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Climber's best vehicle?
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Mar 6, 2010
JLP wrote:
You obviously haven't looked much into this. A 25 yr old West-fail-on-ya is about $5-15k, depending on condition. A mint 2003 w/ 'bago conversion, the last year they were made in the US, is around $36-40k, if you can find one that nice, otherwise $20's or so.

You seem very angry.

Please review the inventory at Go Westy for pricing for the 4wd synchros at 60 to 80K (some over 100K). Now, these are rebuilt with a new engine (GoWesty uses a 2.5 L Wasser boxer with 125 hp & 175 ft-lbs of torque for 15K others place >200hp Suburu or Jetta engines for less) and new undercarriage (toss the viscous coupler) and put it on Dana 40 or equivalent axles (costs 20K). Dream machines even if the frame/body are 20-25 years old. Any westy/snchro/vanagon you buy with original equipment for <20k you better be ready to wrench on it. I have had 'em and loved 'em and hitch hiked away from 'em. Just saying. The late model E350 (Powerstroke 6.0-liter turbodiesel V8 with 235 hp and 440 lb-ft torque) conversions are pretty amazing actually, handle remarkably well, have full airbags, anti-lock brakes from the F450 and have adequate power for exploring or pulling. 18 mpg is possible and that engine regularly gets 300K miles. Been there. It is the closest thing to a tricked out GoWesty or Earthroamer (200k) available in the US. We know they are not for everyone (ergo the price) but they rate for discussion and you can find tricked out 4wd ones with moderate mileage in the 30-40k range (gas) and 50-60K (diesel). Agreed, the Sprinters are an excellent platform (3.0 Liter Turbo Diesel Mercedes-Benz engine with 188 hp and 325 lb-ft torque) but 2wd and low clearance maybe a non starter. Yet, here is a one of a kind 4wd conversion dream beast

Honestly, these big things are too much carbon footprint to haul around as an everyday driver. I agree with the other choices for the pavement/forest road slacker+1 sled. But if you wish to get out and away with 3 boys, the better half and grandma for a month...the SMB is hard to beat for a domestic off-piste tourista.

Mike Howard
Joined Dec 7, 2006
3,777 points
Mar 6, 2010
i picked up an awd '03 element about 4 months ago, and it has proven itself as quite the climbing vehicle. it has a truck-style tailgate which is incredibly handy, and crazy amounts of room inside. it's so much more spacious inside than you would guess from looking at it. you can fold the seats up out of the way and sleep on the floor, or fold the front and rear seats together and create a decent 'bed'. it seems to be car, truck and wagon all blended into one. plus it gets good gas mileage (about 22 city, 25 hwy). you just have to get past the fact that it looks like a toaster on wheels. j gatchalian
From denver, co
Joined Jul 25, 2006
399 points
Mar 6, 2010
After seeing the monster Icelandic Benz, and imagining the cost, just head down to the Ford or GM dealer and order a diesel full size van in 4wd, and cut the roof. I'm sure it would be half the cost. Eastvillage
From New York, NY
Joined Mar 19, 2006
93 points
Mar 6, 2010
i have had great luck with full size ford trucks. just a straight shell is best, although i love my pop up, overhead camper I had on a 2004 ford f250 powerstroke diesel. just to bulky to be practical when not living out of it. the gas milage is great with diesel but the operating costs are high. the overall dependability is great, they do last. I owned an f150 too and the dependability was superb. The gas milage was terrible though. i owned a tundra too, super sweet. I have also had the dodge cummins, sweet motor but the truck is not as nice as the ford. chevy diesels suck! I owned a gmc safari van that was sweet. very fast and all wheel drive. had to work on it though, more than i wanted. i have also owned a 76 vw van with the porche fuel injected moter, sweeeeet. but as with all vw/audi the performence is great but takes alot of work to keep on the road. definatly want AAA.
Now i drive a toyota 2wd truck that is a piece but it is dependable and i dont spend alot of time on the road climbing anymore so bivying is tollerable. we also have a vw passat wagon that is sweeeet too but still is expensive to fix and believe me it has to be fixed.
The Ford ranger is a Mazda b2000, so it cant really be called a ford. good little truck though, cheaper than a toyota.
i am selling my overhead pop up. It is older but i completly restored the inside and the canvas is in good shape. It will fit a full size truck with a short bed, but the long bed is desirable. email if interested. $1000.
Doug Metcalf
Joined Feb 21, 2008
0 points
Mar 6, 2010
"I saw that crazy german guy down in Baja in 99 in his homemade earthroamer thing. What a vehicle!! We were in a 89 Landcruiser with a 14' kayak and surfboard strapped to the top. Only got stuck once briefly. A fun thread makes me want to drive somewhere and go climbing!"

