Tag Archives: Coleman

10 More Items to Make Your Van Life More Comfortable

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Like I said in my post “The Rubber Tramp Artist’s Ten Essential Items for Vandwelling,” you don’t need to get a bunch of fancy stuff before you start your van life. Just get a van, start sleeping in it and voilà!—you’re vandwelling.

However, if you do have the money and the inclination to get things to make yourself more comfortable, here are ten more items that enhance the quality of my van life.

Igloo 5 Gallon Seat Top Beverage Jug with spigot
#1 I love to drink cold water. When I’m in civilization, I fill my water bottle with ice whenever I fill my gas tank at a convenience store or eat at a fast food restaurant. In the past, I drank the ice melt from the ice containers in my cooler, but a lot of cold air escaped from the cooler when I reached in and rummaged around for the ice containers Last fall I bought an Igloo 5 gallon cooler with a dispenser. I put in a bag of ice (no problem with such a wide opening on top) and three or four gallons of water (the cooler fits in a Glacier water dispenser), and I can drink cold (or at least cool!) water for days. When the water gets too warm for my taste, I just add more ice. Easy!

#2 When I’m boondocking, I have to bring enough water with me for all my washing and drinking needs.  There are two kinds of jugs I like for storing water.

The first is the Reliance Aqua-tainer BPA free 7-gallon jug with a spout. While seven gallons of water (over 55 pounds!) is more than I can carry for more than a few steps, the spout (which can be opened and fully closed) is super convenient for handwashing. It also helps me conserve water because I can dispense the amount I need without spilling excess water on the ground. If I’m traveling alone, I usually put five gallons of water in each jug to make carrying the container manageable.

I also like the American Maid BPA free 3-gallon water jugs with handles. I can totally carry three gallons of water with no problem, so these are my go-to water jugs. They are stackable when they’re empty, saving space on the way to fill them.

EcoVessel BIGFOOT Triple Insulated Stainless Steel Water Bottle with Tea - Fruit and Ice Infuser
#3 I’ve tried a lot of water bottles, but I’ve never found anything else that keeps drinks cold like my Eco Vessel. I’ve kept ice in mine for over 24 hours on more than one occasion (depending of course on the temperature of the liquid I’m adding to the bottle and the temperature of the air outside the bottle). It’s not unusual for me to drink all of the cold water from the bottle, then have to wait hours for the ice to melt into drinkable form. (I solve this problem by filling my Eco Vessel from my 5-gallon Igloo jug as needed.)

My first Eco Vessel was the 750ml Boulder, which I bought at a natural food store on a whim one exceptionally hot summer day. I used it (and loved it!) every day for about two years before upgrading to the 1300ml Big Foot. I still use the smaller bottle for backup. If I fill both bottles with cool water in the morning, I have plenty of cool water to drink during an 8-hour work day on the mountain.

#4 During my first six years vandwelling, I used 1-gallon propane canisters to power my stove and my Mr. Heater. (For a short time, I had a butane stove, and that was before I owned my Mr. Heater, so during that period, I didn’t use any propane at all.) In any case, until I met The Man, I used 1-gallon canisters for my propane needs. Almost from the moment we met, The Man encouraged me to use a large, refillable propane tank. His reasoning was sound: refilling a large tank is more cost effective than buying multiple 1-gallon canisters and keeps a lot of waste out of landfills. Win win!

#5 I’ve used the single-burner style stove that sits on top of a 1-gallon propane canister and found it cumbersome and unstable. Food seemed to take longer to cook on that style of stove too. (I never did a scientific experiment to test the cooking time required on different stoves, so the difference in cooking times could be my imagination.) Also, the single-burner stove didn’t work so well when connected to our large propane tank. I’ve mostly blocked the experience from my memory, but I think there was a puff of fire and unusually  quick thinking on my part when I reached over and turned the knob on the propane tank to CLOSED. In any case, we figured out the single burners are not designed to be used with the large tanks.

For several months before I met The Man, I used a one-burner butane stove. I liked its flat, stable design, but I was awfully unhappy on the occasions when I couldn’t find the necessary butane bottles at the store (including Wal-Mart once). The butane seemed to go faster than the propane in the small green containers, but again, I didn’t do a scientific experiment to test my theory.

Coleman Triton 2-Burner Propane Stove
These days I use a Coleman two-burner stove connected to a large propane tank. A half-dozen years ago, I tried two different models of Ozark Trail two-burner stoves because they were less expensive than the Coleman stoves available. Both of the Ozark Trail stoves were junk. I was never able to light the cheaper one, and the more expensive one (that I thought would be of better quality) only lit once when I tested it immediately after purchase. Luckily I’d saved the receipts and boxes for both stoves and was able to bring them both back for full refunds. I hope to never again be in a situation where I need a stove and can only afford one made by Ozark Trail.

