Options for an overland dog mushing vehicle?

Tremelune

New member
My girlfriend is a dog musher. She has a team of six huskies that she needs to move around. This means six medium-large dog crates, a hitch receiver for carrying a dryland cart, room for a passenger, and some extra space somewhere for gear.

Right now she rocks a 2012 Ford Transit Connect, and it's really pretty good, but it has some deficiencies I'd like to rectify. The biggest issue is that it struggles with rough terrain. Even at very low speeds, it vibrates, pitches, and heaves down the dirt roads she frequents. The thing feels like it's gonna come apart. Ground clearance is minimal if ever she would like to venture a bit further off. The tires are 205/65-15, which means the best we can run is a set of snow tires, or try and mess with rally racing tires. I really don't know if I could go much bigger, and I don't think regearing would be possible, so options for real off-load tires that resist puncture and get through mud are slim.

General question: In terms of smoothing out terrain, I assume suspension travel and shocks matter significantly more than increasing the diameter of tires?

So, with the dearth of dedicated factory overland vans in the US...what could I buy/build? Some priorities:

1) Reliability. Not getting stranded in the woods is priority one.
2) Easy maintenance. The owner will have no interest in working on it.
3) Smooth out heavily rutted and pitted dirt roads. It would be nice to go a few dozen mph without rattling apart.
4) Maintain highway capability (70-80mph calmly and safely).
5) Maintain interior space.
6) Improve tires/traction/clearance. The less smashing of components the better.

It seems likely that the next rig will be a Long Term Investment, with custom dog boxes being made and overland accessories etc, so I'm hoping to find something with as few miles and years on it as possible, with as many factory components as possible.

Some possible solutions:

Pickup Truck
Problem solved, right? Throw some cages in the bed and your drivetrain options are limitless. For various reasons, she's hoping to keep the dogs inside the cabin.

Quigley
They offer a Ford Transit option and a GMC van option. Both look great. Both are over $40k. All the used Quigleys I've seen have seen years and years and thousands and thousands of hard miles, and they still ain't cheap. The 4WD is great, but lifts are still limited. They seem to mostly just raise the body as opposed to adding travel. Helps get a tire under there, but probably doesn't help with rough terrain much.

QuadVan
These seem great, but there is no mention of price on the website, so it makes gauging them difficult. I think it's $13k to convert an existing vehicle, which is about the same as Quigley. Anyone have experience with this company? The fact that your average shop could work on them is compelling.

Transit Connect
This would be fantastic, but...There just aren't many kits available, much less good ones that add travel. I just don't see it being practical.

Chevy Astro
I have a 2005 AWD that I love, but it's pushed passed 140k miles. It might double that, but it remains a difficult car to lift. The options for lifting aren't exactly a Metalcloak system...More like brackets for lifting the body, and once you go over 2", you have drivetrain angle concerns...Much like the Transit, it doesn't seem like it's good for much more than getting bigger tires under there. I mostly mention it because, well, it sure would be cheap...for as long as it kept runnin'...

Chevy Express
These suckers came with AWD until I think 2014, they have plenty of space, and anyone can work on them. This is my top pick, but again I face poor-quality lift options as with the others above. What are the real options for getting some usable travel under one of these without it becoming a terror on the highway?

Somebody's Monster Build
I always have my eye out for off-road vans (like everyone here, it seems), but they're usually very old, very beat, and/or very heavily modified. I'm looking for the kind of vehicle where you can drive into some shop and say "do whatever is recommended at x miles" and they won't look at you in fear and confusion.

Anything I missed? Are there any other viable vans/trucks/SUVs that have strong aftermarket support for good off-road suspensions? Hummer?? A Jeep Unlimited would be too small in back. A new Suburban starts at $50k and I don't know what to think anymore.
 

LimaMikeMike

Observer
I'd spend my money on a fancy slide in dog box type set up, I've seen guys use them for hunting with coonhounds. Then put it in the 1/2-3/4 ton of your choice new or used.
 

Lucky j

Explorer
Reading between what she has with the pros and cons, And what you have been looking for, I am not sure that your needs are that well define.