He goes down every other year or so. The camper is a semi trailer. The interior is amazing. Fine wood work and a loft. I thought I was in a Bavarian chalet. Anyhow these photos were taken last year. I also drive a Landcruiser and believe it's the best and most dependable of trucks. Too bad about the mileage.
Allen Hill
From FIve Points, Colorado and Pine
Joined Jun 12, 2004
1,803 points
Mar 7, 2010
Rock Climbing Photo: Talaban
Allen Hill
From FIve Points, Colorado and Pine
Joined Jun 12, 2004
1,803 points
Mar 7, 2010
Jason Flaster wrote:
Great topic.. What do you guys think is best in the long run. A Subaru Outback or a Toyota Rav?

outbacks are a little more car like. Ravs put you a little higher off the ground, but I actually think the subaru has better clearance.

There were some years of the outbacks that tend to have headgasket problems around 100-150k due to an anemic cooling system.

Personally, I like the subaru setup better, but my family has had better luck with toyotas. Its really personal preference.

My choice would be a not the latest model years Honda CRV or, even better, an ELement. We have an element and it is the best all purpose car I've ever owned. It beats my Tundra on all but the gnarliest terrain.

Joined Aug 15, 2007
77 points
Mar 7, 2010
I like the responses a post like this generates. As with all things money, what is your budget range? That would narrow the the list of likely vehicles. Eastvillage
From New York, NY
Joined Mar 19, 2006
93 points
Mar 7, 2010
+1 for tacoma with a camper shell. they are tough, can go about anywhere, and reasonably priced compared to the other options listed here. i get 22mpg on the highway with my '06 V6, and that's fully loaded with gear. i suggest getting a camper shell that rises higher than the cab for more headroom.

-1 for the honda element. the ground clearance is poor, and they are a bit anemic when loaded with gear. i only got 22-23mpg on the highway when loaded down. though they are very reliable and well built, it just didn't work for me as a climber car.
From Tucson, AZ
Joined Jun 7, 2006
3,366 points
Mar 7, 2010
Paul Hunnicutt wrote:
really is it that hard to put up a tent? get a Subaru Outback, sleep under the stars, don't carry so much sh*t with you. reduction is better than consumption.

What works for you might not work for everyone else; I do, however, like your vehicle choice, since I get paid to fix cars (and I fix a lot of Subarus). Thanks to everyone else for some great pics and design ideas! Safe climbing, mates....
Peter Stokes
From Them Thar Hills
Joined Apr 30, 2009
152 points
Mar 8, 2010
After my first weekend out in my camper-shell equipped Mazda B4000 (with custom platform/"loft") I can vouch for the setup, despite what truck's bed you put it in. So you can enjoy this rig and maintain whatever pickup brand loyalty you already have.

Also, if you're more than 5'10" you're gonna find it cramped in a short-bed. That's how tall I am and I had to sleep a little sideways (bed is 71 inches long) Also, if you can do without the "loft," you might be able to sit up inside instead of just sleep in there.

