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Overlanding 101: Eating, Sleeping, Pooping

Nena Knows Jeeps

Nena BarlowPhotographer, Writer

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.

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.

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!

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.”

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.