Several Coleman two-burner stoves I’ve used over the years have been made well and all have worked great. I enjoy the convenience of being able to cook in two pans at once when I’m doing something fancier than my usual one-pan meal. I like the stability of the flat burners and the convenience of being able to fold the whole apparatus for easy transport and storage. Also, I just found out that if the regulator on the stove quits working properly, I can buy a new regulator for around $13, instead of having to spend $40+ on a whole new stove. I love a company that lets me replace parts!

(Read more about my stove experimentation in my post “Cooking While Vandwelling.”)

#6 I like to sleep in the dark, and I like to be surrounded by beauty, so I have colorful curtains to cover my windows.

My side windows in the back of the van are completely blocked with thick foam board my sibling gave me when it was no longer useful in the windows of the family home. Over the foam boards, I put up colorful curtains. At night I hang a cloth shower curtain I got at a Goodwill Clearance Center over the windows in my side doors. The driver’s area of the van is separated from my living space with heat and light-blocking curtains I got at a thrift store. The mismatched curtains give my van an eclectic, free-spirited feel.

#7 I have difficulty sleeping if I’m too hot, but my small, battery operated fan gives me just enough breeze to facilitate my slumber when the nights get warm.  I would like a fan I could run from my 12-volt outlet; such a fan would need a long cord to reach from the front of the van to my bed. Until I find the right fan for the right price, my 8-inch O2Cool brand fan works well enough.

PROTIP: It’s really worth the money to buy Duracell or Energizer batteries to run fans. I learned that while the Sunbeam batteries from Dollar Tree only last one night, the more expensive batteries last at least a week.

Schumacher Electric 140W Power Converter SI1
#8 Speaking of running things off my van’s 12-volt power outlet, I love my 140 watts Schumacher power converter. It has both a USB port and a good ol’ electrical outlet so I can charge my phone and laptop. If I don‘t need to charge my laptop, I use a smaller USB power adapter. It has two USB ports so I can charge two phones at once. It’s nice to be able to charge my devices even when I’m away from electricity.

NOTE: The small devices have never drained my van’s battery, but the large power converter did once when I charged my laptop several times in day without running the van. If I’m not driving the van, now I only use the power convertor to charge my laptop once in a day.

#9  My foldable 24 Watt solar charger manufactured by 1 by One is a gift I cherish. If I’ve got sun, I can charge my phone.  I haven’t tried to use the solar charger to charge a tablet, but I think it would handle the job. I like that it’s lightweight and folds up small and thin for storage. It’s easy to hang and easy to transport. Love it!

#10 When The Man built my bed, he made sure there was plenty of storage space under the platform. The platform is tall enough to fit large tubs under it. Now that The Man has his own van, I’ve thought about going back to a single bed, but I’d hate to lose my storage area. I’ve decided it’s better to have a roomy double bed (especially since Auntie M gave me a comfortable double mattress she wasn’t using) with room for lots of stuff under it.

Note: I’m endorsing these products because I like them. No one asked me to endorse them. No one paid me to endorse them or gave them to me for free to review. The pictures you see in this post are Amazon affiliate links. If you click on any of those links, you will zip over to Amazon. Anything you put in your cart and buy after clicking on my affiliate link will earn me a small advertising fee at no cost to you.

 

 

 

Cooking While Vandwelling (Stoves and Refrigeration)

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None of my vans have had a built-in kitchen. I’ve used several different methods for cooking and keeping food cold. Today I’ll share what I’ve learned about stoves and refrigeration while van dwelling.

I’ve used three kinds of stoves while van dwelling: one-burner propane, two-burner propane, and one-burner butane.

The one-burner propane was my least favorite. With this kind of stove, the propane bottle sits in a round base. The burner screws into the opening on the propane canister and sits on top of the contraption.

Coleman 2000010642 Single-Burner Propane Stove

The pros of this cooking method include:

#1 The unassembled stove uses minimal storage space.

#2 It’s easy to find stores that sell propane canisters.

The cons of these stoves include:

#1 Even with the propane bottle sitting in the base, the whole setup seems precarious, especially if a strong wind is blowing while a heavy pot of beans is sitting up there.

#2 The cook needs a lighter or matches on hand to light the flame.

#3 The cook has to set up the whole contraption before any actual cooking can occur.

The last time I looked at Wal-Mart, the price on these one-burner stoves was between $15 and $20.

During the time I was fighting to heat beans and rice on my one-burner stove, my vendor friend Mr. Phoenix turned me on to a flat, one-burner stove that burned butane. I bought one of those stoves at Wal-Mart for about $20, then sold the propane stove for $5 at a flea market.

I loved the flatness of the butane stove. No longer was my pot of food up in the air, perched precariously on a burner. I also like that the stove was self -igniting. I didn’t have to fumble with a lighter or a match; one turn of the knob, and I had a flame.

