Too many things
In my opinion many outback explorers take too many things with them. Proof is the enormous growth in the number of heavy-duty, high clearance trailers now on the market. These are popular because many people take equipment with them because they can, not because they need to.
When I began my explorations into the wilderness with my parents and brother in 1972, our vehicle had no fridge, a single spare wheel, a fan belt as a spares kit, a small toolbox, four chairs, a small table, some cardboard boxes with food, two fuel cans, two water cans and a huge family tent all packed into a Range Rover – without a trailer or even a roof-rack. It strikes me that the pleasures of the outback include a release of stress: Stress comes with things. Why not leave them at home and instead of spending time with ‘things’, spend the time doing what the trip is all about in the first place: Enjoying nature and family. Too many things just get in the way.
This section is all about the many ‘things’ that may, or may not, make safari life more convenient. But I would like to see a movement to a more relaxed way of safari; less showing off about the fancy things and more of what is really important.
Large containers required to hold kitchen equipment, vehicle spares, tools, food, lighting or general camping equipment should be designed to do the job so that camping does not become a chore. For example, a single box containing kitchenware and food will be too awkward to pack and too heavy to load. A series of smaller containers are more practical and, if designed to fit efficiently onto a vehicle, while remaining accessible, can remain in the vehicle for the entire safari.
Containers, whether steel, plastic or cloth should have flat sides for ease of packing and lids must be dust-proof. A good example is the Wolff pack or the smaller Gumo boxes. They can be made dust proof with strips of foam stuck into the lids. They are ideal for carrying breakable items such as torches, lamps and stoves, vulnerable items such as matches, fuel bottles and fire-lighters, and items which you hope you will not need such as tools and spares which can then be loaded in the far reaches of the load bay and forgotten.
All containers, especially those made from metal, should be lined with closed-cell high density foam to prevent damage to the contents. Even tools, because of rubbing and chaffing, steel-on-steel will soon produce iron filings.
Military containers are ideal for safari use because they are built to withstand abuse, but, because of the sensitivity of Third World road blocks, they MUST be repainted, preferably white. Items such as military heavy-duty canvas bags or tarpaulins should be dyed black or blue.
Tying larger articles down inside the vehicle is also advisable. When a vehicle rides over an obstacle and drops down the other side, it seems to fall faster than the load inside it. The result is that when the vehicle rebounds and is coming back up, its load crashes down. The result is noise and breakages. Tie down rails are the answer.
• A basin has many uses such as bathing, washing clothes and dishes, draining oil and collecting water.
• A cast iron pot, or poitjie, can be used to cook almost anything
and cooking in this way improves the flavor of canned meats
and dried vegetables.
• A small fold-away spade can be used for digging trenches around tents threatened by water, making a safe place to light a camp fire and for ablutions.
• A large piece of plastic or canvas sheet/tarpaulin with eyes at each corner is a very useful item. It can be used for shade when strung between trees or vehicles, as a ground sheet for pitching tents on thorny ground, or for working under a vehicle, wrapping up sleeping bags on cold nights and collecting rainwater.
• Make a protective canvas sleeve for the cooking grid and stow it
on the roof.
• Pots should be designed to fit into one another to save
• Although non-stick frying pans tend to get damaged on safari consider how inexpensive a small lightweight non-stick pan is. They do away with a major cleaning headache and are cheap enough to replace every couple of years.
A packing system is one of my favourite accessories. It transforms the inside of a vehicle and is not only great for extended trips;
it’s great as an everyday practical accessory. The best packing
systems are over-engineered because through time and shaking, poorly built units begin to rattle. Roller drawers are also excellent for security as they can be locked. Roller drawers designed for standard boxes such as Wolff packs are also available. They are less expensive but no less practical.
Items to help with roadblocks
In some countries in central and east Africa (including Zambia and Tanzania) road-blocks are an unavoidable hazard. Items for low-key bribes are ball-point pens, cigarettes, T-shirts, a pair of plimsoles. Have a few of them visible when approaching road blocks. Soldiers manning road blocks may ask for a smoke. Obliging them aids with negotiations. In the Third World these are often worth more than money and if items are offered as a gift they are less likely to be construed as a bribe. Alternatively, small toys or sweets. They can be used as a gift for the official’s children and can in no way be construed as a bribe.
The rattling and bouncing created when a vehicle travels on dirt roads and over rough ground will take its toll on inadequate food containers. Hard plastic is a better choice than glass. Brittle plastic bottles such as those commonly used for cooking oil quickly develop cracks and the flip top lids pop open, creating a horrible mess. Small flexible plastic Tupperware type containers are ideal for storing most foodstuffs as well as condiments such as spices, mayonnaise, vinegar, oil, sauces and food leftovers – but make sure they seal first!
Fresh foods such as onions, carrots, potatoes, cabbage and gem squash will stay fresh for some time as long as they are protected from being crushed. Eggs stay fresh for weeks but should be well packed. On a 10-day safari into the Kalahari we broke all of our eggs into a Tupperware container and simply poured them out as needed. After days of very rough conditions (In a series-3 Land Rover), of the 36 eggs, only one yolk had broken.
Your kitchen should include a wooden spoon, cooking pots, an egg lift, a sharp cutting knife, a chopping board and sealable containers for salads and fresh foods. Shrink wrapped meat lasts very much longer than unwrapped meat even if it is not refrigerated.
Packing a roof-rack
As an important safety measure, roof-racks must be considered as light-duty bulky gear carriers and all the heavier equipment should be carried inside the vehicle. This will keep the centre of gravity as low as possible. Heavy roof-racks are dangerous. Keep heavier articles as far forward as you can so as to lessen the load on the rear axle and distribute the weight evenly.
One of the best methods of tying items onto a roof-rack is with a hammock spread over the load held down with a number of elastic tie-downs. Bungee cords or rubber straps made from inner tube rubber, with heavy wire hooks attached at the ends, also make excellent tie-downs that will not perish in the sun. Beware of roof-rack bags as some, believe it or not, are not waterproof! Waterproof ones are ideal for carrying bedding etc, but the others are pretty pointless.
When packing Jerry-cans on a roof-rack make a broad rubber band from old inner tubes and wrap each can with the band. This prevents metal-to-metal contact that results in excessive static built up and damage to the cans. Purpose made Jerry-can brackets are made for most roof racks and are practical and inexpensive. My last bit of advice on this: Don’t overload the roof and regret it when your vehicle rolls!
Camp cooking ideas:
• LP Gas is the most common fuel used on the safari although it is less efficient than many other fuels. The convenience of gas and the wide range of accessories is its biggest advantage.
• Alternatives such as multi-fuel stoves are smaller, lighter and more fuel-efficient.
• Cast iron pots are very useful on safari. I find that three-legged iron pots are awkward to pack and are less versatile than flat-bottomed types. We have used a flat-bottomed pot with great success in baking bread, rolls of meat, potatoes and even chocolate cakes.
• Camp baking can be done in steel bread ovens or in cast-iron pots. Build the fire in a shallow hollow on a flat rock. Before cooking remove the coals from the rock and position the pot on the rock, placing hot coals around, without too many of them touching the pot. Then place a few hot coals on the lid. Rotate the pot from time to time.
