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Defender Camper: Ideal Home Expedition

Your Land Rover can be your home from home, wherever you may roam - as this stunning Defender demonstrates...

Words: Dave Phillips. Photography: Alisdair Cusick.

You have to face it: Land Rovers are handsome vehicles. Each and every one of them is eye candy to enthusiasts like you and me, but those that have been modified for overland travel are particularly intriguing. It’s impossible to see one and not wonder where it’s been and what adventures it’s seen.

TLand Rover Defender Camper Outdoorhe overlander Rover is also someone’s home, which makes it even more interesting. Who lives in it? Where do they sleep and eat? How do they bath or take a shower? What’s it like having wild animals for neighbours?

You can’t help but ask a lot of questions. That’s why I’m thrilled to be quizzing Roger Gowing about the amazing Defender 110 and its camping set-up that you can see on these pages. I want to know how – and why – Roger and his wife, Jill, have turned a standard TDCi into their ideal home for expeditions. 

The Gowings from Plymouth, Devon, have four grown-up daughters and five grandchildren. Roger has worked in the security industry for over 30 years and is also a part-time off-road driving instructor. Jill works for the NHS and the couple also run a smallholding with sheep, pigs and chickens. But their favourite hobby is travelling overland in their Defender . . .

So, why the wanderlust?

When the last of our children left home, Jill and I decided that we wanted to do some travelling and in 2014 we decided to buy a brand-new 110 and kit it out to suit our needs. We wanted to get away from the crowd and be self-sufficient, while having our own emergency communications and self-recovery equipment should it ever be needed.

Why no roof tent?

We spent a lot of time thinking about what was needed to make sure that the set-up was suitable for our needs. Before we bought the Defender we went to the Billing Show and talked to lots of the exhibitors to see what would be the best solution. 

We thought about a roof tent, but apart from the issue of having to descend the ladder in the dark for a pee in the middle of the night we felt that if we wanted to stay in one spot for a few days we did not want to be packing everything up every time we wanted to go off for a meal or into the nearest town. We were also advised that a roof tent gets blown about a lot if it is windy. Hence the decision to go for an OzTent ground tent.

Was this your first Land Rover? 

Land Rover Defender Camper HoodNo, my first was a Freelander 1 Td4 HSE which I had as a company car, in which I covered nearly 60,000 miles in 18 months. Later I bought a 1984 Ninety Station Wagon with a 200Tdi conversion, which I still have and which is now undergoing a rebuild with a new galvanised chassis and bulkhead. 

Tell us about your Defender . . .

It’s a 2.2 TDCi 110 Station Wagon in County spec to which we added the Cold Climate Pack (heated seats and windscreen), air conditioning and sunroof, which was delivered in December 2014. We then customised it to suit our needs. 

Although we’d often camped with the kids when they were younger, in recent years we had rented a cottage, as this was easier with four children. Jill was happy to resume camping on the condition that we had a loo and shower. 

The loo was easily sorted with a PortaPotti, but the shower took a bit more imagination. In the end I fitted a Front Runner water tank inside the rear nearside wing and installed a 12 volts water pump to provide the necessary flow for a gas-powered combi boiler, which hangs off the rear ladder. Modesty is taken care of by the use of a pop up shower tent. 

One of the first things I added was a T-Max split charge system with an auxiliary battery to run everything apart from the main vehicle systems. 

I did all the work myself with expert advice from Peter at First Four who supplied the majority of the major items such as the Hannibal roof rack and side awning, tree sliders, water tank, Safari snorkel, diff guard, Mantec side storage boxes, high-level shelf and rear storage area internal window grilles. 

Peter also custom-built a heavy-duty front bumper with in-built fog lights and receiver hitch, together with a special steering guard with enlarged access holes to allow me to get my hand in to access the locking pin in the winch receiver hitch. 

Tell us about the winch . . .

I didn’t want a fixed winch on the front because it would be much better to have a removable one that could be fitted to the front or the rear. The reasoning behind this was that if we did get stuck we would probably want to pull ourselves back out of the mud rather than pull ourselves further in! 

I fitted Anderson connectors front and rear to power the winch, and which can also be used for jump leads. They work off the auxiliary battery. The winch, tray and rear NAS-style bumper complete with receiver socket were supplied by David Bowyer of Goodwinch. When not in use, the winch is strapped down in the footwell behind the driver’s seat, using additional lashing points. 

Why did you choose First Four to supply all the goodies? 

Peter at First Four was extremely helpful with advice and competitively priced so I ended up getting virtually everything vehicle-related from them. 

Land Rover Defender Camper InteriorAny mechanical mods?

Land Rover spent 70 years refining the Defender so I didn’t feel the need for lift kits or heavy-duty suspension as this would just encourage us to load even more kit in the vehicle. It was much better to keep the weight down, if possible. But I fitted all-terrain tyres as their road manners are good. Conditions need to be really bad to defeat modern A/Ts coupled with traction control. I’ve only been stuck a couple of times – so far! I fitted an uprated Intercooler to give the standard 2.2 TDCi a bit more poke. It is a Britpart unit and has made a noticeable difference with increased torque and power. I’ve also fitted a K&N air filter to help it breath a bit more freely.

When was all the work finished?

Is it ever completely finished? Most of the work was completed by December 2014.

How about camping gear?

We did a lot of research and opted for an Oztent RV4 with additional side and front panels, plus an extension that we use if we are staying in one place for any length of time. We found this useful in the Lake District for drying wet clothing. We have a floor-saver ground sheet that goes under the tent to protect the tent’s groundsheet from damage and provides a floor in the awning area. 

I sleep on an Oztents Stretcher camp bed, but Jill prefers an air bed. We did initially have two Oztent chairs but have found these a bit heavy and bulky so tend to use some lighter fold-up ones from Go Outdoors. We take two folding tables: a large one for eating at and a small one for the two-burner gas cooker. 

We have a Frontier wood burning stove that can be used in the tent with an external chimney exiting through a side panel. In its basic form it’s fairly quick to put up but is quite heavy. It is stored in a ski box on the roof to protect it from theft, weather and damage from overhanging trees etc. It’s quite heavy, so I have fabricated a roller system using a couple of boat trailer rollers on the rear of the roof rack. 

Lighting is taken care of by running a 12v extension lead from an external socket on the rear of the vehicle, powered from the auxiliary battery. The front roof-mounted spot lights are also powered from the auxiliary battery so that if we ever lose the headlights I can quickly switch these on without driving off the edge of a mountain!

The auxiliary switches and USB sockets are mounted on the FDX cubby box, with the CB housed under a lockable flap, and the cubby box itself is also lockable. Other security measures include fitting window guards to the storage area and security deadlocks to all doors, plus some other bits I’d rather not disclose!

When off on our travels the rear single seat is removed and I fit a home-fabricated platform in its place for the Engel fridge and power inverter. The locker under the platform houses the recovery gear, so it’s easy to get at. In the storage area is another home-built set of shelves to take various storage boxes for food, bedding, lights, cooking stuff, etc. Both these units are removable so that I can return the vehicle to standard spec for use on the smallholding, collecting sacks of feed, etc.

The roof rack holds the ski box for the tent, an additional spare wheel, two waffle boards, two 10-litre jerrycans for fuel, gas canister and a box of spares including all fluids – useful when one of our party lost brake fluid in the highlands of Iceland last summer! I also keep a grab bag of essentials on the cargo barrier so that if the worst happens we can survive for a few days with some dried rations.

And navigation?

That’s taken care of by a Garmin Montana GPS, to which I have added an external antenna as we found that it would lose signal in forests or mountainous areas. We also have a Terratrip unit which gives accurate distance measurement between fixed points. For safety I also take a Delorme InReach (now owned by Garmin) satellite communication device that can be used to send an SOS signal via satellite and can also be paired via Bluetooth to the phone to enable texts to be sent. 

What adventures have you enjoyed so far?

Easter 2015 we went to mid Wales and drove a few greenlanes, including Strata Florida. It was very cold at night and I kept having to get up to make Jill a hot water bottle to keep her warm. In the mornings we had ice on the inside of the tent roof. 

September 2016 was our first big trip, along the length of the Pyrenees. We caught the ferry from Plymouth to Santander on the northern coast of Spain then headed eastwards along the coast and into France. We split the driving so that I drove the mornings while Jill navigated, then swapped over at lunchtime. 

Land Rover Defender Camper LogoThe trip started in Collioure and went up into the hills behind Port Vendres and Collioure before crossing the border into Spain. We wild camped the first night and then headed further into the Pyrenees, climbing to over 2200 metres into some spectacular scenery. 

The tracks were mostly stone or gravel carved into the side of the mountain and just wide enough for one vehicle. Some days we didn’t see more than a handful of other vehicles, which was lucky as passing places were few and far between. 

After driving through the Navarra Desert we crossed back over the mountains into France before heading for Roscoff and the Plymouth ferry back home.

In August 2018 we went to Iceland. We shipped the vehicle via container and flew out a couple of weeks later to pick it up for a two-week tour run by Venture 4x4. It was a fantastic experience and we had no problems with either the vehicle or set-up despite some extremely hostile weather conditions. 

As a result of those trips, did you tweak your set-up?

After the Pyrenees tour I adapted my rear shelving unit to make it easier to get the table in and out and we also bought a Tag Along annex for the Oztent. One thing I can strongly recommend is the solar fly sheet. It keeps the tent warmer and also prevents the build-up of condensation.

Do you have a dream trip that you might do one day?

Norway and Sweden and maybe somewhere a bit warmer such as the Ardeche region of France, Northern Spain and Portugal. In fact anywhere we haven’t been yet.

What’s your final word for our readers?

You don’t have to own a new Land Rover to go travelling. Our first Land Rover camping trip was about ten years ago in my 25-year-old 1984 Ninety Station Wagon which we packed up with camping gear and went touring around Southern Ireland. We had a great time despite the rain and the only problem we had was a flat battery due to me leaving the electric cool box on overnight.

Land Rover Defender Camper Stove


Land Rover Defender Camper Boot


Land Rover Defender Camper Backseat