Which Vehicle is Best For You to Live In?

by | Dec 14, 2013 | 78 comments

Which Vehicle is Best For You to Live In?

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choice-hulk

I think this high-top, extended cargo van is probably the ideal vehicle to live in: good stealth, very comfortable, and decent MPG.

I get lots of email from people who are considering the mobile life but are struggling with which vehicle would work best for them. Believe me, I’m sympathetic! It’s difficult to know what you really want and need out of your vehicle home. Since I began vandwelling  I’ve lived in 5 different vehicles:

  1. Box Van stealth parking in the city: 6 Years
  2. 24 foot Travel Trailer in an RV Park: 1 Year
  3. Home-Built camper on a 4×4 pickup living on public land: 3 Years
  4. 4×4 pickup pulling a Home-Built cargo trailer living on public land: 2 Years
  5. Cargo Van pulling a Home-Built cargo trailer living on public land: 1 Year

Why have I lived in so many different vehicles? As my circumstances changed I changed vehicles to best meet my needs. For my first 6 years of vandwelling, I lived in a city so stealth was my top priority.  Beyond that, I had two sons who spent weekends with me so I needed plenty of room for them. A box van is perfect for that situation and was my only good choice! Later, one of my sons came to live with me and the box van wouldn’t work because he had to go to a school. So I put it in storage and lived in the Travel Trailer for a year in an RV Park.

Choice-Box_Van

I lived in a box van like this one for 6 years and think it is a great choice: great stealth, a huge amount of room and very comfortable. But they get terrible MPG.

Years later I retired and wanted to start traveling and living on public land. But my circumstances had changed and the box van had become a poor choice because 1) It got terrible MPG, and 2)It was also too wide and tall to go into the backcountry and also had such poor ground clearance that boondocking with it would not work. So I sold it and moved into a 4×4 pickup with a camper instead. I lived very happily in it for 3 years, but then I started camp ground hosting and I had to drive my own vehicle on the job. For that the 4×4 pickup with camper was a poor choice, so I switched again.
I needed to be able to leave my home in one place while I went to work and the camper  was not removable. So I got rid of it and bought a 6×10 cargo trailer. It was perfect because in the summer I could leave the trailer in my campground and drive the truck at work. Then in the winter I could take the truck and trailer into sandy desert areas without worrying about getting stuck. Having the truck bed empty also allowed me to buy a motorcycle and drive it at work and throughout the year and save a lot of money on gas.
I've been very happy with this van-trailer combination. It's very comfortable and when I travel I can leave the trailer in storage and take the van by itself.

I’ve been very happy with this van-trailer combination. It’s very comfortable and when I travel I can leave the trailer in storage and take the van by itself.

But when I broke my arm, I could no longer work as a campground host and my circumstances changed again. The pickup was old and worn out and had to be replaced. Since I no longer could work, my summers were free to travel. That meant the new vehicle I bought had to be a good one to travel in during the summer and then pull the trailer in the winter. To me the ideal vehicle for that is a 1 ton Extended Van, so that’s what I got. And I have to say, it has met all my expectations. It pulls the trailer easily and makes a great home for extended summer trips. Next summer I’m taking it to Alaska and tremendously looking forward to it!!
The reason I’m telling you all this is that you have to choose a vehicle for your specific circumstances. What works great for me might be the worst possible choice for you. You also need to be aware that with time your circimstances may change requireing a different choice. Next, lets look at how to choose a vehicle.

Setting Your Priorities.

We all want to live in a perfect vehicle which meets all are needs, but that’s impossible! It can’t happen because no vehicle does everything well. For example, a minivan has outstanding stealth and gets very good MPG, but it is very small and uncomfortable. An RV is very large and very comfortable but has terrible stealth and gets terrible MPG. You have to  choose which of those opposing factors is most important to you. To do that you need to answer these two questions:

A mini-van is a great choice! They get great MPG, great stealth and decent comfort.

A mini-van is a great choice! They get great MPG, great stealth and decent comfort.

1) How much comfort do you need?
To answer that question choose which of these best describes you:

  1. I’m close to a minimalist and need just the bare essentials.
  2. I like to camp and don’t need much. I want to be as comfortable as I can, but I don’t need a shower, toilet or running water. I can get by with sponge baths, a 5 gallon bucket (or porta-potti) and a spray bottle.
  3. I can live in a tiny space but I need a hot shower, toilet and running hot water.
  4. I need all the space and comforts of home.

You have to be really honest with yourself as you answer this question or you will make a bad choice. As we go down the list of my recommended vehicles, choose the one that meets your minimum comfort needs.
2) Where will you spend most of your time?
You basically have three choices so decide which one of these best describes you (none of them may describe you perfectly, but you need to choose which one is closest):

  1. I’ll live mostly in a city so stealth (the ability to sleep in your van without being noticed) is a top priority.
  2. I’ll live mostly on Public Land so back-road ability is important but stealth is not.
  3. I’ll travel a lot so I need good gas mileage and don’t really care about stealth.

Now that you know the answer to those two questions you can set your priorities. Here are my recommendations based on where you live. As you read them, refine your choice by which meets your comfort needs.

I think that a high-top conversion van is the best all-around compromise of all vehicles: good MPG, quite comfortable, good stealth and can be bought pretty cheap.

I think that a high-top conversion van is the best all-around compromise of all vehicles: good MPG, quite comfortable, good stealth and can be bought pretty cheap.

STEALTH: YOU SPEND MOST OF YOUR TIME IN THE CITY

If you will spend most of your time in the city, then the ability to not attract attention is your highest priority (we call that stealth parking). These are your best choices for a vehicle in order of best to worst:

  • Cargo Van: great stealth; cheap to buy; decent MPG; quite a bit of room; Best All-Around Choice (unless you are a couple or have a family)
  • Mini Van: great stealth, very good MPG, but not much room or comfort; Best for people on a tight budget or who travel more
  • Box Van or Step Van: great stealth, plenty of room (especially headroom) so it can be very comfortable; but terrible MPG so not for travelers; Best for couples or families who live in a city, or if you are self-employed and need more room.
  • High Top Conversion Van: slightly less stealth and MPG, but more comfortable than any other van. You may ask, “Why not a standard Passenger Van instead?” Because a high-top van is more comfortable and has the same stealth so why not get it?
  • You have other choices but I don’t recommend them. A Box Truck or Van Pulling a Cargo Trailer can work but you have to get out and walk around to get in them and that hurts your stealth. Any RV is obviously a home and will attract police attention. The only exception is some Class Bs have very little to give them away as RVs and they work well if you can find one. Your standard RoadTreks and PleasureWays generally are obviously RVs and have poor stealth.
A slide-in camper on a diesel pick-up (especially if it is 4x4) is probably the best choice for boondockers and families: very comfortable, great on back-country roads and with a diesel get pretty good MPG.

A slide-in camper on a diesel pick-up (especially if it is 4×4) is probably the best choice for boondockers and families: very comfortable, great on back-country roads and with a diesel get pretty good MPG.

BOONDOCKER: YOU SPEND MOST OF YOUR TIME ON PUBLIC LAND

Nearly any vehicle will work for a Boondocker (a person who camps on Public Land like National Forests or BLM land). But you also have a new consideration: how far back into the Back-Country do you want to go? The better the off-road ability of your vehicle, the more remote you can be which will give you more privacy and less likelihood to see a Ranger. Because stealth is not important, better MPG and comfort become higher priorities. Of course those two are opposites so you have to decide which is most important to you. Here are my recommendations in order of best to worst:

  • Slide-in-Diesel Truck Camper (4×4 with a lightweight camper) Very comfortable; up to 18 mpg; excellent back-road ability; more expensive to buy and maintain: Overall Best Choice!
  • Class B Camper Van: Very comfortable; decent MPG; decent off-road ability (but ground clearance can be a problem); more expensive to buy and maintain: Very Good Choice
  • High-Top Conversion Van: quite comfortable; very good MPG; very good back-road ability; cheap to buy and maintain; very good stealth when you need it: Great Choice
  • Mini-Van: very good MPG; with AWD and a lift very good back-country ability; minimum comfort, but better than a tent, cheap to buy and maintain, very good stealth if you ever need it: A Great Choice (if MPG is your highest priority)
  • Van or Truck Towing a Small Trailer (Cargo or Fiberglass): poor MPG; good comfort, good back-road ability with a cargo trailer: A Surprisingly Good Choice
  • RV Towing an Economy Car or Motorcycle: Most comfortable of all; combined MPG of RV and economy car is quite good; back-road ability is very poor; stealth is poor if you ever need it; much more expensive to buy and maintain. A Surprisingly Good Choice (unless back-road ability is a high priority)
  • RV: extremely comfortable; terrible MPG; terrible back-road ability: Poor Choice (unless you are on a tight budget and need lots of comfort)
An economy car with a tent is about the cheapest  to travel, But you get very little comfort and they can be miserable in bad weather. For a few people, there is nothing better.