It started raining on Saturday night, and rained right through Sunday. I smiled all the while thinking about the sopping wet tent and damp gear that I wouldn't have to deal with when the time came to pack up and move on. Worked out great. Picked up the shell on Craig's list for about the cost of a decent backpacking tent. Rest of materials cost me about $80 (wood, carpet, glue)


Oh yeah, and the dogs get to sleep in the cab of the truck, just an opening of a vent-window away from me checking on them...way better than having them in the tent, even the giant-ass REI Camp Hut 4 I usually car-camp in.
Chris D
From the couch
Joined Apr 14, 2009
2,391 points
Mar 15, 2010
Rock Climbing Photo: '86 Syncro Westy, on a recent trip to Shelf Road. ...
'86 Syncro Westy, on a recent trip to Shelf Road. It's hard to imagine a better climbing vehicle.
Chris Hillios
From Newburyport, MA
Joined Feb 15, 2008
409 points
Mar 16, 2010
I drive a Dodge 3/4-ton Cummins at work--it's an excellent truck. It'll get 20 mpg on the highway unloaded, has ridiculous power. Only problem is that it's way more truck than most people need to go climbing. They're not real cheap either. If Dodge ever offered a small Cummins in a 1/2-ton, I'd think about buying one myself.

Avoid early Ford PowerStroke diesels. They had major engineering and durability issues.

Westys are great, but buy a good set of tools if you get one. It's possible to convert a Westy to Subaru power and also to VW turbodiesel power, both of which are considerable improvements.

Or, I'll sell you my '98 Jetta TDI, cheap. Only 204,000 miles! At 50 mpg, you'll save enough money to stay in hotels every night.
John Korfmacher
From Fort Collins, CO
Joined Jul 13, 2004
188 points
Mar 16, 2010
I have a perfectly running 96 doge pickup with extended cab i'll lay on ya for 3 grand. Not diesel, not 4x4, but I only got it stuck once in 160,000 miles (sand dunes) (oh... and shitty driving). Slap a cap or camper on it and you're golden. Colorado Springs. Pete Elliott
From Co Spgs CO
Joined Jul 28, 2006
102 points
Jan 15, 2011
Syncros are great vehicles for anyone who spends a lot of time outdoors and loves camping/exploring.

There is no other vehicle that has the versatility and character/charm of a syncro westy.

All you have to do is talk to owners and check out how they care for and cherish their vans!

For more info, see
Joined Jan 15, 2011
0 points
Jan 15, 2011
Dodge Sprinter for life on the road. If you really want to spill some chedder go sportsmobile.

Toyota Tacoma or the like for weekend warrior/holiday climbing.

The Sprinter is great on mileage, it is tall. If you are stuck in the wind or rain you can hang out inside and actually have people over, so it's not just you and your smelly ass dog hoping your lap top holds out so you can finally see the end of "The Warriors."
GR Johnson
Joined Jan 15, 2010
121 points
Jan 15, 2011
johnL wrote:
The ground looks awfully level in your photo's. How exactly did you manage to roll over?

Leo, any chance you are willing to answer johnL's question? I'm also pretty curious....
J. Albers
From Colorado
Joined Jul 11, 2008
2,235 points
Jan 15, 2011
Chevy Malibu...gets you where you need to go! Lee Wilson
From Las Vegas, NV
Joined Jan 18, 2006
8 points
Jan 15, 2011
Honda Civic! (or any other domestic, foreign, everyman sedan on the road)

1) Gas Mileage (Usually 40-44 on the highway = more money for food, beer, and gear)
2) Reliability! My Civic is way more reliable than 99% of my climbing partners.
3) Off Road Style. I've never been unable to get somewhere I wanted to go. Granted, I can't always get as far as a truck or SUV can, but with slow, careful driving, experience has shown that I can usually drive within a 10 minute walk to the crag or wherever I'm headed. I'll trade 10 minutes hiking for double the gas mileage any day.
4) Hold lots o' stuff. Seriously. With a rack on top and a full trunk, I've carried gear (including , firewood and crashpads) for a weeklong trip for three people.

