Our Gear

Picking the right gear for a trip of this magnitude can be overwhelming- it definitely was for us!- as it is so important to the success of your trip. Here is how we went about picking the car, van, and tents that we will be taking on our travels across Australia.

The car:

When we started looking at doing our big lap, we realised pretty quickly that our beloved FJ Cruiser was not going to be the car to take us on this journey. This was mainly due to two reasons: first, it was a V6 Petrol and liked a drink, but the second and more important factor was that it could only tow 2,250 kg which wasn’t going to be enough to tow a caravan. So I made the reluctant decision that it was time to move on from the FJ and find a new steed…just what to get was the question.

We had to factor in a few different things when we were looking at a new car; most of these were fairly minor but there were two non-negotiables….

The first was that the car could tow at least 3T, ideally 3.5T. We didn’t have a van yet but knew that 3T was going to be pushing it for the size of van that we were considering, especially once taking into account the gear we were taking which would raise the weight requirements fairly quickly.

The second key thing was I wanted a Diesel engine, especially after coming from a V6 petrol that, in city driving or low range in the high country, could easily hit 25L/100km. I wanted something that was more fuel-efficient in normal driving as once we had something behind the car, the economy was going to get a lot worse. A Diesel engine is also useful due to the lack of spark plugs (less likely to get stopped in a water crossing) and the ability to engine brake which diesels seem to do so much better than any petrol 4X4 I have owned.

The other thing to consider was to have a Ute or a wagon. I liked the idea of a wagon for having a stronger chassis and being able to lock everything inside; however, I have also always liked dual cab utes (before the FJ my previous three cars were Toyota Hilux’s), and if we decided we needed the extra space of a wagon, we could always add a canopy. Having the space of a Ute did appeal to me as did simple things such as after coming back from camping for a while, all rubbish could be separate in the back of the Ute and not in the cabin with us.

Whilst I would love to say that money was no object in the decision, it was which ruled out the Toyota Landcruiser straight away but there were still plenty of options left. The main ones that I looked at and compared were the Ford Ranger, Mazda BT50 (the Ranger’s sister), Toyota Hilux, Nissan Navara, Isuzu Dmax and VW Amarok.

The Amarok at the time had just come out with the V6 engine and did tempt me, but unfortunately it was only an option in the top of the line model that was circa $70k which put it out of the market. The space inside the cabins of the Amarok also seemed a bit small and the features a bit basic compared to other cars on the market.

The Nissan Navara handled itself on road pretty well; however, it was worrying the amount of reviews complaining about the rear suspension under load. I also had hesitations about how well the smaller engine would go towing a caravan around the country. After doing more research on the car I decided to take the advice of people whose job it is to review cars full-time and decided that the Navara wouldn’t suit for what we had in mind.

Next on the list was the Toyota Hilux. It had the advantage that I had already owned three of them and it was a Toyota like all my previous cars; I liked the peace of mind that having a Toyota can offer purely due to their reliability. I know this is probably an outdated school of thought, but I remember when I first went around Australia all the cars were either Nissan or Toyota and they just seemed to always work. After taking one for a drive though it did feel a lot more cramped in the cabin than what I was used to. I noticed that it was annoying to try to brake and steer at the same time as the steering wheel was too close to my legs, so when I moved my foot to the brake pedal my leg was brushing against the steering wheel. This and the general feel of lack of space in the cabin ruled out the Hilux for me.

The Ford Ranger and the Mazda BT50: same engine in both of these cars and basically the same specs on what they can tow. Both of these could tow 3.5T which was a massive plus and included a lot more as standard that were optional extras on the competitors (like a tow ball). Both had a surprising amount of room inside the cabin and were comfortable to drive (what ruled out the Dmax for me). At the time of looking, Ford had a special on which offered a 5 yr, 200,000km warranty and with the Ford feeling a bit more refined than the BT50 (plus a bit more tech-y) the decision was made to go for the Ranger…honestly, I also prefer the look of the Ranger than the BT50. And that’s how we ended up with the Ranger, AKA “Tex” which is not only from the Ranger name but also an homage to where Sandy grew up in Texas.

Once we had the car the next stop was off to ARB!

