Coen is a perfectionist in many ways, even when it comes to using leveling blocks. When he wants the vehicle to be parked straight, it has to be straight. As in straight, straight. Totally straight. Straighter than straight if that’s possible… You get my drift.
When it comes to leveling the vehicle, I, on the other hand, am okay with ‘sort of straight’, ‘if it looks straight it’ll be straight’, ‘good-enough straight’ (although Loes – see her story below – has a good point when it comes to baking pancakes).
When Coen is parking the Land Cruiser for the night, this means that I am going for a walk or will read a book and let him to do his thing because, frankly, we get on each others’ nerves if I don’t.
“Don’t make such an issue of it!”
“Let me do my thing!”
Sounds familiar to some of you?
I once remember what another overlander said about this ritual, which we both thought to be a man thing (but the Bell family – see below – proofs otherwise). Anyway, she compared this ritual of finding the perfect spot to camp to dogs wanting to lie down for a rest.
As dog owners well know, dogs may circle around a zillion time before finally lowering their body in exactly the right postion on exactly the right spot for a nap. Question for Jorge Gonzalez (to understand, see story below) : this sounds very much like your way, doesn’t it?
“Wel, men need to do the same when finding the perfect camping spot,” she said, “instead of circling around on the spot, men circle around a piece of land to find the ultimate place to park the car.” This image helped her to stay sane when leveling the vehicle would take ages. I thought it an accurate description and the image indeed has helped me too! So thank you Mijke!
But, we all have our own versions, scroll below to read Coen’s version on the topic.
From the Overland Expertise Pool
- Land Cruiser or Land Rover? – part 1 & part 2
- Which Overland Tires do you Need, Fat or Skinny?
- How to Level your Overland Vehicle
- Dealing with Heat when Overlanding – Tips & Tricks
- Overlanding as a Digital Nomad – How to Combine Work & Travel
- Women’s Must-Have Overland Gear & Vehicle Requirements
- Solo Women Motorcycle Overlanders Sharing their Favorite Motorcycle Tool
- Wild Camping in Kyrgyzstan – Overlanders Share Their Best Camps
- Wild Camping in Mongolia – Overlanders Share Their Favorite Spots
- Wild Camping in Tajikistan – Overlanders Share Their Favorite Campsites
Leveling your vehicle is a typical overlanders’ topic. Do you have an integrated system in your car? Do you use dedicated leveling blocks? Do you use search rocks lying around? Or do you have the perfect eye for that level piece of land?
The Overland Expertise Pool is back, this time sharing their tips and tricks with you. Enjoy!
And of course, feel free to share in the comment section whether you use leveling blocks (which ones), or other leveling-your-vehicle tips.
1. Coen Wubbels – Landcruising Adventure
“What’s with the rocks?” or “Why is your car jacked up on one side?” are some of the comments I have read on pictures of cars camping in the wild. If you are not familiar with rough camping you too might wonder why some cars have put blocks or ramps under their tires.
It’s all about leveling our vehicle; a necessity for many of us in order to have a comfortable night.
During the first five years of our overland adventure, we mostly slept in our rooftop tent and being level was not such a big deal. I’d search for a terrain that allowed for moving the car around until I found a suitable spot.
As long as it wasn’t leaning sideways too much it was good enough. Once the rooftop tent was deployed I would figure out on which side of the tent we’d put our heads. If needed I could lift the bottom of the tent by putting the ladder straighter.
In extreme cases, for example, in mountains, I used rocks to level the Land Cruiser. In urban areas, bricks or planks were used. Somehow, the surroundings always provided what we needed.
Popular Leveling Blocks used by Overlanders
When at the famous Quinta Lala Campground in Cusco (Peru), we were having lunch one day when a new overlander arrived. He took out a two blocks of wood and two planks in order to level his vehicle. This triggered my interest and I took a closer look at all the overlanding vehicles parked in the campground.
I realized we were the only ones using a rock and that most fellow overlanders used wood of some sort that they carried with them. One used plastic ramps and one used a hydraulic suspension system to level their cars.
