The Vagabond

Over the years I have slowly transitioned from lightweight backpacking to car/van camping.  It was hard for me to do this. I use to be a die hard primitive backpacker; loved hiking miles to the camping zone carrying everything I needed and getting away from people.  Ever since I injured my back, I have had to change my game. I cannot comfortably carry 50 lbs across miles of hilly rocky terrain anymore.  So I’ve accepted my new limitations and still get out into nature, but in a different way. We setup a base camp in a basic camping area – water with no other utilities with easy access to our vehicle – and do day hikes.  

I really started to embrace this style of camping.  We still sleep in a tent and cook on a gas stove or over the fire, but have added more amenities that make our stay more relaxing and comfortable.  At the beginning of this year, we purchased an REI Kingdom 8 tent to give us plenty of room for our cots and dogs.  Our kids have moved out to their own tent and are enjoying it tremendously.  We now haul in an outdoor kitchen, chuck boxes, fishing and hiking gear, camping chairs, cooler etc. 

With the added gear, our Honda Pilot was getting packed to the brim and had little to no room for the dogs and boys.  So we toyed with a couple of ideas to alleviate this problem.   Options we considered included building/buying a cargo crate for the top of the Pilot, building a trailer, or getting a different vehicle.  Per chance my wife’s career change aided in our decision.

Late spring, early summer my wife decided it was time for her to change careers and pursue teaching – something she wanted to do since she left college.  This really made it feasible for use to get a different vehicle; we could sell her farm/work truck and buy a full size van.  So this summer we did just that.  She took the Pilot as her primary vehicle and then we purchased a used 2010 Ford Econoline 350 Super Duty XL 12 Passenger for my primary vehicle and ‘camping wagon’.

We decided to go with the Ford E-Series because it is still a heavily used model, parts and mechanics will be easy to find, and there are numerous modifications kits available for these models. We decided not to remodel the van for sleeping in hence going with a passenger wagon and not the cargo version. 

The interior is going to be rearranged to aid in carrying our supplies and give our passengers some comfort while driving to our destinations.  The first bench will be replaced with bucket seats while the remainder have been removed to increase storage capacity.

We built a nice cabinet in the back to hold a future ARB fridge, auxiliary battery, and circuits for lights, radios and chargers.  It will have a set of drawers on the right to keep tools and other gear easily accessible.  The right half of the cabinet can hold four  27-Gallon tote boxes which will be used to carry our food, sleeping, and kitchen gear.  The section above the fridge area is available for any other items that we need to strap down and carry. 

Another item we added was a center console box between the driver and passenger seat with an electrical panel (8 USB chargers, 1 cigarette lighter outlet, and voltmeter), two cutouts for our 64 oz bottles, and a deep storage area where we stash paper towels, tissues, etc. that we need during the trip.

In the up coming months, I will be adding a top cargo rack which will allow us to move some items that are taking up floor space thus giving us a more roomier commute to our destinations. The rack will eventually house lights on all sides to light up any area around the van.  We are also planning on adding two awnings for the back and passenger side of the van.  The last items the rack needs to accommodate will be the antennas for the radios. 

Sometime after that I will be looking at replacing my rear bumper with something similar to the bumpers Aluminess makes.  This will free the spare tire location for maybe an air compressor or water tanks.

We just had its maiden voyage to Palo Duro Canyon with some of the gear installed and are extremely happy with our decision.  We can’t wait to get the chairs, rack and fridge installed to make our trips even more enjoyable.  I’ve always like the song “Wherever I May Roam” from Metallica especially the chorus

Rover, wanderer
Nomad, vagabond
Call me what you will

hence the name we’ve given the van “The Vagabond”.  You can view pictures of The Vagabond project on my Flickr album.

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