While our #Vanlife series gathered plenty of content at Sea Otter and will show off a few other vans, mods and gear in more detail, there were simply so many more killer vehicles and kits that we had to roundup the best. Starting with Thule, they brought this beast of a van ready for anything from trail building to backcountry sleepovers. Of course, it also made a nearly perfect showcase for a lot of their products, too…
Shown are their extendable shade cover, roof cargo rack, swing away hitch rack mount, and of course, a tray-style bike rack. But it’s what wasn’t shown that was new:
The Thule Van Ladder 9 Steps is a collapsible ladder, which is a common item amongst RV owners. What makes theirs unique is the magnetic mount that attaches to the side of your van to provide a secure mounting point. If you’ve ever climbed a ladder like this to get on the top of your vehicle, you know how sketchy it can be, so this is a smart improvement that should keep us all safer. Here’s what it looks like with models at the coast:
The van was done by Sportsmobile and had an interior buildout that was hard to see under all the Thule gear they brought for the show (we also caught them early on the first day, so they hadn’t really unpacked yet). More at Thule.com.
Tepui pulls double duty, turns Japanese
Tepui, which was recently purchased by Thule was showing off their new High Box rooftop tent that can double as a cargo box. With about 9″ of interior height, it can easily stow sleeping bags, skis, and other stuff inside while you’re driving. Then, just pop it up and reattach the walls when you get to base camp and throw all the other stuff in the back of your car.
Above is what it looks like when collapsed, and here’s a quick look inside:
Now, about this truck. It’s a 1988 Toyota Land Cruiser 60 Series Troopy HJ61 that they bought with an even taller lift than what’s shown here. After realizing it was a bit difficult (perhaps slightly unsafe) to drive like that, they brought it down a notch. As company cars go, this one’s pretty bad ass, and for more reasons than are immediately apparent…
It’s a Japanese version, and they’ve kept all the original instruction and warning plates on the glove box and doors.
And it’s right hand drive. Aaaaand, judging by how quickly everyone claims the Cheez-its packs from the drink cart on Delta flights, we thought you might enjoy knowing that Tepui’s team, too, loves Cheez-its.
James Baroud pops their tops
James Baroud is another “off road tent” brand doing hardshell rooftop tents that pop up, like that one shown on the bottom. But if you need more real estate, check out the clamshell styles that flip open to offer family-sized sleeping arrangements. Or just room to stretch out and stash your gear inside.
They make a wide range of accessories, too, but what we thought was particularly cool about the hardshell popup was the pop-out vestibule over the door. Note that the ladder enters under that, so combined with an awning system, you can hang out even during the rain and not get everything soaking wet.
If those full size E-Series and Sprinters are just too much, consider the newer Mercedes Metris mini-van as your adventure vehicle. With this roof-top conversion, you could probably get 3-4 bikes inside and still have room to sleep without having to pull everything out each night. Go down the rabbit hole at Sportsmobile.com.
Four Wheel Campers has a different take on the pop-up camper, using your pickup truck’s bed as the base with all the seating and amenities, then using a pop-up top section to make headroom once you’ve stopped. With all the usual hookups and shore power options available, they’re like a mini-RV that can be stored at the back of your garage when you don’t need it. Or when you need your pickup truck to be, you know, a pickup truck.
Inside, there’s two levels of sleeping if you convert the dining area into a bed, too, plus a fridge, sink, and everything else you’d need for basic creature comforts. Of course, the shower is outside, but with the right truck, you can get where no one’s gonna see you anyway, so go wild.
Dometic vehicle fridges keep things chill
If you’re going to show off your goods, might as well have a killer vehicle to do so, and a lifted Toyota Forerunner just so happens to be on my serious wish list. But we’re here for the refrigerators…
Dometic makes all sizes and types of AC/DC powered fridges and even freezers, letting you find one that fits inside just about any van or SUV. They draw very little current, and they even offer this external battery pack to keep it running when your car isn’t nearby.
Wanna build it in on a slide-out tray and keep everything else organized? They had their truck built out with a TrekBoxX system.
VanDOit brings the bunks…and mobile office
VanDOit has been stepping up their presence at cycling events, and with prices for complete custom Ford Transit vans starting at around $45,000, they’re probably the most affordable way to get into the Van Life. The original GO model used their modular interior framing system to create under-bunk storage for bikes with a full width platform bed up top.
This new DO model switches the layout around, putting most of the electronics on the driver’s side rear, making room for drop/fold down bunk beds on the passenger side. They use a ratchet strap system to set their height, but what’s really cool about them is you can drop one down and position it at desk height to make a mobile office.
The DO model is designed as a base for creating a mobile workshop or sales vehicle as much as an adventure van. There’s room on the driver’s side wall to put the type of cabinetry you need for whatever business you’re running, so you could create a mobile bike repair shop, home fitness studio, podcast studio or whatever. And still have room for bikes, of course!
Klymit lets you sleep on the job
The Klymit inflatable sleeping pads were looking awfully good by day four of the Otter. You can see them in the VanDOit vehicles directly above, and they make a great option for bikepacking, too. Why? Because they’re super light, they only take a few breaths to inflate them fully, and they pack down really small:
That’s it compared to an iPhone XS Plus, and they come in a lot of sizes, just like people. Also, that Luxe Pillow? It might be the most comfortable inflatable pillow I’ve seen…definitely want one.
Luno Life lets you dream bigger
If a minimalist air mattress just won’t cut it, or you’re car camping so you don’t care about going small, check out Luno Life. They’re a startup making a genius setup for sleeping in the back of your wagon or SUV. Shaped to fit around the wheel wells, they use ALL of the available space so you can stretch out.
What sets their system apart, besides the shape, is the inflatable cubes that fill the foot wells behind the front seats. This provides support for the head of the mattress, giving you an extra 12″ or so of space. The sleeping pads are 6′ 6″, and they’re made extra tough to withstand any poky things in your car…including pets’ paws. They say the system will fit 600+ different vehicles, and it starts at $229 including a 12V pump. The entire collection deflates to fit inside the bag shown bottom left in the first photo.
The air mattress is sold only as this double unit, but if you only need to sleep one, you can inflate just one side and fold the other under (or inflate both for an extra cushy bed). They also make small light kits to add some ambience to your mobile hotel, and seat-back organization to keep your phone, book and water bottle close by.