There’s some common questions I get asked about everything that I have in my car, from the solar panel setup to details about the specific things I carry. How do I make it all work? How much did it all cost? What do I even actually have in there? I spent a good amount of time considering this before taking the plunge, so I think it would be appropriate to address some of these.
Making the solar panels a viable option–something I determined would be the best choice in making this lifestyle of mine work–took the largest amount of time and space in the vehicle, constraining many of the other choices I would make in the future. However, even the choices that I made concerning that was dictated by some larger choices.
When I picked up Tivona, she came with the retractable cargo cover to conceal everything in the trunk. Looking at this and the space available to me under it in the cargo area, I became convinced that I could fit nearly everything into that space, and that became the overall goal. Although I don’t have George, my stuffed dog, some water bottles, etc. in there, the vast majority of everything fits nicely in there. This was a struggle to accomplish, to be fair, but I have found the benefits were worth it entirely!
In trying to fit the size constraints, I knew from the start that the solar setup was going to be difficult. I reviewed several different solar panels, and finally settled on a 300W, 12V Monocrystalline Solar Boat Kit from Renogy. This was their kit that included 3 100W Bendable Monocrystalline panels, which after taking several measurements and considerations, I decided would be the perfect fit for my goals! I store these panels on top of everything else in the trunk space, and while camped out, I simply take them out and put them on top of the car. Sometimes, I will strap them down with paracord or bungie cords, sometimes I have found that’s not necessary. To date, this has worked wonderfully!
Of course, the solar panels were just the start of that project. I also decided to upgrade from their 2 PWM charge controllers that came with the kit to a single MPPT Charge Controller, also from Renogy, and then I had to find the batteries that I desired! On a tip from boaters in the family, I stopped into West Marine, where I found 2 Group 31 AGM batteries, along with the majority of my wiring needs. With those batteries wired in parallel, I am rated for 210Ah at 12V, which are charged entirely by the solar panels. I also bought a “shore” power charger, but have not used it except for an initial charge as I setup all of the wiring.
All of the wiring and everything for the batteries and solar panels were done by myself entirely, being sure to pack in plenty of fuses and circuit breakers throughout everything. To date, the solar panels have amazed me with their efficiency–I have seen them pull over 260W at a single time, through to the batteries–and have more than kept up with any load I have placed on the system. Of note, I did also buy several additional items from the likes of Amazon, AutoZone, Fry’s Electronics, etc., including a NASA Marine battery monitor, 400W Pure Sine Wave Inverter, and other items. Nearly every wire and external component is well beyond any load I have gotten onto the system, which did increase the price, but helps give me some piece of mind that I can work safely without concern that something could be seriously damaged from the loads my system receives.
The other stuff!
With the solar rig setup and strapped into my car, I had to determine what other things I would take. From the start, with previous lightweight backpacking adventures, roadtrips, necessary work items, etc., I had a lot that I didn’t have to buy! Here’s a short list:
- Laptop and accessories — I have an Alienware 17; this is a big, power hungry laptop, and is the cause of the large solar setup… I could have gotten a smaller, more efficient laptop, but decided against it, siding with sacrificing space for other things instead
- Cell Phone 1 — I originally had a TMobile cell phone (Nexus 5), which I now barely use, but it has come in handy at least once already!
- 2 Backpacks and trekking poles– All from REI, one pack meant more for day hiking, and the other for backpacking. I continue to debate getting rid of the day hiking pack in exchange for a lighter alternative that will take up less space, but for now, it sits empty most of the time in the car anyway
- Clothes — From nice clothes to what has become my “every day” clothes (a couple of sets of hiking shirts and pants, etc.) and extra base layers for cold nights, I supplemented the supply a bit with an extra “every day” shirt or two of different makeups (cotton vs synthetics), but also got rid of the vast majority of the clothes I had previously.
- Tent — another REI brand I picked up, I have a 2 person tent if I ever want to set that up, like I did in the Badlands
- Tarp — I’m still very happy with my homemade cuben fiber tarp! I originally made it for backpacking, and would still use it for that, easily. It has also already come in handy in camp, and is a wonderful thing to have!
- Few dishes and household items like that. Some of these are actually quite excessive to me any more!
- Cameras — I have 3 cameras, not counting my cell phones! One that I had for a while and started breaking while section hiking the PCT, along with a much nicer replacement I bought afterwords that is now my primary camera. I also have a GoPro in addition.
