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Old 05-29-2012, 04:37 PM   #1
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Default Newbster is looking for advice on preparing for Boondocking

Hey folks - I've been a devout lurker here for several months and have found the forum very helpful. Thank you all for sharing your wisdom.

I'm hoping that I will soon be the owner of a Mercedes Short Sprinter Class B - just trying to determine manufacturer and features more than anything.

At the moment, the idea of boondocking as often as possible (and in all types of weather) has the most appeal, and having a vehicle built and equipped for that purpose seems wisest. Based on the groups experiences, I would love to get your thoughts on features, gear 'n necessities, brands to insist upon for the van as well as those to avoid. (ie: extra/better batteries, solar grid, compost toilet, etc.)

A little about us (if it helps). We are in our fifties and are new to any and all of this. Not terribly handy, but not incompetent. We love to hike and are still in very good shape. Cooking is important to us, (we're determining ways of tightly and efficiently packing multiple herbs/spices) We have a 30 lbs dog. We're not into four wheeling, but we like how our all-wheel drive Subaru drives and offers up the ability to drive roads others worry about.

Any and all advice is welcome. We need to be honest with ourselves as we consider embarking on such a dream. Thanks for taking the time to review and reveal.

Sincerely,

50-50
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Old 05-29-2012, 08:07 PM   #2
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Default Re: Newbster is looking for advice on preparing for Boondock

You mention that you are new to all of this. It might be worth renting a Class B to see if it feels right.
Also, a truck camper might be a good fit if you will venture on roads not suitable for cars. I mention that RV class because you mentioned "better batteries, solar grid, compost toilet, etc." which all could indicate you might camp in a location for more than one to three days. Are you planning to move often or can you see staying in one place to a week or two or more?

Lot's of Class B owners tour around often, driving at least every couple of days. That type of use enables them to charge batteries, get fresh water, empty waste tanks, get propane, etc. often or as needed so those items don't need much special consideration.

Have you checked out Sportsmobile? http://sportsmobile.com/

I've yet to boondock. We do enjoy camping without hookups in State / Provincial / National parks though. We mostly cook outside on a BBQ or Coleman stove.
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Old 05-31-2012, 03:07 AM   #3
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Default Re: Newbster is looking for advice on preparing for Boondock

One of the things I've done for a long time is to carry a set of topo maps on my laptop. This enables me to scout out potential boondocking sites down fire roads and away from established campgrounds. Since the set is on disk, there is no need for a network connection. Since the topo maps also show trails, that has come in handy for hiking too.

It is also handy to have a small fold-up shovel for minor trenching when the heavy rains hit. I carry a small roll-up table that is just the right size for the two of us.

It takes a little practice to figure out how much water use equates to length of stay. Propane has never been an issue, unless you count the time I was snowed in on the Blue Ridge Parkway and they locked the gates so I couldn't leave until they plowed the roads after the series of storms had passed.
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Old 05-31-2012, 09:20 PM   #4
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Default Re: Newbster is looking for advice on preparing for Boondock

A poster on a site once said B owners are wonderers and I have to say it fits me. Marco just mentioned it also where one would stop for a night or so and onto the next locaation. As he mentioned this helps keep batteries charged. I personally have one battery although I hope to increase it to two sometime before my big trips. You mentioned all types of weather and if you mean winter then one battery isn't enough to run the heater fan. I really suggest a generator so you can have all the convienances anywhere. I boondock for a day or two then stay in a campground or someplace where I can fully charge batteries, dump tanks, refill fresh tanks and shower. I haven't been on long trips yet with my B (I did have a C many years ago) and as many posters mention water is what you have to watch. Afterall you can run your engine or genny to charge batteries. Water will run out or you will have to dump the holding tanks someplace like a campground or truckstop. If you plan on boondocking in the winter be sure it has the capebility for that. I'm not really sur what is needed could be insulation heated or indoor tanks. I am sure someone out there knows better than me on that. Also I don't know if you are going to have it made or what but a good workable floor plan that suits your needs helps. If you have any other questions I'd be happy to jump in and help if I can answer them. Good luck
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Old 06-04-2012, 03:41 AM   #5
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Default Re: Newbster is looking for advice on preparing for Boondock

wabbit, g1g, and Marco - Thanks for your thoughtful replies. All of this is great advice and speaks to a number of issues that have come up since my original post. Since that time,

1) I have visited an RV park. Lovely people. Nice surroundings. Quiet. Liked the reserve it presented. However, it has confirmed for me that these types of facilities are more way stations than long-term stops. My desire is to step out of the Class B and be greeted by an unfamiliar day/place and see what it is I need to do to make things continue. And, I really want to hike, wander, get lost. This could be total fools gold thinking, but, what I know of myself is that I need to feel the rush/push that comes with the peculiarities of a challenge. This may be why I've had my own biz for twelve years. Character flaw.

