Into the cold: Car Camping with a 1991 Mitsubishi Montero

What’s cold for me is certainly not going to be what’s cold for all of you. I used to understand cold. Growing up for a portion of my life just outside Boston, the winters were gray, dark, devoid of that beautiful live sprouting from all the trees, and fucking cold. Now though, I live in Southern California. Cold to me is when I walk my dog in the morning and it’s in the mid-40s. So when I recently took my first-gen Mitbusihi Montero car camping in Monache Meadows, I was in for a bit of a shock. The weather report called for the temperature to dip down to 20F, but I think it went even lower. Despite my nearly turning into a frozen brosicle, my truck performed flawlessly.

The path to Monache Meadows, for me, starts in Lake Forest, California, and winds up a few hours away and quite a bit higher-up relative to sea level. There’s a road off the 395 Freeway called 9 Mile Road, which snakes up from a small nothing-ville with a gas station to around 8,000-feet above sea level. Eventually, the pavement gives way to dirt. Then the bumps, rocks, descents, and climbs start to get a bit more interesting and four-wheel-drive is recommended to get in and out of Monache Meadows.

Mitsubishi Montero water crossing
Image (and Lead Image) shot by Jamie Pulos, https://www.instagram.com/funkpockets/

Rolling with the Diamond Club

Our camping crew consists of five vehicles. All of them have the familiar tri-diamond Mitsubishi logo. There are two Outlanders, two gen-three Monteros, and my gen-one truck. Of the two Outlanders, one is driven by a rep from Mitsu and wears the same wheels and tires found on the version recently driven in the Rebelle Rally. This one too is a plugin hybrid, and a Roof Nest tent has been installed up top for literal car camping. The other Outlander is modified and, quite frankly, looks awesome. The owner often takes it off-road and camping with his daughter and wife. Finally, the two gen-three Monteros are modified a bit. A gray one sits on Toyota steel wheels, which give off a proper NATO vehicle vibe, while the red one is fully kitted with King shocks, rear interior storage, and beefy wheels and tires. All of those vehicles are running either four or all-wheel-drive. And they would need it.

Mitsubishi Outlander off-road

car camping at monache meadows

Cold Camping

car camping in Monache Meadows

My own car camping setup is simple. This is mostly because I don’t typically go camping with my truck. I’ve been fortunate to camp spoiled automotive journalist style in Airstreams and other vehicles. This means I need gear. I hit up two spots for such equipment; my preferred local overland/camping shop GTFO Overland, and REI. The tent is a simple pop-up unit from Front Runner. I paired it with a self-inflating sleep bad and a sleeping bag. The sleeping pad never self-inflated and my sleeping bag is rated to 20F. I’ve since learned to get a lower temp rating for what you’re actually going to be camping in. It was damn cold.

As for lighting, I brought along a Pelican headlamp and flashlight. I also have a set of four LED lights from Australian outfit HardKorr lighting. These things are awesome. They have different brightness levels, can run bright white or easy-on-the-eyes amber, have a magnetic back, and a rubber band strap so you can mount them in many ways. I had two on the back of my Montero as the sun was going down to provide light for our camping spot. I used another inside my tent, and the fourth was waiting in reserve in case I needed it. These lights are amazing, and I can’t recommend them enough. Toss them in your kit and I guarantee you’ll find a use for them. Either when wrenching (magnetic, stick to the car in weird spots) or camping.

Our group sat around for a bit after a day spent getting to this glorious spot. The sun dipped and the temperatures dropped, quickly. We all stayed up a bit longer as the sky filled with more stars than I’d seen in some time. But bedtime loomed and I set to my shivering slumber. Also, since I’m 40, I head to get up to pee in the middle of the night… twice.

Car glamping, this is not.

The drive back out

Mitsubishi Montero off-road
Image shot by Jamie Pulos, https://www.instagram.com/funkpockets/

After shaking ourselves from our respective tents, we fired up our vehicles. Mine actually took a few tries to do so. It was as cold as I and did not like turning over in the cold. But it did, and it warmed up quickly. We packed our sleeping spots as the vehicles idled under the rising sun. And then we pointed the Mitsubishi logos back towards the trail. Car camping was over. Time for driving. I started at the rear of the pack, so we could let the Outlanders work their way over some of the tougher terrain. But at some point, I wound up in the lead. This was good since I have the only vehicle in the group with a manual gearbox. Less time spent holding on a hill is better here. And my Montero was damn good in this environment.

The combination of Fox 2.0 shocks and BFGoodrich KO2 tires equals a hard-to-beat setup. Add in my factory “bouncy seat” and I was comfortable along the entirety of the trail. In fact, I’m proud to say, I kept the truck in 2WD the whole time. This thing is a god damn mountain goat, and I love it.

