Expedition Portal http://expeditionportal.com Fri, 30 Sep 2016 15:31:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 American Overlander: Frost River Voyaguer http://expeditionportal.com/american-overlander-frost-river-voyaguer/ http://expeditionportal.com/american-overlander-frost-river-voyaguer/#comments Fri, 30 Sep 2016 07:52:57 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=43269 It was at about this time last year when I published a review of the Frost River Navigator bag. Made in America and constructed of waxed canvas with finely tanned leather accents, it instantly became one of my favorite finds of the year. I quickly added the Skyline Rolldown Satchel to my collection as well as an Accessory Bag and Rollup Travel Kit. You see where I’m going with this. I have a bit of a Frost River habit forming. Luckily for me, I’m not alone and have since infected many of my friends with Frost River fever.

Given how much I travel, and loving the Navigator as much as I do, I knew I had to add at least one more bag to the ensemble. With my even split of air and vehicle travel, I wanted something that could work for both scenarios and the Voyaguer Backpack in the largest of three sizes seemed like the way to go.

 

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Cut within maximum carry-on dimensions with a shape that fits in the overhead as well as it does behind the seat in my vehicle, the Voyaguer has become my new go-to. The simple exterior belies the many hidden features within. A reinforced webbing handle affords a quick grab and large gauge all metal D-rings at the corners can be paired to a padded or non-padded shoulder strap. For long portages, a back panel hides two padded backpack straps. That level of carrying flexibility has made the Voyaguer a fantastic travel companion.

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At the front of the bag is a full-length zipper that accesses an internal compartment complete with divided pockets and pen sleeves, perfectly placed to lend fast access to my passport, in-flight reading material, or other essentials. Inside the main compartment are a series of brass snaps which can be used to secure a number of organizer accessories sold by Frost River. There’s also a large padded sleeve secured with a large zipper that I used to protect my laptop in transit.

The rectangular shape and full length metal zipper make access to the inner compartment hassle free and the large clamshell opening allows me to access all of the bag’s contents without having to  reach through a small slit. In that regard, its like a good old fashioned suitcase.

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It goes without saying that the quality of materials and the attention to detail are superb and demonstrate Frost River’s unwavering commitment to their craft. Like my other bags, the Voyaguer has a timeless aesthetic that will only get better with age. With a few nicks and scratches, the canvas and leather develop a patina that makes the bag look like an authentic travel piece; proving it’s been somewhere and done some stuff.

The mark of a good bag to me? Every time I see it in my closet, it makes me want to hit the road.

 

www.frostriver.com

 

About Frost River

Frost River is based in Duluth, Minnesota at the headwaters of Lake Superior and on the edge of the Boundary Waters. The legacy of their company ethos can be traced to the trappers and traders of the North Woods. In an age of consumable products, Frost River’s bags and accessories are made with heirloom quality materials and built to last for generations. Unlike most products today, theirs can be repaired and refurbished ensuring they will live on to be passed down from one owner to the next.

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The Navigator has been my favorite hauler for over a year now. I’m amazed how versatile this bag is.

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 I will be the first to admit, the Skyline Rolldown is a bit of a man-purse, but it is convenient. When I travel by air, I often carry the Skyline and for those long epic flights. I keep it filled my my essentials and stashed under the seat. 

 

Pinnacle Materials

A great product starts with great materials. The canvas used in every Frost River bag comes from Fairfield textiles, a family owned business known for producing some of the finest textiles in the country. Overseen by the Martin family since 1838, their waxed canvas is noticeably superior to most others.

Adding to the sense of heritage, the leather accents and features on almost every Frost River product come directly from the SB Foot Tannery. Founded in 1872 by Silas Buck Foot, they later partnered with one of the most coveted boot makers in America––Red Wing.

In an age when consumers bewail the lack of American made products on the market, there are companies like Frost River that prove that homegrown goods still exist and as they have for decades, represent the very best.

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VOTD: Red Bull Kamaz in Finland http://expeditionportal.com/votd-red-bull-kamaz-in-finland/ http://expeditionportal.com/votd-red-bull-kamaz-in-finland/#comments Fri, 30 Sep 2016 07:13:45 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=42745

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Deadwood and the 2016 KTM Rally http://expeditionportal.com/deadwood-and-the-2016-ktm-rally/ http://expeditionportal.com/deadwood-and-the-2016-ktm-rally/#comments Thu, 29 Sep 2016 07:41:45 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=43051 I wouldn’t consider myself much of a rally rider.  I have been to Sturgis a couple of times and have enjoyed the endless amounts of twisty two lanes that dissect the badlands much more than the beer guzzled in the establishments looking to make a buck.  However, my father has enjoyed the event for years and I have tried to fit in and ride along for that father-son bonding time.

Fast forward to 2016, KTM hosted their off-road rally in the stomping grounds of Sturgis.  Deadwood is an easy ride from the Twin Cities of Minnesota and on that notion I decided to give the rally a try.  I called up my buddy Josh, who lives in Kansas City, Missouri because I know he is always up for a dual sport adventure.  He graciously agreed to join me even though he rides a fire breathing German GS 1200.

Being born and raised in the southern section of Missouri, off road motorcycle riding was fairly easy to come by.  Eight miles south of my birthing grounds was an excellent public off-road playground. I cut my teeth on the dirt, rocks, and hills Missouri had to offer.  Since moving to Minnesota I have been pleasantly pleased with the amount of motorcycle-only off-road trails the state has to offer.  However, sustained climbs, and rocks are rarely found.  Buddies of mine have tried to convince me to come to the black hills and ride the trails there.  Hills, rocks, and hundreds of miles of trails could be found, they promised me.

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Josh and I met up in Sioux Falls mid-day Thursday.  My 1190 made it on one tank of gas from the parking lot of work to the rendezvous spot.  Though I watched the distance to empty run off faster than the miles I was clicking off and my nerves tempted me to stop and get go-go juice at least twice.  The heat of the day had set in.  I-90 is a long, straight, boring ride across South Dakota and this was our own personal hell for the next seven hours.  The thermometer went from 95 to 101 and my mind just imagined the rubber burning off my new knobby tires as we cruised down the highway well north of 80 miles per hour.  Black clouds filled the sky over the western border and messages from buddies that live in Rapid City started popping up on my phone and Instagram that described the bad weather that awaited us.   “Should we have trailered?”

Friday marked the first day of the rally.  We stuck our heads out of our tents surprised not to see the skies unleash the fury of rain yet.  Scrambling to get our gear on and panniers off we loaded the bikes with essentials and set off for registration and breakfast.  KTM has the rally experience dialed.  The KTM staff was friendly and all of them seemed to be chomping at the bit to ride as much as we were.  Meals were severed in a banquet room at the local casino which also served as base camp for many of the riders.  I was surprised by the number of the attendees that stayed at the hotel.  Even more surprised by the lack of folks camping in tents.  Maybe that is just my perception of Adventure and perhaps off center for this group.

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As we shared small talk over the bacon and eggs that were served for breakfast I noticed that many of the riders did not have a lot of off-road time under their belts.  What a perfect place to learn.  KTM had offered a number of rider skill courses for those to help get a better grasp of what was in store.  A star studded lineup of KTM sponsored riders also lead rides every day.  With 15 person limits, the rides were broken down by experience of the riders.  Folks quickly formed lines and picked the ride that spoke the most to them and their wants.  However, this day many of the rides were truncated for the long awaited rain had started to fall from the skies and had no signs of slowing down for the rest of the day.

