OVER THE YEARS, PEOPLE HAVE ASKED ME, “Bob, what’s your favorite thing?” They want to know one or five favorite things I have in my vehicle. This is my criteria for all of them: if I lost it today, would I reorder it right away? So, these are five things that I would reorder right away. Let’s look at five unsung heroes—things you don’t think are exciting, but man, they make my life a lot better.
This is a Tri-Leveler. You drive up on it. It’s got a level one, level two, or level three. I’ve also found you can really stop anywhere along the way. I have, in fact, had to buy them three times because I’ve driven off without them. This is the third that I’ve got in my hand. Now, this one’s broken. You can see that this isn’t quite right here. This should go over and up and down, and that’s all gone. Now, this one’s broken. You
can see below that it isn’t quite right here. This should go over and up and down, and that’s all gone. And normally, if I was showing you something that was broken, I’d be saying it was crap and not to buy it. I’m still telling you I love this thing. I will buy another one to replace it, and then I’ll have three. And I have found times when I wanted three. It’s remarkably strong and powerful. I broke it off by going too far and rolling off the other side.
It’s made by Camco, and they sell them by the one. I love the durability and practicality most of all. It’ll raise you about 5 inches, and a lot of the time, that’s enough. If not, well, you just can’t get level. Where I’m parked right now, you can see I’m on the leveler and up about 4 or 5 inches. Getting a good night’s sleep and not falling over is critical. If you’re older, have balance issues, and your rig is not level, your risk of falling and losing balance is much higher.
That could really be a severe problem. I don’t want that to happen to me, and I don’t want that to happen to you. These things really take care of that. Again, they are not essential. You can live your life really well without them.
#2 Sturdy Step
Now, the next unsung hero of van life that I want to talk about is very mundane. You never think about it, but man, I love this thing. It’s this step. I’m in a very tall rig, so up to where I step inside is 19″. The top of this step is 15″, and each step is about 7.5″.
I’m getting older, and my balance isn’t perfect. This thing will never, ever move or flip on me. The most important thing to me is that it is solid, stable, and never moves. It’s super heavy-duty. It’s never going to fail. Let me tell you how much I love this thing. I went to the dump one day in Quartzsite. I was taking my trash in and out and drove away without it. I returned to find it, but it was either in the trash pile or taken. I’d take it home if I got there and it was sitting there. I ordered another one that very day. I don’t ever want to be without one of these. This is not going to work for most of you. I know that.
I also love this one below. I love the width; at its widest point, it’s 17”. The legs go out. They don’t just go straight down. They go out and across instead. The step is plenty big enough, and it’s height adjustable. The tallest is 12”, and the lowest is 9”. The legs also fold down flat on this. It’s all aluminum, not steel, so it’s light.
The problem with my big step is that it’s so huge you can’t store it. The foldable step is easy to carry around.
#3 Propane Stove
I’ve been on the road, living in a vehicle for twenty-two years, in total, not all continuous. At least twenty of those years, I have owned this stove. I’ve owned a lot of stoves. I started, like a lot of you, with a Coleman 2-burner. I never used the other burner; it was big, and I just didn’t need it. This isn’t the only stove I’ve played with. People love the butane stoves with the little cartridge that you screw in, and they’re so small and cute. I’ve bought a couple, three of them. Most of them have broken, and I’ve thrown them away. I always come back to this. It’s the one I’m going to recommend to you. It’s going to work, and it’s going to work forever. It cooks really well with a big, wide burner.
Not only do I cook on it, I actually use it as heat. If you pick up a clay flower pot at Walmart and put it on the burner, you have an oven. This is what I have used for heat for decades. I never leave it on overnight. I’ll have it on before bed. My rig will be toasty, and then I’ll turn it off and go to bed. I also always have a carbon monoxide detector.
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The problem with propane heaters is that the heater puts out moisture. I’m in the desert, and it’s not a problem because it’s dry anyway, and it feels better to have a little moisture in the air. If you’re in a really humid place, this isn’t how to heat your rig. It does have a couple of downsides. The highest heat is 7,500 BTU, which really is not a lot. A lot would be 10,000 BTUs. I also found that it doesn’t simmer very well. Those are the only two flaws. But if someone steals this one tonight, I’ll order another tomorrow. That’s how much I like these things. An advantage of a propane stove is that it will burn any propane from any bottle.
I’ve burned propane at 30 below. Butane stops burning at just a little below freezing and will not work. The fact that propane works in cold temperatures and I use it for heat tells me that I will use propane and not butane. You can buy an adapter with the threaded end exactly like the threaded end of the Coleman green bottle, and it can go onto any propane bottle. I’ve always owned plastic hoses, and they’ve failed. This one is steel-braided and even has a little fuel gauge. The gauge isn’t terribly reliable, but it’s reliable enough. I don’t recommend the little bottles. Nobody wants to carry a 20-pound propane bottle in a small rig, but if you use your propane for heat, you really have to.
Another unsung hero that I love having seems odd to people for some reason. I have an umbrella because it rains. Maybe it never rains on you in your world, but it rains in my world pretty often. They claim to be recommended by the Pro Golf Tour with a lot of great advertising. But I have owned this umbrella for eight years, and it has performed flawlessly. I use this thing in very heavy winds, and it has never reversed on me. Depending on where the wind is coming from, I hold it out in different ways to block it. I’ve walked a lot with it like this, barely covering me but protecting me from the wind and rain.
It has gotten me home from a lot of walks. I’ve got a dog, Cody, and he’s got to go for a walk twice a day. This umbrella is 58” in diameter. You can see it’s silver on the outside. I bought it with the idea that I could use it in the sun for heat, too. I have never once done that. I like the 58” size. I would buy it bigger if they had it. To my mind, the bigger, the better. I love this thing. Nothing could be more mundane, but I would never be without it. If this one broke today, I’d buy one today. That’s kind of what makes it an unsung hero. I want it. It helps my life. It makes my life better. And so, I’m going to own it. All right, now let’s look at the next unsung hero.
#5 Sleeping Pad
One of the things that I consider essential is a good night’s sleep. But if you go to bed on an uncomfortable mattress, it doesn’t matter if everything else is perfect. You’re not going to sleep well. I have slept on many dozens of different kinds of sleeping pads. And so when I bought this ambulance two and a half years ago, I needed a new pad because it was a different size and length. This is a 3” memory foam.
I tried using just one and did not find that adequate. I mainly sleep on my side, and my hip hit the bottom. So I bought another one. I found the two together to be fantastic. They have a nice cover that you can unzip and wash. On the bottom are nonslip nubs, so it doesn’t slide around. This thing never moves. A good night’s sleep is crucial. You won’t have a good life without a good night’s sleep. And these have provided that for me. I give it two thumbs up and five stars. I highly recommend it.
So, there you have it. These five different things are really boring, but man, they’re important to me. Maybe they won’t be important to you. Again, the most important thing is not to spend money you don’t have if it’s for a luxury item. I hope this gave you a new idea of different products that work really well.