2) I've looked at all the manufacturers and have been impressed by many who have very loose footholds in the US (like Westphalia). Sportsmobile might be the way I go because of the custom build and the fact that (if web prices are correct) they seem to be 15-20% cheaper. Even so, the SS Agile still keeps drawing me in. I wish I could rent one in MN. for a week. Suggestions?

3) I know that one of the first trips I will need to incorporate into this adventure is the "Going To The Sun Road". However, I'm finding conflicting info on what one can use in the park. The park itself, uses a Sprinter model - it looks like a B+, in fact. But, perhaps it isn't as tall? And, I'm not finding info on whether one can overnight in a pull-off area.

4) Marco, you live up to your nom de plume. Wabbit and g1g, I read your experiences with envy. Yes, I'm certain those adventures weren't "ideal" at the time, but they gave something to you that the everyday is unlikely to deliver to many. Thanks for sharing. Believe it or not, they are inspiring stories. So, in that essence, you have given to others as well. Tell me more of Fire Roads, if you will.

5) I have been experimenting with slow cookers and pressure cookers (nice to have friends with rarely used gadgets). Both seem ideally suited to this way of travel (low energy usage, time saving, healthy). Thoughts? I'd love to bring my charcoal grill, but it is a 20 yr old Barrel Style Weber. Not gonna fit. Have been looking for inflatable model. No such luck. million dollar idea?

6) Diesel Sprinter? Or, Gasser? Either way, I can't do more than 19.5 feet. I have tested this with an actual Sprinter in my urban living situation and my restrictions are real (alleys, garages, tight turning radii)

7) any and all other comments and suggestions welcome….
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Old 06-04-2012, 02:20 PM   #6
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Default Re: Newbster is looking for advice on preparing for Boondock

Going to the Sun Road is not a problem with any Sprinter, IMO. That has been discussed. As you mentioned the Park uses them as a shuttle. A short 140" WB Sprinter like the SS Agile is perfectly legal by park standards anyway. Height is not the issue. I do think width is probably the bigger issue on that road. Anything longer than 21 foot is probably going to also be a wide body as well and you definitely don't want to have two 8 foot wide RVs meeting on that road. We just drove a couple of weeks ago some back roads in Kentucky at the Daniel Boone NF Red River Gorge and roads going to the Maker's Mark Distillery that were shoulderless and less than 16 foot in width. Wide bodies could not pass each other safely.

Your choices are the Roadtrek SS Agile or Sportsmobile at this time. Roadtrek gives you a complete solution worked out in detail. Pleasure-way had the Ascent for a while but dropped it. Used Airstream Westfalias come up for sale occasionally but they are all starting to get long in tooth and the owners seem to ask a premium for them. The Airstream Westfalia was my first desire back in 2005 until I came to my senses and realized at my age I did not want to climb up a makeshift stepping system to get in the overhead bed.

If you desire to boondock or stay in the BLM lands or national forest campgrounds, or the national parks for that matter, you will not have an electrical hookup so a generator is desirable mostly for safety backup and peace of mind. We rarely use ours since we keep our batteries charged by driving every day. Two auxiliary batteries is almost a must and more important than the generator. With good habits and battery management you can get by with one battery. We did so for 5 nights straight in a Sierra Nevada national forest campground.

We do most all our cooking outdoors. We carry a cast iron Dutch oven, the kind with legs and lid to accommodate charcoal cooking. We also have a propane Coleman camp stove that works off those small bottles or with a 12 foot hose connected to our propane tank. We have a small round grill from a BBQ grill we carry to cook over a campsite fire pit rather than on the cast iron grills that get pretty crusty. We just lay it on top of the cast iron grill. We have a microwave but use it mostly for heating things up. We have a built-in 110v 10 cup drip coffee maker. When not hooked up to shore power we use a French press and heat the water in a pan on the RV propane cooktop. You mentioned crockpot. We did that for the first time last week after seeing friends do it. We connected it up to the electrical outlet the TV plugs into which is backed with an inverter to operate a 110v AC TV off the battery. Driving down the road we slow cooked a pot roast and it was ready for dinner when we stopped for the day. Notice it is best to cook in a kitchen sink and keep it braced from shifting around with make do objects.