An economy car with a tent is about the cheapest to travel, But you get very little comfort and they can be miserable in bad weather. For a few people, there is nothing better.

TRAVELER: YOU TRAVEL A LOT

If you intend to rack up lots of miles and see as much of the country as possible you have different needs than anyone else. You need the best MPG you can get and a vehicle that’s pleasant to drive. These are good choices for you in order of Best to Worst:

  • Mini-Van: can get very good MPG; much more comfortable than a tent; cheap to buy and maintain; easy to drive; very good back-road ability: Best Choice
  • Economy Car and a Tent: Excellent MPG, very little comfort or room; very susceptible to bad weather; extremely cheap to buy and maintain; very pleasant to drive; Best Choice if you are a true minimalist and need very little comfort; Terrible Choice for most people.
  • High-Top Conversion Van: good MPG; pretty confortable; good headroom; good back-road ability; very good stealth; Great Choice if you need more comfort than a min-van can give
  • Class B: very comfortable ; decent MPG decent to drive; Great Choice
  • RV: extremely comfortable; difficult to drive; terrible MPG; Terrible Choice unless you need extreme comfort.

 
 

This is a friends PleasureWay Class B camper van. With the top down it has very good stealth, gets 16 MPG and is very comfortable.

This is a friends PleasureWay Class B camper van. With the top down it has very good stealth, gets 16 MPG and is very comfortable.

A Class C towing an economy car is a great choice for a lot of people. The car and RV only cost $5000 and while the Class C only gets 7 MPG the car gets 40 MPG. That's a great combination!

A Class C towing an economy car is a great choice for a lot of people. The car and RV only cost $5000 and while the Class C only gets 7 MPG the car gets 40 MPG. That’s a great combination!

Lots of people love the old Toyota Class Cs, but I'm not a big fan. They are under-powered and overweight and that is a bad combination.  Even worse, they get mediocre MPG..

Lots of people love the old Toyota Class Cs, but I’m not a big fan. They are under-powered and overweight and that is a bad combination. Even worse, they get mediocre MPG..

Previous The Rigs in Camp Now: Which Vehicle to Choose

78 Comments

  1. Canine

    How much of a stealth difference is there between a high-top cargo van and a box/cube van? Assuming both vans have cutaway access from the cab , both have close to the same interior height, width, and length, no windows, etc.
    Do windows have more of an effect on stealth compared with the other factors?

    • Bob

      Canine, they have different strengths and weaknesses. A box van looks good in industrial areas but is totally out of place in residential areas. The conversion van is opposite. So the whole time I lived in a box van I never once parked in a residential area unless it was a friends yard. But they look great in a Home Depot parking lot or in the industrial part of town. I never had problem with parking my box van, but I know lots of people with conversion vans who have no problem with them. The advantage cargo vans have is they fit in at both places.
      Box vans are MUCH larger than conversions vans. Mine was 8 foot by 12 foot (96 SQ FT)and 7 feet tall. Conversions vans are usually 10 foot by 6 foot (60 SQ FT) at most, and not nearly as tall. Plus most box vans now are at least 14 foot long (112 SQ FT).
      I don’t think windows have any real impact on stealth.

      • Canine

        Interesting. My efforts to understand how others perceive vans is a bit fuzzy. I suppose it is like using tan camo in the desert and green camo in the woods. Am glad to hear that windows seem to have little effect. I appreciate you taking the time to let me voice this as voicing my thoughts rather than keeping them in my head helps kind of a lot. 🙂

        • Bob

          you’re welcome Canine! The one thing that is important about windows is that they should be very dark. You will want to cover them with reflectix on the inside but that stands out. Get all the back windows tinted very dark, or even spray them black. Their are unsually laws about the front windows so you need to find the laws for your state before doing anything.
          Bob

  2. Sam

    The high top van you show is my choice but it could be because of the terrific gal that lives in it. If there is one boondocker I am in awe of it is her.

    • Bob

      Agreed Sam!!
      Bob

  3. Gretchen

    Hey Bob, Wonderful article about all the choices! Since I wanted to travel full time for a number of years I found a 2004 Road Trek 190 on craigslist that provides all my needs, 11-12 mpg, twin beds, one for me and one for my travel dog friend Biscotti. It was truly a spiritual experience being with you and all the others for Thanksgiving. Sending many blessings for you and Homer during the holiday season.

    • Bob

      Thanks Gretchen, I just wish you could have stayed longer!
      Bob

    • Jaqkey

      Gretchen,
      My dogs name is Biscuit Biscotti. I have yet to meet anyone with the same name. 🙂

      • Bob

        How strange Gretchen, there is a third vandweller with a dog named biscotti that I know of. Small world huh!
        Bob

  4. Al Christensen

    A high top van could be problematic for city stealth camping where overhead clearance is an issue, like parking garages. In windy areas, like the desert in winter, you’d need to get used to swaying. But otherwise, they’re great. Wish I’d found one that wasn’t beat up or too expensive.

    • Bob

      Al, High Tops do have some drawbacks, but they are more than worth it to me!
      Bob

  5. Tom

    A great and practical way of looking at your choices. Bob has provided a step by step process.
    I have become fascinated with cargo trailers. But all the ones I’ve seen have the cargo doors on them, both in the back and side door. Problem with is you’d have to come up with a way to latch the door from the inside while your sleeping,,, and a way for no one to throw a padlock on the outside while you are inside. The key that unlocked this for me, if anyone is looking; run a google search for “cargo trailer with RV door”. This brings up the trailers that have a door you can close and lock behind you.
    I believe, maybe wrongly so, that these trailers have a tougher skin (siding) on the outside and would hold up better then a camper trailer. They seem much less expensive and lighter then a camper and you can arrange it with secured furniture or build it over time the way you want. Hopefully you could also use them in a campground if needed. Of course they would need to be insulated.
    Bob has brought this up before, but if your planing on a tent, I can’t recommend a four season tent enough. Yes, they cost much more money, but will pay for themselves in the long run in some added (little) comfort from the elements and durability. Tents are a hard way to go, I lasted about a month in a three season tent before I gave up on it. If you’re on a super tight budget I’ve also heard of people putting a tent inside a larger tent, but I’ve never tried this, and of course the inside tent must be the free standing type since you don’t want to put ground stakes through the floor of the larger tent.

    • Desert Rat

      My cargo trailer’s side door can be locked with a key from the outside and with a bolt from the inside. It came stock that way, so your concerns with locking may not be a legit one, depending on the trailer. I do use a padlock on the back door. It’s the kind that starts squawking if motion is detected, so if anyone tried to come in during the night, I’m forewarned, not that I expect that to ever happen. My dogs would let me know before any lock would, anyway. I use mine in a campground. Having had both regular RV trailers, I can attest to the cargo trailer being much more sturdy, and being able to have a real bed and furniture is a big plus for me. I also have a tent that I can set up if I want to be outdoors, and sometimes I like to sleep in it and watch the stars (it has a mesh top).

      • Desert Rat

        Also meant to ask – what kind of four-season tent do you have/recommend?

        • Tom

          Springbar tents are very good, or other canvas tents.

          • Bob

            Thanks Tom. I’m a fan of the canvas tents. Nylon simply will not hold up to extended exposure to the sun as in year after year.
            Bob

          • Desert Rat

            I had one, and they are great, though a bit heavy for one person to set up, unless you get a smaller one.

      • Calvin R

        The easy solution to keep someone from padlocking a hasp-and-padlock setup is to put your own padlock on the loop piece, with the other piece outside. That keeps anyone else from closing the unit and putting their own padlock on it.

