So, after a number of somewhat lengthy trips around various parts of remote Australia, and with plans in place to continue, I came to the conclusion that there is room for improvement in the currently available selection of boxes to put our stuff in. Lots of people out there harp on and on about being prepared, and taking all the right spares and spending money on suspension etc. but when it comes down to packing it all into our vehicles, the challenges begin. Everything from suspension spares and tools to sufficient food, water and appropriate clothing needs to be not only carried, but carefully stowed to prevent damage or loss, whilst at the same time kept to a minimum to reduce weight! If you get these basics right and know how to use your kit, then things proceed just that much smoother and easier, right?

Strangely enough though, not everyone puts the same amount of thought into how to best store all of their well thought out items of equipment.

Decked out for touring
Decked out for touring

One of the trends in recent times has been to install a set of expensive steel or even more expensive alloy drawers. Drawers themselves work very well and enhance the ability to pack more things in a safe and convenient manner and I’ve used them to good effect, but over the last few years have decided that there are some distinct downsides.

The first big negative for us, and anyone who packs for long trips requiring plenty of gear, is the sheer weight factor. A bare bones standard drawer system comes in somewhere between about 60 and 80kg before you’ve even thought about putting your spares or your Weetbix in them. 80kgs is a hell of a lot of extra weight to carry for the convenience of better packing and in direct proportion, means you can carry less gear.

The second major negative with these sorts of systems was the fact that when pulling up to a campsite that you might want to stay at for any length of time, the drawers, by design, remain in the vehicle, thus meaning that all your ‘stuff’ remains in the vehicle. What we find works more to our camping style, is the ability to remove our camp boxes from the vehicle to use in the camp as required, thus negating the need to keep returning to the vehicle for any little item one might need to make dinner etc. There are also a lot of campsites around Australia, particularly in some of the National Parks, that do not allow vehicles to be parked up right beside the camp.

restricted access as a daily driver
Restricted access as a daily driver

The third major sticking point for us, was not so much the use of the drawers when touring, but what happens when you get home from that big trip and want to return your vehicle to being the ‘daily driver’ that is required to take the kids bikes in the back, or the dog, or what have you. This was rammed home big time when my wife once asked me to take one of the kid’s bikes in my Patrol, so we could do a cycle on the Cairns esplanade. It didn’t really go down that well when I had to explain that I couldn’t fit it, and the kids in, despite having a vehicle twice the size of her VW Golf.

All of these things led me to re-think my packing and storage methods and requirements and to start a thought process around how we could do it simpler and more efficiently. When designing the layout of my 79 series dual cab canopy, I opted to use 55 litre Nally bins and a light weight aluminium mesh frame, a system that also has a couple of limitations, mostly due to the nature of the Nally bins themselves. The system though does, however, address all three of the above issues to some degree.

So what are the key elements of a ‘touring’ storage system for a 4wd? Strength? Lack of rattles? Dust and water proof? Stack-ability? Removability? Efficient use of space?

In terms of carrying capacity, everything revolves around the cargo area (or tray/canopy) and to a lesser extent, the roof rack, and back seats. What we really wanted was the flexibility in a system to be able to remove items from the vehicle with minimum fuss, and then return them when required. Like in the good old days when as kids, Dad used a ‘kitchen box’ made of ply, but that held just about everything we needed for the weekend. This box was put in the back of the wagon and then removed once we got to camp. The car was then free to be used for other purposes like firewood collection or to carry us kids and the fishing rods down to the beach and back.

Simple overnight setup in good weather

In my mind, setting up camp with a table as somewhat of a centrepiece, nearby to the fireplace, with the food and cooking gear under or beside the table, is still what the majority see as the most efficient way to go, unless of course, you are just overnighting all the time and cooking off the back of the tray, or something similar.

When it comes to strength, the good old Nally bin is still probably one of the better options on the market, followed by things like the Wolf Pack (Front Runner) boxes and then a big gap down to the typical clear plastic boxes bought at Bunnings or Woolies. Unfortunately all of these boxes have some serious flaws when it comes to either the weather, the dust, or the rigours of a thousand corrugations, and we noted that a box with the attributes we wanted would by nature be starting to get into the league of the Pelican boxes, Tuff boxes, or Space Cases. Unfortunately, we didn’t want a box to be either as heavy as those options or restricted to those dimensions. We wanted something that was a ‘better’ fit to Four Wheel Drive cargo bays and frankly, a little bit more user-friendly!

So with this in mind, a mate and I have decided to have a go at designing a bullet proof camping box that could easily meet the above needs, but that was waterproof, dust-proof, and could be used either in the back of the vehicle or on the roof. The box also needed to be compatible for use with ratchet straps, turnbuckles or quick release mechanisms, and was still stackable, did not collect water on the lids (like Nally bins), could be used as a seat, couldn’t be opened by inquisitive animals, and didn’t cost hundreds of hard earned dollars.

What we have conceptualized is now being fine tuned in CAD and we hope to have a working prototype ready for testing on our next big trip in about May next year. This new system is also going to work with a specifically designed ‘Quick Release’ mechanism, a lightweight frame (to replace the heavy drawers) that can be easily removed once the trip is over and the vehicle needs to return to its ‘daily driver’ duties. Initial research and conversations with some of those in the industry, who spend a lot of time in the great outdoors, indicates that if it all works as we hope, then it will do really well.

