Author Archives: Sam Christiansen

Picking an Overland Vehicle

Picking an overlanding vehicle can cause a lot of anxiety.  What is the perfect overlanding vehicle?  Everyone has different needs, so there is no “right” answer.

Initially, we were really interested in the Honda Element e-Camper conversion by Ursa Minor.  We bumped into a blog called the darien plan who had done a similar trip in an eCamper.  We searched for the perfect Element for months.  Finally, we found one up in Reno for sale that was ideal for us and decided to pull the trigger.  We worked with Ursa Minor and completed the conversion about 6 months later.

The Honda Element is a great vehicle.  It got impressive gas mileage, it drives like a Honda, and was perfect for weekend camping trips.  Unfortunately, there were also a few draw backs.  I’m 6’4″ if I stand up straight, and Erica is 6’0″, and getting in and out of the rooftop tent was difficult for us.  In addition, Erica was reading several blogs at the time following others who had done the trip in truck campers, and some of the other benefits of a truck camper were really attractive to us.

Our Honda Element eCamper at the Lake.

Our Honda Element eCamper at the Lake.

In 2012, we took time off work and went to the Overland Expo in Flagstaff, Arizona.  The expo was great.  We learned a ton about vehicles, saw a lot of different campers, and talked to others doing the trip.  I can’t overstate how helpful it was to us!  I encourage anyone interested in a trip like this (or even just camping on weekends) to go and check it out.

Overland Expo has an exhibition area filled with vendors from all over the country.  I’m not aware of another expo where you can see so many different options for overlanding vehicles and campers.  We were able to check out multiple truck campers from Hallmark, Four Wheel Campers, Phoenix, Tiger, XPCamper, and more.  Seeing and checking out all the campers in person was great.  We also saw overlanding vehicles from GXV, Earth Roamer, and Sportsmobile (as well as some crazy looking Unimogs).

The only downside to seeing so many vehicles was being overwhelmed with options.  Which one was right for us?

Erica quickly came up with a few additional requirements for our overlanding vehicle.  First, she wanted the ability to cook food inside.  We didn’t want to cook outside in the rain, and a couple on a panel at the Overland Expo who had driven across Africa on Motorcycles talked about their wish for privacy, specifically while preparing food.  Second, Erica wanted a toilet.  Several blogs talked about having to spend nights in parking lots, and we wanted a private place to use the bathroom in situations like that.

With our requirements set, we began the task of narrowing our options down.  We basically came to the conclusion that there were 4 real options to consider:

  • Honda Element: we already had the car and the eCamper.  It got great gas mileage, but wasn’t as comfortable as we’d like for extended trips, and didn’t have a private toilet or kitchen.
  • Truck + Basic Camper: a half ton truck (we were thinking a Toyota) and a truck camper.  We would be borderline on weight with the water required for a toilet. We also read many blogs where they began to show wear and tear after many months on hard roads.
  • Big Truck + XPCamper: by far our favorite camper at the show was the XPCamper.  It requires a big truck (3/4 ton or 1 ton), but it had diesel appliances (no issues with propane), a toilet and shower, and felt very roomy inside (mostly due to being built on a flatbed).
  • Earth Roamer: the Earth Roamer vehicles are awesome.  I recently had a chance to spend a little more time in them, and they can really have just about every amenity you can imagine.  Unfortunately, they are expensive and the gas mileage is not great.

We decided to spend some time really analyzing these options.  We realized that if we stuck with the Honda Element, we’d probably end up spending less on gas, but more on food and hotels.  On the other extreme, the Earth Roamer would be very expensive for gas, but likely cheaper for food since we could cook more meals and store more food, and in addition we wouldn’t have to stay at hotels as often.

After running all the numbers (I’ll do another post with our vehicle calculator, so you can run the numbers for yourself), the XPCamper went to the top of our list.  We traded e-mails with Marc (owner of XPCamper) and he gave us more information about the camper.  In the end, it was a more expensive vehicle, but we felt we were getting a vehicle designed specifically for overlanding, not for weekend camp trips.  A visit to XPCamper HQ in August of 2012 sealed the deal.

Erica driving the XPCamper through monument valley on our inaugural trip.

Erica driving the XPCamper through monument valley on our inaugural trip.

We picked up our XPCamper just before Overland Expo 2013.  We drove from San Francisco down to Flagstaff, and then up to Salt Lake City before heading back home.  The truck and camper performed wonderfully!  We are very happy with our decision.