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Truckpacking. The Real Deal for Overland Travel?

James Young
October 30, 2020

What most U.S. Overlanders Think We Do.

I love the American South West. The deserts, the trails. The muted tones of which fill our windscreen as our tires crunch to a halt; gripping a mix of sand, gravel and dust which kick up into an open window I fail to shut in time.

Basil Lynch (Instagram - @basillynch) is in the camper ahead. Eying up another driving line I'll shake my head at. Seemingly hell-bent on setting a new record tipping-angle for his custom camper, Bruce.

Next up is a ledge on the desert floor. A rock step, with a perfectly acceptable flat detour off to the left, is consumed by the front end of his Ford F250 before the rear hangs up on his hitch mounted motorcycle rack. Back wheels weightless, tickling the top layer of desert, oversized tires absent of any grip.

Basil Lynch wheeling in Moab Utah
Basil 'hangs' in Moab, Utah

A wind-blown mop of surfer blonde appears at the driver window, looking back at his helpless tires with a grin. MaxTrax are summoned and placed, his camper lurches forward once more.

The rest of the day continues in the same vein, with or without my steering stabilizer, which was wrenched off somewhere en-route to Arches National Park. Basil leading us off-road newbies to a set of precarious rock ledges being negotiated by several Jeeps. The small, light 4x4's clearly a better choice of vehicle than a heavy truck camper at this particular moment in time.

The serrated sandstone steps (lets call them an impenetrable fortress of sandstone barriers, just to be really clear about my thoughts at this stage) lead to the highway, around 800 metres away. Beautiful asphalt accessible by a single precarious route.

Basil coaxes us onwards; Bruce mounting the first few steps exhibiting a level of grace usually associated with restaurant waiting staff on a cruise-ship battling heavy swells. Ungainly and agile at the same time. He wallows up step number three, throws on his handbrake and jumps out;
"It's fine. We can do it. These trucks are more capable than you think"

Hanging with friends in Moab Utah
Hanging out with friends. Moab, Utah

Basil's assurances are at odds with the soundtrack of yet another gravity assisted Jeep, scraping its rock sliders over a sand-dusted orange precipice; guided by its nervously laughing pilot and nervous-but-not-laughing female passenger. I consult a map, which seems pretty unequivocal about the fact we are doing the one-way trail the wrong way.

Ego and peer pressure ensure the right decision is a long while coming. It's over two hours drive back the other way or 30 minutes up these ledges. Or not. Maybe it'll be four hours up these ledges. Maybe we'll never make it up. There could winching involved, a crane maybe. A Hospital cameo not entirely out of the question. Claire tells me to turn back for the 800th time before I acquiesce.

I sheepishly tell Basil I don't have the balls to take my expensive mobile house on a not inconsiderable rock crawling adventure, given that it's pretty much my first time off road. He doesn't miss a beat,
".. No worries, I'll drive back with you .."
Basil is not the kind of guy to let you down. Ever. At least our return journey matches the direction requested by the trail map.

What We actually do

As the American south-west blends into Baja California. The polished latin vibes on the Northern side of the border in cities like Santa Fe give way to a harsh, dusty environment that slowly opens up to Mexico proper once we reach the half way point of Mulegé.

Baja feels Mexican, kind of. I know it is. But the ferry from La Paz to Topolabompo delivers us to mainland Mexico. At this point everything changes. A creeping tug of familiarity starts to enter the journey. The deeper we get into the mountains and countryside, the more time we spend with locals, in their towns and stores; driving their roads and lanes.

Claire is the first to say it.
"This is like backpacking. But in a truck. It's better than backpacking!"

Welcome to Truckpacking.

As a society we all group together in various ways. Peeling off the backing of a decal called Overlanding and applying it to whatever version of vehicle travel we enjoy.

For many, overlanding is described at the start of this post. A desert based trail fest with a focus on off-road gear, 'built' trucks and a taste for suspension pounding. But, move further afield and the Overlanding changes dramatically. Culture, people and local experiences are given a high priority. The trail less travelled remaining an important piece, just embedded on a larger puzzle.

Why is this important? Because overland travel in this 'truck packing' approach entices a different kind of person, couple or occasionally a full blown family. The truck no longer the focus of the journey, but a conduit with which to experience the world.

We didn't know that this kind of adventurous 'go anywhere' truck allowed such a breadth of opportunity to explore a foreign country. Off road and on. Inside and out.

this big road trip hat shopping in Panama city
Hat shopping in Panama City, Panama

A Backpackers View

Backpacking and off-roading are two different things. If there is one thing that matches our excitement of an off-road trail to a remote camp spot, it's being immersed in a foreign culture. Thankfully, these two things are not mutually exclusive. For us, this is actually overlanding. But we've always had an appreciation of the fact this term means different things to different people. As a niche term, Truckpacking fits the bill nicely.