• Never cook inside a tent as it is extremely dangerous. Leaking gasses cannot escape and because most tent zips are plastic, if there is a fire, the zips melt together and occupants can’t escape!
Lighting fires with wet wood
If you find your matches wet and you don’t have a lighter, use a magnifying glass from a penknife or a lens from a binocular to burn dry grass. Dry grass is better for lighting fires than newspaper, but start with only a small clump otherwise the fire will be smothered and will smoke excessively. If all the wood is wet and smokes instead of burning, line the base of your fire with tin foil. This insulates the fire from the damp ground and the heat reflected by the foil accelerates the burning.
Keeping warm at night
If you don’t have a hot water bottle take a rounded rock, about 25cms in diameter and place it next to the camp fire with one side of it over the coals. Rotate it periodically during the evening. Fifteen minutes before retiring wrap it in a towel. Do not let the rock get too hot otherwise you may scorch the towel. Place this warm bundle inside your sleeping bag. It will provide a substantial amount of heat for most of the night. However, do not rely on finding suitable rocks in desert and semi-desert regions. Parts of the Kalahari, for example, are completely without rocks.
Sleeping inside the vehicle
Mosquito netting cut to size and attached to the windows with Velcro will allow the windows to be opened at night. If the vehicle has to be emptied, all foodstuffs must be stored in very strong boxes (preferably steel) to resist attempts by animals such as hyena gaining access.
Sleeping on the vehicle’s roof-rack, whether in a tent or in the open, is ideal because being well away from the ground is a safe refuge from snakes and scorpions. Still my preferred way of sleeping in the bush is in the open on a roof-rack – except for attacks by mosquitoes, which can be dealt with by constructing a simple mosquito net which covers the part of the body that is exposed. Alternatively, burning mosquito coils all night helps a bit. (Inadvisable in malaria regions.)
Awnings permanently attached to the side of a vehicle are what I call ‘instant’ awnings. They are a convenient way of creating shade in an instant. If you, like me, like to stop on a lonely road, drink something icy and simply stare at the surroundings during a break for lunch, then an instant awning is a real luxury. They come in the less expensive roll-up variety and in the enclosed tube like the Eezi-Awn and even a leg-less design from Hannibal.
Motorists who carry fire extinguishers rarely use them. Rather they use them when helping out fellow motorists who do not have one and suddenly have a need for one. There is no substitute should you have a fire. To the off-roader, when travelling over grasslands, fire is always a serious risk. Grass tends to get caught around the exhaust, it dries out, smolders and eventually ignites. Once the grass ignites, it burns so fiercely that even with an extinguisher, extensive damage can result. Many vehicles have been lost in this way and I know of a brand new Nissan Sani, on its first trip out, that caught alight in the grasslands of the Makgadikgadi Pans in Botswana. After all the precious drinking water had been used in an unsuccessful attempt to put out the blaze, they were left without food, clothes and water with a 70-kilometer walk to the nearest town ahead of them. Although the vehicle was destroyed, the two men escaped with their lives.
Many vehicles are prone to this danger. I also know of a Land Rover Series-3, Mercedes Geländewagen, and a Nissan Sani and Patrol that have been lost in this way. Every vehicle must carry their own, easy-to-reach, fire extinguisher.
Fire Extinguisher ideas:
• Dry powder extinguishers are suitable for vehicle fire applications. Carry one of at least 2kg.
• CO2 Extinguishers are more potent and heavier. They can also be used for pumping tires.
• Neglecting and failing to service fire extinguishers is common. Let’s not be caught napping with a fire that destroys our vehicle.
Insect repellents come in many different forms. Mosquito coils are very effective as long as there is no wind. What is more, they work even better if burnt close to the source of light. Spray-on and stick repellents such as Peaceful Sleep and Tabard are best applied to ankles and socks as well as to exposed skin. This will prevent ticks from crawling up the leg. Repellent lotions are also available, and all of these products are toxic. Contact with sensitive skin, on the lips and eyelids will cause irritation. Some repellents may cause a skin reaction with certain people and if a new brand is taken on safari it is advisable to test it on the skin before departure. Mozi Wipes, wet-wipes impregnated with repellent, work very well.
Other less orthodox methods of discouraging mosquitoes are found in repellent arm bands, repellent bars and vitamin B12 which perhaps is the most unusual. I am assured that a course of vitamin B12, started two weeks before departure and continued during exposure, makes mosquitoes think twice about biting. Arm bands impregnated with insecticide are also effective and if worn around the ankles would also be very effective against ticks.
Refuse and ablutions
Some conservationists abroad advise burying rubbish. In Africa this is contrary to all proper thinking. Animals, namely baboons, jackal and hyena dig it up and spread it around. Burn it or take it with you. To aid in the processing of refuse and to make it easier to carry,
Ideas for handling refuse:
• Use paper plates and burn them in the camp fire.
• Do not burn plastic – it melts down but still constitutes litter. Put the small bits into cans, burn them and then toss them into the refuse bag, Burnt tins don’t smell.
• Use bleach-free toilet paper and if possible burn it before burying it. Dig a hole as deep as possible – at least 30 cms.
• Use a four pound hammer and a wooden block (or the jacking plate from your high-lift) to crush beer, soft drink and food cans. This will reduce the bulk of your rubbish.
• Carry some large sized heavy duty plastic bin bags in your safari kit. Rubbish in bags strapped to a roof-rack will prevent smells inside the vehicle and can be easily discarded when a town is reached.
Perhaps the single most important item in the safari wardrobe is a good hat. Wide brimmed hats are better than caps as they keep the sun off the neck as well as the face. Like the hat, other clothing should be chosen to protect the body against the elements and to blend in with the surroundings. There is no escaping it, the Australians make the best looking bush hats. Try an Acubra sometime!
Camouflage against animals is not dependent on colour, since most animals are colour-blind. Interrupted patterns that break up the human shape work best. Even bright blue and red cannot be seen by animals – in fact, pure blues are better than any other colour for animal camouflage. Long baggy trousers are the best protection against snakes and are most comfortable when walking through
Never underestimate how low temperatures can fall during darkness. Wherever and whenever you go on safari, even in the tropics, take along a warm jersey and a wind cheater.
If you intend to walk, wear boots or sports shoes. Sandals and flip-flops are totally inadequate – they allow grass to cut the feet and are no protection against biting insects or snakes. At night, boots or sports shoes are also recommended, as snakes and scorpions are largely nocturnal. For decades I followed this night time rule about shoes. Then in 2010, nearing the end of a 66-day expedition while in Botswana, I let my guard down and wore sandals around the camp. While collecting firewood a scorpion stung my right foot. It was one of the most painful things I had every experienced, but after less than an hour, the pain was gone so completely, that I was no longer sure which foot had been stung. In retrospect, I got off lightly.
You will need a basic kit for emergencies or to tide you over until medical help is found. This is something to discuss with your family doctor. You should also mention drugs that will be carried to combat common illnesses; diarrhoea, vomiting and allergies as well as the carrying of needles and syringes should an injection be required in a situation where sterility is dubious.