        • Bob

          Exactly Calvin! I don’t even bother with it anymore, there’s no one around to worry about, just all my friends.
          Bob

      • Bob

        Sounds like you’ve got it all figures out Desert Rat!! That’s a great setup.
        Bob

    • Bob

      Tom, mine does have cargo doors back and side. Closing it while I am inside is simple, I just use a bolt from a fence: simple and cheap. As far as someone putting a lock through the door while you are sleeping, all you have to do is put the lock through the bottom after you take it off and it con’t be locked. But, you can still slip something through the bar and then through the door handle to make it impossible to open. I’be been in mine for 3 years now and I just see it as a non-issue. But I do have windows so if worst comes to worst I can just break a window and get out. You can buy windows for campers that are designed to be an emergency exit also. I had one in my Camper but I didn’t save it, I wish I had but it’s no big deal. If I were worried about it I would buy and install one.
      Cargo trailers are MUCH tougher than any others. They can handle much more abuse than any other trailer can. The aluminum skin is very tough, reasonably light, and of course will last forever. The steel frame isn’t going to dry rot and is very strong. But mine is 1300 pounds empty. They really are perfect for boondockers, I take mine some pretty bad places without a second thought. The fiberglass egg trailers are lighter but no where near as tough, I’d treat it like it was fragile.
      Your quite right, any 3 season tent will be lucky to last a winter in the desert, and the cheap ones will only last a month or two at most. I’ve seen them fail with the first wind storm. Right now I am leaning toward the tipi tents or pyramid tents because they present so little surface to the wind and many of them will take a wood stove. They worked for the Lakota people on the plains so they MUST be the way to go. I’m thinking about getting one just to see how it holds up and as a guest room during the RTR. But I’m not sure if I want to carry it around.
      Bob

      • Al Christensen

        “But I’m not sure if I want to carry it around.” Just get a horse and travois to pull it, like the Indians. 😉

        • Bob

          Now that’s a good idea!!
          Bob

    • Bob

      Tom, I’m a big fan of cargo trailers, their light, tough and cheap. A simple bolt on the inside keeps it closed and putting a lock through the outside latch keeps someone from locking you in. I had a window that was also an escape hatch in my camper but I only have regular windows in the trailer. If I were worried about being locked in I’d add one to the trailer, but I’m not.
      The desert is terrible on tents. The sun eats them up and the wind shreds them. Will a $500 tent last 5 times longer than a $100 tent? I doubt it. The mountain tent will handle the wind but the sun will eat it up making it weak and shredding it in the wind. I think a cotton tipi/pyramid tent may be the only long term solution. I think a minivan and a tent is a viable choice. Live in the tent in good weather and in the van during bad.
      Bob

      • Tom

        Sounds like I’m over thinking the door thing. Thanks for the feedback.
        I do, like the look of the cargo trailers I’ve seen on the web with the “R.V. door and windows, up high. Just looks like a good all-around setup whether you’re boon-docking, stealth parking or pulling into a campground.
        I also like the idea have still having a cargo trailer to live in if the pull vehicle is in the shop for repairs. And if it’s a smaller cargo trailer without electric brakes you could even rent a pickup and still move it.
        Bob I think your cargo trailer really is the best of all compromises.

        • Bob

          tom, I think it is a great choice also! But, like everything, there are trade-offs
          1. it’s a pain towing the trailer
          2. It really cuts your mpg
          3. breaking and moving camp is more complicated
          4. you can carry more stuff, and for some of us that’s bad
          5. to a small degree it restricts where you can go in the backcountry
          6. You don’t have your home with you wherever you go so you’d better remember to take everything you need. I just drove almost to Yuma and realized I left my passport at Ehrenberg in my trailer, so I had to turn around and go back and get it–160 wasted miles!
          Overall it’s a small loss of freedom and mobility. But you gain a lot and you can put the trailer in storage and regain the freedom for travel.
          Bob

  6. Walt

    We’ve talked about getting a Class A when we retire and hitting the road, but there is a big part of me that wants to be able to set up camp off the beaten path, at least on occasion. For that reason, I have found myself drawn more and more to some of the newer campers that are coming out with slides to provide a little more living space.
    We already have a diesel truck (F-350 DRW), though it isn’t a 4 x 4. We currently pull a fifth-wheel, but we have spent time in a pop-up. While I know the lack of four-wheel drive is not ideal, this seems to me like it could work – if I can convince my wife. Thoughts?

    • Tom

      An earth anchor and come–along can get you out of a lot of tight spots. I carry these with me still along with a tow rope. Much cheaper then 4 wheel drive or a wench and easy to move to the next vehicle. An earth anchor can provide you with a tow point when nothing else is around.
      Another nice thing, this set up can be carried to another stuck vehicle. I used my setup once when I drove my 4×4 over a land spring covered by brush. But I’ve help many, many more people out of a tight spot with these three items.

      • Thoreau

        Tom,
        Thanks for the helpful tip. What make/model of earth anchor do you use?
        Thanks.

        • Tom

          Thoreau,
          Sorry, I don’t recall the brand or make of the earth anchor, but I do remember I got it at a Tractor Supply Store. I do see these on Amazon. This a long metal rod with a loop on one end. The other end (the part you screw into the ground) looks like a cork screw with a couple blades. Mine is fairly long, just under 2 feet. Probably the 30 inch ones I see on Amazon. Don’t forget to use Bob’s link to go to Amazon.
          They are relatively easy to pull straight up out of the ground, they get stronger as the angle of force or pulling is closer to the ground. I’m not sure one could handle a pick-up and fifth wheel combination, but could a full size pick-up. You use a crowbar in the loop to screw them into the ground.
          Also, and I’ve never tried this. I wondered if two or more earth anchors couldn’t be used to secure a camper or trailer in a wind storm. These are very similar to the tie downs used in mobile homes. Although, using these are a lot of work.
          At one point I did have a come along that had 12,000 pound capacity. Yes, crazy I know. At one point I lifted a car between two trees with it. It was made by Yale, some of you older people would remember the Yale lock company. It used over size roller chain, the same type in the final drive of a motorcycle, but much bigger. This could handle a pick-up truck and fifth wheel combination I’m sure. I haven’t seen one in thirty years, but they do exists if you need something like that.

          • Tom

            Sorry, ment to say mine was just under 3 feet, probably 30 inches. Length is an important decision when selecting an earth anchor. Too long you make extra work for your self, too short and it won’t hold.

          • Thoreau

            Tom,
            Thanks again for going into detail. Real-life experience is often the best teacher, so you sharing yours is very helpful.

      • Bob

        Those are great tips Tom, thanks for sharing them!
        Bob

    • Bob

      Walt, those huge slide-ins campers with slide-outs are NOT a good choice. They are so huge and long they are terrible in the backcountry. They are much too heavy for an F350, drw you will be over-gross the moment you drop it on. I’m not a fan of pop-ups either for many reasons. If you want to get in the backountry an ultra-light 8 foot camper that doesn’t extend past the bed is your only good choice. But the’re small and if she needs the room and space of a 5er they won’t do.
      I’m sorry, there is no free lunch you can have all the comforts of home or you can deep, not both.
      Bob

      • Walt

        I don’t know if she wants all of the comforts of a fifth-wheel, but I doubt I can convince her to go down to a lightweight camper, either. I’ve been drawn to a camper lately because of having a long bed on the truck, I thought I could possibly get something not too “cramped.” I don’t necessarily need to go too far off the beaten path, but I would like to have the option not to have to rely solely on RV parks, state parks, and Forest Service campgrounds. Definitely food for thought.

        • Bob

          Walt, don’t get the idea that you can’t boondock in a 5th wheel or travel trailer. You can and very easily. Most people don’t want to get as remote as i do. Check out a this blog:
          http://www.wheelingit.us/
          They live in a 40 foot diesel pusher and yet they boondock a LOT!! Most people don’t want to get as remote as i do. Any RV can easily boondock 365 days a year in beautiful country. Of course a 4×4 camper can go many more places, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go MANY great places in any RV. I’ll give you an example, my friend Doug is in a 29 foot (I think) Travel Trailer. He followed us into the Prescott National Forest and he couldn’t make it the last 1/2 mile into camp with us, so he camped about a mile away. No big deal! We walked over to see him and he walked over to see us. I suggest you figure out what will make you wife comfortable and go for it. Don’t let getting in that last 1/2 mile stop you.
          Bob
          Bob

          • Walt

            I don’t intend to let that stop me. I’ll just have to make sure we have a Jeep so we can go explore that last 1/2 mile.

          • Bob

            Right, any RV can boondock to some degree and then you explore with a true off-road vehicle.
            Bob

        • judy

          Another thing about slide ins, esp if they are not easily cranked in manually, is that the batteries should be fully charged to bring them in. That was the info in the manual that came with a Flagstaff Ultra Lite trailer I towed for a few months.
          Even boondocking with solar, a week of clouds could leave you with low batteries.

          • Bob

            I am not a fan of the slide-outs in a camper. They add so much weight and complexity and all of it is has to be carried by the truck. I have a friend with an Arctic Fox with a slide and he has replaced the motors on his slide 3 times. I’ts so tall, wide and long he can’t go anywhere in the backcountry. He’s getting rid of it and replacing it with a van.
            Bob

  7. greybeard23

    I tent camped for more than a year, riding in a ford exploerer. I had a Cabela Alaskan Guide four sean tent. They are tested for 75 mile an hour winds, have two entrance doors one with a vestibule. It was tall enough for me to stand in the center. Had a two by four collapsible table on one side, my bunk on the other. Quite comfortable, plus I had a bed ready to go in the back of the explorer. If you are going to be serious about tent camping for long periods, you need a highly rated four season tent. I spent alot of time in rain water two inches deep running around my tent, very high winds and always stayed dry and did not worry about the tent blowing away.

