Test all limits in the Nissan Navara
Test all limits in the Nissan Navara

The Ultimate Adventure – ready ride

For SIMON STEADMAN from Ultimate Adventures, his vehicle is much more than just a car. It’s his home away from home. It’s the thing he needs to run his business successfully. It’s his partner, through thick and thin. As such, it needs to suit his needs perfectly. He shares his journey with his touring Hilux.

The debate over off-road accessories and gear has been swirling around campfires for decades, and it is probably the question that I get asked the most by the guests on our tours. What is the best 4×4 brand? A bakkie or an SUV? What is the best tent setup? What are the best tyres? Should I fit a bull bar? The list goes on and on…

While these may sound like pretty straightforward questions, answering them isn’t… there are simply too many personal preferences involved. In my opinion, the answers to all of these questions will differ for each individual, based on their needs and the type of travel they will be undertaking with their 4×4 vehicle. For instance, someone that uses their Toyota Fortuner for their daily commute through Fourways traffic and does one overland trip a year, will have very different requirements to someone with a 76 Series Land Cruiser that is exclusively used for overland tours.

And then we haven’t even started on the very difficult task of choosing the ‘best’ piece of equipment for the job from the many brands that we have in the market these days. All I can say is do your research and speak to people who have used the products in the bush for a reasonable period of time. When it comes to off-roading, client testimonials carry a massive amount of weight, but now I am digressing from the topic of the article. So, let’s go back to the beginning.

For the past three years, we have been using our trusty Land Cruiser 200 VX to run our guided overland tours and have loved every kilometre with it. The combination of comfort, space and off-road capability make the 200 Series the ideal choice for an overland vehicle. But then, one day in Etosha National Park, our brakes started to make a grinding sound. Upon inspection, it turned out that the brake pads had not been changed on the service just before the tour.

As soon as we returned home, I brought it to the attention of the dealer principal of our local Toyota dealership in Modimolle, Waterberg Toyota. Little did I know that through this minor complaint, we would become brand ambassadors for them and assist them in accessorising various models, which we would use on tour to showcase the brand and the dealership. The first project was a Hilux Legend 2.8 GD-6.

From the bottom up

As I said earlier, kitting out a 4×4 vehicle is very much a matter of personal preference and requirements. Our requirements for this vehicle would be slightly different from the normal overlander, mainly because we cater on our tours. As such, we need to carry two fridges, extra water and some other equipment.

For this reason, we need a slightly heavier-duty suspension to carry the extra weight. After chatting to our friends at Ironman 4×4, we agreed that the best option would be to fit load coils in front to accommodate the accessories (bull bar and winch), constant load leaf springs at the rear to carry a full overlanding load with ease and Foam Cell Pro shock absorbers, which have high oil capacity foam cell technology for continuous extreme overlanding-control. For me, a quality aftermarket suspension is a great investment as it improves ride comfort while driving off-road and improves the road handling of your vehicle once you have added all of the extra weight.

The next thing that is an absolute must is a good set of off-road tyres. You can spend all the money in the world on the best accessories and equipment, but if your tyres are not up to the task of tackling the terrain you will face in the bush, it is all in vain. For the Hilux, I decided to go with the BF Goodrich All Terrain KO2’s as they are arguably the best all-round off-road tyres on the market – add to that the availability of replacement tyres in Africa and this decision is pretty much a no-brainer. I always try to keep the tyre size close to the original size, as fitting larger tyres affects the vehicle’s fuel consumption and gear ratios.

Packing and power

With the rubber and ride sorted out, it was time to focus on storage and packing solutions, and I must be honest, you can’t get much better than the range of drawer systems and products offered by Big Country 4×4. We have been using their products on our guide vehicles for the last six years and have never had reason to complain. All I can say is that if they can stand up to the abuse that we put them through, doing 12 to 14 tours and 70 000km a year in very testing conditions, then they should last a lifetime for someone doing a handful of trips a year.

What I particularly love about Big Country 4×4 is the large variety of products on offer that complement each other. With the Hilux being the first bakkie I have ever taken on as an overlanding partner, I wasn’t sure which configuration to go for. Luckily Greg and his team are great with advice, and after some consultation we decided to go with the Zambezi drawer system. This allows us to fit our 90-litre National Luna fridge in one drawer, which has enough space behind it to store things like our recovery gear and tyre repair kit, with the other drawer doing duty for food and cooking gear. As an added bonus, the drawer for the fridge is long and wide enough to accommodate a set of golf clubs. Now, that’s a definite win in my books!