A first aid kit should include:
• Analgesic ear drops.
• Antihistamine ointment and oral preparation.
• Anti-inflammatory gel.
• Anti-emetic preparation.
• Antiseptic concentrate, ointment or powder.
• Cotton wool.
• Crepe bandages; large and small.
• Gauze swabs.
• Paracetamol for fever or pain.
• Paracetamol plus codeine for stronger/adult analgesia.
• Rehydration powder or tablets.
• Sling and splints.
• Sticking plaster and wound closure strips.
First-aid and snake bite kits
The value of a snake bite kit in the bush is questionable. Seldom is the small amount of anti-venom carried in a kit sufficient to help the patient in any significant way. More importantly, due to the toxicity of anti-venom, it should only be administered by a medically qualified person in a situation where appropriate action can be taken to counteract the severe life-threatening allergic reactions which often occur.
Outdoor Warehouse has developed an excellent first-aid kit designed for the 4×4 outback explorer. Pretty complete and well conceived, it should handle most eventualities while far from home.
This annoying insect is found throughout Southern Africa and is particularly prevalent during the wet months. It lays its eggs in damp clothing that has been hung out to dry. Then, when the clothes are worn the eggs hatch and the worms burrow into the skin causing severe irritation. Spread a liberal layer of Vaseline jelly over the infected area and cover with a sticking plaster to starve the worms of air. To prevent Phutsi Fly, all washed clothing must be ironed.
Secure from wild animals, to a point.
A rapid evacuation from the area is not possible.
More secure from insects and scorpions.
Security from mosquitoes depends on tent quality.
Even the large ones can only sleep two adults, and even then it’s cramped.
Leave the bags in the vehicle.
Takes a shorter time to erect, perhaps 20%.
Easy to unpack. Some are awkward to pack up and return to its cover. Some are easy.
Must be collapsed and packed away fully before the vehicle can be moved, for a game drive etc.
If you move around a lot, the vehicle rocks to and fro.
If the ground is not level, the vehicle can be made level with rocks etc.
You have to be a bit of a contortionist to get dressed and undressed in a roof top tent.
The mattress and sleeping bags can be left inside as the tent is folded away, saving space in the vehicle. A distinct advantage.
Roof tents weigh between 50 and 75 kgs, thereby reducing the remaining weight permitted on roof.
Lifts the centre of gravity, and therefore caused a significant reduction is safety when travelling at high speed on tar, or at low speed on sand dunes and rough, sandy tracks,
Ground tent – typical, bow style 3-man
Less secure from wild animals although they are not a real danger, more a perceived one.
Keeping the flap zipped up is more important.
Security from mosquitoes depends on tent quality.
Most tents advertised as three-man bow tents can easily accommodate three adults and their bags.
Often less effort to pack away, depending on the make.
Self-standing. More convenient.
You can almost stand up.
If there is no level ground or it’s covered with rocks, too bad!
The ground can be very hard and cold.
Tent must be emptied when packed away.
In comparison, lightweight and can be carried anywhere.
Roof-Top and Ground Tents
To me the most significant benefit of a roof-top tent is that mattresses, sleeping bags and pillows remain in the tent. The space saving can even be enough to sway a decision from buying a roof-rack over a trailer. Unless it is housed in a hard case, the convenience of a roof-top tent comes when erecting it, less when packing it away. When they are covered by a waterproof polyurethane bag, packing it away can be a tiresome chore and sometimes more time consuming than a regular dome tent. It is also quite strenuous to pack away because it is normally done while trying to balance standing on one of the rear tires.
When choosing a roof-top tent look for sturdy construction. Those built with very light poles, for example, move around a lot in windy weather and because the tent is held aloft, is more susceptible to wind. Manufacturers are trying to make their products lighter but few have succeeded because these light-weight products don’t last, they often leak and the wind throws them around and keeps everyone awake.
Many models have elastic ties fitted inside the tent to assist packing away. Some models have rigid housings, but a disadvantage of a rigid housing is that they are more difficult to get in and out of because of the lip of the case. Select the widest available. Two smallish people often find the narrow tents cramped. Rigid cases also fill up with water. Drain holes do not come standard with some makes – they need to be modified, or perhaps ask your supplier to do it for you. The best roof tents are Eezi-Awn, Hannibal and Howling Moon. There are some badly designed tents on the market so ask around.
Before you purchase any tent be sure to climb all the way in and out and have the entire family do the same. Disappointments come when the tent is taken on a safari and only then is it realized that it is too small. If the carry bag (ground tent) is tightly packed, it’s a guarantee that it will be a huge struggle to return it to its bag, which is the problem with 90% of tents sold today. And then there is the OZ-Tent. If you are tired of the hassle of pitching and packing away your tent, this is the indisputable answer to your prayers.
Lighting a campsite is a matter of personal preference as well as practicality. The two major considerations are the fuel to power each lamp and the likely location requirements.
Fluorescent and LED lamps:
• Fluorescent lamps that run off the vehicle’s battery consume ± 1-amp of current. If also running a freezer, electric current may be at a premium.
• LED lights consume about one-tenth the current of a fluorescent for the equivalent brightness. Incandescent bulbs are the least efficient.
• Location is limited as they are always connected to the vehicle or trailer via a cable.
• Ideal for locations that never change, i.e trailer lid, tent interior etc.
• Portable and practical because they can be recharged when the vehicle is back on the road and therefore does not drain unnecessary current from the vehicle battery while in camp.
• The gel batteries tend to stop working after about 50 charges. This is due mainly to the poorly designed and cheap charging circuits built into the average lantern. It is sometimes no more expensive to buy a new lantern than replace the battery.
• LED lanterns offer as much illumination, more reliability and with far less current draw. They are no more expensive.
Liquid fuel lanterns:
• Nice to play with, very bright and fuel efficient but noisy.
• Break easily and corrugated roads can shake them to pieces.
• Independent fuel source means that an additional fuel needs to be taken along.
• Provides a more orange light, which means that it has a lesser effect on the eye’s ability to compensate to darkness when the light is extinguished.
• Can run for 8-hours (Coleman Kerosene) non stop.
• Dirty fuel can render them useless or at the least, troublesome.
• The warm glow of a candle is impractical in the bush unless it can be protected from the wind.
• The Bush-Lite candle lantern does just that. A single candle lasts all night and the lantern can also accommodate a mosquito pad.
For years the only really good torch was a Mag-Lite. Now dozens of torch makers have copied Mag-Lite’s philosophy: To build high performance professional flashlights for everyone. Some outperform the Mag-Lite in terms of brightness and shape of beam but not many match Mag-Lite in terms of ruggedness. (www.mag-lite.com) And as newer and better models come along, it appears as if mag0Lite is fast asleep. Even their LED torches are, size for size and weight for weight, under-performers to say the least. I no longer have any Maglites in my overlanding kit.