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Josh and I loaded up with paper maps, a dry pair of gloves and hopes of finding Devils Tower by way of mostly off-road trail.  It is never fun walking from the dry to the pouring rain to throw a leg over the bike for the day.  That first sense of getting wet hurts the ego and drowns motivation until you finally get on the road.  The first few trails we hit were closed by recent mining.  The trail would just disappear and be blocked off with fences that warned of trespassing consequences.  A few re-routes and we had made it to what is often referred to as a B Road.  Not maintained except for the occasional tires that knock down the grass, this road looked muddy.  Josh looked back and said, “It’s only a short distance to the road from here.”  He was right.  Approximately 1.5 miles in distance, this road seemed to be the biggest challenge of the entire trip.  Ruts dug deep from farmer’s 4x4s and tractors were filled to the brim with water.  “How deep?” was always a question that slammed front of mind as my bike slid off of the center of the high ground I tried so hard to maintain.

I watched Josh mud wrestle his BMW at least a dozen times after the ground decided to reach up and slap his wheels out from under him.  He has a technique down to turn away from the bike and deadlifting it up by grabbing a handlebar and the luggage rack to heave the beast up for the next attempt of clearing the 1.5 miles.  The awesome thing about modern day motorcycles is that they have a setting optimized for every situation known to man.  The not-so-awesome part is that you have to remember to flip all the switches and gizmos to keep your bike moving forward when it is swallowed up to the pegs in an unsuspecting mud bog.  I had the throttle twisted back enough that my wrist essentially was touching the back of my hand, however the bike made no forward progress.  Nor did the rear wheel even spin.  I looked down at the dash and the warnings were blinking at me as to say I had a bogie at 10’oclock on my tail.  Traction Control failure; ABS failure.  My hopes of making it through melted away as I stepped off the bike and watched it stand there stuck hopelessly in the muck.

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Josh came by and laughed.  He found a dry, flat spot to put his kickstand down to try to help me pull the bike out of the rut.  Both of our phones were acting goofy with the cold and the rain and as soon as our batteries were charged, they died.  This means no proof of the event actually happening which is what Josh wanted so desperately.

Tugging quickly uncovered that we were not getting this bike out by lifting.  Josh asked if we could lay my beautiful bike on its side to spin it out of the hole it was in.  My heart hurt, but that is why I put the crash bars on the bike.  With a small spin we were able to get the bike’s feet on drier ground just enough to cautiously creep the it away from the hole that hid so innocently behind tall prairie grass.  Now with the OFFROAD mode on, Traction Control off, and the right amount of speed, we were off to conquer the rest of the ¾ mile left of this road.  Just in time for the rain to start falling a little harder.

Day two of the rally we woke up to dry skies and sunshine.  Oh, how the sunshine felt so good.  We went to the rally headquarters for breakfast and we wanted to see what goods the vendors that came this year had to offer.  One of the coolest pieces for me was to see and be able to ask questions in person to all the vendors that only had one thing one their minds; KTM.  Josh however did not feel left out.  When he would bring up the fact he was on a BMW they knew exactly what they had to offer there too.  They just didn’t have those parts with them.  If you wanted a new seat for your KTM, you could get it done right there on the spot.  Lights, bags, tires, gear, exhaust, suspension the list goes on.  Everyone was there to cater to the needs of the KTM riders.  Really cool in my opinion.

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Another KC rider was making his way through the Badlands in his RV with a trailer full of toys.  He had a recently acquired KTM 500 EXC 6 Days version of course, and an 1190 Adventure R with all the bells and whistles.  We had decided that since we didn’t really get our fill of singletrack on the previous day that we were going to go out for an all-day raid.  Jerry joined up with us at the event and off we went.  Everything from singletrack that was marked motorcycle only, to UTV trail, to two track to some gravel we rode it.  Roughly 106 miles of it.  You couldn’t have asked for a better day either.  Temps in the 60’s and the trails were so dry they even became dusty.

Needless to say we rolled into camp a bit late and missed the evening’s festivities at the Rally.  Awards were given and food was consumed.  I am also sure stories were told of the days riding adventures.  We were content with our mission and a Bud Lite Limearita was just the ticket to a day serious off-road fun.

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For me the rally really was the catalyst to get me out to a new area for riding that has been on my to-do list since I moved to Minnesota.  Every year I think about going out only to be paused by my not really knowing the area or where to start.  KTM did a great job of providing me those tools to get out and explore what I will say is some of the premium dual sport riding in the US.  The amount of trail is limitless.  The vendors were a bonus for me and now I have a laundry list of goodies I will put on my Christmas list for Santa.  It was also cool to see that if you wanted to hone your riding skills, they had that covered.  If you wanted a group ride, check! Last but not least, if you wanted to sit around and talk about the latest fads on the internet or just tell stories, there was no shortage of opportunities to do so.  I may not be your typically rally rider but I do thank KTM for opening the door to new trails I had yet to lay rubber on.  Thank you!

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And Here it Is: Land Rover’s Latest Discovery http://expeditionportal.com/and-here-it-is-land-rovers-latest-discovery/ http://expeditionportal.com/and-here-it-is-land-rovers-latest-discovery/#comments Thu, 29 Sep 2016 00:10:10 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=44079 If you were expecting the new Discovery to be more country mouse than city mouse, this latest installment in the Disco lineage will probably disappoint. Released to the world just today, the Discovery continues down the path forged by the Range Rover, Range Rover Evoque, and new Discovery Sport, which is to say these new coaches are decidedly refined and brimming with creature comforts and technical features.

The new Discovery, once North America’s only option for a capable Rover in the absence of the Defender, is now the more approachable replacement for the luxurious Range Rover. It is considerable change of course for the platform. Before some of you chime in with that old chestnut that Tata is ruining the brand, keep in mind, Land Rover sales are jamming. With their focus set on the upmarket luxury SUV buyer, they can barely meet demand. And if it helps calm your nervous twitch, we are still expecting the new Defender to land on our shores when it is ready to do so.

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At first blush, the new Discovery not only looks nothing like any previous Disco model, it looks considerably smaller. It is lower by just under two inches, but it is also longer by over 5 inches. With the wheels pushed deep into the opposing ends, that will undoubtedly make for sublime road manners. (Edit from initial posting: As it was pointed out to me, the break over angle is actually quite impressive. Only 1 degree less than the Range Rover.) Wheel choices are also road biased and start at 19-inches with 22-inch wagon wheels an option. Speaking of options…

Knowing that the Discovery in the first iterations was extremely popular in North America, we will get to pick from four trim levels starting at $49,900 for the SE and topping out at just under $74,000 for the top First Edition. The good news, maybe the best, is that Land Rover will package some Discos with a 254hp Td6 diesel, the same under the hood of the Range Rover Sport. All models will be paired to an 8-speed automatic transmission. Suspension systems will either utilize coils or airbags depending on the trim level and selected options.

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As the Land Rover and Jaguar empires get more crafty with their aluminum Premium Lightweight Architecture (PLA), which really is impressive, they are able to shed hundreds of pounds from their vehicles. The new Discovery is a full 1,000 pounds lighter than the LR4 but still retains a burly towing capacity of over 8,000 pounds.

The off-road enthusiasts we are, it’s easy to lament all that the new Discovery is not. It isn’t built on a ladder frame. It will look positively absurd with a snorkel and I don’t foresee fitting one with a bull bar and not having it look like a beauty queen with buck teeth, but it does have some redeeming qualities. It gained 1.7-inches of ground clearance over the LR4 putting it at 11.1-inches and the water fording height went up by nearly 8 full inches to 35.4-inches. It’s also fitted with Rover’s Terrain Response 2 traction control system which I tested on the 2016 Range Rover, and admit it works flawlessly, impressing many legendary 4×4 traditionalists.

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All that said, let’s not lose sight of what this vehicle is. The Discovery may not be a tuxedo, but it sure isn’t a set of work overalls, either. This is an upscale urban carrier with Rover’s 4×4 DNA woven into its very being. Judging by the other Rovers in the new stable, it will do just fine off the tarmac, but this isn’t your go-to for a romp across the Rubicon. With a 10-inch infotainment system, elegantly appointed leather and wood interior accents, two massive glass panels on the roof, and little fancy-fiers like a bracelet that doubles as a wireless key and seats that can be adjusted with a phone app, this is not the spawn of the Camel Trophy.

