Trakkabout: Wintery Getaways and our All Terrain

Jean Foerster acquired his Trakkadu AT in 2017. An intrepid winter traveller and hiker, he uses his van as a “base camp” of sorts whereby he hikes - sometimes for one day, more often than not for many days on end - then retreats to the van afterwards. We caught up with Jean to find out exactly how the AT handles snowy, wet conditions; and how it supports him throughout his adventures.

When I first bought the van, it was used almost totally for getaways. The reason for that is I mostly use public transport or cycle or use a motorcycle to get around in the city, so the van travelled country miles only. However lately (the last few months) I have also used it to get around in the city. I’ve found it perfectly easy and relaxing to drive, it has great visibility, a functional dashboard with the interactive Stay Connected technology and it has great transport space for bulky items. I live in the inner suburbs of Melbourne in Brunswick and it gets a lot of stares!

I went on many snow trips last winter and look forward to more in 2019. First, as a mountain vehicle it performs so well, it’s stable on wet or snow covered winding roads in the mountains. Snow resort management requires chains be fitted, but the Trakka doesn’t need them. The tyres and all wheel drive, as well as the diff lock, ground clearance and low torque of the engine mean it can climb all kinds of snowy roads. I abide by the rules, but I’m confident in the snow with the Trakka.

In terms of functionality as a camper in the snow… it’s excellent. I do snow shoeing and backcountry skiing. I don’t typically stay in the resorts, I stay away from crowded areas and the Trakka is self-sufficient. When I arrive to my destination (Falls Creek, Hotham, Lake Mountain, Buffalo in Victoria or Perisher, Thredbo area or Guthega which is excellent for alpine skiing) I have all my fresh food, some pre cooked, some dried, I have water in the tank and water purification for top ups, as well as all the snow equipment like shovels, axe etc. I crank on the Webasto heater and the cabin is warm and functional. I have 240 watts solar so the Li Fe battery recharges 95% every day now without engine start (I had some troubles initially with this which was limiting my autonomy but it’s all fixed now). I have a USB charge Bose speaker so plenty of music or plenty of quiet time as I choose. Usually in winter I am alone as people who might be in the area during the day make their way to the chalets or down into the valley for the night. I can stay days and days in the snow right next to the action for the price of a few bits of food and fuel… It’s a minimal cost since I don’t buy lift tickets either. Of course there’s the purchase of the van itself and the equipment but the dependability of the equipment is essential in conditions such as in the mountains in remote areas.

The design of the interior is second to none. Every piece of equipment is perfectly sized and positioned and built with appropriate materials. The use of the VW Transporter is the best choice. Not only is it a continuation of the VW camper heritage from the ‘60s, it is also the best size for optimum functionality. Bigger vans would be restricted as an extreme adventure camper and smaller ones would lack the kind of features the Trakka offers.

In terms of best features within the AT, there are too many to single out. In winter, it’s all about the diesel based webasto cooker, the AWD, the Seikel Heavy Duty Maxi off road suspension and DSG. In summer I couldn’t live without the awning, fly screens, and the pop-top zip down sections. Then all round, the cabin lights, storage, bed, pop-top standing room, privacy screens, USB ports all make for a great trip.

The AT accommodates all my hiking/snow needs. The idea behind hiking/using the AT as a base camp, is to take lightweight minimalist gear that fits into your backpack. The thing with the VW Trakka though is that I can do multiple days trips coming back to the van or day trips where I come back to it overnight. And to be frank, since I’ve owned the Trakka I do a lot of the day trips and come back to comfort, fresh food and music but I’m based in the wilderness right where I want to be so I get access to the natural environment with no travel required. This is fundamental and harks back to the ‘60s when surfers figured that out and adapted the VW to a camper van so they could live right where the waves were the best without having to go back to town for food and shelter. When wave conditions changed, they just moved the van to follow wherever they needed to go. Rock climbing people have done the same, using the camper van to live by rock cliffs they choose to climb. I use the Trakka as a modern version of this early adaptation of the VW transporter. The Trakka could be portrayed as a far more capable adventure vehicle then it currently is (my opinion). It is a extremely capable life support system for adventure sports people who need to stay in a location where their passion is…be it surfing or rock climbing, winter mountaineering or snow sports.

The Webasto Diesel heater is an excellent feature of the Trakka for my purpose. Initially, I had problems with it because the thermostat is located away from the cabin interior so as I used to set it to 20 Celsius for example, it would continue to heat up way beyond 28 Celsius… too hot. But now I set it to 11 or 12 Celsius and the dashboard records 19, 20 Celsius, which is perfect. I called the Webasto team and was told they could move the thermostat for me so I will do that at some point. But in terms of usefulness in winter, the van would be unliveable unless it was fitted! It is excellent feature to have it in the van, and it works off the diesel tank and hardly uses electricity. As I look out the window in my T shirt in the middle of snowing wintery nights, I’m forever grateful for this feature of the Trakka. I also use it to dry wet gear including shoes and pants and base layers. By the next day it’s all dry and ready to go for the next days adventure!

When it comes to meal planning for adventures within the AT, I mostly eat food like grains, root crops, greens, eggs, cheese, some fish, humus, dried fruit, nuts. I dry a lot of my food using a home food dehydrator. This is for hiking so that when we walk or leave the van overnight(s) we don’t carry water in the food - to reduce weight and volume. The van is packed with food. When we run out at some point, we simply pack up and go to the nearest town, stock up and then head back to the same place or another site!

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