How to Live in Your Van

Gear tips from a couple that’s perfected the art of road life

Brianna and Keith Madia know how to do #vanlife without spending a fortune. (Abbi Hearne)

For Brianna Madia#vanlife is not about the van, or the Instagram photos, or the custom builds— it’s about living outside. She and her husband Keith moved into their 1990 Ford E350 (affectionately called “Bertha”) over a year ago and now spend their time working from the road and exploring the American West.

They've made some minor customizations to Bertha, but didn't go overboard. “I see people doing months-long van build-outs, spending a fortune, and it’s totally unnecessary," she says.

Here's the gear they use to keep it simple.


Yakima SkyBox 21 ($600) 

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(Courtesy Yakima)

This was a huge game changer for storing all of our climbing and mountain biking gear. Before the SkyBox, we had to transfer all the gear from our bed to the front seat before we went to sleep. Now we can keep it organized in separate backpacks in the SkyBox which locks, so we don’t have to worry about it getting stolen.

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Garmin inReach Explorer+ ($400) 

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(Courtesy Garmin)

We spend half of every week out of cell service, usually in slot canyons. The inReach is a text messenger and SOS device that provides a lot of peace of mind for us and our families when we're off-the-grid. 

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Hydro Flask Food Flasks ($30) 

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(Courtesy Hydroflask)

We don’t have a fridge, but these things will keep yogurt and fruit cold for two days. They also keep leftovers warm in colder months. 

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Rumpl Puffy Throw Blanket ($100) 

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(Courtesy Rumpl)

It’s oddly expensive, and I scoffed at it at first, but this blanket is actually perfect for sleeping in the desert, where it starts off too hot for a sleeping bag, but gets chilly at 3 a.m. It’s also great for wrapping around your shoulders and staring off into the distance for the perfect #vanlife Instagram photo. 

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Smittybilt 2787 Coyote Tan Tent Awning ($220)

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(Courtesy Smittybilt)

This awning is like adding a separate room to the van. The shade exponentially reduces the temperature of the van inside and allows a little more space to move around. 

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Yakima LoadWarrior Rack ($300)

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(Courtesy Yakima)

If you have the space on top of your van, adding extra roof storage is the bee’s knees. We use this basket-style rack to strap down our off-road jack and shovel for hard times, and also for things like our Oru kayaks, which don’t fit inside the roof box. 

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Coleman Classic Camp Stove ($70)

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(Courtesy Coleman)

We met a guy who told us he has had the same Coleman camp stove for 43 years. Apparently, these things never die. Now we're personally going for 44 years. 

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REI Co-op Camp Roll Table ($65)

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(Courtesy REI)

We used to put our Coleman stove on top of plastic food bins and sit in the dirt while we made all our meals. We recently decided to splurge for an actual table and sit in chairs like normal people.

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Snow Peak Folding Coffee Pour Over Brewer ($30) 

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(Courtesy Snow Peak)

This little folding piece of metal makes the best cups of coffee ever.

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Samson Stacker Water Storage Containers ($10) 

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(Courtesy Amazon)

We call them “blueys.” We keep 27 gallons of water on board at all times. 

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Filed To: Gear / Culture / Car Camping / Cars / Overland
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