There is much more to tell about the new Discovery, but we’ll save that for the day when we get to slip behind the wheel and use one in anger. Until then, the video Rover produced says a great deal about the design mission of the Disco.

 

landroverusa.com

 

 

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Field Tested: FlexoPower Atacama 79 Watt Panel http://expeditionportal.com/field-tested-flexopower-atacama-79-watt-panel/ http://expeditionportal.com/field-tested-flexopower-atacama-79-watt-panel/#comments Wed, 28 Sep 2016 08:00:32 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=43986 “They’re a great alternative to dual batteries” Werner explained, “and they’ll keep a fridge running for days.” I’m sure I looked slightly strange at that moment, eyebrows raised with a mixed look of skepticism and surprise, but this is not what I had expected a representative of Flexopower to say. You see usually manufacturers are positive when presenting us with their products, but they are always careful not to promise too much. Werner on the other hand seemed very confident, and he further drove that point home by explaining how the Atacama 79 was virtually unbreakable, performed excellent in partial shading, and could still function after being shot with an AK47 and chewed on by a Crocodile. Now that”s a South African torture test! If this panel was half as good as he said I needed to try it, so we wired one into our 2000 Ford Excursion and set to work.

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In order to ensure the most accurate test results and eliminate differences caused by aftermarket components and wiring, we opted for Flexopower’s ready to go complete camping kit, which includes the 79 Watt foldable panel, a solar regulator with LCD display, a carry bag, Anderson connectors, 33 feet of cable to run the panel away from the vehicle, and of course all the necessary connectors and hardware for installation. All of this will set you back $772.00 U.S., but you won’t have to purchase a thing after the fact. Tests were conducted in a variety of conditions including full sun, cloud cover, and partial shading, and in all situations the panel lay flat on the ground. The load placed on the vehicle was a National Luna 50L fridge/freezer which we opened multiple times a day, and stocked with a warm six pack of soda, cold meats and cheeses, and a gallon of warm sweet tea. To test the claim that this solar panel could replace a dual battery system, we used it on our stock Excursion which at this time is running on a factory spec battery system.

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Initial Impressions

Upon removing the equipment from the bag the first thing I noticed was how robust the panel felt, despite weighing just 6.8 lbs. Unlike some of its competitors that use a light weight fabric on the seams, Flexopower uses an almost rubbery material which after being thrown in the dirt, slung over granite, and dropped in a puddle has shown no signs of wear. The heavier weight also eliminated the need to tie it down in most cases, so while the other panels in our test continually folded up on themselves, the Atacama kept pumping power to the battery. At 15.4″ x 10.4″ x 1.4″ folded, the panel packs easily into pretty much anywhere in the vehicle, and with a deployed footprint of 60.6″ x 30.6″ it fits windshields perfectly. All the supplied connectors and wiring felt sturdy as well, and I loved the regulator’s ability to display the panel’s output, your battery’s status, and the current load on the system at any time. Despite being perfectly functional, I did feel that the LCD screen felt and looked a little cheaper than I would have liked. Yes it’s a superficial complaint, but I’m not thrilled about a silver box being slapped onto the interior of my vehicle.

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 Installation and Wiring

I usually find that the installation process can tell you a lot about how well a product was designed and produced. If things fit properly and come together easily, chances are that the engineers did their homework. If nothing works and the instructions are convoluted, well… not so lucky. Fortunately for Flexopower, their complete camping package made great marks for ease of assembly and ingenuity in layout. Instead of following the traditional system in which the panel is run to the battery before the fridge pulls from it, they ran the panel and the fridge to the controller first and then to the battery. This allows the fridge to receive power directly without the loss associated with conversion in the battery. Once the designated load has been met, usually around 2.2 amps on our national luna, the excess energy begins to funnel back to charge the system. This method not only powers the fridge longer, but improves battery life by greatly reducing the cycles incurred through constantly charging and discharging.

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From the diagrams and parts provided the wiring looked to be well within my basic skills range, but for the sake of accuracy when testing I turned to the experts at AT Overland for installation. The hardest part of this system is determining where you are going to mount the components. We eventually decided to slip the regulator in behind the stock jack, and then temporarily mount the LCD screen on the back panel until the full storage system is installed. After wiring it to the battery we ran the anderson plug through an access hole behind the tail light and down onto the bottom of the bumper. This kept the power point as close as possible to the fridge and kept everything neat and out of sight. Once the process got started it went quickly and the crew from AT didn’t run into any strange issues or difficulties along the way. The only thing I felt was a problem was the lack of weatherproofing on the regulator. The instructions say it needs to be mounted close to the battery, however it also says it cannot be exposed to heat or water which means the engine bay is out.. Sadly that is usually the preferred location in most vehicles.

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Performance

I started this evaluation by simply using the panel on weekend trips, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that intermittent stops weren’t a big enough challenge for the Atacama, so we switched things up a bit. We decided to park the truck for at least two days and use the fridge for all of our food, drinks, and ice like we would on extended camping trips. Since we didn’t know how the panel’s output combined with our stock battery system would hold up, we decided to complete this portion at our house and not chance having to walk home

. On the first day the panel had a rough start, as the weather was basically crap. Clouds were rolling in throughout the morning, and by mid day a thick haze settled in that stuck around until sun down. It was far from ideal conditions, but it gave us a realistic picture of how this setup handles the real world. Even with the overcast skies the panel still managed to pull 1.2 amps, so by the end of day one the battery system had dropped from 12.9 to 12.5 volts.

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The second day of the test brought better weather with blue skies and scattered clouds. To my great satisfaction it also brought the battery back up to 12.7 volts by 0930, and the panel was pulling in around 4 amps consistently. By mid day the incoming amps were jumping between 4.4 and 5.0, and the battery had actually come up to a full 13 Volts, which is higher than when we had started. By the third morning the battery was back at 12.9 and rising, meaning that the panel had done more than just meet its claim of running a fridge for two days, but showed it could run one indefinitely with fair weather.

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So far this was all great news for Flexopower, but their brochure had made a few more claims that we were eager to test. Among them, that their panels were up to 15% more productive than goal zero’s, had better performance in partial shading, and were better at angles of incidence.  Fortunately for us, we knew some people with various solar panels hanging about, so we brought them in and started to compare.

I wanted to tackle the 15% claim first, but sadly out of the squillion proprietary connections our company hordes for those products, not a one had the ability to hook into something that would allow us to measure their output. This was extremely disappointing, as it meant all the Goal Zero tests could not be conducted. Fortunately AT Overland found another set of glass panels in the back, and so we switched to testing partial shading on those.

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The core principle that Flexopower claims sets their panels apart in shade is their series rather than parallel wiring between soar cells. Think of them like Christmas lights, if you shade or damage one cell at the top of a row, all the cells after it fail to work or are significantly hindered. We decided to test this using a piece of cardboard to block out various sections. While it wont be as realistic as shade from a tree, it’s more controllable. Regardless of where we placed the square on the Atacama there was a consistent drop of .2 -.3 amps, a good representation of the square footage we blocked off. On the second folding panel you see above, the drop was between .3 and 1.0 amps depending on placement., meaning it was still good but less adept at handling partial shading. Finally we threw the cardboard onto the glass panels, and the results were devastating, up to an 80% loss of power. Now we should mention that none of these panels were the same size of wattage, but that just makes the Atacama’s performance even more impressive. It had the least surface area of the group meaning the cardboard covered a larger percentage of its total space, and it was rated 16 to 40 watts lower than its competitors, yet delivered equal or more power.

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Durability

During our time with this panel we folded it repeatedly, tossed it on rocks and dirt, let it get wet, and dropped it from the back of the Excursion, but we didn’t feel there was much point in going past that, as we could never match what Flexopower had already done. They started by running one over with two cars, then a bulldozer, shot it with an AK47, and then threw it to a crocodile to chew on before taking readings. I encourage you to check out the video, but if you simply don’t have the time, the panel still produced 90% of its rated output after incurring all this damage. The carnage begins three minutes in.

