We have been living on the road, out of our converted SUV, for several years now. We migrate from the far north in the Yukon & Alaska in summer to the southern U.S. in places like Arizona & California for winter, every year. Our key philosophy for living on the road is the simplify life. Our version of road life involves things like: using the vehicle we already had (a Ford Escape, & modifying it to fit out needs, living on a tight budget & learning to live with less, choosing free or cheap hobbies to stay in budget, foraging to keep food costs low but nutrition high, & learning as much as we can along the way.
It’s been an incredible journey, to say the least. So, along the way we’ve modified our setup & lifestyle to continuously fit these principles. We learn to live with less every day. However, there are obviously a few essentials we do need to get by. We’ve made videos to discuss everything from what you absolutely need, the basic needs, the luxuries, and the money pits or scams that you definitely don’t need. If you’re interested in those, you can watch all the videos over at our Paradise on Pennies Youtube Channel.
If you’re just thinking about or just getting started with an SUV or Van Life style, here are some gear items you should consider taking along. We’ve chosen the items that we think would apply to most people, but this is particularly based on our own experiences on the road. We migrate with the weather, so we encounter a wide variety of conditions and landscapes during our travels. Budget SUV life has taught us how to live with less, so we become increasingly creative in our solutions to everyday problems.
(1) SMALL SOLAR CHARGER
A small solar charger will work to charge up your phone or tablet, like an iPad. If you need to charge a laptop, this is another story. You’ll need a battery pack and AC style plug. We have a review of one of these on YouTube as well. For over a year and a half we just rolled around with the simple fold-up solar panel. We went with this Anker solar panel, because at the time Amazon offered a good deal on it. Since then, there have been many other similar brands & models available.
We can only speak specifically for the Anker brand, but I bet most of the ones that are similar to this would be decent. The Anker solar charger has been terrific. It works great, charges fast, and more importantly has been very durable. See the video review below for our take on this solar panel.
(2) PROPANE STOVE (Full or Small Size)
Some sort of propane stove is essential if you’ll be cooking on the road. Yes, there are many options for cooking, including camp fire and other stoves; however, these also have periodic restrictions. For instance, during fire season most public lands have fire bans. So, cooking on fire is out. A 2-burner propane cook stove was ideal for us. We use it to cook meals on the road, at camp, and in places like public parks for picnics.
There are several options for propane stoves, but we went with a 2 burner stove that looks a lot like the classic Coleman camp stove, although ours is a different brand (video review coming soon on Youtube). We got it at a really good discount & it’s worked great! We also carry with us a small portable backpacking stove, since we do a lot of backpacking. If you’ll just be making tea on the road, this is nice for that too. Imagine a crisp cool morning in the back of your van or at camp while sipping a warm tea. Aaah.
CAST IRON POT OR PAN
It is nice, however, to have another cooking alternative. What if you run out of propane? Or what if you’re like us, and you just love that fire cooked flavor. If you’ll be doing a lot of campfire cooking you’ll benefit from some sort of cast iron pan or pot. We tried out a large cast iron pan, but have since switched to the cast iron dutch oven.
We’re currently using the Lodge Cast Iron Dutch Oven and have been very satisfied with it. The reason we went with the dutch oven option is for the potential to cook and all types of campfire meals, especially larger meals. We can do a pot of soup on the fire, or a big stir fry dish we can share with the dogs, or a meat and potatoes meal that splatters less. The pot is heavy, does take up some space in your rig (especially for us SUV & VAN lifers!), & keep in mind it will get dirty from fire cooking. So, you’ll want to have a handy way to store it. We keep ours in the car topper.
SMALL WATER FILTER
For an SUV or Van Life dwellers who will be spending a lot of time away from town & camping, a water filter is a MUST! We love our Sawyer Mini water filter. It allows us to get water no matter where we end up – of course, as long as we find water. We will soon be trying out a new larger version of Sawyer water filters – the S Series which offer advanced filtering (like mining waste & other more serious pollutants). We’ll have a review on that when we have tried a few rounds with it.
The Sawyer mini filter is very portable & easy to use. That makes it easy to store & carry along on hikes. We also do a lot of backpacking & use it on those adventures.
BUG SCREEN NET
We must migrate with the weather, as we live on the road in the SUV full-time year-round. So, we end up in some places with bugs. Northern Canada comes to mind! But we do encounter bugs in most other places. This makes hanging out, reading, and cooking a real pain! So, we finally got a cheap bug net and it was the best thing ever!
Now, we can relax a little at camp even with the mosquitoes circling around. It also works nice to drape over the car windows to keep them out if we sleep in the car or want to hang out & read in the comfy car bed.
We have to find ways to keep warm, ways to keep cool, & places to clean off. We also have dogs, so this adds a small complexity to our adventures, albeit not much & totally worth it! I bet most van life dwellers would say the same – that having a dog along for the ride makes it all the better!