Well our forced stoppage in Tennant Creek has given me some time to finally sit down and do “The Blokey Stuff” post
So here it is in the Blokey-est format possible, categorised bullet points!
Top 10 Essential Bits of Kit:
I’ll prelude this list by stating that during the planning phase of a trip like this, we tend to talk to every 4×4 store, go to the Expos, read every possible piece of literature you can get your hands on regarding preparing your “Rig” for the bush. Most of the articles and magazines these days are primarily advertising material, so it is hard not to convince yourself (or your CFO) that you need every product in the latest ARB mag. Jess and I kept telling ourselves during this process “People used to do these trips in Kingswoods, without aux batteries, fridges, roof racks, inverters, solar, etc etc etc”. So with this in mind, the fact that Jess is an accountant and I’m a tightarse, we were never going to be putting the local Ironman dealer’s kid through Uni with our purchases. So, what is “Big Boy Bling” and what will save your life?
1. Dual battery system, with ability to switch to the aux battery for cranking.
This proved it’s worth before we even got out of Brisbane. Some of you will remember that Jess left the headlights on on day 1, rendering the crank battery useless. Annoying when you are in a park in Newmarket, Brisbane, only 10 mins from an RACQ depot, but life threatening out here. We have been over 600klms from the last bar of reception, and not seen another sole for 8-10 hours a number of times already on this trip, if we suddenly had a flat battery, it could be serious.
2. Solar Panels.
Everything has a weak point, and while the Aux battery is great, as we have found this week, if your alternator fails, you could easily find yourself with 2 x flat batteries. I have been amazed, gobsmacked, at how great solar panels are. We have a folding set of 120W el cheapo Chinese panels and 1 hour of good sun brings a battery from 11.5V to 13V….. For FREE. And just a tip, you would be seriously struggling not to get 1 hr of sun virtually anywhere in this country. The panels MORE then keep up with our power usage in the camper (I only bring them out on day three and only for a few hours) so forget about a Genie, they will charge your car battery, so forget jumper leads or portable jumper boxes, the only thing is they are heavy, and big, but when your are working out your packing, these are a must have. If I was to do it again, I would install them on the roof of the camper, and try and get maybe a smaller 40W panel on the roof of the car (I’ve seen them installed as a wind deflector in front of the roof racks, Uncle Garth…) sure the argument is that you normally park the camper in the shade, but even in good shade, you would struggle not to have at least an hour of sun at some time of the day.
3. Snatch Strap/MaxTrax
Recovery gear is expensive, especially if you really buy into all the “must haves”. Every bloke I have spoken to so far (and I don’t mind a chat so over 6000k’s and 7 weeks, I’ve chatted to a few) who own a winch has either never used it, or only used it drag firewood out of the bush. BUT, just about every bloke I’ve spoken to has used their snatch strap or MaxTrax more then a dozen times. Do not leave home with out them. (Yes I do not have MaxTrax yet, but as soon as we get into Darwin we will be getting a pair, classic example of “nah we won’t need those” but turns out we could have used them a few times)
4. Decent LED Headlamp.
No, the $4.99 Crazy Clarkes one is not what I’m angling at here. Two very important reasons you need a good headlamp, It is dark out here, like really dark, especially with no moon and secondly, a decent headlamp will allow you to have a better nights sleep. What? Hang on…. How does a headlamp help you sleep? Well if your finer half is able to light up 250mtrs ahead and 80mtrs across, they are more inclined to go to the toilet on their own 7 times a night with requiring you to stand guard.
A tip on this one, there are literally hundred of headlamps on the market, and it is hard to know if 10/20/40/230 lumens is sufficient or not. Well we bought headlamps which at their maximum setting do 70 lumens, this is plenty. Yet to have to replace the original standard Duracells they came with so it’s too early to tell if the rechargeable options are worth it. I hate spending money on disposable batteries, so I like the idea of rechargeable headlamps (they use either USB or some 12v plug) but they were much much more expensive.
