Van Life Gifts for 2020

Top 10 Camper Van Gifts

Even though it feels like 2020 never really started… ho ho ho it’s almost the holidays! Whether you are searching for yourself or a loved one, we’ve compiled a list of (compact and useful) van life gifts to fit every budget. In no particular order:

1. National Parks Pass

America the Beautiful Annual Pass

For $80 (plus $5 handling) you can buy your loved one access to all of America’s national parks for a year!  Now that’s what we call a screamin’ deal. Do we have any idea what travel restrictions will be for the next 12 months? Nope. Do we think national parks need our money anyways and it’s still a rad gift? Yup. Do we think you should read more about it before you buy or travel? Totally, and you can read more about it here.

2. 12v Electric Blanket

Electric Travel Blanket

As long as the van has a 12v outlet near the bed, this gift is a game changer, especially for winter camping. Turn on the blanket before going out for an afternoon of skiing or snowshoeing, and treat yourself to pre-warmed bed when you return. Does it get any better? 

3. Insulated Curtains

Cocovan Window Covers

You may never understand how cold single pane automotive glass can be until you have to sleep next to it during the winter. Our eco friendly Window Jackets are made with 100% recycled ripstop fabric and feature two layers of high loft insulation as well as a reflective solar fabric. Mmmmm cozy.

4. Gift Cards

*ask google

They aren’t the most original gifts, but they might be the most useful. Fuel, groceries, Amazon, REI. Buy what you want, when you want, that’s why gift cards will never go out of style.

5. Harvest Hosts Membership

Harvest Hosts Annual Membership

$79 buys a year of free camping access to over 1400 wineries, breweries, museums, and farms. Once again, due to COVID-19 we have absolutely no clue about upcoming travel restrictions and policies, so do your research and be safe and kind. That being said, this seems like a really cool gift because who doesn’t want to camp at a winery? 

6. Portable Jump Starter

DBPOWER 800A Car Jump Starter

This is the perfect example of a super practical and not-so-much fun gift that any dad would be proud to give. That being said, we couldn’t recommend this more. If you are off grid and your battery dies, you’re in one serious pickle. This tiny thing can jump your van (car / boat / motorcycle / snowmobile) up to 20 times, charge your iPhone and laptop, and be an emergency light. I had two in my van and made sure one was fully charged at all times.

7. Multifunctional Camping Blanket

Voited blanket / pillow / cape / sleeping bag

4-in-1 you say? Of course, because it was designed by a full time van lifer! These awesomely photogenic blankets were designed by Jess Deal, a full time van lifer who puts the “fun” in multifunctional. Voited uses recycled fabrics, and they’re donating 5% of the sales from their ‘Save Our Lands’ blankets to Earth Justice (because the earth needs some good lawyers). Cool brand, cool product, cool people.

8. E-Reader

Kindle Paperwhite

Life in a van (or in a pandemic) can be a little slow at times, and reading is the perfect way to pass time. A Kindle is a great way to save space and fill your brain up with a bunch of adventures and knowledge.

9. Collapsable Cookware

GSI Outdoors Escape 3L Pot + Frypan

Pots and pans take up a lot of space, but this handy dandy pot with a strainer lid and fry pan takes up less than half of the space of traditional cookware. They also claim that things cook faster and it saves you fuel. Not sure on those claims, but they’re cute, useful, and save space. We dig it.

10. Super Fast Coffee

Jetboil + Jetboil coffee press

Cold mornings in a van feel a whole lot better when you have coffee, trust us. Jetboil boils water in 100 seconds and the coffee press attachment means you can have your morning cup of joe in about 3 minutes. Space and time saving, plus the gift of sweet sweet caffeine. Happy Holidays indeed!

We know that this has been a hard year for pretty much everyone, so remember that the holidays were never really about giving things. The holidays are all about giving love and spending time with those that you love. So get yourself some crayons and draw up a few really terrible handmade cards, we could all use one of those this year. Or hop on a call or a video call with someone who wants to hear from you. Write a song for someone, or sing a song with someone. Just remember that gifts are great, but love is greater. So love each other well, stay safe, and know that we will all get through this together. Happy Holidays! 

Know of any great van life gift ideas that we didn’t mention? Tell us in the comments below!

A Guide to Aftermarket Windows

While working at Vanlife Customs, I was able to help hundreds of people navigate the process of converting a camper van. While there is no shortage of van conversion content available (we’ve all fallen down the youtube and Pinterest rabbit holes), it was my job to consolidate the vast sea of information into something useful and approachable. One of the very first steps of converting a camper van is installing aftermarket windows and vent fans, so let’s get started! 