We're Not Off-Road 24/7

I love off roading but only in small doses. I don't want to do it all the time. I get bored of the shaking and noise. The dust. The inevitable pounding on the vehicle, which I view internally as a clock counting down to zero; at which point our trusty Ram 3500 falls apart.

Relishing the opportunity to work on a truck is a foreign concept to me. Whiling away inexperienced hours (needing a tool I neither possess or know I require) with a vain aspiration to make a part do what it was doing, before it stopped doing it. I am a creative, I like making something new not making it like new again. I don't mind getting my hands dirty, eating a taco. I prefer my oil on a salad, rather than under my fingernails.

What does tickle my driving senses is a 2 or 3 hour off road adventure. Map out a nice condensed route with some photo ops and I'm all over it. Throw in an epic camp spot and I can spend an hour evaluating the light and taking pictures before I even set up the camper. Claire might even suggest this creative period of the journey takes too long.

Our travels are now filled with these short trails and off-road excursions. Edging around the coast on the Costa Rica peninsular and camping on massive deserted beaches was an absolute dream. But these trips are balanced by city stays, towns, villages, coffee shops and amazing local restaurants. Well rounded travel, where wind, heat and dust meet the foam of an exquisitely made cappuccino or a chat with a stunningly attired Mayan lady.

this big road trip street parking in Venezia colombia
Street camping in Venecia, Colombia

Pop Up Camper - Pop Up Opportunity

Not only does the camper offer a 'pop-up-home' in hostels, hotels or other like minded places. It often affords VIP access to areas like National Parks; where staying in the car park can see you drift off to a symphony of insects and croaking of frogs, waking to coffee made just the way you like it and then enjoying an empty park before other visitors have even arrived.

Once, we stayed inside a water park. With private access to all the pools and slides once the park had closed. Sure, it's not what the camper was made for, but it's a great experience.

The truck camper happily weaves through cobbled and church guarded plazas with the same dexterity as it pushes through jungle foliage. Even journeys that require a 'half-way' highway stop in a crappy gas station are soothed by the fact our home on wheels trumps the nearby shady motel with its deep fear of rudimentary sanitation.

This Big Road Trip Parquedero Puerto Berrio Colombia
Even less salubrious camp spots offer comfort and a story. Puerto Berri, Colombia

From a size perspective. The camper really is hard to beat. Tucking ourselves into normal parking spaces, popping the roof and still enjoying an enviable living space. At no point have I entered anyone elses vehicle, however plush, and not wondered whether I could put up with the extra size or, alternatively, the lack of space. A riddle regularly asked, the answer never changes.

Backpacking is not much of a disputed term. The idea is to travel independently, stealthily. With somewhat limited belongings creating an agility that suitcase wielding hotel guests seem unable to match. Off-the-between-path, experience and culture playing a large part in the quest for adventure.

Truckpacking is backpacking's younger but more capable sister. A greater level of independence leading to a more concentrated experience. No longer tied by bus routes or tour guides. The feeling of superiority when you pull up next to a backpacker filled van is somewhat shameful. But the benefits are obvious. Where you like, how you like, when you like. Without unwashed Tyler from Wisconsin droning on in your ear about that time he took acid in the Jungle in Thailand. If you have backpacked, you are absolutely going to love Truckpacking.

Freedom to Roam

Thankfully the Nimbl camper does it all. Even in standard form the truck is immensely capable. Bolt on some 'expo approved' accessories and there is almost nothing that's going to stand-in your way. But, like James Bond in a tux, it has impeccable manners and an admirable level of civility that goes hand in hand with the athletic agility and brute capability.

This is no one trick pony. It's not simply an off-road thoroughbred either. It's the horse you'd always ride if you had to choose just one horse to ride. An exceptional all rounder. Not compromisingly 'ok' at most things, but genuinely magnificent at all.

If your overland excitement is tempered by the thought of permanent remoteness or you fear the rigours of an eternal off-road bruising. If a hankering for cultural adventure matches your spirit for a great camp spot. If you genuinely want the freedom to roam in any environment. Rest assured, the Nimbl Evolution is a perfect choice.

You can follow James at ThisBigRoadTrip.com or his Social Media accounts:

https://nimblvehicles.com/truckpacking-real-deal-overland-travel/
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