You mention that the transit is not to bad, but yet a looking for a lifted 4x4 van. The best option for mushers have always been in my mine a pick-up truck with specialty truck cab with individual doors for each dogs. But since she wants them inside, I don't even know why you are exploring that part.

So on the van side, some have mentionne the lifted 2 wheel drive, throw a locker in the back, and she will be good in any dirt roads. Anything esle, she as the dogs and the cart.

Just my 2 cents.
 

Tremelune

New member
Who makes a good lift kit for any recent full-size van? I haven't been able to find a kit that adds travel and articulation, and I suspect that's the real key to moving briskly down rough terrain.

Maybe I'm spoiled. I've known poor 6" lifts that are less capable than a good 3.5" lift at mitigating obstacles...
 
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Tremelune

New member
Oo, very interesting. I'm not looking to prerun races or catch air, it just gets tiresome weaving and ducking around for miles at 10-20mph to get to where you want to go...This gives me a good research direction.

Any full-size van, even bone stock, would outdo the Transit Connect...until you compare 10-15mpg to 25-30mpg...I guess you gotta pay up if you want to turn biggass tires in a tiny house...
 

Littlehouse

Adventurer
I would think a truck and a trailer would be the best option. A bunch of sled dogs in a van sounds like a nightmare drive. Two huskies “Family pets, not sled dogs” in my truck are enough for me.....
 

nitro_rat

On a Suburban Excursion
A colleague of mine in Canada did this with a Dodge like mine, 4x4 quad long bed 2500 but with a high roof camper. Seemed to work for him.
 

Dalko43

Explorer
Get a pickup (3/4 ton or 1 ton) gasoline or diesel. Put a bed dog crate system, like what many of the mushers use in Alaska and Northern Canada: https://www.sleddogcentral.com/features/trucks/truck_photo_index.htm

You could also look at getting a towed trailer. I'm sure either option would be easy find 2nd-hand or build one on your own.

I would quickly divorce yourself from the idea of having your dogs in the cab with you for a few reasons:
1) smells.
2) the sled dog breeds are very hearty and well-suited to cold weather. In an enclosed dog box with some hay, they'll have no problem coping with extremely cold weather.
3) easier cleaning. your dogs will have "accidents" on long trips.
4) smells.

A van will be harder to make 'overland' and dog ready. A 3/4 ton work truck will be better suited to such duties and will be easier to find. My 2 cents...
 

Martinjmpr

Wiffleball Batter
Suburban or Excursion could work, too. Keeps everybody in the cab, lifts are inexpensive and easy to do, hitch can carry a 500lb load. 2500 would be best but a 1500 would do in a pinch. Readily available on the used market. I think Excursions were made through 2005 and the Excursion would get you a diesel option as well. Not as much head room as a van but much easier to drive.
 
The GM vans with new 2.8L duramax diesel get 24mpg, but Quigley is not converting them yet.

Didn't see Nissan on your list. They make a pretty cool van with more of a truck hood/front end. The passenger vans come with seats that are all removable and can be shuffled around into different configurations.
 

bknudtsen

Expedition Leader
Does she NEED 4wd? Doesn’t sound like it based on the whole Transit Connect thing.

I agree with some of the others that a clear defined list of priorities needs to be developed. If dogs in the cab are number one, then that moves you in a certain direction. If true off road capability is the priority, then that narrows things down again. Fuel economy? What’s that?

Jump over to the 4wd Camper Van forum for tons of examples of lifted vans. Converting a van is expensive. No way around it. I’ve done it. Quigley’s and Quadvans have very little suspension travel and sometimes questionable road manners.

The issue I see with a lifted 4wd van is jump out height for the dogs. Being a professional dog handler, I am keenly aware of the wear and tear that accumulates in a dog’s joints with repeated impacts.

Here’s my old van. I wouldn’t goes less than 6” for a 4wd conversion due to clearance issues with the front axle and the engine crossmember. That leaves you with a tall van. I’m 5’10” for reference.

21C2DAAE-E9BD-4FBF-A5C6-0191A08172D8.jpeg

Oh yeah, airing down your tires when in the rough stuff will do more for the ride than just about any suspension upgrade will. Properly valved shocks, lower tire pressure, disconnected sway bar and you are on your way to a much more pleasant experience.

Lots to think about,

Brad
 
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