Dirtbag Beta: 5 Essential Items for Life on the Road

I must admit, adjusting to living in a van has been a much easier process than I ever imagined. Reducing my belongings to fit within a Sprinter wasn’t nearly as painful as expected, and falling into a daily groove happened practically overnight. After nearly three months of living on the road, I’ve discovered a handful of products that have made my day-to-day van life musings much easier. From solar-powered speakers to a cozy sleeping pad, here are five items I’m currently digging, and would highly suggest for anyone planning extended adventures:

The GSI Camp Kitchen Set, provided to us by our sponsor, TheGearHouse.1. GSI Kitchen Set

When packing for my yearlong trip, I set aside many of my used kitchen utensils to sacrifice for van cooking – which seemed like a great idea until TheGearHouse sent me the GSI Camp Kitchen Set, and totally rocked my world. The hard-sided zip-case includes an expandable plastic spatula and ladle spoon, a miniature metal grater, one plastic cutting board, two travel sized containers (ideal for something like olive oil), a dual salt-and-pepper container, a felt dish towel, and a small sponge.

The retractable spatula, ladle, and small cutting boards proved to be useful tools we now use on a daily basis, which all earn bonus points for not taking up a lot of space in the van. My favorite item by far is the small grater – Niko and I have used it for everything from carrots to cheddar cheese. My only complaint about the GSI Kitchen Set is that the sponge is rather flimsy. Without ever using it, the scrubber top totally came off from the soft sponge piece – but a sponge is the kind of item you’d only use a few times before replacing anyways.

Overall, I would recommend the GSI Kitchen Set for anyone planning on spending a lot of time cooking without a kitchen. Ideal for the camper who likes to eat more than just canned spaghetti, this compact case full of practical utensils allows adventurers to whip up nearly any meal your appetite desires. We’ve made cauliflower and pepper omelets, salmon with roasted pears, steak and egg breakfast burritos, and countless other meals in our van using our GSI Kitchen Set. This specific kitchen set is no longer available from TheGearHouse, but you can check out a variety of similar camp cooking utensils here.

2. Goal Zero Rock Out Speakers

The Goal Zero Rock Out speakers, jammin' in the van.When we bought our big yellow van, there was one “small” issue that ended up being a pretty critical problem for long nights of driving: all of the speakers are blown. Fortunately, Goal Zero solved our silent drives by providing us with two Rock Out speakers – which can be tethered together for optimal sound. Our two speakers have become our primary source of entertainment while traversing the great American roads, and we’ve encountered many folks out at climbing areas who love their Rock Out speakers. Remember that these speakers are quite small, so there’s a limit on what they can do. Blasting dubstep on full blast in the woods won’t work out very well – but that’s 100% unnecessary to begin with.

I’m not a fan of the zipped style of the speaker – you have to unzip it to turn it on/off, and also to connect it to your iPod – but y’all ought to keep an eye out for Goal Zero’s upcoming new solar speaker that totally squashes that issue. I got a sneak peak of the new speakers while visiting the Goal Zero headquarters a few weeks ago, and the sound quality of the new speakers is incredible.

3. ClimbOn’s Bast Apotheke Deodorant

Let’s face it: living in a van is an undeniably stinky affair. Unless you’re shacked up in an RV with a sweet shower set-up, you’ll likely be going long stretches between proper bathing. Niko and I can get a particularly foul funk going when we’ve been out adventuring for too long, and the Old Spice deodorant we previously used just wasn’t getting the job done – but to be honest, I had doubts that the dainty-looking natural deodorant ClimbOn sent me from their Bast Apotheke line would cure my stank either. (I was so wrong.)

ClimbOn's Bast Apotheke deodorant is my FAVORITE.We received two varieties of the Bast Apotheka deodorant, jasmine and eucalyptus. Frankly, they both smell like jasmine to me, but it’s my favorite scent so I was thrilled. We slathered our pits with the creamy bar, and put it straight to the test during a week of climbing at Hueco Tanks. To my surprise, it worked – not just well, but fantastically. This stuff keeps your pits smelling like flowers all day, and it’s made from nothing but the good stuff. No worries about funky cancer-causing metals or chemicals seeping through your sweat – ClimbOn’s deodorant is climber-tested, hippie-approved perfectionNiko and I are about to run out, and we are seriously in panic mode.