I love torches and have collected them for years. I began collecting in 1985 when I bought my first Mini Mag-Lite when in New York City. I now have six Mag-Lites, including their latest 3-D-cell LED. The clever thing about Mag-Lite’s rather late entry into the LED torch market is that their kits enable just about any D-cell torch to be converted to LED. And amazingly I think the LED conversion does not only save heaps on batteries, but performs better too, the cold blue light providing much better penetration. My most used Mag-Lite is my Mag-Charger, a 3-D-cell sized rechargeable torch with really outstanding brightness. I have had mine and used it on every trip since 1992. In 1999 I was introduced to Streamlight, a range of brilliant torches. Their Stinger range of torches are very lightweight and of the range the Polystinger is my favorite.
Another torch that should be making headlines is Wolf-Eyes. This is a range of pricey but stunning torches. All of the range, performance wise, leaves the rest in a dim, under-lit shade. Especially inspiring is their big boy, the Wolf-eyes Dragon. The bulb is HID (High Intensity Dispersion) and takes about 4 seconds for the bulb to light to full strength, but the light makes even the awesome Mag-Charger look ordinary. It’s like the search-lights they used in London in WW2, but you can hold it in your hand. In addition to being superlative performers, many Wolf-Eyes torches have an LED torch in the tail-cap that double-up as a battery check devise. Clever! (www.smart-tent.co.za) (www.wolf-eyes.com)
Another torch with spectacular power and versatility if the LED-Lenser. I am busy testing this but initial impressions are that it my become my latest favourite.
Do not underestimate the importance of water and the maintenance of proper water intake by the members of your group of travelers. In May 1998 I got a vehicle bogged down on Sowa Pan. Two of us were traveling in a single vehicle. The day before I had spent about three hours in the sun shooting pictures and by evening I realized that I was dehydrated. I began a program of drinking large amounts of water over a prolonged period. By the time we got bogged down the following day I thought I had recovered. After 30-minutes in the scorching heat on Sowa Pan the symptoms returned in a form which spelled danger. Initial symptoms of dehydration is a headache and tiredness. Advanced dehydration comes in the form of nausea, light-headedness while sweating seems to stop. It can also be accompanied by a rise in body temperature probably because the body’s cooling mechanism is failing.
This is what happened to me. It was our last day before our return leg and we had only 15-liters of water remaining. The heat was intolerable, the sun and white surface of the pan unbearable and our vehicle, which had overheated, was deep in a mire of thick black mud. Already dehydrated, with not enough water, miles from nowhere and with an immobile vehicle – it was a scary situation. Knowing the dangers of crossing the pans and having got myself into this predicament I wanted to turn around and give myself a swift kick in the backside for my foolishness. I decided that we should have one attempt to get the vehicle out but that our preparation would be thorough. If the recovery attempt failed we would construct a shelter and rest until nightfall. Having donned a long sleeve cotton shirt and long trousers for protection we began to work. One hour later, with rests every five minutes, we made our first attempt and succeeded. Things could have been much worse.
Water consumption should be calculated at no less than six liters per person per day in summer, and four liters per person per day in winter. This includes washing and drinking. Additional water requirements must also be catered for.
Water cans with a plastic tap at the base are very convenient, but because the taps are easily broken, remember to remove the tap and replace it with a plug when traveling. I prefer heavy plastic water cans with handles. I decant water from these cans into a smaller insulated water container with a small tap at its base. This keeps the water easily accessible and cool at the same time. The light weight of the small container also means that it can be moved around with ease.
Steel water cans can give the water a metallic taste and rust can make the water undrinkable. If you wish to carry water in steel Jerry cans, paint them white to avoid possible confusion with fuel cans. The white surface will also help to keep the water cooler.
Wine bags (the silver bags found inside 5-liter boxed wine) make excellent water carriers. When frozen solid and then placed in a cooler-box, they make excellent space and weight savers – when they thaw, you have 5 liters of drinking water, and when empty they can be folded up and put away.
Water carried in goat skin or canvas cooler bags is a way to keep water cool for drinking but the substantial water lost due to evaporation must be taken into account. Although hanging a cooler bag on the front of the vehicle cools the water very quickly, the bag must not simply be hung on the string handle as the abrasion caused by a rocking vehicle quickly damages the bag and the string handle soon breaks.
Be sure to disinfect water bottles once they are more than a year old by filling with water and adding a teaspoon of chlorine. Leave for a couple of days and then rinse thoroughly.
Water storage and health
The golden rule when carrying water is: never carry all of your water in one container. Should a fitted tank split while traveling and all the water run out, you may find yourself in a situation where you are left with no water at all. A second container inside the vehicle must be regarded as your emergency supply and should not be decanted into the vehicle’s auxiliary tank. The fitting of auxiliary water tanks is covered in chapter-3.
There are serious health risks associated with aluminium water tanks and while aluminium is an ideal material from which to build a tank, the health risks are severe. I understand that some plastics are also risky. Tanks should be built from stainless steel (high-grade) or food-grade plastic.
In tests that I conducted to see how long water can be stored before it goes green or becomes contaminated, these are my findings: In dark containers even bore-hole water (no chemicals) did not grow algae in six months. In containers where light can penetrate, in six months the water was still drinkable but there was a ‘green’ taste. Purified tap water after a year in a dark drum, was still drinkable. I flush my tanks a week or so before a trip and then refill with fresh water before I leave. I have never had any algae growing in any tank or can, light or dark, on any trip, even the longest.
Portable camping showers consist of a heavy duty plastic bag, black on the one side, transparent on the other. A short hose, tap and rose are attached to the bottom. It is filled with water and left in the sun with the clear side exposed. After about three hours, it is ready to give a delightful hot shower. Left in the midday sun for five hours it will produce water hot enough for a cup of tea, although this is not recommended by the manufacturers. These showers hold between 10 and 15 liters, are inexpensive and are available in most camping stores. Alternatively, use the cooler times of the day to view game and enjoy your surroundings, and during the midday heat when all the animals are resting in shady places, enjoy a cold shower. Electric showers are another option.
For very long trips into the wilderness a bucket with a sealed lid is useful. Put in the soiled clothes, a tablespoon of washing powder and hot or cold water. Now drive for a while over some rough ground. The harder your suspension, the cleaner your washing will be. The bucket is also useful for many other camp duties.
This is perhaps the best tested chemical field purification system available and is called ‘Syn. Aquacure’ in Britain. Its name is derived from what it does; ‘Floc’, means flocculation: the removal of debris, and ‘Chlor’, means that it chlorinates the water. Ingredients in each tablet cause the sediment to coagulate and separate. This sediment can be removed by pouring the water through a cloth strainer. No special equipment is necessary and purification can even be done by making a hole in the ground next to a raw water source.
Unless filtered through ultra fine membrane filters, filtering without chemical purification will not make the water drinkable. It will only serve to make it more pleasant to look at, since harmful bacteria and viruses will pass through all but the finest of filters. Filtration should take place before purifying with iodine or chlorine, and afterwards when using Chlor-Floc. A cloth filtration bag available at camping stores will make the job easier.
Iodine and chlorine
In an emergency Iodine is very useful to the traveler for purifying water because it is readily available in most towns.
It is also available at mission hospitals and clinics. Chlorine tablets are available as a water purification agent, but like iodine, are rendered inactive by pollutants in the water. It is therefore necessary to filter the water through gauze or cloth before the chlorine or iodine is added. Beware of overdosing – iodine and chlorine are poisonous in high quantities.
