In the before-boogie van days when we were raising children we would occasionally get out to the mountains, then we’d talk about how much we loved it and how we should get out more. Life would go on, work would get busy, and we wouldn’t go again for a long while. When the time came our kids were older and we could get out more on our own we gravitated again to the mountains, they wouldn’t let go of us, and we wanted to spend more time there. It was the cost of lodgings that really held us back, especially in peak season. In fact, for a few years we only went in the off-season.
In 2017 we were hiking in Banff National Park, we had a room at the Canmore Holiday Inn on points from my work travel. We hiked Johnson Canyon and the Ink Pots the one day and part way around Lake Minnewanka the next. It was a fabulous weekend of being together and getting some reasonable PT. It would be great to get into the mountains more we thought, do more of what we loved doing, if only we could find a cheaper way to lodge. Up came the idea of some sort of bed on wheels. Not a tent, not a trailer, not a full-RV … a travel van. We wanted a bit more flexibility than a tent offered, but a full-sized RV wouldn’t be cheap to operate. We had ideas of hitting the road for extended periods, but maybe not always looking like old people in an RV. Glamping is not so much our thing, but a comfortable bed does lead to satisfying rest at the end of a long day of hiking.
After a period of searching (there are some questionable vehicles out there that people want a fortune for) we found our boogie van. The person we bought it from told us it was an Arizona vehicle, which I could believe given the roof paint was baked off and the weatherstripping dried right up, while the underneath was spotless. It had an amazing, motorized folding rear seat that is almost the size of a queen bed. It needed some work but the interior was in great shape and it was almost a blank canvas to draw our ideas onto; we bought it the same day we saw it. For the first season, we used it largely as the mobile sleeping platform we sought and it opened up a world of adventures. Between the low cost of campgrounds or the no cost of public land use zones (PLUZ) we stepped right into our dream of getting away to the mountains.
Our van is a 1992 Chevrolet G20 Sportvan, 350cid, automatic, air, tilt, cruise, power windows, professionally made into a touring van by Starcraft.
Straight away we put new tires on it, Hankook Optimo H724. I bought the Hankooks based on a simple set of criteria: they had to be fuel efficient, long tread life and quiet. These tires were well rated by consumers and competitively priced, so it was an easy decision. They have performed very well in our travels and I would recommend them as an option if you can find them in your vehicle’s size.
We next had the engine tuned and looked to a mechanical inspection. Before the tune up we were getting 5 – 10 mpg which isn’t any better than a full-sized RV, and not good enough to travel far. After the tune up we’ve been getting 16+ mpg so long as we are mindful of the vehicle’s speed limits. Through experimentation we found if we keep our speed at or below 110 kmh/65 mph we get the best mileage. With a 150 litre fuel tank we should get between 6 and 8 hours of drive time. The small block V8 gives us plenty of power, and with a 2″ trailer hitch, we have towing options we can explore down the road.
We kitted it out with a few kitchen essentials including a stove-top espresso pot, a Coleman 2-burner naphtha stove, a 2×5 table, and our Coleman thermo-electric 40 qt cooler. I built a platform out of 2x10s to lengthen the bed so our feet didn’t dangle off the end. There were already round 12v power ports in strategic locations within the van, which made powering our cooler easy on the drive. In short order we also bought a Dometic porto-pottie as there are no ablution facilities in a PLUZ and you cannot just carry on with cat-sanitation everywhere. We stuffed it with hiking kit and food, but otherwise we used it as-is.
Views like the ones below demonstrate what we were looking to obtain in buying our boogie van. Pop open the doors, spill out the food or the kit, and chill with the view. It never gets old, it never gets tired.
The second season we added several other upgrades to improve our range and amenities. These mods will be chronicled in various boogie van mod posts.