By the end of our test I understood why Werner was so confident during our first meeting. Not only did their panel come in cheaper than many name brand competitors, but it outperformed them even when going up against higher output versions.  While it’s not perfect, it delivered on every promise that Flexopower made, and that’s a rare achievement these days. Whether or not this panel is the right fit for you I cannot say, but it will be  an integral part of our Excursion build, and my alternative of choice to installing an auxiliary battery in any future vehicles.

 

For more details, check out the Flexopower Atacama 79 spec sheet here, or visit the company website to see other options here.

 

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Off-Road Review: Chevrolet Colorado Diesel http://expeditionportal.com/off-road-review-chevrolet-colorado-diesel/ http://expeditionportal.com/off-road-review-chevrolet-colorado-diesel/#comments Tue, 27 Sep 2016 09:10:06 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=43388 It’s no secret that General Motors made some serious waves with the introduction of their new Colorado and Canyon lines. With only minimal signs of life from their four-wheel drive department since the death of Hummer, I’d say it surprised more than a few of us when they not only set their sights on the Frontier and Tacoma, but then trumped them with the only thing their competitors didn’t offer, a diesel. Car magazines of every nature clamored to get their hands on a test truck, but with each review touting the truck’s off-road prowess came a series of pictures on graded dirt roads, pull offs next to the highway, and even a few shots on a grass covered shoulder. Really? Clearly GM wasn’t letting these vehicles wander far, so we thought we’d shake things up a bit with a test proposal so ridiculous that they just might say yes.

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Instead of piloting this pristine loaner down some well known local trails, we would throw it head long into a real North American overland situation. From the pickup location in Los Angeles our team would drive the Colorado over 900 miles to the back-country of New Mexico. There we would join photographer and overland guide Jake Quinones of New Mexico Back Roads for five days and 340 miles of rocks, mud, ruts, and water crossings while loaded down with a weeks worth of food, water, and camping gear. This journey challenges even modified four-wheel drives, and completing it in a stock Colorado would not only prove that it could be an overland vehicle, but that it IS ONE straight from the factory. Once we had finished the trip, hopefully in one piece, we would return to California for a grand total of over 2200 miles on the road. To our great satisfaction General Motors stepped up to meet our challenge, and it wasn’t long before we were picking up the keys to a short bed, double cab Z71.

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With over 900 miles between LA and our destination, I had plenty of time to get to know the truck that would become my home for the next two weeks. At its heart is GM’s 2.8 liter Duramax diesel, an existing product re-tuned to meet EPA requirements here in the U.S. With a peak of 181 horsepower the little inline four isn’t exactly a fire breather, but we found it could still cruise down the highway at 75 mph without feeling stretched. 369 lb-ft of torque gave our Z71 an impressive towing capacity of 7,600 lbs, and thanks to all around disc brakes and an optional exhaust brake it can slow that weight down with ease. Although the exhaust brake was too effective to use without a trailer on most hills, the transmission’s automatic downshifts were the best of any vehicle I’ve yet driven, and I found them to be a fitting substitute.

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Base curb weight comes in at 4,691 lbs with the diesel, an increase of 301 lbs over the standard 3.6L petrol motor which drops the payload from 1,580 lbs to 1,477 lbs. Don’t let that fool you though, as it is still 25.7% higher than the 1,175 lb limit of a Tacoma, and 40.8% higher than the 1,048 lb limit of the frontier in similar specs. Thankfully with all that capacity they also included plenty of ways to secure your cargo. Our Z71 came with an extremely useful movable tie-down system from Chevrolet’s GearOn collection. You can see more on how it works here, but it allowed me to easily select from 13 movable points and four permanent ones to strap down my Hardigg case, MaxTrax, and Front Runner water can.

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Whether we like it or not, most people spend the majority of their time on pavement, so I was pleased to find that the Colorado rode more like a luxury SUV than a diesel truck on the highway. Long stretches of desert tarmac seemed to melt away in the quiet cab, and the suspension felt as smooth as any car I’ve owned. Fuel economy is reported to be around 20 MPG in the city and 29 on the highway, but we received figures in the low thirties with the cruise control set at 65. Handling on switchbacks and mountain grades was excellent, and I couldn’t help but crack a smile while the Duramax powered through turns and tore around bends. The best test of its road performance though was a stretch of pavement in New Mexico that had fallen into disrepair. While the JK’s and Power Wagon in our group maneuvered around potholes the size of my head, the Colorado’s lower stance and tight steering turned the street into a slalom course on which to be challenged. With each turn and swerve I was rewarded with a crisp and immediate response from the wheels, and even during abrupt changes of direction the handling remained predictable and controllable.

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Inside you’ll find an interior that is light years ahead of the first gen Colorado. Instead of cheap grey plastics and 90’s pattern cloth, GM used soft touch accents, heated and bolstered seats, a sporty leather steering wheel, and a series of buttons and switches that felt robust and sturdy as you pressed them. When closing the doors a solid thud and click was heard instead of a tinny rattle, and after hundreds of miles of washboards we didn’t hear any sign of things loosening up. The rear seats had about as much room as you would expect in a midsize truck, and the fold down tops provided a perfect place to strap down coolers and bags while on the trail. None of this impressed me as much as how comfortable and supportive the front seats were though. Even at 6’4″ I felt like there was more room than I needed, and after a week of driving my bad back hadn’t even begun to act up. In fact it was so spacious that I was actually able to get a full nights rest in the passenger seat, though I admit I only chose to sleep there after a bear started sniffing me in my tent.

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Out of all the gizmos and gadgets I have to say the 8″ touch display with Apple Car Play was my favorite. Without an apple device it includes several great programs like Pandora Radio, Weather, Navigation, and even a text by voice program, but it really comes alive when paired to an iPhone. Once your phone is plugged in the software mirrors your apple device allowing you to run approved applications like Audible, Spotify, and IHeartRadio, but more importantly Siri and Maps. Most of us have come to rely on our phones for everything anyway, and integrating these features into your vehicle makes it easier than ever to get directions, call a friend, change your calendar, or even set reminders without ever taking your hands off the wheel or your eyes off the road.

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My only complaint on the interior was that I felt the carbon-fiber-esque trim used on the shift column and door panels cheapened the vehicle. The majority of the interior has class and style, but these rubbery accents felt a little bit like a teenager bought a trim package from AutoZone and slapped it on their civic.

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Off-road performance

By the time our group hit the dirt I was itching to see what the Colorado could do. I felt confident that it would complete the trip with ease, but from the looks of the JK owners surrounding me I could tell I was the only one. We started things out slow in a sandy canyon, which gave me the perfect opportunity to test the truck’s Auto setting on the four-wheel drive system. While I will still always prefer manual controls, I have to say that it switched between two and four high fairly well, and I can see the appeal for driving on snowy roadways or helping inexperienced drivers on the dirt.

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Once the sand had given way to curving graded roads I was able to open the truck up a little and see just how well it handled the gravel. On long wash boards the off-road tuned coil-overs and rear leaf springs easily soaked up the vibrations and produced little audible resonance or physical feedback. When crossing through dips and over bumps the compression cycle was smooth, and I was continually impressed by how stable the vehicle was even while traversing uneven whoops. Corners are where this truck will get you into trouble though. With the motor’s torque and rear wheel drive the Colorado is constantly prodding you to give it just a little more power to break those  back wheels free. It’s no rally car, but it sure wants to be.

By the end of day one I was so comfortable with the Z71’s consistent performance on forest roads and two tracks that I might as well have been on pavement. My mornings would consist of casually enjoying the view from my heated seat, while sipping a cup of coffee without a lid, and listening to the news on satellite radio. It was bliss.