It is far better to equip yourself with one of the better suited water purification systems available from most camping stores. Good examples are Chlor-Floc purifiers and Katadyn water pumps.
I have had first-hand experience of Katadyn water filter pumps. These devices require no chemical additives whatsoever, and although expensive, are unequaled in their efficiency and ultimate safety – in fact they are so safe that the source water can be ridden with typhoid, dysentery, cholera and the purified water leaves the pump crystal clear and ready to drink. Not only is the water cleared of harmful bacteria and viruses but of pesticides, herbicides and harmful chemicals as well. In some models the water produced is pharmaceutically sterile. There are many makes of filter pumps now being used as standard issue to the Red Cross throughout the world.
Filter pumps work in this way: the inlet pipe is lowered into the source and the water is first filtered through an open cell foam filter housed in a wire cage, thereby preventing the ingestion of large particles. Then the water is pumped under pressure through a special ceramic filter. Even if you think you may never need it, buy a purification kit or filter pump and stow it in your vehicle. Be prepared for the unexpected.
There have been significant advancements in solar technology in the past ten years and at last solar recharging is a practical and non cost-prohibitive method of charging batteries in the bush.
The reason solar has earned a bad reputation is because so many products are sold that simply do not live up to the claims made by those who sell them and the ignorant buyer who gets taken for a ride.
Consider the following:
• Do you want a solar system to lengthen your stay in a camping spot without having to start the engine to charge the batteries?
• Do you want to add 25% on your time there, double your time or stay indefinitely?
• If you want to add 25% to your time, you need to supplement 25% of your power consumption.
• If you want to double your time there, then you require a minimum of 50% of the current drawn to be replaced.
• If you want to stay indefinitely, then your solar system must recover more than 100% of the current drawn.
A simple exercise
For example if you are running a 40-litre Engel and two lights, you need to measure the average current consumption over a 24 hour period. If that’s too much stress to measure then try this: How long can you stay at one place without charging batteries? Let’s say it’s three days drawing current from one, 100 amp battery. This means that over one day 33,3 amps is consumed (100 divided by three days). To add one more day you need to add 33,3 amps to the battery and you must do it within three days.
Let’s say you want to double your stay. If your consumption is 33,3 amps per day, then you must put back half of that, 16.65 amps in each 24-hour period. In effect you are halving the current consumption and doubling your stay. In the same way, if you want to stay indefinitely your system must replace 101% of the current drawn – a little over 33,3 amps each 24-hours.
The solar experts will probably baulk at this and what I am about to write, because it is too simplistic. I say, ‘So what!’. It’s my experience that solar experts are the opposite – too technical and often make claims that are relevant in the laboratory but are meaningless to 4×4 drivers like you and I who are looking for a simple solution to a technical problem. They may say, ‘There is no simple solution’. Nonsense.
Let’s take a 60-watt cell. This is a common medium-sized solar panel. 60-watts means that at the point that the sun is at its highest, and at the moment when it is shining directly at the panel it will, on a good day, when the panel is brand new, produce 60-watts, if you’re lucky. 60-watts translates into 5-amps at 12-volts. The time that panel will spend delivering 5-amps, if it gets there at all is probably, on average, never. It will more than likely top out at 4,5 amps. All the other time the current delivered will be less, far less.
The angle at which the sun strikes a panel reduces the output current significantly, even if it’s just a couple of degrees. So, a 60-watt panel is actually a 28.5-watt panel. Why? With eight hours of sunlight, the first and last two hours the oblique angle means that the panel is only running at an average of 15 watts. That means that for four hours out of the eight it produces just 1.25 amps-per-hour, a total of 5 amps. For the other four hours it produces an average of 3.5 amps per hour, totalling 14 amps. Add this to the 5 amps and the panel is producing 19 amps. That means that with just one 60 watt panel, that delivers 228 watts. Over the eight hours of sunlight the panel delivers 28.5 watts, replacing over half of the current I use over a 24-hour period.
So you see with this example based on what happens at my campsite on a sunny day, this surely gives you comfort that with a simple solar set-up such as I have, solar recharging is possible without spending a fortune. Fact is that I have worked a 60-watt Solarex crystalline panel for over twelve years and have had much joy and success with it.
Types of solar panels
Solar experts will talk about crystalline and amorphous panels and the advantages of both as well as voltage regulators and other devices. I will leave the details of these to them. For most 4×4 users this is not of any real consequence. What does matter is the amount of current they will generate in the environment in which we play and the cost-per watt.
Strapped to a roof rack, placed on the ground, leaned against a tree or bush with a few wires run down to a regulator and onto the battery system. As long as the meat stays frozen and the drinks are icy, that’s all that really matters. My advice: Keep it simple.
Solar panels and their performance claims:
• Look for panels with good low-light claims.
• Ratings must be measured above 13,8-volts. Some panels boasting high yields boost their figures by lowering the voltage to 12-volts or lower. Don’t be fooled; a 12-volt battery at 12-volts is a flat battery! A healthy battery under load should never fall below 12-volts.
• Look at the ratio of current per cost. E.g. For every unit of currency spent I get X units of current (amps or watts).
• Beware of cheap Chinese trash. So many badly made panels stop working soon after delivery as they are unable to take the vibrations from being mounted on a vehicle. They are also far less efficient.
Solar panels come in rigid and flexible types. Flexible units are more robust and practical for 4×4 use, but they are costly and inefficient for their size. Rigid panels are almost twice as efficient size for size, but are bulky and must be loaded flat on a roof rack and tied down very firmly. If they flex, even a little bit, they will break.
Fitting solar panels:
• Forget about making fancy mounts so that the panel can slide out from a rack or trailer because the angle at which the sun strikes a panel reduces the output current significantly. ‘Clever’ mounts are not clever at all, because a vehicle or trailer cannot be easily moved to follow the sun. Rather have the panel/s loose, so that they can be leaned against a chair or tent, and then moved from time to time to keep them perpendicular to the moving sun.
• Electric cables must be heavy copper. Hand joins, bad connectors and thin cables will severely reduce efficiency. This is VERY important. This may not seem necessary because amperage is low, but it seems as if solar systems are very sensitive to this, probably because of the long distances from panel to battery.
• Advanced electronics available to help the solar panel deliver more current more efficiently are a nice to have but not a must have. For years I have run heavy cable from the panel, via a diode, to the battery. I can measure the battery voltage and can measure the current the panel is delivering. Without fancy electronics I achieve much. With electronics I can achieve more, but do I really want it?
• It is better to spend the money on heavy cables and the best connectors one can find.
• If the solar system has the potential to over-charge the batteries, a regulator is essential. Should you choose the simplest set-up, disconnect the panels at night or fit a diode in the circuit to prevent reverse flow during the hours of darkness.
Regulators. Do I really need one?
Yes. But some regulators just prevent over-charging and some also manage the higher voltage produced by the panel and efficiently drop it to a voltage suitable for the battery. If this latter thing is done inefficiently, then the solar system can loose vital charging amperage. Don’t skimp on the regulator as you might as well skimp on the panels as well. Power-point tracking solar regulators can easily increase efficiency by as much as 30%, and so I highly recommend them.
