These are the purchases we “ummmmed and aaaaahed” over buying at the beginning as, to us, they were expensive. In hindsight, the following we consider to be our top buys, our ‘best investments’.
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Obviously! She cost £3,000 on eBay and we have never regretted her for a second; reliable, comfortable and agile she’s our transport, home and third team member. She’s easy to work on, easy to source parts for and hardly ever complains. With a 3L Turbo engine, she’s a little fuel hungry, but no more than any other medium sized 4x4. Given our budget she was the best money could buy.
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We spent weeks deliberating this major one; which brand, which model, which size and second-hand or new? We opted for a new, small Autohome ‘Airtop’ model. A huge combined discount of pre-ordering for 2011 prices, in addition to VAT-exemption for living in the Channel Islands, still left us with an eye-watering bill of £1,220. We frequently witness fellow campers race to pack up poles in the rain or wrestle flapping canvas of fold-out roof tents in high winds. The convenience of ‘popping’ the tent in seconds combined with the comfort of our own mattress, duvet and pillows is less of a luxury and more essential now we have experienced the benefits.
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A gift, and one which we are informed was reduced significantly from its hefty original £66 price tag. The MSR ‘Alpinist 2 system’ has a perfectly-sized pan which is light, efficient and easy to clean. The insulated mugs keep a much-needed brew hot for ages. The durable dishes can hold everything from soup, pasta, cereal, BBQ grill or full English breakfast- we really don’t need anything else. You don’t realise how unpractical a large, flat plate is until your baked beans go cold before you’ve even eaten the second mouthful. Everything folds together neatly for storage. With this experience, I wouldn’t hesitate to pay full price for this set.
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We didn’t get much change from £500 for our Waeco CF-35 coolbox, frustrated at paying around 5 times the equivalent ‘house fridge’ price by being trapped in a niche, ‘overlanding’ consumer market. However, this exasperation has been ‘cooled’ by many months of faultlessly chilled sundowner beers. Our fridge enables us to stock-up enough supplies to travel across uninhabited regions or the more grocery-challenged countries. Perpetual pasta doesn’t cut it when you’re travelling long-term and the fridge allows us to carry fish, meat, dairy etc. for a good, healthy balanced diet. In the Sahara at more than 40°C nothing refreshes like cold water.
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There was no choice, £795 for a set of 5 BF Goodrich A/T’s. They are the most universally available off-road tyre, which is irrelevant as you’re unlikely to need to replace them in a hurry. Our first set covered more than 40,000 miles across some of the roughest terrain, they had huge chunks out of them but never failed. We happily forked out another £795 on our second set before this leg of the trip. BFG A/T’s certainly proved themselves for us, we’re confident that this set will get us around the world. They are equally at home at 70mph on the motorway as they are in snow, sand and mud. The TriGard 3-Ply sidewall also means they are more or less bulletproof on rough rocks.
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Look at the rows of inexpensive, stylish gas camping stoves in a European camping shop and you question why it’s necessary to fork out around 3 times more on something like this Coleman unleaded 2 burner model (RRP £150). Now find yourself in remote Mongolia asking for butane or propane gas cylinders and you realise how useless these stoves are for extended trips outside of the weekend-camping, western world. A hot drink in the morning and at least one hot meal a day is so important on long trips. Unleaded fuel can be bought everywhere with 5 litres, costing approximately £6.00 in Europe (or £0.70 in Iran!) generally lasts us 3 weeks of daily stove use. It has to be mentioned we drink a LOT of tea.
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Our 2.5 metre Terrain awning was the cheapest on the market at £195, but still seemed expensive. Despite its price tag it quickly became a valuable part of our kit. With only the rooftent or car front seats offering shelter from a shower; hours, even days, of rain are made bearable by the ability to do stuff in the relative dry. It was vital for creating shade in the scorching Sahara. With the wind still whistling under the jacked-up vehicle even with the add-on side panel walls, it’s never going to offer cosy shelter but it’s surprising how much it gives our camp a cosy ‘territory’ feel.
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Our life is contained within eleven Flatdog 52x40x24cm plastic ‘wolf’ boxes. At £23 a pop they are by no means a budget storage solution but do allow for robust, tidy, borderline-obsessive organisation within the vehicle. Infrequently used car spares, first aid and miscellaneous bits are kept in boxes at the bottom/back whereas our day-to-day items are kept easy to hand. Tidily arranged ‘Kitchen cook’, ‘kitchen stuff’ and ‘food’ boxes make meal times easy and efficient. The boxes can be strapped down so everything is secure from criminals and crashes. They can be sat on when extra seats are needed and a set lay-out of stuff means we can reach into a box in the dark and quickly and easily locate a toothbrush or torch.
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The Hi-Gear Vermont folding chairs (approx £30 each) we chose were initially a divided topic (myself for, Andy against); more due to their bulkier nature than the cost. Although he still grunts occasionally when trying to wedge them equally alongside the boxes in the back, this is quickly forgotten when lounging almost horizontally in the sunshine. Finding a relaxing recliner combined with a comfortable, upright chair suitable for eating or working at a table was an equipment research challenge and many hours scanning the internet were spent in the quest for the perfect expedition chair. Perfection rarely exists but the sacrifice we made for the storage challenge has more than made up for the benefits.
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Initially received a ‘no’ from our wish list of overlanding equipment due to its extortionate +£250 price tag. Skip forward 8 months to a dusty Souk in Western Sahara where we purchased an identical model for a mere 900 dirhams (£65). In the African desert, solar panels are a daily item for Saharans, compared to the elite caravaners of the UK. A quick install using a borrowed drill from a Saharan shop owner and we had a system that took our house battery life from 2 to 10 days. Sunshine permitting. With carefully-angled parking we can charge the house battery fully, charge phones, laptops, cameras, iPods AND keep the fridge at 3°C just from the power of the sun.