– Snorkel: A must. We will be doing river crossings at some point but also figured it will help the car have cleaner air on some of the dusty roads that we will be travelling on.

– Bull bar: while we will try to avoid driving at night, it may need to happen sometimes and Skippies (aka kangaroos) don’t always care what time of day it is. It also makes a good mounting point for the light bar (again don’t want to drive at night but when we do we’re always glad we have it). We also have a winch which we haven’t used yet, but as we are travelling solo we do want to be as self-sufficient as possible.

– Roof racks: we got the Rhino platform rack with the backbone mounting system. Most of the time we don’t plan on carrying things on the roof, but it does make bringing surfboards a lot easier and is also a great mounting platform for the awning. If we do need to put anything up on the roof we know the racks are strong enough to take it.

– Suspension: with the constant load that we will be towing, we wanted to upgrade the suspension to make our ride a bit more comfortable and to give us a slight increase in ground clearance.

– Under-body protection and recovery points: for some reason no cars seem to come standard with recovery points on the front of them anymore; I’m not sure why this is. I know not to use the tie down points to recover a vehicle as I like being alive (the points are not rated and can snap off), and if we do need to be recovered (or recover someone else) we can do it as safely as possible. The under-body protection was put on as an added layer to keep the running components of the car as safe as possible; again as we will be travelling solo and going to some remote places, we want to keep the car as protected as we can.

The Van:

Once we made the decision to travel around Australia, our next question was: what are we going to do it in? Straight away five options came to mind: tent, rooftop tent, motor home, camper trailer and caravan.

Whilst we are taking a tent that we love (see below), we aren’t keen on living in it full-time. It just wouldn’t be practical, especially when we decide to stop and work somewhere. This same thought process also quickly ruled out the roof top tent and the motor home. This left us with two options that we seriously considered: either a camper trailer or a caravan.

The camper trailer did have its advantages: much lighter than a caravan, much cheaper to buy, and able to be taken to a lot more places purely due to it being much smaller and lighter. However, we knew that we wanted to be on the road as long as possible, and to do this we would need to stop from time to time and work to replenish our funds. We figured the best way for us to be able to do this was to be comfortable in what we were living, as well as being more cost-effective compared to renting a place every time we stopped (which hopefully won’t be too often!)

So we decided on a caravan! Yes, it’s more expensive up front and a lot more weight that we will be towing; however, it’ll be more comfortable for long stops and more convenient for when the weather isn’t favourable. Moreover, it will also eventually get sold (maybe…) for more than what a camper trailer would so it’s not as expensive as first thought in the long run. And when we get somewhere that the caravan can’t go (which can also be an issue with camper trailers) there are plenty of options for temporary storage.

Once we had decided on a caravan, we were overwhelmed by the countless brands and models to choose from, so we took a shortcut and went to an outdoor show to narrow down our choices a bit more. Shows are a great way to review multiple brands and models straight after each other; we can’t recommend doing this highly enough as it narrowed down our search surprisingly quick. Could Marc (who’s about 190cm tall) stand up straight inside it? Could we (again Marc in particular) walk into the bathroom and stand in the shower without having to duck? Could we sit at the table across from each other and not be hitting knees? If any of these were a no, the van got eliminated straight away. It’s actually surprising how such simple criteria culled the options fairly easily.

Next we had to consider where we were would be taking the van and if a normal van would suit us or if we needed to look at a semi off-road or an off-road model. Keeping in mind that we knew the van was going to be about 20ft and weigh a fair bit, we knew we wouldn’t be taking it on 4X4 tracks. However, it will be on a fair amount of dirt roads so the underside needed to be protected against flying stones to avoid busted water tanks or wires getting exposed. We also wanted to be able to take the van as many places as we could so the better suspension on the off-road vans also appealed to us.

After looking at various brands, we narrowed down the field to two brands in particular: Jayco and Kokoda. At first glance the Jayco’s are better value for money when looking at the initial purchase price; however, once you start ticking the boxes to make the features comparable between them (such as additional solar, batteries and water tanks to name a few), the price difference between the two started to decrease significantly. Kokoda also did have a better feeling of quality of materials than what the Jayco did. This is not saying in any way that the Jayco’s aren’t a good product because they definitely are; we were still keeping an eye out to see if any came up for sale that suited us but our preference was for a Kokoda caravan.