Being able to keep foodstuffs and beverages cold on a safari is a real luxury. Once you have used a fridge or freezer on safari you will never be able to do without one. There are three types: Compressor, heat-exchange and thermoelectric cooler.
Being able to keep foodstuffs and beverages cold on a safari is a real luxury. Once you have used a fridge or freezer on safari you will never be able to do without one. There are three types: Compressor, heat-exchange and thermoelectric cooler.
Most compressor freezers run on both 12 and 220-volts. Because they are controlled by an adjustable thermostat, current draw is more efficient because it maintains the fridge and its contents at a constant temperature. The colder the setting, the higher the current consumption both in attaining the desired temperature and maintaining it. Space utilization varies from efficient to down right bulky.
Thermoelectric coolers run on the Peltier principle that if a current is passed through a special metal element it becomes cold and if the current direction is reversed the element gets hot. So thermoelectric can also be used to warm up food. Apart from a small fan, thermoelectric fridges are solid state and very quiet but will not freeze and are slow to cool when compared to compressor fridges.
They run off 12-volts and are not thermostat-controlled, meaning that they are inefficient in terms of current consumption. Get one if you will be satisfied with; only running it when the engine is running, drinks that are cool and not cold and no chance of freezing anything.
Heat Exchange Freezers
Powered by LP gas and by 12-volts and 220-volts, heat-exchange fridges are inefficient when run off 12-volts, fairly efficient off 220-volts and highly efficient running on gas or paraffin.
The versatility of power source means that in situations where they remain in one location for a long period when battery charging is not possible or practical, they keep working. In a vehicle they must, for safety reasons, work off 12-volts. However, when in a moving vehicle or trailer under electric power they do lose efficiency and depending on outside influences, may not freeze. When set up in a fixed location they must be levelled, the flame centred, the regulator set and a yearly cleaning. They have no thermostat so when working off 12-volts the current draw, which averages 7-8 amps is not controlled, I.e. it runs 24-hours a day. This makes them hugely inefficient on 12-volts.
Selecting a compressor fridge/freezer
Engel, Snomaster, ARB and National Luna currently make the best portable fridge/freezers anywhere. Minus-40 used to make a good product, although they were very bulky, and Weaco still make a fair product but that is inefficient by modern standards, in terms of both insulation and current consumption. There are a few other makes that are appallingly inefficient and don’t perform even to their own specifications under real hot, humid conditions inside a vehicle.
My advice is to look for solid word-of-mouth recommendations. Secondly, as mentioned in chapter-3, I believe that it’s more about how the current is put back into the battery than how much is taken out.
Because 12-volt compressor freezers are by far the favourite for the 4×4 operator, I will confine my detailed discussions to this type.
Beware of false current draw claims
It is so easy for freezer manufacturers to claim exceptionally low current consumption for their products and tout theirs as better than the competitor’s. This is how it is done, without lying: Make a statement like: Current draw 2,5 amps @ 12 – 24 volts. Such a freezer is likely to draw 3.5 amps @ 12 volts, 2.5 amps @ 18 volts and 2 amps @ 24 volts. Because a healthy, charged battery will operate between 12,5 and 13,8 volts, in this way the figures published look better than they really are when the freezer is used out in the field.
Poor current flow caused by a combination of cheap connectors
and thin cabling is the most common cause of problems with freezer installations. When the compressor starts up, the current draw, albeit only for a second or two, can soar to 15 amps. Use the best quality connectors you can find.
When calculating the cable core thickness required, divide the length by 1000. E.g., if the cable length is 3 metres (3000mm) then the minimum cable core thickness is 3mm and if the length is 4 metres then 4mm cable is required, and so on. This will ensure adequate current flow along the length of cable, no matter how long it is.
RUNNING VEHICLE FRIDGES
To prevent over-discharge of the vehicle’s battery when the freezer runs at night it is essential to have a second battery and a charging system to split the two batteries.
Calculating electric current draw
Because compressor fridges are thermostat controlled, current draw is as much dependent on the thermostat setting, quality of insulation, outside temperature and how frequently the fridge is opened as it is on the compressor installed and the electronics governing them. The quality of the cables and fittings also has a marked affect on fridge performance and current draw.
Preparation: (particularly important for heat-exchange types)
• Do not remove the special heat-sensitive fuse on Engel Freezers.
• If practical, cool down everything in your household fridge before packing the vehicle freezer.
• Remove the plastic cling wrap around canned beverages, as the plastic will inhibit air flow and reduce cooling efficiency.
• Liquid is better stored in metal containers than plastic.
• Over-filling the freezer will have a detrimental effect on efficiency.
• Keep the lid tightly closed to prevent air escaping. An air-tight lid has a huge affect on fridge performance.
• By keeping the amount of time the freezer is opened limited, the freezer will consume less current and the contents have a better chance of remaining frozen.
I do not advise fitting freezers or batteries in a trailer because:
• Current loss occurs along the long cable and plug.
• If a battery is in the trailer do not charge it via the tow hitch electrical socket. A separate socket with a minimum of 6mm core cable is needed or the battery will never receive a proper charge.
• When you go on a game drive the battery will not be recharged, wasting valuable engine charging time.
• The contents of a trailer are shaken about far more than those in a vehicle. Freezers that ride in trailers over long periods can suffer ruptured piping due to vibration.
Before you set up camp, look closely at the area you are considering. Game tracks look like people tracks – flattened paths that snake their way through the bush often to and from water. If a hippo or a herd of elephant use this track on a regular basis and you set up camp in their path, it could lead to an unpleasant confrontation. It is imperative that you never sleep with food stored inside your tent. You are very safe inside a tent, even against lion, hyena, hippo and elephant, as long as you follow this advice.
If you camp close to water, remember that game will want to drink and therefore you should ensure that there is easy access for the animals, especially if you are camped in an arid area. Animals made skittish by your presence may be too scared to drink and could die. Do not approach wild animals on foot unless you are accompanied by an experienced guide.
Washing and swimming in pools frequented by crocodiles and hippo is dangerous and should only be done once the area has been thoroughly looked over and there is somebody keeping constant watch. If you are going to swim, I strongly advise making the swim as brief as possible.
In many areas where animals are accustomed to the presence of humans, hyena, baboons and monkeys will raid your camp when your back is turned. It is important not to allow these animals access to your food. They will eat anything they can reach, and if they succeed they will become versed in the art of stealing which will only encourage them to try again.
NEVER, FOR ANY REASON WHATSOEVER, FEED A WILD ANIMAL!
Once, while camping at Serondela in the Chobe Game Reserve in Northern Botswana, I placed two full 20-liter Jerry-cans on the lid of my cooler-box to prevent the baboons from getting inside. I walked about 20 yards away to do some fishing. After about five minutes I heard the clang as one Jerry can hit the ground. I turned and ran towards camp. By the time I got there the lid was open and three rolls of Kodak film had been stolen. The baboon, more used to stealing citrus fruit, obviously thought that if it was yellow, then it must be tasty. I seethed as I watched the baboon climb the trees above the water, tear open the boxes, undo the plastic containers and drop my films into the river. Since that trip to Serondela, dozens of resident baboons have had to be destroyed because they became talented at tearing open tents. All this could have been avoided had they never been fed, or been allowed access to campers’ foodstuffs.
