Overlanding is camping in cars while wearing expensive boutique camping clothes and dangling your titanium coffee cup from your belt loop with a $40 carbon fiber carabineer. That’s essentially all it is. Or at least that’s what I always picture when somebody tosses that word around. By now, most people have been exposed to overlanding in some shape or form, but how many have gone prevanning? I have. It’s not something I think will catch on in a trendy, buzzy, expo/jambo sort of way like overlanding has. (Is overlanding in a van called overvaning? Eh, whatever.)
What’s prevanning, you ask? In my case it was borrowing a dead-stock 12-passenger Nissan NV3500 van to prerun portions of the 2016 Ultimate Adventure through Death Valley. Why a van? Why not. After all, as the old saying goes, it’s not what you have, it’s what you do with what you have.
I’m not going to steer 4WOR into that weird conversion van phase it briefly suffered through during the 1970s, but I will admit to thinking that fullsize vans are totally vantastic. You can sleep in them, you can haul lots of stuff with them, you can put lots of people in them, and under the skin they are usually nothing more than a pickup chassis comprised of a beefy frame, heavy-duty axle, and big brakes.
That was the case with the Nissan I borrowed. Under the skin the NV3500 HD is nothing less than a Nissan Titan XD pickup truck with a 5.6L gas V-8. It totally scooted on the road and (Nissan, if you’re listening, cover your ears) survived over 100 miles of high-speed off-road bashing that left the shocks hot enough to cook an egg. If you wanna go prevanning, make sure to check the following boxes.
Friends & FamilyI brought my son, Caelin and my friend and ace 4WOR ad guy David “Hambone” Hamilton and his little dog, Cooper. Hambone rode shotgun and served as guide. Caelin rode in the second row and served as coyote spotter. Cooper laid in a dog bed in the third row and served as trail dog.
Gear & GrubWe fit a cooler full of vittles, enough drinking water to fill a small kiddie pool, some dog treats, some kid treats, tools, an electric air compressor, recovery gear, a shovel, and other stuff in case we got stuck. (We got stuck.)
Get Stuck & UnstuckYou can’t go off-road adventuring without getting lost, stuck, unlost, and unstuck. We did all. Getting lost is kind of fun, but when we ventured too far down a soft wash and almost buried the rear to the diff cover, we did get a bit nervous. Putting the shovel to work and dropping the rear air pressure got us back on high, solid ground, and off we went.
Vistas & VroomingWe bumped up rocky goat paths, hauled ass down graded dirt road, (Nissan, avert your attention) did a few small jumps both intentional and unintentional, and stopped at scenic overlooks and points of interest for lunch, snacks, rock throwing, and stick fetching.
Honestly, if the NV3500 HD van were 4x4 we’d probably still be out there prevanning around. We got between 15.5 and 16.5 mpg on the road and 10.5 mpg in the dirt with the A/C set to “meat locker.” Maybe a 5.0L Cummins–powered 4x4 prevanner package with internal bypass shocks and a built-in dog water dispenser for next time? Now that would be vantastic.