Things changed when we started to sleep more inside the Land Cruiser due to a leaking rooftop tent. We wanted to sleep with our heads facing the rear doors in order to have fresh air from our camping windows in the rear doors. Apart from not leaning sideways I now have to make sure it’s not on a slant forward or backward either.
Remembering the solutions I had seen in Peru we are now the proud owners of two little wooden blocks, at least until the occasion arises that we can install a hydraulic system 😉
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2. Gert Jan ter Haar – Miladylandy
When we arrive at an overnight stop with our Land Rover Defender, I try to position the car in such a way that it is level. I use two spirit levels, one on the dashboard and one above Sonja’s door.
On arrival, this is my first priority, although we don’t mind standing a bit on a slant either. Usually this works well enough, as in the accompanying photo on the coast of Morocco where we spent New Year’s Eve 2019-2020.
When the terrain is very uneven, we use yellow, slanted blocks, which have a dedicated spot in the vehicle so that we can quickly reach them if need be.
Follow Gert Jan ter Haar’s overland journey at Miladylandy (website & Instagram)
3. Bell Family – A2A Expedition
Sleeping at a slant, sliding off the bed is fun for no-one. Our children are obsessed with a level camper and over the years have developed a super naturally irrational gift for determining plumb. Back in the day we used to carry two very useful blocks of wood which would serve as leveling blocks. These days we wing it.
Here is our current system:
We pull into a campsite and inspect the ground as a pro-golfer inspects a green, on hands and knees, cheek on the ground, ass in the air.
- After walking around the entire campsite for half an hour we chose the most level and well equipped site (if camping in a camp ground) and then race the Landy to the site with a beating heart, paranoid that some other camper may come along and claim our site.
- If wild camping we look for a level spot then manoeuvre the Landy into place like Austin Powers. Luisa and Keelan will stand in my blind spot and whisper instructions until I nearly hit a tree or rock, only then will they step out of the shadows and start screaming instructions.
- If we cannot achieve perfect level we will then hunt for rocks and branches, line them up on the offended slope, engage low range and drive the Landy up onto the ILD (Improvised Leveling Device). I will then turn off the engine, engage the handbrake, release the foot brake and slide off the ILD.
- When camping on the beach or in the desert we simply dig holes of the desired depth and drive into them and then stand, hands on hips, looking at the Landy with dissatisfaction as she in too close to the ground and looks kinda naff.
- In extreme situations we will deflate the tyres until SWAMBO indicates that she is satisfied and the kids quit their bitchin.
Follow Graeme Bell and his family’s overland adventures on A2A Expedition (website & Instagram)
4. Margriet & Jan van Bekkum – 4ever2wherever
We use an extremely simple method to level our campervan. We put a small water level on the dashboard and when the terrain isn’t completely flat we can usually level the car by simply moving backward or forward a little.
If the terrain is too skewed to do so we find ourselves a stone or a piece of wood for the job. We don’t have any other tools onboard, because they would take too much place.
Follow Jan en Magriet overland adventures on 4ever2wherever (website & Youtube)
5. Ernesto & Taisa – Overlanding the Americas
Leveling our vehicle is an ingrained part of our camping setup routine. It’s key for a good night’s sleep and for prepping our meals and drinks comfortably.
We usually sleep in our vehicle’s pop top roof. This makes unleveled parking more evident so we definitely try to level our car before setting up camp. We also have the option to sleep inside our Troopy’s rear cargo area. For that sleep option, slightly unleveled parking is usually fine.
Ideally, we level our vehicle for a more comfortable sleep. BUT sometimes procrastination strikes and if we get too comfortable socializing and indulging over food, beer and wine we can wake up with one of us squashing the other into one side of our bed. That’s still ok if enough beverages were consumed. 😉 However, we find it extremely difficult to sleep if our heads are lower than our feet. That scenario makes us really unhappy campers no matter how good the food, beer and wine were.
Especially when wild camping, finding a good, flat spot is often impossible. How do you solve it?
