April 29, 2013

Limited Space

Living in a camper forces you to prioritize your possessions.  You have to be selective.  A camper has thirty square feet,  mine has twenty five.  Everything  must have multiple uses.  This ethos attracted me away from my cluttered New York City apartment in the first place and is the same interest that inspired The Burning House Project.  After continuous tinkering here’s a list of things that are essential for my life on the road.

iPhone 5.  Want to find a place to eat?  Whats the weather doing?  How long does it take to get to Bishop from here?  It’s my connection to the world and spontaneity.  Mine is jailbroken and with the help of a handy  $20 tethering app, I can connect my laptop to the phone’s 3g modem.  Screw telephone companies and their price gouging ways.  (MyWi tether app)

LL Bean 20° Goose Down bag.  Few things are more essential to a nice camping experience than a good sleeping bag.   20° covers pretty much all of the temperatures I’ve come across in the last 60,000 miles.  After over 500 nights in the last two years,  my bag is still going strong. (LL Bean)

Poler Camera Bag.  I use this thing as a murse to hold headphones, iPhone Chargers and of course, my camera gear.   Remove your chatskis, and it doubles as a cooler for a six pack of your favorite beverage. (Poler)

Gerber Multitool. A solid pocketknife is a must.  It comes in handy in all sorts of situations. I’ve worked on my van,  cleaned fish and taken out a cactus spike in Mexico with it.  Plus it works when you need to open up a snack.  (Gerber Gear)

Casio F-91W watch. Back in the 90’s, a training camp in Afghanistan taught Al-Qaeda members to use this watch as a timer for bombs. Rumor has it that because of this,  the CIA has thrown Arabs into Gitmo and other godforsaken places simply because they wear the watch.  It also happens to be the most widely distributed watch in the world and costs $9 on Amazon.  The box claims that it’s water resistant but I’ve surfed with it dozens of times.  (amazon)

Dr. Bronner’s.  I don’t always shower, but when I do, I use Dr Bonner’s peppermint soap.  Me and every other NPR listener you’ve met raves about this stuff, but honestly its a must. You can wash dishes, clothes, your hands and even your teeth with this stuff. (amazon)

Short rubber boots by Tretorn.  When the weather gets shitty, you don’t want to have shoes.  These short boots have 90% of the upside of full-size rubber boots without the inconvenience.  I’ve worn them in the forest in British Columbia and on the beach in Mexico.  They have a faux-fur liner so your feet stay warm when it’s cold.  Don’t take this fur as invitation to not wear socks though, or they will start smelling like a DARPA-funded science project.  (Tretorn)

Down Jacket.  I wear this jacket 70% of the time.  It packs down into a travel pillow.  I take it everywhere.  Patagonia has a rock solid warranty so if it starts hemorrhaging feathers,  you can take it back. (Patagonia.com)

Backpacking Stove.  This thing packs into a box half the size of your fist and can cook a steak.  Need I say more?  It also has an auto lighting feature so you don’t need to fuck around with matches or a lighter,  things I’m always losing.  The tanks are easy to get your hands on and last a while.  (amazon)

John Wesley Twin Fin Pin Tail.  My friend Beamer turned me onto John and his Pin tail twin fins surfboards.  I’ve surfed them up and  down the coast and had a blast on them.  If I had to take one board with me on a trip, I’d take this one. (John’s blog)

Wrist Rocket. If I ever get around to it, I’d love to write a piece called Zen and the Art of the slingshot.  There are so many variables at play.  Rock size, distance from target, aiming technique.  It’s great for passing the time. (Amazon)

One of my favorite parts of living in a camper  is how it has shown me that I can be happy with very few things.  I’ve met a community of people on the road that take more pride in what they do than what they own.  These people have inspired me to think differently about my relationship to things.

Here are some more links,

Vanlife (Tumblr).


  • The Rock
    April 29 , 2013

    Mo Excellent post my good man. You are a champion of maximizing utility!

