Western US adventure vehicle w/ giant dog

Suganuma

New member
Seeking recommendations for a backcountry camping vehicle/setup. I've browsed quite a few different forums and threads, but want to get some feedback before narrowing my vehicle search further. Requirements:

- Fits 2 adults, 2 kids in car seats, 1 giant dog (30" withers, 100lbs)
- Dog needs to not overheat in summer (90ºF), nor freeze in Winter (-20ºF)
- Dog sleeps close to kids (guardian dog)
- Dog able to look forward or head out window while driving (still a puppy, but gets carsick sometimes)
- 4WD, able to tackle Montana forest roads (talus shelves, stream crossings, etc.) and XC Alpine trails (would like to do CO & NM routes, possibly head into AK via Canadian rockies)
- Backcountry camping - Glacier & Yellowstone NP in Winter
- DD worthy - will have to take ~20 mi to work during dead of winter when motorcycling is a bad idea

Camping setup is flexible. I could see a RTT (with lower alcove) possibly working, but I'm concerned about cold weather, dog, and midnight pee breaks for the kids. Something quick & easy is best for morale, especially if we're setting up in a snow/rain storm.

We've gone on quite a few car camping trips with a ground tent that has gone fine, but the Subaru Outback is way too small for the dog and can't get us across many of the stream crossings and other rough terrain nearby. Also, bears.

I've been scouring craigslist and eBay for months for an E-350 with either Quigley or U-Joint 4WD conversion, 7.3L or bulletproofed 6.0L diesel engine, standard length for better departure angle. Desired is <150k miles and <$20k, but that seems to be a unicorn. The plan was to do my own camper van conversion, keep the first row of seats for the kids (maybe do a Sienna seat conversion and turn-around driver/pass seats for eating) and then a raised bed for the kids with storage underneath. I'd have Colorado camper or another company install an insulated pop-up for the wife and I to sleep on. The giant dog would essentially have the whole front part of the vehicle to roam and growl at coyotes.

So, that said, I recently rented a Suburban for the whole family (and visiting in-laws) to pile into and head down some of the prospective local trails...it barely did it. We're lucky to have not slashed a tire on the talus, ground clearance was marginal with the side steps, wheelbase felt too long, and it was often maxing out the width of the trails. But, it made me realize a Tahoe would fit everyone well if we flipped part of the middle seat down for the dog to have a window and used a RTT for sleeping. The width issues have me reconsidering a FJ80/FJ100 with RTT or Tacoma with Habitat/Flippac. The dog is eating up a lot of storage room for expedition/backcountry type gear (imagine a whole other person that wants to lay down most of the time). No dog and I'd probably have a Tacoma right now.

Thoughts?
 

rlyoung112

New member
I'm in the same boat (3 small people & Great Dane). Considering my options for the trips where I'll be leaving the big camper at home. The dog really is the major point of issue with most options. Truck bed would be great for good weather, but what about when it turns bad? Even the crew cab I drive now could not comfortably support the big dog and all of us for any extended amount of time.

I'd suggest making a pros/cons list of every type you're considering. That and REALLY try and think about how many trips and to where the next year ahead holds.
 

collk22

Observer
Have you considered a trailer? Based on your dog, seems like an SUV is your best bet - maybe something like a Land Cruiser or 4 Runner with a trailer will work for you - gives the cargo space to the dog and still room for the gear. If you go the LC route, I think rear air was first available in the 99.
 

v_man

Explorer
Truthfully I would consider leaving the dog at home... The dog's freedom in a National Park will be severely limited , if you guys visit any NP's...
 

Buddha.

Lurker
My first thought was Suburban but then you said it barely did what you wanted it to off road so... Z71 Suburban.

The better tires, slight lift, and skids seem they they may address your concerns.
 

rcharrette

Adventurer
Land Rover with TT

We are similar, family of 4 (me, wife, 11yr old and 2yr old boys with 80LB golden retriever. We travel with a "basecamp". We pull a 27' travel Trailer with our 08' LR3. We LOVE the Land Rover. We're not hard core 4 wheelers but I've taken it on up to class 4 trails in Moab Sedona, Ouray, etc. I run it completely stock but have Johnson Rods I can pop in for extended height at a trail head if I feel they are needed.
 

