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John and Mandi

us --> van --> overland
7 yrs and 6 days - end of the road

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The JaMvan Floorplan and Overall Design Concept

Sep 26, 2014
by John

Deciding to build our own camper van was half thought out, once we actually had the van we realized we really needed to hone in a floor plan. In true fashion, several days were spent with crude drawings that Mandi translated to graph paper... yes, we still do that. Iteration after iteration hit the floor sometimes separated by bouts of grumpiness and irritation. Why the hell can't we fit everything we want to drag around in the damn van! The problem was glaringly evident, gotta start cutting some stuff. Now, those that live around us know we already live in a 900ish square foot home. We've been "downsizing" for years. Honestly, we'd be fine in a lot less. When our dogs were still alive they had their own room for Pete's sake and our bikes and kayaks lived in another. Yes, we kept large sporting equipment in our house, we had the room and it prevented bugs from living in them. Could you see a newbie to whitewater kayaking negotiating a class III when all of a sudden a spider decides to check out all of the racket? Anyway, pairing down further for an adventure like this is necessary.

The best thing we could have done was spend several two plus hour sessions sitting in the van arguing discussing how we think it should be. Really. It was already hot here so we kept moving around and messing with the doors to get better air flow. We kept the top down to really get the stealth feel but we kept shifting around trying to be the most comfortable while "discussing" our options. My original idea for the van was to have a couch facing the side doors, I felt we'd enjoy being parked and eating while staring at some beautiful landscape, and that same location is where we kept finding ourselves during our van sessions. After exhausting all possible configurations, a platform-based one dominated several weeks worth of ideas, we came full circle to the couch floorplan and began hashing it out to become the reality.

A wireframe outlining our floorplan, not to scale

A wireframe outlining our floorplan, not to scale

The other noteworthy exercise we did was list all of the stuff we wanted to take. We grouped it all and then reduced it to number of bins, we have a bunch of Roughneck bins already so that's what we based it on. Adding up these bins gave us a rough estimate of how much storage space we'd need. As in all things, we added 25% and began working from there. The only way we could come up with the space and still have a couch is to build shelves across the back. That has its own issues with not being able to easily get out of the van through the back doors but we will be adding an Aluminess rear bumper with a deluxe box which needs to be swung away from the outside before the rear door can open anyway. The addition of that box gives us some of the extra space we need so building across the back is what we'll do. Mandi has worked on trying to get a center walkway in somehow to no avail. We've resigned ourselves to the fact that, if we cross the Darien Gap and get the van into a shipping container, whoever drives the van into said container will be crawling, more likely getting pulled, out of the back. As long as we leave a way to make a large enough hole, and we don't gain substantial amounts of body weight, we should be good.

We are 100% positive we are still planning on taking too much stuff with us so there will be a wake of things sold, given and gifted away (the last one is the most cunning). We'd like to think we can make our shelves modular so in the event we pare down enough we could change it to get better access to the back door. That may be us over engineering so when we get to installing the shelves we'll see. On a couple separate occasions we practice stacked a bunch of the Roughneck bins in the back to make sure our calculations are good, another John-and-Mandi-ism.

The wheel wells have been quite a challenge. Since we are spanning the back, there are only 16 inches from the back of the van to the wheel well and our bins are just under 24 inches deep. We'll be building a platform over the wheel wells. That will give us some outside only gear storage that's available when the back door(s) are open. It'll also provide a large enough space for our Engel fridge and Porta Potti to be in front of the shelves but before the jack-knife sofa and kitchenette. We spent a fair amount of time discussing the bins that will be blocked by the fridge and Potti but we will be taking gear, backpacking to name one type, that will not need everyday access. The jack-knife will run along the driver side wall to behind the driver's seat and the kitchenette will run along the passenger side blocking the suicide barn door. There will be some available storage under the jack-knife and some, not much, in the kitchenette.

The systems:

Our water system will be three Jerry cans. One of those is actually a Lifesaver 20,000 liter filtration system. It has a hand pump to pressurize it and we purchased their sprayer to use as a faucet. One of the two remaining Jerry cans is for greywater collection and the other is for additional potable water. We may need a third for water but at this time 10 gallons is what we plan on starting with. The Lifesaver and the greywater will both be secured under the kitchenette section that is in front of the suicide side door. That will give us easier access to them as needed. That should also allow us to use the sprayer outside when the weather is nice, bugs permitting. A small sink, or converted bowl, will be installed above the greywater Jerry can.

