Optimizing your pack: weight distribution.


Active member
Spurred on by some synaptic activity in another thread, it seemed like a good idea...

Face it: most of us carry too much stuff. We might even use it now and again, but it can literally be TONS of stuff.

So, some background first. In 2001 I was part of “Vintage Rovers Across Africa” who spent almost three months in northwest Africa. Great time I’ll probably never repeat in my lifetime unfortunately.

In preparation, all the drivers were instructed on spare fuel requirements (Western Africa specifically) as well as water, two spares and other “necessities “ for the trip. In my case, I also had a friggin pile of camera gear. In an 88” Rover, you run out of room fast.

I read articles and spoke with experienced people in the UK who had done trips and/or outfitted others who did. Besides the 109 1-ton springs and a few other “modifications “ to the truck, it was basically stock.

But to the point: the pack. In a nut shell, heaviest items low and central; light items high. Below is the pack I ran, from memory so maybe not exact.

Rear of truck:
Two 5-gallon military water cans, laying down on the floor, against the bulkhead. Spare left and right hand Rover half shafts attached to bulkhead. Two strips of aluminum angle (1.5x1.5x1/8 wall across the wheel boxes at the front; on these were the jerry cans (German military). I think I had six across? A strap through the handles strapped them down. Behind them and the water cans, I had four McKeeson boxes. These are thin plastic with an interleaved lid, used to deliver drugs to the pharmacy. Each was numbered and labeled- recovery, repair, fix-it and parts. Recovery was heaviest, and set on the passenger side, against the wheel box. Parts lower left, other two on top (about the same weight each). This left a space on the left, where I had the tent awning poles, spare one-piece half shafts (Great Basin Rovers prototypes) and other long items I’m forgetting. On the right side floor, I drilled through the floor and installed u-bolts with a nylock on the outside and regular nut on the inside. Two of these provided the hook location for the two straps holding the boxes down. On the left, I needed the wheel box top to be slightly wider to fit the ARB fridge, so another piece of aluminum angle was set flush with the top, sticking into the cargo area. Fridge was strapped to the side of the tub here. Under the aluminum, I had two swing-out steel tabs with homes in them for the other end of the box holding straps. On the right side wheel box I had my tool bag. Oh, on the floor to the left I had a receiver mount vice that could mount to the front bumper.

Inside the back door, I had mounted the demand pump and hoses for the shower. Velcro straps kept it on the door handle- the pump was screwed or riveted to the door. Outside the door I had another 5-gallon can, which heated in the sun all day to supply the shower.

To the right of the back foot was a hi-lift (actually a jack-all brand) and a ladder to the roof rack was on the left. Roof rack was custom made of 3/4 square steel tubing and painted Limestone to match the roof and wheels. Ladder rungs had grip tape, as did the “landing” at the top for Wilson to get in and out of the tent. I slept on the ladder side.

The roof tent was mounted on the right side of the rack. It was open for the tent and also extended over the windshield a bit for shade and space. The open right side had a support that went to the windshield hinge since it wasn’t as structural as the continuous “ladder” structure on the in-open side. Oh, and there was a full-length divider to the left of the tents the rack was very ridgid without too much weight. We each had waterproof bags up here for clothes, both held down with one long 4” wide strap. Also on the rack were a pair of Mantek aluminum PSP, (which I guess is PAP), and a custom mount for the tent ladder on the right side. I also secured the folded tent with a pair of straps over the cover. At the very front of the rack I had my clothes washer (works great!).

In the front driver area, the original seats were replaced with Recarros which are now in my Defender. Center seat was replaced by my camera bag. CB was mounted to the front side of the bulkhead. Toilet paper, individually zip locked for freshness, was stuffed at every available empty nook.

Out front I had a Ramsey RE12000x with 150’ of cable in the custom bumper, a pul-pal on the brush bar and a raw (no rim) tire behind the bar in front of the radiator. Mounted spare on the hood.

I ran the Cooper STTs load range E. 235-85/16 I think they were.

ARB air locker in the rear diff with a tractor-trailer two-speed switch on the shifter for it. One optima yellow top under the hood. Military spring shackles, wedges in front to correct geometry and the aforementioned 109 1-ton springs. Otherwise, a restored (on new galvanized chassis) 1971 II-a 88” safari station wagon. Pastel green. 2DD432F9-53FC-47A3-82BD-B9DD9A767BEE.jpegF34B8EA9-5B38-4A83-9E54-85777A293DEB.jpeg



Good start to a great discussion. I've basically copied my own post from the other thread, but edited - hopefully this thread will spark some conversation. Maybe even from the 'big guys' in the heavy weight category. Personally, I think that weight considerations are critically important not just in packing for a weekend trip, but from the get-go of an entire build as a whole. Anywhoo…. By no means claiming to be perfect, but hope my .02 helps someone.