    • Bob

      That’s a great recommendation greybeard. Do you have a link so we can be sure of which one you are talking about?
      Bob

      • greybeard23

        This is the one I got.
        http://www.cabelas.com/product/Cabelas-Alaskan-Guide-Geodesic-Tent-with-Fiberglass-Poles-Person/714588.uts
        But I bought mine with aluminum poles, drops nearly ten pounds off the weight. Also bought a floor liner which attaches inside and helps to protect the floor. Mine weighs about 26 pounds without the floor liner. Not bad for a tent this size. I spent months reading reviews before buying and settled on this one. Some folks after ten years are giving theirs to their kids and buying another for themselves. They last a long time.

        • greybeard23

          Also, forgot to mention, I bought the six person tent. It was the only one I could find that gave me the height to stand up. The rain fly is rubberized under neath, but I still occasionaly spray it with water proofing. After more than a year of using it, most of the time in 90 to 100 degree temps, it still looks new. In winter I closed off two of the three vents and with a heater inside, the snow didn’t melt off the outside.

          • greybeard23

            If you go to my blog and watch the video I posted a while back, in that you can see the tent set up in a few locations.

          • Bob

            greybeard, that’s what I thought. I went to Cabelas and looked them up but the 4 man is only about 4 feet tall. It’s probably one of those times when spending the extra money for top-quality is more than worth it.
            Bob

  8. Openspaceman

    Bob_
    With my limited experience and guessing at most design decisions while converting my cargo van for fulltiming…I am so glad I built a permanent bulkhead as opposed to a curtain separating the cab from the cargo/living area for stealth city parking. If I was out in nature and in a more moderate climate I would be fine with the curtain as opposed to living in a bigger city dealing with heating the living space in below zero temps.
    *A couple of tricks I’ve learned from living in my van:
    1. I’m no scientist and was puzzled why I had frost on the inside of my front windows in the morning even with the bulkhead…So I bought a $5 double sided silver emergency blanket about 2′ x 6′ and hung it on the living side of the bulkhead door and it blocked most of the condensation from me and the Silver barrier reflects the heat from Mr. Buddy and warms the cabin in about half the time as before…I didn’t realize how much heat I was losing thru the door crack separating the cab from cabin. The daily differences in humidity has a lot to do with it but the physics are beyond me.
    2. This has to do with hygiene: I wear a button down shirt and dress pants for work everyday and shower at the health club in the AM after a workout. I don’t let any dirty / sweaty clothes inside the living area. I have a small cooler on the floor of the passenger seat and store the dirty workout clothes in there until laundry day about every 4 days. I use a quick-dry camping towel ( that I hang on the handle you use to pull yourself up in the van ) the sun dries it most days along with my baseball cap. When I heat the van after work I hang the quick-dry towel near Mr. Buddy and that dries it for the morning. I coordinate picking up a couples shirts from the cleaners every few days, it’s in the same lot as the health club.
    *So if you work in a white collar environment and want to look forward to coming home to your van…I think my rule of no dirty clothes in the cabin is super important. I hope this is helpful for anyone in a similar situation.
    **I can’t wait to burn my ties and work shirts and get back to nature!

    • Bob

      Openspaceman, those are all great tips! You are totally right, a good wall between the front and rear tight enough to keep moisture out is the only way to prevent frost on the inside of the window. I’m a big fan of space blankets hung over doors to reflect heat back in and block drafts.
      I used to do the same thing in my box van. I’d hang my towels over my heater to dry, then one day it fell down onto it and eventually caught fire. If I hadn’t come home just then I’d have lost everything. Be careful to never let anything fall on one of them.
      Bob

      • openspaceman

        I try to be super careful around the heater and never run it unattended. I highly recommend the quick dry camp towels they work great and save alot of space.
        *Another good and thorough post. Thanks.

        • Bob

          openspaceman, it’s very wise to only run the heater while you are there. Unfortunately in alaska that wasn’t an option for me. Mine ran 24/7 all winter. In moderate temperatures I’d never do that.
          Bob

  9. Myddy

    I love those pop tops, I wonder if those could be installed on a high top van? I’m guessing not, I think high tops are typically made of fiberglass, at least I believe mine is. I’m not sure.

  10. Carla

    Another great article, Bob. Regarding clearance needed for boondocking, do you or other readers have a general idea of how many inches clearance would be minimum or how many for “ideal” clearance? I have a rather unusual van — it was a public transit wheel-chair lift van in its former life. I was thrilled at the clearance when I first saw it, but then realized the access stairs and an outside battery box are both set inches lower than the rest of the van. I think it should be fine — I used to boondock in Montana in a Volkswagen Golf — but I wondered what present-day clearance is “good enough.” Thanks for any feedback.

    • Bob

      Carla, sorry, but I don’t any numbers I can give you except to say any standard van should have enough clearance for normal roads. However, departure angle is very important. That’s the angle from the rear tires to the furthest back and lowest point. Is yours a standard van or like a shuttle van? A standard van won’t be a problem but the shuttle bus type vans generally have very long back ends and that’s where you will hang up.
      Bob

      • Carla

        Mine is definitely an extended van with the backend going a little over 3 feet behind the rear wheels. The overall length is about 20 feet, but I liked that the width is just a few inches over 7 feet. The total height is 9.5 feet (says so on a warning label on the dash) — it is not fun to drive in gusty winds. But, it was what I could afford that was also tall enough for me (and anyone under 6’5″) to stand up in.
        I don’t see a way for me to attach a photo. But I guess it is sort of a moot point since I’ll be living in it either way. My questions about clearance have to do with me NOT going where I might get hung up. I’ve already been carefully watching for parking lot entrances that might be too steep for the rear. But having camped in Montana on weekends for years in a regular minivan, I worry about ruts in the FS roads, etc. with this “new” rig.
        I like your reply to Walt about not letting the limits of the last half mile stop him. I’ll just need to curb my enthusiasm for backcountry with caution for uneven roads.
        Thanks.

        • Bob

          Carla, I’m not sure what you have but it’s wider and taller than most vans. So I’d have to see it to venture a guess as to its back-road ability. You can send me a picture at akrvbob@gmail.com and I’ll take a look.
          But like you said, it’s what you’ve got and I’m sure it will be fine for the great majority of places you want to go. Like everything else there is a trade-off of comfort and mobility and with the extra width and height you gain a LOT of comfort and probably have only a very small loss of mobility if any.
          Bob

  11. Roddy

    Great website! Am retired 62 looking forward to hitting the road….st.louis to arizona! Just me my dog and the open road living life on my time! And on the cheap! Thanks for the great ideas!

    • Bob

      You are very welcome Roddy!! Sounds like the dream life to me!
      Bob

  12. Jana

    I lived in a tent for about six months. I was going to be in a friend’s backyard the whole time, so we built a little platform with scrap lumber and scrap plywood from a construction site dumpster. Having the tent up off the ground made a huge difference in comfort.
    The first tent fell apart from sun damage pretty quickly, so I bought a second tent (the same cheap model because it was all I could afford), wood dowels, extra stakes, and a tarp. I put a screw in the top of each dowel to use them as tent poles for the tarp and rigged the tarp a few inches over the tent with tall poles in the middle and shorter poles at the front and back. I had thought I would have to replace it every so often, but the tarp held up beautifully, as did the protected tent. I loved living in that tent.

    • Bob

      Jana, you’re right the sun is terribly destructive to tents, covering them is essential to protect it from the sun. The problem in the desert is you can’t keep a tarp up in the wind.
      Bob

    • Al Christensen

      Back in the 1930’s, my father worked on highway construction jobs out in the boonies (there were a lot more boonies back then). He lived in tents pitched atop wood platforms. It got them off wet and cold ground, but they had to block the wind from blowing underneath. And critters liked to get under there. So take measures against that when using a platform.