We added 6 aftermarket windows to our Sprinter, totaling over $1,600.

Before

After

6 windows added:
– CRL Sliding door t-vent
– (x3) CRL 37″x16″ sliding windows
– (x2) CRL rear door windows

Before you decide to cut a bunch of holes in your brand new Sprinter, let’s discuss the pros and cons of adding windows and vent fans to your conversion.

Pros: 

Light. Most people purchase cargo vans without windows to convert. While these windowless metal boxes are great for stealth camping, they can feel pretty claustrophobic once the doors are closed. Natural light is one of the best ways to avoid the “free candy” vibe of a cargo van. 

Ventilation. Smelly gear, wet dogs, hot nights, and cooking up that fish that you just caught can quickly take over your tiny space if you don’t get some air moving. Tip: Whatever brand of vent fan you get, make sure you get a model that has both intake and exhaust functions as well as a rain sensor. It’s worth the extra $$, trust me on this one.

Visibility. I always recommend getting some sort of glass put in your sliding door. Being able to check blind spots while driving, especially if you aren’t used to driving large vehicles, is really important for safety and driving confidence.  Rear door windows were an awesome choice in our Sprinter build because we had a low convertible bed and I could actually see out the rear doors while driving. That being said, if you plan on having a loft bed with a garage/storage underneath, rear door windows won’t be very useful and they don’t offer any ventilation (they are also notorious for leaking). You might want to consider vented bunk windows instead. 

Cons:

Price. We added six aftermarket windows and a MaxxFan 7500k to Juicebox. While it looked pretty cool, and had some awesome airflow, it was definitely overkill and cost us over $1,600 with a wholesale account (#ouch). On average sliding door windows will run you between $350-$750, smaller bunk windows are $200-$350, and a MaxxFan 7500k should cost around $350 (although I’ve seen them cost upwards of $600 lately due to demand). If you aren’t comfortable cutting giant holes in your van, which is totally understandable, a reputable shop will charge you around $250/window and will typically fix any leaks that may occur in the future (be sure to confirm with them prior to making an appointment). 

Installation. If you don’t want to pay the pros, installing windows yourself can be intimidating, but it’s totally doable. There are dozens of great videos and blogs to walk you through the process. Two of my favorite tutorials are Live Like Pete and Project Vagrant. Try and catch any window/fan leaks (pressure washers at a car wash are a good test) prior to installing wall and ceiling panels. It’s not a huge deal to go back and add more sealant, it IS a huge deal to have to remove cabinets, walls, and ceilings because a leak caused your interior panels to mold, warp, and rot. 

Heat loss / climate control. Single pane auto glass is a major culprit for heat loss. Every window in your van reduces your insulation capacity and introduces the potential for cold drafts. So if you plan on camping anywhere that gets chilly, you might want to reconsider that all glass passenger van, or you can add some insulated window covers to your build. Take it from our friends Isabelle and Antoine over at Far Out Ride,

“Finally, adding insulated window covers are a must to keep the van comfortable; it makes a HUGE difference, we can’t emphasize on that enough!” – Far Out Ride

Privacy. If you are trying to be stealth in a city, light and noise coming from your windows is an obvious sign that your van is occupied. If you are at a camp site, festival, or parked anywhere around other people and you don’t want them to watch you change or sleep, it’s wise to consider a curtain solution like our signature Window Jackets that can remain on the windows at all times. 

3 leading aftermarket brands: AMA, CRL, and Motion

More things to consider: 

Window/Fan location. Primarily you’re going to want airflow for sleeping and cooking. That’s why you’ll notice most vent fans are installed above the bed or the kitchen. If you have a long wheelbase you can get away with having two fans and still have enough room for your solar panels. My standard recommendation is a fan above the bed, and a vented window behind the kitchen. Crack the window and flip the fan to exhaust mode while cooking, and then switch the fan back to intake for a cool breeze while sleeping.

Tip: if you have a kitchen that is located behind the driver’s seat, don’t install a t-vent window behind it. Most counters will be higher than the vented part of the window, making airflow difficult/nonexistent. Consider a smaller 1/2 slider (10”x33” is the most common). That way you can have ventilation, an insulated wall panel, and still have space to hang a spice rack!

