Two vehicles pull up in the shade of a lone baobab in Botswana. A major unpacking exercise ensues as, bickering and blaming, the first family start digging around in the back of their 4×4 for their lunch goodies, buried underneath all the camping gear.
The spectacle amuses the second family, happily munching on their droëwors and sarmies, washed down with a frosty, all of which is within easy reach, after having quickly set up their table and chairs.
What’s the happy family’s secret? Before leaving on their trip, this highly organised bunch had a packing system installed in the back of their 4×4.
This gives them quick and easy access to their kit without having to unpack everything, and makes it easier to keep everything neat and organised.
Their system has separate drawers for clothing, food and utensils and even for recovery gear.
They also had a fridge slide installed for their camp fridge, so grabbing a cold one is a cinch.
On the following pages we not only tell you what to consider when purchasing a packing system, but we give some handy advice, and give you the lowdown about the products.
Before selecting an off-road packing system …
First think about the following
1 What do you use your vehicle for?
As a packing system is heavy and not easily removable, it reduces boot space. This is no problem if you use your 4×4 exclusively for play, but it can be a major drawback if your vehicle doubles as Mom’s taxi or work vehicle − no more taking the Great Danes to the park or carting building rubble to the dump.
On the upside, some people like having a drawer system in the back for around-town driving because it provides a lockable, covered space to hide things like toolboxes or laptop computers.
2 How big is your budget?
A packing system, especially a drawer system, is a biggish investment − expect to pay around R10 000 for a standard factory-made unit, and up to R15 000 for a custom-made one.
More basic models are available, including a simple sliding plate that you can stack ammo boxes on, but these still retail for around R6 000.
Some folk have constructed their own packing system, which seems to be much cheaper. More on this later.
3 Enough power?
Depending on the model, a packing system can add up to 80 kg to the weight of the vehicle. This will obviously affect fuel consumption and the suspension.
4 What are the pros and cons?
While a drawer system provides easy access to your kit, packing and unpacking can be tedious as drawers are generally not removable.
Ammo boxes, on the other hand, are removable and can therefore be filled with items indoors before being packed into the vehicle.
Sounds good, but …
Do ready-made units fit all four-by-fours?
Most manufacturers like Front Runner and African Outback Products supply ready-made units for all current, popular four-by-fours, but if you drive something old or obscure a custom-built job might be your only option.
Can I have a drawer system installed in my trailer?
Yes, provided the trailer has side or rear access.
Does a drawer system offer protection from dust?
Drawer systems offer very little dust protection. While this isn’t such an issue in station-wagon-type 4x4s, dust often penetrates into the load bin of bakkies. Special dust kits to seal off the gap around the tailgate are offered by African Outback Products.
Are drawer systems lockable?
All models we encountered were lockable, which enhances security. Consequently, as your kit is hidden, the chances of opportunistic break-ins are reduced.
Do drawer systems rattle?
The systems we tested (Front Runner, African Outback and a custom-built Burnco 4×4 system) were reassuringly solid and rattle free. Indeed, the carpet lining in the drawers helps reduce the jangling of loose items.
What about my fridge?
Some manufacturers offer systems that include a pullout platform for your fridge. Alternatively, you can purchase a dedicated fridge slide and bolt it onto the drawer system.
Carefully measure the space between the top of the drawer system and the roof, as it may be too small for a fridge. Moreover, reaching into a fridge that’s too high can be a bit of a nuisance.
Can I fit it myself?
Standard fitment of a packing system should take a workshop between one and three hours (at around R250 per hour).
Although systems are mostly designed to utilise existing holes in the vehicle such as tie-down points in a station wagon’s boot, four to six holes may have to be drilled in the floor or load bin. Jump seats in vehicles such as a Land Rover Defender will have to be removed.
But yes, if you enjoy DIY and want to save some cash, you can install a system yourself.
Pg 2 | Three options
Your three options
Right, so you’re interested in a packing system and want to know what your options are. Well, you can either get an easy-to-install, readymade system or a custom-built system, which you can have made or make yourself.