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eaneumann

Adventurer
My wife and I have a Tundra Crewmax with a roof tent that works really well for us and our two 60lb dogs. The Crewmax is huge, we could easily have two adults back there with the dogs. Could do a flipbak or a four wheel camper. We really wanted a 4x4 van but they were too expensive for the mileage. We may end up with a four wheel camper in a couple years, but we actually really love our roof tent. Only downside is the 5.5 bed. If you're considering a Tacoma, you should look at one!



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daPitbull

Adventurer
4runners are great for the family and dog. It's the only SUV I know of that has a roll down rear window. I've got an 08' with the V8 and we tow an off-road trailer. While the trailer is convenient it can pose some challenges on tight trails especially if you need to turn around.
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Suganuma

New member
Exactly. The dog is a kangal - the size of a small great dane. She's bonded to the kids (they're her livestock to guard) and separating them is a bad idea. I'm in MT, it gets really cold here...the bed of the truck won't work from Oct/Nov-Feb/Mar.

I'd like to do Glacier, YNP, and other local national forest mountain trails this Winter. We're tripping out of here as much as we can, mostly 2-4 day weekends, but I want to do a couple longer trips (<2 weeks).
 

Suganuma

New member
I have considered a trailer. Downsides:
- Negotiating inclines/declines
- Negotiating tight turns
- Possibly needing to turn around?
- Tight-ish mountain trails for a true camper
- RTT setup/tear-down in Winter if it's a flip-top, low space in a pop-top (hardshell), how to get dog up/down stairs.
- Dog needs to sleep in vicinity of people, but not IN the bed

Thanks for the info on rear air. Besides the horrible gas mileage, a LC is a great option if we weren't camping. I've almost pulled the trigger on a LC100/LX470 a few times now.

What kind of trailer are you thinking?
 

Suganuma

New member
4runners are great for the family and dog. It's the only SUV I know of that has a roll down rear window. I've got an 08' with the V8 and we tow an off-road trailer. While the trailer is convenient it can pose some challenges on tight trails especially if you need to turn around.
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that looks fun. what kind of trailer?
I think the dog might freak out if we just left her in the back of the 4runner. I'd also have to figure out insulation for the RTT for winter.
Can you get 2 carseats side by side in the 4runner?
 

Suganuma

New member
My wife and I have a Tundra Crewmax with a roof tent that works really well for us and our two 60lb dogs. The Crewmax is huge, we could easily have two adults back there with the dogs. Could do a flipbak or a four wheel camper. We really wanted a 4x4 van but they were too expensive for the mileage. We may end up with a four wheel camper in a couple years, but we actually really love our roof tent. Only downside is the 5.5 bed. If you're considering a Tacoma, you should look at one!



Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
This would only work for us without the dog. The dog would take up one whole seat with the kids' carseats in the other two.
 

Suganuma

New member
We are similar, family of 4 (me, wife, 11yr old and 2yr old boys with 80LB golden retriever. We travel with a "basecamp". We pull a 27' travel Trailer with our 08' LR3. We LOVE the Land Rover. We're not hard core 4 wheelers but I've taken it on up to class 4 trails in Moab Sedona, Ouray, etc. I run it completely stock but have Johnson Rods I can pop in for extended height at a trail head if I feel they are needed.

Lots of people go this route and love it. Unfortunately, it won't work for me because that trailer is way too big to get up any of the forest service trails around in the mountains here in MT.
 

Suganuma

New member
My first thought was Suburban but then you said it barely did what you wanted it to off road so... Z71 Suburban.

The better tires, slight lift, and skids seem they they may address your concerns.

Ya, we had a Z71 suburban. A regular suburban would have gotten stuck on the talus field. I say it barely did the trail because we had to go 2mph to not pop a tire on the sharp/shifting rocks and it was almost too wide in quite a few sections. The latter is actually what prompted this post. I was hell bent on the E350 van, but it's still really wide for the trails so I was hoping y'all would have some other ideas/experiences to offer.
 

daPitbull

Adventurer
that looks fun. what kind of trailer?
I think the dog might freak out if we just left her in the back of the 4runner. I'd also have to figure out insulation for the RTT for winter.
Can you get 2 carseats side by side in the 4runner?
It's from Rockbox, relatively same dimensions as a M416 military trailer.


2 car seats? I can do 3!
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