Too many things
In my opinion many outback explorers take too many things with them. Proof is the enormous growth in the number of heavy-duty, high clearance trailers now on the market. These are popular because many people take equipment with them because they can, not because they need to.
When I began my explorations into the wilderness with my parents and brother in 1972, our vehicle had no fridge, a single spare wheel, a fan belt as a spares kit, a small toolbox, four chairs, a small table, some cardboard boxes with food, two fuel cans, two water cans and a huge family tent all packed into a Range Rover – without a trailer or even a roof-rack. It strikes me that the pleasures of the outback include a release of stress: Stress comes with things. Why not leave them at home and instead of spending time with ‘things’, spend the time doing what the trip is all about in the first place: Enjoying nature and family. Too many things just get in the way.
This chapter is all about the many ‘things’ that may, or may not, make safari life more convenient. But I would like to see a movement to a more relaxed way of safari; less showing off about the fancy things and more of what is really important.
Large containers required to hold kitchen equipment, vehicle spares, tools, food, lighting or general camping equipment should be designed to do the job so that camping does not become a chore. For example, a single box containing kitchenware and food will be too awkward to pack and too heavy to load. A series of smaller containers are more practical and, if designed to fit efficiently onto a vehicle, while remaining accessible, can remain in the vehicle for the entire safari.
Containers, whether steel, plastic or cloth should have flat sides for ease of packing and lids must be dust-proof. A good example is the Wolff pack or the smaller Gumo boxes. They can be made dust proof with strips of foam stuck into the lids. They are ideal for carrying breakable items such as torches, lamps and stoves, vulnerable items such as matches, fuel bottles and fire-lighters, and items which you hope you will not need such as tools and spares which can then be loaded in the far reaches of the load bay and forgotten.
All containers, especially those made from metal, should be lined with closed-cell high density foam to prevent damage to the contents. Even tools, because of rubbing and chaffing, steel-on-steel will soon produce iron filings.
Military containers are ideal for safari use because they are built to withstand abuse, but, because of the sensitivity of Third World road blocks, they MUST be repainted, preferably white. Items such as military heavy-duty canvas bags or tarpaulins should be dyed black or blue.
Tying larger articles down inside the vehicle is also advisable. When a vehicle rides over an obstacle and drops down the other side, it seems to fall faster than the load inside it. The result is that when the vehicle rebounds and is coming back up, its load crashes down. The result is noise and breakages. Tie down rails are the answer.
• A basin has many uses such as bathing, washing clothes and dishes, draining oil and collecting water.
• A cast iron pot, or poitjie, can be used to cook almost anything
and cooking in this way improves the flavor of canned meats
and dried vegetables.
• A small fold-away spade can be used for digging trenches around tents threatened by water, making a safe place to light a camp fire and for ablutions.
• A large piece of plastic or canvas sheet/tarpaulin with eyes at each corner is a very useful item. It can be used for shade when strung between trees or vehicles, as a ground sheet for pitching tents on thorny ground, or for working under a vehicle, wrapping up sleeping bags on cold nights and collecting rainwater.
• Make a protective canvas sleeve for the cooking grid and stow it
on the roof.
• Pots should be designed to fit into one another to save
• Although non-stick frying pans tend to get damaged on safari consider how inexpensive a small lightweight non-stick pan is. They do away with a major cleaning headache and are cheap enough to replace every couple of years.
A packing system is one of my favourite accessories. It transforms the inside of a vehicle and is not only great for extended trips;
it’s great as an everyday practical accessory. The best packing
systems are over-engineered because through time and shaking, poorly built units begin to rattle. Roller drawers are also excellent for security as they can be locked. Roller drawers designed for standard boxes such as Wolff packs are also available. They are less expensive but no less practical.
Items to help with roadblocks
In some countries in central and east Africa (including Zambia and Tanzania) road-blocks are an unavoidable hazard. Items for low-key bribes are ball-point pens, cigarettes, T-shirts, a pair of plimsoles. Have a few of them visible when approaching road blocks. Soldiers manning road blocks may ask for a smoke. Obliging them aids with negotiations. In the Third World these are often worth more than money and if items are offered as a gift they are less likely to be construed as a bribe.