Some talk up the ability to sleep inside their car....but when I'm on a trip, sleeping in a tent (or out in the open) is part of the experience. I commute daily in a car...why sleep in one during my days off?
From Portland OR
Joined Dec 12, 2009
3 points
Jan 15, 2011
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From Colorado Springs, Co.
Joined Feb 23, 2005
776 points
Jan 15, 2011
Dude, try a bigger civic no walk to the crag but a little less gas mileage..
Rock Climbing Photo: lifted civic
lifted civic

Rock Climbing Photo: civic in mud
civic in mud
R. Moran
From Moab , UT
Joined Mar 18, 2009
144 points
Jan 15, 2011
Rock Climbing Photo: Black Owl 1 at roost outside Penitente Canyon
Black Owl 1 at roost outside Penitente Canyon

I don't expect to ever sell anybody on buying one of these, but mine has been excellent (though, I have maintained it well). Ugly, but incredibly functional. 24 Hwy. 21 combined. Coolest of all is it has stereo controls in the back and the tailgate has cup holders. Heads-up display on the windshield. The console is a removable ice chest. Leather, heated seats, 10-speaker, 6 disk (remember those?) changer, satelite radio, sun roof. The floor is completely flat for hauling or for sleeping on. AWD has been exceptional in the snow. Decent clearance.
From Centennial, CO
Joined Aug 1, 2006
86 points
Jan 15, 2011
it hurts to see a ford in pain. in pain bronco2. that was a sad day

Rock Climbing Photo: rolled truck
rolled truck

Rock Climbing Photo: rolled truck
rolled truck

Rock Climbing Photo: rolled truck
rolled truck

Rock Climbing Photo: rolled truck
rolled truck

Rock Climbing Photo: rolled truck
rolled truck

thank goodness i had my f250 to pull him out of the canyon. and they were stil able to drive it down the hill
Joined Oct 24, 2010
40 points
Mar 5, 2012
I've spent alot of time looking at the best rig, but I think its this

Toyota Chinook

Rock Climbing Photo: 4x4 Toyota Chinook
4x4 Toyota Chinook

This one is 4x4 and it doesn't do the best on gas but will get you where you want to go

Rock Climbing Photo: 2x4 chinook
2x4 chinook

This one is a two wheel drive and it gets "29mpg" according to its add back in the day but I have one and it gets 25mpg on the highway and around 18 in town which is pretty rad

Toyota Chinooks are the super rad because you get the good gas mileage for a camper and you get to drive around a built proof toyota engine. I love westy's but the good ones cost so much money and if anything breaks down prepare for the repair shop to take all your money or get a new "hobby" and learn to how to do it yourself

my 2 cents
Brandontyrrell tyrrell
Joined Dec 12, 2009
124 points
Mar 7, 2014
I had a similar need for a 4x4 climbing rig and after doing some research ended up building this rig. Average fule log over last 5,686 miles was 18.29mpg with mixed highway and mountains.

The original 1977 chinook was $600. I took the fiberglass back off and dropped it on a 88 Toyota long bed ($3000) with minimal modifications. Then sold the 1977 truck (+$500)and the 1988 bed (+$300)for combine and used the cash to gut and rebuild the interior. The expensive innards were wood and foam insulation(~$100) marine grade carpet (~$80), as-is Ikea mattress that I cut up with an electric turkey carver (~$45) and curtains from the thrift to make covers for cushions and of course curtains (~$20). So all in this guy cost $3345 +/- probably another $100. I used a Wabasto heater that runs off gasoline which I already owned from a previous rig. Used a cooler instead of a fridge as it is gentler on batteries/propane and used a Coleman style stove since I cook outside in all but the coldest weather.

After a year I did put air bags on the back of the truck for $300 but it drives much nicer now.

I’m thinking of ways to make the next truck better and recently designed a really light weight flip up hard sided camper (not unlike the wildernest, except hard sided ) that I think I can build for about $500. It should clamp on any truck, just like a regular bed capper. If I build one this summer Ill add pictures.
Rock Climbing Photo: done

Rock Climbing Photo: first

Rock Climbing Photo: second

Rock Climbing Photo: third

Rock Climbing Photo: inside

Rock Climbing Photo: bed

Rock Climbing Photo: kitchen
Joined Mar 7, 2014
35 points

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