Updated: May 25, 2020
I frequently find myself window shopping 4x4 vehicle accessories and gear like most outdoor enthusiasts do, and mostly it remains at that when looking at the investment required for these type of toys.
As with many hobbies, popularity increases price, and 4x4 or overlanding has definitely grown in popularity in years past. The suppliers have their own right in gaining what is available from a popular market, that is just good business sense, but by no means are the pricey toys we see daily in catalogs the only alternatives.
What ever happened to DIY?
It might be that our lives (and skills) have become more digital than the lives of our fathers and our father's fathers, with manufacturing and repair of everyday items becoming less important and less of a requirement, but there is still nothing wrong with a try at good ol' DIY.
In the overlanding world, there are a few things that are better bought than built; Suspension - this stuff keeps you on the road, buy a decent OEM or aftermarket set, save up a little if you need to; Recovery gear - this stuff gets you out of a bind and has an engineered safe working load (SWL or WLL). This includes tools and equipment such as a winch and jacks. As far as non-safety related accessories go, have some fun and make a few things.
I started my love for the off-road and overlanding with an entry level Ford Ranger. I used this workhorse to complete my first 4x4 training course with SA Adventure, and loved every second of it. Since then, we upgraded to a decent second hand Toyota FJ Cruiser as our needs were better met by a 4x4 SUV.
I decided to fit the FJ with an aftermarket roofrack and rooftop tent, and opted for these items purely to save on weight. I did not want to raise the vehicle's centre-of-gravity, and I do not think the 4.0 V6 needed any excuse to consume more fuel (apart from the drag created by the RTT, which increased my fuel consumption by about 5% should any one be interested it that fact).
I have since needed to build my own manual system to remove the rooftop tent as I do not drive around with it year-round, it might not be the prettiest thing, but she works! I have also built two drawer systems, one low-profile version (because the dogs need a bed as well) and one upright version to slide in next to the fridge when required.
The first attempt featured a low profile system with a single accessory drawer for some tools and our little gas cooker, a little pull-out prep table for making coffee or some snacks and flip-up sides to access the built-in compartments of the vehicle which doubled as additional storage space (ugly brass lock-bolt optional) pictured here with our ground tent and mattresses as well as a friend's camping fridge.
The second attempt was built for a trip we planned with some friends to Botswana and Zimbabwe, which unfortunately did not realize due to Covid-19. This system was changed to accommodate our own little camp fridge. It features;
A grocery drawer (top left);
A kitchen drawer with cutlery, plates, bowls, cups and kettle (top right);
A little prep table (sealed with butcher's block wax) where this table works great for quick coffee and snack stops stops when you don't want to set up a larger camping table;
A larger accessory drawer (middle bottom-ish), for the stove, tools, fire extinguisher and some recovery equipment, and at the very bottom a snug little slot for our larger 1.2m camping table. I also included some additional ventilation holes for the camping fridge to breath through that open up when the folding camp table has been removed.
I was not happy with the brackets of my awning and they also moved through my 'workshop' for the necessary modifications, where workshop in this instance refers to the happy little table in my garage surrounded by a few hand- and power tools.
You do not need your own engineering-works to tackle a few DIY projects. You need an idea, a paper to scribble on and the basics hand- and power tools, for everything else there is google, pinterest and any other platform or search engine that will motivate, inspire or guide you.
You can never lose with a DIY project, either you make something that is suited to your own needs, saves you some money in the process and give you a pleasant feeling of accomplishment, or you make a mistake, your friends joke about it for a while, and you learn from it. (Next time you will do better, I promise)
Overlanding or 4x4 does not need to be super-fancy or expensive, it just needs to be enjoyable and fun. If you can get a smile out of every trip and spend some times with the ones you love, you have accomplished the objective of every adventure.
Be the engineer who calculates every last detail, be the architect that builds for beauty or be the accountant that constructs to save on cost, whatever role you fill, just go out and DIY (or at least give it a good try!).