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Expedition Wheeling

Written by  Lance Blair
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When I tell people my FJ Cruiser is an expedition style 4x4, they often ask “Exactly what does ‘expedition style’ mean?”“Expedition style is the idea of multi-day, off-highway, destination-bound, vehicle-dependent travel.”  I know your scrabble boards and crossword puzzles are packed away, and I shouldn’t have jammed all that into one phrase, but that encompasses our purpose. Maybe it would be easier to tell you what expedition style 4x4 is NOT and work backwards from there.{mosimage}

Not A Day Trip
The vehicle is not a single seat buggy built for day trips or to be trailered.  Instead, it is able to safely and comfortably take you and a companion many hours down a paved highway before you get to your chosen trailhead.  Not to forget, it has to be capable of taking you on extensive off-road terrain to complete your journey.

The vehicle is not a wide-tire running, mud bogging, tree branch slashing, swamp stomper, but self-recovery from mud, swamps, or obstacles may be necessary.  The driver of an expedition vehicle should have gear on board and the knowledge to assist with vehicle recovery.

The vehicle is not a long travel equipped, sand dune bashing, light up the night like a stadium, Baja racer. However, it should be able to cross sand dunes, traverse washes, supply enough light to travel safely at night and usually provide side or rear light for setting up camp.  As you can see, many things are desirable to help in your expedition wheeling experience, the difference is, not doing each thing to extremes, just being equipped for each situation. 

The mention of camping brings us to the most obvious “not” of all, the vehicle is not just to take you to another asphalt car campground full of giant RV’s and electric hookups. Instead, the vehicle is equipped with the intention of getting to those long lost or even recently forgotten hideaways of historic or scenic beauty. We find places that would inspire anyone to build an expedition style 4x4 capable of staying a few days to make it all worthwhile.

Of course, at this point in the conversation most people start asking questions about lifts, lights, winches, roof racks, gear, fridges and fantastic solar power setups. Before we go there, I would like to touch a bit more on the issue of why and what is different about the expedition style build.

The question of why to build in the expedition style is usually answered when a person finds that they either want to go farther than a day trip away from home, or they hear about a ghost town that would be incredible to visit first hand or they read a magazine article about some back country area that not too many folks visit. People that enjoy expedition wheeling  wish to combine the adventure of off highway 4x4 travel with a destination or desire that a single seat buggy or day run through the swamp just doesn’t fulfill.

What Is Different?
While much of the gear used by an expedition equipped rig is the same as other off-roaders, it’s the thought process behind the build that makes the rig an expedition vehicle. An expedition vehicle is more concerned about overall weight since it has an effect on handling, fuel consumption, power and recovery. The expedition builder has to know both the curb weight and gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of his rig since that equals the maximum payload that should be carried. In the case of the FJ Cruiser you are looking at 4x4 with a curb weight of 4290 lbs and a GVWR of 5570 lbs which means a payload 1280 lbs. Figure in a couple of 200 lb people, food, fuel, water, gear; and you may very well already be at the max payload.

An expedition vehicle also has to give much more thought to space. Even a solo traveler on a multi-day trip who believes in the idea of Tread Lightly, will need to pack in and out camping gear, food, water and trash. Now, think about having enough gear to travel for three days in the back country with a family of four. Space, weight and safety become obvious concerns.

So now that we’ve covered the “lens” that the expedition minded builder looks through, we can start to talk generally about modifications and gear. Don’t worry, these will all be discussed with great detail in future articles.

The Basics
Your suspension does not have to be lifted and if it is, it should only be a slight lift. You can always pick the terrain or adventure that suits the vehicle rather than trying to overcome any obstacle. All four sides of the rig should have jack and recovery points to help you get out of trouble.  You'll need basic under armor since a cracked oil pan far from home would bring your expedition to a halt. You’ll need just enough lighting to drive safely and maybe something extra to help illuminate camp.

Speaking of camp, you'll need gear to make your stay comfortable. Your sleeping options are,  setting up the inside of your FJ with a sleeping platform, using tents, hammocks, or the ever coveted roof-top tent. Since you will likely want to eat on your adventure, make sure you have a higher quality cooler that will keep ice a couple of days. For longer trips, start looking into off-road ready fridges. Nothing beats traveling in the heat with ice cold drinks and snacks without anything soggy at the bottom.

{mosimage} Before an expedition, you'll need to be set up with gear to help foresee, avoid and get out of trouble. Items to start with include: navigation aids, such as a quality topo map, compass, GPS or laptop system, as well as extra food, fuel and water. Equally as important is communication gear, anything from cell to satellite phones, CB or amateur (HAM)  radio so you can talk to others and get help if needed.

So while an expedition style 4x4 can and will do most of the things any other 4x4 will do, the focus is on the journey and the desire to travel over multiple days.  These specific goals are why the build of an expedition rig is different than a rock crawler, swamp stomper, or a desert racer.  In future issues of FJC Magazine, I will help you to build your expedition 4x4.  We hope to see you out in the back country!

Lance works with The Expeditioneers , located near Phoenix, AZ.

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