Automobile reviews?

2:29 p.m. on December 24, 2018 (EST)
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One thing I don't see any of here is automobile reviews specifically aimed at the backpacker. My two-wheel drive Honda doesn't cut it for some trailheads, and often a more rugged vehicle would trim the boring trailhead approach-walk significantly.

Then there's gear storage, trailhead convenience, and ... other stuff?

The point being that the average car review, even for 4WD vehicles, doesn't really take into consideration the specific needs of the backpacker, the mountaineer, the outdoor adventurer.

I hear much praise for the Mercedes Sprinter, for example, but I wonder how good its factory 4WD is.

And stuff like that!

9:04 a.m. on December 25, 2018 (EST)
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After seeing alot of car vandalism at trailheads---and one car completely burned---my recommendation is to get a Rat Vehicle---something you don't mind losing---and use it for all your backpacking trips. 

It amazes me to see brand new SUVs and Land Rovers and all the rest parked at remote trailheads---just inviting rednecks with a rock to bash in all the windows etc.

Then again, the biggest problem I ever had is mice invading my car and chewing up the air filter to make a nest---

11:09 a.m. on December 25, 2018 (EST)
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Rat vehicle is a great idea.  In some parts of the country it is very common.  Serious canoeists have been known to radically modify their vehicles, even small cars like Subarus to carry boats. 

I don't know that backpackers or mountaineers have any special requirements for veicles. Most trailheads can be reached by decent roads. 

I like to run canoes on the Sacramento River, but never leave vehicles over there in that part of the state unless they are watched by someone. 

3:57 p.m. on December 25, 2018 (EST)
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I came out of the woods back in 2012 after a long backpacking trip in a series of blizzards and talked to the backpacker who was the owner of this vehicle---but I saw him on the trail way before someone torched his car. 

When I got out I passed this burnt hulk and thought about his surprise when he sees it---


11:31 a.m. on December 26, 2018 (EST)
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Interesting. I haven't had a car vandalized at a trailhead (maybe because I've only parked beaters there as suggested), but I have visited a few trailheads at the end of washed out roads -- roads a good 4WD could navigate, sometimes saving as much as a day's worth of hiking. In my experience, it has sometimes made the difference between having time for a given trip and not.

2:50 p.m. on December 26, 2018 (EST)
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I was once part of a Boy Scout outing to the Lytle Creek trail of the San Gabriel Mountains.  When we got back out, were found two of our vehicles vandalized, one which was rolled off the parking flat and down into a ravine.

I leave my ride unlocked at trailheads - a lock is no deterrent to those wanting entry.  Then again my rides have always been plastic interiors with crank windows, etc, not particularly the trophy kind of vehicle.  About all there is to steal is my duffel containing  clean change clothes and toiletries for my return ride home.

I find vans and PU trucks best suited for back packing.  I can get either up most so-called 4WD tracks in good weather, almost always being the only 2WD vehicle at the trailhead.  Weigh down the back axle, deflate the tires some, drive conservative and don't over commit are the secrets for success.  Bring a shovel, pick axe, stout rope and a couple of pulleys, JIC.


7:12 p.m. on December 27, 2018 (EST)
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I like trucks, speficially 4wd trucks.  They just get stuck in worse places.  Most trailheads I can get to in my Lexus. 

10:38 a.m. on December 29, 2018 (EST)
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That is really a thing in your part of the world. Thanks for the heads up. It is a rare case that a car is even broken into here. I think I’ll stay here. 

5:33 a.m. on January 1, 2019 (EST)
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I live in a rural area along the Appalachian Mountains and Allagayney Mountains ,...4wd is a necessity for us  due to snow and changing weather...Add that the highway department isn't good with road construction with materials....But I do have a front wheel drive car that I use in spring and summer to cut on the fuel costs...I have driven it in snow when we were dumped on.But like ED said follow the tracks of other autos and have options with you to get out...

11:10 a.m. on January 2, 2019 (EST)
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Denis, what do you drive in the winter? And with what tire/traction configuration?