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Old 06-04-2012, 02:41 PM   #7
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Default Re: Newbster is looking for advice on preparing for Boondock

Dave at Lake Regions RV may be able to help you find a rental. I know they have Pleasure-way Excel they rent out, which is a bit bigger, but would give you a good idea of what is going on.

We have an07 Roadtrek C190P on a Chevy and went through a lot of your same questions when looking for what to buy, right down to the Road to the Sun limitations. We, also wanted to be setup for boondocking as much as possible and agree that a generator is a good idea (solar would be great, but we don't have it, and don't have much room for it), as much battery as you can get, led lights and other low usage electrical items, and cooking stuff for outside. We a Magma gas grill the connects to the van propane system and also fits in the side storage pod of the van so we don't get any grill smell inside. We use a Coleman Fold-n-Go tow burner cook stove that also hooks up to the van and fits in the side storage.

The two biggest issue we hear folks complain about are lack of power (no generator, not enough battery, inefficient stuff) and not enough water or waste tank capacity (learning curve, mostly).

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Old 06-05-2012, 10:01 PM   #8
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Default Re: Newbster is looking for advice on preparing for Boondock

We have a Safari Condo 2000 - 18 feet (built on a GMC Savana) and we love it....

The two main differences between the Safari Condo and an other B, is the windows all around, This for me is super important, as I had an other camper before and suffer with the lack of windows. I ended up hating my camper.

The other difference, is that it only has a portable toilet, I would say it is like a Westfalia, but slightly bigger, without the troubles of the Westfalia.
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Old 06-06-2012, 02:33 AM   #9
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Default Re: Newbster is looking for advice on preparing for Boondock

What/where is the Sun Road?
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Old 06-06-2012, 03:03 AM   #10
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Default Re: Newbster is looking for advice on preparing for Boondock

Glacier National Park in Montana.
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Old 06-07-2012, 12:20 AM   #11
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Default Re: Newbster is looking for advice on preparing for Boondock

I love that crock pot on the road idea.

When I'm camping I don't bring a whole lot of herbs and spices, just usually make do with salt, pepper, onion salt, "seasoning salt" and poultry seasoning. Here, "Club House" brand spices and herbs used to sell in little rectangular tins, though I think they've stopped that now. Those would pack up well in a large sandwich container or something. I have a lot of those in the cupboard still that I could impress into RV service, but if they're not obtainable in stores any more you might have to scrounge them from friends.

Otherwise, you might consider looking for a double ended salt and pepper pot that's reasonably priced in the camping sections of many stores, and the dollar stores... a number of those might work well.

If you're highly organised and know every meal you're going to cook in a 2 week trip, then the most compact way is to measure out all the seasonings required per meal into little twists of saran wrap... or should you not know exactly, but have an idea, you could mix several doses for favorite meals, or make up mixes of things that you commonly use together in single use packages... How I've done that before is to put a piece of saran wrap or cling wrap whatever you like to call it over a cup, bowl or eggcup, depending on how great a quantity you think this will be, then push it down a bit to make a pocket in the middle... measure your stuff out then gather it up round the edges and twist it up.

Possibly though, since all the stuff I use seems to come in ziplock top bags now at the grocery store, of equal size, I'd just find a container that held those nicely packaged as they are, and use them out of the bag.

I have heard of people using film canisters... but I always tend to think that that was the old school metal ones, the plastic ones seem to stink, not sure how long you'd wanna leave them soaking in a bicarb solution before you'd put edible stuff in them. Also those are heading toward unobtanium status these days also.

As well as the double ended campers salt and pepper, I have seen once or twice, multi sectioned containers where you rotate the lid around to dispense what you want out of them... but those might take some finding.
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Old 06-07-2012, 12:32 AM   #12
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Default Re: Newbster is looking for advice on preparing for Boondock

I was just thinking about what I actually have in my "kitchen" tote at the present, which is screwtop glass jars of about 3" high by 1 1/4" round, I got those 3 for a buck some while ago... it just occurred to me that what one might do with those, or something very similar, is to find some flourescent tube packaging and fix it to the back of doors or somewhere, so several stack inside it, and you push one in the top to get one out the bottom or vice versa, like those pencils with multiple leads in... would stop 'em rolling all round the cupboard anyway.
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Old 06-08-2012, 08:46 PM   #13
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Default Re: Newbster is looking for advice on preparing for Boondock

Thanks to each of you for your responses. On the cooking front, the idea of driving while the crockpot chugs away in the sink is inspired - as is the idea of the fluorescent tube packaging for spices. I could see doing either of those very easily.