The items that are specific to your vehicle, such as a winch/skid plates, are more or less permanent, whereas the items you use to go camping or on adventure are (depending on a variety of factors) removable. So for me, while analyzing and adding up weights as true as possible, physically weighing items where possible, I add the permanently mounted items to the truck itself as curb weight. For example, if a bumper weighs in at 300#'s, then the front axle curb weight is 300#'s more, and you have 300#'s less of payload. So later down the line, after the truck is fully built, then calculations would have been made and that results in knowing the truck can haul XX pounds due to the permanent additions, whatever they may be. This, depending on vehicle choice, requires careful consideration of what you imagine to be permanent or not, and what you plan to have for ‘removable’ gear. For me, something like a chainsaw and gear is permanent every single day carry item due to the nature of how and where I operate. Other people I know only have their chainsaw with them when they go camping. It all depends on the purpose of the vehicle and each individual plan. Are you out for a weekend camping trip, or is this a dedicated ‘overland’ rig. So, there should be a separation of items there between permanent and non-permanent items. Would you always have your cook stove, fuel, or even clothing with you? If so, that's fine, but if not, then that should be factored in for the case you may need to pick up some things at a hardware store that could prove to be quite heavy. Also, if you really want to get advanced, it would be good to physically weigh the truck before and after modification (by individual wheel if possible), then from there additionally factor the other ‘removable’ gear. You could even make it proportional to where, say, a 50# 12v fridge sitting at the front of the bed puts x% of weight on the rear axle, and x% on the front, therefore you know how much your passenger's can weigh, without overloading the front axles, for example. Or even more specific, even calculate the difference between side to side proportional weights, and weigh each individual tire for verification before, during, and after a build/loadout, possibly even taking into consideration the weight differences with full water/fuel tanks, or half, or 1/3. The opportunities are endless...just always be cautious of the weakest link.

This is something I have seriously been working on for almost 2 years now for my own situation, and have questioned plenty of folks on this forum about, probably to a level of annoyance to them haha. Fortunately, they all entertained my many questions.... A fine balance between a 'build' that is appropriate for my particular use (or desire of use) and the engineered capabilities of the truck (weight ratings), vs. the true capabilities – leaving room for consideration of a ‘buffer’ or ‘reserve’ capacity to mitigate damages. To me, every aspect of your vehicle being other than stock is important, and thus, a consideration for function, weight, purpose, and cost- in other words, for example of weight, a total weight of xx pounds of this and xx pounds of that means you have only xx pounds left for a particular tent which very well might be the deciding factor between tent A or tent B. Why is this important? Well if said weights 'force' you to choose tent B, but if you really really really want tent A for whatever reason (maybe its functional, maybe just a desire), then you may need to look at other aspects of your build/gear to see what can be shed to allow for tent A, or be willing to accept tent B. As some very wise people reminded me recently, it's all about what compromises you need to make to do what you want to do and be happy. So this is why, to me, weights need to be considered just as important as function, purpose, and cost – as the function of an item may ‘outweigh’ the actual weigh, or not.

But I think it is also very important to note and consider that obviously we all see so many vehicles out there daily that are very overloaded. Many owners of those severely overloaded vehicles, I am willing to bet, also are a little more careless in how they treat their rigs. So if they, who are way overloaded, and hard on vehicles, have not flipped or split a frame in half, then I think the consideration of current weights and loading locations, and careful driving, in all reality, would be sufficient. Naturally, I like to know every possible detail and scenario. Just who I am. But is that truly necessary? Probably not....

What does this mean? Well, to me it means at the end of the day, do what you need to be comfortable driving your rig (SAFELY) in the type of terrain you plan to use it on most often, enjoy the day, and forget the rest. Of course do due diligence in roughly checking weights, to make sure your not 2x's the weight ratings. But if your a few hundred pounds over, under, or on the money, that's fine. If you like details (like I do) then by all means get as detailed as you want and make a highly specific build and loadout, possibly to include drawings of specific gear in specific locations. But don’t let that stop you from getting out there, because eventually, something will brake. Maybe it's too heavy, maybe it's an engineer flaw. But after seeing how other people treat their vehicles year after year, and relatively few major problems, then maybe its not worth worrying about so long as you are comfortable with it, safe, and it gets you out exploring and having fun. As the folks over at Expedition Overland once put it (in a different way), get out there and explore.

Spurred on by some synaptic activity in another thread, it seemed like a good idea...
Face it: most of us carry too much stuff. We might even use it now and again, but it can literally be TONS of stuff.
Looks like you've had quite the adventures! Awesome. Well in other news of this discussion, maybe it would also be good to note vehicle choice? Sure theres lots of threads out there specific to certain vehicles, but I don't think a consolidated one that outlines general vehicle type choice in the same thread. So for example in your Africa trip, and generally in eastern areas, why a Rover as compared to, say, Isusu - aside from the obvious.

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