The Build Up: Winter Outback

Winter time here in Michigan means there’s lots of snow on the ground in all the right places. Why not go on an epic overlanding winter adventure through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula? That’s precisely what we’re going to layout in this Build Up.

We all dream of how we want our rig to look, what we want on it, where we want to go with it. The Build Up series puts those ideas to paper. Each installment is a hypothetical build of a selected vehicle, what gear we would take with us, and where we would take it. Suspend reality for a few minutes and imagine with us on the possibilities if money wasn’t an object.

Use Your Imagination

For these scenarios to work, we have to suspend some realities. We’re going to assume the vehicles we are “purchasing” are in excellent working order with no mechanical issues that need to be corrected. We’re not experts on any of this, just throwing together something fun. If there’s something that could be done better or you have a suggestion for what to build and where to go, leave some comments and let us know.

The Rig

For this adventure, we’ve chosen to go with an all-wheel-drive 2006 Subaru Outback wagon with a 3.0 L 6-cylinder engine. The Outback itself is a pretty light vehicle coming in at between 2,700 and 3,000 pounds. The 6-cylinder engine provides more than enough power to get this thing through the snow.

And the fuel economy isn’t bad at 23-28 depending on city or highway driving. For a lower mileage, good to excellent condition Outback we’re going to end up paying between $9,000 and $12,000. Not terrible for a pretty reliable vehicle but it might scare some away. Plus the Outback looks cool, and we like it.

The Build

The Outback by itself is a pretty capable overlanding rig; however, with some modifications, it can be an excellent overlanding rig. Plus we’re going to be running in some deep snow. The UP is known for getting snowfall ranges between 50” and over 100” yearly. That means

Suspension, Armor, and Not Wheels & Tires

First on the list is to upgrade the suspension and in a lift kit. Unlike SUVs and trucks, the options for a lift kit for an Outback seem to be pretty limited. In this case, we’re going to go with a Primitive lift kit that runs for $680 plus an additional $318 for a new set up struts. The kit adds 1.5” of lift and all the necessary hardware to ensure proper alignment.

We’re going to go ahead and put tracks on it from American Track Truck. Their Dominator track system allows the wheels and tires of almost any vehicle to be replaced with tracks designed to eat through any snow the UP could throw at you. We imagine these don’t come cheap, but could not find a price to list so just go with into the thousands of dollars.

The last thing we want to do is provide some protection for the Outback. Just because we’re running trails in deep snow doesn’t mean something could come along and cause some severe damage underneath. In this case, Primitive has us covered with a front cover for $239 and a rear differential cover for $110. We’re also going to go with one of their front lightbars ($559), no cutting of the front bumper needed, just bolt it on to the frame.

Gear Storage and Mounting

The first thing we want to do is create a storage solution for the rear cargo area. There are plenty of examples of DIY storage solutions in just about every overlanding vehicle imaginable. In our case, we’d like something that has two storage drawers for all of the necessary gear we’ll be carrying. The top should also have a slide-out available on one side for a fridge, and the opposite side is just open for anything we can throw in there. We aren’t planning on sleeping in the Outback, so there is no need to extend the storage box up into the second row, although that is a possibility.

The roof is going to be outfitted with a Rhino-Rack Pioneer SX Platform. The Pioneer Platform measures in at 60” by 49” and runs a pretty penny. You can pick one up for just over $1,000. Like we said, pricey, but Rhino-Rack is known to make superior quality roof racks that can stand up to just about anything. To round it out we’ll be adding their ski mount holder, a dual jerry can holder, a shovel mount, and recovery board mounts.

Where Would We Go and What Would We Do?

This didn’t take a lot of thought on our end. The Upper Peninsula in the winter is a venerable paradise of wintery things to do. Skiing, snowshoeing, ice climbing, and so many more activities can be found across the area.

The annual Michigan Ice Fest is a good place to start in early February. Held in Munising at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, the ice climbing fest offers attendees the opportunity to see Pictured Rocks in a non-warm setting. They offer courses and classes for experienced and non-experienced climbers alike.

Much like seeing Niagra Falls in the winter, the waterfalls that populate the Upper Peninsula should not be missed. We’ll probably start somewhere around Tahquamenon and work our way west, hitting the various known and unknown waterfalls.

Lastly, no winter trek through the UP would be complete without hitting some slopes. The Porcupine Mountains offer 15 groomed downhill trails that overlook Lake Superior. They also offer a handful of snowshoeing trails.

