Photo Credit: Jennifer Wolf

#VANlife vs. #TRUCKlife…The Top 10 Differences

It’s been almost a year since we started full-timing it, living on the road first in our Sprinter conversion and, since August, in our overland adventure RV built on an M1083 military truck.

We get asked all the time how we like our tiny-house-on-wheels lifestyle. If the instagram pictures are any indication, it’s plain to see: Life doesn’t suck. With all the adventures we’ve been on, places we’ve gotten to see and people we’ve gotten to meet, neither of us can quite imagine going back to mortgage payments, property taxes, or the ho-hum repetitive motion of a single, stationary home. Suffice it to say, so far, so good. While there are still some challenges and bugs we’re working out with our new rig, our “home is where you park it” mentality keeps our outlook on living consciously, deliberating putting adventure, play, good food (+ good beer), and great experiences at the forefront of our priority list.

How does it compare to life in the van? With so many people right now coveting #VANlife and hashtagging their way to campervan heaven, we’re fairly confident the trend toward downsizing, tiny houses, and more conscious living will continue. And as that happens, more and more people will discard the either/or choice between a campervan and a commercial RV, making trucks like ours (that are legitimately winter-ready, able to haul gear for any sport, etc), more prevalent. For those considering their options in the RV marketplace, here are some of our observations on the big differences we see between VANlife and life in an adventure truck. We broke them down into the following categories:

Stealthiness  |  Maneuverability  |  Ride Quality  |  Fuel Economy  |  Systems  |  Gear Storage & Accessibility  |  Temperature Regulation  |  Location Accessibility  |    Safety & Security  |  Overall Comfort & Livability