5. Suspension Upgrade
Ok, whilst possibly not essential, I truly believe we would have sustained damage in places we have been had we not lifted the car, and I would not imagine your stock set of shockies would handle the roads as well as our Billies have. If you are towing, especially the weight we are (1150kg) your stock set of springs are going to sag considerably, and therefore increase your chance of damage. Forget ride comfort and all that rubbish, go higher rated springs then your think you will need, because you will be heavier then your estimates, we had 3 different rated springs in the car (OEM, heavy duty and finally extra heavy duty) and we never felt any difference in ride comfort…. This might be he quality of the Bilstien shockies??? I don’t know, but go heavier.
6. Air Compressor/Tyre gauge
A perfect case of what I thought might be a bit of big boy bling, but I snagged a special and got one cheap (Tigerz 11, $129) we have used it at least once a week. If you are not dropping tyre pressures on these roads you are asking for punctures and suspension trouble, we have found 30psi on ‘normal’ roads (no faster then 80kph) 25psi on bad roads (no faster then 40kph) and 18psi in the sand to be serving us well, oh, and 42psi when we do find some of that horrid black stuff.
Get a good tyre gauge and use it exclusively, DO NOT USE SERVICE STATION GUAGES. We learned this heading out to Carisbrooke station. I checked the tyres at the Winton BP and could not believe that we had lost almost 10psi in every tyre (should have been alarm bells but hey, rookie error) so I topped them all up, only to drive out to Carisbrooke on what turned out to be tyres at 45psi. The gauge at BP Winton was 10psi out, I had planned to go to Carisbrooke on 35psi (still a bit high with experience now) but at 35psi on their gauge turned to to be 45!!
7. Extra Spare Tyres
Thank you Aaron and Garth for the fabrication and welding of the dual spare carrier on the back of Karen Camper. Spare tyres are heavy, the tools to take a tyre off a rim and replace with a new one are cumbersome, so it was a big decision to take 2 more spare tyres. I can tell you the amount of people I speak to who have had multiple punctures are amazing, fingers crossed we have only had a split valve, and a screw in another, but I can tell you, once that spare tyre is on, if you didn’t have another one, it is very stressful.
My MiniMax 3/8 socket set gets used every day
My tool box gets used every day with:
Flat and Phillips screwdrivers (including a stumpy Phillips)
Large and medium sized Shifters
Needle nose and normal pliers
Wire stripper/crimper (good one, not those $5 ones)
9. Bottom filler for camper water tanks
Don’t muck around with top filler pipes and breathers and rerouting them and levelling them yadda yadda yadda. Just install a filler pipe that goes into the bottom of the tank, and ensure your breather runs nice and high before it come back out. After doing this, this is the first time we have ever managed to fill both tanks in the camper, and trust me, water is precious out here. As a guide, we are finding we are getting about 10days from our combined 140ltrs, no showers. We still carry 2 x 20ltr jerrys as well but that is for emergencies. We never use anything but our own water for these results. (Might go up now the weather is warmer)
10. MULTIPLE hose tap fittings.
Because we avoid the caravan parks as if they are leper colonies, the first one we pulled into we realised we couldn’t use the water because we didn’t have the tap fitting. No problems, I ducked to the shop/newsagent/bottle-o/pharmacy/bakery/butchery/camping store/repco/electrical store/toy store/hardware (love these Jack-of-all-trade shops out here!) and bought the tap fitting for $2.99, got back to camp, screwed it on and away we went. At the next caravan park, it broke…. Moral of the story, carry a couple of them, or, not saying I did this, hang around camp until after 10:00am checkout, then walk around to all the sites that had rental Maui/Britz vans in them the night before and just grab all the ones they left behind on the taps…… I’ve been told they can be sold for $30ea to people in rental Maui/Britz Vans who roll in at 14:00pm checkin….. I’m told.
11. The Wheelie Bin Bag
I know I said top 10, and this is supposed to be “essential” bits of kit but the Wheelie Bin Bag has to get an honourable mention. Again, $100 was a lot to spentd on a rubbish bag, but again, it is something we use every day, and constantly find ourselves saying, “I love that rubbish bin”. How many times do you find yourself saying that? Ahhhh…. The simple things in life…..