Choosing a home
Anything works: it all depends on your level of comfort, the amount of gear you need, and what you can afford. For example, my home last summer was the 2-door coupe I already owned. It had enough room for food, clothing, and a small collection of climbing and mountaineering gear. The passenger’s seat was an adequate bed after a long day in the hills, but not quite horizontal.
The Honda Element seems to be popular, but it is recent enough to still be costly on the used-car market, and despite its SUV styling, it is about as capable as my front wheel drive coupe off-road. If you can afford it and won’t spend much time off-road, it’s not a bad choice.
If you need to go off-road, an SUV or Subaru is the way to go. But be careful: most modern SUVs are yuppie-wagons with poor gas mileage and the clearance of minivans. Even the Toyota 4-Runner had its clearance reduced in the 2001 model when SUV rollovers were in the news. Also, if you want to sleep horizontally, check that the back is long enough and the rear seats fold flush with the storage area. Modern mini-SUVs like the RAV-4, and the Subaru Forester, are not long enough to sleep straight in back, and sleeping diagonally hoses your storage space.
If you don’t need to go off-road, some diesel vans can be surprisingly fuel-efficient while providing ample living space.
Once you have chosen a home, you need to furnish it with the necessities. If you have ever camped or car-camped before, most of it is obvious: food and water, sleeping bag, spare clothes, clothes appropriate for the weather, toiletries, headlamp. However, here are a few useful tips:
- Sleeping bag
Get a bag rated near the outdoor temperature where you expect to be sleeping. You will need to sleep with the windows cracked to reduce condensation, so the inside of the car will be nearly as cold as the outside.
Two gallons is plenty. Splurge and buy the gallon water jugs with robust screw-tops (not the cheap milk-jug things, which tend to pop open), then refill them from the tap. Top them off whenever an opportunity presents itself.
- Power inverter
Car chargers for electronic gadgets (iPod, phone, etc.) are a complete rip-off. An inverter with two three-prong plugs is cheap, and lets you use the chargers that come with the devices. A moderately powerful (700W+) inverter will also let you use a laptop in your car, and you can safely use it for a couple of hours a day without draining your battery. But carry a battery jumper just in case.
- Battery jumper
A cheap jumper only costs $50, and can save you a very expensive tow if your battery dies far from town.