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In mud the Duramax’s torque combined with Chevrolet’s traction control was unstoppable. With the 255/65 Goodyear Wrangler Adventure Kevlars aired down to 22 PSI, the little straight four kept forward momentum with only light to moderate throttle in most situations. Even when I dropped down into a pit of slop deep enough to touch the frame, the Colorado continued to churn its way through with the help of its rear locker until it made it back onto dry ground.

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On slower rocky terrain the ride was good, but it could have been better. Up travel was somewhat limited due to suspension height, which when combined with the higher spring rates used on the diesel tow package made the ride a tad firm. A weeks worth of camping supplies and water in the bed certainly helped, but I feel the true solution would be a taller suspension with a longer compression stroke.

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Although it won’t be running the Rubicon anytime soon, the Z71 Colorado is still quite capable on the rocks. With careful driving it made quick work of even the toughest obstacles on the trip, and the departure angle of 22.1°, and break over of 19.8° never became an issue. Hitting the front end on the other hand would have been a real problem had we not removed the lower air dam. This plastic trim panel hangs mere inches from the ground, and brings the approach angle down to a rotten 17.3°. Fortunately we get the feeling that Chevrolet expects folks to remove it, as it only took us half an hour with simple hand tools to bring it back up to snuff. My only real complaint on the rocks was the lack of skid plates on the undercarriage. While we never had a strike, the open oil pan caused me to cringe every time a sharp rock passed beneath the truck.

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In low-range the Duramax’s idle set a good pace with the 3.42 gears, and I was able to access plenty of power without having to spool the turbo. This made scaling ledges and large rocks a much easier task, as I was able to control the vehicle without large increases and decreases in power. The traction control was very effective in technical terrain and was the trucks saving grace in many situations, but it did have a problem. It seems that the system cuts out or at least dials back when left foot braking, and this leaves the driver without a key off-road technique. Fortunately this should be an easy fix with a computer update, and we hope Chevrolet will make the change soon.

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One of the Z71’s most convenient features off-road was the hill descent control. On long grades it kept the truck running at a perfect rate without forcing me to make any inputs or adjustments. Its only weakness was rapid changes in slope, at which point the computer had trouble keeping up. This only occurred on a single hill throughout the trip, as steep angles were constantly interrupted by small level sections.

Fuel economy decreased on the dirt thanks to airing down the tires and the use of four-wheel drive, but throughout the trip the Colorado still returned averages of at least 16 mpg on low range days and low to mid twenties on graded dirt. When combined with the vehicle’s stock 21 gallon fuel tank this sets the range for most overland trips between 420 and 500 miles.

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Articulation was surprisingly good for a truck of this kind, and I was repeatedly impressed at how often it was able to keep all four wheels on the ground. Even in cross-axle ditches and large washouts I rarely found myself without traction, and when I did the G80 automatic rear locker was there to save the day. For those who aren’t familiar with it, this style of auto-locker uses centrifugal force to sense wheel spin. When the rotational speeds of the two rear tires reach a difference of 120 RPM the weights inside the differential spin far enough out to lock the axle, forcing the tires to rotate at the same speed. We found that it worked like a charm in sand and mud, however it did struggle more in technical terrain simply due to speed. In 4-Lo situations it is best practice to use light throttle and control wheel spin to avoid damage, but this almost always prevents the wheels from achieving the 120 RPM difference required to engage the locker. This was easily solved by switching into 2-Hi or 4-Hi, but a locker you can engage manually would have made this truck immensely capable.

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And now we finally reach the million dollar question, is the Colorado the mid-size diesel we’ve all been waiting for? While it’s not perfect, I’d say yes. The true measure of any overland vehicle is its ability to take you on a journey into the unexpected, and then bring you back again. Through washed out roads, rock gardens, mud pits, and ruts that could bury a car to the frame, the Colorado soldiered on without sustaining so much as a scratch; and that speaks more to its abilities than any review I could ever write.

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ARB Releases Two Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems http://expeditionportal.com/arb-releases-two-tire-pressure-monitoring-systems/ http://expeditionportal.com/arb-releases-two-tire-pressure-monitoring-systems/#comments Mon, 26 Sep 2016 07:41:09 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=43232 Every driver, no matter what they drive, knows proper tire pressure is essential. It ensures maximum efficiency, performance, and prolongs tire life. More importantly, it’s paramount for the safe operation of any vehicle. For the driver venturing into the sticks, airing down is a must, but at those lower reaches of PSI, there isn’t much margin for error. Knowing exactly how much air is at all four corners, in real time, is important.

Most modern vehicles have some type of tire pressure monitoring system, but in many cases they’re little more than low level alerts seldom indicating which tire, or tires, are compromised, or by how much. ARB recently released and aftermarket solution to that problem with two different tire pressure monitoring systems.

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Available in both internal and external systems, the ARB TPMS kits are simple, accurate, and do far more than just deliver real time pressure values. The external kit, as I just begun testing, can be installed in minutes and the small but easily viewed readout plugs into a standard 12V outlet. ARB even had the foresight to include a USB charging port on the side of the readout assembly as to not eliminate the ability to use that outlet to power other devices like phones and GPS units.

Unlike even the most advanced OEM monitoring systems, the ARB units give visual and audible alerts to indicate the rate of an air leak, the build-up of heat, excessive pressure, or warnings that indicate a sensor may be malfunctioning or have a low battery.

From start to finish installation of the external kit, including the brief time it took to program each sensor, took less than 30 minutes., That included the time required to make adjustments to my air pressures, which were not surprisingly––way off. I have only had the system in place for a few weeks and so far it appears to be extremely accurate. I tested each sensor against two separate digital pressure gauges and it was spot on, every time. We are currently testing the internal kit on one of our long term project vehicles and will give a full report as to their performance over the span of several months. Until then, I’ll let my tire gauge settle to the bottom of my glove box. MSRP for the External kit is $319 and $366 for the Internal kit.

 

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Operational parameters and features

  • Measurement range: 10-75 psi /  .7 – 4.8 bar
  • Low battery voltage alarm: (Audible / Visual)
  • Operating voltage: 12V
  • Operating temperature: -4ºF to 158ºF / -40ºC to 70ºC
  • USB output port: 5V/1A
  • Alerts for pressure variables tire to tire
  • User adjustable alert thresholds for high and low limits
  • Low pressure alert to be set as low as 10psi
  • Selectable temperature measurements
  • Fast/Slow leak alarm (audible and visual)
  • High temperature alarm (audible and visual)

 

Installation Notes:

The External kit is really quite simple. In the box there are four sensors, the main display unit and just a handful of small parts. One set of tools is only used to replace the batteries within each sensor. The only other tool is used to secure the lock nut which retains each sensor. They’re expensive enough you don’t want one flying off and into the Never Never. A small dust boot keeps the internals clean. My only quip with the external units is the need to use the tool to remove the sensor caps. It’s kind of a stinker to have to do that every time you want to air up or down.

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I admittedly made a couple of missteps with the installation. I adjusted my air pressure, installed the sensor caps, tightened them all nice and snug, then set out to program the head unit. That involves removing the sensor caps one at a time. Next time I’ll save the securing of the lock nuts until the very end. Programming the display unit was surprisingly easy considering it only has one button to actuate all of the program settings. That display unit is also quite small, but easy to read at a quick glance. I went through the advised step of checking each sensor for air leaks and everything sealed up on the first shot.

 

All in all, they were very easy to set up and having pressure readings available in real time makes me feel like a more confident and secure driver.

 

www.arbusa.com

 

(Lead Image by Chris Collard)

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National Park Vandals Strike Again http://expeditionportal.com/national-park-vandals-strike-again/ http://expeditionportal.com/national-park-vandals-strike-again/#comments Sat, 24 Sep 2016 07:28:14 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=43752 People are terrible. Not all of them obviously, but for the people who recently vandalized the iconic Racetrack Playa in Death Valley National Park, the word terrible doesn’t do them justice. Sometime within the last few weeks vandals drove onto the playa leaving behind miles of tire tracks in the delicate soil. Because this part of the park sees very little moisture, geologists lament that it could take years, probably decades, for the damage to be naturally reversed. For those of you unfamiliar with this unique landscape, this is the ancient lakebed famous for the mysterious sliding rocks that move across the desert surface as if by magic. It used to be pristine. Not so much anymore.

