Gear Tips

Back Up Any Expedition: Thule style

Ford Mondeo Iceland
Written by Kirstie Pelling

Back up your expedition Thule style

As kids grow and adventures get more ambitious sooner or later you’ll start to wonder how you fit it all in. Not into your budget; challenging as that is. And not into your diary, although we know how absurd that can be. No, how do you fit all the gear you need into your bike, car, canoe or rucksack? Or worse still how do you fit all of that into your car for a multi-activity expedition?  

We faced this problem head on while planning our recent trip to Iceland and Thule offered us a novel solution that means you don’t need to upgrade your car to a motorhome, minibus or monster truck, however cool an idea that might seem. We tried out a Thule BackUp Box and this is what we thought…

Married to Mondeo Man

If I said to you I was married to Mondeo Man, what would you think? You’d probably imagine a conventional guy going off to work in his family car, with perhaps some nice upgrades like leather seats and a Sat Nav. Well, think again.

There’s nothing conventional about my Mondeo Man. He doesn’t have a proper job, only wears a suit to weddings and funerals, definitely prefers a tandem to the latest sports car and shows no interest in upgrading to a Ghia, let alone a jeep. But then he does sometimes surprise; this summer he turned into Jenson Button when faced with a river and a lavafield.

Jeep and Ford Mondeo

Forced to choose between a jeep and a Mondeo I think he’d choose the Mondeo!

A lavafield? In Cumbria?

Don’t panic. Helvellyn hasn’t erupted since you last read the news. I refer to our recent expedition to Iceland where my very own Mondeo Man drove us rally style on a circumnavigation of the island in our long suffering 2002 Ford Mondeo Estate. Accompanied not only by us but with his new best friend, a Thule Back-Up Box, for, well… for back up.

A Thule Back Up Box? What’s that?

It’s whatever you want it to be – food store, giant suitcase, gear stash, tool kit. The Thule 900 Back Up box is a huge storage unit that mounts onto a rack fixed to the tow ball on the back of a car, giving you a whole extra boot to fill with stuff – sweets, clothes, medication, spares – whatever your needs are for your expedition or family holiday. Our 420 litre back up box carried our tent, sleeping bags, Thermarests and bicycle tool kit, freeing up the boot for clothes, toiletries and other less used items! Together with the bike roof racks it turned our car from a rather ordinary supermarket shopper to a stop and stare adventure bus.

Thule BackUp Box 900

The BackUp Box is like an extension for your boot

Standing out from the crowd

From the moment we set off we looked a little different from the rest of the traffic getting onto the ferry in Denmark. For some reason, everyone else going to Iceland seemed to think you needed a custom built monster truck. And if we’d wanted to spend a month crossing the wild Icelandic interior then I’m the first to admit the Mondeo would probably have proved a useless heap of junk. But for touring most of the island, moving ourselves and gear between camp-spots and mini biking expeditions, it may not have been uber-cool but was more than up to the job.

Truck waiting for Smyril Line Ferry at HIrtshals

Truck waiting for Smyril Line Ferry at HIrtshals

And boy did we test it. The car and backup box bumped their way 4000 miles over tarmac and gravel, through volcanic deserts, alongside glacial rivers, through city, town and hamlet, on lonely farm tracks, over single track mountain roads, around sweeping fjords, in sun, wind and rain. We visited geysers, volcanoes, lava fields, beaches and abandoned herring plants. With never a complaint. Well, aside from the kids ranting about the odd long day in the car.

But the BackUp Box coped like a veteran. Better perhaps than those inside the vehicle. It was coated with ash, mud and dust sprayed up off the roads, washed clean with rain and riverwater, and bumped along washboard track and potholed trail. It dragged its bottom on a few hilly campsites, but on the whole was hardy, weather proof and secure. So secure I struggled to get it open sometimes!

Car and Thule Backup Box

A mean machine in a kind of dream

But it was more than just an easy access gear store; as we travelled it became a map table and impromptu planning HQ, an outdoor breakfast bar, and a dirty laundry basket. Believe me, you really wouldn’t want those clothes inside the car. It almost doubled our carrying capacity, helped us organise and separate out our kit and meant when things got wet (they do in Iceland), wet things could stay outside the car in the back-up box, kids excepted.  It truly was a ‘back up’ box. And we couldn’t have done it without it, even if it did turn getting things out of the boot into a backseat yoga class.

