Our Troopy recently turned 6 and ticked over 100,000 km. After many less than clean Offroad trips during that time, it was ready for a full strip out. So out came the cargo barrier, drawers, flooring, interior panels, fridge and everything in between (including roof rack). This allowed me to do a thorough inspection and make sure there were no hidden problems where day light hasn’t been seen for many years*. Whilst going through the refurbishment of these things, it got me thinking about how much time and effort (and way more money than I would like to admit) has been put into our Troopy over the past 6 years and what are the "camping essentials".
“Clyde the Truckie” as it is affectionately called these days by the whole family is our workhorse (…as in Clydesdale). Truckie is our base of camping operations. Whether over night or extended trips, everything we do is setup in or connected to Truckie. Solar power, batteries, fridges, inverters, camping gear, water, food, clothes and cooking equipment (plus now a kayak) is all loaded into Truckie.
CAMPING ESSENTIALS MAKE LIFE EASIER
This process got me thinking about what you really need in your 4wd or for going camping. Camping essentials vs optional items vs luxury items depends on your definition of roughing it…camping vs glamping. If you’re going remote for an extended trip it is absolute essentials only…(beer/wine, diesel, steaks, maybe water, then kids stuff…joking). Seriously though it really depends on where you are going, for how long and how far away from civilisation you will be. Sometimes tough decisions need to be made on what to take and what to leave behind.
Our setup includes all things necessary to go remote and be self-sustainable. Whilst we are in the more “hard core” group of campers & 4wd’ers, not everything we have is necessary if you just like short term family trips. For the record, my general definition of "camping essentials" are not lifesaving essentials, but ones that make camping life so “substantially” easier & increase the value of your Offroad experience.
Below are an intro on each item. These are just my opinion. Everyone will have their own view on this and that’s fine, each trip is different. It is intended to help those that may need some advice along the way. I will be providing further detailed articles of each area in the coming weeks. I would encourage you to email us your questions or comments/opinions on these (or other camping related items) that you would like me to expand on further:
Whilst an esky and ice can and does work if you are on a budget or just starting out, nothing beats the convenience of a 12v fridge/freezer. Fill with food and off you go. There’s no need to drain and top up ice just to keep food cold. Plus, the real reason you need them…after a long day chasing the kids around, a cold wine/beer can make these very “essential”. There are so many options available on the market these days. No longer restricted to only the two major brands. Many lower priced options are starting to prove themselves with many years in the market. Ask for advice on camping and 4wd forums or Facebook groups or post your comments below if you need a helping hand.
Deep cycle batteries
Starting batteries in cars are not designed for deep draw down to run fridges and other accessories (inverters, aircon, lights, amps etc). If you are going to be away from mains power for more than a day, you can quickly kill a starting battery when used this way. A quality AGM or Lithium battery should be your first choice for a second battery to run your 12v gear. Lithium (Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFePO4) is more money up front, but has many advantages both in use and life expectancy.
Now let me state this before I go further. LiFePO4 won’t fit most people’s budget. AGM (Absorbed Glass Matt) batteries are a great option for most people. A good quality AGM powering your fridge for a couple of days for most people is the way to go. In saying that, Lithium batteries have many advantages if you can stretch the budget. I will expand on the pros and cons for each battery and how to choose which will best suit your power needs in a separate article. (See my coming article on LiFePO4 and AGM soon).
If you want to camp with a fridge/freezer/lights for more than 1-2 days without significant engine run time, you have two options. 1. Buy massive batteries for what you need to store for the whole trip which can be a lot of capital to outlay or 2. Top up your batteries with solar panels.
Solar technology has come a long way in the past decade, and this makes their appearance on most Offroaders "camping essentials" list more common. Prices have dropped significantly in that time and quality/output has improved. The introduction of solar blankets in the market place can really help with reducing their size and space requirements in your car or van where space is usually at a premium. Whichever way you go, do your research and ask questions, there’s a wide range of prices out there and in most cases you will get what you pay for.
Whether fixed or folding/portable, it is critical to ensure that you have them pointing directly at the sun for as many hours as possible to make the most of them and keep your batteries topped up for power at night. The size of the panel is just as important. Solar panels will not charge a flat battery with a standard solar regulator alone. A good DC to DC charger with solar input is worth its weight in gold and is essential for longer off grid trips. Standard systems are designed to keep a full battery topped up during the day so that the drawn down at night starts from 100% rather than from 60-70%. Keeping batteries as fully charged as possible at all times will extend the life of your battery.
It's important to be aware of claims of high performance from really cheap solar options available online. I've been there. Tried and tested them. They just aren't up to scratch. It was constant issues with solar that led us to finding better options and later starting this business. To source and sell quality products that do what they promise!
Pure Sine Wave Inverter
Now this is where your definition of essential vs luxury will determine which camp you are in “Camper vs Glamper”. If you can’t go away without your hair dryer, air conditioner, microwave and thermo-mix you are a Glamper…and this is fine if you are prepared. An Inverter for those who don’t know is a device that converts 12 or 24 volt power from your vehicle battery into 230v power (like a power point in your house). The higher wattage the appliance, the larger the inverter you will need. You will also need big batteries and big solar panels.
If on the other hand you just want your Nespresso coffee in the morning (I recently decided this is essential as the stove top is just too much effort after a few scotches the night before) and that is all you ever run off it, then 2000W is big enough. If all you want is to charge a few batteries for your camera, gadgets or laptop, then a much smaller inverter will be sufficient. (More on determining which size is for you and what to look out for with inverters in a future article).
Generators could never really be classed as camping essentials. For work needs if you are a tradie - yes…for entertainment or large caravans - maybe…but camping - not really. For most people, a generator is just an item that makes camping easier. No batteries or solar panels to worry about. Just turn it on and away you go. New generation Inverter generators have an inverter that converts the power created by the motor into clean power. This makes them suitable for sensitive electronic equipment like computers. You can buy them small and cheap enough to simply run your fridge or large enough to power a 5th wheeler van.
Again there is a lot of cheap nasty units out there. Cheap prices = cheap components = short life and higher running costs. Do you want to have to get out of your bed to turn off the genie before going to sleep? Remote start and stop and smart options are now available on quality units.
Once again, our camping essentials may differ to yours. If you need more information on how to choose these (or other) items and sizes, comment below, on Facebook or send me an email. I’ll be sure to include the info in the upcoming articles.
That's all for now, catchya Offroad.
*Good thing I did…I found rear quarter panels 6 inches deep in wet beach sand and blocked drain holes. Then there was the rust on the roof from dragging the 4wd through overhanging tracks and loading up fire wood. It also had minor rust issues on the rear floor from leaking water bladders that has never dried out.