For our electrical, we plan to install a single 4D AGM battery under the jack-knife or under the rear platform (possibly outside under the van floor). There is already a battery separator installed and we will be adding a single 200ish watt solar panel to the penthouse top. We haven't decided on the placement of the charge controller or battery monitor so that will get sorted as we start to build it out. We will be entirely 12v with only a small 150 watt inverter. 12v and usb ports will be dispersed around the van for our electrical needs as well as lights. We are planning on at least one porch light and maybe a couple external 12v and usb marine ports. We'll keep all of the external wiring on a single fuse so we don't take out a critical receptacle if water shorts it out. We'll be using a 100amp Blue Sea fuse block that has 6 zones so we will be grouping accordingly.

We purchased a Thetford 550P Porta Potti that holds, you guessed it, 5.5 gallons of blackwater. We had planned on getting a second waste tank to store in the Aluminess rear box but after emailing other overlanders we may just start with the one. The Thetfords are almost always available on Amazon, you have to buy the entire unit - annoying, so we can get it shipped if needed. Due to it's height we will be ending the platform under the fridge to leave leg and headroom for our nature calls. That will have the platform ending at about the middle of the van for the area in front of the rear storage shelving.

We'll be starting with a single Engel MT40 fridge. We spent a lot of time researching and really couldn't decide between the Engel or the ARB but lid design really made the choice for us. In our build the fridge will be elevated on a platform so the ARB would not be able to fully open with the Penthouse closed. We're trying to make everything functional when both popped up or closed so we ordered an Engel and a mount for it. We already own a Coleman propane stove and Magma nesting pot set so the rest of our kitchen will be scavenged from our house. Our Vitamix blender might make the trip but we'd be limited to using it in campgrounds since we aren't installing a 2000 watt inverter. We love our blender but whether it comes with us will depend on space when we start loading the van.

We bought a Nemo Helio pressure solar shower for those times an ocean, river, lake, or stream won't cut it and we aren't at a campground with facilities. In tough times we'll bust out the stove and heat water for sponge bathing if all other options are unavailable. We might carry baby wipes as emergency backup or for daily refreshes and to keep an appropriately acceptable human smell.

Build Preferences:

We've owned several other campers and have a few things we want to carry over into our build. One of those is having a wall covering that is easy to clean and doesn't attract dirt like a dog. The fabric in many high end vans is very nice but we found we were afraid to lean on or touch it in our Pleasure-Way for fear of staining it. That made an already small space excruciatingly smaller so we've decided to use marine vinyl. The barn and rear doors were the subject of our experiment.

Another carryover from our Pleasure-Way is the amount of space lost to all of the fancy systems. We had a tri-fold couch but sparse storage space. It was tough to fit enough food for a long weekend and have room for our clothes and such. It was awesome to just push a button and in return receive a constant stream of cold air. That's something that will be brought up as we travel across countries in our home built van but having space for full time life is more important. It will be inconvenient to manually dump the greywater and porta potti at times, no doubt. No TV, in-built DVD player, microwave, generator... that's part of the point for us.

Outside storage is virtually nonexistent in a cargo van. We could use tubs for most of the dirty stuff but we didn't know how to transport the propane tank. After waffling back and forth we decided on the Aluminess rear bumper with a deluxe box. That will give us a place for our propane tank and for all the grimy junk we don't want in our home. We later found out there is storage in the rear bumper too so we think we'll cram our recovery or leveling gear in there, maybe a little of both. The front bumper also has storage but we'll be adding a budget priced winch, already got a good wench, for those rare occasions we'll need to self-rescue so that space is not being counted as available right now.

Picking the pop top was a huge decision. We really wanted a hightop to never have to stoop but emailing current overlanders gave us a different perspective on constant traveling. The best response was "You want the smallest vehicle when driving, but the biggest when camping." Knowing a 4x4 van is already a monster we opted for the pop top. This means our build has to function popped or not. That drove us time and again to having a couch for sitting and sleeping over building a bed platform. Many would not choose to have to make their bed everyday and would strongly advise against it. We left our bedding on the couch all of the time in our last van so jack-knifing it is no big deal to us.

Having the couch and swivel passenger front seat means we can entertain up to two guests. It will be tight, almost masochistically, but when the weather sucks ass we can retreat to our rabbit hole to read, play a game, shoot the breeze or whatever. Cooking with four in the van could nearly be impossible but I could always squeeze into the driver's seat to free up some space. We'll figure out a way to make it work, it'll be all we have so whoever we're with we'll gladly share.

Our main preference for our adventure vehicle is a van. We fell instantly in love with Sportsmobiles the first time we saw them online. Just something about them, we can't really describe it. We thought we'd be fine in a roof top tent but thinking it through, it's just not us. We like tents and pretty much every vehicle an overlander would choose, we just don't like the two of them put together. Setting up a tent in the rain is probably our least favorite activity ever. We also like being able to access the living quarters without having to exit the vehicle. I'd probably be OK with a truck camper if need be but Mandi just doesn't like them at all. We're van people, no point in fighting that.

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