  13. jim

    just down loaded your book mr bob what i have read so far it’s great pack full of info i will be tell all my friends about it i highly remind it to anyone that is keeps up with you and looking to get into this type of life stile your website is what i look forward too looking at every evening to see what you have going on i’m as bad as a woman looking at a soap on tv lol

    • Bob

      Jim, thanks for you very nice comment!! My life is like a soap opera! I’m glad you liked the book, I tried to put as much of my experience and knowledge as possible into it. Thanks again!
      Bob

  14. John Dough

    I have a 1996 Dodge Ram Van B2500, short wheelbase.
    But I’ve been lusting over some 2003 Ford Econoline E350 extended cargo vans with the 7.3 diesel engine, and 4×4 conversions from http://www.ujointoffroad.com
    What do you think about a setup like that?
    There’s been one or two for sale in my area.
    If I put a high top on it, and put solar on top of that, it seems like it would be very tippy, top heavy in the wind.
    I’m about 4 years from even being able to do this.
    Maybe I should just keep my van and set it up, and take camping trips to try it out. I remember somewhere on the old site you said you would get a ’96 dodge van.
    But the idea of a 4×4 van seems to be the best of all worlds, and not beyond my reach if I buy used.
    Sorry I’m kind of rambling, trying to get my thoughts together on this.

    • Bob

      John, if you can afford it a 2003 E350 with a 7.3 and 4×4 is the perfect rig!! That’s the setup of of my dreams!
      I would’t worry about the height. The fiberglass tops are pretty light and solar panels are only 30-40 pounds so it isn’t enough weight to be an issue. The wind will blow it around and but it shouldn’t be a big problem.
      I think taking trips in your van now is the best possible thing you can do. You will learn if you even like vandwelling and if it is the best choice for you. If you love it and find 2×4 limits where you want to go then maybe upgrade to a 4×4.
      Bob

  15. Karen

    Bob, this is the most useful “Which RV is Right for You?” article I’ve EVER come across. Thanks so much for finally explaining why I’m having such a hard time deciding!

    • Bob

      Thank you Karen! I understand how hard it is to decide on the perfect vehicle–because there is no such thing!! Even now part of me is very happy with the van and trailer and part of me wants to switch to a 4×4 pickup with camper. Both have big advantages for me but I can only choose one! For now the van and trailer wins!
      you’ll just have to wrestle it through for yourself and see which one of the many choices is best for you.
      Bob

  16. Joyce

    This site is amazing. I’m copying and pasting all this great information onto my computer in a file for stealth camping info. I’m 72 and have had a lifetime dream of traveling and seeing the country, but I only have limited social security to do it on. I’m seriously thinking of selling my house and checking off my bucket list before I die. I can supplement my income with art sold on the web as I do now. So with all I’ve learned here, I think I’ll buy something and begin with short trips until I get up the courage to cut the umbilical cords to my current life style. Thank you thank you thank you !!!!

    • Bob

      Joyce, I think that’s a great plan! It;s such a radical change that I recommend easing your way into. One possibility is to sell your car for a minivan and start taking short camping trips on it. If that goes well, keep make them longer trips and who knows, one day you just may not come back!!
      Bob

  17. Mike

    Bob,
    I just came across this post and I must say, it is quite informative. I just got into the research phase of my *future* stealth RV and was looking for suggestions on vehicles. This is definitely the most comprehensive listing I have found. Also, read through the comments section. I’m probably a bit younger than some of you. I’m only 25, but I love to explore and will rarely stay in my city when I have a few days off work in a row. Currently I am just doing extended self sustained bicycle tours and sleeping in a tent. Though I would like to eventually get into stealthing in a van. Everything is so expensive and weighs you down.. I just want to feel free again. Thank you for creating and staying active in this post! I really have learned a lot!
    Mike

    • Bob

      Mike, I’m really glad to help! I have a new idea about helping people choose their vehicle that I hope is out before fall. Bob

  18. Mike

    Bob, I can’t wait to read it. Any information that I can find I absorb like a sponge!

    • Bob

      Thanks Mike! Bob

  19. Josh

    Hi Bob,
    Thank you for this list! I’m currently renting in Dallas and hoping to get into a van by the end of the year. Considering my location, stealth is critical.
    I have been looking at high top cargo/passenger vans, but I haven’t found too many of them out there. What are your thoughts on adding a high top? Also, do you have a cut off with regard to mileage when you shop for your vans?
    Josh

    • Bob

      Josh, there’s no doubt that you will be much more comfortable with a high-top, but I also think it will hurt your stealth. If stealth is your highest priority, I’d strongly consider a minivan–they have the best stealth. So it’s comfort versus stealth and MPG. It’s just which ever is more important to you.
      Absolutely no more than 150,000 and much preferably less than 130,000. Ideally under 100,000. But you have to be realistic and base your decision on how much time and money you have. If you have $1000 and a week to buy a van, you take whatever you can get.
      Bob

      • Josh

        Thanks for the reply, Bob! My job allows me to be pretty mobile, so while stealth is a priority, I wouldn’t be opposed to moving around a bit.
        I’ve been considering the Ford Transit medium roof model as well as a box van. As I cruise around the city I see spots behind businesses, etc on a regular basis that I think, “No one would question a cargo/box van back there.” I know the Ford Transit would work for sure, but they’re a bit more expensive than the box vans I’ve been seeing. My main concern with either vehicle is finding a mechanic that would be willing to work on them considering their size. Any thoughts on these two options for city/suburb dwelling?

        • Bob

          Josh, remember the box van is just a 1 ton van chassis with a box on it. It’s as easily serviced as any American van. Anyone who can work on a van can work on it. It’s exactly the same as my G3500 cargo van with a regular body.
          But it will be registered as commercial–be sure you can get private insurance on it before you buy it. Commercial insurance will be much more and may be hard to get. Bob

  20. mike

    thank you for all the information .
    my situation sounds a bit different than others .
    i just want something comfortable for a few months that has good resale value so when i’m done and might want to resell it i can and not lose too much money .
    which of the many vans you’ve mentioned do you think has the best resale value.
    i am inclined to buy something used of course.
    mike

Table of Contents

78 Comments

  1. Canine

    How much of a stealth difference is there between a high-top cargo van and a box/cube van? Assuming both vans have cutaway access from the cab , both have close to the same interior height, width, and length, no windows, etc.
    Do windows have more of an effect on stealth compared with the other factors?

    • Bob

      Canine, they have different strengths and weaknesses. A box van looks good in industrial areas but is totally out of place in residential areas. The conversion van is opposite. So the whole time I lived in a box van I never once parked in a residential area unless it was a friends yard. But they look great in a Home Depot parking lot or in the industrial part of town. I never had problem with parking my box van, but I know lots of people with conversion vans who have no problem with them. The advantage cargo vans have is they fit in at both places.
      Box vans are MUCH larger than conversions vans. Mine was 8 foot by 12 foot (96 SQ FT)and 7 feet tall. Conversions vans are usually 10 foot by 6 foot (60 SQ FT) at most, and not nearly as tall. Plus most box vans now are at least 14 foot long (112 SQ FT).
      I don’t think windows have any real impact on stealth.

      • Canine

        Interesting. My efforts to understand how others perceive vans is a bit fuzzy. I suppose it is like using tan camo in the desert and green camo in the woods. Am glad to hear that windows seem to have little effect. I appreciate you taking the time to let me voice this as voicing my thoughts rather than keeping them in my head helps kind of a lot. 🙂

        • Bob

          you’re welcome Canine! The one thing that is important about windows is that they should be very dark. You will want to cover them with reflectix on the inside but that stands out. Get all the back windows tinted very dark, or even spray them black. Their are unsually laws about the front windows so you need to find the laws for your state before doing anything.
          Bob

  2. Sam

    The high top van you show is my choice but it could be because of the terrific gal that lives in it. If there is one boondocker I am in awe of it is her.

    • Bob

      Agreed Sam!!
      Bob

  3. Gretchen

    Hey Bob, Wonderful article about all the choices! Since I wanted to travel full time for a number of years I found a 2004 Road Trek 190 on craigslist that provides all my needs, 11-12 mpg, twin beds, one for me and one for my travel dog friend Biscotti. It was truly a spiritual experience being with you and all the others for Thanksgiving. Sending many blessings for you and Homer during the holiday season.

    • Bob

      Thanks Gretchen, I just wish you could have stayed longer!
      Bob

    • Jaqkey

      Gretchen,
      My dogs name is Biscuit Biscotti. I have yet to meet anyone with the same name. 🙂

      • Bob

        How strange Gretchen, there is a third vandweller with a dog named biscotti that I know of. Small world huh!
        Bob

  4. Al Christensen

    A high top van could be problematic for city stealth camping where overhead clearance is an issue, like parking garages. In windy areas, like the desert in winter, you’d need to get used to swaying. But otherwise, they’re great. Wish I’d found one that wasn’t beat up or too expensive.

