13 Tips To Build the Adventure Van of Your Dreams

We tapped the folks behind the Instagram feed @FarOutRide for 13 essentials when building your own adventure van. Read on and get inspired.

In our Spring 2019 print issue, out March 1, we delve into the world of adventure vans—or #vanlife, as it’s known on Instagram.

If you’re a subscriber, you’ll know by now that our special 10-page article is full of amazing tips, inspiration, photos and advice.

But there’s more to learn.

We tapped the folks behind the Instagram feed @FarOutRide for 13 essentials to keep in mind when converting your own adventure van. Read on and get inspired.

And make sure to follow @FarOutRide on Instagram for more inspiration—and visit their website faroutride.com for all the #vanlife build tips you can handle.

Here is Isabelle and Antoine’s #vanlife conversion guide:

1. Decide on a Van

In our opinions, the main contenders for adventure vans are the Mercedes Sprinter, Ford Transit or Dodge ProMaster. You can’t go wrong with any of them. We went with the Ford Transit for the extended network of dealers, parts availability, affordability and for the LSD (limited slip differential).

2. Decide on a layout

Different folks, different needs! Are you a weekend warrior or a full-time adventurer? Do you plan on using your van for snow-chasing? What toys will you be carrying around (bike, skis, crash pads)? How many of you will be staying in the van? What amenities do you plan on installing (fridge, stove, oven, sink, toilet, shower, etc.)? Don’t rush to start building. Look what others did before you (Instagram.com/vanlifeideas) With proper planning, you will build it right the first time. More time planning = less time converting.

3. Roof Fan

At this point you now have a van—congrats! It’s new, it’s shiny, it’s cute; it’s PERFECT. Now get over it, because it’s time to cut a massive hole in the roof! This van conversion thing is getting real; there’s no turning back now. A roof fan is critical to climate, moisture and condensation control. Don’t skip this step. Learn how to do it HERE.

4. Solar Panels

Harvesting power from the sun is the first step on getting off-the-grid. In summer, solar alone can take care of all your power needs: fridge, lights, fans, pumps and charging external devices (phone, laptop, camera, etc). In winter, consider adding the alternator as a power source.

5. Floor

The role of a floor seems obvious, but keep in mind it’s also there to provide thermal and noise insulation and to protect the factory van floor against a water spill. (It. Will. Happen. Trust us!) Water infiltration could result in severe corrosion of the factory van floor. Glean some tips HERE.

6. Insulation

Insulation prevents heat transfer and reduces outside noise. Plus, it also plays a role in condensation control. Some materials retain moisture (pink fiberglass, recycled denim) and will promote mould and corrosion. We like Thinsulate, as it’s hydrophobic (doesn’t retain moisture), there’s no off-gassing, it’s not itchy to work with and it’s super easy to install.

7. Heater

Portable propane heaters (such as the Mr. Heater Buddy) are popular options, but not only do they release carbon monoxide inside the van, they also release massive amount of water vapour from the propane combustion: 450 ml of water per 10,000 BTU. This will promote mould and corrosion in the long run. Consider a vented heater, as they don’t release carbon monoxide or water vapour inside the van: Webasto, Espar (diesel of gasoline) or Propex (propane) are all excellent choices. We have more info on heating HERE.

8. Electrical System

To prevent draining the starter-battery, loads (such as lights, fans, fridge, etc.) are powered from an auxiliary battery (called the “house battery”). The house battery stores energy produced by the solar panels, the alternator or shore power (i.e. 120V outlet from your home or campsite). Most loads work straight from 12V (it’s more efficient this way), but your favourite 120V appliances (juicer, coffee machine, microwave) will work if an inverter is included in the electrical system (but it will draw a LOT of energy). Learn more HERE.

9. Water System

Once again, the complexity of your water system will be driven by your needs. Is your van a weekend fun enabler? A few water jugs can do the trick. However, for extended stays in the van, you will appreciate a pressurized water system with a proper sink (and an exterior hot shower system too.). And don’t underestimate the amount of water you need: running out of water is no fun. (You quickly realize how vital water is as a resource.) Learn about our van water system HERE.

10. Propane System

While the technology of solar cells and batteries keep improving, propane is hard to beat in term of energy density. Producing heat from electricity requires huge amount of energy (and batteries). That’s why we selected propane to supply our stove, oven, hot shower and backup air heater (our primary heater works on gasoline). Our 20-pound barbecue-style tank (which is enclosed in a vented propane locker) lasts two months; it’s little hassle for so much energy. 

11. Composting Toilet

There are many pieces of gear that draw the line between van-camping and van-living; a toilet is one of them. (‘Cause let’s face it, it’s our most basic need.) Nature’s Head composting toilets are not cheap, but we think these models are some of our best investments for full-time van-living. Because the liquid and solid is separated, there is no smell coming out of the toilet. The liquid is emptied every four or five days and the solid every two weeks (for two people, full time). And while conventional toilet waste a HUGE amount of water, composting toilet don’t need any H2O. We talk more about toilets HERE.

12. Storage

In such a small space, the key to sanity is organization. Our philosophy is: each object has its own dedicated space. Leave no trace! That’s why we traded some living space for storage space. We also divided our storage in many small compartments in order to keep similar things together. We still haven’t gone crazy after one-and-a-half years full-time in the van.

13. Finish

The goal is to play outside, but you will spend a lot of time inside of your van. So it’s important to create a warm and welcoming interior. Wood paneling is not the lightest material around, be we wanted our van to have that “cabin feel.” Whatever finish you choose, remember it’s a bit like human skin: it acts to protect against the multiple aggressors—spaghetti accidents, water spills, ski edges, dust, etc. Therefore, choose something that can be easily cleaned and holds up to abuse.

PS. Do you want to live a more adventurous life?

Join the Live the Adventure Club.

Every three months, we’ll deliver a box full of brand-new adventure gear right to your door. Each box is valued at $150+ for only $97 plus tax!

Plus, you’ll be invited to join our Adventure Challenge Club, where we give away amazing gear prizes every week.

What are you waiting for? Sign up now!

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