TNB: Wheels Up—The Top Climbing Rigs
These might be outdated after the past few years, but still classic options!
A climber’s wheels must roll. That’s really what makes a great climbing vehicle. You can romp a tricked-out van, a kit-lifted
truck or even a push-pedal bicycle through the mountains of this planet, just as long as those wheels keep spinning.
for example, the great alpinist, Anderl Heckmair, who crisscrossed the Alps in the late 1920s and early 30s on a bicycle while putting up fierce first
“To solve the problem of luggage transportation we built ourselves ‘the gig,’ a little trailer that we loaded with our substantial rucksacks and towed
behind … ” wrote Heckmair in his memoir My Life.
A lot has changed since Heckmair’s vagabond days. Spend a couple of days in any major climbing area and you’ll likely see vehicles that not only sport
a nice set of wheels, but nearly all the comforts of a cozy home to boot. If you’re like me, you’ve probably sat in your tent on a rainy morning and
grumbled, while gazing longingly at climbers cooking breakfast in their styled-out Sprinter van.
Recently, I vowed to one day join this elite crew, and to weigh my options, I’ve made this list of the top five climbing rigs (and by rig I do not mean
Dave Graham’s latest boulder problem).
1. The Volkswagen Bus
These iconic vehicles have permeated climbing destinations worldwide since the 1960s. Tales of John Bachar prowling through Yosemite with his tree-trunk
size forearm hanging from the open window of his 1968 red Volkswagen while looking for partners is now part of American climbing lore. Then there’s
the picture of Stefan Glowacz working out on a hangboard mounted to the side of a sky-blue Bus with Smith Rock looming in the background. Admit it,
we all wish to be that cool.
But there’s one problem … if you choose to travel in a Volkswagen, you may also need a horse to pull it. That’s right, certain models of these German
built engines are notorious for breaking down, and mechanics with the savvy to work on them are few and far between out on the lonesome road.
This is probably the closest a climber can get to having an actual home on wheels. I’m not talking about the road-hogging, retiree commanded RVs with names
like Lancer or Prowler that are the objects of our ire as they crawl up the Priest Grade road and into Yosemite. The classy rigs I’m talking about
are like minotaurs of the road—one half is a small pickup truck and the other half’s a mobile home.
It’s no wonder why guys like Carlo Traversi (who’s rolling in a 1986 Dolphin)
choose to ransack crags across the country in these nifty road-warriors.
2. The Camper-Topped Toyota Tacoma
Sturdy, functional and easily driven into rugged climbing destinations, the Tacoma is the go-to for what is probably the largest group of car-dwelling
climbers. With a properly fitted camper top, the rig becomes your traveling gear closet and bedroom. Perhaps best suited for the adventurous climber,
these rigs may not provide the most comfortable abode, but what they lack in comfort they gain in utility. The high clearance and 4WD provide climbers
with what they always want … access into the great unknown. Just ask JStar.
3. The Subaru Outback
The Clark Kent of climbing rigs, the Subaru Outback can do a classy city commute one day, then morph into an off-road dog the next, which makes it a great
choice for the weekend warrior. If you’re short you can sleep inside these spacious sedans. Economically, the Outback outshines its counterparts due
to the rig’s fuel efficiency. And these whips also sport a mean all-wheel drive and decent clearance.
4. The Sprinter Van
I admit one of my favorite pastimes while hanging out at a climbing area is talking smack about Sprinter vans. But I’ll also be the first to admit that
I’m really just jealous. If I could join the cult, I would.
These enormous white boxes on wheels that take up two Subaru parking spaces at crags across the country are, in my opinion, the ultimate road-tripping
machines. To be specific—since the Sprinter van comes in many different variations—the holy grail of comfort for climbing rigs is the Mercedes
Sprinter. Sure, there are many van options for the climber. Who hasn’t seen Honnold’s built-out Ford Econoline? But that dude feels comfortable while hanging from finger locks 300 feet above the ground …
without a rope!
For me, the Mercedes Sprinter van has all the amenities, and if you don’t believe me, check out this video of Jonathan Thesenga and Brittany Griffith’s champion climbing rig. The only problem I can foresee with buying
a Sprinter van is that I’d have to work the rest of my life to pay it off, which would really cut in to my climbing time.