    • Bob

      Al, High Tops do have some drawbacks, but they are more than worth it to me!
      Bob

  5. Tom

    A great and practical way of looking at your choices. Bob has provided a step by step process.
    I have become fascinated with cargo trailers. But all the ones I’ve seen have the cargo doors on them, both in the back and side door. Problem with is you’d have to come up with a way to latch the door from the inside while your sleeping,,, and a way for no one to throw a padlock on the outside while you are inside. The key that unlocked this for me, if anyone is looking; run a google search for “cargo trailer with RV door”. This brings up the trailers that have a door you can close and lock behind you.
    I believe, maybe wrongly so, that these trailers have a tougher skin (siding) on the outside and would hold up better then a camper trailer. They seem much less expensive and lighter then a camper and you can arrange it with secured furniture or build it over time the way you want. Hopefully you could also use them in a campground if needed. Of course they would need to be insulated.
    Bob has brought this up before, but if your planing on a tent, I can’t recommend a four season tent enough. Yes, they cost much more money, but will pay for themselves in the long run in some added (little) comfort from the elements and durability. Tents are a hard way to go, I lasted about a month in a three season tent before I gave up on it. If you’re on a super tight budget I’ve also heard of people putting a tent inside a larger tent, but I’ve never tried this, and of course the inside tent must be the free standing type since you don’t want to put ground stakes through the floor of the larger tent.

    • Desert Rat

      My cargo trailer’s side door can be locked with a key from the outside and with a bolt from the inside. It came stock that way, so your concerns with locking may not be a legit one, depending on the trailer. I do use a padlock on the back door. It’s the kind that starts squawking if motion is detected, so if anyone tried to come in during the night, I’m forewarned, not that I expect that to ever happen. My dogs would let me know before any lock would, anyway. I use mine in a campground. Having had both regular RV trailers, I can attest to the cargo trailer being much more sturdy, and being able to have a real bed and furniture is a big plus for me. I also have a tent that I can set up if I want to be outdoors, and sometimes I like to sleep in it and watch the stars (it has a mesh top).

      • Desert Rat

        Also meant to ask – what kind of four-season tent do you have/recommend?

        • Tom

          Springbar tents are very good, or other canvas tents.

          • Bob

            Thanks Tom. I’m a fan of the canvas tents. Nylon simply will not hold up to extended exposure to the sun as in year after year.
            Bob

          • Desert Rat

            I had one, and they are great, though a bit heavy for one person to set up, unless you get a smaller one.

      • Calvin R

        The easy solution to keep someone from padlocking a hasp-and-padlock setup is to put your own padlock on the loop piece, with the other piece outside. That keeps anyone else from closing the unit and putting their own padlock on it.

        • Bob

          Exactly Calvin! I don’t even bother with it anymore, there’s no one around to worry about, just all my friends.
          Bob

      • Bob

        Sounds like you’ve got it all figures out Desert Rat!! That’s a great setup.
        Bob

    • Bob

      Tom, mine does have cargo doors back and side. Closing it while I am inside is simple, I just use a bolt from a fence: simple and cheap. As far as someone putting a lock through the door while you are sleeping, all you have to do is put the lock through the bottom after you take it off and it con’t be locked. But, you can still slip something through the bar and then through the door handle to make it impossible to open. I’be been in mine for 3 years now and I just see it as a non-issue. But I do have windows so if worst comes to worst I can just break a window and get out. You can buy windows for campers that are designed to be an emergency exit also. I had one in my Camper but I didn’t save it, I wish I had but it’s no big deal. If I were worried about it I would buy and install one.
      Cargo trailers are MUCH tougher than any others. They can handle much more abuse than any other trailer can. The aluminum skin is very tough, reasonably light, and of course will last forever. The steel frame isn’t going to dry rot and is very strong. But mine is 1300 pounds empty. They really are perfect for boondockers, I take mine some pretty bad places without a second thought. The fiberglass egg trailers are lighter but no where near as tough, I’d treat it like it was fragile.
      Your quite right, any 3 season tent will be lucky to last a winter in the desert, and the cheap ones will only last a month or two at most. I’ve seen them fail with the first wind storm. Right now I am leaning toward the tipi tents or pyramid tents because they present so little surface to the wind and many of them will take a wood stove. They worked for the Lakota people on the plains so they MUST be the way to go. I’m thinking about getting one just to see how it holds up and as a guest room during the RTR. But I’m not sure if I want to carry it around.
      Bob

      • Al Christensen

        “But I’m not sure if I want to carry it around.” Just get a horse and travois to pull it, like the Indians. 😉

        • Bob

          Now that’s a good idea!!
          Bob

    • Bob

      Tom, I’m a big fan of cargo trailers, their light, tough and cheap. A simple bolt on the inside keeps it closed and putting a lock through the outside latch keeps someone from locking you in. I had a window that was also an escape hatch in my camper but I only have regular windows in the trailer. If I were worried about being locked in I’d add one to the trailer, but I’m not.
      The desert is terrible on tents. The sun eats them up and the wind shreds them. Will a $500 tent last 5 times longer than a $100 tent? I doubt it. The mountain tent will handle the wind but the sun will eat it up making it weak and shredding it in the wind. I think a cotton tipi/pyramid tent may be the only long term solution. I think a minivan and a tent is a viable choice. Live in the tent in good weather and in the van during bad.
      Bob

      • Tom

        Sounds like I’m over thinking the door thing. Thanks for the feedback.
        I do, like the look of the cargo trailers I’ve seen on the web with the “R.V. door and windows, up high. Just looks like a good all-around setup whether you’re boon-docking, stealth parking or pulling into a campground.
        I also like the idea have still having a cargo trailer to live in if the pull vehicle is in the shop for repairs. And if it’s a smaller cargo trailer without electric brakes you could even rent a pickup and still move it.
        Bob I think your cargo trailer really is the best of all compromises.

        • Bob

          tom, I think it is a great choice also! But, like everything, there are trade-offs
          1. it’s a pain towing the trailer
          2. It really cuts your mpg
          3. breaking and moving camp is more complicated
          4. you can carry more stuff, and for some of us that’s bad
          5. to a small degree it restricts where you can go in the backcountry
          6. You don’t have your home with you wherever you go so you’d better remember to take everything you need. I just drove almost to Yuma and realized I left my passport at Ehrenberg in my trailer, so I had to turn around and go back and get it–160 wasted miles!
          Overall it’s a small loss of freedom and mobility. But you gain a lot and you can put the trailer in storage and regain the freedom for travel.
          Bob

  6. Walt

    We’ve talked about getting a Class A when we retire and hitting the road, but there is a big part of me that wants to be able to set up camp off the beaten path, at least on occasion. For that reason, I have found myself drawn more and more to some of the newer campers that are coming out with slides to provide a little more living space.
    We already have a diesel truck (F-350 DRW), though it isn’t a 4 x 4. We currently pull a fifth-wheel, but we have spent time in a pop-up. While I know the lack of four-wheel drive is not ideal, this seems to me like it could work – if I can convince my wife. Thoughts?

    • Tom

      An earth anchor and come–along can get you out of a lot of tight spots. I carry these with me still along with a tow rope. Much cheaper then 4 wheel drive or a wench and easy to move to the next vehicle. An earth anchor can provide you with a tow point when nothing else is around.
      Another nice thing, this set up can be carried to another stuck vehicle. I used my setup once when I drove my 4×4 over a land spring covered by brush. But I’ve help many, many more people out of a tight spot with these three items.

      • Thoreau

        Tom,
        Thanks for the helpful tip. What make/model of earth anchor do you use?
        Thanks.

        • Tom

          Thoreau,
          Sorry, I don’t recall the brand or make of the earth anchor, but I do remember I got it at a Tractor Supply Store. I do see these on Amazon. This a long metal rod with a loop on one end. The other end (the part you screw into the ground) looks like a cork screw with a couple blades. Mine is fairly long, just under 2 feet. Probably the 30 inch ones I see on Amazon. Don’t forget to use Bob’s link to go to Amazon.
          They are relatively easy to pull straight up out of the ground, they get stronger as the angle of force or pulling is closer to the ground. I’m not sure one could handle a pick-up and fifth wheel combination, but could a full size pick-up. You use a crowbar in the loop to screw them into the ground.
          Also, and I’ve never tried this. I wondered if two or more earth anchors couldn’t be used to secure a camper or trailer in a wind storm. These are very similar to the tie downs used in mobile homes. Although, using these are a lot of work.
          At one point I did have a come along that had 12,000 pound capacity. Yes, crazy I know. At one point I lifted a car between two trees with it. It was made by Yale, some of you older people would remember the Yale lock company. It used over size roller chain, the same type in the final drive of a motorcycle, but much bigger. This could handle a pick-up truck and fifth wheel combination I’m sure. I haven’t seen one in thirty years, but they do exists if you need something like that.

          • Tom

            Sorry, ment to say mine was just under 3 feet, probably 30 inches. Length is an important decision when selecting an earth anchor. Too long you make extra work for your self, too short and it won’t hold.

