Our Troopy Set-Up

Saturday, Nov 24, 1990 at 19:03



Troopys are very capable and adaptable – not overly beautiful or comfortable, but big, powerful and pretty much unstoppable. They are a purposeful vehicle, that once committed will see the job through to the end. Some have argued that these admirable qualities could be seen in a different light - obstinate, pigheaded and won’t take no for an answer. Clearly Troopys are male and should be referred to as “He”, never “it”, certainly never “she”.

Troopy owners set up their vehicles for particular purposes including for camping and extended travel. We’d like to add to the pool of ideas on this subject, and in what follows we describe our approach and solutions. Hopefully, given that Troopys haven’t changed much in the past 20+ years, some of the ideas may benefit others. The process of adapting and optimizing never stops of course, so we aren’t describing an end point, rather the travel towards somewhere we’ll probably never reach. We have learned that compromises are often required, and that – big though Troopy might be – ultimately space is limited. Wherever possible things should have multiple uses, take up the minimum of space and be as light as they reasonably can be. Cost is also a consideration, as is ones ability or inclination to improvise and “do-it-yourself”. As we are definitely in the DIY category we have arrived at what is - for us - a practical, comfortable set-up. Importantly, the process of getting Troopy set up has given us a great deal of satisfaction and enjoyment, a real bonus.

How you set your Troopy up depends on your intended use. We are an active retired couple who enjoy remote area "grey nomad" trips. We use our FJ75 Troopy for self-contained camping. We have had him for over 20 years, having bought second hand – in his previous life he was a police vehicle. Over that time we have gradually evolved the layout to suit our needs and budget, adding and modifying as our travel experience increases. We have traveled in all states, on lots of dirt (and sand and rocks and gibbers and corrugations and even bitumen!). Trips have ranged from a weekend to 4 months (20,000 km).

Our "design" objectives as they have evolved.

We wanted
· A flexible arrangement so that the vehicle could meet “everyday” transport needs when not in the bush.
· To be able to sleep in the vehicle with an easily erected enclosed space for privacy, and protection from the elements when required.
· Communication gear for emergencies and to keep us minimally in touch with the wider world.
· Electrical storage/generation to allow at least a week of refrigeration and lighting without burning fuel or using mains power.
· A good comfortable bed ready to crawl into at the end of the day.
· Easily accessible table and chairs, food, cooking and fridge, good camp lighting.
· Easily accessible tool kit, recovery gear, axe, shovel, torches, first aid kit......
· Minimal gear (weight) on roof, preferably avoid towing any trailer.
· Capable of carrying at least 50 litres of water, 2 spare wheels, inflatable boat…
· All essential functions achievable by one person if necessary without assistance

These requirements came out of our experiences using a tent for sleeping and carrying our gear in big plastic containers. (We learned early the disadvantages of using cardboard cartons – they tend to dissolve when wet!) This system was OK for short trips, but gear can get pretty disorganised and precious time, energy and patience is taken up in setting up tents, beds, cooking gear etc. Once we figured out how to install a bed in the vehicle the rest followed.

The bed base:

The 11 seat Troopy has 8 seats in the rear cargo area. These we removed and Troopy is now registered as a 3 seat panel van, thus avoiding the need for the quarterly inspections required of buses in NSW. Our insurance company has also been informed that Troopy no longer meets the factory specification. We've mounted 50x50x3mm aluminium angle running full length from the front seats to the back doors, bolted to the rear seat mountings on the sidewalls, about 0.5m above the floor (high enough to clear the fridge). The bed base (about 1.5m x 2.1m) is from 12mm chipboard riding on this aluminium angle. The base is cut into three equal sizes pieces, all running full length across the vehicle. The centre panel is reinforced front and back using 25x40mm aluminium angle on the underside. The front and rear panels overlap the centre panel by about 12mm, so only require reinforcing to the front of the front panel and back of the rear panel.(By mounting the sections in this way, they can concertina in the event of a rear on collision.) The centre panel is bolted to the supporting aluminium angle, and the front and rear panels are hinged to the centre one so they can be raised to give good access under the bed. We've fitted gas struts and stays so the hinged panels can be lifted and easily secured in the raised position. When down they are secured by a rotating tab that clips underneath the aluminium supporting angle, ensuring that gear stored under the bed stays there in the event of a roll-over. (We aren't planning on testing this!) Raising the panels does not disturb the bed on top.

Roof rack

When we first ventured into the more remote areas we decided that it was prudent to carry two spare tyres, and for this we needed a roof rack. We have tried a few generations of racks, starting out with a small lightweight thing that was quite inadequate. Then we went to roof bars with strengthened brackets, but these cracked very early on.