All of the other vehicles made it out as well. The only issue arose when the Outlander PHEV had trouble in one section where grippy dirt gave way to slippery rocks. We popped out some MaxTrax and GoTreads and it climbed up and out, and we continued on. It was actually cool to hear that the hybrid was gaining back battery power thanks to all the braking. And there were times on the trail when it ran solely as an EV. It also handled a basic water crossing with no issue.

The modified Outlander, meanwhile, ran the trail with zero issues. It’s a good-looking, well-upgraded machine and I’m impressed at what that platform can do. The owner posts pictures of his rig here.

Mighty Mitsubishi Machines

car camping with mitsubishi

My truck is 29 years old. The two gen-3 Monteros aren’t spring chickens. And most would never think of an Outlander as a rugged vehicle. Yet all allowed us to drive, traverse, cross, climb, and adventure our way to a glorious spec of California. I was cold. My truck was cool. And I can’t wait to do it again… this time with a different sleeping bag, and a closer eyeball of the forecasted temps.

[Images copyright 2020, Jeff Glucker/Hooniverse – Unless otherwise noted]

25 Comments

  1. Amazing photos, Jeff, I’m talking wallpaper material! Absolutely fantastic. The Outlander PHEV was one of the very first plugin hybrids and a huge, massive, violent sales success in Norway. Unfortunately for Mitsubishi, it’s a tiny country, and it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, but I see Outlanders everywhere, all the time. And you’re right, apart from colleagues who claim it “drives like a tractor” when compared to small French cars, nothing with these has ever struck me as actually offroad worthy, so this was a new perspective.

    But is this now where the bragging rights go? They do, right?:

    View post on imgur.com

    View post on imgur.com

    Also, a 6 year old photo of a rare diamond stared vehicle in its natural environment, to appease the vast hordes of Mitsubishi fanbois expected to flood the Hooniverse every minute now.

    View post on imgur.com

      1. Congrats, it shows! What kind of camera is this? Colour and depth especially are great. Good photographer, too.

        1. I’m interested in the camera details as well (not for myself– my wife is our resident photographer). I love the image with the light coming through the trees over the tent. And like Sjalabais, I too captured a few images for wallpaper use!

          1. Can you make that happen? Did Deartháir hand over the secret decoder ring before he began his sentence?

        2. I jumped ship from Canon…

          I bought the new Sony A7SIII and paired it with the 24-70 G Master lens.

          1. Incidentally, this camera, without lense, is priced within 50$ of what I paid for my Centennial here in Norway… 😬 You might have gotten the better deal.

  2. I’ve done the car camping thing (well, converted van) once, and despite the sub-freezing temperatures, with judicious use of warm clothes and a space heater (which was overkill after a couple hours), was pretty tolerable. Of course, waking up at the base of a mountain around sunrise helped make it worthwhile.

    I’m impressed by the Outlander doing so well, but mostly I’ll probably end up looking at 3rd gen Monteros for sale until I remind myself that there’s nowhere good to go offroading anywhere near me.

    https://photos.app.goo.gl/TH9dHa7Xb8VpDhQW7

  3. As a fellow New England kid gone California I can sympathize with the embarrassing intolerance of anything under 65 degrees F.

    We were car camping in Baja one New Years Week and if freaking started snowing on us at 1300 feet above sea level (that’s one skyscraper.) I quickly announced to the camp my resolve to spend the day drunk and retired to my tent with a six pack of Guinness.
    That didn’t last long. One of the campers in a Murano had a flat and wanted me to fix it.
    “You do understand it’s 10 A.M. and I’m just about to open my third Guinness, don’t you?”
    An hour and two Guinness later I was happy to report that I had fixed the flat and that I had also locked the keys in the car, as could have been expected from previous, well published data on my mental capacity.

  4. What does anyone on here think of the way that Mitsubishi has handled it’s sales marketing and heritage? The Evos are gone, the Pajero/Montero is gone and Mitsubishi is withdrawing to Asia and America, abandoning their dealer set-up in Europe. How could they squander such a great past, (and marketing opportunity)?

    1. It’s baffling. They abandon their quality products in favour of…what? Small, cheap cars? No cars, eventually? Usually, something like a Pajero or Evo is needed to attract attention, something to shine some light on more mundane offerings with better economies of scale. It is especially surprising to see that they drop Europe in favour of the US. American car blogs have been lamenting the death of Mitsubishi for years, while I figured they were doing just fine in Europe. Maybe it’s a harbinger of things to come for us old-worldlers here, with strict regulations and high costs pulling smaller OEMs out of our market.

    2. cars are a commodity now. the most efficient means of turning raw materials into money are the 1.6-liter turbo crossover and the fullsize pickup, at least in the USA. finance is cheap so anyone can buy them. smaller cars have low enough margins to not even be worth bothering with. engineering and supply chains are standardized, so the products are all very competent and barely differentiate themselves. 70% of the vehicles sold to consumers today are basically interchangeable. the remainder falls into a small number of categories with a small number of serious competitors, each nearly identical to the others, and often based on shared engineering. innovations happen, but only in the service of increasing efficiency or reducing cost.