An easy way to identify a harmless scorpion from a dangerous one is by the size of its pincers – the smaller the pincers, the more dangerous the sting. Scorpions with large pincers have less need for a highly toxic venom and hence the sting will be no worse than a wasp. Scorpions armed with small pincers will be armed with a more potent toxin in their sting, and a thicker tail. The venom is neurotoxic and the sting can result in cardiac or respiratory failure, or both. Some scorpions can spray their venom and envenomation of the eyes can result. It is therefore very wise to treat a scorpion as if it were a snake. Do not get too close, do not antagonize a scorpion or pick up a dead one. Scorpions seem to be attracted to camp sites and you may find one under a tent ground sheet when the tent is packed up, or under a Jerry can or cool-box left sitting on the sand. They also like living in cracks in dead wood, and the risk of being stung while collecting fire wood is very real. Shake out your clothes and shoes before putting them on in the morning. Because scorpions and many snakes are nocturnal, do not walk barefoot at night.
Knowing about snakes, where and how they live, will go a long way in helping to avoid an unpleasant confrontation.
Most snakes depend on camouflage to protect themselves and unless they are moving they can become very difficult to see, even at close range. Fortunately snakes for the most part prefer to flee and will only attack in self defense. This is why more than 90 percent of recorded bites have occurred in people handling snakes. (Source: A Field guide to Animal Tracks – L Liebenberg) The puff adder on the other hand remains motionless when approached. This is why this highly venomous snake features very prominently in the list of recorded bites, as most are unwittingly stepped on and the snakes have retaliated by striking.
Here are a few simple rules:
• Wear calf length boots and long loose fitting trousers when walking in the bush.
• Step onto rocks and logs and not over them. A snake resting on the other side or under a log will not be seen, and a step onto and a glance over the log may reveal a snake which may otherwise have been stepped on.
• Avoid walking in very long grass where the visibility of the path is restricted.
• If you are picking up rocks or logs, do so by lifting or rolling them towards you, thereby allowing a path for a snake to escape by moving away from you.
• Never put your hand into a place in which you cannot see, like a burrow or a hollow tree trunk. If a snake has made a home there it will have nowhere to run if it feels threatened.
• Do not walk around at night without a good torch – many snakes are nocturnal.
• Should you encounter a snake at close range, remain motionless until the snake retreats. Alternatively, withdraw very slowly – snakes have very poor eyesight and will strike at what they perceive to be threatening them. A sudden movement may induce a strike.
• Do not pick up a ‘dead’ snake unless you are absolutely sure it is dead. The rinkhals shams death when threatened.
• Do not approach snakes to get a better look unless you know
what you are doing. Some species like the Mozambique spitting cobra and the rinkhals are able to spit their venom up to three meters and should the venom enter the eyes, thorough and continuous cleansing with water will be needed if the victim is to avoid permanent eye damage. Wearing sunglasses gives good protection against spitting snakes.
Because ticks carry disease, some of which can be fatal, it is important to know how to avoid being bitten. Wearing boots with long trousers and applying insect repellent or paraffin to your socks will prevent them climbing up your legs. Ticks often sit on the ends of long blades of grass and wait patiently for a host to pass by. If you walk through long grass, inspect yourself thoroughly afterwards. If you find a tick, do not pull it off as it may leave its head behind. Smearing Vaseline, grease, disinfectant or alcohol onto the tick will make them release their grip. Ticks called tampans bury themselves under the surface of the sand and lie in the shade of a tree waiting for a host to use the shade as a resting place. Avoid setting up camp under trees in cattle areas. These ticks can emerge from the ground in their hundreds!
Game viewing and photography
The best time for both of these pursuits is in the early morning and late afternoon, when the animals are active and when the light is at its best. Lenses for landscape photography must include a wide angle of about 28mm, or my preference, a 24mm. Professionals shooting landscapes often use longer focal length lenses to do this – a 135mm is ideal. For photographers keen on game, 180mm and 300mm lenses are ideal.
For successful bird photography you will need a focal length of 400mm or more. Remember that when using this type of lens, a tripod or some means of supporting the lens will be necessary, although some of the better image-stabilizers can cope with some movement. If you are shooting pictures from inside a vehicle and are unable to use a tripod, have a small canvas bag filled with sand handy. Wind down the side window and place the sand bag on the edge of the door. Now you have a steady support which can be molded and shaped for the lens, and the window can be raised for best viewing comfort.
In developing countries never photograph government buildings or employees and it’s a bad idea to even point your camera at a military installation or vehicle. Keep your photographic equipment packed away, but within easy reach when passing through border posts or road blocks. At some border posts you may need to declare your camera equipment and it is a good idea to have a list of each piece of equipment and its serial number from which you can copy the information down onto the declaration document. Never photograph a soldier in uniform or you may find yourself being interrogated as a spy.
If you shoot digital, remember to add to your packing lists, items like camera battery chargers and spare memory cards. An updated and I think useful and complete packing list appears at the end of this chapter. Feel free to copy it and use it on your travels.
Perhaps the single biggest risk to the overlander is fire. Because it destroys shelter and in most cases also destroys food and water, it can kill. Fire is most commonly caused by an electrical short in a vehicle, or dry grass trapped around the exhaust, which catches alight. So, to prevent a short circuit, make sure that every accessory is fused. And make sure yourself, with your own eyes, that your ‘experienced’ auto electrical or 4×4 accessory fitter has done it, and done it properly. Fuse capacity should not be too large. For example, it’s dangerous to fit a 25-amp fuse to a circuit running a light duty item like a relay or small lamp. In this case, the wire can carry less current than the fuse, and the wire burns before the fuse blows. I’ve seen highly recommended accessory fitters do this. Check it yourself and ask if in doubt.
Secondly, grass collecting under the vehicle can ignite. Once it does, it is extremely difficult to put out. Check your vehicle regularly, perhaps every 10 minutes in bad grass conditions. Have the fire extinguisher easy to reach. If you have to open a tailgate to reach it – it’s too far away! If you have a fire, all the time you will have will be, if you are lucky, to save the passports and a bottle of water.
When putting out a fire, focus less on getting rid of the flames than cooling the fire. Flames are not the problem – they are just the symptom. Heat is. The most common fault is that the extinguisher is used in spurts; when the flames disappear, the user thinks the fire is out – and it isn’t! Only by removing the source of ignition will the fire go out.
The trick is to attack the fire with a good, long firm blast. If the flames go away, good. Do not let them come back. Someone else must get a wire to remove the grass, or better, water to douse and cool the exhaust. But underneath a vehicle, this is very tricky. Because, unless you cool that exhaust and or remove the combustible material, the fire will likely start again very soon after the extinguisher is empty.
