May 2018

The Hamster in Namaqualand.

People are curious to know about the vehicle I drive and how it’s equipped for an extended back-roads journey. By some people’s standards, it’s disappointingly plain. Mechanically the vehicle is stock-standard with no modifications.

Travelling solo, I need to keep things simple and easy to manage on my own under all sorts of conditions. I’ve camped for many years and I’ve always been quite happy with the basics. Through years of experience I know what I use and what I can do without.

An overloaded vehicle packed to the brim with every imaginable gadget and accessory is probably one of the main triggers of a mechanical failure. When the going gets rough everything is worked to its limits. A vehicle loaded to maximum capacity just has to work so much harder and failure becomes a probability.

Dragging a trailer or caravan along is also not an option. If I get into a situation where I can’t go forward, then reversing a trailer without help on a remote track would be impossible.

When the roads get tough, simplicity and light weight wins the day.

So the requirements are simple, light, compact and secure, but still comfortable and easily accessible.

The Vehicle

All smiles!

On 16 November 2016 I took delivery of a brand new Ford Ranger 3.2 XLT 4×4 Double Cab with automatic transmission from BB Ford in Menlyn, Pretoria. At the time I still had no idea that I was going to be doing this extended trip but being able to reach remote destinations was a good enough reason for the purchase.

Taking advantage of a massive discount, I opted for the larger-engined 3.2
instead of the 2.2 which would have been my first choice.

A week after taking delivery we went on the first camping trip. Upgrading from a comparatively small Suzuki Grand Vitara, the Ranger had loads of space!

Ready for the first camping weekend. So much space!
All set up at Koro-Koro near Bela Bela.

Adding a Canopy

The Rhinocab all aluminium canopy was ordered from Rhinoman in Rosslyn, north of Pretoria. Two weeks after placing the order I was requested to bring the vehicle in for fitment.

Fittings are done by appointment and at pre-allocated times. The whole process was finished quickly and neatly and in no time I was ready to go again. The large opening doors on all sides provide easy access and the double locks on each door provide excellent security.

A combination of colours can be chosen to suit every taste.

Customising the Packing Space

The height of the vehicle and the depth of the load bin make it difficult to reach things from outside, so the next addition was a cargo slide from Front Runner.

One again the fitment was pre-booked at their premises in Midrand and was completed quickly and efficiently. At the same time I bought a fridge slide to be added to the upper deck once it was finished.

The cargo slide has a carrying capacity of 250Kg and makes access to the load bin a breeze.

Front Runner has a wide selection of ready-made packing systems and drawer kits but unfortunately not in the exact configuration that suited my needs. I opted for the cargo slide as a base then added my own framework over the top to make a double-decker packing area.

The cargo slide is a perfect fit for six standard ammo boxes, leaving just enough space for a toolbox and other small items. Instead of the toolbox, the space can be used for water storage.

All packed. The first test was a trip to Mozambique via Swaziland.
When both the rear canopy door and tailgate are locked, it’s impossible to get into the lower deck, making safe storage for valuables.

The upper deck is for tents, mattresses, chairs and other soft, bulky items.

The openings on either side are designed to fit a jerry can each should the need arise to carry extra fuel or water. When no jerry cans are carried, the space is a perfect fit for two chairs.

Roof Rack and Solar Panels

The final job was to provide solar power for off-grid camping. Using Connect-It fittings and aluminium tubing to keep the weight down, I made a roof rack to fit on the canopy. Made-to-measure so that two 80-watt solar panels would fit snugly.

The Connect-It fittings made the job easy and looks neat.
Extra bracing was added to the corners for added strength.

The completed roof-rack.
Without the solar panels, the rack can be used to carry lightweight bulky items.

View from above, showing the solar panels in place.
A single padlocked cross-bar keep the panels secure but makes for easy removal if necessary.

The solar panels feed into a HCDP Mk2 Power Pack with a 105Ah battery giving sufficient capacity to keep the fridge cold and run a few LED lights. A 150 watt inverter allows for charging electronic gadgets.

Always keeping in mind that I’m travelling alone and often in remote places, there’s no connection to the car’s main charging system, eliminating another thing that could possibly go wrong. In an emergency, the power pack can also jump-start the vehicle or re-charge the main battery. With an automatic transmission, push-starting is not an option.

Logo and Birth of the Hamster

The plain grey doors on the canopy looked a bit bare and I wanted something to add a bit of interest to them. My cousin kindly got involved and asked a creative colleague to come up with a design for me.

The result was “Off The Hamster Wheel” which perfectly described the status quo.

The Hamster gets a logo and a name.

The stickers added a wonderful touch of individuality and the vehicle, nameless till now, became “The Hamster”.

In other posts I tell you more about:


Amelia · October 28, 2020 at

I love your story of the beginning of your travelling life. Good information is always needed, especially when traveling solo.

Annette Nel · October 30, 2020 at

Good to know how it all started!

Thys · February 3, 2021 at

Interessante leesstof! Wonder nou oor iets simpels: al daai sleutels vir laai bak, kappie, slotte (vir yskas, son panele, die lot) is nou seker ‘n groot bondel om rond te dra. Wat is jou oplossing om die goed te bewaar en nie te verloor nie?

    Off The Hamster Wheel · February 3, 2021 at

    Ek dra net twee sleutels. Die laaibak sluit met die bakkie se sleutel en die kappie se slotte met een sleutel. Die ander bly binne die bakkie tot ek hulle nodig het. n Spaar sleutel vir die bakkie is iewers weggesteek.

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