Window Brands. There are several companies that make aftermarket windows for van conversions. Three big names in van glass are CR Laurence (CRL), Motion Windows, and AM Auto (AMA) windows . Having worked with all of these, I can’t say there is a clear winner. CRL and AMA have windows designed to fit seamlessly into your van’s factory window stamp, so if aesthetics are important – you might want to start there. Motion windows are slightly smaller (which means they can’t replace non-vented factory glass), but provide more airflow than the CRL t-vents. 

The most common piece of glass in a sliding door is a CRL t-vent window (that’s what we put in our Sprinter build). Aesthetically, it’s great, but the screened/vented portion of the window is relatively small and doesn’t offer a ton of airflow. It is also recommended that you close all t-vents and awning windows while driving. So if I had to do it over again, I would opt for the AMA half slider. The glass still fits into the factory window stamp, the vented area is larger, and the window can be open while driving.

Bunk windows are small windows typically in the rear near the bed. If you camp mostly in warm weather a cross breeze from two bunk windows and a fan can really make a world of difference, but drafty windows in cooler climates can be a real buzzkill. Also if you have a Promaster you will probably be sleeping in the van widthwise (6’1” and under sleep comfortably widthwise in a PM) which means your pillows and feet will block the window. CRL, AMA, and Motion all make bunk windows.

Tip: Pricing from all three brands fluctuates frequently with supply and demand, so buying windows during the winter months might end up saving you a couple hundred bucks. If at all possible, I would highly recommend buying your windows through a local rv/van shop and picking it up. Call around and see if any local shops have spare windows in stock. Most builders order extra windows because glass can be backordered for 2+ months. This also bypasses residential shipping fees, which can run you upwards of $200 depending on the window. Remember to check all of the glass for cracks and flaws before accepting the package. 

Whether or not you decide to add fans or windows to your van, we hope you find this guide useful. Stay safe and let us know what else you would like to learn about!

Still have questions? Want to share your van conversion stories and insight with the community? Tell us in the comments below! 

Doggie in the window…

Dita –>

Not for sale

Juicebox

Form & Function

JuiceBox was designed to maximize space and storage with a modern aesthetic. This Sprinter is chalked full of custom details. From the chevron laminate floors, to sliding pocket door, from the open plant shelf, to the oversized stainless steel sink; JuiceBox is more like a high end (albeit tiny) apartment.

This ultra modern camper van got the name JuiceBox because it’s such a tasty little squeeze. Whether you’re heading to the mountains, desert, beach, or Burning Man – JuiceBox will get you there in style.

Van Specs

  • MAKE + MODEL : 2016 MERCEDES-BENZ SPRINTER (NVC3) 2500 CARGO VAN
  • MILES : 30,XXX
  • ENGINE : 3.0L V6 DIESEL
  • WHEELBASE : 144
  • DRIVE : RWD

The Build


Interior

  • Fatmat Sound Dampening on all metal panels in cargo area 
  • 2.5” 100% wool insulation throughout 
  • 1/2” plywood subfloor 
  • Tongue and groove laminate flooring 
  • (6) x Laminated plywood overhead cabinets (European Ash doors) 
  • Driver and Passenger Bench converts to queen size bed 
  • Storage space beneath both benches 
  • Lagun table and mount for bench 
  • LED Overhead lighting (1 zone) 
  • Dimmable LED under cabinet lighting (2 zones) 
  • Sliding pocket door separates driving and living areas

Kitchen

  • Laminated plywood base cabinets and silverware drawer 
  • 1.5” Solid European Ash butcher block countertop 
  • (2) x 7 gallon water tanks (Fresh/grey water storage) 
  • 12V SHURflo water pump with wall mounted LED switch 
  • Cold water faucet 
  • 17” x 19” x 9” deep stainless steel sink with accessories 
  • Isotherm Cruise 85L 12V Refrigerator 
  • Single burner induction cooktop 

Electrical

  • (2) x 100W Renogy Solar Panels 
  • Victron Solar Charger 
  • (2) x 100Ah Lithium (LiFePO4) Batteries 
  • 30A Shore Power Inlet and extension cords 
  • 110V outlet in kitchen 
  • 12V outlet in kitchen 
  • (2) x 12V outlets in bench (driver and passenger sides) 
  • Victron 2000W Inverter 
  • Victron Battery Monitor 
  • UL Listed enclosed AC/DC Distribution Panel 

Convertible Bench-to-Bed + Custom Storage Cushion

Storage

“There will come a time when you believe everything is finished; that will be the beginning.” — Louis L’Amour