8:10 p.m. on January 2, 2019 (EST)
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I had an old 2wd GMC S15 with good ground clearance, then an Explorer 4x4 for years and both brought us where we needed to go. The 4x4 definitely allowed us to get further, and even when it didn't, was able to not chew up steep roads with loose rock. I use 4 hi when I don't technically need it for that reason.

I bought a Jeep a couple years ago, and while the Exploder could get up the vast majority of the same roads, the Jeep does it so much better. It's just so much stouter and more capable. I would take that into consideration. A truck or a Jeep can take a beating better than say, a Tuscon or Rav 4. It's similar to a thread on this forum about whether you could use exclusively Walmart camping gear. You can, but it's not going to last as long and you'll probably end up having to replace it sooner.

9:07 p.m. on January 2, 2019 (EST)
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we had a body on frame ford explorer (2000 model year, one of the last of the "rollover" explorers, I think) with four wheel drive and reasonably beefy mud and snow tires, Michelin after Ford replaced the perfectly good Firestone tires.  never got stuck, never got damaged from badly maintained roads, whether we were dealing with snow, sand (deflated tires) or dirt/mud/middling rocks.  it had a few repair issues, but as a go almost anywhere vehicle, it worked pretty well.

spouse now drives another ford explorer, the newer unit-body style.  less ground clearance, happier with less aggressive tires, has an adjustable 4wd depending on conditions.  drives better on roads, better ride than the older one, but i wouldn't take it on really bad roads....and the selectable 4wd is no substitute for more ground clearance and more aggressive tires.

If I were looking for a go-anywhere beater today that could double as my ride to work, I would look at used toyota 4runners. used toyota FJs and Jeep Wranglers are great for off-road, but i think they're both flawed as road vehicles - jeeps are noisy and busy on the road, and FJ's have lousy rear visibility and a fairly 'rubbery' ride. 

(PS I drive a prius to work, so if i'm going anywhere rough, i'm a passenger in someone else's vehicle!). 

10:40 p.m. on January 2, 2019 (EST)
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Old Rangers are good little trucks too.

12:49 p.m. on January 3, 2019 (EST)
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As far as Wranglers being uncomfortable, I suppose that's the niche the Cherokee is supposed to fill.

10:09 a.m. on January 4, 2019 (EST)
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Zalman said:

As far as Wranglers being uncomfortable, I suppose that's the niche the Cherokee is supposed to fill.


 I test-drove a Cherokee, and was really impressed with how well it handled. The trunk space was disappointing, however. It was definitely too small for a family of four. With our Wrangler, we can easily fit 4 loaded backpacks with room to spare. Those Renegades are pretty nice, actually. If I didn't have the kids, and hadn't been drooling over Wranglers for years, I would look seriously at a Renegade Trailhawk.

   Are you looking at a new vehicle? Check out those Canyons/Colorados as well. They look like tough little trucks that will last. Not being full size will help with fitting on tight backroads (and spinning around).

10:14 p.m. on January 4, 2019 (EST)
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Persactly! I used to drive an old 1082 Plymouth Duster in winter in Erie, PA to save my beautiful Nissan Maxima from the salted roads.

So one summer when my buddy and I were section hiking the AT in Virginia I drove my Plymouth "Ruster" as my students called it. I left it off in a far corner of a Holiday Inn parking lot with a strong bike cable securing the hood latch area to the bumper in case someone wanted my battery. All was well 7 days later when I hitchhiked back to get it.

I mean it was a true "rat car" with not even a back seat, lots of small rust spots and mis-matched paint spots. Butt ugly. But that Slant Six ran like a champ.

Maybe I need a "rat" 4WD car like an old Mitsubishi.

Eric B.

8:55 a.m. on January 8, 2019 (EST)
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Interesting notes on the relative trunk sizes for the Wrangler and Cherokee. The actual specs on cubic cargo space for both models are almost identical. I wonder what it is that makes the Cherokee's space feel less usable?

Yeah, I'm thinking about swapping out my car -- which is ideal for town -- for something that balances ideal for getting to trailheads. I've been stopped a few times this past year on the way to potential trailheads, not feeling comfortable taking my car farther. I don't have a family of four, so the Cherokee would probably work fine for me personally, regardless of the trunk capacity. Still curious.

