I’m finally proud to say that I became a Front Runner Pride ambassador earlier this year. Obviously, the Front Runner team wanted me to provide feedback and praise, but I’m always cagey when it comes to promoting gear! It’s easy to say ‘yes, I’ll be an ambassador…’ but does the gear actually work?
I drove to JHB to have Grunt (2011 Troopy Landcruiser, Diesel) outfitted. Some miracles from Jaco (fitting manager) and his team, and two days later, I was back on the road – heading for the Baviaans Kloof to collect some camera trap footage of Leopards – with roof racks, rooftop tent, awning, potjie pot holder, water tank and gas holder, sliding drawer system, nifty flat pack boxes and Fridge Freezer combo – all fitted and ready to be put through their paces.
What was clear from the get go was that the all the elements had been designed from years of overlanding experience. Firstly, there was no rattle or squeak. Might sound like I’m being obtuse – but if you do thousands of kilometers a year, that squeak, squeak, squeak, can drive you insane – and is a sure sign that something is wrong. Secondly, my new kit could take punishment. Mountain passes, corrugated roads, bad dirt roads, 4×4 routes – I might as well have been on tar. I stopped en-route (as you should), to make sure that nothing was shaking its way loose – to make sure that all the bolts and nuts we’re sitting solid and doing their job, 12023 kilometers later – I’m yet to have tighten a bolt. It’s those little details that make a huge difference to travelling….
The first trip, my mate, Richard Walker and I camped at Geelhout Bos (Yellowwood Forest) in the heart of the Baviaans. For those of you that haven’t had the privilege of doing the kloof – it’s a must do bucket list item. Especially if you love the outdoors, and want to take your pavement hopper into the bush to do what she was built for.
That first night, I slept in my rooftop tent. Lots of people love 5 star experiences, me I’m more into million star experiences. To fall asleep at night surrounded by the cacophony of nocturnal creatures, the song of the frogs, the crickets, the leopards bark – to be so attuned to wild nature with just a canvas sheet between you, and the natural world is absolutely breath-taking. In fact, if you can only afford two bits of gear when kitting out your baby – I’d go with the roof rack and rooftop tent every time. One, you get loads of extra load space. Two, to have a pop up roof over your head that can sleep two adults and two young children in comfort – is a godsend, not only for when I’m filming in remote places, but for when I take the wife and kids camping. I don’t mind roughing it up – but the missus likes to glamp. And you know what they say, “happy missus, happy life.”
Next was a trip up the coast to film a pilot of a new show I’m working on. 8 guys, fishing gear, filming equipment, food – all the gear we needed – packed to the rafters in Grunt for three days of old school mates and fishing. The epiphany after this trip was that we no longer needed to have a base to film from. Grunt had become a mobile, self-contained filming machine. I could go anywhere, anytime, with all the whistles and bells, in style with all the creature comforts, and suddenly, those end of the road remote locations had all become possibilities without the slog of complicated logistics.
Lastly, there was the 10 day recce for season 6 of the Ultimate Braai Master. Myself, Petarj (producer) and Andrew Faber aka slim Faby (director) travelled from Cape Town, through the winelands to Breede River, onwards to Wilderness and across to Uniondale –through the Baviaans Kloof up to Port Elizabeth, into the Wild Coast and back again. Besides a blow out on tar and having to deal with thieving monkeys at Rooihoek, I must add a very important note: If you want cold beer, plug in your fridge.
So there it is, 12023 kilometers and counting with my Front Runner Kit.
The lego-like mindset of the gear: Add to, remove from, personalize. Front Runner’s kit is cleverly designed to make an outdoor experience amazing and is extremely user friendly.
Manuals: Might sound silly, but they now live in Grunt. So often, installers leave you in the dark and like that first time you take apart a watch and then try and remember how to put it back – the manuals make it easy to self-install or personalize your setup. In fact, I’d recommend that you install the gear yourself to get a proper handle on how clever the gear actually is.
The Braai Grid. What great idea! Just remember to clean it before hitting the dirt road, or it quickly becomes a greasy dust trap.
The campsite chairs: Clever, clever, clever. Solid. Robust. But initially took a while to figure out. My only bugbear is that they are quite heavy – and I’d love to see a water proof cover for them so that I can keep them on the roof rack and have more space for other necessities in the load space.
The fold out table. Love it. Except the wood used for the chopping board is lightweight, and being a cook, I’d rather see a heavier, less absorbent cutting board. Ply is good for weight, but not for slicing tomatoes.
The tables and washbasin: Part of my brief to the Front Runner fitment crew was that I didn’t want anything to go into the body of Grunt, so the tables were a revelation – they clip in under the roof rack and are easy to whip out for a quick picnic, or when you need a download station in the heart of the bush.
The awning: If you’ve ever been in the Karoo in mid-Summer – you know what I mean. To be able to sit in the shade, with a cool breeze blowing over you while the rest of the world is melting, is a god-send.
Aftersales service: One word. Legendary.
The sliding draw system: Love it. Except that I sometimes want a go to box, of bigger items. So I’ve taken out two of the ammo crates and put my own go to box in.
Mainly from a space issue. I’ve got a great freezer fridge combo, but it sits in the back of the load space, and isn’t quite practical. This you learn after you try and get to those ice-cold beers after a long day of driving. I think what I’m going to do is take out the backseat, put in two single seats, and move the fridge forward so that it sits between the two back seats and the front seats. That way, there is always easy access to the goodies in the fridge.
Sadly, the cruiser has two wheel arches in the load space – this makes utilizing that space awkward. Front Runner has a great system whereby you can add shelving, to level off the space, creating a hold space, but I still feel like it is wasted space that could be better utilized.
The 12v system. Works a bomb, keeps the beer cold, provides light in the darkness, but doesn’t charge batteries, and when I broke a part – I had to hunt around for a replacement. Guess that’s my own fault though – I should’ve made sure I had spares…. Next, I’ll have to install a heavy duty inverter system for 220 volt power. Nothing kills the joy of being in a remote place like a generator running all night to charge camera batteries.
Locks. Travelling in Africa means there is always a chance of someone trying to help themselves to your kit. I found the that the holes provided for locking equipment off didn’t really leave space for a decent lock…. maybe something to work towards?
Some of the bolts and nuts were steel instead of stainless. I live close to the sea – and have had to use Q20 to loosen up the awning clips…
The Potjie pot mount: I found that over long trips, the potjie pot rusted, and some-times even got water in it. I’d love to see a waterproof cover for the potjie pot
I’d like to extend the roof rack over the cab. I found that when you’re in the rooftop tent, you want a space to sit and admire the sunrise, without climbing down, and I certainly could do with the load space…
I’ve have another troopy, Donkey – a 1984 HJ47 ex-army ambulance that I’m busy restoring – and I know that the Front Runner kit would work like a bomb in her… but there’s a couple of months of painstaking work before this is a reality and that’s another story….