This is the final installment of my two-part interview with off-road and extreme truck camper expert, Jeff Reynolds (aka Jefe 4×4). Part one of this fascinating and informative interview can be found by clicking here.
Mike: What tires do you have on your truck and what inflation values do you typically run when driving off-road?
Jefe: I’m a rolling anomaly with super singles. It was a good solution for me. The rears are Mickey Thompson 33×15.50R16’s with a very wide AT tread. They are not made anymore. The fronts are Mickey Thompson 33×13.50R16’s on stock rims. I also have 33×14.50’s on 10 inch wide rims that will fit in front if I’m running the dunes (and also as one of my two spares I must carry) and they are all the same diameter. With the truck camper on, I always keep the tire inflation at the upper limit as printed on the sidewall, either 65 pounds, or 80 pounds, depending. On rough dirt roads I like to feather down the pressure to 32 pounds, front, and 30 pounds rear. Why that discrepancy? The wider and more voluminous the tire, the less pressure it needs to carry the load; it’s just physics. While on blow sand, or the dunes, I’ll take the fronts down to 22 pounds, and the rears down to 20 pounds for the maximum floatation my setup will produce. It’s really strange to see that 10,000 pound white elephant shooting the dunes and still upright and still moving and not sinking up to its eyeballs. My next experiment with tires and wheels is a military surplus tire dealer nearby with hundreds of HumVee wheels and super single tires, 34 inches tall, 9 inches wide, 8 inch lug, and 7 inch backspacing beadlock wheels. I will report back how that goes.
Mike: What are your thoughts on the dually (DRW) as an off-road vehicle?
Jefe: A dual rear wheel truck makes little sense on narrow trails. It can be done, and I have seen it done, but you must drive much slower and weave your way through taking lines you would not think worthwhile with a single rear wheel truck. With my 15.5 inches wide rear tires and 12 inches wide rims the rear axle has about a 6 inch narrower track than a truck with duals. Even then I don’t quite fit on seldom used two tracks and if it is very rocky, big chunks of tread go missing out of the outer edge of the tire over time. That time has come. Taking a cue from military trucks, I’m thinking 9 inch wide combat steel rims with 10 inch wide, 34 inch tall super single tires on all four corners would be a fine compromise between on-road worthiness and floatation for soft terrain, even for folks currently with duals. All those up-armored HumVee’s are equipped for on-and-off-road situations. There is one important distinction here: backspacing. The HumVee wheels have an 8 on 6.5 inch lug pattern, can be had with beadlocks, and more importantly a 7 inch backspacing which keeps the tire centered over the wheel bearings, not slung way out on the spindle like a wheel with a 4.5 inch backspacing.
Mike: What advice would you offer to those who experience excessive sway when hauling a truck camper?
Jefe: Sway is hard to pin down. Conventional wisdom recommends using a thick anti-sway bar on the rear axle. However, the very application that makes it work on-road is a liability, off-road. Recoil or rebound is the culprit. I remove the bolt on one side only on the anti-sway bar to allow the suspension to flex more, just like Jeepers release the anti-sway bar when going off-road. Leaf springs have less recoil than coils or air bags. You will get more sway with coils and air bags. Stiff gas-charged shocks will help mollify the recoil. If you have secondaries, apply something in the space between the secondaries and the main pack to apply the extra spring loading sooner. I’ve had success with Stable Loads. If you still have sway, off-and-on road, there is too much weight up high. Maybe that air conditioner, or set of clubs, or the X-Cargo, or those three kayaks? This is one case where you need to “worry your way” through the sway minefield to serenity, a step at a time.
Mike: What tools and recovery gear do you consider essential when going off-road?
Jefe: The idea is to get to terra incognita and back to civilization without external support. Maybe I take too much recovery equipment. Having made hundreds of winch pulls I just add stuff to my self-recovery arsenal whether I just used it once or hundreds of times. It’s basically the same gear that I take rock crawling, but on steroids to pull that 10,000 pound beast out of trouble. And I have been stuck in that thing. Besides the front winch and enough recovery attachment points fore and aft, I take:
- A 20 foot, 4 inch nylon recovery strap with loop ends.
- A short, 4 inch wide nylon tree saver with loop ends.
- Four “D” rings: medium and large.
- A ½ inch Cat Choker (logging).
- A 5 inch hook with clevis.
- A short piece of coiled ½ inch wire rope with clipped hooks.
- A 20 pound CO2 bottle with hose/attachments for filling tires.
- Four manual, screw-on tire deflators.
- A snatch block.
- Several, high quality tire gauges.
- A small bag with tire repair parts like stems, valve cores, caps, and extensions.
- A Safety Seal Pro Tire Repair Kit. Comes with 30 glue-laden plugs that look like caterpillars.
- A small, high quality, fold-up shovel.
- A 12 ton bottle jack that will fit under an axle with either side’s tire flat.
- A 4 foot breaker bar.
- A few 10,000 pound ratchet straps and some 1,000 pound ratchet straps. I’m always taken by how many ways these come in handy when all else fails. They’re kind of truck camper duct tape.
- A 1 foot square jack board. (two ¾ inch pieces plywood glued and screwed together as a base.
- A dozen leveling blocks to keep the ammonia transfer fridge happy.
- A thin foam camping pad to lay or kneel on when working underneath or use when changing a tire in the mud or when installing chains on an icy day.
- Enough tools, but not the kitchen sink.
- I do not take a high lift jack. I have a 60 inch high lift and it’s very useful around the ranch and during rock crawling, but for it’s weight and bulk, it has very limited use with a camper on a truck. No rope or chain. The need for sand ladders or mats seems like a lack of floatation to me.
Mike: What are your favorite trails and roads?
