Off-Belay Americas: Home is Where You Park it

Among outdoor adventurers, rarely is one’s vehicle simply a form of transportation. Instead, it often doubles as a storage unit and can even moonlight as a mobile hotel. For our overland adventure from Seattle to Patagonia, our 1987 Toyota Land Cruiser needed to be ready to go in all three of these categories. Thus, we were forced to make a few modifications to “Beckey” that dramatically increased both her gear capacity and level of comfort when trying to grab a bit of shut eye.


If you hit the fabrication blogs you’ll discover one thing real quick—the two tiered system is king. A two tiered storage system eliminates the need to unpack and repack all your gear when you want to access some of it. It allows you to isolate gear that needs to stay dry from the wet stuff (skis, boots, etc.) on the bottom. It also gives you a significant level of increased security by covering your valuables without looking like you’re covering expensive gear with a blanket or tarp. In certain circumstances and vehicles (Westfalias) it may not be the best fit, but I highly recommend it as a starting point for your first design iterations. Below you can see our implementation of the system. While our top tiers are offset due to the height of our refrigerator, the design is still undeniably two-tier.


It almost goes without saying, but put as much gear on top of your vehicle as possible. Roof racks are truly one of the best investments you can make when outfitting your car. Furthermore, there are inexpensive ways to get a functional roof rack without having to sell a kidney. We called around and found a steel fabricator who made our rack custom for us based on our design. We ordered $50 of square steel tubing, dropped it off at his shop and picked it up two days later—all-in: $200. Not too shabby. In our set up, we threw a Thule SummitBox up on one side (via Craigslist) and filled the other with two jerry cans and three 70L SealLine dry bags full of gear. The combinations up top are endless and can include ski racks, bike racks, lock boxes, kayak racks, or any combination of.


Since we are on the topic of roof racks, allow me to mention that an awning is a great idea if you plan to hangout near your car—be that at the crag, trailhead, ski lodge lot, wherever. There are a number of “overland” companies who make great products which fit most SUVs or wagons, however they may require parting with your other kidney, and you only have two.. We opted to use the MSR Zing group tarp as an affordable replacement, the versatility of it offers the exact same, if not better protection from the elements, as seen below:


Sleeping In Your Car

Suddenly you are awarded a lot of freedom when sleeping in your car becomes a viable option. When considering sleeping platform options you want to take into account the permanence of your build and whether you wish to continue to be able to use your backseat. If you do, a modular design is your only option and please allow me to be the first to welcome you to the world of “making and breaking” your bed every time you sleep in it then drive the rig. It’s a hassle, but to us, the flexibility is well worth it. Our sleeping platform is offset, partly to inhibit any encroachment, but mostly because the aforementioned refrigerator height requires it. Be sure to take your height and shoulder width into consideration when designing your platform. Head clearance is big too, but you probably need less than you think and if it’s a little uncomfortable you are all the more likely to get up for first tracks in the morning.

Finally here are some quick considerations that may improve your time spent living on four wheels:

  • Refrigerators are ideal for trips over two days and everyone loves returning to a cold beer at the car.
  • Power inverters are a huge plus for charging phones, photography equipment and running small appliances.
  • If you decide you want to run electrical equipment, consider getting a dual-battery set up installed such as that offered by National Luna. Protecting your starting battery should be at the top of your priority list.
  • Deep cycle batteries are expensive and bulky, but are worth it in the long run as many high voltage batteries degrade after a couple hundred charges or less.

Finally, remember: You are never homeless when sleeping in a vehicle. Do not feel any shame walking out of a coffee shop with a freshly washed face, a tooth brush in your pocket and a cup of joe. You have a home, and it’s wherever you decide to park it.

Brothers hailing from the Pacific Northwest, Carson and Austin Bowlin are on an adventure of a lifetime traveling overland from Seattle to Patagonia, climbing, skiing and surfing along the way. Their trip partners include Mountain Safety Research, Nuun, TorFab, and Kavu.  Their progress south is also recorded at   


Follow the rest of the Off Belay adventure:

Intro: Seattle To Patagonia

Joshua Tree