Eventually we designed a steel rack that we had welded up for us. Although heavy, this has performed extremely well over a number of years. It has 4 cross members from 32 mm square tube to which is affixed C channel to provide “drawer runners”. This arrangement creates three bays, the front two of which allow items to slide into channels. The back bay has extra bars to support an extra spare tyre or wheel bolted into place. There are two mesh baskets – the rear basket holds four jerries that we need when going remote. The front basket can hold a 10 litre plastic water bottle. The front bay carries 2 solar panels mounted face up one on top of the other. That way one is always active but both can slide out to be used at a better angle when we are stationary. The second and biggest bay has a slide-in floor that carries one of two canvas“back packs”. One of these holds the electric outboard and other accessories for our inflatable boat, while the other simply holds the extra gear that is not required too often.

Along each side of the rack is a square tube into which slides the U shaped tent frame. Each of the cross members is sleeved internally with plastic conduit and houses a standard tent pole. A strip of sail track down each side allows us to fix an awning made from an ordinary heavy canvas window awning. The metal awning roller forms the outer end and has a couple of holes drilled to take the tent poles, so it can be tensioned using 2 tent pegs and ropes. When rolled up it is secured with Velcro straps and occys.

When required, privacy and protection from rain is provided by a small tent (1.5m x 1.8m). To provide shelter quickly if it's raining, the canvas is stored where it's easily accessible from the small back door. The canvas is supported by a metal frame that slides out of the roof rack and 2 tent poles that travel in the cross members of the roof rack. The tent is a re-work of a larger tent – good quality canvas, and with windows and doors already provided. There is a skirt going underneath the back of the vehicle, but no floor, so its not wind or insect proof. The tent is held on to the vehicle by shock cord and occy hooks and goes up/comes down in about 3 minutes. While not very big it has served its intended purpose very well. We also carry a free standing tent for those occasions when we a staying put for a while, and we don’t want to have to take Troopy’s tent up and down each day. A freestanding tent also helps to secure your campsite when you are out exploring.

To minimize weight and for easy removal we have used a pair of 150mm foam mattresses, side by side, over which the bed is left permanently made up. The bed is surrounded at night by blackout curtains strung on a continuous loop of occy strap that goes onto hooks above the windows. Curtains can be removed and stored in a few seconds so we don’t have to drive with them covering any part of the windows. Insect mesh covering half of each of the rear windows allows fresh air without bugs. Insect screens for the front windows are made from fiberglass mesh cut to shape and with strips of the magnetic material used for vehicle signs and fridge magnets glued on with silastic. Reading lights, speakers and pockets against the roof above the windows to hold odd and ends add further convenience.

As Troopys don’t have doors opening to the sides of the cargo space, access to the middle of the cargo space below the bed is a problem that we have met by installing drawers. We wanted room for a fridge plus space at least 620 mm wide, since many items (barbecue, tools,…) are made to fit a 600 mm footprint. Space was very tight, so drawer runners were a critical consideration. (Commercially available drawers we’ve seen use rails and rollers on the outside of the drawers – these cost up to 50mm of width, more than we could afford to lose.)Our approach to drawers involved boxing in the wheel wells to provide the parallel walls between which we run two drawers. Steel plating (1.6mm) was affixed to the floor beneath the sides of the drawers to provide a smooth bearing surface. We used a single large ball bearing race as a roller protruding about 6mm downwards from the base in the middle of each drawer wall. (Next time we'd use strips of high density PVC as a continuous bearing surface.) The plating on the floor is indented at the rest position of the rollers, so the drawers drop down and rest in the indents when fully closed. This system works well, though a fully loaded drawer is pretty heavy. The drawers occupy the back 2/3 (about 1.5m) of the cargo area, the front 1/3 being more readily accessible from behind the seats.

To keep weight down we avoided using steel frames and heavy ply that is commonly used. Our drawers and boxing are built with 6mm MDF walls and 12mm ply bases glued and screwed with wooden cleats reinforcing the corners where necessary. This construction method avoids metal-to-metal rattles and squeaks. An aluminium frame supports the base of the fridge and the “kitchen” shelves are from 12mm chipboard. Everything is painted to keep moisture out. We were not optimistic about the lifespan of these drawers, expecting them to vibrate apart. They have however survived with minimal maintenance for over a decade and 100,000's of kms in all conditions, including some of the roughest tracks going.