Then one weekend we were out in Wangaratta for the Rutherglen Winery Walkabout, when we decided to drop in on a dealer out there that used to specialise in, among other things, Kokoda caravans. There was a new 2017 model Force in their yard and as it was coming up to the end of Financial year they were trying to clear stock. The Force had everything on it that we wanted except for a grey water tank ( which is a requirement in many national parks to be deemed self-contained) and stability control. Fortunately for us, both of these items are easily added and it was near a friend’s place who was willing to store the van for us until we were ready to go. So the deal was done and we found ourselves being the proud new owners of a Kokoda Force.

The Force, which we have dubbed “Skywalker” in reference to both the name of the van and the model of our car, is currently sitting on our friend’s farm until we are ready to go on the trip. However we have managed to make it out there a couple times to get ourselves acquainted with what will be our new home for the foreseeable future.

The Main tent:

While we are pretty sure we’ll love living in our caravan, there will be some places it just simply can’t go. Which brings us to the tent…

We happened upon our current tent by complete chance. When road-tripping through South Australia in 2016, our tent at the time (a Coleman dome tent) had an “incident” on the second day of our ten day trip. We returned from a long day to find that thanks to the wind, one of the poles had snapped, which tore a hole through the fly and mostly collapsed the tent. Having bought it approximately six years prior for $100 and with all the use it got over the years, we knew this day would eventually come and were honestly pretty surprised it had lasted so long. Being 8pm in the small town of Port Lincoln, we would have to make due with our tent for the night; finding a replacement would have to wait until the following morning. With the help of duct tape and good ole’ fashioned hoping for the best, we were able to make it through the night without the tent coming crashing down on us.

Our original plan had been to eventually replace our tent with an Oz Tent, particularly the 30 second one, but as they say, beggars can’t be choosers so we headed into Port Lincoln to the one outdoor store in town to find our new accommodation for the rest of the trip. There we found the Coleman Instant Up 4P. Even though it was more than double the setup time of the Oz tent (a full 60 seconds more!), it was a fraction of the price so we figured that would be an acceptable trade off. From there, we came back to our site from the night before, ceremoniously bundled up our tent into a nearby bin while reminiscing on all the memories we had created with that tent in tow, and continued on our way.

The Instant Up 4P has been a pleasant surprise addition to our camping gear, and not just because we now almost always win tent setting up competitions with our friends. It is extremely easy to set up, as well as take down and pack up, which means more time exploring or simply enjoying our surroundings whilst having a drink instead of manoeuvring poles through slots. It’s roomy enough for us tall folk to stand up in and move around, even with an air mattress blown up in it. The only drawback to it is the fly sits very close to the front door, so when you get out of the tent there’s really no way to do it without pushing up against the fly first, which isn’t ideal when it’s wet. Other than that we love it, so much so that we’ve inadvertently convinced four other friends to get their own. The tent will be extremely handy for our 4X4 adventures where the caravan won’t be able to make the trip, such as the Simpson Desert or Cape York.

The hiking tent:

Our hiking tent, which has now been used a grand total of once (for our hike to the Southern Point of Wilson’s Promontory) is an Outdoor Expedition Ninox 3600.

It’s a very clever design; when setting up you actually put the fly up first, then the body of the tent attaches into it, which comes in handy if setting up in inclement weather. It has an annex (apparently also know as a vestibule) to put bags and anything you may want to leave outside of your tent (public service announcement: do NOT leave closed-toe shoes outside of your tent overnight…you don’t know what critters may be in there when you go to put them on in the morning). It weighs 3.6kg and is long enough for us tall folk to lie down in comfortably. We look forward to taking it on many more multi day hikes, such as Flinders Chase National Park on Kangaroo Island in South Australia or one of the many walks through Tasmania.

And there you have it; the story of how we ended up with our most important gear! Of course picking the right gear is very individual, but hopefully this has given you some good tips and ideas of what to look for when searching for your perfect gear. If you have any questions or comments for us, get in touch with us here!