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Packing and Racking

Loading up for a big trip is an individual artform that’s different for every traveller and every trip, but there are a few basic principles that can get you on your way.

Packing a four-wheel drive vehicle requires a more nuanced approach than simply dumping armfuls of gear into the back of your rig. When it’s done right, you should have ready access to certain things before others, and the load will be balanced to increase safety and handling – there’s joy in stepping back to admire a perfectly packed rig.

This can be helped by setting your vehicle up with storage drawers, compartments, water tanks, toolboxes, or whatever makes sense to you. There’s no universal truth when it comes to planning out your packing systems, but there are plenty of things to consider.


Your Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM) is the total weight of your vehicle, all its contents including petrol and passengers, and accessories – it should never exceed the manufacturer specified limit. Remember that your payload will be reduced by any aftermarket accessories such as bullbars, awnings, batteries and lights. As the kerb mass of your vehicle increases with each additional fixture, adjust your payload accordingly and be aware of how much you’re loading up. If you’re unable to carry all the things you need, it’s generally possible to upgrade your suspension system to enable you to carry more weight. Driving a vehicle that exceeds it’s manufacturer specified limit can lead to trouble with the law and in the event of an accident will most likely void your insurance.


It’s tempting to pack all the creature comforts you’re used to when heading on an extended trip, yet it pays to be minimal in the long run. The more weight you add, the higher your fuel consumption, the greater your environmental impact and the quicker your vehicle will succumb to wear and tear.

If you’re heading somewhere cold, you’ll need to pack more clothing, but you can still make do with only one jacket. Similarly, if you’re heading somewhere warm, chances are you’ll only need one pair of nicer pants and possibly only a single pair of shoes. Some people will set out on long trips carrying only a few summer clothes in the warmer months, then as the seasons change, they’ll donate them to the local thrift store and pick up a new wardrobe at minimal cost.

Items that have multiple uses are the ones to look out for and when you’re travelling with kids, try to pack high entertainment-value for weight items: favourite dolls, tennis ball and cricket bat, army men, that kind of thing.

One of the best techniques for cutting down on weight is to get rid of anything you’ve packed because you might use it. If you’re not 100 per cent convinced of its usefulness on the trip then don’t bring it.


You’re barrelling along a remote backroad in search of a single patch of shade and the steering wheel starts to shudder. You pull onto the shoulder, step out into the scorching midday sun and see that you’ve got a flat. Not to worry, you’ve changed plenty of tyres in your time; all you need is the jack and the tyre iron. And they’re right… whoops. They’re right down the bottom of the luggage compartment, under weeks’ worth of supplies. By the time you’ve unloaded the car, located the tools and changed the tyre, you’ll understand how important it is that you pack things like this in accessible places.

Grouping items that belong together makes this a lot easier, so it’s good to have kitchen utensils in one place, close to non-perishable foods and so forth. Things such as emergency supplies, first aid, extra water and chargers should always be within easy access. Next, you might want to have a camera handy, an atlas, hats, sunscreen and other daily conveniences to hand. Once you pull up at camp, there will be a certain logical order in which things are unloaded. First it makes sense to set up tents, swags and shelters; next is camp furniture, then comes cookware and other bits and pieces. Chances are you won’t need your pyjamas until everything else is set up.


The way that weight is distributed throughout the vehicle is important for several reasons. Firstly, the distribution of weight can affect the handling of your vehicle, the obvious example is instability stemming from a high centre of gravity, but it relates to back-to-front and side-to-side in the same way. Secondly, when weight is spread unevenly it can cause certain parts of the vehicle to wear faster than others, which can add up on a long trip. A bent chassis isn’t unheard of, and that’s a guaranteed way to ruin a trip.

Ideally, the heaviest items like tools, spare parts and water are best packed as low as possible. This is where storage systems with drawers and built-in tanks come in particularly handy, as they enable you to keep such things low without making them hard to access. The trade-off is that drawer system itself can weigh a lot.


Cargo barriers are a must in heavily-loaded wagon-style 4WDs. While it’s good to secure items with tie-down straps and such, in the event that you have an accident, the protection afforded by a cargo barrier is invaluable.


Roof racks are great if you need to carry any bulky, lightweight items such as swags and camp chairs. Try to place items as far forward on the roof rack as possible, so as to counteract the weight in the cargo space, and securely fasten them with ratchet straps.

If you don’t want the items on your roof rack to be exposed to rain or dust, you can cover them with a tarp. Do this by laying a tarp across the front third of the rack, with the remainder draped over your bonnet. Load your heaviest items over the front section of the tarp, with any lighter items toward the rear. Fold the tarp back over the load, tuck the sides under the loaded items and tuck the rear all the way under your load so that nothing is left hanging out. Finally, secure the whole thing with a sturdy elasticised cargo net and/or ratchet straps.


  • The last items you’ll need should be the first you load
  • Keep weight low and well balanced throughout the vehicle
  • Secure loose items
  • Don’t exceed your vehicle’s GVM


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