          • Thoreau

            Tom,
            Thanks again for going into detail. Real-life experience is often the best teacher, so you sharing yours is very helpful.

      • Bob

        Those are great tips Tom, thanks for sharing them!
        Bob

    • Bob

      Walt, those huge slide-ins campers with slide-outs are NOT a good choice. They are so huge and long they are terrible in the backcountry. They are much too heavy for an F350, drw you will be over-gross the moment you drop it on. I’m not a fan of pop-ups either for many reasons. If you want to get in the backountry an ultra-light 8 foot camper that doesn’t extend past the bed is your only good choice. But the’re small and if she needs the room and space of a 5er they won’t do.
      I’m sorry, there is no free lunch you can have all the comforts of home or you can deep, not both.
      Bob

      • Walt

        I don’t know if she wants all of the comforts of a fifth-wheel, but I doubt I can convince her to go down to a lightweight camper, either. I’ve been drawn to a camper lately because of having a long bed on the truck, I thought I could possibly get something not too “cramped.” I don’t necessarily need to go too far off the beaten path, but I would like to have the option not to have to rely solely on RV parks, state parks, and Forest Service campgrounds. Definitely food for thought.

        • Bob

          Walt, don’t get the idea that you can’t boondock in a 5th wheel or travel trailer. You can and very easily. Most people don’t want to get as remote as i do. Check out a this blog:
          http://www.wheelingit.us/
          They live in a 40 foot diesel pusher and yet they boondock a LOT!! Most people don’t want to get as remote as i do. Any RV can easily boondock 365 days a year in beautiful country. Of course a 4×4 camper can go many more places, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go MANY great places in any RV. I’ll give you an example, my friend Doug is in a 29 foot (I think) Travel Trailer. He followed us into the Prescott National Forest and he couldn’t make it the last 1/2 mile into camp with us, so he camped about a mile away. No big deal! We walked over to see him and he walked over to see us. I suggest you figure out what will make you wife comfortable and go for it. Don’t let getting in that last 1/2 mile stop you.
          Bob
          Bob

          • Walt

            I don’t intend to let that stop me. I’ll just have to make sure we have a Jeep so we can go explore that last 1/2 mile.

          • Bob

            Right, any RV can boondock to some degree and then you explore with a true off-road vehicle.
            Bob

        • judy

          Another thing about slide ins, esp if they are not easily cranked in manually, is that the batteries should be fully charged to bring them in. That was the info in the manual that came with a Flagstaff Ultra Lite trailer I towed for a few months.
          Even boondocking with solar, a week of clouds could leave you with low batteries.

          • Bob

            I am not a fan of the slide-outs in a camper. They add so much weight and complexity and all of it is has to be carried by the truck. I have a friend with an Arctic Fox with a slide and he has replaced the motors on his slide 3 times. I’ts so tall, wide and long he can’t go anywhere in the backcountry. He’s getting rid of it and replacing it with a van.
            Bob

  7. greybeard23

    I tent camped for more than a year, riding in a ford exploerer. I had a Cabela Alaskan Guide four sean tent. They are tested for 75 mile an hour winds, have two entrance doors one with a vestibule. It was tall enough for me to stand in the center. Had a two by four collapsible table on one side, my bunk on the other. Quite comfortable, plus I had a bed ready to go in the back of the explorer. If you are going to be serious about tent camping for long periods, you need a highly rated four season tent. I spent alot of time in rain water two inches deep running around my tent, very high winds and always stayed dry and did not worry about the tent blowing away.

    • Bob

      That’s a great recommendation greybeard. Do you have a link so we can be sure of which one you are talking about?
      Bob

      • greybeard23

        This is the one I got.
        http://www.cabelas.com/product/Cabelas-Alaskan-Guide-Geodesic-Tent-with-Fiberglass-Poles-Person/714588.uts
        But I bought mine with aluminum poles, drops nearly ten pounds off the weight. Also bought a floor liner which attaches inside and helps to protect the floor. Mine weighs about 26 pounds without the floor liner. Not bad for a tent this size. I spent months reading reviews before buying and settled on this one. Some folks after ten years are giving theirs to their kids and buying another for themselves. They last a long time.

        • greybeard23

          Also, forgot to mention, I bought the six person tent. It was the only one I could find that gave me the height to stand up. The rain fly is rubberized under neath, but I still occasionaly spray it with water proofing. After more than a year of using it, most of the time in 90 to 100 degree temps, it still looks new. In winter I closed off two of the three vents and with a heater inside, the snow didn’t melt off the outside.

          • greybeard23

            If you go to my blog and watch the video I posted a while back, in that you can see the tent set up in a few locations.

          • Bob

            greybeard, that’s what I thought. I went to Cabelas and looked them up but the 4 man is only about 4 feet tall. It’s probably one of those times when spending the extra money for top-quality is more than worth it.
            Bob

  8. Openspaceman

    Bob_
    With my limited experience and guessing at most design decisions while converting my cargo van for fulltiming…I am so glad I built a permanent bulkhead as opposed to a curtain separating the cab from the cargo/living area for stealth city parking. If I was out in nature and in a more moderate climate I would be fine with the curtain as opposed to living in a bigger city dealing with heating the living space in below zero temps.
    *A couple of tricks I’ve learned from living in my van:
    1. I’m no scientist and was puzzled why I had frost on the inside of my front windows in the morning even with the bulkhead…So I bought a $5 double sided silver emergency blanket about 2′ x 6′ and hung it on the living side of the bulkhead door and it blocked most of the condensation from me and the Silver barrier reflects the heat from Mr. Buddy and warms the cabin in about half the time as before…I didn’t realize how much heat I was losing thru the door crack separating the cab from cabin. The daily differences in humidity has a lot to do with it but the physics are beyond me.
    2. This has to do with hygiene: I wear a button down shirt and dress pants for work everyday and shower at the health club in the AM after a workout. I don’t let any dirty / sweaty clothes inside the living area. I have a small cooler on the floor of the passenger seat and store the dirty workout clothes in there until laundry day about every 4 days. I use a quick-dry camping towel ( that I hang on the handle you use to pull yourself up in the van ) the sun dries it most days along with my baseball cap. When I heat the van after work I hang the quick-dry towel near Mr. Buddy and that dries it for the morning. I coordinate picking up a couples shirts from the cleaners every few days, it’s in the same lot as the health club.
    *So if you work in a white collar environment and want to look forward to coming home to your van…I think my rule of no dirty clothes in the cabin is super important. I hope this is helpful for anyone in a similar situation.
    **I can’t wait to burn my ties and work shirts and get back to nature!

    • Bob

      Openspaceman, those are all great tips! You are totally right, a good wall between the front and rear tight enough to keep moisture out is the only way to prevent frost on the inside of the window. I’m a big fan of space blankets hung over doors to reflect heat back in and block drafts.
      I used to do the same thing in my box van. I’d hang my towels over my heater to dry, then one day it fell down onto it and eventually caught fire. If I hadn’t come home just then I’d have lost everything. Be careful to never let anything fall on one of them.
      Bob

      • openspaceman

        I try to be super careful around the heater and never run it unattended. I highly recommend the quick dry camp towels they work great and save alot of space.
        *Another good and thorough post. Thanks.

        • Bob

          openspaceman, it’s very wise to only run the heater while you are there. Unfortunately in alaska that wasn’t an option for me. Mine ran 24/7 all winter. In moderate temperatures I’d never do that.
          Bob

  9. Myddy

    I love those pop tops, I wonder if those could be installed on a high top van? I’m guessing not, I think high tops are typically made of fiberglass, at least I believe mine is. I’m not sure.

  10. Carla

    Another great article, Bob. Regarding clearance needed for boondocking, do you or other readers have a general idea of how many inches clearance would be minimum or how many for “ideal” clearance? I have a rather unusual van — it was a public transit wheel-chair lift van in its former life. I was thrilled at the clearance when I first saw it, but then realized the access stairs and an outside battery box are both set inches lower than the rest of the van. I think it should be fine — I used to boondock in Montana in a Volkswagen Golf — but I wondered what present-day clearance is “good enough.” Thanks for any feedback.

