I ended up going with a 2014 Dodge Ram Promaster. I had found it used for $11k which is what I had in savings but it did have a 170k miles on it already. But was still low priced and even though I did have to put a new transmission in it 9 months later, it was still a great deal and has served me well. My next van, will more than likely be a Ford Transit High Top. I think it just drives nicer and more comfortable.
The Build and Layout
I’ve changed the layout once since my initial buildout. I turned the bed 90 degrees to allow steps for Bailey to get in the bed easier and create more open floor space. Since its just me and Bailey, I made the bed convert so it has the option to add 15 inches on the width. Doing this I allowed longer, underbed storage to accommodate surfboards that are under 6ft. I have a comfortable work space to do work on my laptop that also makes a nice L shaped kitchen. There’s no right or wrong layout and you want to build it to suit your needs. Bailey’s comfort was priority, I wanted a decent kitchen, and a computer work space in my build.
I own quite a few surf and sup boards so storage is always a problem. I’m able to store smaller boards on my ceiling and against the wall to the side. I then have several inflatable boards underneath my bed with 2 shortboards in boardbags laying on top. Then for any other longer style boards I have, they are stacked on the roof rack in board bags and strapped down securely.
Roof Rack and Ladder
I got my roof rack and ladder from vantech.us and its made to fit my van’s roof with the existing brackets in the frame. The roof rack is 4 sections of crossbars. I would of liked to spend more and get a wider and larger roof system. Something I will do with my next build out.
Solar Power Set up
Moving in from my camper, I already had a Goal Zero 30 watt panel and Yeti 400 battery. I decided to keep with this and add 2 more 30 watt panels and a yeti 1250 battery. I basically go back and forth to which battery is charging from the panels since I couldn’t find a way to chain the batteries. Goal Zero is plug and play and does not require any kind of hard wiring which is what I wanted to make it easy. I also have the option to pull out the batteries to use in a tent or offsite if I wanted.
Sad to say, I bought a Dometic CFX 50watt fridge. It worked well for 6 weeks but then the 12V went out on it and no longer worked. It did work off the 110v but that pulled too much power. I called Dometic and they weren’t much help so I do not recommend their products. I ended up with a Yeti Tundra 35 Cooler that I already had to save money and conserve power. Works well but have to buy ice quite often. Down the road, I would like to revisit another refrigerator option.
First thing I did when I bought the van was insulate with 2 inch foam insulation and then spray foamed in place all the seams and places I could. I used R30 around the wheel wells that I boxed off. The van stays cool in the summer and can retain heat well. It also drowns out the sound very nicely. I’ve been in my napping in my van and had friends knock on the door and I didnt even hear them and I’m a pretty light sleeper.
This is pretty simple but I just use my cell phone as a hotspot. I got the highest plan from sprint to allow wifi tethering and haven’t had too many issues yet.
If I’m running around, away from the van, I have a Goal Zero external battery pack that I keep in my bag for emergency gopro and phone charging.
I have several Ikea LED lights that can be all chained together. It’s kind of a mess with all the cords and hiding them is a pain. I probably have more light than I need but is nice when it’s dark and spend a lot of evenings in the van reading and cooking. When I want to conserve battery and don’t need much light, I will use a headlamp or my Goal Zero rechargeable lantern. This thing has definitely earned its keep. Recharges via USB and I keep it next to my bed for reading at night because its a quick turn off if I want to fall asleep and don’t have to get up to turn out the lights.
I have a jetboil backpacking stove for boiling water quick or doing a dehydrated meal. If Im cooking in the kitchen, I use my camp chef outdoor camp oven with a 2 burner stove on top. It runs off 1lb propane canisters and been pretty fuel efficient. My mom got me like 12 a few Christmases ago and I havent gone through half of them yet. I also have the option to pull the unit out and cook outside if I want.
Im using the Thetford Porta Potti 565E Curve. It has a 6 gallon waste and 5 gallon fresh water capacity. If you use the right amount of deodorizer and empty/clean when it needs it. It doesnt smell. It’s somewhat of a gross task but really isn’t that bad if you empty when its half full and dont wait til its all the way full. I really only use for emergencies or when its just more convenient when I’m in the middle of nowhere. The only thing is, its a battery operated flush and I may have to replace that part. But even if it doesn’t work, having a water jug handy will also do the trick.
I have a Fan-Tasktic vent roof fan above the bed. If I crack the windows in the front enough, the fan will pull air from the window through the length of the van. Since I have no other windows and have windshield screens, it stays pretty dark and cool in the van, even in summer. No sun coming in is key. I also have an ARB awning that shades the whole side of the van as well including my boards and gear on top, adding another layer of shade. For heat, I use a Mr. Buddy propane heater but once I go to sleep, I keep it turned off. I do have an electric space heater that is great but thats only if im plugged in somewhere. I have plans to do a mini wood burning stove for my next build.
I keep my windshield screen up when parked and it would be hard for someone to see inside well from the side windows. When I go to sleep, I make sure to lock the van while inside. One thing I do need is a combination lock that can house my key so when Im out surfing, I can hide the key somewhere. I can however hide underneath my solar panels on my roof or in a board bag.
I use a 6 inch memory foam mattress and is plenty comfortable. Honestly I would of been fine with a 4 inch and could of saved that little bit of height. I use regular bed set but in the winter I use a 0 degree teton sports Double Wide sleeping bag that keeps Bailey and I plenty warm!
Sometimes, I get the van set up a great spot, awning extended and I dont want to move it. So I bring my Bentelli Sprint 50cc scooter to zip around town, run errands, or get a quick surf session in. Yes I have a Carver surf rack for it. I added a hitch mount to my van and now also have the option to tow trailers if I need to. I currently have a hinged luggage rack. However, Ive found out, if i need to open up the back doors to my van, I have to take the scooter and rack off to do so. I found an extended arm mount that can hinge out the scooter rack 90 degrees allowing access to the back door storage. I plan to purchase it soon along with a new scooter rack that wont extend out as far, keeping less pressure on the hitch itself and it should transport better.