Electrical fires, very often, start under the bonnet and the techniques for putting them out are different. You have to disconnect the offending wire or remove one of the battery clamps. If you have a dual battery system, and you do not know which battery is the one feeding the short circuit, it is going to take more time to sort out. Open the bonnet – slowly, and blast the extinguisher under it as you open it. Locate what is burning. Get a tool to cut the wire, or if it’s a very thick one, (like a battery lead) remove a battery clamp. Do this while keeping the fire under control with short bursts. There is no point emptying the extinguisher because the short-circuit will simply restart the fire. This is a game of time; can you cut or disconnect the problem cable before the extinguisher runs dry? If you can’t, you will probably lose the vehicle. Have the passengers empty the vehicle contents as fast as possible, and collect the water near the fire, but be very careful how you use it. If you use it all on the fire and you fail in your attempt, your lives could be seriously threatened. The threat of the fuel tank exploding is not as serious as one might think. Only if it is near empty can it explode. If it’s fullish, when it ignites, with flare up and burn fiercely. For this reason, it is reasonably safe, in the early stages of a fire, to have a few adults remove the vehicle’s contents. When the fire reaches the back of the vehicle, it’s a good idea to stand away. The vehicle cannot be saved.
Many vehicle insurance companies do not appreciate or understand the 4×4 lifestyle and as a result frequently do not properly cover vehicles and their owners when the vehicle is used off-road or in the wilderness. Conversely, 4×4 drivers either think that no matter what they do, their insurance will cover them, or that their insurer should know what the risks are and therefore will cover them.
Either way, it is not uncommon for the insured to be shocked when a claim is rejected because the conduct by the insured is considered ‘unreasonable’ by the insurer. But what is unreasonable? I cannot answer this, but some of the pictures left illustrate what I would consider unreasonable. For example, sliding and hitting a tree while attempting a 30° angle on an off-road trail isn’t. If your insurer is not aware that a 30° slope (to a novice a slope such as this is frightening) on a trail is just part of the excitement and thrill of ‘normal’ 4×4 driving, it may be considered ‘unreasonable’. For this reason, specialized 4×4 insurance is as important as any equipment that you may purchase for your vehicle.
Make sure you are properly covered for your 4×4 activities, whether it be on a local 4×4 event or a safari to another country. An insurance product developed in conjunction with the author is available, covering all conceivable eventualities, even including repatriation of persons and vehicles from foreign countries.
Let’s stop paying lip service in the cause of conservation. Talk is cheap. Every one of us has a contribution to make. The most valuable contribution is to stay on existing tracks and encourage other motorists to do the same. Do not assume that a vehicle track, if it is visible but not well used, is an official track. It may be that the driver ahead of you has been thoughtless and has made his own track over virgin ground. Should you now follow the new track it won’t be long before it becomes a well-used track – adding yet another to the vast maze cris-crossing our continent.
It has become apparent that in Southern Africa some of the most outspoken members of the 4×4 community, who advocate responsible driving practices, who are recognized by the country’s environmental protection institutions and claim to be the leaders of the cause when it comes to protecting the environment against the damage done by 4x4s are themselves the worst offenders. For obvious reasons I am not at liberty to give names, but in one case, an individual 4×4 tour guide and outspoken champion of eco-friendly practices took a 70-vehicle convoy on a Cape West coast beach drive. This same individual frequently takes ten or more vehicles onto the Boatswain salt pans and encourages the vehicles to drive alongside one another. Not a single track is created across the pan, but 10! In the video footage I saw, he encouraged his party to collect as much firewood as their roof-racks could carry and burn several massive bonfires.
It is no surprise that South Africa’s beaches have been closed! Surely more restrictions will follow?
Sound camping practices:
• Dig a deep latrine. Feces simply covered with a layer of soil is not sufficient. Jackals dig up shallow latrines. The deeper the hole the faster the decomposition. Bury the minimum amount of toilet paper. Burn the rest. Use unbleached toilet paper.
• Never bury rubbish. Wild animals dig it up and spread it around.
• Most cleaning chemicals contain phosphates, which contain nitrates. These run into water courses after rain and pollute the water. Water containing excess nitrates promotes the growth of algae to unnatural proportions, and eventually waterways can become choked with algae, starving the water of oxygen. Therefore wash well away from water courses.
• Avoid setting up camp on animal tracks. These look like human paths – they often lead to water.
• Never feed wild animals – you may be signing their death warrant. Animals which become accustomed to being fed usually end up making a nuisance of themselves. Often they have to be destroyed by wildlife department officials. Those that feed them are the real killers.
• When camping in arid areas, do not camp close to a water hole. If it is the only water hole in a large area, desert dwelling animals will travel great distances to get to the water. If you are camped too close they may be scared away and this could cost them their lives.
• Dig away an area and make sure that the surrounding grass cannot catch alight.
• Do not burn newspaper without breaking it into small pieces and rolling it up. Large pieces can catch the wind and be blown into the air.
• Never leave a fire unattended. Don’t go to sleep inside a tent and leave a fire blazing away.
• Bury a fire after it has turned to ash.
• Use existing camp fire sites if you can. It’s very unsightly when the ashes from old camp fires are scattered all over the place.
• Be aware that buying wood from roadside vendors could mean damage to indigenous forests.
• Do not take wood from a live tree, make a fire under a tree or on its roots. If possible, take your own firewood – you may think you’re not doing much damage yourself by burning a single dead branch, but when all campers do it a single dead branch soon becomes an entire tree.
Poor driving techniques and irresponsible driving are the biggest cause of damage to tracks and the resulting erosion. Drivers who repeatedly spin their wheels or apply accelerator in frustration when a tyre battles for traction unsettle the surface layer. The rain falls and the unstable topsoil washes away.
This concept is not new, but what is, is the attitude of some off-roaders who try and make it over an obstacle no matter the cost. If all of the off-road obstacles we encounter were easy, there would be no thrill of overcoming the tougher ones. But, challenging obstacles to the point where vehicles are damaged and the track is destroyed is not worth it. There are plenty of trails and obstacle courses where this can be done without damage to the environment, without creating a mess that following vehicles are unable to traverse and without offending anyone. Let’s please be responsible for what we do with our 4x4s.
Once I was driving on a large dune field, ideal for experimenting with vehicles, tyre pressures and driving techniques. It was operated by experienced off-roaders who should know better. I was at the head of a group of novice drivers. After an hour or so most of the drivers had gained confidence and were looking for something a little more challenging. The guide suggested that they attempt a short but very steep dune climb in two-wheel drive. At this moment I made the mistake of letting it happen. A vehicle will climb anything, it will even fly, if it goes fast enough. And that is exactly what happened – a vehicle took off. At that moment everyone looked a little embarrassed that things had got out of hand. Amazingly, the Hilux involved sustained no damage.
It is this same attitude that promotes reckless use of our environment. Alcohol may have played a part in both of these scenarios. Alcohol and driving, including off-road driving should never mix. Unfortunately, I feel as I write this, that my words will be like an ant trying to persuade a buffalo to give way.
Other good off-roading practices:
• After digging a vehicle out, fill in the holes.
• Bull bars are not for clearing bush in front of your vehicle. They are to protect against impact.
• When winching off a tree never tie cable around it as it ring-barks the tree and kills it.
• Look around the site of a recovery for spades, shackles and drink cans lying hidden in the bush.