Gear in Review 2016

“You either pay with time or money. Spend the money on the right tool and you’ll buy yourself some extra time.” ~ David Soto Jr.

Wasn’t sure what to post for my end of year post. I usually do a something entitled Best Year Ever. And though this truly was the best year ever for me, I think it will be better in long form in an upcoming book, than summed up in a 1,000 word blog post. So instead I decide to write about the gear that helped my first year living in a van be the best year ever.

Fiskars Chopping Axe

I had this for years and never really used it until I hit the road. If you are going to have campfires, chopping wood in necessary. Or else you’ll be one of those dumbasses that put an entire log in the fire hoping to burn in half or thirds.

This tool is great for splitting logs and making kindling, but something was lacking when it came to making my van life campfires enjoyable. I cover what that is later in this post.

Goal Zero Yeti 400 Solar Generator

If you’re going to need some electricity, solar power is the way to go. The problem I found was all the decisions required. What size batteries do you get? What kind? What about and inverter? Which is the best? How many watts? Do you connect the batteries in series or parallel? Blah blah blah. When I discovered the Yeti Solar Generator, I was like, DONE! Everything you need in one contained unit about the size of a car battery.

The 400-watt generator is charged by a 100-watt panel on the roof of my van. It’s more than enough for charging phones and laptops. The only time the battery drops below half in when I have a movie night that involves renting two DVDs from Redbox.


This stuff is gold. Well, actually it’s silver, but you know what I mean. It doesn’t provide much R factor when in comes to insulation, but it is a hell of a radiant barrier. I wasn’t aware of how well in blocked out the heat until I went to remove a panel from a window one day and felt a tremendous about of heat on the back of my hand as I removed it. Another thing I noticed was people kept mentioning how it got in the mornings when the sun came up. I never noticed.

Another benefit of Reflectix is that you can cut them to fit your windows and they will completely black out your van. This means you can be in your van with lights on and no one can see inside.

Bacho 30” Bow Saw

If it weren’t for a survival show on the History channel, I would have never have thought to get this thing. Until I got this bow saw I had to exert a shit ton of energy to get firewood into lengths that would fit in a fire pit. I managed, but it was a little discouraging when it came time to having a fire.

With this bow saw, I can cut through and 8-inch log in about a minute. The nice even cut makes the log easy to stand on its end split with my axe. Now instead of having to gather small manageable pieces of wood, I can find one nice size log instead and cut and split it at my campsite.

LED Light Strip

Best $25 I spent on the van. I just clipped the strip to the headliner and plugged it into the Yeti 400. It provides all the light I need at a draw of only 15 watts an hour. The remote control allows you to turn the light on and off from anywhere as well as let select any combination of funky colors and patterns. I mainly just use red to read by at night.

Volcano Grill

The fact that you can have a campfire anywhere you want makes this thing worth its weight in steel. It’s basically a portable fire pit. The cool thing about it is it’s designed to be a barbecue too. You can cook your dinner with propane, charcoal, or wood. Since I have the best two fire wood making tools I could have, I use wood almost on a daily basis.

Dragon Tail Tenkara Fishing Rod

I fished every day the months I lived in Boulder. Everyday! This would never have been possible if I hadn’t taken up fly fishing. Specifically, Tenkara fly fishing.

What does fly fishing have to do with Van Life? Well, the fact that you can collapse the poled down to a length less than two feet in one. Space is precious when it comes to van living. The other is that Tenkara in a minimalist approach to fishing, so there is not a lot of excess gear you need to buy, carry around, or store.

1.5 Liter Nalgene Bottle

I avoid drinking out of plastic as much as possible. So why would I recommend a plastic water bottle? To pee in! Seriously. I’m not kidding. I don’t have a toilet in my van so where else am I supposed to go when nature calls in the middle of the night?

Now if I am in the woods I can just step outside. I have to admit, though, I just assume pee in this bottle and dump it out in the morning. Now, if I am at a campsite peeing outside is not appreciated, but you can get away with it in the dark. Where the bottle really comes in handy is when doing any kind of stealth or urban camping. I spent a couple of months parked behind a gym that closed at 10 pm. Where was I supposed to pee at 10:30?

A Little advice here. Try to get a yellow or orange bottle. Any other color makes it obvious you are carrying around a bottle of pee. Also, the one-liter bottle works too. It just sucks when you think you are safely peeing into a bottle only to find out that it’s overflowing undetected.

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