The R&D process isn’t complete yet, so if you have a feature in mind that you think should be considered for inclusion, let us know and we’ll see what we can do with it. If we can get our ducks in a row with it, then we’ll try and fire it all up via a Kick Starter project early in the new year.

Conintue to Part 2

27 thoughts on “The Expedition Box – Open Sky Touring’s New Project

  1. Marcus says:

    love the idea mate – I have also toyed with the idea.
    I really want to also have options that are fully fitted out on the inside. e.g. a 5 piece dinning set or your cooking set etc. would be epic.

    • Ben Kincade says:

      I agree with you Marcus, and it seems like a logical follow-on to sort out the interior of the boxes for more specific purposes. We are also half thinking that we could produce an integrated water storage option as well. Bit of thinking still to be done.

  2. Rod cleary says:

    Interested in this,going thru this atm,had the landcruiser,3 months now,and a trip to fraser just reinforced the fact,gotta do something about it,cago bay looked a bit like the contents of a wok,cant use any,but a custom drawer system as i have a roll cage,thank to the 105,s previous life,thinking an easily removable drawer system,with fridgw slide,still some thinking to go

    • Ben Kincade says:

      Thanks for the feedback Rod – If we can get the quick release system sorted, I think we can also apply it to a custom fridge slide, which is also on the drawing board at the moment. Should be able to have storage to one side and a fridge on the other, and then have it all quick release once home.

  3. Peter Skennerton says:

    Sounds like a common problem, we have a 150 Prado and already have the cargo barrier for when we are touring but most of the drawers won’t fit in with the barrier in place. Barrier is at an angle towards the rear so less space the higher you go.
    Interested in seeing what you are working on and the ballpark costs.
    What is your target figure to get the project under way?

    • Ben Kincade says:

      Hi Peter,

      The Prado is a slightly more complicated beast as most owners also want to retain the 3rd row seats beneath the floor and it isn’t the only one to suffer from reduced space once a cargo barrier goes in. Still, from a Safety point of view, the barrier is a must in my book. It is just another of the many compromises in setting up a vehicle I guess.

      We are still working on target figures, but expect that once we settle on the design, materials, and manufacturing method, that we will be better placed to know. The box itself will be released first as a stand-alone, while we continue design work on the frame system.

      Cheers
      Ben

  4. Nicolas says:

    Do you have a material choice in mind? Have you considered recycled plastic? For the given application, virgin plastic may not be required as they’re not an engineering component, i.e., they don’t require to be completely uniform density throughout and huge strength wouldn’t be an issue. I’d be interested to help out if it is was something you’ve considered/you’re considering.

    • Ben Kincade says:

      Made in Australia and possibly using recycled plastics are on our list Nicolas. At this stage we are still doing our materials research to make sure the final design meets our objectives, so haven’t settled on anything yet. There are certain strength and ridgity aspects of the box design that we need to prove, particularly the resistance to overtightening of ratchet straps, and strength where turn-buckles can be attached to secure to roof racks. We also want to make the boxes strong enough for the big blokes to still be able to sit on and not worry about lids collapsing etc.

      Consistency of both supply and variances between batches of recycled plastics would also be something we need to understand properly before going down this path.

      • Nicolas says:

        Consistency and variances between plastics is very important indeed. It would be worth looking into recycling waste plastic from test laboratories, such as those that test minerals, water qualities and oil samples. Here they use a lot of virgin plastic vials and test tubes as any contaminants in these would likely be detected in the sensitive test equipment. Recycling this plastic will produce a product with greater consistency as compared to collecting it from a recyling centre. There is considerably a lot of watse plastic generated from this, mainly polypropylene and high impact polystyrene. Polypropylene can be quite easily/cheaply rotationally moulded, and has characteristics suitable for using in a storage box.

  5. Jarrod Tappin says:

    Being a ute driver water/dust proof is a big issue. I still want a removable option not the big alloy boxes the tradies use as I run a roller top style side. Permanent draws aren’t an option as they leave no space under the roller so the option to drop some boxes into the tray with removable compartments would be a great option, as well as some big boxes for the other stuff.

  6. Pete says:

    Have you considered items like full, and 1/2 sixe boxs so the system can be better customised to the size of the storgae area.

      • Mark Bown says:

        We have a Prado 150 GXL and like most people felt the need to retain the third row of seat. The challenge is to mount a fridge and all the rest of the stuff. With a barrier – mandatory- the problem was EASIER- a laser cut aluminium plate ($200) which is bolted at the back by the retaining bolts of the barrier, and at the front by the barrier itself. The fridge slider then bolts to the plate. We put a fridge barrier around that – bolted down by the same bolts and put all our stuff in plastic boxes (some hospital laundry boxes I’ve had for years – two of then fitted in nicely with a 30 x 60cm space case. The second spare on the roof, with a 42 litre plastic tank for water behind the second row of seat this was fine for the three of us to do a French line crossing. This was a practice run in July 2016. The boxes were all strapped down to stop ant bouncing by tie down points anchored to the aluminium plate. Setting up camp every day getting boxes out was a pain! For a second crossing in September, the Madigan Line, we put drawers in with a divider barrier removing the third row of seat (which truth be told we had never had up since the day we brought it!), removed the second row of seats and put in a storage platform- to which the second spare was attached, an put in two water tanks at floor level – 60 and 40 litres. Nothing on the roof. We had 60 litres of diesel strapped down in the back. The weight is an issue – but with the second and third row of seats gone there is a big weight saving (that and having left the daughter at home!).
        The second combination was better – removing the platform in the second row and putting the seats back in takes about an hour.