One of the first things we do once we arrive at a potential camping spot is to look for a place with the nicest views and/or the most convenient, leveled, shaded, inconspicuous and protected from the wind spot. When there is no level ground, we look for existing rocks or wood stumps that we can drive over one or two of our tires until we fine that sweet even spot. If we can’t easily find anything we can drive over that is already there we then we whip out our leveling ramps which 98% percent of the time help us level our vehicle.
On a rare occasion, when it’s really just a very uneven spot, we use our Maxtrax (traction boards) to level out.
Whatever takes the least amount of time and effort to level our vehicle is usually our preferred method. We don’t use leveling tools but many of our friends do and I tend to make fun of them about that. That kind of tells you that although we think it’s important we are not too particular about it being perfectly level.
Follow Ernesto & Taisa overland travels on Overland The Americas
6. Belinda & Markus – 2Experience
Sleeping with our heads lower than our feet, sliding too much to the wrong side when rolling over at night or cupboard doors that won’t stay open when reaching for something, is annoying.
OK, some may say that real adventurers would not care and maybe that is right. Then, for sure, we are not real adventurers. Living leveled is a big deal for us and organizing this daily luxury sometimes is hard work.
Finding a promising spot is only the beginning. Parking the car the correctly is the most critical part. Where Markus drives up on arrival, I quickly scan the ground for bumps and holes often directing him back and forth until my ‘inner spirit level’ feels right. Markus, on the other hand, has more confidence in his equipment and parking skills. In the end we get the best result when we work together.
As soon as we have found a good spot we use our ‘real’ spirit level to see where we need to adjust and for this we carry 4 wooden blocks and 2 wedges. Simple tools, but with the right experience all we need. Using only the wedges or a combination of wedges with one or more wooden block gives us endless opportunities to level. It only needs a trained eye to assess the right combination and good parking skills to drive up the wedges and stop the car at the best height without rolling it down again after releasing the break.
To be honest I do not master that skill, but luckily Markus does. I only need to watch and yell, “Stop!”
And… try not to forget them when we leave, which is important because with limited storage space, these are not just any blocks and wedges, these are the ones that fit the best.
So you can imagine our disappointment when one day discovered we left them behind. With campers increasing in size the small wedges are very hard to find nowadays. But, after a long search, we did and to protect our valueless but very precious tools we now mark the steering wheel as a reminder so we do not forget them again.
As to us sleeping and living in a not leveled car is worse than driving on corrugation or a road full of potholes. We really hate it, but maybe that is just us.
Follow Markus & Belinda overland travels on 2Experience
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7. Reni & Marcel – Swiss Nomads
Leveling the vehicle is one of the key points in our daily camper life. When Karin-Marijke and Coen asked us how we level our camper and how we solve the problem on uneven grounds, we had to smile. Most days of our overlanding trip we camp wild and finding a flat spot is quite often all but easy. Therefore we always keep our eyes peeled for places, with a great view and level grounds.
When finding a great spot we first go out and check the place. After we position the vehicle, if needed towards the wind and we also check our spirit level, which we have placed on our dashboard. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes not.
If we can’t get our vehicle level, we try to use natural features like deepenings or increases on the ground, sometimes we use little rocks or if the ground is soft, we use our shovel to dig small pits. If that all does not help, we have some small wooden boards to put underneath our wheels.
We’ve seen other overlanders using plastic leveling blocks. We don’t, because we only have limited space in our Toyota Land Cruiser and don’t carry such bulky items.
Sometimes it takes quite some time to level the camper. But it’s worth it. It’s much more comfortable for everything. To sit, to cook and to sleep.
Follow Reni & Marcel’s overland adventures on Swiss Nomads (website & Instagram)
8. Loes & Harm – Six Wheels East
‘System’ may be a big word for how we level our overland vehicle. When we arrive at a campspot, we generally start by just looking around. If luck has it, we can do this while sitting in the car.
When in doubt the person in the passenger seat gets out to check where the ground is the most level. And then comes the most important part, when we think we’re on the right spot, we check our spirit level. It has meanwhile gained a fixed spot on the dashboard.
