The quest for the perfect family (5 of us) overlanding/camping setup....


"Which set up?" is an eternally baffling question for me. My family is small - just three of us. As my wife and I moved into car camping from backpacking 25 years ago we had a Subaru GL 4x4 and Nothface Arrowhead tent (still have it). Then we moved to a 94 Toy 4x4 truck. When our son came along in 2002 we bought a 4 season Mountain Hardware tent. Great combo. We used that for another 5 years or so and then added a Syncro Westy, which became the main vehicle for long trips and mild offroad trips. As our son got bigger we replaced the Toy truck with an FZJ80 6 years ago. That brings us up to current times.
We currently have the Syncro Westy, the FZJ80, and a Sportsmobile RB31 4x4. (Yes, that is obnoxious. My wife is embarrassed, but we don't spend money on the things others do, like big houses.)

The 80 is built with a fridge, stove, hot and cold water and a configurable deck that one person can sleep comfortably on. We've had a RTT on the 80. It is a neat experience, but I found it to be a pain to set up and tear down every day as we did over our 45 night Alaska trip a few years ago. I've since sold that. Replaced that with a Nemo Asashi 4-person tent with an added vestibule. I love that tent. Easy to set up, spacious and airy.

The Syncro was/is our main family travel vehicle. It is mostly stock except for a soobie 2.5. It is the most fun to road trip in and we have an emotional attachment to it for sure, but .... it is not entirely stress-free to drive a 27 year-old VW around the country, even if you are a good mechanic.

I added the Sportsmobile last summer as a way of avoiding paying rent on an apartment that I live(d) in 2-3 nights a week (work is 180 miles away from home). I did a 4x4 conversion on it as well. I've driven that close to 18000 miles, mostly highway, and it is a fantastic road trip vehicle. Quiet, capable and can be off grid for about a week.

If could only have one vehicle and didn't have a need to camp year round, including many -10 nights in northern Colorado, I would sell both vans and stick with the FZJ80 and nice, spacious tent. The money left over would pay for lots of trips!


Expedition Leader
@Ranchero - You are my hero with that selection of vehicles!

Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

Recommended books for Overlanding

Sailing Alone Around the World: a Personal Account of the...
by Joshua Slocum
From $26
Don't Go There. It's Not Safe. You'll Die.: And other mor...
by Jared McCaffree, Jessica Mans, Kobus Mans
From $19.99
Crossing the Congo: Over Land and Water in a Hard Place
by Mike Martin, Chloe Baker, Charlie Hatch-Barnwell
From $32.5
Road Fever (Vintage Departures)
by Tim Cahill
From $7.99


Family of 7 here, we have two different set-ups. Chevy 3500 express van and Travel Trailer when everybody goes. been toying with the idea of converting the van to 4wd for years...

and when its just me and the BIG three, (3 oldest- 7,8 and 9year old) we take the Land cruiser 80.. and two tents. But, I'm planning to make an offroad trailer and add a RTT. I need all the interior space available so a trailer is mandatory I feel.
Family of 5 here, with 3 young kids. We have a 4x4 3/4 ton conversion van and 10x10 Kodiak tent. I like the pop-ups too. If your car couldn't handle the weight of tent camping don't see how it would handle a RTT much better. You need a more heavy duty auto; a 1/2 ton full size truck at a minimum IMO. Think my van can handle around 2,400lbs of cargo.

A simple 2wd 3/4ton+ conversion van can be very versatile for camping, road trips, and everything in between. Great for anytime you need to load up a lot of people. The 2wd vans have a nice ride and there are lift packages out there for pretty cheap. A winch and some lockers will get you to most all of the places a 4x4 van will go so long as there are not steep inclines. Can also tow with them. My neighbor camps a lot and has had a 1 ton 2wd passenger van for 20+ years and stock as can be........even after all his kids moved out.
Last edited:


New member
Ranchero, We're a family of three with a forth on the way. We've been thinking of pulling the trigger on a van but financially it would be tight to swing right now. We're looking for some quick set-up break down for some extended trip (1 to 2 weeks) in the future. Is the pull out stove and fridge in the back what make's your 80 the best overall rig if you had to only have one? We've been thinking doing that same set-up ( onboard kitchen,nice tent) figuring the cost savings pays for some trips and a few new toys for the road(Sup and kayak). Any pics on how you run your kitchen out of the back? Thanks!


We're a family of 4, my kids are still young (currently 7 & 5, but we started them 4 years ago), and we traded our minivan in for a fleet auction E-van 3 years ago. We ground camp using a Panther Primitive 10x10 canvas wall tent (10.3 Sunforger) with an EMT frame and a Wall Tent Shop angle kit when not using the backpacking kit. Over the past couple of years we've spent about 10 weeks under the canvas in all kinds of weather and the only real changes have been with the kid's cots. "Santa" brought them a Disc-o-bed bunkbed cot this past Christmas and they LOVE it. They can even (mostly) set it up by themselves too.