        • Ben Kincade says:

          Thanks for the insights Mark. The Madigan Line is on our bucket list. Sounds like you did a good job on packing for the challenging trip. The 150 Prado is a definite challenge to sort out as many want to keep those 3rd-row seats in as you did. Agree – A false floor seems like the way to go, with everything then attaching to the floor.

  7. Craig says:

    Finding square edged storage containers that pack together with minimal ribs to avoid wasted space is near impossible so would be a good aim. Frontrunner are heading in the right direction with the Wolf & Cub packs but a modular storage rack is needed to get quick access to everything. My current inbuilt storage system allows access to anything in the car within 60 seconds, weighs less that 45 kg & can all be removed in under 10 minutes including the 55 litre water tank & cargo barrier. Beat that & I’ll buy your system.

    • Ben Kincade says:

      Impressive weights and features there Craig, and it sounds very similar to what we are aiming at.

      We’ll be sure to keep your descriptions in mind as we progress things.

      Ben

  8. Bruce Wade says:

    I made a set of pigeon holes that plastic containers with lids fit in neatly. We write the contents on the end of the container and it makes everything easy to find. Containers can be removed and left at camp when heading off for a daily explore. Water is stored in 20 litre containers that come from work. Have only ever had distilled water for the forklifts so no problem with trying to remove residue of something else.

  9. coasting says:

    We drive a ute and still use plastic crates. Light, waterproof and removable.
    Something that would be good is making them square sided for efficient space use. A lot of plastic crates have sloping sides which means a fair bit of wasted space at tray level.
    Hand grips that don’t remove fingers would be nice too!
    There’s a mob who do recycled plastic products on the Mornington Peninsula (Vic) called Replas who may be worthwhile chatting to. I don’t have any affiliation with them but have used their products at work.

    • Nic McKenzie says:

      Thanks for the feedback. Hand grips are a big bug bear of ours and we are currently working on that design into the box. The question of square sided such as pelican cases or tapered is a compromise as there are benefits both ways. Tapered allows people to stack away and also affects some of the tooling options. Certainly squared is great for the points you made and we are weighing that option up, however we think tapered will provide a better overall product. As I said unfortunately some options are a compromise. Strength, waterproof, dust proof and easy of handling when carrying are key for us. Appreciate your feedback and we will have a look at Replas. Australian made is our aim and recycled if applicable would be nice.

  10. Tim says:

    Have a talk to this guy
    http://www.theplasticman.com.au
    No affiliation. Worth paying a visit to and talking through what he already has and what he could build for you. What he knows about plastic is amazing!
    As an example, he makes boxes like those cheap bunnings ones that are strong enough to stand on.

  11. Anthony says:

    Contact the people who make MaxTrax, those things are tough, and the plastic is UV stable.

    Make the slightly thicker in the corners and edges, and incorporate the down points on the ends and sides, nothing worse than having to undo everything cause the strap is over the lid.

    • Ben Kincade says:

      Thanks Anthony for the feedback.

      Yes we have considered reinforced nylon like the MaxTrax, and we are even using the same Industrial Design company for assistance on this project.

      Agree with tie-down points on the sides as well.

      Cheers

  12. Vince says:

    I own a challenger 02″ I have been trying to work out how put draws in it has 2 wells which is useless at this stage I have bolt my fridge on top but I’m needing some ideas to a set up. Anything ????

    • Ben Kincade says:

      Hi Vince,

      I can sympathise mate. One thing you might consider is to go to a custom fabricator with some idea of what you want. I deal regularly with a bloke in Cairns who really knows his stuff and has a lot of suggestions. I’m sure that there would be someone similar near you. You might want to hunt around and talk to a few of them before you settle on what you want. We are currently designing the expedition box to be about 65 litres in volume and to be able to slide in and out of an alloy frame. This concept might be along the lines of what you need and you could design your own around whatever box you like and get a fabricator to make it all work for you. Just ideas mate.

  13. Dave Darke says:

    Ben,

    Any idea when the boxes might be available for sale? and where they can be purchased?

    Last time I corresponded, you said the shelving might take a while longer. Is that still the case?

    I plan heading away in early/mid June.

    Thank you,
    Dave.

Comments are closed.

Welcome to Expedition 134

We’re excited to introduce the new Expedition 134 website, the new home for Open Sky Touring.

This change is another step in our journey to consolidate our branding and name in the marketplace.

While things might look different, the passion to make the toughest and most functional gear possible hasn’t.