Jefe: It’s seasonal. In the Fall I like to roam around the Sonora Pass area of the Sierra-Nevadas and one range to the south east in the Inyos. In the past we enjoyed early summer trips to Monache Meadows, Rockhouse Basin, (now closed to motor vehicles) along the Kern River Plateau’s upper reaches. We enjoy the whole area within 300 miles of Moab, Utah. We’ve done the high passes in the San Juans many times with different machines. Magical place. There are several beaches along the Pacific Coast that allow vehicles. They are all gems. The granddaddy of all truck camper excursions is a trip to Alaska, from wherever. We did the 32 day, 9,000 mile round trip in 2003, traveling on 2,500 miles of dirt and gravel byways, camping on sandbars and in gravel pits above the Arctic Circle.
Mike: Do you have a favorite state where you like to explore?
Jefe: Not really. The entire western U.S. and Canada west of The Rockies and all through Alaska are wonderful with a truck camper. Nevada is probably the most truck camper friendly state, as there are no trees to slither by, and it’s remote almost everywhere. But, you had better like desert. Over my lifetime, The Visciano Desert in Baja California del Sur is the most remote place I’ve ever been in an RV.
Mike: What advice would you offer to those who are considering buying an XTC to take off-road?
Jefe: Mass and weight and how high up that weight is placed are the main issues here. I always advise one buy more truck and less camper than you think you can get away with. This gives you the best chance to be far from the brink. The best truck camper for serious off-roading is a pop-up on a tray or pivoting frame short bed flatbed. The XP Camper comes to mind. I have no relationship with XP even though I live about a mile from the owner and founder. For a little less serious off-roading (the kind I do) or if you’re planning on traveling for months on end during the winter, the lightest aluminum frame, less tall, less wide, hard-side truck camper will be a comfort at 20 degrees in a blinding snow or sleeping through 80 mph winds.
Mike: If you were to buy a brand new truck camper, what make and model would it be?
Jefe: Two come to mind. First, the Nimbl Evolution. Still state of the art with tried-and-true technology. But at $70,000 per pop, it’s not in the state of my budget. For that price, you do get the three-point, floating tray flat-bed. Time will tell for Jeanie and I whether one of these is in our future. Second, the Lance 865. Much less costly and has all the most up-to-date components and can be ordered with the four-season package with block insulation and double pane windows. It’s a winner compared to other similarly equipped, higher priced truck campers. The biggest difference is in the weight: smaller tanks and no basement.
Mike: I understand that your Lance has only an 18 gallon fresh water holding tank. What do you do about fresh water while boondocking?
Jefe: I try to tailor the amount and type of water I take into the boondocks for each projected trip. I take two types of water: drinking/cooking water, and water I would only drink if I had to. With only an 18 gallon fresh water tank one must get creative on how much and where to store and transfer on-board water. We always carry 24 or more, 16 ounce drinking water bottles stored behind those little doors near the floor that lead to the space in front of the wheel wells: not very convenient, but the weight is down low. For short three to six day trips we always put our general use fresh well water into the 18 gallon tank and fill the sturdy white liter and heavy-duty blue one gallon plastic water bottles to store in a low cabinet at the rear near the door. They fit like a puzzle in there and that’s by design as the jostling has split many worthless-for-TC’ing milk gallon containers during transit. There is a lot of weight in there and the door catch kept popping open until I added an exterior latch. The next echelon of priority for longer trips or with more bodies to water is to add two, 2-1/2 gallon plastic water jugs. If this is not enough, we add a 5-gallon plastic water jug. By now the jugs are getting too heavy to lift up to the water-spout on the truck camper. If a next step is needed, we tow the jeep trailer and fill a leftover earthquake preparedness 25 gallon water jug on the trailer and must use a small drill driver and long hose to pump it into the truck camper. This is really a hassle and the option is not used very much.
Mike: What foods do you like to eat when you’re out exploring in your Lance camper?
Jefe: I’m not in charge of food. Luckily I am married to a wonderfully creative cook. Jeanie should have her own TV cooking show on how to make something out of nothing. She is Queen Leftova. Our first night is usually tacos with all the trimmings using already cooked meat in sauce/frozen in time and unveiled at camp. It’s always a winner. All our meats from home start out frozen and marinated. Another favorite is grilled carne asada with tortillas and homemade salsa. Chicken Baja is another favorite. It’s a pattern we’ve developed on the road over the decades. We usually only carry a week’s worth of food onboard with Jeanie slowly working this or that into the menu. We shop for food like the French do: a little at a time and just enough for a day or so, unless we are way out there. It’s a miracle. I do most of the grilling outside on the Weber. She knows what to expect; how to pack; how to get the most food value out of the least weight and bulk. Some of the greatest tasting meals in my lifetime were out of the TC, in the woods or out in the desert at sundown. Jeanie has a habit of mixing her “Tequilla Sunset” as an aperitif at happy hour. Just remember, no matter what time of day you consume said beverage…the sun goes down.
Mike: Do you have any other hobbies as they relate to the great outdoors?
Jefe: Well, of course hard-core Jeeping has been a focus for decades and is only now fading. I’m a big fan of Western U.S. History and the little 3 foot narrow gauge railroads that plied the San Juan Mountains in Colorado. I never met a roadside historical plaque that I didn’t want to stop and read. We are set up to do a fair amount of birding. When the time is right, our next big adventure will be “Vagabonding” around the U.S., off-season in the truck camper for 12 to 16 weeks.
Mike: This has been great talking to you. Thanks again for taking the time to talk with me. Do you have any final advice?
Jefe: Follow your star. Do what you love doing. Do that at which you are good. Truck camping is one of the few things left that I love to do, down Jefe’s road to XTC.