We here at Venturesome Overland are nothing if not resourceful. When we don’t have the excellent good fortune to pilot a fully-equipped Wild Wheels Land Cruiser on our adventures across southern Africa, we rely on our 2001 Mitsubishi Pajero.
You’ve seen the Pajero in many of our other posts, including the trip via the long road to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, into the rains and mud of Botswana’s wet season, and out onto the salt pans of the Makgadikgadi. It’s taken us to some pretty amazing places.
From initial appearances, our big blue Mitsubishi doesn’t look like much of an overland vehicle – it’s missing the roof tent, bumpers, big lights, and lifted suspensions that typically define the genre. But, under the surface we’ve put together an efficient and comfortable expedition rig for two without breaking the budget for our short stay here in Botswana. I like to think of our approach as “stealth overland”.
The idea is this:
Build a safe, capable, light-weight, and reliable vehicle that we can reasonably live out of independently for up to 4 days at a time, but without going crazy with accessories, and without drawing too much attention to ourselves.
From the outside, a casual observer shouldn’t necessarily identify our Mitsubishi as an “overland” vehicle. But, when we set up camp, we can deploy an efficient living space, and we can take the hard roads to get to those camps without worrying too much about getting stranded. In short – a lean-and-mean adventure machine. Saving dough on the set-up also means more money for the trips themselves, too.
We tried to bring a backpacker’s mentality to the question of our camping set-up – how do we keep weight down, increase functionality, and maximize the available space and capabilities of the vehicle? The hardest part of this equation was the sleeping situation. Minus a roof-top tent, the two options remaining were a ground tent or sleeping in the car.
But there is one important axiom – no sleeping on the ground. Julie won’t hear of it, even if I could possibly be convinced that it’s a worthwhile idea. We backpack in grizzly country back home, with nothing but a sheet of nylon between us and oblivion. People around here camp in ground tents all the time…
That incident happened at Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park about two weeks after we left back in December, and at the very campsite we will be visiting in just one month. (Also, remind me of my supposed willingness to sleep on the ground the next time we have elephants tromping through our campsite.)
So, sleeping in the Pajero it is. Luckily, it’s a big truck, and we’re relatively small people. Here’s how we tackled the problem.
My folks visited us in Botswana back in February, just a few weeks before our big trip to the Central Kalahari. We hadn’t yet figured out a good sleeping solution, and I had been toying with lots of complicated schemes and convoluted folding contraptions that really were beyond the tools and materials I had at my disposal.
After an early morning brain-storming session over two pots of gritty coffee, my father, who is something of a genius when it comes to things like this, came to the best and most obvious conclusion.
“Why mess around with hinges, and folds, and extra complexity, when you can just put a board in there?”
Tape measure in hand, we ran down to the car to make the measurements. Cut to shape, a simple, bog-standard 4×8 foot sheet of plywood was indeed the answer. After surveying the lumber inventory at the Gaborone Builders Mart, we settled on one sheet of MDF (medium density fiber) plywood, and had the store cut it to fit the dimensions of the rear of the Pajero.
The primary delimiting factor for the Central Kalahari route was going to be fuel. Lacking any other place to store the 120L (nearly 30 gallons) of extra petrol that we projected we were going to need, the sleeping arrangement would need to accommodate the bulk of six metal jerry cans we would carry inside the Pajero.
Because of their uniform size and shape, not to mention heft when full, the fuel cans could operate as part of a foundation for the platform itself. I also wanted to store them as close to the center of the vehicle and as far down low as possible. As luck would have it, placed on their sides, the fuel cans were almost the same height as the rear seat backs in their folded position. In addition, six fuel cans were nearly the exact width of the cargo area between the rear strut towers.
Ratchet-strapped tightly together, and placed all the way forward in the cargo area, the fuel cans and collapsed rear seats form a stable and mostly even base for the front two thirds of the platform (a folded blanket placed on top of the seat backs ensures it is perfectly level). I drilled two rows of holes along its length to accommodate hooks for the various bungees and ratchet straps we use to keep our gear from shifting around.
Toward the front, a cam-actuated ratcheting rope runs over its width, and hooked to the seat bases holds the platform steady. Two more ropes of the same design secure the back end tightly to the factory tie-downs in the cargo area. This leaves enough space under the plywood in the rear of the cargo area for our two “ammo-style” storage bins, and some miscellaneous items like our wash basins and firewood. Importantly, we can still easily access the storage area under the floor (which holds a large amount of equipment) without moving too much of our stuff.
Cinched into place, the platform doubles as a second level of storage, where we strap down our chairs, camp table, a storage tub, coolers, and bedding as we travel. The area in the rear seat footwells is taken up with our water supply (down low, where its significant weight should reside anyway).
I designed the tie-down points on the platform to create three distinct “modes” – one position for carrying our gear securely while driving, one position for sleeping, and the third position that stretches 20 inches out the back end of the Pajero to create a convenient surface for cooking and other camp tasks. One sheet of plywood for three purposes, all we do is slide it forward and backward.
Is this our dream (to use a word…) camping set-up? Could we live in the Pajero like this indefinitely? That’s a hard no on both counts. However, what our simple sheet of plywood illustrates is that you don’t necessarily need a bushel of specialized equipment to go have a great adventure.