Check left-right. Okay(ish)?
Check front-rear. Okay(ish)?
We don’t mind to be a bit on a slant as long as we don’t sleep with our head on the low side. Recently we added the requirement that we don’t want to be too high with our head either. We had no other choice the other day but then the blankets kept on sliding down (and, of course, it was a cold night).
Oh, yes, and when pancakes are on the menu we are a bit more strict as well, otherwise the batter will run from the frying plate ;).
What if we can’t find the somewhat straight spot? Either we accept or see if we can find any rocks to play with.
Follow Loes and Harm’s overland journey on Six Wheels East (website & Instagram)
9. Charlie & Chris – Starry Nights and Insect Bites
Yes, we definitely need to level the car for a good night’s sleep. Our strategy is fairly basic:
When looking for somewhere to camp for the night we always try to find a spot that’s as level as possible to begin with. Once parked up we use the spirit level app on our iPhone on one of the flat sections in the car.
We’ve found that if we’re between 0-2 degrees in both directions, its level enough as long as our heads are higher than our toes when we’re sleeping. If we aren’t within 0-2 degrees, we put something under the wheels on the lowest corner or side to make the car level.
When we started overlanding we would just use anything we could find around us to help to level (rocks, bricks, wood). During our trip we bought a set of Maxtrax and found them to be very useful for leveling the car out. We have four Maxtrax so use a combination of one to four Maxtrax under one to two wheels. We were carrying the Maxtrax for recovery but they also meant we could use them for leveling without taking any additional items.
The photo is on Burny Island in Tasmania, Australia. When we parked here, we were level front to back but the car was sloping with the right-hand side higher than the left-hand side. We put two Maxtrax under each of the wheels on the left-hand side which made us level in both directions.
Follow Charlie & Chris’ overland adventures on Starry Nights and Insect Bites
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10. Jesse Kaijen – Aimless Wanderers
Call us lazy but we don’t have fancy systems or blocks with us to level the car. To be honest we find them too time consuming. When you try to find that perfect level spot, it takes a lot of time.
In our experience you get it more wrong than right, and you end up with a headache because your head is lying slightly downwards since we, by incident, put the nose a bit lower than the rear. So rather than finding that level spot we try to get it wrong on purpose.
We try to find a slight slope so we ensure our heads are higher than our feet and we avoid headaches. The only thing we want to make sure is that left/right is roughly level so, although we like each other very much, we don’t end up at one side of the bed stuck to the wall.
So our advice is to ditch all the systems and find that slight slope, level left/right and spend more time on other things. If we really can’t find a spot where we can park it properly we take a log or rock and stick it under one of the wheels to get left/right correct. Luckily nine out of ten times, we don’t need it.
Follow Jesse & Odette’s overland travels on Aimless Wanderers (website & Instagram)
11. John & Debbie – Big-Six
To explain our perhaps somewhat extreme ways of leveling the car, we have to go back to the history of our car.
The Land Rover Defender 127 from 1983, is originally an ‘English’ work car. With that we want to say, previously this was not a camper or something like that. It was a single cab, with a cargo bed made to carry large quantities of yard waste, chips or wood, with the specification that the loading platform could be tilted backwards hydraulically in order to be able to empty the loading platform.
And because this feature is specifically mentioned on the license plate, we thought this was reason enough to keep this feature in our Camper conversion. This also means that our camper has no passage from the cabin to the camper and is not permanently attached to the car and can still be exchanged with a loading platform.
This tipping cylinder ensures that we can set our camper straight in the weirdest pits and slopes, mainly for sleeping comfort. But this also offers us, as an additional advantage, a wealth of space between our motorhome body and the chassis. The tipping cylinder can be tilted up to 55 degrees and is powered by the car battery. Even when we are not on a slope, we use the tipping cylinder to make use of the space that is hidden under the camper. When we do this, however, we don’t tip too far because of the refrigerator. (Those systems don’t usually like that.)