All in all, this would be an interesting rig and trip to take. Winter in the Upper Peninsula is no joke, and we think our build up would make it a fun experience. Let us know what we missed, what we should include, or some other places we should have listed to check out in the comments.

Preparing Your Vehicle for Winter

truck in snow

Winter may or may not be coming this year for those of us in the southern end of the lower peninsula. The U.P. and the northern end of the L.P. are already experiencing snow accumulation. With some slightly warmer than normal temperatures, it might be a good time to evaluate your vehicle for winter operations. Granted, this should be done prior to freezing temperatures rolling in.

During the warmer months of the year we prep our vehicles for rain or mud. The same things that we carry when it’s warm out may not work out so well when it’s freezing out. For example, keeping foods that require heating up for emergencies may need to be swapped for foods that are high in calories and don’t need to be cooked. A different style of shovel designed for snow removal may be swapped out for a shovel designed for mud.

This got me thinking about what I would need to prep for the winter driving months around my city. From a high level the equipment is much the same, but once you drill down into the details it becomes apparent about the differences. Not switching out specific gear or adding in needed gear once winter hits can leave you at a disadvantage if problems arise. You should also take into account anyone you might have traveling with you. My family count is five people and two dogs. Most of the time we drive my Suburban on trips so I need to make sure to accommodate for my three kids, my wife, and dog.

Inventory Your Gear and Emergency Box

Once the warmer weather has decided to leave and the colder weather moves in it’s a good idea to do a layout and inventory of everything you have in your rig. You can then identify what isn’t needed, what won’t work, and what could be a liability once freezing temperatures arrive. Checking things like expiration dates, cold weather tolerances, and looking for items that would freeze becomes essential. You want to have the necessary gear in place or have a plan for emergencies.

Below are some basic items to consider when putting together a winter specific gear box:

  • Blanket(s) or electric blanket(s) or cold weather sleeping bag(s)
  • Battery pack with charging cords for phone
  • Winter clothing: hat(s), gloves, scarf, boots, socks, thermal underwear, etc.
  • Body warmers
  • Dry food
  • Water
  • Flashlight(s), headlamp(s), and extra batteries
  • Tow straps
  • Jumper cables
  • Toolkit
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Emergency flares
  • Rescue tool, knife, and/or multi-tool
  • First aid kit
  • Entertainment
  • Traction boards
  • Snow shovel
  • Fuel container
  • Full-size spare tire

Most of these items are probably already packed in whatever storage method you use for your gear. However, they might not be for winter use. For example, I have a blanket and a sleeping bag in my Suburban, but they are not good for winter. Ultimately I need to spend some money on good wool blankets and a cold weather rated sleeping bag.

Supplementing camping gear you already have packed into your rig with the listed items above can ensure you have what you need if it means staying with your vehicle while waiting for recovery. And never underestimate the value of having something to do while waiting. Have some books, magazines, or small games to keep you entertained.

Perform Winter Maintenance

If you follow a regular vehicle maintenance schedule, this should be an easy thing to accomplish. Whether you are doing the work yourself or you turn it over to your trusted mechanic, there are some things you should pay particular attention too. I don’t take into account usage of winter tires. Most people who daily drive their overlanding rigs are going to have tires that are sufficient for winter usage.

Don’t Drive Around Blowing Cold Air

Check that your heater and defroster are in working order. There’s nothing worse than driving around on a freezing day and having cold air blow into your cabin. Trust me, I’ve had it happen. Luckily it was a simple fix and only required my rig’s coolant to be refilled. Had I not checked it I would have driven around all winter with cold air rather than hot air.

Clear Frontal Vision

Another simple check and replacement you can do yourself is to put new wiper blades on and ensure you have the proper washer fluid. It may not seem like a big deal, but there are washer fluids specifically designed not to freeze. I’ve never had this happen but I have had windshield wiper blades in poor condition going into winter. There are also winter wiper blades available that are of sturdier construction than “summer” blades.

Electrical Checks

Testing the electrical system and ensuring your battery is in excellent condition, your vehicle lights work, and even making sure all of the heating fans come on is another easy check you should be able to perform. Pay attention to slow cranking and whether your vehicle headlights dim while idling; this could be an indication of the battery starting to die.

If you have an automatic starter ensure your battery is up to par. Having a battery designed for cold weather is ideal, but unless you’re in an environment where temperatures are reaching well below freezing most batteries are sufficient. With that said though, you don’t know disappointment until you think you’ve started your car on a frigid morning only to find out it wouldn’t turn over due to a drained battery. Test the battery and replace it if necessary.