1 A ready-made system
While ready-made factory systems can be installed quickly and easily, designing and building a custom job takes time. Manufacturers generally offer a number of universal designs − you merely have to select the best one for your needs and your vehicle’s dimensions and have it fitted. Featured here is a full drawer system and an ammo box system.
AFRICAN OUTBACK ROLLER DRAWERS
A full drawer system
What is it?
This system comprises two large, galvanised steel drawers on a beefy, roller-bearing system.
The drawers and 12-mm marine-ply top are clad in heavy-duty carpeting.
Although drawer width is standard at around 54 cm, drawer length ranges from short for station wagons with small boots to the longest drawers for single-cab bakkies with long load bins.
Small units can be created in the drawers with dividers.
After being installed between the wheel arches in the centre of the boot or load bin, the spaces on each side of the system are neatly covered with carpet-covered panels. Hatches allow access to the side spaces for additional storage.
Pros and cons?
Although the drawers and rollers are incredibly tough and each drawer has a claimed weight capacity of 150 kg, it’s one of the heavier options. Furthermore, you can’t customise the number or size of the drawers. If you want more, or smaller drawers, or an integrated fridge compartment, you’ll need a custom-built rig.
Price? From R9 600
Contact? 4×4 MegaWorld 011 454 2875; www.4x4megaworld.co.za
Drive Out says: Grey is the standard colour of the carpeting, which is also available in beige for vehicles with lighter upholstery such as Fortuners and Cruisers.
FRONT RUNNER 6-AMMO-BOX DRAWER SYSTEM
Ammo boxes only
What is it?
For those who prefer using ammo boxes to drawers, this slide-out base provides hassle-free access to six ammo boxes.
The size of the system is determined by the size of the boot or load bin.
Front Runner also makes four- and two-box rigs. Double-decker options with two sliding plates are available, as well as systems with a fridge slide.
Systems are designed for ammo boxes (the original, smaller ones, also known as gomo boxes) as well as wolfpacks (larger boxes that most people refer to as ammo boxes). Ensure you ask for the right system.
Price? From R4 000 (ammo boxes) or R4 400 (wolfpacks)
Contact? Front Runner 011 466 0155; www.frontrunner.co.za
Drive Out says: Prices exclude a plywood top over the drawers. Cut to fit your vehicle, the top is sold separately.
2 A custom-made system
A 4×4 workshop can design and construct a drawer system to your specifications. Although it will cost you more than an equivalent-sized ready-made rig, you can have it built exactly as you want.
BURNCO 4X4 DRAWER SYSTEM
What is it?
It’s a packing system with removable, lightweight drawers, the edges of which are covered with Teflon strips.
Because there are no additional working parts, it’s claimed to be a more effective sliding system than extendable sliders or bearings.
Pros and cons: The drawers work smoothly and effectively. As the strips take up much less room than a hinged or bearing system, you have more packing space. You can remove the drawers to pack large items. The aluminium drawers are significantly lighter than steel ones.
Price? R6 500-R13 000
Contact? Burnco 4×4 021 949 1713; www.burnco.co.za/4×4
Drive Out says: Burnco deliver drawer systems to other centres in the country.
3 Make your own
If you’re a handyman, you may follow the example of Drive Out contributor Peter Levey’s and consider the DIY option.
A drawer system Peter built for his Land Rover Defender 110 more than four years ago is still going strong after countless 4×4 trips and overland holidays.
He built his own system, says Peter, because at the time commercial ones didn’t accommodate full-sized wolf¬packs, and because it is much cheaper.
“I prefer ammo boxes over drawers because you can remove them, and I wanted the larger, wolfpack ones because they hold more gear. It worked out considerably cheaper than a factory-made system − roughly a quarter of the price.
“As I can’t weld, I used Maizey plastic joints to connect the framework of square tubing.
“For the drawer I used extendable sliders made by Furnlock.
“I bolted the frame into the back of the Landy and covered the top with 16 mm plywood.
“The whole job took about two days and cost me R1 200 in 2004.”
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