My intent was to use as much free, used, low-cost materials as possible. The camper won’t win any beauty contests but it is fully functional; I have lived off-grid in it since 2018.

power

Since I boondock on public lands in 14d stretches grid power is not an option.

I do have an isolator (see below) but 14d stays mean driving is infrequent and alternator charging will not be a major player.

The large roof area of the Promaster lends itself to ample solar so that is the main source of the power I make and use. As of June 2021 I make/use an average of 1.55kW/day.

main PV system - 750w

The main solar setup cost ~$900. The cost breakdown is viewable here on Google Drive

750w of panel. The excess panel is there for “rainy day” support.

  • 3x Trina SS2550P-60 poly panels (used solar farm pulls, back label) seen here layed out at ground level in preparation for the install. 32c/watt. Upgraded from 3x 190w.
  • EpEver 5415AN 50a MPPT solar charge controller with MT-50 display, battery temperature sensor, external battery voltage sensor, and RS485 to USB adapter for laptop control.
  • I also carry a simple 40A PWM controller for backup.

I have seen the panels max the controller at 50A, but 20A is more common since the ample panel starts charging early in the day before solar power is strongest. The lithium is usually charged around 11am if I am camping in the open.

portable PV system - 200w

200w rated; ~150w max in practice due to controller limitations.

For use in forests and other challenging conditions. I also use these panel/controller combinations for experiments.

  • 2x 100w grape solar poly panels for use in forests
  • controllers
  • 20’+ extension cables. In retrospect 30’ might have been more useful under heavy forest canopies, or maybe I will get another 20’ and daisy chain them. Serial arrangement would help attenuate voltage drop.
  • parallel combiners for use with PWM controllers (or with MPPT in partial shade conditions)

alternator charging - ~530w

I include the wattage estimate here to help people understand how much current alternators can deliver compared to typical solar installs.

I’ve used the same isolator with two different banks. At 50% DoD the 220Ah flooded lead-acid bank pulled ~44A from the alternator (12.1v x 44A = 532.4w). The 100Ah LiFePo4 bank pulls 18A - 32A depending on SoC. (13.3v x 25A = 332.5w)

storage

shore power and inverters

wiring and distribution

interior

sleeping

As with many Promasters (due to width) the bed is arranged across the back on a platform. The platform itself is ~34” off the floor with a “bench” in front of it for sitting and easier bed access for humans and dogs.

flooring

lighting

I usually rely on natural light or use a rechargeable headlamp (highly recommended) or rechargeable ballcap visor light (like this one - the one I have is no longer available).

cooking

Cooking gear has its own page.

water

  • 35gal fresh water tank from a Class C that was being parted out
  • 2x 7-gallon Reliance aquatainers
  • 15” stainless steel sink from thrift store. Faucet replaced with 6’ dish sprayer attachment so
    • I can’t leave the water on
    • I can take coldwater showers outside the sliding door
  • undersink graywater catchment is another aquatainer
  • 12v water pump
  • accumulator: reduce hammer effect and ease water pump duty cycle
  • 50’ potable water hose
  • water bandit
  • water sillcock key. It is sometimes easier to get permission if the countercritter doesn’t have to find the key.
  • 6’ hose fragment cut from a damaged 25’ potable water hose. This has proven endlessly valuable for filling containers from raised spigots; no holding, no aiming issues.

hygiene

clothes washing

HVAC

propane

  • Mr. Heater Buddy propane heater
  • Coleman black cat 1500btu catalytic heater - died (catalytic membrane tore, replacements not available)
  • refill adapter to refill the 1lb propane bottles from walmart, which are replaced as they get finicky with age/use.
  • brass caps for the bottles because the plastic ones break over time
  • 20# tank

electric

Electric space heating is generally impractical off-grid. Most space heaters run something like 750w on LO and ~1500w on HI. Fine if you’re hooked up to shore power.

micro spaceheating

I have experimented with a 250w ceramic heater marketed as a “personal” unit. If you have excess power and point it right at you it can take the chill off. It won’t heat the van. The one I bought is no longer available but this is the general type. Quite unsually, the stated power (250w) matched the measured power.

Folks who do want to do some space heating with electricity might as well mine crypto and make it pay a bit.

electric contact heating

Electric contact heating on the other hand (heat source touching you) can work very well and use minimal power.

The wattage numbers below were measured with a kill-a-watt for AC and DC power meter for DC. Add ~10% for the AC loads due to inverter losses.

electric dehumidification

Ivation ERSDM18 Mini Dehumidifier - not used much in the desert, but can make a difference in areas with a monsoon season.

electric cooling

Swamp cooling has its own page.

exterior

transportation

  • Glion Dolly folding commuting scooter which I use to explore cities and have also used in both Ciudad Juarez and Nuevo Laredo.
  • I had a used Trek mountain bike I used in CJ, and subsequently gave away when I went Full Time. See bike rack info below.

services

  • mobile data/phone: US Mobile Wireless, an MNVO. They resell both Verizon (“Super LTE”) and TMO (“GSM LTE”). The TMO is slightly less expensive but I imagine nomads will pick the Super LTE option to get Big V’s coverage. USM has a fun/clever website, massively customizable plans, and discount prices compared to dealing with V directly.
  • mail forwarding services from iPostal1. Weird name, nice setup. View pics of mail and choose to discard, shred, scan, bundle and send to wherever you are, or pick up in person if you are near the physical office. Pro tip: pick a location you will near from time to time to take advantage of local pickup.
  • gym membership: I did get the Planet Fitness “black card” membership because it allows use at any location. Update: the showers mostly closed during 2021 covid so I cancelled. I rejoined in Sept 2021 as I will be stealthing on my Great Loop 2021-2022
  • I run as much of my expenses as possible through an Amazon Prime credit card issued by Chase. 2-5% cash back. You can use the cash back on Amazon but that accrues no more points. If you have it credited back to your card account you’ll get another 2-5% cash back when you spend it. :-) Minimum payout is something like $20.
  • I also maintain a Capital One credit card (they were the ones that handled the van loan).
  • Interest-bearing checking and savings from Ally, an online-only bank. No ATM fees and they credit back ATM ffees charged by others. Highly recommended.
  • linux virtuals (VMS) from Flaunt7. I had years of good service from Frantech but they phased out my plan and there was no available virtuals available of the type I wanted. I combined all three of my Frantech services into one larger one at Flaunt7 at the same pricepoint.

multimedia

communication

phone and data

I had problems destroying batteries when using the phone as a hotspot (see below). Not a problem when batteries were replaceable but most are glued in now. I work around this by using the Automate android app to warn me when the battery is charged to 95% so I can disconnect it. In the beginning I used Tasker for this, but the per-phone license was a bummer and transferring a pain. I switched to Llama, which morphed into Automate.

networking

radio

tools