Mountain Project Logo

Ideal transportation for maximum adventure!

Original Post
Nut Stac · · Reno, NV · Joined May 2010 · Points: 50

Hey all,

In the market for a new vehicle... Well, a new (used) vehicle. I've been doing a bit of research and every query I run through the big search engines seems to be quite biased.

I've been looking a lot at compact SUVs but I was wondering if you guys had any input. I'm primarily a climber, paddler and backpacker. Mainly interested in reliability, mileage, reasonable price, and overall utility. I have been looking at CR-Vs pretty closely.

What ya'll think?

Steve Williams · · Denver, CO · Joined Jul 2005 · Points: 235

I've a number of friends that love CR-V's.

I always liked 'small' pickups, like the Nissan Frontier,
until they grew. . .

Tradiban · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2004 · Points: 11,230

I've been super happy with my 2wd 1996 Jeep. Yes, I said "2wd". I find clearance to be the real need when it comes to mild off-roading. The 2wd has been getting 25mpg on the highway and there is plenty of room to load it up.

JJNS · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2008 · Points: 455

Honda Element or Toyota Tacoma

EB · · Winona · Joined Jan 2002 · Points: 943

Without a doubt, a minivan- doge grand caravan. First, the police don't even notice minivans. Second they are pretty big- two adults can sleep comfy w/ gear. Third, they get good gas mileage- 25 w/mine. Forth they run forever! Put some beefy treads on it and youre set. Low key and ridin' in luxury- we went w/ the town & country verson which is quite nice!

Peter Stokes · · Them Thar Hills · Joined Apr 2009 · Points: 150

I've got a '90 Grand Caravan that gets about 24 mpg at 70 mph, has a bit more ground clearance than a Subaru Outback, and, for a non-4x4, decent traction since it's front wheel drive. It's also a bit slow up hills, but I paid $1,200 for it, and it's been quite reliable. The ones from the early to mid '90s seem to have less problems than the newer ones- the 3.0 is a Mitsubishi engine (with a timing belt), and the 3.3 and 3.8 engines are domestic (with timing chains)... they all seem to go over 200,000 miles, but the automatic transmissions can be troublesome, as well as the ABS stuff. Pre '96 models have exterior rain gutters, which makes roof/ladder racks easier to install. I'm over 6 feet tall, and I find the driving postion one of the most comfortable of anything I've owned.

Geir · · Tucson, AZ · Joined Jun 2006 · Points: 2,630

if you want something you can sleep in (a great perk) and good ground clearance consider a tacoma with a cap. this is what i own now and have found it to be the best overall vehicle i have ever owned.

subarus are incredible. owned one for five years and beat the living daylights out of it. ran great and got very good mileage. the all wheel drive is outstanding. too small for me to sleep in, though.

honda elements are terrific if you don't mind the relatively poor ground clearance. i owned one for a year and that was my only complaint. it is big enough to sleep in if you're 5'10" or shorter. 22-25 mpg on the highway when loaded with gear.

personally i'd steer clear of the caravan, went through a couple of these in my younger years and found them not to be as reliable.

John Hegyes · · Las Vegas, NV · Joined Feb 2002 · Points: 4,859

A pickup truck with a cap is the way to go. Plenty of room to store gear and you can sleep in luxury in the back. Great for road trips.

Brian Snider · · NorCal · Joined Mar 2010 · Points: 736

This one!

87 Hell Yea!
Tough, rugged and cheap. Plus there's tons of them out there.
Woodchuck ATC · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Nov 2007 · Points: 3,110

I've never owned a vehicle where 23 to 25 mpg was considered 'good'. Minimum 35 to 40 is for me. Honda Fit has the room for gear, can rack up kayaks atop, and still get great mileage on the highway. No boats up top and I can get over 45 mpg out on the open road. Can't sleep inside, but if that's the size vahicle you need,then sacrifice the mileage for it.

Rob G · · Twin Cities · Joined Jun 2010 · Points: 30

The ideal mix is an enigmatic thing...

5 speed Subaru wagon, pre '07 with a 2.2L, 2.2L or 2.5L after '07 - it's a good compromise of "lives forever," "good gas," and utility. A friend of mine mulled over a land cruiser and a Subaru for months and eventually settled on the Subaru for a North American tour of all the states and provinces.

My only gripe about the Subaru is that compared to a lot of vehicles it can be a pain to work on sometimes, if it ever does break.

I'd also second Honda Fit, if you don't have to plow deep snow regularly.

Umph! · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Nov 2004 · Points: 180

Chevy Astro van (look at 1998 and up):

  • AWD
  • Lots of versatile room (can seat 8 or take out one or both rows of seats with a click of a latch. . . instant cargo van with carpet, cupholders, storage bins and opening windows. . . or keep in one seat and take it out at the campsite for a nice camp bench).
  • Fairly easy to work on, and easy to find parts for.
  • Nice V6 engine.
  • Big towing capacity.
  • You can easily put a small lift on them (or big!) for better backcountry ground clearance.
  • Gas mileage is about 20 on the highway, and 16-18 around town (pretty much the same as most trucks).
  • The AWD system is rather amazing (great limited slip diffs so you're always hooking up) - like a freakin tank in the snow.
  • You can buy them for cheap: 2-6k

(I think we do this "what's the best vehicle for climbing/traveling" at least twice a year on MP. . . so you can search previous discussions for a good rundown).