What I didn’t like about the stove was finding butane. Not every Wal-Mart carried it. In one desert tourist town I had to run around to five businesses before I found the canisters I needed at the hardware store. While propane canisters tend to run about $3 each at Wal-Mart, the smaller butane bottles tended to run from $3 to $4.50. (The best deal I ever got on butane was packs of four canisters for $6 at one of those stores in a tent in Quartzsite in the winter.)

I also didn’t like the perpetually low flame on this stove. Because the flame didn’t get very high, it seemed to take forever to heat food or bring water to a boil.

I wasn’t longing for a new stove, but one day I saw a Coleman two-burner propane stove in a small-town thrift store.

My Coleman two burner stove with lid closed.

My Coleman two burner stove with lid closed.

The price? $10 I scooped it up. I don’t use both burners very often, but it’s nice to have them both when I need them.

My two-burner Coleman stove ready for cooking action.

My two-burner Coleman stove ready for cooking action.

In addition to the convenience of two burners, this stove also has stability because it’s flat. Although I do need to have a lighter or a match on hand to light it, the flame gets really high, and my food is ready to eat much sooner than with the butane stove.

After I bought the two-burner stove, I sold the butane stove to a vendor friend at the Bridge for $5. The flat stove was an upgrade from the one-burner upright propane stove she had been using.

All of the stoves I’ve mentioned so far were Coleman brand. I tried using two Ozark Trail brand stoves from Wal-Mart several years ago, and was left sorely disappointed. My ex and I were going to a music festival, so we bought the cheapest Ozark Trail double-burner propane stove. When we tried to use it before we left for the festival, it didn’t work. We exchanged it for the more expensive Ozark Trail model. We tried it in the parking lot, and it worked, but when we got to the festival, it didn’t work. We had the displeasure of eating cold soup all weekend. Since then I’ve used Ozark Trail stoves friends had, and the stoves worked fine. However, I would never buy an Ozark Trail stove at a thrift store unless I was absolutely desperate. If I were buying new and I had the extra dollars to go with a Coleman, I certainly would.

Despite the warnings on all of the camp stoves I’ve had, I do cook in my van when I need to. I prefer to cook outside on a table, but that’s not always practical if it’s dark or cold or rainy when I’m ready to cook. If I’m cooking in the van, I make sure a window is open. If it’s not too cold out, I completely open the windows on both side doors. Usually I’m just boiling water or heating beans and rice, so I don’t have the stove on for a long time while cooking a complicated meal.

I’ve never had a refrigerator in my vans either. What I do have now is an ice chest. I’ve tried several methods of storing food in an ice chest until I found something that currently works for me.

The first method I tried was simply dumping the contents of a sack of ice over the food in the cooler. As you can guess, after a couple of days, my food was floating in a sea of melted ice. My cardboard egg carton was a soggy mess and water had leaked into the container of hummus. Gross! The results were just about the same when I left the ice in the bag. The bag was riddled with holes and the water leaked out as the ice melted.

Next I bought a cheap plastic dishpan and put it in the cooler. Then I put a block of ice into the dishpan. The block melted more slowly, but if I didn’t stay on top of dumping the pan of ice melt water (which involved removing all of my food from the cooler), the water ended up out of the dishpan and in the bottom of the cooler. Of course, once water was sloshing around in the cooler, all of my food got wet, and some of it was spoiled by the water.

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Egg suitcase closed (and too much flash in the photo–sorry).

Before I hit on my current cooler method, I did buy a plastic egg suitcase in the Wal-Mart sporting goods department. In this plastic case, the eggs are protected much better than they are in a cardboard carton. In the past I sometimes lost eggs to breakage once the carton got wet and disintegrated. Not anymore! Also, the egg suitcase talks up less space than a carton. I paid under $3 for mine, and I think it was well worth the investment.

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Egg suitcase open and full of eggs.

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This photo shows my plastic Coleman ice chest and (to the right) my closed up Coleman stove. The stove does not take up much space when it’s closed.

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Here’s my current food cooling system: a Styrofoam cooler inside my plastic Coleman cooler, with ice between the two. (Coleman has not paid me to endorse its products.)

My current cooler system consists of a Styrofoam cooler in my plastic ice chest. The food goes into the Styrofoam cooler and the ice goes between the Styrofoam and the plastic. Yes, this system leaves less space for food, but I’m willing to make that trade-off in order to keep my food out of the melt water.

Food in the Styrofoam cooler.

Food in the Styrofoam cooler.

At some point, the Styrofoam starts floating in the water from the melted ice, and I can’t get the plastic cover to close. When that happens, I drain the water through the spout underneath. Sometimes ice gets under the Styrofoam cooler, pushing it up too high for the plastic cover to close, and I have to take out the Styrofoam cooler, dump the ice into a container, and reassemble. It’s a pain in the ass, but (to me) not as big of a pain as losing a container of hummus that’s now full of water.

Please feel free to post comments about what kind of stove and refrigeration system you use in your vanhome.

Coleman Triton Series 2-Burner Stove, 22,000 BTUs
Coghlan's 511A Egg Carriers -