  • April 29 , 2013

    I already commented on facebook but just wanted to say how much I appreciate this post and the mindset behind it (as well as the help!). Not quite the same but I moved to San Francisco literally just for the year, and knowing I would only be taking 1-2 suitcases back with me has really downsized what I live with. Although I definitely have more cooking utensils than you! I’m off on a 5 week road trip adventure (got to go back to England after as my visa runs out, boohoo) and this post has greatly helped with advice. Yours has been one of my favourite blogs for a while now as it reflects my childhood, and ongoing, love of the outdoors, camping, travelling and a simplistic lifestyle. But also adds new things I have been faced with in California/Oregon – surf culture, different climates and landscapes. The year has really changed my own mindset and your way of life reflects this – really hoping to get back out into the world once I’m done with my degree ! Quite the long comment…! M x

  • April 29 , 2013

    So people really do this? They leave everything behind and go out on the road? If so, you’re my hero. That’s seriously an amazing thing to do. And, while I feel it takes a lot out of a person, I feel they can gain so much more than that in return.

  • finnthetramp
    April 29 , 2013

    Right on man. I’ll be full van by May 1st! Puuuuuumped

  • Paul
    April 29 , 2013

    FYI…do not brush your teeth with Dr. Bronners or you are gonna’ be sorry!

  • Derek
    April 29 , 2013

    Do a post on gas consumption..

  • April 29 , 2013

    Thanks for sharing this. Very interesting. I can definitely agree that a good quality and warm sleeping bag is essential for any adventures. I have a Montbell UL Super Spiral Down Hugger which is really comfortable and warm and you don’t feel claustrophobic in it either as it is stretchy! :)

    I’m planning on getting a 4×4 van soon and doing the same sort of thing for a year or two. Just travelling around Australia checking out different areas, going hiking, surfing, doing some photography etc and generally enjoying life. I’ve been saving money for the past few years and am just about to purchase a van (Mitsubishi Delica LWB) and start getting that prepared for the trip!

    Looking forward to reading more of your insights.


  • April 30 , 2013

    […] A wonderful life. […]

  • April 30 , 2013

    Living in a van not only forces you to have less, but it has made me WANT to live with less. Simplify. I totally agree about the sleeping bag. I have a 20 degree bag that I’ve had for the last few years and it seems to cover all bases. I’ve slept on top of it in the summer and I’ve bundled up in my van in Wyoming in the single digits in winter.

  • April 30 , 2013

    Please write a book. I am a mother of two, living vicariously through your photos and words. Love how you enjoy life.

  • Patrick
    April 30 , 2013

    I lived out of my car for seven weeks one summer, driving around the Western US and camping. I really learned how very little you can get by with and that the experiences are always better than the things one owns.

    Great post. I’m going to buy some of those boots.

  • Sarah
    April 30 , 2013

    I’m going to keep reading and re-reading this post as i dig through the infinite pile of stuff in my basement this week hoping to part with most of it. Happen to have a couple of -30C down sleeping bags down there, barely used. When yours gives up the ghost, msg me with a mailing address and they’re yours. They deserve more adventure than my basement.

  • May 1 , 2013

    brushing with dr brauners sucks. ive been wishful enough to try it a few times.

    i wish they had those mitsubishi’s state side. here syncros are the best option as far as 4×4 cans go.

    the 20 degree bags cover the basics. I’ve slept with it in baja and in tahoe when it was single digits out. the later was brutal but i made it through the night.

    thanks for the kind words. Im going to start working on a vanlife book soon with a longer introduction and then photos of my favorite campers.

    Living in a small place is great. sometime in the future, id like to go smaller.

    I may hit you up for those bags. Always nice to have on the road as a pillow or extra blanket.


  • Nicholas
    May 5 , 2013

    I’m planning on living in North Carolina for 3 months this fall. I’ll be an Unpaid intern in a recording studio full time for college credit. My grandmother has a and I have talked about trading her my Corolla for her PT Cruise and throwing an air mattress in the back. I’m an avid back backer and was thinking that I’ve totally got everything I’d need to do it, and I’d save a ton of money on rent. just so happens as I’m thinking about this huckberry.com posts a link to this. Kind of inspirational and comforting knowing other people choose to do this on a much greater scale than my 3 months.

  • May 13 , 2013

    so how do you make a living while on the road? That’s one thing I can’t quite figure out