90,000 Miles to Me

Products I Like

Since lots of people I talk to about van life keep asking me what I’m using, here is a collection of the things I am currently using and why.

The Amazon links are affiliate links, so if you click on one and buy something from their site, I will get a small commission. I figured, if I’m recommending these things anyway, hey, it could help support my journey a little bit. No hard feelings if you don’t want to.

Once I started working on the van, I quickly realized I would need to buy a fair amount of stuff, and Amazon was just too handy. So I signed up for a free Prime Membership trial and bought a whole slew of stuff during the trial period to take advantage of the free shipping; it can really add up.

If you’d like your own free Prime Membership trial, you can click here:

And now, in no particular order:

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Brieftons Manual blender

This is sold as a vegetable chopper, and it works really well for that, but I use it mostly for making my morning smoothies. I have used it almost every day since February of 2017, and sometimes twice a day, if, you know, I also want to chop veggies or nuts.

Plus, it has handy measurement markings on the side, so it also doubles as my measuring cup so that I don’t have to carry a separate item in the van that just takes up space for no other purpose than measuring. Handy!

It is made of plastic, which I’m not thrilled about, and doesn’t look very sturdy, in fact I keep expecting it to crack or the string to snap at any time, but I have been using it on a daily basis for about a year now and it is still going strong. When it does finally give out, though, I’ll buy another of the same one. It took me too long to find a blender that both doesn’t use electricity and is big enough to produce a breakfast-sized smoothie. It doesn’t perfectly puree the smoothie, but it gets it blended enough that I’m happy with it.

 

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Life Straw Mission Water Purification System

Since I have been doing a little boondocking, and plan to do a lot more, I wanted something to filter river water so that I wasn’t limited by how much city water I could haul out. Having options is good.

I got the 12 Liter version, 3.2 gallons, which is just the right size for me. It can fill up most of my 5 gallon water tank (I usually refill before it gets too low, anyway) and I can still carry it when full.

Plus, the company is helping to bring clean drinking water to schools and communities in areas of the world that don’t have it.

 

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Foot water pump

Van dwellers don’t need to reinvent the wheel; the marine world has been making compact, low- or no electricity use appliances for aeons. I mean, since the Greeks. So when all I could find in the van and RV world were electric pumps for my water faucet, I turned elsewhere.

This handy (and cheap) device works brilliantly. It pumps my water from a tube out of my water can into the pump, and through another tube to my faucet. I got the two tubes and faucet brand new for $7 total at my local Habitat for Humanity Re-Store.

Several of the reviews said that this thing leaks, and I’ve noticed that if I bear down on the pedal with all my weight, it does spurt out a bit, so I just back off and pump gently. It still produces a strong stream of water that lasts long enough to relax my foot and pump again. It is really very easy but gets me moving a bit multiple times a day while leaving my hands free to wash. And no electricity!

 

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Jerry Cans from Dinuba Water

jerry can by Dinuba Water

I spent a long time researching how to store water and waffling over the choices, none of which were just right, till I found Dinuba Water’s Jerry cans. Here’s the short version:

Plastic is out. Too many carcinogens and other toxic chemicals, and terrible manufacturing waste.

Glass carboys, like for home brewing, was my next choice, but glass is fragile. I use it a lot for food storage in my van, but those are small containers and do not have three to five gallons (24 to 40 lb) of weight pressing on them while going over sharp bumps. I’m not interested in a small flood in my van.

What about metal? Traditional Jerry cans, you know, the kind for hauling extra fuel in the back of a Jeep, are the perfect size and shape, but they are meant for storing gas and oil. They are lined with not potentially, but absolutely, 100%, verifiably nasty toxic chemicals to prevent the fuel inside from corroding the metal.

How about stainless steel that is meant for food storage, like milk jugs. This is what I was leaning toward until I found Dinuba. The downside is that they are round, like the carboys, and that means wasted space. They are also expensive, but some things in life are worth investing in. Like non-toxic drinking water.

Eventually I found Dinuba. This company needs to advertise more! It took way too much persistent searching before I found them. Their cans are the space saving Jerry can style, sturdy, with great handles, completely safe, and slightly less expensive than the milk jugs. I bought two.

A few months after I placed my order, I got a small padded envelope in the mail from Dinuba. I hadn’t ordered anything else, so was confused. Inside were two of the little pressure release screws that go on the top of the cans. A note inside said that they had upgraded their design, so they sent me the new ones for free, without even asking. I call that great customer service.

 

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Luci Lux Portable Light

I got one of these to start with and loved it so much I got a second. They are small, lightweight and durable inflatable lights, and plenty bright, even on low. In the morning I put mine in a window or outside to collect sunlight all day, then I have a few hours of light at night to read or write by.

On a full charge, these will last for six to eight hours, but having two is nice when there are several cloudy days in a row. I personally like the softer light of the frosted ones, but they also come in clear.

I love having a free light source every night—in that it costs no additional batteries and no external electricity, ever. And the company donates their products to help people in disaster areas and countries without reliable access to electricity.

 

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The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs by Tristan Gooley

the lost art of reading nature's signs

This is a fascinating book with an engaging writing style. Since I want to get outside more, and be less reliant on technology to tell me where I am or what time it is, and generally be less clueless about the environment around me, this was the perfect addition to my van bookshelf.