Our second fridge is mounted on a tip fridge slide which drops down enough to allow us to open the fridge door completely. Both fridges are powered by one 130Ah AGM battery connected to an Ironman 40-amp DC-to-DC charger. One battery for two fridges? Yes indeed. That 40-amp DC-to- DC charger from Ironman 4×4 is a little piece of wizardry and keeps the battery running like a dream. It works particularly well for us, as we mainly visit wildlife areas and usually drive the vehicle twice daily for game drives. If we ever have a day where we do not drive, a solar panel would be necessary to keep the meat frozen and the beers cold.

We also fitted a 50-litre water tank on top of the drawers, which still gives us plenty of packing space in the canopy for our clothes bags and other personal items like Desiree’s 12 pairs of shoes.

It’s not inside; it’s on top!

The next important consideration was to decide what we would have to carry on the roof of the Hilux. Considering the additional gear we need to take along on our tours, we fitted two roof racks to the vehicle. The one on the canopy carries our 3m x 3m gazebo, gas bottle, double jerry can holder and a 40-litre water tank – and it still has room for firewood and our 3m x 3m Tentco Senior Bow tent. One side of the rack is fitted with an Ironman shower cubicle below the water tank, providing the perfect bush shower solution. The other side carries our shade, courtesy of the Big Country Ostrich Wing 270-degree awning. Moving further forward on the second roof rack, we have our second spare wheel, two ammo boxes for tools and spares, and a set of sand tracks and a small spade.

The last part of this build is one that sparks a huge difference in opinions – the bull bar. Does it have any other functions besides looking cool and giving you somewhere to mount a set of spotlights and a winch that you will never use? I recently had an incident in Zimbabwe in my 200 Land Cruiser when two cows pulling a cart galloped across the road right in front of me. I was driving at about 80km/h and after slamming on the brakes probably hit the cart at about 60km/h, sending it flying across the road.

Luckily, the airbags didn’t deploy as it hit the bull bar just above the lights, bending one of the vertical supports. If not for the bull bar, the front of the vehicle and the radiator would have sustained serious damage, probably rendering the vehicle undrivable and disrupting the rest of the tour as we would have had to arrange a replacement vehicle to complete the trip. With that in mind, I did not hesitate in getting Ironman 4×4 to fit their certified airbag- and winch-compatible Commercial Deluxe bull bar to the Hilux, along with a bash plate and underbody protection. Other benefits of a bull bar are the built-in recovery points, high-lift jacking points and an improved approach angle. So, in a nutshell: if its within your budget, fit the bull bar – yes, it increases your  coolness factor, but it also has many benefits in the bush.

Moving on to the other sometimes controversial piece of equipment… you can say what you like about a winch, but over the years, this controversial piece of equipment has saved my bacon on many occasions. So there was no hesitation when fitting the Ironman 9 500lbs Monster winch with plasma rope. To finish it off, we added a set of Ironman seven-inch Blast combo spotlights rated at 48W each for that rare occasion when we find ourselves driving in the dark or arriving back at camp a little late after a mega sighting that caused us to lose track of time.

Last but not least

Looking at the rear end of the Hilux, we fitted an Ironman 4×4 replacement bumper which improves the vehicle’s departure angle. It also neatly houses the trailer charging and light plugs, along with a removable tow bar and recovery points. I also like the additional protection bars that run along the side rear of the vehicle, protecting the plastic rear fenders from damage when traversing very rocky terrain.

With this Hilux transformation, I would like to think that we have created the perfect overlanding machine suited to our needs… but if you have been throwing money into this seemingly bottomless overlanding pit for any period of time, you will know that it never ends! After every trip, there is always something that you try to improve and tweak in that search for perfection. If it gives you any consolation, I can tell you that I have been doing this for 15 years and still haven’t found that perfect solution. Having said that, I think that’s what makes it so much fun.

My best piece of advice to create your ultimate adventure partner? Before you start building your overlanding monster, take some time to look around and see what will work best for the needs of you and your family (a little trick of the trade – in off-roading, the happy wife, happy life saying rings very true!). Make sure you speak to the experts in the industry that have been around the block a few times, otherwise you may end up throwing even more money – which you could have used for something more important like fuel for your African adventures – into that bottomless pit.

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