In this blog series 'Building a LandyCamper', we'll explain the modifications and improvements all our vehicles undergo before becoming true 'LandyCampers' and entering our fleet.
When we started our business, before almost anything had been planned, we had one key criteria - that our vehicles should be as safe on the road in our guests hands as we could make them. We knew simply that we wouldn't sleep sound with them out on hire if we had any doubts about that, and it quickly became the core of LandyCampers business plan.
Defenders, in their factory spec, are not ideally suited to carrying rooftop tents - an unfortunate truth. They CAN manage, but due to their design it's not optimal, changing dynamic driving characteristics for the worse (as adding weight to the roof of almost any vehicle will do).
Luckily, there are plenty of relatively minor modifications that an be done to offset this, and ensure a stable, comfortable, and most importantly SAFE drive when laden with rooftents and camping gear.
Probably the most immediately noticeable upgrade to a Defender when prepping for a Land Rover Camper setup with a rooftent is uprated suspension - both springs and shocks absorbers.
With the load of most rooftents and roof-rack combos approaching 100kg, a set of heavy duty, or heavier duty, springs all round will make an enormous difference - keeping the Landy sitting flat when stationary, reducing roll when driving, and eliminating wobble when moving around in the tent (leading to what some describe as a seasickness after a while in the tent).
ARB's Old Man Emu Nitrocharger kit fitted to Fern, our Defender 110
A lot of vehicles with rooftents fitted can often be seen to 'sag' and no longer sit flat when parked up - especially with tents fitted far towards the rear with some weight hanging past the rear axel. If the car won't sit flat when stationary, it certainly isn't going to be handling very well on the road when movement exaggerates the roof's loading! The increased stiffness of uprated springs will rectify this.
Switching in a good set of gas shock absorbers alongside in combo with the springs ensures that the system can handle the higher loads and keep the springs oscillation under control - shocks paired to the springs are ideal if at all possible! The load capacity and spring rates are crucial considerations for rooftop campers. Heavier duty springs are designed to support more weight without excessive compression. They have higher spring rates, meaning they require more force to compress a given distance. This prevents the springs from bottoming out under the added rooftop load. Properly rated heavy duty springs help maintain normal ride height when stationary.
Shock absorber valving also needs tuning for rooftop weight. Stiffer valving prevents bouncing and maintains control of the sprung mass. Paired heavy duty shocks and springs that are tuned to each other's rates handle the additional rooftop load while preventing loose, uncontrolled suspension behaviour.
An uprated steering damper, while you're doing suspension components, will also make a marked improvement to handling on and off-road with the extra load on the vehicle.
We'd recommend checking out Old Man Emu Nitrocharger suspension kits from ARB4x4, one of the most respected names in overlanding. The shocks can be paired perfectly with a variety of spring ratings, meaning you can tune your suspension to your vehicle load specifically, getting the very best performance and ride possible! ARB4x4 UK have kindly offered 10% OFF across their entire range (not just suspension, but camping gear, rooftents, lights and much more) for LandyCampers' audience with code LCAMP10
Being able to stop is pretty damn important, and a heavier vehicle needs more stopping power. For that reason alone, upgraded brakes should be a consideration, especially if you intend on chewing up motorway miles at speed.
A relatively simple modification that could end up being a life (or at least significant cost) saver!
LOF's POWERspec brake kit ready to be fitted to Waffle our Defender 90
On a Defender 90, it's not uncommon to replace the rear callipers with a more powerful set from the heavier Defender 110, for more stopping force and better brake balance. Beyond this, higher spec brake discs and pads are a great option that don't require any modifications - just replacing original parts with higher spec drop-ins.
The additional weight of rooftop tents and gear shifts the vehicle's weight balance rearward. More weight on the rear axle necessitates more braking force to slow the vehicle effectively. Relocating rear callipers from a donor vehicle with a heavier rear load, like a 110, rebalances the braking bias on a 90. Larger rear pistons apply more even braking force front to rear.
Upgraded performance pads also greatly improve stopping power compared to standard pads. They use compounds with higher friction coefficients and can withstand higher temperatures without fading. This friction improves bite and braking force while the thermal resistance prevents deterioration during repeated heavy braking.
Our go-to for Landy brakes is LOF Clutches' POWERspec discs and pads - designed specifically for heavily laden vehicles and fast road use, and extremely well made. They provide a higher coefficient of friction (0.57) than standard, but also their improved design means a decrease in road noise while driving. Win-win!
Also available are their EXTREMEspec kits for those that plan on running at real high speed, with massive 330mm discs and custom callipers!
Anti-roll bars basically do exactly what the name implies - reduce body roll. This becomes vastly more important with a rooftent (or two) as the centre of gravity of the Landy is raised quite substantially, leading to more roll around corners.
Increased roll can be quite uncomfortable while driving, and too much roll can be a disaster (a Landy on it's side is less than ideal...). With the raised centre of gravity from the rooftent, the likelihood of a rollover is increased (which is why driving slower with a rooftent fitted - even on a sensibly modified vehicle - is advisable). This is one of many reasons supercars are low and wide - being keeps their centre of gravity low for high speed cornering, and being wide creates a larger 'safe zone' for the little remaining body-roll before tipping over.
The tipping point of a vehicle comes, in very simple terms, when a straight line drawn down from the centre of gravity goes beyond the outermost point of contact with the road surface (see figure 1) There's a lot of relatively complicated maths that I wont pretend to remember to calculate these exact points, but the principle itself is quite straight forward - tip too much to one side and you'll fall over.
Image courtesy of SchoolPhysics
This is where anti-roll bars become important - in basic terms they connect left and right wheels, and force each to raise or lower to a more similar degree, drastically reducing leaning in cornering.
Anti-roll bars reduce the body roll by counteracting the twisting of the chassis. When cornering, the outside wheels travel farther around the curve than the inside wheels. This causes torsional twist along the chassis from corner to corner. Anti-roll bars connect opposite wheels laterally and force them to travel more equally up and down, reducing roll.
There are downsides to consider with anti-roll bars, especially if your vehicle is going to do a lot of off-roading. The increased roll stiffness from beefed up anti-roll bars can reduce wheel articulation while traversing uneven terrain. With less flex between opposite wheels, one wheel can more easily lift fully off the ground. This loss of traction reduces off-road capability.
However, for dedicated overland campers like our LandyCampers carrying rooftop loads, the benefits to on-road handling and safety outweigh the minor sacrifice of articulation. Anti-roll bars are crucial for maintaining composed dynamics under weight and at higher speeds. We carefully select bars to balance enhanced stability with retaining off-road agility.
We hope you've enjoyed Part One of our series on optimising Defenders for safe, comfortable overland travel. Stay tuned for our next instalment, in which we'll cover some of the modifications under the hood that make our Land Rover campers purring along more efficiently, and with quite a lot more power, than most!
If this blog has helped you plan your own vehicle modifications or improvements, we'd be extremely grateful if you'd consider a small token of thanks via our Buy Me A Coffee page. Hours, days, weeks and months of research, trade shows, discussions with manufacturers etc go into making our decisions and ultimately recommendations (and indeed agreeing discounts for our readers!) - we've opted not to paywall the content, but if you're in the position we'd be incredibly appreciative of the support! Thank you - Max & Bela