The rattling and bouncing created when a vehicle travels on dirt roads and over rough ground will take its toll on inadequate food containers. Hard plastic is a better choice than glass. Brittle plastic bottles such as those commonly used for cooking oil quickly develop cracks and the flip top lids pop open, creating a horrible mess. Small flexible plastic Tupperware type containers are ideal for storing most foodstuffs as well as condiments such as spices, mayonnaise, vinegar, oil, sauces and food leftovers – but make sure they seal first!
Fresh foods such as onions, carrots, potatoes, cabbage and gem squash will stay fresh for some time as long as they are protected from being crushed. Eggs stay fresh for weeks but should be well packed. On a 10-day safari into the Kalahari we broke all of our eggs into a Tupperware container and simply poured them out as needed. After days of very rough conditions (In a series-3 Land Rover), of the 36 eggs, only one yolk had broken.
Your kitchen should include a wooden spoon, cooking pots, an egg lift, a sharp cutting knife, a chopping board and sealable containers for salads and fresh foods. Shrink wrapped meat lasts very much longer than unwrapped meat even if it is not refrigerated.
Packing a roof-rack
As an important safety measure, roof-racks must be considered as light-duty bulky gear carriers and all the heavier equipment should be carried inside the vehicle. This will keep the centre of gravity as low as possible. Heavy roof-racks are dangerous. Keep heavier articles as far forward as you can so as to lessen the load on the rear axle and distribute the weight evenly.
One of the best methods of tying items onto a roof-rack is with a hammock spread over the load held down with a number of elastic tie-downs. Bungee cords or rubber straps made from inner tube rubber, with heavy wire hooks attached at the ends, also make excellent tie-downs that will not perish in the sun. Beware of roof-rack bags as some, believe it or not, are not waterproof! Waterproof ones are ideal for carrying bedding etc, but the others are pretty pointless.
When packing Jerry-cans on a roof-rack make a broad rubber band from old inner tubes and wrap each can with the band. This prevents metal-to-metal contact that results in excessive static built up and damage to the cans. Purpose made Jerry-can brackets are made for most roof racks and are practical and inexpensive. My last bit of advice on this: Don’t overload the roof and regret it when your vehicle rolls!
Roof-Top and Ground Tents
To me the most significant benefit of a roof-top tent is that mattresses, sleeping bags and pillows remain in the tent. The space saving can even be enough to sway a decision from buying a roof-rack over a trailer. Unless it is housed in a hard case, the convenience of a roof-top tent comes when erecting it, less when packing it away. When they are covered by a waterproof polyurethane bag, packing it away can be a tiresome chore and sometimes more time consuming than a regular dome tent. It is also quite strenuous to pack away because it is normally done while trying to balance standing on one of the rear tires.
When choosing a roof-top tent look for sturdy construction. Those built with very light poles, for example, move around a lot in windy weather and because the tent is held aloft, is more susceptible to wind. Manufacturers are trying to make their products lighter but few have succeeded because these light-weight products don’t last, they often leak and the wind throws them around and keeps everyone awake.
Many models have elastic ties fitted inside the tent to assist packing away. Some models have rigid housings, but a disadvantage of a rigid housing is that they are more difficult to get in and out of because of the lip of the case. Select the widest available. Two smallish people often find the narrow tents cramped. Rigid cases also fill up with water. Drain holes do not come standard with some makes – they need to be modified, or perhaps ask your supplier to do it for you. The best roof tents are Eezi-Awn, Hannibal and Howling Moon. There are some badly designed tents on the market so ask around.
Before you purchase any tent be sure to climb all the way in and out and have the entire family do the same. Disappointments come when the tent is taken on a safari and only then is it realized that it is too small. If the carry bag (ground tent) is tightly packed, it’s a guarantee that it will be a huge struggle to return it to its bag, which is the problem with 90% of tents sold today. And then there is the OZ-Tent. If you are tired of the hassle of pitching and packing away your tent, this is the indisputable answer to your prayers.