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Overlanding 101: Eating, Sleeping, Pooping

Posted in Features on July 13, 2018
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The term “overlanding” is quite the buzzword these days. I would say the difference between “overlanding” and “camping” is determined by your primary intention for setting up camp: Are you setting up a camp to just squat around a fire and drink beer in one place all weekend, or are you exploring cross-country and you need a place to sleep each night on your journey? Whether you are “camping” or “overlanding,” the bottom line is that there are three simple things that one must do in the great outdoors: eat, sleep, and poop. Here’s a quick look at how I do it when I’m overlanding or camping.

A Jeep, a tent, and the outdoors—what more do you need? Let me tell you.

The options for eating range from prepackaged food to a full camp kitchen setup. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle. When traveling solo, I eat cheap. I am happy to subsist on a can of soup warmed on the Jeep’s exhaust manifold, or a freeze-dried backpacking meal that requires only boiling water heated in my Jetboil, or fresh fruit and tuna eaten straight of out of the can.

Omelets-in-a-bag are a crowd-pleaser, and they are also easy to clean up for one or two people. Often the choice is between easy cleanup or extra trash. Either way, give some thought to every single thing you are hauling in with you, and take it back out again. The Jetboil is with me on every trip.
Steak and beans (a Barlow standard first-night dinner) is done on our Camp Chef propane stove. We carry a 5-gallon propane tank for a three to four day trip with 10 to 12 people. This is a big piece of equipment for a small family trip, but an efficient option for making coffee, bacon, and pancakes for a dozen hungry people.

When I have the family or a group of clients along, a certain level of comfort is required. If fire conditions permit, I like to cook things over a fire on a stick, a grill, or a Dutch oven. On our commercial trips, pancakes, eggs and bacon are standard fare for breakfast. It’s beans, rice or pasta, and grilled steak or chicken for dinner. A large propane stove is used for both. We have the refrigerators in the Jeeps for these trips, so that means green salad, fresh veggies, milk, orange juice, and, of course, other important chilled beverages. On longer trips where refrigeration space is at a premium, we have found some great canned meats and veggies that we can add to sauce over rice or pasta that gets gobbled up every time. Just remember that more luxury means more weight, more setting up, and more cleanup. Regardless of what or how you cook, it seems that everything tastes better outside!

Unless you are absolutely certain of having access to safe-to-drink (potable) water, bring your own. With a little careful usage, each person can live quite well on two gallons of water per day.

Newsflash: Eating leads to pooping. And it’s really bad to just “leave” it around. As more and more people have headed to the outdoors in past decades, human waste has become a serious issue in many of our recreation areas. Nowadays, if there aren’t facilities available, you must pack EVERYTHING out. Otherwise “it” simply builds up and ruins the area, and this is beginning to happen in places like Moab and the Rubicon. We have found that the easiest solution for self-reliant camping is a one-per-use toilet bag, like the Biffy Bag, and portable folding toilet seat. We also add a pop-up tent specific for “doing business” in privacy, complete with wet wipes, hand sanitizer and air freshener (lip gloss optional). The rule is that everyone is responsible for properly storing their own bags while on the trail and then discarding them properly once off the trail. Sometimes, we designate an exterior trash bag on the tail gunner’s Jeep specifically for “doodie duty.”

For “Number 2” business, the standard in our setup is a portable folding toilet seat with a one-per-use liner like this Double Doodie. The powder in the bag absorbs the moisture, and the exterior ziplock bag ensures an odor-free transport. Ladies, my trick in the woods is to carry a ziplock bag in my pack or pocket with some TP and a wet wipe to take care of business and seal all back up when you are done to deposit in the “Doodie” trash sack.

Then there is sleeping. What I use the most are ground tents. Though a rooftop tent costs a lot more, it is really nice to pull into camp and have your entire sleeping situation set up in a hot minute, rather than fighting with tent poles, unrolling bags, and inflating air mattresses. Breaking camp is even sweeter. It is also a safer feeling to be up off of the ground, unless the thought of managing a ladder at 3 a.m. when you have to get up to pee worries you. A rooftop tent also adds about 150 pounds above your center of gravity, so that must be considered in light of the severity of your wheeling and the stoutness of your suspension. For sleeping bags, the number one piece of advice I have is this: Buy a bag that is rated for at least 20 degrees F below the forecast lows of your destination. What most people don’t realize is that a bag rated for 40 degrees F just means you won’t die of hypothermia when the temps drop to 40 degrees F—it doesn’t mean you will have a comfortable night’s sleep. It’s better to have a heavier bag you can zip open if you get warm than to be huddled up shivering in a lighter bag.

Finally, don’t forget a plain old tarp—at least some sort of heavy-duty, waterproof material that measures about 10x15 feet in size. That big tarp will come in handy for anything from catching fluids when working on a broken rig, to a rain shelter over the camp kitchen, to an extra layer under your tent to keep it dry and warmer.

Who carries the yucky stuff out is up to the group dynamics, but on our commercial trips, it’s the tail gunner’s Jeep with the external trash sack or roof rack. Remember that trail ethics require that we take nothing and leave nothing—haul out all of your trash.
A rooftop tent, like this Ursa Minor, provides quick set up and take down, as well as good insulation and security. But you do have to be nimble enough to get up and down a ladder, especially for those 3 a.m. bathroom calls. Photo by Dan Grec, who is currently traveling through Africa in this JK. To check out his adventure, go to
A ground tent, chair, and some sticks to cook over the campfire are good enough for a simple family trip. We don’t always have a campfire. If we aren’t in fire restrictions and it’s chilly, then it’s nice, but it makes everything smell like smoke. Check camping rules for the areas you intend to visit before your trip. Don’t assume dispersed camping, campfires, and vehicles are allowed everywhere.
Ground tents have the flexibility of being able to move to that perfect flat spot or great view, and they are relatively cheap to buy or replace. However, they aren’t as sturdy or convenient as rooftop tents.
It’s easy to find your Jeep packed to the roof. Pack as light as you can. Be mindful of carrying too much extra stuff, packaging, or things that really aren’t necessary for your survival out there. Pack the heavy stuff as close to the bottom and center of the Jeep so you minimize sway while driving.
This is one of my favorite campsites on the planet. Undisclosed location. It’s great to have water nearby—less weight to carry in.
Dune camping has its challenges, but it’s magical to wake up in those sweeping waves of sand.

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