CRV's are damn good vehicles btw. Would certainly buy one over a Subaru (I think Sub's are way over-rated).
Rick Blair · · Denver · Joined Oct 2007 · Points: 268

Whatever you are looking at, make sure you test drive it up a steep mountain road, some of the vehicles mentioned above will make you sorry if you don't do this test first.

Stucker · · Centennial, CO · Joined Aug 2006 · Points: 75

If you don't mind being seen in one the Aztek fits the bill except for the gas mileage. I get 25 hwy, 21 city. I bought mine new and have had zero problems out of warranty. She has 101,000 miles now and has been just great. The utility is amazing - back seats pull out to reveal a flat deck that is great for hauling stuff or sleeping in and has a roof rack for even more cargo hauling. And, you can buy a tent that attaches to the back. All wheel drive, exceptional in the snow and great in deep sand. Clearance is so-so at 7 inches.

Black Owl 1 at roost outside Penitente Canyon
Nut Stac · · Reno, NV · Joined May 2010 · Points: 50

First off, thanks for all the good info guys!

So it seems like it's narrowed down to a couple categories.

Vans, Compact pick-ups and the SUVs

My climbing partner has a van that he has rigged up for sleeping but it seems like he has quite a few issues with maintenance. Can't remember which model. Think it might be a Lumina, 91' or so. Anyone know if imports are a bit more reliable? Also, i'll be moving back to MinneSnowta for the winter so I was for some all wheel drive. Might put the van out.

The pick-ups... I used to drive an F-150, that was big enough to sleep in the back of. Anyone know if theres room in a Frontier or Ranger, or the equivalent for a 6'3'' guys to sleep in comfortably given that its rigged correctly?

Along with the CR-V, I've been looking at the Outbacks too. Currently I live in the Tahoe area and they are like locusts up here, so there must be something good about em. Anyone have any big gripes about the Outback? I'll look into the Element and Aztek too. Oh and Brian, that's a Grand Cherokee? Any particular model years to recommend?

Thanks again for the help guys!

Allen Hill · · FIve Points, Colorado and Pine · Joined Jun 2004 · Points: 1,410
no1nprtclr · · Front range Colorado · Joined Oct 2006 · Points: 55

As a former auto tech, I guess I don't find Subaru's as difficult vehicles to work on. IMO, simply not true. I've found mini-vans more of a pain to work on. Our Subaru, albiet older had 287k miles before it was retired for an '02 Subaru. I've been using full synthetic oil and getting about 10-12k miles per oil change, compression is still great as is oil pressure. I also have a Toyota 4runner, don't have to deal with having to jump out in the rain to get in the back, unless you get a topper with a sliding window that matches the back window of the truck that also slides and adding a boot to avoid that hassle. A friend of mine has a Honda element, seems pretty decent. But if you're a tall person may prove a little to be desired, esecially if there's more than one of you and gear. But then again, VW vans are pretty sweet. I lived out of a VW bug during the summer month and a tent in the winter for a year and a half, but was a little cramped at times. Good luck in your search.

My two pennies


Leo Hski · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Nov 2006 · Points: 350

Something like Pigs In space was running in the 80's can't be beat:

Pigs-mobile at South Shore, Devils Lake Photo: Sangdahl

Note the sling running from the shoulder belt attach point to the bottom of the seat frame- works just fine when the floor pan rots out.

Official DLFA insignia Photo: Sangdahl
Will S · · Joshua Tree · Joined Nov 2006 · Points: 1,053

I've lived and climbed out of VW Westy van, Subaru wagon, BMW wagon, full sized Ford E250 van with raised roof, Tacoma xtra cab with canopy, VW scirocco hatchback, F150, Toyota minivan, CRV, and currently a Taurus wagon.

Buy a van, mini or full sized. Equal gas mileage to wagons, and MUCH better to live/hang/be stealth in. Poptop or raised roofs are very nice, but do take away from the generic panel van look. Get "club" style side doors if possible (the single slider door setup sucks!). There are AWD options, removable rear seats, and there are a shitload of them out there for sale, with lots of domestic nameplate ex-fleet vehicles that are cheap, were generally well maintained (even if company employees drove the hell the out of them), and parts are cheap and easy to come by either new or at the junkyard, like the Chevy Astro.

My next vehicle will be another van.

Tradiban · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2004 · Points: 11,230
Woodchuck ATC wrote:I've never owned a vehicle where 23 to 25 mpg was considered 'good'. Minimum 35 to 40 is for me. Honda Fit has the room for gear, can rack up kayaks atop, and still get great mileage on the highway.
Good luck getting over any rough road in a Fit. You are screwed in alot of places if you have a low clearance vehicle.
Alex Andrews · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2005 · Points: 1,515

One of my favorite climbing vehicles was, Mazda MPV 4x4, Van mini built a sleeping platform, with storage, it the old days you could not get to Jackson Falls IL, with out a 4x4, I'm driving Subaru Forester, happy with it, for me a all wheel drive or 4x4 vehicle is the most important, living in the mountains,

Leo, Great shot of Pigs and his bug.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

Post a Reply

Log In to Reply