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This is not the first time one of our parks has been assaulted by criminal ne’er-do-wells. Casey Nocket was recently banned from national parks in response to the numerous paintings she made on rocks in seven parks. In her case, she adduced that she wasn’t leaving behind graffiti, but artistic enhancements. Stupid is, as stupid does, as Mr. Gump said.

Earlier in the year, also in Death Valley, three drunken vandals jumped the gates protecting the Devil’s Hole cave where they shot off a shotgun, hooted, hollered, and went wading in a pristine pool where their shenanigans killed several endangered pupfish, of which only a hundred or so still remain. They were convicted of their ill-deeds, but like so many, their penance was mild at best.

Just recently another band of merry nit-wits toppled a famous rock formation called, “The Duckbill,” at Oregon’s Cape Kiwanda Natural Area. They were caught on video, which if you have the stomach to watch it, will cause your synapses to burn in a fit of rage, as they did for me. Why people feel a wanton need to deface beautiful things is beyond me. Call it a disconnect from nature, or a pathological need to just ruin stuff for the sake of it, these people are vile.

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It has only been a couple years since the Goblin Valley Hoodoo incident occurred when two Boy Scout leaders toppled a rock structure that dated to the Jurassic period. It survived 150 million years only to be the victim of two fat-headed tourists who fortunately for us, recorded the event on their phones which eventually led to their conviction. Again, instead of jail time or endless hours of community service, they were given probation.

I could go on. There were the vandals who overturned the famous bus on the Mojave Road. There were the Canadian tourists this summer who walked across Yellowstone’s famous Prism Hot Springs which made national news. They somehow managed to escape falling through the thin crust and being cooked like an Easter ham. It has become an epidemic with no end in sight.

I can almost understand the tourists so out of touch with nature they think petting a 2,000 pound bison is a good idea, or stand so close to the edge of the Grand Canyon they literally–fall in. Humans are stupid. But humans are also destructive, disrespectful, and typify that old chestnut, “This is why we can’t have nice things.”

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Landcruising Adventure: Why Bring a Hammock Overlanding http://expeditionportal.com/landcruising-adventure-why-bring-a-hammock-overlanding/ http://expeditionportal.com/landcruising-adventure-why-bring-a-hammock-overlanding/#comments Fri, 23 Sep 2016 07:39:13 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=42665 “What? Are you kidding me? I’m not going to lug that thing around on the trail,” I exclaimed. In preparation of our ten-day hike in Torres del Paine, a national park in south Chile, we had laid out all our camping gear and separated it into two piles: one for the essentials and the other for if we’d have room left in our packs. Marty had just tossed his gift to us – a colorful, double cotton hammock from Mexico – on the pile with essentials.

“Trust me, you will love it. What’s more, you will long for it, especially after a tough section you will want to do just one thing: lie in that hammock,” our experienced hiking friend responded while patting my shoulder.

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Hammock culture in Europe

Hammocks are not ingrained in our Dutch culture. I remember having one when I was a kid, which I think my parents brought as a gift from some far-away land. As a result, a hammock was not on my mind when packing for our overland journey in 2003. After our departure, the first encounter with hammocks was in Greece, where temperatures hovered above a hundred as a heatwave had struck the country. We were going to take it slow and had brought a pile of books. At one campsite, I saw one or two people lazing in hammocks and looked at them with envy. Our folding chairs came with comfortable but thick padding – not the best choice in this heat.

When I came across hammocks for sale in a sprawling bazaar in Istanbul, I immediately spent the equivalent of six euros to buy one, my untrained eye not realizing it had been made from coarsely woven, nylon ropes. The hammock was too rough to lie in comfortably without wearing a shirt and would leave my back with deep imprints when lazing time was over. The advantage was that any airflow, just the tiniest breeze, found its way through the mesh netting and in that respect the hammock was a perfect hot-weather solution. It came with two wooden crossbars on either side, which made it easy to roll up but it took up quite some storage space in our Land Cruiser. But as this was the only model I saw, I didn’t question its design and material and enjoyed it throughout the summer as we traveled along Turkey’s turquoise sea and camped on yellow-sand beaches.

Winter set in and the hammock got packed away, only to be used a couple of times in Pakistan and India later on our journey. After three years on the road, reaching the end of our Southeast Asia journey, we had a thorough repacking session, discussing what we wanted to keep for the next leg on our trip: South America. Among the items discarded was the hammock.

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Hammock culture in South America

Our Canadian friend Marty had flown into Patagonia a couple of weeks earlier, and was cruising with us for three months in South America’s most southern wilds that offer so many hiking opportunities. He swore by his Mexican hammock and, as a thank-you for inviting him to this trip, had brought us a double version. These Mexican hammocks are made of fine cotton thread and woven much more tightly, so they feel much softer to lie in than our first nylon version from Turkey. The absence of crossbars make it a small and adaptable package to stow away. You can pack it sausage style or in a ball depending on where you store it. However, Marty warned, never, ever get it tangled! He showed me how to string it up and pack it away to prevent this problem, which does require a bit of practice.

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Contrary to Asia, many countries in South America do have a hammock culture, in particular the ones in warmer climates, often, but not limited to, in and around the Amazon. The hammock is one of the few things, if not the only one, colonizers ever adopted from indigenous groups in Latin America, although they have changed its style and materials. Throughout our travels we have come across locals who use hammocks in their daily lives, which come in many different types, from heavy cotton ones to hammocks made of lightweight, woven bamboo fibers.

You’ll find them slung across verandas or in the middle of the living room for a nap, while others love to sleep in them at night. Locals sling the hammock with just a few wraps of rope between two beams or on sturdy, stainless steal hooks that can be folded away into the walls when they pack the hammock away. When we visited Boa Vista to see our friend Ricardo, he showed us around in the hospital where he works as a pediatrician and pointed out rooms that had been specifically equipped for indigenous people who lived in the forest: these rooms had no beds but hammocks.

Slinging your hammock

While Marty preferred stringing his hammock up with two pieces of rope, I’ve added two carabiners to make it easier to tie and release the hammock without getting it tangled or dropping it on the floor. The first time I used a bowline knot but found it cumbersome. Marty demonstrated a type of dual knot that ended in a slipped half hitch. It turns out to be very secure, and with one (or two, if you want it to be more secure) pull is undone quickly and painlessly. I still use that today. On long days of driving through the vastness of Brazil, I particularly loved my hammock for an after-lunch nap, always making sure to park next to a tree for much needed shade and as a fastening point, while the other end of the hammock was fixed to the Land Cruiser.

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The downside: contrary to thick cotton hammocks, the Mexican one is not a first option to sleep in at night. The open weaving makes it cold to sleep in, plus it provides easy access to bugs, so you need a sleeping bag to lie in or on. Sleeping in it with two persons would be very uncomfortable as when one moves the other will be disturbed. As a result, when we needed hammocks to hike in Suriname’s and French Guiana’s jungles, we bought two cheap nylon sheet hammocks with mosquito nets, which is the common way of using hammocks in the Guianas.

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A hammock on the trail

Marty is a very experienced outdoor man and so our double hammock did end up on the pile of essentials for the ten-day hike in Torres del Paine. While Karin-Marijke doesn’t care much for a hammock, I used it every day. I will even confess that I would hallucinate about it while struggling across a snow-laden pass with views of a glacier and when hacking our way through peat bogs.