The van is a 2003 that only had 30k on the clock that we picked up for under $10k in 2015. The build has taken about $7k including radios, suspension, wheels, tires, rebuilt transmission, cellphone repeater, fridge, lights and all the raw materials for the fab'ed up stuff. We had been camping using our 2011 VW Routan and the same tent setup, but that vehicle wasn't right for our adventuring goals. That and with all the integrated electronic systems wrenching on it was tough (for me). Going backwards in model years meant I have a vehicle that I can fix myself, which has been a significant money saver.






New member
We are a family of 6 looking to explore from MI to Alaska and back in a few summers (long trip, 8 weeks). I've made this trip several times but not with my family. I wanted to keep this thread alive as we are still uncertain how we are going to do it either. We're plenty seasoned tent camping and the kids will be 12-16 yrs old then. I've had many thoughts about how to go about this, but nothing solid so any thoughts/suggestions would be appreciated.


TL;dr, but I do have a couple of points - first off, the OP's picture of the twins (?) having breakfast on the cooler is priceless! We (family of six if you include two labs), went from a large family-sized tent to a slide-in camper, back to a family sized tent, and as the girls got older, we downsized the tent, and added a second popup tent for the girls. We also have a small (23') cabin cruiser that we've spent many nights on many waters. The tent/s were a PITA always and when the girls were younger, the associated toys/gear was huge. Both kids are adults now, and one of them hates camping (socialite), and the other has her own gear.

Both the wife and I feel as though we've paid our dues, from starting as backpackers, to sleeping in the open truck bed to the above and now that the girls are gone, we purchased a small hard-sided RV (25' Toyhauler). It's plenty of room, lifted so we can get away from the madding crowds, and can carry our off-road vehicle for basecamping adventures. All the comforts of home and if the girls want to come along, they have a bed. Setup is fast, teardown is fast. If I want to get out in the back-country, I still have my solo tent and gear. Pretty much any camping experience I want to have, I have the gear for.


New member
Family of four plus one small dog. We like to have a set up that is versatile enough for a quick weekend excursion and long cross country trips. We started with a big canvas tent, then did a roof top tent on a basic landscaping trailer, did a vintage airstream remodel and now have a teardrop. The teardrop is awesome and we are modifying it for tougher roads. It is always ready and the rear hatch kitchen is perfect. Even the king sized bed is getting tight- so I’m looking into the new Yakima roof top tent to add an extra bed. It looks like it is is pretty easy for take on and off, and with the trailer holding the bulk of the camp, we can just fold the tent up and go exploring. Ease of set up and breakdown is my number one priority with two little kids. I want to be outside with them and we will not do it if it is a pain in the ***. We travel with another family that has a pop- up. That works great too, but since they don’t cook inside (who does?), they have to set up and break down a kitchen. All we do is open the hatch.
We found our teardrop used for 10k.


We are currently using an AT Horizon with an Overland Large tent (Autohome canvas) which works for when were 3 up (me and my 2 daughters 8 &12), when my wife and Dog go we add in the Oztent RV5 and the kids and Hurley sleep in there on pads... We are going to add a foxwing awning to the trailer to give us more covered space when it rains and be able to zip not only the RV5 to it but add in drop sides as well..
the setup really gives us comfortable space for 6-8 (2-3 in the RTT and 4-5 (smaller humans) in the Oz so the kids can bring friends if they want.
Our next move will probably be a medium sized hard side trailer with a bathroom but for now were good and i can tow it with the D90

Recommended books for Overlanding

The Total Approach of Getting Unstuck Off Road: 4WD Self-...
by Robert Wohlers
From $59.95
Crossing the Congo: Over Land and Water in a Hard Place
by Mike Martin, Chloe Baker, Charlie Hatch-Barnwell
From $32.5
Cycling the Great Divide: From Canada to Mexico on North ...
by Michael McCoy, venture Cycling Association
From $9.99
Motorcycle Messengers: Tales from the Road by Writers who...
by Lois Pryce, Mark Richardson, Carla King, Sam Manic...
From $9.99
Guess I need to update my family vehicle. Kids now 7,5, and 3. After a short tent camping trip with the truck decided it would work fine so got rid of the 4x4 conversion van. It also didn't tow that great as the 350/250hp motor was lacking. Was tired of paying for a third car and the miles were getting up there on truck and van. Wife also didn't like getting up from her seat in the van while underway and enjoy's being closer to the kido's now. Didn't realize that kids were seated so far away in van you could hardly carry on a conversation whereas you get to "hang out" with them in the crew cab and hardly miss a word. Got a new crew cab z71 and am enjoying the 19mpg average. Will work fine for tent camping, but plan to rent a pop up trailer for summer trips due to the heat; need good AC. The crew cab truck could do everything the van could do and then some as it could carry more stuff, tow better, higher clearance, better mileage, etc. If you really wanted to camp on the truck it's much cheaper overall than say a pop top. You can potentially have a queen bed in the bed with topper and throw a roof top tent on top.......all on a platform that is more ideal for daily driving. I miss the inside space of the van, but that's about it and didn't use it during camping anyways. Only time I really hung out inside the van was when the kids were babies and they would fall asleep and I'd sit in there while wife would go do whatever, but that age/stage is over now.
Last edited: