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Quad Camping August 2018
Dan Martinez  

Ok, so I got a new toy. It’s a Polaris Sportsman Touring model. “Touring” means that it is purpose built as a two-passenger ATV. Its wheelbase is 56” versus 50.5” for the comparable single-seater. This moves the passenger’s center-of-gravity forward of the rear axle to increase safety. My purpose for getting it is so that the wife and I can go back-country geocaching together.

You may know that I already have a Polaris Ranger. That is my back-country hunting buggy. Its bed is spacious enough, and its payload weight capacity is large enough, to carry elk out of the woods – which it has done a number of times.

The problem is that I don’t have the room at my house to store the Ranger and its trailer. Therefore it lives at my Mom’s place up in Chino Valley. I never have the Ranger available when I want to just go back-country geocaching with the Missus. But I make a point when hunting season rolls around, to fetch the Ranger and its trailer.

But I do have room at my house to store a quad, and the second bonus is that it does not need a trailer. I can haul it in the bed of my pickup. I must admit that for those first few times, getting it up into the bed of my lifted truck, and especially getting it back down, were moments of high pucker! But like with everything, practice and experience makes things easier.

But my wife insisted on one thing: That when we go on our adventures with the quad, that our dog gets to go too! Well how is that going to work?

The Sportsman Touring comes with a short plastic cargo rack behind the passenger back rest. To make this usable for the dog, I made an extended rack platform upholstered with indoor/outdoor carpeting for traction for the pooch’s paws. Plus I added a raised bar around the rear perimeter to help keep him from falling off the back. Our pup is a medium-small dog, around 27 to 30 pounds. He is not huge, so this works. The platform I built extends about 6 to 7 inches further rearward from the stock plastic rack. But I immediately noticed how this addition nicely expanded the ability for the quad to haul stuff!

Many years ago when I tried backpacking for the very first time, I strapped a 50 pound pack on my back and took off on an uphill trail for two miles. As I huffed and puffed my way up the mountain, I remember thinking to myself that I sure felt a lot like a pack mule. This ain't so much fun. Why would anyone willingly choose to turn themselves into a beast of burden?

Of course when I reached the point of “far enough” and had set up my camp, I enjoyed the sense of solitude and self-sufficiency. But I had to ask myself, “Isn’t there a better way?”

I have been a very avid dirt bike rider from the age of 13. Never a racer, but I sure love trail riding. So kind of naturally, the concept of “bikepacking” came to me. Strap on that backpack, but don’t hike, ride!

So I rounded up a buddy and convinced him to give bikepacking a try. Yes, you have to ride a little slower and more carefully with that heavy burden on your back, but we rode 10 miles up a nasty trail to the top of a mountain and set up a “motocamp”. It was a wonderful sense of adventure and freedom!

But with this quad, with roomy cargo-carrying racks both front and rear, I wouldn’t have to balance a heavy load on my back. What’s more, I could haul even more stuff, to create an even more comfortable back-country camp. But the camp would still have that “minimalist” character of backpacking – sort of  .

2005 Ranger deer camp in the Tumacacori Mountains

Actually, this wouldn’t be the first time that I had thought about trying ATV camping. Back in 2005 on a deer hunt in unit 36B, I decided to try camping from the Polaris Ranger for a couple of days. I loaded it up and took some nasty trails about 10 miles back into the mountains.

I got to a place at the base of a tall hill overlooking a canyon that I wanted to glass from in the morning. I grilled up a hamburger for dinner on the small propane grill that I brought with me.

When the morning came, I hiked up to the top of that big hill to glass. What transpired next was something that I will never forget. Off to the right, I spotted a line of illegals being hustled down into the thick brush at the bottom of a draw by their guide, or “coyote”. Then I heard the wop, wop, wop of a helicopter coming towards me. I was standing tall on top of the hill watching the helicopter approach. I had my rifle over my shoulder, was wearing an orange cap, and I held my shooting/walking sticks in my hand. The helicopter came and hovered right in front of me – I could make out the two guys sitting in the bubble. I pointed with my shooting sticks in the direction that I saw the illegals go. The helicopter veered over that way, but when they got over the draw, they turned up-draw, instead of down the draw where the line of border crossers had headed. Soon the sound of the helo was out of range.

That experience changed my mind about continuing my Ranger camp. If I was to be out hiking the hills all day, who knows what I would find of my camp when I returned in the evening? My food and water may disappear or even the ATV could be stolen leaving me stranded 10 miles out in the back-country. I got back to my ATV camp, packed up and cut my hunt short.

But back to quad camping with the Sportsman Touring: I maintain detailed checklists for all of my camping and hunting trips. Now it was time to make a new one.

When I first got the quad, I started accumulating basic trail necessities, such as tools, first aid kit, tire patching kit, inflator, tow strap, rear receiver shackle, etc., so I had those things already covered.

To start creating my quad camping list, I took my truck camping list and cut it down to what could be transported by a much smaller vehicle. I substituted smaller, lighter versions of gear for larger, heavier pieces that I usually take truck or RV trailer camping.

I started with a backpacking mummy bag (that I had not used in many years), a two-man backpacking tent, and a ¾-length ThermaRest self-inflating sleeping pad. These are all backpacking basics.

But on the quad I could add a few more luxuries like a folding tripod chair with a backrest, a small aluminum collapsing table, a soft table that folds into a small tubular package, and a small to medium sized semi-soft-sided cooler.

Rounding things out, a daypack always goes with me on my outdoor excursions. I added a small duffel with extra clothes which doubles as my pillow at night, and an 8-gallon Rubbermaid Action Packer tote which I filled with a bunch of miscellaneous pieces of camping equipment, plus an AR-7 .22 rifle.

A couple of things that I purchased specifically for quad camping were four bungee nets – two are 15”x30”, and the other two are 15”x15”. They work great to keep everything snug on the racks when traversing rough terrain. The shelter sack and the sleeping bag get lashed down in front of the passenger backrest on top of the passenger portion of the seat. The quad has two handholds on either side of the passenger seat that I could use as forward anchor points for the bungee nets.

Polaris Sportsman Touring loaded for quad camping adventure

I also added some multi-segment tarp poles. These fit quite nicely under the front cargo rack of the ATV. The space there is sort of like a shallow, irregularly-shaped trunk. The plastic front rack hinges at the front to give access to this storage space.

My camping load-out included an 8’x10’ tarp to create a dining fly so that in case of rain, I’m not stuck inside a tiny tent until the rain stops. The tarp poles are made in three 2-foot segments plus one telescoping segment so that when assembled, the poles can extend from a minimum of 6 feet long to about 8. I decided to use two hiking poles for the rear supports of my dining fly. Lots of paracord and lightweight aluminum tent stakes complete the equipment needed to set up the fly.

Now let’s talk about electricity. One of the things I decided that I needed was a lithium-polymer jump starter power pack. If you are not familiar with these small jump starter devices, the one I got from Wal-Mart is named EverStart. The power pack is shaped like a small brick, about 6” x 1¼” x 3”. It comes with a pair of jumper cables connected to some sort of a booster-box. These connect to the power brick. They say that it’s powerful enough to jump start a small V8. Plus the brick has a built-in LED flashlight, a couple of USB power ports, and another general purpose outlet that can power a laptop. Thus, it can double as a general camp power source, not just as a jump starter.

The quad comes equipped with a cigarette lighter type 12V power port on the headlight/ instrument pod. It’s a simple matter to turn that into a USB power port by plugging in an adapter.

The instrument cluster is digital and includes a clock function. This means that it is constantly drawing a trickle of power from the battery when the quad is not running. If I were to leave the quad unattended for a month or more, because of the trickle draw, I could find a dead battery when I went to start it up.

Because of this, inside the front rack “trunk”, I added a Battery Tender style 2-pin quick connect battery charging port. With this connector, I can conveniently plug in a battery charger instead of crawling underneath to find the battery and clip on alligator clamps. The Battery Tender company also makes a USB port adapter for this type of connector, which I added.

All that prelude is to get around to saying that the quad itself can be used to charge today’s modern USB-powered devices that you might want to bring along on a campout. However, power from the quad must be used in moderation, else you run the risk of draining down your all-important starter battery. That’s why I felt that it was a good idea to get the mini jump starter.

It is best not to rely on either the quad’s battery nor the jump starter for general camp power needs. You have to be sure that you can start the machine when it comes time to head back to civilization (maybe you remember my story about running down the battery in the Ranger?).

Therefore, I added two general purpose USB battery devices to my ATV camping list, plus a folding soft solar panel that can charge them. But it’s OK to charge the USB batteries from the quad’s USB ports while motoring.

For camp power consumers, I have two USB LED light bulbs for general camp lighting, my smart phone, a tablet computer, a Bluetooth speaker for tunes around camp, and a USB rechargeable headlamp. I keep e-books on my tablet computer, plus all the recent club newsletters. When all the camp chores are done, it’s nice to sit back with my favorite tunes playing in the background, while I read something on the tablet, under the light cast by the two LED light bulbs. Who says that a minimalist camp needs to be austere? Modern technology makes all this possible with minimum bulk and weight.

I knew of a perfect rough backroad in my favorite deer hunting unit to test my quad camping setup. The monsoon kept me home the first weekend that I had everything ready, but I would not be deterred the next weekend.

The quad handled the trail like a boss. I’ve never before owned a quad, and had only ridden one once before many years ago. I was quite impressed with how easily it handled this rough trail. This model is a 570cc single cylinder rated at 44 HP. It has independent suspension on all four corners. It makes total sense when you think about it, that my impression was that the machine handled exactly like a cross between a dirt bike and a Jeep.

The camping experience went exactly as I had planned. After setting up the tent and the tarp, I cooked up a meal that I like to call “Chuck Wagon” because it’s a simple meal that I can imagine a cowboy cook would prepare for his crew. Basically it’s beanie-weenies. I grilled a couple of dogs on the BioLite Cook Stove and grill, cut them up into bite size pieces, and dumped them into a pot of baked beans. Good stuff in the outdoors!

The threat of rain was real. As the natural light faded and the USB lights went on, I watched the fireworks out on the horizon – great bolts of lightning and distant rumbles. Fortunately, only a small amount of wind reached my location. I double checked the guy lines on my tarp setup, and added a couple more anchor lines for insurance. I’ve become expert at tying the taut-line hitch.

I slept very well, and when I awoke the next morning, the tent fly and the bike were wet with dew, not rain. I wiped off the seat with a towel that I brought along.

Due to being out late in monsoon season, the land was green and gorgeous. I really needed this break from everyday life. I can’t wait to do it again.

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