Layout and water:
There are two drawers, one wide enough for the fridge, the other occupying the remaining width (just over 600mm). By pulling the drawers out about 0.6m, the inaccessible "middle third" of the cargo space is brought into the accessible "rear third" position. On each side, boxes encase the wheel wells and run for most of the length of the cargo space. These hold less-used items – spare belts, tubes and hoses etc, with axe, spade etc, within easy reach. They also hold ten 3 litre water bottles just inside the rear doors. The smaller (fridge) drawer can hold 2 x 25litre water drums, buried deep. We’ve adopted readily accessible 3 litre bottles as our day-to-day supply – when remote traveling we aim to refill whenever possible regardless of water quality. Some water is pretty poor quality, so not only do small bottles make good use of available space, we avoid polluting our bulk supply. We can always discard poor quality water if we get a better offer. (You may need a few litres for Troopy if disaster strikes and Troopy isn’t too fussy about quality at such times.)

The “Kitchen”:
Bulk food and utensils are stored in plastic containers (preferably square ones rather than round to maximize storage space) in 600 mm wide plastic tubs within the main big drawer (see photos). Frequently used items and utensils are housed in smaller plastic boxes in the kitchen shelves. While it took a bit of trial and error and shopping around to find containers of just the right size, the end result is very space efficient and getting access to a snack or a meal is as easy as opening Troopy’s rear doors. (You get some funny looks in a supermarket when shopping by measuring the dimensions of containers, with little regard for their contents!) We mostly cook with gas, outside the vehicle. Gas bottle and stove are easily accessible and only take a moment to set up. Table and chairs slide into the face of the main drawer, so all that is required for lunch is a shady tree. Cooking is done on a 2-burner gas stove – unless we are able to have a campfire in which case we use a small folding BBQ and/or a camp oven.

That’s easy when in a caravan park – but we don’t use parks unless it’s absolutely necessary. When bush camped its good to have some basic amenities, remembering the need to avoid getting soap etc into waterways and to leave no mess to spoil the area for others. Water can often be scarce too, especially in desert areas.

So we have a folding toilet seat and a small shovel, usually burning paper, depending on circumstances. Basic washing can be done using a dish and a sponge, but it’s not as good as a shower. We have tried a few types of shower and now often carry two. The black solar showers don’t seem to work too well – slow to warm up and the rose only gives a thin dribble of water. We have a collapsible canvas bucket to which we have fitted a hose, tap and a proper showerhead. An angled bracket that slips into one of the cross members of the roof rack allows it to be hoisted high enough to give a good flow. Even better is one of the cheap 12v pumps that drops into a bucket of warm mater. We warm water over the fire, or if need be on the gas stove, and find that a good shower can be had with less than 3 litres of water, though we do use more if it is available. When modesty demands we can shower in the tent at the back of troopy or use a light tarp rigged up along one side of the vehicle.

Our fridge (Waeco 39 litre) draws about 3.5 amps when running and runs for about 1/3 of the time when running as a fridge. (If freezing, this may rise well above ½ of the time.) With this load a 100 Ah battery will power the fridge and camp lighting for 2 or 3 days. We carry 2 solar panels giving 145W solar capacity and two batteries giving about 200 Ah storage. Provided the sun smiles, this is more than sufficient for our purposes. Note that if installing any battery inside the vehicle, it should be very well secured and must be a gel or AGM type to avoid having liquid acid inside – quite apart from legal and insurance considerations, this would be seriously unfriendly in the event of a Troopy being accidentally upside down.

A solar array is more than just an expensive convenience. Some means of charging a battery may be essential to permit starting the vehicle, or calling for help, if reality departs too far from expectations. On one occasion when the alternator died, we even traveled with the panel powering Troopy's electric ignition!

Lighting – we have found 12V halogen lights excellent. A 20W dichroic type provides ample camp light around the vehicle. Mounted on a base housing a strong magnet, it can be affixed to the vehicle wherever needed. Bed lights use miniature 10W halogen bulbs. Though not as efficient, halogen lamps provide much better quality (whiter) light than fluorescents or LEDs.

The electrics are wired so that either of the auxiliary batteries, or as a last resort, the vehicle’s own battery, may power the camping gear, CB and HF radios. Either of the auxiliary batteries can replace the cranking battery in an emergency. . The main charging of the “house” batteries is through a 30 amp dc-dc charger from Troopy’s alternator. This charger is arranged so that, in an emergency, it can be easily reversed so as to charge Troopy’s cranking battery, or run Troopy’s electrics, drawing charge from the auxiliary batteries and solar panels. For efficiency, all wiring is very heavy gauge. It is run in the walls with extra insulation and for safety, readily accessible fuses are installed close to the batteries.

For additional information see our blog, Electricity for Camping.

We have fitted a UHF CB, which will reliably reach anyone listening within about 5 km, and depending on terrain and elevation, maybe even 20km or more. This is good for convoys, local chitchat and local emergency use. We have also fitted HF radio that can provide national coverage through the networks, and access to the RFDS. The excellent VKS737 network (a volunteer based HF radio network run by/for 4WD travelers) will pass messages to members, as well as keeping track of their whereabouts and providing communication in the event of an emergency.

For last resort we have carried an EPIRB, now outdated, and to be replaced by a GPS PLB before we go seriously bush next. A mobile phone, next G on Telstra is useful around civilization and along highways. It can double as a modem so where there is enough signal we can plug in the laptop to do essential emails and other online business.

Wheels and Tyres
For many years we got by with the standard split rims and LT tyres and tubes, though we seemed to get our fair share of flat tyres. Eventually we decided to change over to tubeless tyres on 15 inch steel rims, and this has greatly reduced the number of flats that we get. The ride is softer, and the fatter footprint a major advantage in sand or mud. We adjust tyre pressures according to road/track surface. We started out with a very small compressor, but upgraded to something Chinese with a bit more grunt that has worked well. Using strings, minor temporary repairs to tubeless tyres are much quicker and easier than repairs to Troopy’s normal splits.

Mobile mapping, OziExplorer, laptop.
For many years paper maps, brochures and a guide book or 3 seemed to get us there and back fairly adequately. Our first GPS, a small hand held unit seemed like a bit of a gimmick until we tried out OziExplorer and from then on we were hooked on moving map technology. We quickly found that trying to use our largish laptop in the front of Troopy was not practicable. So in short order eBay yielded up a secondhand HP ePC and a 9inch touchscreen. . (The ePC is a miniature desktop computer,now very dated, with an external power supply, which we replaced with a 12V laptop supply.) With a fair bit of experimentation and innovation these were duly mounted and coupled to a miniature keyboard and a mouse style GPS. The handheld GPS found its way into the backpack used when exploring on foot. This system worked reliably with few difficulties for over 6 years, though we often wondered why when blowing out the dust, and thinking of the corrugations that the hard drive had endured. It has now been replaced by a slim older style tablet pc (HP TC1100) running Ozi in windows, saving valuable space while providing a larger screen. This unit even travelled with us to Britain recently (regretably without Troopy!) to guide us around that island. Its only limitation is that the display is not as bright as we would like.

Gps options using tablets, laptops and smart phones are discussed here by member Martin 2.

We still carry the laptop, partly as a back-up for the GPS, but mostly so we can download and edit photos and log on to the internet when within range of the Telstra network.

Recovery gear
When we first got Troopy over 20 years ago, we thought that a winch would be really useful. We found a great big heavy unit that could only be fitted by extending the bull bar quite a few inches forward. This winch has only once been used for a real recovery, although it has had a few workouts in other circumstances. But the extended bull bar makes an ideal place to carry firewood when on remote tracks, and this capability is something we use very often.

We also carry a high-lift jack, and this too has seldom been used. When we joined our 4wd club and did our 4wd training we were introduced to snatch straps (and their imerits and inherent dangers) and these, together with rated shackles, have been used on quite a number of occasions to assist others.

The other essential is a solid long handled shovel. The chassis of a venerable Troopy has a hollow pipe cross member below the radiator, an ideal place to carry a long handled shovel secured by a thumbscrew.

In 2009 we set out on a 4 month trip, the longest that we have so far undertaken. A Troopy with nothing dragging behind can go almost anywhere, so we have resisted the idea of towing. It was decided though that on such an extended trip a bit of extra space might be useful. So after a lot of looking we found what seemed to be an ideal trailer. It is a Road and Track off-road trailer with rugged chassis and a moulded fiberglass body with lockable gull wing covers making it light, secure and dust-proof. One side is simply storage space, while the off-side is given over to a kitchen with 3 way fridge, gas stove, sink/work bench and storage space. We modified it a little – replacing the ball coupling with a fully articulated off road hitch, fitting a battery and new lights with independent wiring from Troopy to the fridge and battery. It has carriers for two jerry cans, so on our recent trips, mostly in remote country, we were well equipped, even to the point of kitchen duplication and excess capacity to carry gear, minimizing the weight on the roof rack.

The trailer performs well and has proved no encumbrance to Troopy on the CSR and other challenging tracks. Doesn't even seem to have any impact on Troopy’s voracious appetite for hydrocarbons!

J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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