    • Bob

      Carla, sorry, but I don’t any numbers I can give you except to say any standard van should have enough clearance for normal roads. However, departure angle is very important. That’s the angle from the rear tires to the furthest back and lowest point. Is yours a standard van or like a shuttle van? A standard van won’t be a problem but the shuttle bus type vans generally have very long back ends and that’s where you will hang up.
      Bob

      • Carla

        Mine is definitely an extended van with the backend going a little over 3 feet behind the rear wheels. The overall length is about 20 feet, but I liked that the width is just a few inches over 7 feet. The total height is 9.5 feet (says so on a warning label on the dash) — it is not fun to drive in gusty winds. But, it was what I could afford that was also tall enough for me (and anyone under 6’5″) to stand up in.
        I don’t see a way for me to attach a photo. But I guess it is sort of a moot point since I’ll be living in it either way. My questions about clearance have to do with me NOT going where I might get hung up. I’ve already been carefully watching for parking lot entrances that might be too steep for the rear. But having camped in Montana on weekends for years in a regular minivan, I worry about ruts in the FS roads, etc. with this “new” rig.
        I like your reply to Walt about not letting the limits of the last half mile stop him. I’ll just need to curb my enthusiasm for backcountry with caution for uneven roads.
        Thanks.

        • Bob

          Carla, I’m not sure what you have but it’s wider and taller than most vans. So I’d have to see it to venture a guess as to its back-road ability. You can send me a picture at akrvbob@gmail.com and I’ll take a look.
          But like you said, it’s what you’ve got and I’m sure it will be fine for the great majority of places you want to go. Like everything else there is a trade-off of comfort and mobility and with the extra width and height you gain a LOT of comfort and probably have only a very small loss of mobility if any.
          Bob

  11. Roddy

    Great website! Am retired 62 looking forward to hitting the road….st.louis to arizona! Just me my dog and the open road living life on my time! And on the cheap! Thanks for the great ideas!

    • Bob

      You are very welcome Roddy!! Sounds like the dream life to me!
      Bob

  12. Jana

    I lived in a tent for about six months. I was going to be in a friend’s backyard the whole time, so we built a little platform with scrap lumber and scrap plywood from a construction site dumpster. Having the tent up off the ground made a huge difference in comfort.
    The first tent fell apart from sun damage pretty quickly, so I bought a second tent (the same cheap model because it was all I could afford), wood dowels, extra stakes, and a tarp. I put a screw in the top of each dowel to use them as tent poles for the tarp and rigged the tarp a few inches over the tent with tall poles in the middle and shorter poles at the front and back. I had thought I would have to replace it every so often, but the tarp held up beautifully, as did the protected tent. I loved living in that tent.

    • Bob

      Jana, you’re right the sun is terribly destructive to tents, covering them is essential to protect it from the sun. The problem in the desert is you can’t keep a tarp up in the wind.
      Bob

    • Al Christensen

      Back in the 1930’s, my father worked on highway construction jobs out in the boonies (there were a lot more boonies back then). He lived in tents pitched atop wood platforms. It got them off wet and cold ground, but they had to block the wind from blowing underneath. And critters liked to get under there. So take measures against that when using a platform.

  13. jim

    just down loaded your book mr bob what i have read so far it’s great pack full of info i will be tell all my friends about it i highly remind it to anyone that is keeps up with you and looking to get into this type of life stile your website is what i look forward too looking at every evening to see what you have going on i’m as bad as a woman looking at a soap on tv lol

    • Bob

      Jim, thanks for you very nice comment!! My life is like a soap opera! I’m glad you liked the book, I tried to put as much of my experience and knowledge as possible into it. Thanks again!
      Bob

  14. John Dough

    I have a 1996 Dodge Ram Van B2500, short wheelbase.
    But I’ve been lusting over some 2003 Ford Econoline E350 extended cargo vans with the 7.3 diesel engine, and 4×4 conversions from http://www.ujointoffroad.com
    What do you think about a setup like that?
    There’s been one or two for sale in my area.
    If I put a high top on it, and put solar on top of that, it seems like it would be very tippy, top heavy in the wind.
    I’m about 4 years from even being able to do this.
    Maybe I should just keep my van and set it up, and take camping trips to try it out. I remember somewhere on the old site you said you would get a ’96 dodge van.
    But the idea of a 4×4 van seems to be the best of all worlds, and not beyond my reach if I buy used.
    Sorry I’m kind of rambling, trying to get my thoughts together on this.

    • Bob

      John, if you can afford it a 2003 E350 with a 7.3 and 4×4 is the perfect rig!! That’s the setup of of my dreams!
      I would’t worry about the height. The fiberglass tops are pretty light and solar panels are only 30-40 pounds so it isn’t enough weight to be an issue. The wind will blow it around and but it shouldn’t be a big problem.
      I think taking trips in your van now is the best possible thing you can do. You will learn if you even like vandwelling and if it is the best choice for you. If you love it and find 2×4 limits where you want to go then maybe upgrade to a 4×4.
      Bob

  15. Karen

    Bob, this is the most useful “Which RV is Right for You?” article I’ve EVER come across. Thanks so much for finally explaining why I’m having such a hard time deciding!

    • Bob

      Thank you Karen! I understand how hard it is to decide on the perfect vehicle–because there is no such thing!! Even now part of me is very happy with the van and trailer and part of me wants to switch to a 4×4 pickup with camper. Both have big advantages for me but I can only choose one! For now the van and trailer wins!
      you’ll just have to wrestle it through for yourself and see which one of the many choices is best for you.
      Bob

  16. Joyce

    This site is amazing. I’m copying and pasting all this great information onto my computer in a file for stealth camping info. I’m 72 and have had a lifetime dream of traveling and seeing the country, but I only have limited social security to do it on. I’m seriously thinking of selling my house and checking off my bucket list before I die. I can supplement my income with art sold on the web as I do now. So with all I’ve learned here, I think I’ll buy something and begin with short trips until I get up the courage to cut the umbilical cords to my current life style. Thank you thank you thank you !!!!

    • Bob

      Joyce, I think that’s a great plan! It;s such a radical change that I recommend easing your way into. One possibility is to sell your car for a minivan and start taking short camping trips on it. If that goes well, keep make them longer trips and who knows, one day you just may not come back!!
      Bob

  17. Mike

    Bob,
    I just came across this post and I must say, it is quite informative. I just got into the research phase of my *future* stealth RV and was looking for suggestions on vehicles. This is definitely the most comprehensive listing I have found. Also, read through the comments section. I’m probably a bit younger than some of you. I’m only 25, but I love to explore and will rarely stay in my city when I have a few days off work in a row. Currently I am just doing extended self sustained bicycle tours and sleeping in a tent. Though I would like to eventually get into stealthing in a van. Everything is so expensive and weighs you down.. I just want to feel free again. Thank you for creating and staying active in this post! I really have learned a lot!
    Mike

    • Bob

      Mike, I’m really glad to help! I have a new idea about helping people choose their vehicle that I hope is out before fall. Bob

  18. Mike

    Bob, I can’t wait to read it. Any information that I can find I absorb like a sponge!

    • Bob

      Thanks Mike! Bob

  19. Josh

    Hi Bob,
    Thank you for this list! I’m currently renting in Dallas and hoping to get into a van by the end of the year. Considering my location, stealth is critical.
    I have been looking at high top cargo/passenger vans, but I haven’t found too many of them out there. What are your thoughts on adding a high top? Also, do you have a cut off with regard to mileage when you shop for your vans?
    Josh

    • Bob

      Josh, there’s no doubt that you will be much more comfortable with a high-top, but I also think it will hurt your stealth. If stealth is your highest priority, I’d strongly consider a minivan–they have the best stealth. So it’s comfort versus stealth and MPG. It’s just which ever is more important to you.
      Absolutely no more than 150,000 and much preferably less than 130,000. Ideally under 100,000. But you have to be realistic and base your decision on how much time and money you have. If you have $1000 and a week to buy a van, you take whatever you can get.
      Bob

      • Josh

        Thanks for the reply, Bob! My job allows me to be pretty mobile, so while stealth is a priority, I wouldn’t be opposed to moving around a bit.
        I’ve been considering the Ford Transit medium roof model as well as a box van. As I cruise around the city I see spots behind businesses, etc on a regular basis that I think, “No one would question a cargo/box van back there.” I know the Ford Transit would work for sure, but they’re a bit more expensive than the box vans I’ve been seeing. My main concern with either vehicle is finding a mechanic that would be willing to work on them considering their size. Any thoughts on these two options for city/suburb dwelling?

        • Bob

          Josh, remember the box van is just a 1 ton van chassis with a box on it. It’s as easily serviced as any American van. Anyone who can work on a van can work on it. It’s exactly the same as my G3500 cargo van with a regular body.
          But it will be registered as commercial–be sure you can get private insurance on it before you buy it. Commercial insurance will be much more and may be hard to get. Bob

  20. mike

    thank you for all the information .
    my situation sounds a bit different than others .
    i just want something comfortable for a few months that has good resale value so when i’m done and might want to resell it i can and not lose too much money .
    which of the many vans you’ve mentioned do you think has the best resale value.
    i am inclined to buy something used of course.
    mike