10:34 a.m. on January 8, 2019 (EST)
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I know this won't work for most, but we are trying once again to get by without a car and instead use the local car coop. We sold our Prius before leaving for our year in AZ and haven't moved to get something new in the 5 months or so that we have been back in Norway. It makes us more careful about when, where, how, and how often we drive to get to trailheads etc., which can be frustrating but we think is a move in the right direction. It also encourages us to double up with friends to spread cost or avoid the rental if they have a car.

One advantage is that we can get a bigger or smaller car that suits our needs for any given trip, including 4WD (but not especially high clearance) Skoda Octavias for when things get snowy. With the coop all expenses including gas, tolls (lots of those in Norway vi electronic toll bricks) and basic insurance are all rolled into time and mileage fees that depend on the size of the car, not really any cheaper than rentals for multiday trips but much simpler. (Reserve online, open up with an electronic membership card, key is in the glove compartment. No wait, nothing to sign.)

A disadvantage is that we are still paying the time fee (hourly for up to 10 hours per day, then you get the rest of the day rolled in) when the car is parked at a trailhead. For in town use we can get a car for a couple of hours, and there are a few electric cars available -- sometimes we get a car just to go xc skiing on the other side of the city, 20 min drive.

We do our daily commuting and basic shopping by bicycle, year-round -- 4 km to work and no less than four supermarkets a 5 minute ride away, even though we live right at the edge of one of the city forest areas with about 40 kn of ski trails and hiking paths, far from wild but still good for the soul. There's a couple cars a 5 minute bike ride from the house, but sometimes we have to go a bit further to get an available one or one we want.

This weekend we'll take the train 2.5 hours to the cool old copper mining town of Røros, near the Swedish border, where there are some good xc trails (partly because we had a meltdown here in Trondheim so there's no skiing).

We hope that with more members that the coop will grow, more cars will be available and maybe even prices could come down.

Again, I know not everybody can do this, especially in the US, but maybe in the future it won't be necessary to have your own ton of metal, and somebody has to try it out... In fact, I have to close up shop and ride home in dark...

4:32 p.m. on January 8, 2019 (EST)
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In the past I've owned a number of van's for van touring around the county including two Westfalia's and a mid 90's Dodge 1 ton extenda van.  All were tricked out to the max for my girlfriend, two/three large mastiff's and myself for extended stays away from home.   As the dogs were generally/often not able to go places with us after we parked the van, they would stay in the van, there by becoming the alarm/guard system.  When anyone got near the van all they would see was the van rocking back and forth with two/three giant slathering mouths trying to tear them apart.  We once witnessed people crossing the street so they would not have to walk by the van in down town San Francisco.  We never had s single incidence with break-ins..................

Not a chance in hades I would set up a vehicle and leave it at a trailhead or up a logging road with gear or any valuables in it, including personal information..............registration................ or a garage door opener in such a vehicle.

I actually know people that have a rat/junker vehicle, usually a trash/farm truck that they take to the trailhead to leave.  When they leave to go on a trek/hike/camping/walkabout, they leave the doors Ed does............with nothing in it what so ever.  Nothing like leaving a thief your name and address with a garage door opener with a open invitation to, break your window.............steal all the stuff out one's vehicle and then invite them to your residence knowing you'll be away for the weekend, or at least a night

On another note, if I were a thief...............I would drive up to trail heads to scope out the incoming weekend crowds and scope out the vehicles that I wanted to hit after dark.

I'm not quite sure what the OP is talking about regarding storage.  When driving up to a trailhead there is no way that I don't have enough room in a Honda Civic to store all the gear I could possible put in a backpack to take on a backpacking trip.  I've carried large canoes on my Honda Civic as well as having a hitch to tow small trailers behind it.

10:03 a.m. on January 26, 2019 (EST)
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Working in the field all the time, I have driven plenty of different company trucks and lots of rental trucks   They are all different, but any of them would work fine to get to a trailhead. 

Some of the best places I have been, have only been reachable by boat, a helicopter or a float plane.  Mules and horses are the other great alternative. 

February 22, 2020
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