Photo by lennjo via iStock
Overlanding can become a cost-prohibitive exercise if you try to start out in a brand-new vehicle. Last I looked, trucks and SUVs are selling for sky-high prices so building an overlanding rig out of an older truck or SUV is the direction most of us need to go. Of course, you’ll need to make some mods to get your old 4WD into overlanding shape before you hit the road for a few days, weeks, or months. There are a lot of things you can and should do to your rig to make it overlanding ready. You can make changes to the engine and transmission, the exhaust and power system, the shocks, and tires, and so on. But in this article, I want to focus on simpler things that you might be able to do yourself, even if you don’t have a ton of experience working on cars. Let’s get to it!
Get Your Old 4WD Into Overlanding Shape With an Upgraded Battery
One of the first things you should do is set up a dual battery system. Why? It’s simple – rather than relying on your starter battery to run all your accessories (and thereby risking running that battery down), adding a secondary lithium-ion battery keeps you from drawing power from the starting battery, plus the second, or auxiliary battery, can be used to give the starter battery a jump if needed. I recommend a lithium-ion battery for your auxiliary battery because they have a much greater depth of discharge – around 80-90 percent – versus lead-acid or AGM batteries, which can only achieve about 50 percent depth of discharge. The Briter Products lithium-ion batteries that I have in my Turtleback Expedition trailer have a 5,000-cycle lifespan due to the better depth of discharge. So that means that your friends that have stuck with their lead-acid or AGM batteries will be on their second or third one by the time you need to replace yours. Another advantage of lithium-ion batteries is that they can store more power. In fact, these batteries can store anywhere from 100 watt-hours up to 265 watt-hours per kilogram. Compare that to about 25 watt-hours per kilogram in a lead-acid battery. And since lithium-ion batteries have no discharge memory, they are more efficient and can be recharged more quickly than their AGM counterparts. Besides, my lithium-ion batteries from Briter Products are fully serviceable and they have very little internal resistance, which makes them a better choice for absorbing solar voltage. Since you should invest in some solar panels for your overlanding rig, the choice for lithium-ion batteries is your best bet.
A Solar Power System Will Be a Great Addition to Get Your Old 4WD Into Overlanding Shape
We’ve already added a dual battery system to our hypothetical rig to prevent the starter battery from being drained, so now it’s time to add a solar panel. I’m not saying you need a huge, complex solar array, but having some means of collecting solar power will go a long way in making your overlanding trip one with more peace of mind. In my case, I went with a simple hood-mounted solar panel from Cascadia 4×4. As I discuss in my review of this solar panel, installation is super easy and the final product looks like it came with my Jeep right from the factory (as shown above). Aside from good looks, this panel offers excellent durability. It’s only about 3mm thick, but the 8-layer laminate construction gives it the ability to stand up to extreme weather conditions. It’s also built to withstand impacts from things like rocks and sticks if you get yourself onto a rough track. Better still, these things fit your vehicle perfectly as they are designed for specific makes and models. And with an optional plug-and-play MPPT solar charge controller, you don’t have to worry about how much electricity is going to your starter battery – it handles it for you and prevents overcharging. When you have accessories like a refrigerator, radios, lights, and things like your phone and laptop charging, you want to be sure you have multiple lines of defense against draining your batteries. With a solar input like this and a dual battery system, you’ll get that peace of mind you need when you’re out on the trail.
Get Your Old 4WD Into Overlanding Shape With a Fridge
Photo by geargodz via iStock
Keeping your food cold can happen one of two ways – with a fridge or with a cooler and frequent stops for ice. But when you’re overlanding, you might not be near a gas station or grocery store to pop in and pick up ice. Besides, ice only lasts so long, so for the sake of taking extended trips, a fridge is the way to go. There are plenty of options here, but Dometic is a top brand that plenty of overlanding enthusiasts trust. You can get all sorts of different styles of refrigerators, too – drawers, uprights, and even chest style like a cooler. When you think about it, getting off-the-beaten-path and away from civilization requires that you have enough food, water, and fuel. Water and fuel are easy to carry in large quantities, but food isn’t. A fridge will help you solve that problem.
Add a Rooftop Tent to Your Old 4WD as Well
Having a comfortable place to sleep is a must when you’re overlanding (or any other time, for that matter!). After sleeping in ground tents for years, I finally upgraded to a rooftop tent (a Torro Offroad Skylux) and I’ll never go back. There are many different brands and options when it comes to rooftop tents. You can get a soft-shell or a hard-shell. You can add features like awnings and vestibules to give yourself a little more sheltered space outside. You can add comfy mattresses, heaters, fans, and loads of other accessories as well. For me, one of the greatest advantages of having a rooftop tent is that it’s so easy to set up and take down. It’s literally a couple of minutes on each end to get it ready for the night and taking it down the next day before heading out. Obviously, being up off the ground is a bonus, too. As with most things in life, you get what you pay for, so don’t skimp on your tent or any of the other items I’ve discussed here. Again, while there are many other upgrades you can (and should) make to your old 4WD to make it ready for overlanding, these are some of the most important ones – if you ask me anyway!