Meanwhile we’ve had several repacking sessions, discarding more stuff, but the hammock is still with us and, even after nine years of use, in perfect condition. We shipped the Land Cruiser and are, once more, back in Asia, albeit in the northeastern part of it. Koreans love the outdoors and camping, but swaying in hammocks is not part of it. I admire all the fancy outdoor stuff they have, but at every campsite I’m glad to sling my hammock and snatch forty winks.

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Fall Boot and Shoe Roundup http://expeditionportal.com/fall-boot-and-shoe-roundup/ http://expeditionportal.com/fall-boot-and-shoe-roundup/#comments Thu, 22 Sep 2016 07:28:23 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=43170 Overlanders are outdoor people. As such, we tend to be rather particular about our footwear. At the recent summer Outdoor Retailer Show in Utah, I spent some time looking over the options best suited for our type of backcountry adventuring.

As we’ve mentioned before in previous footwear reviews like the roundup we compiled in the 2013 Fall issue of Overland Journal, boot and shoe choice varies wildly from one traveler to the next. I tend to need something that not only fits the bill for a day in the woods, but looks nice when casually sauntering across a hotel lobby or through an airport. I need something supportive and weather resistant without sacrificing all day comfort. And not to put too fine a point on it, there’s nothing wrong with something that’s nice looking.

In the last few years I’ve noticed a trend towards lighter footwear for overland travel. With the Fall 2016 options now on retailer shelves, I took time to put a few boots and shoes through the paces, literally. Some of my testing took place in Nepal, on the summit of Mount Washington, and even at over 16,000 feet in the Andes.

Helly Hansen Forester, $140 (Value Winner)

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Scandinavia’s most well known apparel maker has been producing footwear for years, but I haven’t tried them until very recently. Most of their shoes have been aimed at casual usage, or for nautical pursuits, but the Forester is clearly a woodland creature. The full grain leather uppers, metal lace points, and mild lug on the outsole give it a classic hiking boot aesthetic without the bulk of most boots. The EVA midsole is not too thick, affords excellent comfort, and the mid-height cuff is supportive without feeling overly constricting. Unusually light, they have been my favorite weekend stompers. I particularly like the smooth upper with the inverted stitching along the lace-patch. On my feet they have a very shoe meets boot feel, which makes them comfortable all day long. They also make for fantastic driving boots with their low profile sole and sleek toe.

 

As I depart for a multi-week trip to Alaska next week, the Foresters will be on my feet the entire time.

Chaco Yonder, $190

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Like many of you, I’ve been a staunch fan of Chaco sandals since, well, long enough to know how great they are. When they entered the closed-toe shoe and boot market, I was honestly a little worried. Not every brand makes that transition with much success, but Chaco nailed it and the Yonder is as nice as anything made by a bonafide boot maker. It isn’t much a surprise, really. Chaco’s merger with Merrell footwear as clearly paid dividends on the design and fabrication front. With a full grain leather upper, stitch-down midsole, heavy lugged outsole with a deep heel counter, the Yonder has a classic work boot aesthetic, but with modern attention to detail.

I have always loved the unique contour of a Chaco footbed and the Yonder retains that shape with a super soft, knit-lined PU footbed. Not overly stiff with a padded cuff, the level of comfort is impressive. I haven’t put a ton of miles on them yet, but I know I will as I can’t seem to get them off of my feet. They only downside is they don’t create a fun tan line like the sandals do. I realize the near $200 price makes these a big investment, but the more I wear them, the more I think they’re a serious bargain.

Salewa Firetail 3 GTX, $160

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There are plenty of times when I don’t want a full boot, but demand a sturdy shoe. I’ve been pretty vocal about my love of Salewa boots and shoes, and their new Firetail 3 GTX is one of my favorite finds of the year. With a GoreTex waterproof liner and ample exposed mesh, the Firetail 3 GTX is not just 100% waterproof, but highly breathable. The lacing extends to the tip of the toe in an anatomical and asymmetrical pattern which provides perfect and uniform lace pressure across the entire foot. The soft EVA midsole is comfortable for all day standing and walking, and the rubber toe rand should keep the uppers in good shape for the life of the shoe. When I travel by air on route to various overlanding trips, the Firetail is my go-to shoe. The soles are just thin enough I don’t know if I’d want to tackle many miles of rugged trail, but for mild backwood romps and general knocking around, they’re tough to beat. They are great for travel.

La Sportiva Synthesis Mid GTX, $180

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In July I was invited to join a media trip to the Cordillera Blanca mountains of Peru. For such occasions, my luggage space is often consumed with camera gear so there’s no chance of packing multiple pairs of footwear. I needed one shoe to wear on the plane, around busy city markets, and most importantly on the high trekking trails reaching altitudes of over 16,000 feet in the high Andes. The Synthesis was the only footwear I brought along. I felt confident in that decision because I had also used them for a similar trip to Nepal.

With GoreTex Surround technology, the waterproof barrier has been paired to unique ventilation features that allow moisture to escape from the top and bottom of the foot. Even when walking in the humid jungles of the Kathmandu Valley, my feet were comfortable. When stomping through puddles in the mountains of Wyoming, they kept my piggies nice and dry. Supremely light, comfortable, and more supportive than I expected, they have proven to be a great shoe for all travel occasions. They fill a strange gap in the footwear spectrum. They are in many ways, shoes that are capable of tackling boot duties. If you need a mid-height shoe for serious performance, this is your huckleberry.

Chaco Montrose Chukka, $140

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The chukka styling seems to never die, and for good reason. Simple and clean looking, they’re almost always super comfortable, and that certainly applies to Chaco’s version. With the same soft and nicely sculpted PU footbed as the Yonder, the Montrose is my preferred boot if I’m going to be on my feet for hours on end. For long days of travel, or just adventures to my local watering hole, I take the Montrose Chukka. They look nice enough to wear out to a highbrow dinner, and they’re perfect for all day driving. Not the best choice for long hikes in the backcountry, they are great lightweight overland boots. As a parting note: It seems like every manufacturer to make a chukka style boot does it rather poorly. Most of them look like hobo scoots after a few months. The Chaco chukkas are exceptionally well made.

Foresake Hiker, $129

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I’m probably going to lose a few of you with this one, but hear me out. For the longest time, overlanders dressed a bit like the man with the yellow hat. You know, that guy always palling around with Curious George. If you haven’t noticed, overlanding is attracting people of all types and walks of life, including those of a younger age and mindset. Even the much-mocked hipster has made the drive to Ushuaia and back.

The Foresake brand blends functionality with a fashion forward styling that frankly, I find refreshing. If I want to look like a zoo keeper, I’ll buy something else. A quick visit to the Foresake site explains their design mission. They appreciate adventure, the path less traveled, and even events like the Mongol Rally where they put some of their boots to the test. The Hiker fuses technical features like metal lace points, a waterproof membrane, and proper anatomical support with what I would best describe as a 1980s basketball hightop with hiking boot mojo. The result is something that looks fun, works well, and won’t have your feet mistaken for those of Jack Hanna. And yes, I have worn them on some long hikes and they actually work quite well. If the orange laces are a little too loud for you, they came packaged with black laces as an alternative.

 

Any of these boots and shoes will appeal to the active overlander. Whether you need uncompromising performance, a nice looking travel shoe, or something in between, one of these should fit the bill.

 

Testing the La Sportiva Synthesis Mid GTX shoes in Peru’s high peaks at 16,000 feet.

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Capetown to Cairo: An Airstream Caravan Takes On Africa http://expeditionportal.com/capetown-to-cairo-an-airstream-caravan-takes-on-africa/ http://expeditionportal.com/capetown-to-cairo-an-airstream-caravan-takes-on-africa/#comments Wed, 21 Sep 2016 07:00:14 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=43356 Although many have come to recognize the Airstream as an icon for the American nomad, few realize just how far these trailers have reached beyond our borders. Back in the 1950’s the company’s founder, Wally Byam, was on a mission to inspire fellow trailerites to see the world, and he began by planning a trip from Texas to Nicaragua along the Pan-American highway. Although it began as a small group of friends, an article by the Los Angeles Times had soon drummed up so much interest that Wally had 63 trailers following his lead. The trip ended up being a rough one, and despite break-downs, primitive dirt roads, and tough obstacles, about half of the original group made the full journey to Central America. These determined folks had relished the adventure, and it wasn’t long before shining caravans of trailers were setting out for destinations around the globe.