4. Teton Sports Sleeping Pad

Teton Sports velcro sleeping pads.While constructing the bed in our van, we planned to simply use a big of leftover foam from our local rock gym to provide us with a good night’s sleep. However, we quickly realized that the three-inch foam was not enough to cushion our aching climber bodies. We considered splurging on Tempurpedic memory foam – but decided to try out our Teton Sports sleeping pads first. The pads served us well while camping in a tent, and became a permanent fixture of our van bedding.

I love my Teton Sports ComfortLite sleeping pad, period. They’re the perfect size for Niko and I (and come in multiple lengths for campers of all shapes), inflate relatively easily, provide plentiful support while sleeping, and stay inflated. I haven’t re-inflated mine in weeks, and it still provides me with a sturdy yet cozy sleep every night.

Whether you’re snoozing in a tent, on a cot, or in the comfort of a big yellow Sprinter van, the Teton Sports sleeping pads will keep your body warm and cushioned throughout the night.

5. Joby GorillaTorch Tripod Light

The Joby Gorilla light, a wonderful accessory for living on the road.You’ve already heard me rave about my preferred method of illuminating the van, Goal Zero’s Light-A-Life lanterns – but sometimes we find ourselves needing a more versatile light source that’s easier to move around. Niko received the Joby GorillaTorch Tripod Light as a graduation gift, and it ended up being a fantastic tool for the van. Three magnetic feet at the bottom of each leg easily stick to any metal surface on the van interior, and the light’s swivel head and adjustable dimmer enable us to get light in hard to reach places. We’ve even stuck it out on the exterior of the van while cooking or rearranging gear.

Really, I wish Goal Zero made a solar-powered version of this product, but the Joby Tripod Light uses AA batteries, so I can just power it from my Goal Zero Guide 10 battery pack anyways.

There you have it, folks. Five items I’d be a rather unsatisfied van-dweller without. Living in a van comes with a few basic requirements: facilitation for proper cooking, good jams during stretches between climbing destinations, tools for addressing our unbearable stench, and a cozy place to rest after a long day of adventuring – and these five products satisfy all of the above.

Stay tuned for next month’s gear round up,
which will spotlight five of my favorite pieces of climbing gear!

The AVEX Travel Mug Review: A Spill-Proof, Van Life-Approved Tool for Road Trippers

If there’s one thing I’ve learned within the first week of van-dwelling, it’s this: Things bump around, a lot – and when they bump around, they are quite prone to spillage. And spillage, my friends, is not very fun when you’re living in a tiny mobile space. Thus far in the trip, we’ve spilled instant mashed potatoes, coffee, white gas, and flecks of pizza cheese all over the van. It ain’t pretty, folks. 

Enter the AVEX travel mug. I recieved mine right before the Simply Adventure trip began, and have been using it religiously ever since. These stainless steel beverage containers feature vacuum-sealed insulation and incredible auto-seal technology that renders your drink vessel 100% spill and leak-proof. Seriously.

My AVEX travel mug got buddy-buddy with the cacti out at Pace Bend Park in Texas.

I’m always skeptical when products make absolute claims, so I put my AVEX travel mug to the ultimate test: I gave it to Niko to use. I watched him carelessly knock it off countertops, throw it across the padded flooring at the rock gym, drop it numerous times, flip it upside down, you name it. And much to my surprise, not a single drop of water was shed from the bottle. Instant approval in my book.

Shake it upside down, toss it across a room, knock it off a shelf, the AVEX travel mug holds tight onto your liquids.Beyond its impeccable sealing powers, the AVEX travel mug offers a handful of additional features that bump it to the top of my drink-container gear list: it’s BPA-free, dishwasher safe (top rack), fits perfectly in the van’s cup holders, and keeps beverages both hot and cold for hours. The AVEX website gives the skinny on the exact insulation statistics: it keeps drinks hot for 5 hours, and cold for 14 hours. 

The best part? It’s affordable. I hate when a brand comes up with an ingenious product, then spikes up the price because they know their stuff is good. The folks at AVEX deliver a great product at a price even a van-dwelling dirtbag can jive with: the 16 oz. Highland Autoseal travel mug retails for $22.99. Not too shabby for such an impressive product, eh?

Now all I need is a sweet portable coffee-making set-up like the one Katie posted on Adventure Inspired and I’ll be set for endless days of caffeinated adventure on the road.

Bottom Line: I would highly recommend the AVEX travel mug to anyone who is constantly on-the-go and likes to bring a beverage along for the ride. This product lives up to the promises, it’s durable, and it has survived van life thus far. Mine was complimentary, but I would absolutely buy it any day.