      Mitsubishi used to need loss leaders like sports cars when companies had to maintain reputations. but now, and especially where Mitsubishi is, nobody cares about the product. Mitsubishi can sell more cars by making a convenient dealer network, advertising, and being the most efficient commodity mill they can be. it’s what Nissan did 25 years ago and it saved them then. they’re in trouble now, but not in any way that would have been prevented by more compelling products. they saw what was happening early: innovation in the 21st century car market would be about efficient management, not building better or more-fun cars. a certain electric-car company CEO recently lamented that there are too many MBAs running American businesses, and CEOs should care about product. but he’s entering an brand-new, high-margin market. if Mitsubishi focused on making fun cars that cost $500 more than Honda’s boring equivalents, they wouldn’t sell a single one.

      i doubt Mitsubishi can truly right the ship. markets with this perfect level of competition – cf airlines, shipping, PCs, furniture, fast food – have razor-thin margins and are constantly consolidating via mergers and acquisitions; only luxury products make real profits. but what other choice does Mitsubishi have? they just have to stem the bleeding as long as they can. they’ll flame out 20 years from now instead of 10, or be acquired because they turn a spreadsheet green in a corner office at the Renaissance Center.

      1. A good reply. But Mitsubishi has already been acquired, by Nissan Renault and is part of that alliance. And if cars are just a commodity, then like all commodities, branding and brand positioning is even more important. This is where the Evo ‘brand’ and the Pajero/Montero ‘brands’ would be even more crucial. To completely drop them when a storied heritage is well associated with both is not just mystifying, it’s incomprehensible. it’s like Chevrolet abandoning the Corvette, or Ford, the Mustang, or Land Rover, the Range Rover, or Toyota, the LandCruiser. Those two ‘brands’ amongst others helped define Mitsubishi. Without them they are just a cheap manufacturer of consumer products that people buy on price alone.

        1. lmao i didn’t even realize that Mitsubishi had been purchased.

          what you’re saying is what i’m saying though! the value of the halo car is diminished. Mitsubishi is a cheap manufacturer of consumer products that people buy on price alone, just like Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Ford, General Motors, and the rest of them. sports car sales are dead, sport sedan sales are dead, wagon sales are dead, hatchback sales are dead, weird-car sales are dead. outside of the luxury market, it’s all boring all the time. the cornerstones – Corvette, Camaro, Mustang – have so much mainstream appeal that they get some development money, but smaller companies can’t afford it.

          i’m not saying i know their long-term plan, or even that they have one. slowly merge into the greater apparatus of Renault/Nissan/Anonymous Transport Appliances Ltd, i guess. but i do think people pay less attention to their cars than we realize. if they see an opportunity to save a grand on purchase price or a few tenths on their finance rate, that’s as appealing to today’s buyer as the 4G63 ever was.

        2. and i would not be surprised at all if Toyota dropped the Land Cruiser soon. the Supra and 86 could disappear right now and they’d lose no money. these are passion projects in an industry that has less and less room for passion projects. no more three-martini lunches, just constant grind to make the most utility. capitalism does wonders for our quality of life, but in the long run it rewards efficiency, not passion.

  5. Looks like a great trip.

    A couple of gear recommendations:

    Instead of buying another sleeping bag, buy a sleeping bag liner, or two. Just like wearing a sweatshirt under your coat will keep you warmer than the coat by itself, the liner adds a few degrees of additional warmth. They pack up into something the size of a beer can, and you can use them to vary the warmth so that if Friday’s temps drop to the 20’s but Saturday stays in the 60’s, you aren’t sweating through the night in a too-warm sleeping bag. Sometimes just a liner is all you need, without a bag.

    Inflatable sleeping pads tend to self-deflate at unfortunate times Get a foam pad instead. It will help prevent the cold ground from absorbing your body heat while you sleep.

    Get a knit cap with a built in LED headlamp. Wear it around camp to see what you’re doing, and then wear it to sleep in to keep body heat from escaping. At bedtime on a cold night, I tend to cover my eyes with it and pull mine down to just above my nostrils.

    1. I think sleeping bags have two temperature ratings too, ‘comfortable’ and ‘not going to actually freeze to death’. Guess which one gets advertised?

      1. I sleep a lot outside, usually without a tent. As with everything else, you can go all in and spend a gazillion schmillion on The Best Stuff. For me personally, I have found that a random, but wide enough foam mat is indispensable as bottom layer, a quality air mat (Exped Down ❤) on top of that, and then a good bag where I need to focus on the rating for women to sleep comfortably. I prefer down here, too, it’s just unbeatable for weight, space and sleeping comfort. For longer trips with a chance of getting wet, especially more than two nights during winter, a bag with synthetic fill is preferrable. It doesn’t lump together when wet/moist, even though insulation capacity will drop. Wear wool as a first layer on your body in any case.

  6. Excellent pictures Jeff. I’m surprised at how narrow your truck looks compared to it’s younger siblings.

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