Off Roading North America
“Traveling by car, and spending the day in glorious scenery but then having to rush back to motels and services every evening back in towns got old quickly for us, especially when the most enjoyable times in the wilderness are often the early mornings and evenings spent around the fire.”
Are you part-time or full-time vanlifers?
Why are you making this trip?
We’ve always been fans of Sportsmobile and like their poptop penthouse design, flexibility of interior designs and the durability of their interiors and systems for offroad abuse. Their plumbing/electrical/solar system setup has been refined over decades of offroad use, and that proven experience was a big appeal to us. We originally had eyes on the Ford Econoline van but when we were living in Tokyo Ford announced they were stopping making those, so we were one of the first customers to put a deposit down for the new Ford Classic design that Sportsmobile announced a couple of years back. After a visit to the Sportsmobile factory in Fresno in 2015, we realized that the Classic project timing wasn’t going to work for us. At the same time we were reading more about the new Sprinter 4×4 platform and the fuel efficient V6 3.0L Turbo Diesel engine it came with so we made the decision to swap over to the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter platform and couldn’t be happier. The Sprinter 4×4 also has a factory installed option for a low range gearing that works great, so this is a recommended option for anyone considering the Sprinter 4×4.
One of the big advantages of building your van with Sportsmobile is that early on in the process they align you with one of their designers who stays with you through the whole project. Having someone who can listen and take all your crazy ideas and special requests and filter them through their years of experience building/designing offroad vans is definitely something we valued and recommend – looking back our designer Brian saved us so many hassles and headaches if we were doing it all on our own! Thanks Brian 🙂
We looked at the high roof and low roof options and decided on the low roof with the penthouse poptop because we liked the profile better. We love the extra space that it gives us up top when we setup camp and having the lower roof on tight narrow offroad trails is a definite advantage for the places we like to go. With the poptop up the headroom inside is really impressive and sleeping upstairs in the penthouse with five open windows all around you makes you feel like you’re sleeping in the canopy of the trees.
We went with a walk-through design inside the van for easy access to all our storage space, and we have a central galley/fridge/sink area hub by the sliding door that opens out into the canopy area for all weather outdoor food prep. We do nearly all our cooking outside even in the rain, and we love it this way – plus it keeps all cooking food smells out of your bedroom.
Our design also features an all-weather canopy outside the sliding door, a full solar system for remote camping, onboard hot shower and toilet facilities and a rear bumper storage system that allows us to haul around two fat bikes and keep our dirty 4×4 and camping gear safe but outside the van. Our 2 SUPs we fit inside in the rear storage. We have a LED lightbar on the front to help find the best camping spots if out after the sun goes down. We opted for bigger Toyo RT tires that we’ve found are quiet on the road but really come into their own when the trails get gnarly. Onboard air allows us to air the tires up and down easily to suit the trail conditions which has been a real plus especially when the road conditions get more challenging. Many ask us what our mpg mileage is like and we’ve been pleasantly surprised. Even with the weight of the camper and gear with the added roof rack and bigger tires we are getting around 15-16 mpg.
Many ask us how we cope living in such a small space but what they don’t realize is we actually live in a bigger space than they probably do. Given most of our living is done outside beside the van, we never feel we are in a small living space – especially if you are in a National Forest for the night. I guess that’s the big advantage of designing your van from the outset with an outside living focus in every aspect of the design and setup.
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