 Sprinter Van RVOverland Adventure Truck
StealthinessNo brainer here, the sprinter wins in the stealth department. It fits in a standard parking space and is ideal for making the least significant impression if you don’t want to draw attention.Not stealthy at all. It’'s pretty much a traveling freak show. Martin is awesome about fielding questions, but be warned: Count the number of wheels before you ask him if it’'s a 4x4 :/. Sometimes that lack of stealth is nice; it'’s a great conversation starter and we’'ve met some awesome people.
ManeuverabilityTight turning radius, manages on nearly any mountain pass – just not in winter.Better than we’'d expect. We can still make a U-turn, surprisingly enough, as the M1083 has the same turning radius as a full size pick-up truck. It can handle any road or mountain pass, including tight curves, but we do have to watch our height (just under 13-feet) on bridges and trails with low-hanging branches.
Ride QualitySmooth as silk.A little more vibration and we definitely bring the thunder when we roll through, but it’'s not bad for a truck. Bethany doesn’t do as much crocheting on the road due to the bounce on the air ride seats, yet interestingly, because it is so much more stable on its 70,000 lb. leaf springs, it’s easier to cook and move about the cabin.
Fuel EconomyAverage 18 mpg highway / 15.6 mph all-terrain (with boards/gear box on top) and a 342 mile range. DEF fluid is a downside, as is the fact that our 2013 vehicle only accepted ultra-low sulfur diesel, limiting international travel.Average 8.1 mpg with a 1,583 mile range. Not bad considering we don’'t have to use it as a daily driving vehicle. We like to park somewhere for an extended period and use our commuting bikes to get us where we want to go. Multi-fuel, can get us to Mexico/South America (no issue with ultra low sulfur diesel), and no DEF fluid.
SystemsEasy, turn key. Simple systems, very little to go wrong. Difficulty managing the single AGM battery bank if we wanted to stay parked somewhere for an extended period. 40 gallons of water, Thetford cassette toilet system, reverse AC for limited heat. No laundry.More complex systems, but those systems allow us to do much, much more. Solar & a bigger battery bank let us stay powered up net neutral on average. The Thetford cassette toilet is the same, but a little bigger tank. Our Webasto Thermal 90 hydronic heating system is a little more complicated to operate, but allows us to heat the engine, heat water, and heat the cabin. With the ability to carry 145 gallons of water, we can stay put for weeks. We also even have on-board laundry!
Gear Storage & AccessibilityOur paddleboards were easy to get to on the roof. Seasonal and extra items required acrobatics to reach, and there was’n't room for all four seasons of gear/clothing. Gear garage could accommodate two bikes.Our paddleboards are much more of a pain in the ass to get at, but the rest of our stuff is well organized in one of two garages and ample cabinetry within the cabin. We are able to fit so much more of our equipment & clothing for all four seasons, including four bikes. The dining booths double as storage (which we use for shoes and extra pantry items).
Temperature RegulationAC, a Fantastic vent fan and one partially screened window helped maintain a comfortable temperature in warm temps, but it was hard to keep the cold out in winter due to the massive amount of glass. Perfect for three seasons, but when the temperatures drop below freezing, even if we had a heater, the amount of condensation would have been astronomical.Nearly 3”-inch walls of fiberglass and foam give us an R22 insulation factor. AC and hydronic Webasto Thermal 90 heating. Diesel cooktop puts out 6,500 BTUs for secondary heat. Redundant heat systems make wintering much safer. The cab is separated from the cabin by a steel locking door, so we avoid the temperature extremes from the single pane front cab windows. The cabin windows are double-paned, nitrogen-injected, all have screens and can be blacked out. It'’s about as temperature-regulating as you can make an RV. Unlike most RVs, we can stay comfortable in the full spectrum of outside temperatures.
Location AccessibilityFew limitations when the weather is fair, but when it’s freezing, snowing or if you want to go off-road, the van is not your best bet. It was’'t going to get us to Alaska (too bumpy on the fragile transmission), Canada in winter (not 4x4), or South America (ultra low-sulphur diesel). Decent height clearance, and the length of the 170-wheel base allowed us on any mountain pass.Literally any road, any weather, any season. We can get to South America and Alaska, both on our bucket list. Our biggest limitation is its height. At just under 13’, we do have to watch our clearance. Undercarriage clearance is never an issue (obviously), and allows us to play on any road, even extreme grades.
Safety & SecurityAbout as secure as a car. With no windows in the back garage area, our gear (bikes, etc.) was safe, and we used locking straps to secure the boards on our roof.You can break into anything, we suppose, but the truck has some systems in place to make it much more difficult. Safety/security features include: Cab-cabin steel door with a tumbler-free lock; Locking windows that can be shuttered up with steel; The truck’'s height alone makes break-ins a challenge; All of our gear is locked in internal gear garages. In terms of safety, this truck can take a beating. Our bumpers come up most cars’ rear view mirrors and are ¼” steel with full skid plates and a recessed drive train (after all, this truck is built to run road blocks), so we are likely to be unscathed in a normal collision. So far, deer and elk have avoided our threat. The huge light bars are a big help on the back roads. It also has multiple emergency exits.
Overall Comfort/ LivabilityFor a van, our set-up was extremely comfortable and we enjoyed many days of lounging in it while we considered it “home.” That said, extreme temps on either end of the spectrum often forced us outside (not necessarily a bad thing). As far as space, we missed sitting down for a meal and having a separate place to sit and work.Compared to the van, nothing beats having a dinette to sit down for a meal and having a washer/dryer. It's total comfort in every season! At 132 square feet, it’'s still tiny, and is much, much smaller than your average 5th wheel, but we have more than enough room to be comfortable AND have our gear with us in all the places we visit. It’'s very livable and cozy even in winter (check out our post on hygge).

Perhaps the biggest difference is that travel in the truck means no limitations. In the van, we were much more concerned about where we were traveling, the weather, road conditions, etc. Now those issues are irrelevant. On a January trip to Durango, Colorado, for instance, snow was no match for the truck. Even when we were seemingly buried in three to four foot snowbanks, we drove right on through with ease. Mud, trail, highway, cold, sand, snow, heat, rocks… Whatever condition you throw at us, our comfort does not suffer, nor does the integrity of the truck.

We get a lot of questions from fellow travelers and travelers-to-be, and we have to reiterate that it’s important to consider this list of pros and cons through the lens of:

1) Where you want to travel (trails? highways? internationally?)
2) What you want to bring, both in terms of space and overall weight (gear, water, fuel, etc.)
3) The overall length you’re comfortable driving

(see our post on choosing an expedition vehicle for more on that)

The suitability of any truck, van or RV is only as good as how you plan on using it. For us, we’ve been fortunate that our research paid off. Cost-wise, we sprung for the things that mattered to us, and we haven’t been disappointed. What features are important to YOU as you plan your travel-centric life?

4 comments

  1. Thanks again for sharing all of this great information and insight in such an “easy to read” format!!!
    It’s a huge help for the rest of us that are getting frustrated by the limitations of our “standard” RV!

Share Your Thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *