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How to Choose the Perfect Expedition Vehicle Truck for your Adventures

When I set out to find and build the best expedition camper for me, I researched dozens of trucks and vans with an open frame to carry a camper that met my requirements. I tracked and calculated over 200 fields for each of a dozen trucks, including from Ford, Dodge, Mitsubishi Fuso, Isuzu NPR and Mercedes Sprinter & Unimog. There were several others that I reviewed and drove that did not make it to the more thorough review and comparison of the finalists. I test drove all of these trucks and tabulated dozens of specifications as provided by the manufacturers, or calculated or measured by me. I completed calculations for each on heights and lengths with campers on, approach and departure angles including with the finished camper length and I also calculated final gear ratios and wheel speeds with the wheel and tire upgrades I would want, and so much more.

I tracked my driving experiences and rated these dozens of fields that were important from critical to just informational for the truck chassis that I down selected to from research and test driving. When I know someone with one or saw one on the trails, I asked about experiences from my friends and others that owned these vehicles. I visited owner's forums to learn about owner's experiences, common problems, likes and dislikes. There were many more vehicles that I did not further detail as they did not meet my key criteria of weight carrying capacity, camper box length carrying capability, maximum total height and length with box attached, as well as approach, departure, ramp break over or clearance issues, or something else. All of them had to have four-wheel drive or ability to easily be converted to four wheel drive, and have a robust drivetrain that could support years of trail miles and global travels with a full-time live-in composite hard-wall camper box with enough water, fuel, food and other carrying essentials to support two people living for weeks fully self-sufficiently off grid. An added requirement was to be able to carry 4 to 6 bikes and other outdoor sports gear such as inflatable watercraft inside an enclosed weather-tight and secure space that could be accessed from ground level. This requirement meant lowering boxes on rear walls for taller vehicles and in all added length to the living space. And yet, a key requirement was a vehicle that could be nimble on technical trails, cobbled European old town quarters, and still reasonably park in a standard American grocery store parking space. All a tall order when wanting a 10-16 feet interior living space and still a shorter wheelbase than the 170" Sprinter camper van I was upgrading from. Hence, why the dimensions were critical to being able to support all of these competing requirements, and I took the dimensions from each down-selected chassis and drew various camper box and gear storage space configurations to determine total lengths and heights with subframes onto the vehicle frames to determine the theoretical total heights, lengths and departure angles with my envisaged camper box. The spreadsheet I am sharing will hopefully save you some of the time I spent doing all of this research and conceptual planning.

My vehicle requirements were to have ability to carry enough fuel, water, batteries and large camper box for comfortable living in remote areas. This meant an estimated payload of 7000 to 8000 pounds of camper box, interior fit out, water, extra fuel, food, people and gear--not an easy task except for larger truck chassis. And yet the truck had to be capable of not just carrying this weight, but also be maneuverable on tighter technical trails and survive years of trail use with minimal maintenance, easy to maintain with accessible parts, and and still be comfortable and relatively fuel efficient for the long highway miles that will always be the majority of miles. And this means it also had to be reliable, and have a quiet and comfortable cabin with a capable and robust drivetrain with common components and easy maintenance. Even easy replacement of parts like windshields, so older and more rare or unique vehicles were out. While I looked at some of these I decided upon my testing, research and analysis that more globally common truck chassis and contemporary ones were important to achieve these criteria. This is a very challenging set of competing requirements for a perfect balance of capacity, capability, reliability, comfort and nimbleness. A very tough challenge to discern best choice to meet my requirements.

To help with my analysis, I created a spreadsheet to track the many specifications, compare them, create a weighting for my priorities and importance levels, and then rate them in comparison with each of these 12 down-selected truck chassis to use as the platform for building my DIY expedition camper. I conducted this research over many years, but mostly between 2018 thru 2020, and finally purchased a truck chassis in late 2021, so all of this research and specifications that I am sharing are dated from that time frame. While most specs won't change much, you should check or update key information if it has changed. I spoke with many wonderful and knowledgable people about these vehicle options, four-wheel drive conversations, single tire conversions, subframe design and construction, direct experiences with building out and using these vehicles as expedition trucks, and I learned more than can ever be shared in a spreadsheet or via a numerical rating. I highly recommend that you reach out to folks with vehicles that you are interested in buying, test drive them, get under them and see their drivetrain and get a feel for their dimensions and drivability; research their reliability, repairability, time to get parts and repair, access to parts and service in places you plan to travel, and ability and ease and cost of completing regular and unplanned maintenance and repairs. Being stranded somewhere for days or weeks waiting for parts or a special repair could be just as impactful as the compounding lack of comfort from noise, seating, climate comfort, etc. over hours of driving every day. Access to tires that are needed for this vehicle and other maintenance parts, or a broken windshield, and the costs for these items are important to your trip budget and experiences, so I tried to account for these items as well as the vehicle specs, as a vehicle with great specs doesn't necessarily mean it will be a great vehicle to own, operate, control, budget for and drive. I considered my ability access a spare tire and change it while on slanted muddy trail and then secure a replacement tire in a remote area--real world realities during global expedition travels.

I hope that my spreadsheet helps you with your expedition vehicle chassis selection and your subsequent adventures with a great rig that is well suited for you and your adventures. You should change the weighting and priorities of my criteria, and even delete or add some of your own to ensure you are getting a vehicle that is well suited for what you want and your planned adventures and use. If you do make changes that may be helpful to others, share an updated version--I can facilitate the sharing of these updated versions as a community giveback to help the next person with their analysis and decision making. And realize that no matter your decision, there is no perfect vehicle for everyone or any one person. But by using criteria that is important to you like I created in this spreadsheet, this will help you to more objectively choose a vehicle chassis for you needs that is at least a good choice based upon your key priorities and criteria. There are still subjective criteria that matter--I love Land Rover Defenders, but that wasn't best for this use--try to be objective and honest with yourself about your plans and priorities that really matter while on your adventures so you get a vehicle right for those--not just one that seems cool but one that actually meets the needs of the journey. That is the purpose of this spreadsheet--not to over-analyze as I can do but to minimize our personal biases and instead focus on the criteria that are important to meet your planned adventures.

Many of you have asked for the comparison spreadsheet of all of the vehicle and truck chassis that I explored for my expedition video, with all of the detailed info that I shared in my video of these: Here is a link to this spreadsheet:

Please be responsible by updating the info, the weighting of the key criteria, and honestly evaluate your own priorities, and get out and test drive and evaluate your down-selected vehicles in person. It's well worth your time before investing in a vehicle, new or used, and then spend countless hours planning and building the camper to support your needs. I wish you a fun journey and hope to see you on the trail!

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