Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Ten Van Life Essentials

A few weeks ago in the desert a friend asked me what I thought my top van living essentials were. At the time I wasn’t really sure what was essential and what just made living easier. With a bit of reflection I realize now that the van life by definition is easier living and so those conveniences make it what it is. They help me not work, whether that’s by saving money or not having to pump my whisperlight a thousand times when I’m cooking a multi course meal.  And so I’ve compiled the top ten things that make living in a van super bitchin’. This list is not assembled in any particular order, though there are items that are certainly, in my opinion, more important.

1.       Some quality light proofing. This is one of the more important ones. This is nice, certainly for the summer when the sun is rising at 5:15 and you just want to sleep in a little longer, or to block out the light from the neighbors raging bonfire. However, if you are like many van dwellers you will find yourself camped alongside a road, in a town, in a parking lot with ‘no camping’ signs, etc. and it is rather important to keep a low profile to prevent a light night conversation with the sheriff or park ranger. Also, in those same situations as well as when one is in a crowded camp ground, it’s nice to prevent the fishbowl effect, particularly if you’re changing or spending some quality time with your significant other.

2.       A cast iron cooking implement. I think I’ve mentioned this before but cast iron is so great it has earned a second mention. They’re great because they add some flava flave to your meal just by being cooked in, they are non-stick if you treat them well, you can earn edgy cool points when cooking over an open fire with them (just watch the handle) and they could double as your weapon of choice in a zombie apocalypse.  Oh and if you have a lid or your implement is a dutch oven you can bake a cake, brownies or cinnamon rolls while on the road and that also will earn you edgy cool points.

3.       A nice warm down jacket. Again, I know I’ve mentioned this before but I was just watching an interview with some sponsored athlete and they were talking about how they’ve traveled all over the world, through every climate and every season and the only piece of gear that they’ve taken with them on every single trip is their down jacket or puffy. They pack down small when you need them to, they’re super warm, often very comfortable, stylish, light weight and by some magic they seem to be relatively easy to regulate your body temperature. That being said I don’t recommend wearing them to the beach in the summer; you will almost certainly experience heat stroke.

4.       Easy to reconfigure sleeping arrangement. Like going out in to the mountains when driving around you want to be able to add or drop layers while sleeping. You never know when you might have a friend stop by that needs to share your bed and you don’t want to overheat or when seasons change and you can pull out that heavy quilt that is just super awesome, or those light cotton (or if you’re a super classy dirtbag, silk) summer weight sheets that seem to keep just enough of the chill off at night for the perfect night’s sleep, rather than wallowing in your sweat and misery.

5.       A good cooler. This is one of the more important ones as well. It keeps your beer cold while you’re out climbing, hiking or mountain biking. It keeps your fresh fruits and vegetables…and wine from freezing in the winter. It’s an extra chair around the camp fire or kitchen table.  It is a podium to gather everyone that’s drinking coffee and lazing about in the mornings. I’m all about the chest coolers; they’re compact and fairly cheap. That being said I would be super psyched to get a YETI cooler (YETI if you’re reading this I would be happy to do some gear testing for you), as they’re bear proof, really well insulated and can still do all of the aforementioned things.

6.       Two burner stove. I have a regular propane Coleman one that has done the job for years and was about twenty dollars. I know Camp Chef makes some pretty nice ones as well, though it’s hard to find replacement parts. The cheaper stoves are definitely lacking in quality and features so it’s best to get a nicer one.  The secret beta on this in my experience is buy a Coleman from Wal-Mart (it pains me to say this) because not all of them are of the same quality and some will crap out pretty quickly, so you can take advantage of their return policy and get hopefully a better one. Two burner stoves make cooking way easier than over a normal backpacking or single burner stove (I’ve paid my dues with years of cooking on one of those and I’ve seen the light), they also will save you a ton of money if you get a small propane tank that costs a bit more initially but is super cheap to refill and then you’re keeping those green bottles out of the landfill!

7.       A pee bottle. I won’t get into the details of this one again, if you want to revisit them check out previous van living in the winter tips post. But for guys super nice especially when covert camping and a bathroom is not readily accessible, you could use wag bags also if you’re super desperate.

8.        Entertainment sources, again I’ll not rehash this one too much as there’s already been a full post on it but , since you’ll be spending so much time in the van doing something enjoyable like twiddling your thumbs or reading is way better than wishing you had something awesome to do.

9.       A quality organizational system. This is definitely a super important one. It doesn’t matter if it’s shelving, bins under your bed or stacked milk crates, so long as you have a system that keeps your belongings in place while driving and keeps them organized. This is so clutch because with such a small space it is super easy for it to become extremely cluttered, with an organizational system in place it moderates the mess that can occur and expedites the cleaning/reorganizing process. There have been many different systems that I’ve seen with varying levels of success. If you want more details or suggestions feel free to shoot me an email or leave a comment as I’m psyched to geek out on van builds.

10.   High levels of psyche. Sometimes living the dream ain’t so dreamy (as a friend once put it) but just pause and think about what your initial motivation was and why that’s still relevant. Think about the number of days a year you’re able to pursue your passions and go on some grand adventures.

Check out Alex Honnold's van rig, all he's missing is a truck topper for some standing room...

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