Everything You Pack Should Have a Reason
Special from Tom Severin, Badland Off-Road Adventures
We were camping in Death Valley National Park near the end of December. The day was bright, sunny with no clouds or wind. The sun felt good! Our base camp was at 1600 feet and we had no plans for driving that day. So, sitting in the sun drinking coffee properly creamed with Baileys, we needed only a shirt.
Without cloud cover and being late December, the overnight low dropped to 29 degrees.
The next morning, trying to warm up over a hot steaming cup of coffee, two of our guests, mumbled and grumbled about the cold night and lack of sleep. That was the last we saw of them. Without a word they packed up and quit the trip!
A cold sleepless night can ruin a trip. So, let’s cover the key tips to ensure you have a great overlanding adventure.
Tip #1: Have the right stuff.
When overlanding, it is critical that you have all the “stuff” to live and be comfortable as you travel and explore. You need to be quite self-sufficient to handle most obstacles presented – everything from break downs, a stuck vehicle, to a medical problem. We are at the top of the food chain for space compared to quads, side by sides, motorcycles, mountain bikers, and backpackers but we can’t take it all. Each item needs a reason. By the way, comfort is a good reason!
Whether one night, a week, or a month of overland travel, there are a multitude of simple concepts and tricks that make the trip go smoothly and comfortably. I have racked my brain and dug deep into my experience to find the rest of these key tips for you.
Tip #2: Appropriate clothing/shelter/sleeping arrangement.
It gets very cold at night both in the mountains and the desert. It may get into the 30’s at night. A cold sleepless night can ruin a trip. If you have sleeping bags rated 3 seasons, bring 2 of them and stuff one inside the other. Another alternative is a sleeping bag and a blanket plus dry sweat suit or long johns in place of the second bag. A pad underneath will insulate you from the cold ground while a cot (unless it is padded) will be cold with air circulating under it. Set your camp up at home and try it out before the trip. Make sure you will get a good night’s sleep.
Tip #3: Pack light and tight.
Pack your tent on the top of the pile of sleeping bags, blankets, and pads. Then you can set up the tent first without unloading all the gear that goes inside. Of course, packing up to leave, reverse the process. As you roll up the contents in the tent they go directly into the vehicle without finding a place to make a pile.
Your clothing bag is best packed on top for access during the trip. You may need additional layers. When you pull it out of the tent put it on the front seat or on your camp chair until you have finished your morning hygiene. Then place it next to the tent or other convenient place. That camp chair now ends on top or on an edge for convenient retrieval for lunch.
Put the fly inside the tent before rolling up the tent. That’s a nice clean spot and will not blow away. Roll the tent up toward the door. Next time you set it up, stand where you want the door and roll it out.
Stuff each sleeping bag starting with the end you crawl into. This is a small thing that might keep you bag from filling with dust during travels. If your vehicle doors don’t seal very tight, place the tent bag and sleeping bags with the draw string end facing inward – again to mitigate the dust you have to deal with. And don’t forget to check up all locks, for God’s sake – find more here.
I like to bring a pillow. If you don’t have room, build one out of clothes placed inside the sleeping bag’s stuff sack.
Pitch your tent on the best level ground available. Orient the bag so your head is uphill. Be careful though, just a slight lean either way can give you a fitful night. Use the empty bags from your sleeping bag, your clothes, a towel, or blanket to build a berm on the downhill side under you sleeping pad at your hips and shoulders.
Tip #4: Food, Food Preparation and Kitchen.
Hygiene is critically important. Be sure and wash your hands when cooking and have everyone wash before meals. Set a liquid hand soap dispenser next to the water jug. Keep liquid hand soap and dish soap stored in zip lock bags during transport.
The same is true for bug spray, sun screen, and hand lotion. If something fails, the zip lock may save you a large mess. For a larger group, set up something like a Wishy Washy hand washing station [https://partnersteel.com/camp-site ]. Alternatively, a plastic spray bottle full of soapy water can be used to wash hands and to find a leak in a tire.
When you are on a long trip you will find ice box or refrigerator space is at a premium. Buy several smaller jars of items like mustard, mayonnaise, salad dressing, salsa, etc. that do not need refrigeration until they are opened. Only one small open jar needs to be refrigerated. The rest remain in the food box. So, shopping at Costco for a large group may be cheaper but not efficient on the trail!
Don’t forget salt, pepper and other spices. But consider extra salt and pepper stored in the glove box. During lunch time on the trails your normal spice rack might be buried and not worth the trouble. Also consider having a knife and fork join the salt and pepper in the glove box just in case someone invites you for a piece of upside-down cake when you least expect it.
I carry a small cutting board with a knife (like those that come at Christmas with the gift box of cheese) in a zip lock bag in the pocket of the transit bag for the ARB refrigerator. This comes out quickly to build a sandwich or cut cheese at lunch time on the tail gate.
When it comes to beverages, it is best to buy cans. They pack better, with stand breakage, and do not end up as dangerous glass shard on the ground. Any glass container must set up right on their bottom. Laying bottles down on top of each other will result in breakage.
Study the internet or your favorite magazines to make a good list of what you need to have the “right stuff.” Make double sure you get a good night’s sleep. Keep health and safety near and dear to your heart. Pack light and tight, but with what you need. And have fun. There is a lot more to overlanding to make sure you are ready, but if you follow these four primary tips, you will have a great adventure in the outback.
Tom Severin, 4×4 Coach, teaches 4WD owners how to confidently and safely use their vehicles to the fullest extent in difficult terrain and adverse driving conditions. Visit www.4x4training.com to develop or improve your driving skill.