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Of all his journeys, Wally’s last was his most ambitious. A three month trek across Africa from Capetown to Cairo through some of the continent’s most remote locations. All told it took the group seven months to reach their destination, more than twice what they had expected, but I doubt a single one of them would have done it any differently. At the bottom of this page is the first in a series of videos containing the original 1950s footage from the trip. It’s cheesy in places, and the commentators introduction is priceless, but I guarantee you’ll be itching to watch the next one by the end. Luckily for us, the other parts are all published on Youtube. We hope you enjoy them as much as we did.

 

WARNING: These videos were recorded in the late 50’s when traditional African dress was still worn. Please be advised that some nudity may occur.

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Trail Tested: Kuat NV 2.0 with Rak Attach Swing-Out Mount http://expeditionportal.com/trail-tested-kuat-nv-2-0-with-rak-attach-swing-out-mount/ http://expeditionportal.com/trail-tested-kuat-nv-2-0-with-rak-attach-swing-out-mount/#comments Tue, 20 Sep 2016 07:56:33 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=42510 Last month we published one of my biggest review projects of the year, a comprehensive roundup of hitch racks. At the exact time I was wrapping up the testing phase, Küat released their updated version of their venerable NV rack called, not surprisingly, the NV 2.0. I finally got my paws on that new product and although I’ve only had a month to evaluate it, I have to admit I’m quite impressed.

I first started using the original NV rack more than two years ago and in that time ferried all manner of bikes over tens of thousands of miles. As much as I loved it, there were a couple of things that I felt needed attention. Apparently Küat’s designers felt the same. The 2.0 addresses virtually all of those concerns and even improved on things I didn’t think could be improved.

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What stayed the same

I’m always nervous when a manufacture updates a product I already like. Sometimes they throw the baby out with the bathwater, but not Küat. The new rack retains the refined styling that all Küat owners know and love. The complex shapes of the aluminum trays and front wheel mounts are the same as before and the high-gloss powder coat finish is better than ever and looks––amazing. The orange anodized accents are the same and now the Küat reflective logos are permanently applied and again, look fantastic.

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The most notable carry over is the tool-less hitch retention system that keeps the rack from wobbling about in the receiver. That, above all other features, is the one thing most Küat rack owners love most. The new retention knob is even sleeker adding to the elegant aesthetic of the 2.0.

The good made better

Like many racks in this category, the NV 2.0 can be positioned in upright, level, and lowered positions with the release of a small lever. Not to say the lever on the first rack was poorly placed, but the NV 2.0 now utilizes an enlarged actuator that is much easier to access and operate. It can even be pressed with a tap of a foot, keeping one hand free to hold a bike, the other available to lower the rack. I find I also don’t have to reach so far down to find the pivot release which makes raising and lowering the rack, particularly when fully loaded, much easier.

One of my original grievances with the first NV was the cable lock system. While I loved the thickness of the cables and how they conveniently slipped into the rack trays, they were often too short to fit through two bikes. The new rack solves that pickle by placing two locking mechanisms on each end which only need to reach far enough to wrap around the rear triangle of each bike. I like how this new system eliminates the need to have four feet of heavy cable draped over my bikes.

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Another refinement to the 2.0 are the enlarged support arms, obviously redesigned to afford better clearance for wider tires and forks. That adaptation is applied to the new front wheel carriers which are wide enough for fat tires, but have a small recess for skinny road wheels.

A close inspection of the main pivot, an area of the previous generation rack I thought needed a redesign, appears to be much beefier and far more solid. Not to say I’m hard on my equipment, but this rack promises to endure many a mile of bumpy backroad better than the original rack. I felt durability was lacking with the NV, but the NV 2.0 feels––bomber.

This brings me to my favorite feature on the Küat NV and one of the most noticeable improvements to the NV 2.0––the Trail Doc repair stand. Not to say the first vision was crude, but the new unit is pretty slick. It not only looks 100% better, it integrates into the entire system more cleanly and it’s much easier to use. In a dark corner of my garage I have a $300 professional repair stand I seldom use, often opting to just pop my bike in the Küat stand.

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The less than perfect

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times. Even the best products in the world are never perfect. My primary gripe with the original NV was the inability to adjust the rack to eliminate bike-to-bike interference. The new rack offers a solution––sorta. The 2.0 features adjustable front wheel mounts which can be placed in one of three positions, high to low.

To test the new setup, I went to my local group ride where I proceeded to solicit volunteers to mount as many different combos of bikes to the 2.0 as we could. In about half of the scenarios, we got two bikes to fit with no need to fuss with the front wheel mounts. In about 25% of the combos we tried, the front wheel adjustments solved any interference issues. In the remaining 25% we had to resort to the old methods of manually raising or lowering seat posts or turning handlebars. It’s not a deal breaker, but something to consider. And for my standard disclaimer on the subject, almost all racks suffer from some bike-to-bike compatibility woes.

My only other quibble is with the rear wheel straps, which I found too short to fit over my 4.0 fatbike wheels. They are frustratingly––only 1/4” too short.

 

The final verdict

The hitch rack market is a competitive space. Thule and Yakima have both upped the ante with new racks which I think are pretty spectacular. As they are prone to do, Küat did the same. I still think their rack is the most aesthetically refined and once again, the tool-less mounting and Trail Doc features make it one of my favorite haulers. I was never fully disappointed with the durability of the NV, but this new rack is clearly more burly. Kuat had several years of feedback with the NV to suss out what elements of the updated rack needed to be addressed and they clearly made good use of that information.

 

Some may lament the price and assert it is too high, but I feel it is absolutely reasonable for what you get in return. Well done, Küat. Well done. MSRP $630

 

 

www.kuatracks.com


 

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Rak Attach Swing-out Mount

Automotive designers spend millions of dollars designing hatches, tailgates, and rear door systems which most hitch racks render useless. While there are a handful of swing-out bike racks on the market, none are of the tray-mount style, and by virtue of that––stink. The Rak Attach, a beautifully made product designed and built in Utah, solves the dilemma of selecting the best rack for your needs while still retaining access to the aft end of your vehicle.

Available in different sizes to match the host vehicle, the Rak Attach mounts to any standard 2-inch receiver. A locking hitch pin and anti-sway device keep the mount secure and locked in place. To actuate the swing-out, the large security pin must be removed and the cam-tentioned lever released. Once those two components are free, the upper arm rotates effortlessly out of the way. Customers can select to have a Rak Attach built with either left or right facing pivots. I expected some play in the main hinge, but to my surprise, it’s snug as a bug. When returning the rack to the folded position, the upper arm glides smoothly into position, even with the weight of two bikes and a bike rack on the system. Honestly, there’s not much to it, and that might be the best part.

Like everything in life, there are some compromises to be made with this device. It does stick the rack out about 8 inches depending on the model of rack used. For those with spare tires, this is a non issue and Rak Attach can pair a mount to your vehicle to afford the optimal clearance. The unit will also compromise the departure angle for those drivers taking their racks off road. Not a deal breaker, but a consideration. Although I’ve only been using the Rak Attach for the last month, I have to say I love having it. It makes getting to my fridge, and the delicious beers within, easier to get to. That’s reason enough to own a Rak Attach.  [Click on the banner below to learn more.]

 

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The security pin can be placed at the main pivot to hold the upper arm in the extended position. This is a smart feature as it ensures the heavy rack won’t swing into the vehicle unexpectedly. There’s a lot of weight on that arm, so keeping it under control is a necessary design element. 

 

 

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