Words and Photos by Prune and Leo
Hello, we’re Prune and Leo and we have lived full-time in our van, Cruz, since February 2020. We began prepping for this incredible journey almost 2 years ago. We’ve spent the last two years finding the right vehicle, designing the interior, and learning how to build a van, then we finally built it.
Our first few trips were local and short (few days) and we mainly stayed in California, which has so much to offer. During those short trips, and then eventually longer trips (2 to 3 weeks), we learned what was essential to bring with us and what was superficial. The key is versatility.
Let us state a few obvious but important facts first. Even though we have one of the biggest vans you could find in this category, it is still a tiny living space and storage is very limited. Not to mention, every object you decide to carry will directly impact your gas mileage. So the main idea when deciding what to take along with you is to bring fewer, but carefully thought through items, so you have the right gear for every adventure. Here is our feedback on what is essential to bring after 10 months on the road:
1. Outdoor table and chairs: These are the items you will use the most and the first to grab when you arrive somewhere, so keep them accessible. The Quechua folding table we have is an excellent compromise between weight, sturdiness and ease to fold/unfold. For chairs, you have many options and we have tried all the Quechua’s chairs. We chose the most versatile. We can work all day in our chairs, but also take a nap in front of the ocean, as the back can be reclined to almost a sleeping position. They are super comfortable!
2. Merino, Fleece and Down-jacket: Layering is the key to a successful hike, but it is also the key to vanlife. Temperature changes can range 60° in one day. Having these three basic layers is mandatory to be able to enjoy the outdoors. Both of us have a Forclaz merino base layer (having two is a good idea if you are a more serious hiker). Then you need a mid-layer, like a Simond fleece, which we use for climbing, hiking and mountaineering (versatility is key!). Finally, a down jacket, like the Forclaz Trek 100 down jacket is the item you will use the most, period. It will always be in your hiking backpack because it is so light and great to bring as a warm layer in case of emergency; it will be on your shoulder every single evening by the campfire. Leo personally chose a flashy color (yellow) because it helps my drone to actively track me in any environment.
3. Backpacks, a lot of backpacks: Forget your work backpack because you will need backpacks with dual purposes. Decathlon has a lot of options for that. Depending on your level of outdoor activity, you can choose from the Quechua basic backpack that we use on everyday hikes or a mountaineering backpack that we use for more technical expeditions. The basic backpack is 28L which is the perfect size in our opinion. It can carry all necessary layers, our drone, lunch for two and 2-3L of water. It also has a pocket for a computer, for when you decide to spend the day at a coffee shop.
4. More backpacks: We also have higher volume backpacks, one 50L and one 70L. The 50L is used to carry ALL our climbing gear (rope, draws, harnesses) to help with van storage and can be emptied to carry Prune’s backcountry trip gear for multi-day trips. The 70L is Leo’s go to for backcountry trips, and it gives him more space to carry mountaineering gear when required.
5. Solar Shower: Many options exist to take a hot shower in a van. Some vanlifers decide to build one inside the van but we thought it was a lot of square footage used for only 20 minutes of a day (not super versatile). Some have a black pipe on the roof that heats up with the sun. That is a very good option, but we thought it was “too visible” from the outside, and not very stealth. We went for the mobile solution of a camping solar shower. It has a 2 gallons bag that heats up with the sun. You then add pressure with a handle and it can be filed up from any water source. Small tips: it heats up very fast when placed inside of the van, by the windshield or on the roof. When it is not hot enough, use a kettle to add a small amount of boiling water.
6. Shower Tent: A shower tent is great! It blocks the wind, gives you 100% privacy and reflects the heat. Unless you are in the Death Valley, with no one around, you need a tent. This tent is also versatile (Are you picking up on a theme here- the need for versatility) because it can be a toilet tent as well. You will end up in places where there is no pit toilet, and still quite a lot of other campers around you (think very flat desert where even a RV 1 mile away can see you). Then you can set up your toilet (hole in the ground, bucket, bag, it does not matter) anywhere you want.
7. Adventure Shoes: Shoes take up a lot of space, so shoes wisely (pun intended). You will need open toed shoes like sandals, for easy walks, showers in dusty places, hot days and blister recovery (trust us). You will also need hiking shoes, preferably waterproof. Low or high, that is personal preference. Leo prefers low because it is lighter and more versatile, for hiking and climbing approaches but Prune prefers high, because they are warmer and very good for carrying heavy backpacks. If you have some room, take low and high hiking shoes, it will tremendously help your foot comfort, allowing you to adapt to your trip (day hike or 3 day trek). We also carry mountaineering shoes to use with crampons, but that’s very specialized gear. And finally climbing shoes, because climbing is life.
8. Exercise mat: It might sound strange but fitness equipment is almost mandatory as well. Since you might be exercising outdoors almost everyday, why would you need fitness gear? Well you will not hike every day, your body will not accept it, it needs to rest, stretch and sometimes get stronger in order to not get injured while doing very tiring activities. We learned the lesson the hard way and now have an exercise mat with us (if it is a camping mat, it’s even smarter because it is... versatile), a foam roller and a fitness band. With these three items you can do everything. Who doesn’t want to do yoga at sunset on the beach anyway?
9. Hammock: A hammock will be your best friend for a post-hike nap, pre-diner beer, stargazing, morning coffee, anytime really. It’s usually pretty easy to find trees in nature (except the desert), and it is so easy to set it up. There is no excuse to not bring a hammock in the van. We often also bring it on backcountry trips and climbing sessions.
10. Kettle: Depending on how your van is built (mostly what energy source you are using) we found it very practical to have a kettle. Boiling water is often the first thing you do when you wake up if you are a coffee or tea drinker like us! It is also useful for cooking pasta, oatmeal or semolina. In a few seconds we have hot water and we don’t need to set up our propane stove. The added comfort is undeniable.
Lastly, if you plan on living in your van year round, we have a few nice additions for winter conditions (read: nights below freezing):
Warm sleeping bags: If you’re like us and don't have a heater inside the van, nights can be cold. We even can get below freezing temperatures inside the van! Make sure to carry a sleeping bag rated for winter camping because you will use it in the van, as well as on your backcountry trips.
Slippers: They’ll keep you warm inside the van, especially when days get shorter and you’ll be spending more time inside.
Be sure to follow along on our adventures! You can find us on Instagram @pruneandleo.