Escape Artist – Exploring the natural world in a custom Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Van

Kristen Bor
Kristen Bor
Kristen Bor, an outdoors adventure blogger has built her own Sprinter Camper Van in which she has been living and traveling all over the Western United States and Canada for the past three years.

Escape Artist – Exploring the natural world in a custom Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Van

Article and images by Kristen Bor

 

Tell us something about yourself.

My name is Kristen Bor, and I’m the founder of the outdoor-travel and van-life blog called “Bearfoot Theory.” In 2010 following grad school, I landed a fellowship that took me to Washington, D.C., where I worked for a U.S. congressman dealing with conservation-policy issues. Three years in, I started to realize that the D.C. grind wasn’t a good long-term fit and started to research other options. I knew I wanted more flexibility in my schedule so I could travel and visit my family, and in that process I discovered travel blogging as a potential career path. A few months later, I quit my job, built a website and launched Bearfoot Theory, my outdoor-travel blog for everyday people where I share my favorite gear, destinations and tips for an adventure-filled life. I also share my experiences converting and living in a 144-inch-wheelbase Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Van, which has become the most popular part of my blog. Now I’m three years and six months in as a full-time blogger, and I’ve never looked back.

 

Lake Powell, Utah

 

How did you get the idea to travel in a Sprinter Van?

I had been blogging for about 18 months, and I had just gotten back to the U.S. from a three-month solo road trip around New Zealand where I had been living in a small camper van. Things with my blog were going well, and I was on the road more than I was home. One night I was driving back from a backpacking trip and I was right by the Grand Canyon. It was really cold and pouring rain, and I thought, “If I had a van, I could pull over, edit my backpacking photos, get a good night’s sleep and see what the weather was like the next day.” But instead, I drove home, eager to get my backpacking trip up on the blog. That’s when I started to get serious about finding a vehicle that I could comfortably sleep and work in while I was traveling.

One of my friends had just ordered a 4x4 Mercedes Sprinter Van, and this seemed like the perfect adventuremobile. You can stand up inside, they can handle all kinds of terrain, and I wanted something reliable and secure since I often travel by myself. I had just sold a condo I owned in D.C., so I decided to put that money into a Sprinter Van.Where have you taken your van so far?I’ve explored all over the West. So far, my Sprinter Van has taken me to Washington, Oregon, California, Utah, Idaho, Arizona, Wyoming, Montana and Canada.

Uinta Mountains, Utah

 

Where do you camp and what type of activities do you do when you’re out on the road?

I camp mostly on public land – about 50 percent of the time in national parks or state parks, and about 45 percent in the back country on national forest or free BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land. I use an app called “Allstays Camp & RV” to find areas where it is legal. I stay in RV parks only about five percent of the time, but that’s only if I need services, or to plug-in or do laundry. As for activities, I like to hike, bike and paddle in the summer and ski in the winter. As a blogger, I’m also into photography, and the Sprinter Van provides the opportunity to take some pretty awesome sunrise and sunset photos.Your YouTube Sprinter Van video has attracted over 1 million views. Tell us about your van design and why it has gotten so much attention.

I started with an empty 4x4 144-inch cargo Sprinter van. When I was designing my floor plan, I didn’t just want a gear hauler. I wanted the van to be more like a tiny house with an open, airy feel that would be comfortable for both living and work.I think the van design is so popular on YouTube because I didn’t follow normal practices when I designed the interior (vanners call it “the house”). I wanted to maintain the walkway to the back of the van with the bed running vertically so you sleep the length of the van rather than across. To accommodate this, I put in a convertible sofa bed opposite the side door. That left room in the back for a full galley with a sink and a stove, as well as a full bathroom. I have plenty of storage with an overhead cabinet that runs the length of the van, as well as a floor-to-ceiling cabinet and lots of drawers for my gear. For aesthetics, all of the cabinets are made of reclaimed wood, giving it a beautiful, rustic-modern look.

I built the van to keep me off the grid as long as possible with 25 gallons of fresh water, 180 watts of Zamp solar panels, 120 watts of portable panels and a 375-amp/hour battery bank. My house batteries are also hooked up to my alternator so they charge while I’m driving. I’ve only had to plug in a couple of times in the last year and a-half.As for storage, since I opted against the platform bed, I don’t have a “garage” to store larger gear. So for extra storage, I installed an Aluminess roof rack on the top of my van, along with one of their storage boxes on my rear bumper.

Two Jack Lake, Banff, Canada

What is your favorite part of van travel?

My Sprinter Van provides the ultimate freedom. I can take off on a whim without a real plan, ending up in some really beautiful places. I never have to worry about where I’m going to sleep, setting up a tent or inclement weather. It provides the comfort of an RV, but the maneuverability of a truck, particularly when I engage the 4x4. Some of my best experiences in the van have been the ones that have been unplanned and unexpected; often, it’s little things – like a van-cooked dinner during an amazing sunset, listening to loon calls, watching the stars, meeting cool people or finding a secluded campsite with amazing views. That’s what you live for out there. As a female who often travels by myself, I also feel very safe in the Sprinter.

Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah

 

Is there anything about the design of your van that you’d change?

I’ve had my Sprinter for about 18 months now and I’ve learned a lot about how I’m using the space. I’m actually getting ready to put my current van up for sale and I’ll be working with a company called Outside Van near Portland, Oregon, to build out my next one. My next Sprinter, which should be ready in April, will be the 170-inch wheelbase with 4x4. The longer van will accommodate a permanent platform bed, a small dinette and a full galley. Despite the popularity of the bathroom, I’m ditching that in my next Sprinter. I just don’t use the indoor shower often enough to justify it. I’ll be sharing the details of the next van on my website and YouTube, so make sure to tune in there as the process gets going.

 

McCall, Idaho

 

Where are you headed in 2018?

When my new Sprinter Van is done, I’m embarking on a 7-month road trip around the United States with my boyfriend Ryan and our dog Charlie. We will start in the Southwest, then drive up through California before heading east. We will stop in the Boundary Waters in Minnesota, the Upper Peninsula in Michigan, and go all the way to Maine. We will then drive down the East Coast to Florida before heading back to Salt Lake City, our home base, for winter. I’m excited to see all that our country has to offer and to explore places that would be tough to get to any other way.

Park CIty, Utah

 

Where can people find you online?

I’m very active on my website and on social-media channels, constantly sharing news about my van, favorite gear, fun destinations and trip-planning tips. For information specifically about my Sprinter Van, people can check out my @sprintercampervans Instagram feed and my YouTube feed. See you out on the road!

 

 

Lake Tahoe, California

 

Specifications

2015 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter VanTYPE: Sliding-door, high-roof cargo vanENGINE: V-6, 3-liter, BlueTEC diesel  •  HORSEPOWER: 188  •  TORQUE: 325 lb-ftTRANSMISSION: 5-speed automaticWHEELBASE: 144.3 in  •  LENGTH: 233.3 inGROSS VEHICLE WEIGHT: 8,550 lb  •  MAXIMUM TOWING: 5,000 lbFUEL EFFICIENCY: 20 mpg (rated) 14-18 mpg (observed)OPTIONS: 4x4 with Downhill Speed Regulation  •  Active Safety Plus packageELECTRICAL SYSTEM: Three 12-volt 125 amp-hour AGM batteries  ••  180 watts of ZAMP solar panels  •  120-watt ZAMP portable panel  •  2,000-watt Magnum energy converter  • 

Icefields Parkway, Alberta, Canada

 

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