In addition to the tipping cylinder that can level us backwards, we can also level the camper conversion sideways 12cm per side. We do this with the help of the air helper suspension that is inside the existing coil suspension. We can inflate the air helper suspension separately with an external compressor. Before we use this air helper suspension, we do turn off the X-Eng sway bar. This so that it does not work against you and so we can use the optimal flex.
Follow Johnny & Debbie’s journey on Big-Six.nl (website & Instagram)
12. Jorge & Jessica – Live Work Wander
Ah the joys of leveling one’s overland rig. You’ve been driving all day, possibly stopping twenty or thirty times to film or photograph something, stuffing your face with beef jerky and crackers along the way, taking piss breaks, filling fuel, listening to a podcast or audio book or Katie Perry’s Firework for the upteenth time when finally the time has come to find camp.
In our duo of overlanding greatness, I’m usually the one doing the driving on the long stretches and Jessica, my much more brilliant, compassionate, and beautiful counterpart, does the driving on forest roads or BLM tracks. And though she is brilliant, my lovely Jessica couldn’t find a level camp spot anywhere on this earth even if she stumbled upon green glass filled with water featuring an air bubble indicating to the rest of humanity that this spot here is, in fact, level.
She would surely proclaim, “I don’t know, that looks slanted to me.” Poor Jessica. I often wonder if she sees the world at a 20º slope. As a result of this, it is I, your faithful transmitter of words on digital paper that must use his superior, no, divine leveling skills to maneuver Jessica and our rig into the prime position for sleeping.
You see, if the rig is slanted along the length of the vehicle—its pitch—then the key here is to make sure the front of the truck is angled up and the rear is angled down. This is important if we plan on sleeping “upstairs” in our pop top bed because we sleep up there with our heads towards the front of the vehicle. Having one’s head on the up-slope prevents blood from filling the ole noggin and causing an aneurysm, headache, cranial explosion, or perpetual dizziness the next day.
And also, our water drain in our sink works better if the truck is pitched up rather than down.
However, other times, the choice has been made by Jessica that we will be sleeping downstairs — our preferred spot to sleep — and because there we sleep from side to side, the vehicle’s roll takes precedence. The pitch here is less important although we do always try to pitch the truck upwards for the sake of the sink’s water drain.
I say all this to make you aware of the sheer amount of engineering know how I must keep in mind when positioning the rig; Jessica’s mood the next day depends on it.
So, how do we level the rig? We once bought some level indicators— you know, the little water filled glass tubes with an air bubble in them—and glued them to the outside of the rig. They lasted all of one day on the trail before falling off somewhere on the White Rim Road in Canyonlands National Park. If you happen to stumble upon them there, find the nearest trashcan and dispose of them unceremoniously. We have no use for such rudimentary implements.
In Season 3 episode 8 of Cartoon Network’s hit show Rick and Morty, the character Morty is using a common everyday leveler to ensure Rick’s new shelf is, well, level. Rick will have none of it. He says to Morty, “I’m familiar with the bubble, Morty. I also dabble in precision, and if you think you can even approach it with your sad naked caveman eyeball and a bubble of f****** air, you’re the reason this species is a failure.”
I couldn’t agree more, Rick. I couldn’t agree more!
So how do I go about leveling our rig? It’s a combination of telling Jessica, “No, we’re not level yet,” walking around the vehicle multiple times, putting my ear to the earth and listening to her tell me the answer, sifting through bear scat for the answer, and finally, a hardy helping of unearned certainty, i.e. arrogance, that we’ve achieve true level. I also often find myself in the woods looking for stones to place under whichever set of tires are on a slope and/or sometimes if no stones are available, I use our handy maxtrax traction pads to level the truck.
Voila! We’re level! Jessica is happy, I’m happy, the water in the drain is pouring out how it should and no one’s skull will burst this night. Success.
We don’t really have anything to level the truck. We just use whatever we find at camp to try to level it and more often than not the truck is sitting at an angle. As a result, we are perpetually tempting our noggin exploding fate.
Follow Jorge & Jessica’s overland journey on Live Work Wander (website & Instagram)
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