Let A Professional Fix It

Lastly, do a quick walk around and note any damage on or under the vehicle. If something looks suspicious or something feels odd when you are driving the best thing to do is take it a mechanic. Have them do a check on the vehicle and get things corrected before severe weather hits. You don’t want to end up off the road because something broke and could have been easily fixed.

What To Do If You Get Stuck

There are plenty of times I’ve seen cars stuck and no one in them. I often wonder what happened to the drivers, where they went, and hope they are okay. The number one thing to remember if you get stuck and cannot self-recover is not to leave the vehicle. Most times the elements are what end up killing people who leave their car and try to seek help.

If you’re uninjured, exit your vehicle and check to see if you can self-recovery or will need help. If you can safely self-recovery then do so, but if not it’s best to call for help. If you’re going to have to have to wait for a tow truck or someone to help you get unstuck ensure your exhaust pipe is clear of any snow. If it’s snowing heavily, you may have to exit your vehicle frequently to ensure the exhaust is clear of snow.

If you have injuries, the best thing to do is call for help, make it clear you have injuries, and wait it out for emergency services to arrive. There’s no point in putting yourself in more danger by attempting to self-recover if you are injured.

Final Thoughts

What I’ve laid out is simple enough to follow and most of us probably already carry the items mentioned and have the skill set necessary to survive getting stuck. Let me know in the comments what other skill set would be beneficial or gear might be a plus to have.

OB08: Clothing Selection

Clothing selection will be dependent on where you travel and what time of the year it is. Some of the off rig activities you decide to do will also determine what you bring along. We are going to approach this by looking at four diverse seasons. Each section will provide a brief time frame and what to possibly expect in each season regarding temperature and conditions.

While most of our time might be spent riding inside a vehicle, it’s still a good idea to follow the basic principles of what to wear. Pack items that are going to wick moisture away from your body, stay away from cotton items,

Spring

Spring can run from March through June. In that time frame, you can expect to experience a diverse range of conditions starting with cold, rainy weather and ending with warm, sunny days. This doesn’t mean that these conditions could be completely different and the clothes you pack should reflect this. Temperatures can also swing from warm days to chilly, cold nights.

Here is what we recommend packing during spring:

  • T-shirt(s)
  • Long sleeve shirt(s)
  • A fleece pullover or zip up
  • Long pants
  • Shorts
  • Boots, preferably waterproof
  • Socks
  • Rain jacket
  • Medium weight hat, gloves, and scarf
  • Baseball hat
  • Sunglasses

Summer

Following closely on the heels of spring summer runs from June through September. The weather should be pretty consistent with warmer temperatures happening, but it is not uncommon to have cooler evenings once September rolls around.

Here is what we recommend packing during summer months:

  • T-shirt(s)
  • Long sleeve shirt(s)
  • Shorts
  • Swimsuit
  • Flip-flops/sandals (for camp)
  • Lightweight long pants
  • Hiking shoes/boots
  • Socks
  • Sunglasses

Fall

Fall, running from September through mid-December, is a great time to get out and camp in the early months. The later months can find you battling cold conditions and possible snow. Temperatures can range from 60-70 degrees to bitterly cold and freezing. Knowing when you are going can mean packing additional warm weather clothing or not.

Here is what we recommend packing in the fall months:

  • T-shirt(s)
  • Long sleeve shirt(s)
  • A fleece pullover or zip up
  • Pants
  • Shorts (for earlier months)
  • Medium temperature sleeping clothes
  • Boots, preferably waterproof
  • Socks, medium to heavy weight
  • Rain jacket with liner
  • Medium weight hat, gloves, and scarf
  • Baseball hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Heavy winter coat (for later months)
  • Snow pants (for later months)
  • Snow boots (for later months)

Winter

December through March brings winter into the four season picture. These months find cold, to extremely cold temperatures making their presence known along with an abundance of snow, sleet, and even rain at times.

Here is what we recommend packing in the fall months:

  • Base layer shirt(s)
  • Long sleeve shirt(s)
  • Fleece pullover
  • Base layer pants
  • Pants, preferably warmer and heavier
  • Cold weather sleeping clothes
  • Heavyweight hat, gloves, and scarf
  • Snow boots
  • Warm, waterproof socks
  • Winter rated jacket
  • Snow pants
  • Sunglasses