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.
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.
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.
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.