A few non-cooking notes:

Since space is at a premium in a "B", do any of you use compression sacks for clothes, etc? Or the bags that require a small vacuum? Just wondering if on long trips if one were to need other types of clothes, etc. if this was a space saving method that others had tried. Seems that carrying a small vacuum is not a worthwhile trade of space, but…. I don't have your experiences.

I'm an avid photographer with an array of lenses and bodies. I enjoy walking with my full kit, (which is generous backpack size - maybe 30 lbs), but I'd like to feel that on those days that I would wish to go lighter, that my other lenses and bodies could be left in the van, safely protected from weather extremes and intruders. Suggestions? Ideas? Experiences?

Also, do any of you have opinions on electric fridges, vs. 3 way fridges? It would appear that (with the 3 way) if the fridge isn't pretty well balanced the propane cooling isn't as good. This, of course, has led my engineering brain to wonder why they aren't gimbaled?

Thank you for the running discourse and the great replies. Greatly appreciate all of them.

Thanks in advance -

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Old 06-09-2012, 01:20 AM   #14
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Default Re: Newbster is looking for advice on preparing for Boondock

I have been wondering why they aren't gimbaled too?
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Old 06-09-2012, 03:14 PM   #15
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Default Re: Newbster is looking for advice on preparing for Boondock

Target, dollar stores, Walmart, I think sell clear plastic compression sacks for clothes. They work via a one way valve system. You put the clothes in one end that seals tight and then you compress or roll the air out the valve at the other end. There is no need for a small vacuum. For our Alaska trip we will do that with our winter ski jackets that are easily compressible. We may or may not need them. You just never know. Last year in Arizona I didn't expect it to get down to 20F overnight. Last month Kentucky dipped into the 30s on us. Didn't expect that either.

I don't have an answer for security other than not to leave anything of value in plain sight. If someone breaks in a few camera lenses might be the least of your worries. There is a lockable storage compartment covered with ultra leather under the passenger seat of a Great West Van Legend. At best it could be overlooked by a break in. Converters of Sprinters may use that space for other things.

The three way fridge has worked fine for us. I detect little difference in the performance between AC and propane. The 12V is the one that seems to under perform and you have to be very cognizant of battery management if you are going to stop while driving for any significant amount of time. 12V can drain your battery fast. We mostly run on propane now when driving. It doesn't use all that much. As for a gimbal, probably just an added expense. There is no problem when driving. There seems to be a lot of tolerance for being out of level with current models and in a campground level for comfort and sleeping will take care of your fridge. I bought a La Crosse Technologies indoor/outdoor battery operated wireless thermometer for our B for $10. The outdoor sensor is a small stick we lay in the fridge. The receiving unit is stuck on the cab head board with a velcro tab. The head board itself is fuzzy enough to stick to it. Above 90F a 3-way fridge can climb into the 40s no matter what the mode is on. The freezer compartment still seems to work fine.
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Old 06-09-2012, 10:22 PM   #16
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Default Re: Newbster is looking for advice on preparing for Boondock

Yes Dollarama up here in Canada has those vacuum/compression bags now...Single layer things like sweaters, fleeces you can shake out and fluff up again I'd do that to in a jiffy, but would be a little concerned about permanently compressing the down in a jacket or sleeping bag, if I left it that way for a few days.... hmmm could depend on the filling, but it's that air you press out that keeps the warmth in, so I'd worry about it not springing back...
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Old 06-11-2012, 05:22 AM   #17
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Default Re: Newbster is looking for advice on preparing for Boondock

Idea for spices:

I use a lot in cooking also. I went to the fishing section and got a screw-together stack of small containers that hold my spices. They come in various sizes. Takes us little space and keeps the spices dry.
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Old 06-21-2012, 06:34 PM   #18
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Default Re: Newbster is looking for advice on preparing for Boondock

For spices containers, I am using empty pill containers, the ones they give you your prescription in at the pharmacy. They are transparent and easy to use. Note that they're also non-spill, if you plan to put liquid in them as I do....
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Old 08-01-2012, 05:36 AM   #19
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Default Re: Newbster is looking for advice on preparing for Boondock

Just returned from Glacier Nat'l Park and Going to the Sun Road. The East entrance was like Yellowstone: lots and lots of people and the road had a great many vehicles on it. Construction on the East side had a 15 min. wait at two different places. We parked and took the shuttle, which was free and great. Then we drove on Hwy 2 around the bottom of the park to the West side. Much nicer. Fewer people. Again we took the shuttle. Why drive when you can enjoy the scenery from the shuttle? St. Mary's Campground is in the park and nice enough. No hookups, though. The Blackfeet Indian Museum is worth seeing, too.
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