Earthroam Your Home
EarthRoamer has two main platforms.The EarthRoamer XV-LT is based on the Ford Super Duty F-550 four-wheel-drive cab chassis and is designed for two adults and two children camping for extended periods. Equipped with up to 90 gallons of diesel fuel and 85 gallons of fresh water, it is your own luxury condo on the move with granite counters, a convection microwave, air conditioning, a king-size bed, and an enclosed shower/bathroom. With a 17,950-pound gross vehicle weight rating and 10,000-pound towing capability, not only is the XV-LT a great camper, but it's also a great tow rig.
The other EarthRoamer variant is the XV-JP, based on the Jeep Rubicon Unlimited. Designed to carry two adults on technical four-wheel-drive trails to remote camping locations, this pint-sized camper/crawler has a unique Loftop camper that can be deployed to provide nearly 9 feet of interior stand-up space and a queen-size bed in the loft. The XV-JP comes with the capacity to hold 25 gallons of fresh water, an inside cassette toilet, an inside shower, and a sink. Plenty of light and ventilation is provided by an abundance of screened windows. An electric fan and the forced-air furnace will keep you cozy or cool.
Pros: There's a model for everyone, whether you want a burly towing home or a nimble crawling condo.
Cons: The Jeep could probably use more engine for big mountain climbs, or better yet a diesel.
Price range: XV-JP $110,000 baseto $125,000 well optioned; XV-LT $208,000 baseto$255,000 well optioned.
Build Your Own Mini
From 1990 to 2006 GM offered the Chevy Astro Van and GMC Safari Van with an all-wheel-drive transfer case. Though not as wild and exotic as some of the 4x4s we mentioned here, these vans do make for a great entry-level expedition truck in a small package with used prices between $1,500 and $4,500. The stock full-time BorgWarner transfer case puts a 60/40 split to the rear solid axle and front independent suspension axle, which is fine but can be upgraded to the NP231-C or later stronger electronic-shifting NP233 from a 4x4 S-10 pickup or Blazer, allowing for part-time use and a low range. The 10-bolt rear has plenty of gears and lockers available, and the 7.2-inch front axle is very similar to those from an S-10 truck and Blazer and can be geared down to 4.56 and equipped with a Lock-Rite locker. Every all-wheel-drive variant of these vans came with a 4.3L V-6, but V-8 swaps aren't uncommon and both the 700R and later 4L60E overdrive transmissions are great for long-distance exploring. Now don't expect to be rockcrawling the gnarliest trails just yet, but when fitted with some more aggressive tires, these vehicles could take you exploring backroads that leave other minivans crying to Momma. And if you do want to rockcrawl it, then know that there are quite a few Astros and Safari vans out there with solid axles swapped in under their full frames.
If you think building one of these vans is in your future, then Overland Vans (overlandvans.com) and AstroSafariVans.com should be your first two stops. Overland offers both 2- and 4-inch suspension lifts with new rear leaf springs and either new torsion-bar keys (2-inch) or a new front spindle (4-inch) to clear bigger tires and keep your rocker panels out of the rocks. Overland also offers bumpers and roof racks. AstroSafariVans.com has a forum where owners of both street and trail vans can discuss their build ideas, buy and sell parts, and show off their wheeling pictures.
Researching these budget backcountry explorers has a few of us considering one for a project vehicle. Email us if you think that's a good idea.
Pros: Cheap to get into. Great power. Parts are asy to find in the U.S.
Cons: Low-strength drivetrain needs upgrade to stronger bolt-in parts.
Price range: $1,500 to $4,500 as base purchase.
GTRV Pop-Top Campers