What’s up with Mondeo Man?

Back at home all’s not well with Mondeo Man. He’s been restless and irritable lately, like he’s missing something. He says he’s fine but he’s not really been the same since we took the BackUp Box off.

He’s half the Mondeo Man he was in Iceland. He just doesn’t look the same poring over maps on the coffee table, spinning his globe in search of a dream to chase. I see a glint in his eye when he talks about volunteering in Malawi. A hint of a smile when he spins around to British Columbia and the Rockies. Half a smirk as he traces a finger from home to Ulaanbaatar.

Globe with finger

He’s been tracing worrying fingers across the globe

No to the Mongol Rally

“We’re not doing the Mongol rally,” I tell him over dinner. “Not in a Ford Mondeo.”

He looks offended. Perhaps it was a bit harsh given that he hadn’t even mentioned it. Yet.

But, you know, I think we could. Never mind the dodgy starter motor, brake warning light and intermittent CD player. That’s small stuff. We’ve got a spirit of adventure. We’ve got each other. We’ve got a Backup Box. But I’m not saying anything. Not yet.

Although if he wants to come and help with the shopping, I’ll happily put the box back on and let him drive me down to Lancaster. On the backroads, if we must.

Ford Mondeo Iceland

You really can go almost anywhere with Mondeo Man

This post is part of our 2012 Adventure Islands Season. We spent summer 2012 exploring Iceland and The Faroes, researching what’s on offer for adventure seeking families. We’re grateful to DFDS Seaways and Smyril Line for help with transport, to Berghaus who helped equip us for the journey and to Thule for the use of the BackUp Box 900 without which the journey would have been a complete nightmare.  All experiences, views and opinions are however, as ever, our own.

You can see a map of our journey on The Family Adventure Project Punkt! and view some exclusive behind the scenes photos and video of what we got up to.

About the author

Kirstie Pelling

Kirstie is the Editor of The Family Adventure Project. A professional writer and poet, she's the creative and journalistic force behind many of the stories and features published here. She's a co-founder and co-director of The Family Adventure Project and also works as the #poetinmotion producing and performing poetry for print, video and live performance.


  • Hah. So you blur out your own licence plates but not those of other cars. And one picture down you even show your own…

    I still wonder, can you open the boot with that thing on? Does it fold down? We have not a lift-up lid but rear doors, would those still open? Ah, but then I need the tow ball for the bikes, as I cannot put them on the roof, as Poschi has a camper roof. So it’s just a thought anyway.

    • You got us there Thomas, inconsistency unlimited. More of an exercise in learning how to use Photoshop filters than an exercise in anonymity!

      Moot point about the boot. You can’t open it with the box on so access is only via the rear seats and involves some personal contortions and extreme stretching. Although you can remove the box quickly and the vertical bar quick releases to enable you to get into the boot. A 5 minute job though so we usually did the yoga.

      You face similar problems then trying to squeeze everything in? But with the added complexity of a soft roof.

      • Nohoo. The “Poschi” (Swiss German for a post bus, for its yellow colour) is an Opel Vivaro, a 9-seater minibus, or, with one row removed, a rolling shed. As the neighbours said, when we finally bought a car, we wouldn’t buy a car, we’d buy A CAR. This year we had all four bikes inside, with all the other stuff. Next year we plan to have a proper kids’ bed in the rear, with the stuff underneath, and the bikes on the tow ball.

        • A little cultural misunderstanding me thinks! At first I thought you might mean a Porsche but hey you’re down a different route. Bikes in the van? Come on, they’re not made for that. Mind you we carried them round Iceland on a roof which is not so great either. Sounds a great plan – I’ve always wanted an adventure bus, sounds like you’re well on your way to making one.

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We're Kirstie & Stuart. We share an adventurous spirit, a passion for indie travel and 3 kids. The Family Adventure Project is our long term experiment in doing active, adventurous things together. Find out more...


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