It is teaching me how to pay attention to the world in completely new ways. Have you ever noticed that trees grow more branches on the south side because they are trying to get more light? I hadn’t Why do I care now? I can look for patterns in the branches to tell which way is north, or east if I’m trying to use the sun to tell how late in the day it is, or if I look at the trees along a hike, I can tell which way I’m going and backtrack easily if I need to.

 

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Heated Fleece 12-Volt Electric Blanket

This little device saved my butt many nights. I can deal with the cold when it is in the upper 30s outside, and for a few hours in the mid 30s, and the van insulation holds in some warmth for several hours, but all through the night in below freezing, I needed something a little more than my body heat swaddled in layers of blankets.

Since I have sworn off propane (and butane, etc), and electric space heaters use too much electricity, I needed a creative alternative. It took me a while, but I found this. The reviews were divided. When it worked, people loved it, but some people seemed to get a dud. I was desperate enough, and the other options I was coming up with had even worse odds, so I took a chance. Fortunately, it seems like I got one that works, at least for now. (Oh, and there are a few on the market, but this is the only one that DID NOT have a CA prop 65 warning for potentially carcinogenic materials.)

I put this blanket on the inside of my blanket nest, right next to my body, and turn it on 20 minutes or so before I crawl in, so that when I get in, well, it’s not exactly all warmed up, but I’m not loosing my body heat to the blankets; it does eventually warm me up nicely.

It also has a timer so that it won’t eat my electricity all night, staying on for about 45 minutes. I usually hit the reset once or twice to get enough heat that my nest will hold the warmth through the night.

 

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Every book by Katy Bowman

My movement guru. She helped me understand the difference between exercising 1 hour a day and being mostly sedentary the other 23.

And helped my knees finally recover from some teenage injuries. And the lower back and foot and hip issues that slowly crept in from compensating for the pain in my knees for so many years. And taught me to squat. And twist. And and and…

I can’t recommend her books, audiobooks, podcasts, blog posts, etc. highly enough. It is taking time, and a lot of little corrections, but they add up to big improvements in how my body feels, so that I want to get out and do more things, and the more I do, the more I can do, and the more I can, the more I want to do, and on and on.

 

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300 Watts of Renogy Solar Panels

Yes, I actually bought these on Amazon because they had a much better price than from Renogy direct.

Renogy is a good company that makes good photovoltaic (solar panel) products. I figured on 300 watts as a good compromise between planed electricity usage and price, and I can always add another later. Renogy also had some very informative setup videos on how to connect different amounts of panels in series and parallel.

I have been very happy with these. So far they have been in beating rain, minor hail, high winds, snow, heat and don’t have a scratch on them.

Most of my electric problems stem from 1) being in cloudy areas and seasons after leaving the brilliant southwest sun, and 2) my battery system, which as much as I’d like to recommend, I just can’t yet. Which is why you won’t see it on this page. But the solar panels have performed admirably, even picking up a very little charge under street lights as I drive by.

 

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pStyle (for women)

This is basically a woman-shaped funnel so that we can pee in a bucket (or standing) reliably. There are a number of similar devices (called STP—stand to pee), but this one got the best reviews overall, and it works well for me. Everyone is a little differently proportioned, though, so if one doesn’t work, another might do the trick. An unimpressive, but necessary, tool.

 

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16 oz Stainless Steel Thermos

Great for heating something when the sun is out and keeping it warm for later, or for overnight oats (no-cook oatmeal). I’ve used this several times and been grateful to have it. It is a cinch to clean, as long as you clean it before the food dries out, and just the right size for a medium to large meal. It even has a spoon in the cap.

 

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10.5 Ft Telescopic Ladder

I saw another van dweller recommend this and knew immediately it would solve a problem: how to get up on my van roof when I need to clean the solar panels or inspect a leak or whatever. This way, I can take a ladder with me! I bought it at the beginning of the build and then used it for the whole conversion. It is lightweight and very sturdy.

 

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Maxxair Fan and Vent

Some kind of vent or fan in the small, closed, metal van was a given, and the two clear leaders in the industry were Maxxair and Fan-Tastic. While there are only minor differences between them in terms of features, and van dwellers on both sides of the camp love them both, what made the difference for me was that this model came with a built in (not add-on) rain hood.

And that rain hood has served me well many times, when I’ve been away from the van and it unexpectedly started to rain, or in the middle of the night when I’m sleeping, and have never been rained on. Even with the hood open all the way, I’ve only had a tiny bit of water come in once, when the rain was nearly horizontal and facing the hood opening, and even then there was only a bit. I turned the van around.

 

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All American Sun Oven

Sun ovens are fairly easy to make if you have a little time and resourcefulness, but I decided to give myself a break for once and just bought it. It works beautifully and I haven’t once regretted it. This model is particularly well designed to make cooking with it easy and hassle-free.

Cooking with a sun oven isn’t difficult at all, but it does take some mental adjustments. Depending on the intensity of the sun, it will probably take a little longer to a lot longer to cook something than in an oven you can turn on at whim, so preplanning becomes critical. Once I started making the adjustment from “I’m hungry, pop something in the toaster oven” to “I expect to be hungry in two hours, pop something in now so it will be ready then” the rest was easy.

More on my experiences with the sun oven and cooking in general in this post about my kitchen.

 

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Okay, those are my top recommendations of the products I currently use. What have you found to be your best purchases?

 

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