Overlanding is an exciting way for people to explore remote trails and enjoy a memorable journey outdoors with their families. Adventure vehicles and trailers need to have a durable and well-thought-out configuration to ensure a family with safety, comfort, and shelter that can handle any outdoor conditions. If you were looking for project ideas and inspirations for your next camping adventures, this is just the article for you! We will be looking at how a family was able to modify their Jeep and trailer using linear actuators for off-grid sustainable living!
The Nomadic Lifestyle
Chris and his wife, and two kids always had a passion for camping and used to go on many weekend camping trips for fun. In the process, they also got to learn more about how to gradually build up their dream camping rig. Their love for the outdoors led to longer camping trips which eventually gave them the idea to pursue a nomadic lifestyle. Since off-grid living offered Chris and his family more happiness and freedom than staying at home, they decided to live a full-time life overlanding and sold their house in August 2021. Their first goal to transit the North American continent along the Trans America Trail was successfully completed in July 2022. Chris and his family are now exploring the western United States via the Pacific Crest Overland Route which is a 2,600-mile network of trails from northern Washington to Southern California!
Spirit The Jeep
The family’s 2013 American Expedition Vehicles JK350 Jeep was about $30K at the start and went through a rebuilding process which took about four months. Another $15K was spent to turn the Jeep into an RV which weighs around 6500 lbs after completion. The Jeep named Spirit and the trailer named Opportunity were named after the mars rovers that inspired the world with their ability to explore and discover over very long periods of time. For agility, the family ran 35-inch tires on their Jeep which allowed them to go places that most full-time rigs can't handle. Beyond the AEV conversion, the family had lots of fun working together modifying their Jeep to include:
- Lot of well-organized storage
- 2 Solar panels (100W each)
- Starlink terminal for high-speed satellite internet
- ARB Twin Air Compressor
- Cameras around the Jeep
- Aftermarket head unit for access to maps, TV, webcam, and outboard cameras
- Indoor Roof storage for bags and pouches
- First aid supplies and medical equipment
- Powder-coated aluminum shelving
- Slide out kitchen area, stove, and refrigerator
- Water pump and ultraviolet water filter
- 5-gallon water tank in the bumper
- Goal Zero Yeti 500X (500Wh lithium-ion battery) with built-in solar charge controller and 300W inverter
- Awning for sun and rain protection
For a tour of the vehicle, watch the video below:
Opportunity The Trailer
Purchased as a stock 1966 Stevens M416 military trailer, Opportunity the trailer allows the family of four to carry everything they need for off-grid living. The 1500lbs trailer once fully built was about $8K and had a lot of fun DIY construction for everything that the family could build by themselves. The total length of the camping rig with the trailer attached measured about 25 feet. Other features of the fully built trailer include:
- Spring over axle lift for more ground clearance
- Hitch receiver welded onto the back for a spare tire
- 21-gallon RV water tank
- South African ammo cases for extra storage capacity
- Food supplies, microscope, music equipment, Legos, and bathroom supplies
- Height adjustable tent platform with electric linear actuators
- Shower tent booth
- DIY shower with 2.5-gallon water capacity
- Covered patio with a ladder to reach the tent
Trailer Modifications with Linear Actuators
For the height adjustable tent platform, Chris required electric linear actuators that could drive the platform a distance of 30 inches. The total weight including the steel frame and the tent was estimated to be about 300 to 400 lbs and were distributed quite evenly across all 4 corners which were going to have actuators installed. Chris required his tent’s lift system the ability to handle rough handling from off-roading while also being waterproof for conditions such as deep mud, snow, and heavy rain. When fully extended, the tent raises all the way up to as high as 9 feet so that the family has a clean place to sleep off the ground. Lowering the platform and folding up the tent allows for a lower center of gravity and better aerodynamics for more fuel efficiency when traveling. Metal supports and telescoping steel mounts were installed on the four corners together with actuators next to them.
Previously, Chris had linear actuators from another manufacturer to drive the tent’s lift system, however, these units had lots of difficulties managing the harsh outdoor conditions. Over an eight-month period, Chris had to replace 10 units of these actuators due to failures from not being able to withstand the off-road vibrations and exposure to water. In search of units with greater reliability, Chris contacted our support team and found our PA-10-30-450-N-12VDC units as suitable replacements rated for 450 lbs of force per actuator.
Chris modified the wiring connectors of each PA-10 actuator with Delphi waterproof automotive connectors, waterproof heat shrinks, and split loom wire wrap. These safety measures help further protect the wiring from vibrations, rock damage, and water intrusion. The wiring was also securely zip-tied to their trailer, ensuring they do not get caught in any tree branches when going off-road. Water-resistant heavy-duty actuators were also another option, however, our PA-10 compact waterproof actuators already had sufficient force ratings for the application and come with higher Ingress Protection ratings. While this setup has no synchronization or positional feedback, Chris determined that the tolerances were not so tight so he moved the four actuators around and eventually got a configuration that he found could level out their travel speed.
Power comes out of an onboard 12 Volts 10Ah battery while our four PA-10 compact waterproof actuators are controlled via a double pole double throw switch rated for 20A at 12V. All the wiring was using 16 AWG wires and crimp plugs. In case their battery runs out of power, they also have a backup in the form of a cable with a cigarette lighter/auxiliary power outlet at the end of it which can be plugged into any car to power the actuators in an emergency.
In one of the snowy trips in Colorado, the first switch that was used burnt out due to high current draw when the actuators were running. This high current draw was due to the motors attempting to pull enough electrical power to overcome the force required to break free from the resistance of their internal grease freezing. Since then, Chris has replaced the old switch with new switches from NAPA Auto Parts rated for 20A at 250VAC.
There was also one incident on rough trails where the family had rolled the trailer over in Utah, however, the high durability of the actuator combined with some protection from the trailer’s exoskeleton ensured all four actuators were still operational. The only real damage was the hitch receiver that ripped in half. After 3 hours of winching, the family was able to get the trailer back upright and rolling.
On one of the trips to New Mexico, someone had pulled one of the actuator’s upper and lower cotter pins out at a parking lot as a prank. The main pin at the top popped out and the actuator fell back in the bracket while Chris was driving. This resulted in damage to the actuator’s water seals and led to the actuator eventually failing due to water damage. While the water seals were not salvageable, our Progressive team was still able to repair this damaged actuator to drive linear motion so that it can operate as a spare backup for Chris.
In the future, Chris may consider using relays, thicker wires, and soldering to replace the crimp plugs for better conductivity and less resistance to ensure the actuators can output more power. After ten months of usage and 25-30k miles of travel, Chris has required two replacement actuators from our team and only one was due to an actual unit failure which we replaced as part of our 18-month warranty. Since then, our actuators continue serving Chris and the family very well in all their camping adventures!
Watch the video below to see the full camping rig and some of the family adventures:
By choosing the suitable gear, equipment, and linear actuators that can handle any outdoor conditions, Chris now has a rugged trailer setup off-grid living with his family! To see more from Chris and the family, feel free to follow their Website, Facebook and Instagram for updates!
Thank you to Chris for sharing your project - We are delighted to see your family enjoying the trailer with compact waterproof actuators!
If you have any custom projects, applications, or technical questions about our products, feel free to reach out to us anytime. We are experts in what we do and will be happy to assist you with your future custom projects!
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