Full-Size SUV Conversion
I love the back-country in the mountains and deserts of our public land. I love it so much I drive a four-wheel-drive pickup so I can get further away from civilization. When I am out there, I take progressively smaller and worse roads and go back as far as I can within the limits of my truck’s off-road and my driving ability, then I set up camp and stay as long as my supplies last. Everyday my dog and I go for long walks further back into the back-country. No matter how far back we go, I inevitably find signs of people in their ATVs (four-wheelers) and beefed-up 4x4s who have torn up the land and left huge messes and piles of garbage. It breaks my heart to see the Earth treated that way, but there isn’t much I can do about it except clean it as best I can.
In this article we are going to look at a 4×4 Chevy Blazer that has an 11 inch lift-kit and huge “mudder” tires to get the owner far back into the wilderness. However, if some of you follow this example, I want to make sure that it doesn’t in any way contribute to more damage to Mother Earth. There’s nothing wrong with having a vehicle that will take you far back into wild nature, as long as you always maintain a reverence and respect for the Earth. Personally, I would love to put a lift kit and big tires on my truck so I could get further back, but I don’t have the money or the mechanical ability to do it. If you do, it is imperative that you follow a few basic rules:
- Stay on legal roads and 4×4 trails. There are a huge number of trails in nearly all the states that are set-aside for 4x4s to go off-roading. Use those legal trails only! Never just head out cross-country and tear up the land. Sometimes we justify it to ourselves by saying we are only one person and no harm will be done. But you can be sure that somebody else will come along later, see your tracks, and follow you. Then somebody else will see the two sets of tracks and follow them and eventually you will have created a new illegal road and more of the precious Mother Earth will have been opened up to man’s inevitable destruction. Don’t do it! There are plenty of off-road trails without us creating more.
- Get out of your rig and walk! You aren’t going to connect to nature sitting on top of an ATV or inside the cab of a Jeep. Go as far back as legal and reasonable, then set-up camp and start exploring on foot. Only on foot can you truly see, smell, hear and feel nature. And that’s the reason you are going back there, right!
- Obey all laws for hunting, fishing and foraging. I am going to leave it up to your conscious to decide on the morality of these activities, but if you choose to do them, do it in a legal, ethical, respectful and reverential way.
- Leave no trace that you were there. The next person who comes along behind you should be able to enjoy that spot without being aware that you were ever there. That means staying on legal trails and patrolling for trash before you leave. Don’t cut down trees or shrubs, or build any kind of shelter. Instead, take a tent, screen enclosure, or hammock. Leave nothing behind and take only pictures!
You would think that a full-size SUV like this Chevrolet Blazer would be too small to convert into a camper, but as we can see in the pictures that follow, it can be remarkably comfortable. In the picture below the owner has this Blazer set-up for extended camping. In fact he has lived in it for as long as six months, and on many, many weekend or week long trips into the wild. Essentially, you are setting up to go camping, but using the Blazer instead of a tent. The Coleman 5-day cooler fits perfectly in-between the fronts seats. To the right is the Southbend Porta-Potti, which works extremely well for shorter trips. For more extended trips it is best to dig cat-holes and use them for feces. Be sure to dig the hole deep enough that small critters can’t just dig it up and scatter it around. I always carry a shovel and dig the hole at least the depth of the blade.
In the picture above we see how it stays dark and cool even in the desert sun. The owner insulated the roof, walls, and windows with Reflectix. Reflectix is two layers of very heavy aluminum foil sandwiched over a layer of bubble wrap. Nearly all major hardware stores, like Lowes or Home Depot, sell it. It works extremely well to reflect the sun’s heat back out of the windows and roof. He used 2-sided Velcro tape to hold it against the windows. That way it can easily be removed for driving and at night to let air flow through. He also put up fiberglass screens to keep the bugs out.
In the following pictures we see the bed. The Blazer had a perfect place to hold the 2x4s that are the bed frame, but if your vehicle doesn’t have anything like it, it is simple to build legs out of 2x4s to hold the bed up. This bed is 32 inches wide and 69inches long. If you are tall, you may have to scrunch up a bit to fit across. Another option is to make the bed wider and sleep at a diagonal across it. All but the tallest people should fit that way.
You can use either a backpacker’s inflatable pad like a Therm-a-Rest or buy foam for a mattress. Look in your yellow pages under “foam” or “upholstery.” They will both have foam for sale.
There is lots of room under the bed for storage of food, water, camping supplies, tools and emergency gear. If you are going to go deep into the outback, you need to be prepared for break-downs and problems. The most important thing is having the knowledge to deal with anything that may come along.
Staying clean is important to most of us, and it is possible even when in the desert for weeks at a time. Above we see the 12 volt Atwood portable pump the owner uses for showers. It is a submersible pump so you sit it inside the bucket of water. This particular pump will only lift water about 3 feet so the owner sits it on the fender of the Blazer to take showers.
The owner powers the pumps with a Northern Tool Jumper Pak, which has a small battery that you can charge either from a 110 volt wall outlet, or from your vehicle’s cigarette lighter plug. It also has an air compressor if you get a flat or need to air your tires up. If you accidentally run your starting battery down, you can also jump it from this Power Pak. A very handy tool to have!
Most people with lifted trucks and big tires have them just for show. That’s not true of this Blazer. The 11 inch lift kit and oversize tires are put to regular use so the owner can enjoy nature far from civilization. If you choose to follow in his footsteps, be aware that the mountains and desert can be very unforgiving. Off road driving can be dangerous and very expensive. In fact it can be fatal. Every time you go out there be sure you have all these things:
- a partner (never go alone!),
- someone at home who knows where you are going and when you should be back,
- a properly equipped vehicle and the necessary skills to drive it,
- plenty of experience,
- the right tools and spare parts,
- mechanical and survival skills,
- a decent first aid kit and skills to use it,
- and an abundance of water in the desert.
Eventually something is going to break down in the middle of nowhere and there won’t be anyone around to help you, no tow truck will come rescue you, and it’s highly unlikely that you’ll have a cell phone signal. You and your group will be alone with your skills and the items you brought with you. Be very sure they are adequate to get you out safely.
If you are a pet lover like I am, you will want to takes your pets along with you. The owner of the Blazer has two beloved cats that go on many camping trips. They stay safe in this collapsible crate ordered from GoPetClub on eBay.com
If you have dogs, be thoughtful of nature and others around you. Don’t let them bother other people with their barking or menacing behavior. Don’t let them chase wildlife or tear up the landscape with digging and feces. Take them, and enjoy them, but be responsible!
The owner takes this wagon on longer trips to carry heavy items and finds it to be remarkably handy to have around. Water weighs 8 pounds per gallon, so when you go to the creek to fill a 5 gallon jug, you will be very glad you have the wagon (be sure to filter, purify or boil the water before you drink it). If you build fires, you can haul firewood in it. Once you have it, you will find many uses for it!
So there you have it, a great way to get out and reconnect with nature where you can be renewed and healed of the damage modern life inflicts on us.