and you have one of three choices; in the vehicle, on the vehicle, or on the ground.
Traditional ground-level camps usually require considerable amounts of equipment, time, and energy to set up, unless you sleep under the stars of course, but for many this is all part of the fun. Although if it’s raining, this can be the most miserable experience ever. Originally Cerutti had a three-man tent but “needed more space” and so purchased an Oztent RV5 Tagalong, which attaches to the Rhinorack Foxwing awning, that he says has been a great setup. The one downside is that it’s not a free standing unit, as it requires the awning to hold it up, which is only ever a problem if you need to move the vehicle away from camp.
The overlander embarking on a longer trip may prefer the safety and convenience of sleeping inside the vehicle, but they will either need to be very selective with their gear or choose a vehicle that can accommodate a larger, more comfortable sleeping area.
The third option is sleeping on the vehicle in a roof top tent, and according to confirmed RTT fan Butt, “Every night is a great sleep and it frees up lots of room inside the truck”. In use for over seventy years, these ingenious devices can be set up in less time than it takes to photograph the process. And providing you’ve given a little thought to where you park your truck, you’ll have a flat surface to sleep on that is guaranteed* to keep you free from bugs, bears and bumbling buddies during the night.
*Not really guaranteed, but it’s definitely safer than sleeping on the ground, more fun than sleeping inside your vehicle, and if you pick the right spot, you’ll get an awesome view in the morning.
For that home-away-from-home camping experience, Butt uses a -7 degree Celsius sleeping bag year round, with memory foam compression pillow, a two burner propane Coleman stove, a tent fan in the summer, and a Reliance Fold-to-Go toilet with pop-up shower tent for privacy. Cerutti’s camp luxuries include a Luagaloo 5 gallon portable toilet and a Buddy heater that keeps the sleeping quarters warm during cold Canadian winters. And yes, these guys are hardcore four-season campers.
An 800w - 1000w power inverter is also a nice-to-have accessory so that you can charge your devices, boil a kettle -or if you really miss the conveniences of home - power a microwave, says Cerutti. A permanently mounted, or portable solar panel, is also a great addition if you’re planning to stay in one spot for several days.
Ultimately, whatever fits your wants, and your wallet, will have to work; you might wish to fit a tailored brand-name awning that provides shelter for cooking or simply relaxing away from the mid-day sun. Unfortunately awnings don’t come cheap, but there’s nothing wrong with securing an auto-store tarp between your truck and
the nearest tree with bungee cords if it does exactly the same job.
‘Survival’ comes next on our list of priorities. As this is 2017, rubbing sticks together to start a campfire so that you can eat doesn’t really count, we have propane for that. There are a few more luxuries that make camp life much easier though, a cooler for one. Not just for keeping your beer perfectly chilled, a properly installed unit like Cerutti’s favourite purchase, a Whytner 45qt fridge, will ensure that food remains both fresh and secure on those longer overland trips.
If your fridge breaks down and you have nothing to eat don’t worry, us humans are a resilient bunch and can survive without food for up to three weeks. But go without water for a week, or less during Canada’s hot summers, and you’re going to be in serious trouble. Make sure that you take enough water, roughly five litres a day per person, to last your entire trip. And that’s just for drinking and cooking, if you’re planning on taking showers or washing clothes enroute, then an auxiliary water tank will be a necessity.
For emergency situations Butt keeps a Lifestraw handy and it does pretty much what it says on the tin; up to 1000 litres of contaminated water can be made safe simply by drawing it through this strawstyle filter.
Now that you’re rested, fed, and watered, if you plan on going off-road as part of your overland adventure, it doesn’t matter how good or experienced a driver you are, you need to be prepared for the possibility –no, certainty- that you’ll get stuck. A basic recovery kit is essential.
Stowing all your gear safely and securely can be quite the headache, but there are several companies providing off-the-shelf or custom-built storage solutions — for a price. The alternative is to build your own; my truck has a DIY lift-up-lid box in the rear that does a very good job of carrying recovery gear safely and quietly. The only downside is that it doesn’t give the same ease of access to the gear which sliding drawers provide.
Cerutti removed the FJ’s rear seats to make room for his German Shepherd dog and also to incorporate a 50" x 20" x8" sliding drawer on one side, and an adjacent slider for the fridge on the other. Butt has a full width, thirty six inch deep, two-drawer-sliding system. Custom-built by his brother, it houses recovery gear and tools in one side, with the other containing all the ‘domestic’ camping utensils that have been accumulated over the years.
Both guys are happy with their current set-up and agreed that if they had to do it again they’d take the same route with a couple of exceptions; Butt says that he’d prefer a diesel-powered 80 for the economy and usable torque, while
Cerutti says that although thirty five inch tires are cool and visually appealing, the increase in fuel consumption just isn’t worth it on a long trip so he’ll be reverting to thirty three’s.
Next on Cerutti’s list of modifications is a complete rewire of the electrical accessories that are fitted to his truck and also to replace the tired six year old suspension; which is pretty important when you drive off-road as often, and carry as much gear as Cerutti does.
The choices are seemingly endless when it comes to choosing and spec’ing your overland vehicle and equipment, so take your time and think very carefully about your intended destinations and objectives. A successful overland trip depends on good planning.
One thing is certain, you shouldn’t need to worry about mashing banana skins to grease essential components.