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The Overland Vehicle in Field Research
C. Leigh Culver
Copyright © 2010-2013 C. Leigh Culver. All rights reserved.
Iíve driven overland vehicles in the arctic tundra of Northern Russia, the historic Rubí al Khali desert, the steppes of Central Asia, and the jungles of Asia, Africa and Central America. A few of the vehicles Iíve driven include M35 2 Ĺ ton "deuce and a halves," Ford F150 trucks, Isuzu Troopers, Jeeps, Land Rovers, Toyota Land Cruisers, Russian Uaz and Nivas--to name a few. I mention this as I could write quite a bit about overland travel. In this article, however, I will focus only on the basics of backcountry travel and offer a few suggestions regarding the sasquatch field research vehicle.
What are some of the qualities that you look for in a field research vehicle? On the most basic level it comes down to two things--payload and terrain. First, the vehicle must be capable of carrying your gear and, second, it must be capable of getting you in and out of where you are going. One could argue that there are many other qualities that are important, however, I'm going to keep this simple.
The first thing I will address is whether or not you need a four wheel drive or a two wheel drive vehicle. Me personally, I will never own a vehicle that is not four wheel drive. Iíve owned a Jeep Wrangler, a Land Rover Discovery and currently drive a Toyota Land Cruiser. All great vehicles for overland travel. Having said that I know many researchers who go deep in the back country using two wheel drive vehicles. Sometimes itís less about the vehicle and more about the driver. A lot of people own various types of SUVs. You probably won't need to drive that SUV across the Darien Gap, but it will suffice as a good basic field research vehicle.
The next thing to consider is whether or not the vehicle being driven needs any modifications. Iíll simply say--probably. It really depends on where you intend to drive your vehicle. One can modify any vehicle to do some pretty amazing things. Iím not, however, going to go into the countless modifications that one can do to a vehicle to make it expedition ready. There are numerous books and resources for doing that and I will include a few of these later in this article. I will simply present a few suggestions.
The most basic consideration is having the right tires for your vehicle; for example, an all-terrain tire has thicker side walls and tread designed for tougher terrain. There is considerable argument that the best ďall-terrainĒ tire is a mud tire, but the question ultimately comes down to where is your vehicle being driven the most? An all-terrain tire is a good compromise between highway and off-road driving.
The next consideration should be whether or not your vehicle needs any undercarriage or side protection. Again, Iíll say--probably. Adding a few strategically placed skid plates and sliders can go a long way in protecting your vehicle. There are numerous sources on the internet for such protection and you will find such items for almost every vehicle type.
The main concern you should have is how much gear and weight you intend to carry in your vehicle. The first rule of overland travel is not to exceed the weight carrying capacity of your vehicle. There are numerous suspension upgrades for almost any vehicle. Do your homework. If you do exceed the weight carrying capacity of your vehicle it is just a matter of time before one of your expeditions becomes very costly in terms of vehicle extraction and repair. Speaking of extraction--does your vehicle have recovery attachment points? Very important.
So what do you want to carry in your vehicle? I could easily make you a gear list for that Ďcrossing the Darien Gap expeditioní that youíve always wanted to do, but I will try and keep it simple and relevant to most researcherís needs. Besides your camping/expedition gear you might want to carry a few more things. I will list some suggested items based upon category.
Essential Items and Spare Parts
Items to Consider
The above list looks like a lot of items, but most of all of it will fit into your tool box and recovery gear bag. To give you more ideas check out the links below to see what modifications I made to my previous Land Rover Discovery and current Toyota Land Cruiser:
For additional guidance and ideas I highly recommend the videos by Bill Burke:
As you can see there are lots of ideas regarding what goes into making a backcountry field research vehicle. Ultimately it comes down to what your personal needs are, as well as, how much money you want to spend. I hope that you find some of the above suggestions useful. Good luck with your venture.
For additional information, be sure to read the following chapter from the
Royal Geographic Society Expedition Manual:
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