- Sleeping Bag, and some extra bedding supplies — The sleeping bag is about the only thing that I still actually use, after some additional purchases otherwise, but I have some extra covers and such, which I may or may not continue to carry into the future.
- Dry Bags — For hiking and backpacking, I always stored a bunch of stuff in some ultralight, cordura fabric dry bags! I picked up a few more since then, and they continue to serve a staple in my organization.
- Water bottles… lots and lots of water bottles! I can store 3 gallons of water in the water bottles alone! I often will try to fill them up while in town, along with the 5 gallon jug I bought later.
- Some cleaning supplies — rags, etc.
- Games and other fun items — card games, mostly. A few other fun things
- First aid and survival kits — I put a lot of time and consideration into making these for backpacking, so I already had great kits!
With all of that, I wanted to buy a few more things to supplement and organize everything that I already had, plus food, etc.:
- Storage bins! I started with 2 Black Ziploc WeatherGuard storage bins and another, big long thing from Target. The Ziploc ones are still on board, but the big long thing got destroyed within the first month. I bought 2 more of the Ziploc ones, these being clear, and they work significantly better while taking up less space! Of the 4 containers, one is dedicated to food alone, and the others are organized in different categories. I’m continuing to consider lightening that to 3, or maybe even only 2! I think, with some proper work otherwise, I could actually replace at least 2, if not 3 with just my backpacking pack alone, and I am considering doing just that!
- Camp stoves — I bought a BioLite campstove and accessories, but knowing that it would be illegal in many locations I was to visit, I also picked up a MSR PocketRocket, which has been my primary stove, along with a GSI Outdoors Halulite Minimalist Cookset. Together, these two allow me to do all of the cooking I could possibly want!
- Hammock! I bought an ENO hammock to sleep in. I absolutely love the thing! It is my preferred sleeping setup, hands down!
- Sleeping mattress, sleeping bag liner, pillow, bug netting, etc. — Basic stuff to make sleeping a little more comfortable. And they’re all amazingly comfortable (except for the bug netting, which just screw that thing)! I actually bought 3 sleeping mattresses now, though: the first was too big for my liking (and not comfortable enough to justify), the second I blew out the valve somehow in the first week of use, and the third is going strong and the most comfortable of them all, honestly. The pillow is a blow-up pillow to conserve space, and after finding my sleeping bag uncomfortable when the temp reached 40 or below, I needed the sleeping bag liner I had previously never bothered with.
- Martin “Backpackers” Guitar — I wasn’t going to bring a guitar, and I didn’t. Instead, I ended up buying this baby. I have no regrets about the matter!
- Toolbox — Ok, actually, more than half of the tools in my toolbox, I already owned. But I needed a new, compact toolbox, and I updated some of the stuff to fit better with the compact, minimalist lifestyle.
- 5 Gallon water jug and hand pump. I’ve found this to be a wonderful setup for handling water needs. It’s easy to fill, and the hand pump is very easy to use. With this, I can carry a total of over 8 gallons of water at a time, not counting if I buy extra otherwise!
- Camp Chair — I had some big, nasty things, but downsized to a small, REI camp chair, which I’ve actually grown to really love!
- Lap Desk to sit Laptop on — Just a cheap thing, but it works great!
- Scrubba Washbag — I love this thing, as a simple way to keep clothes clean. I don’t really use soap in it, and try to get to a real washing machine instead every once in a while. This prolongs the life in between.
- Verizon phone and MiFi — I picked up a Nexus 6 to use on Verizon, along with a MiFi, and a big data plan. This is my primary means of internet (in fact, I’m using it right now). I went with the Nexus 6 for the big screen, because I try to use my phone more than my laptop in order to conserve electricity.
- A big blackout curtain — I used this maybe one or two nights and have stopped, but the idea was to cover up so no one could see me inside. Maybe there’s still a use for it in that realm, but I’ve also been using it to cover things up for animal safety, etc. so it’s not a complete waste.
- America The Beautiful Annual Pass, some rope and other small, miscellaneous things that might come in handy. Basic, fun stuff to have on board!
There’s probably a few nick-knacks here or there that I’m not even thinking about beyond the above, but that is already more than I use regularly. Some of it, I have been seriously considering scrapping already, due to the fact that I just don’t really need it, but that’s what I live with! Perhaps sheds a little insight into the life I live!