Off Grid Camper for family of 4 - Ram Promaster Forum
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post #1 of 49 Old 04-12-2019, 11:30 AM Thread Starter
mostlyHarmless
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Off Grid Camper for family of 4

Our story in a nutshell: We are a family of 4. Myself, my wife and our two kids (son 6years old and daughter 3years old) We bought a 1995 Chevy g30 (v8 diesel)short school bus about three years ago at auction. Converted it out, love it, but it is not the "go to rig" for regular trips as i had hope it to be. It is somewhat cumbersome on the road (in comparison to our nissan Titan), my wife isn't as comfortable riding it (haven't ever gotten a second seat installed up front), it gets 10mpg standard, on occasion 12-14, but usually 10-11 and it is no power house up hills, usually pulling most at 45mph.

SO, last week we took the jump and invested in a 2018 Promaster 159wb tall roof. (it was the winner for the usual reasons: better interior dimensions for converting, price is right.
I did like the Transit i test drove better for: handling, where it sat me looking out the window, mirror positions and better back up camera quality. It was the tall roof but it was a short wheel base and finding tall roof transits was hard -gotta have the tall roof- transits medium roof is no good. being 6'1" i couldn't stand up straight in a medium roof.)



As we did with the bus, we are taking an "off grid" approach to our build. Which means most if not all systems (apart from the van itself) are not dependent on electricity. This means gravity fed drinking water, compost bucket with ceder shavings for a toilet, Pelican ice chest for refrigeration. to name the big players

The one system that is very convenient and easily achieved to have electricity for is lighting. For this we use a strand of led lights with a usb connector (i believe commonly referred to as fairy lights) and hook those up to a portable solar battery bank. Works great, easy to put the bank up on the dash to solar charge during travel, or plug it into the dash usb charger, or place it in any sunny spot outside when parked. We have several banks as they are also great for charging phones or other electronics.

The other electrical based luxury is fans. We have had a few times in the bus where we have all the windows and doors open (bug nets and screen doors installed, definitely having that in the PM!) but since there was no breeze there was no air flow and it was still muggy. My wife found these great looking 8inch fans (usb rechargeable battery), we are going to at least have one (trying to talk her into getting two):


The advantage i see to these is you get to place them anywhere you want, or use them during travel, or take them outside with you. It isn't confined to the roof of the van. Reviews sound good, will update when i have first hand experience with them.

2018 Ram Promaster 159 wb - converting to an "off grid" camper/work rig for our family of 4.

Last edited by mostlyHarmless; 04-12-2019 at 11:36 AM.
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post #2 of 49 Old 04-12-2019, 11:43 AM Thread Starter
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Here is the layout we are pretty well finalized on, but we haven't started building, so anything is possible! we did entertain several other layouts that we designed, one of which was a primary entry being at the rear doors, being that the rear swing doors are easier to use regularly. but this style won out for several reasons:
-easy access to entire van, no section is really blocked off at anytime. Easy to get to the back of the van during travel.
- this layout will give us a more open feeling to the whole van.
-most campgrounds are set up that your vehicle is oriented along side the main camping area
-if we do an awing (diggin Dragonflys tarps, going to have to consider those seriously).. ahem, if we do an awning it would be off the side, and when you open the slider door and have an awning it just makes it nice and big.


exterior additions that i plan on are an engine guard (looking into some options), and i plan on building an under carriage tilt storage box to keep a full size folding table and some odds and end in.
If you have any questions, ask away. the images make sense to me, but that's not saying much!
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2018 Ram Promaster 159 wb - converting to an "off grid" camper/work rig for our family of 4.

Last edited by mostlyHarmless; 04-12-2019 at 11:46 AM. Reason: image edits
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post #3 of 49 Old 04-12-2019, 03:35 PM
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For us, the most painful part of going on vacations / camping was actually unloading after the trip and putting things away.

To the extent that you can find ways to keep things on board, especially food / cooking related, it can make it a lot more enjoyable to think about going.

I think that pretty quickly you are going to wish that you had a large refrigerator and freezer on board. Think of these as ways to not just store food that requires refrigeration, but also to store items that can go bad from the heat and / or humidity. Simple examples - bread and black pepper.

The second big item that is easy to under estimate are places for garbage and dirty laundry. We have raised 4 children and kids can find ways to get dirty in a basket full of clean clothes.

Some experience with auxiliary power
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post #4 of 49 Old 04-12-2019, 03:39 PM
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Just an idea - some people will build a simple "test" cardboard and plywood model of their interior in the garage first to really see how it comes together.

My wife can visualize colors and stuff but I like to really see it in person with a prototype first so I can tell what is going on.

Some experience with auxiliary power
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post #5 of 49 Old 04-12-2019, 04:19 PM
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Makes sense!

2014, High Top/159 WB, 2500 gas Promaster camping conversion. https://www.promasterforum.com/forum...ad.php?t=43121
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post #6 of 49 Old 04-12-2019, 04:19 PM
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We've owned dedicated camper RVs in the past. I have to agree that having a separate set of everything set up for cooking and stuff IN the camper is important. I could never get my wife to agree on that point and she was constantly swiping things from one camper to put in another. For some time there we had an RV plus a pop up tent camper to pull behind the sidecar rig. Drove me nuts. I am married to a squirrel who loves to mix all the nuts up and then play the victim when stuff isn't there anymore. LOL

So DO outfit your camper so that stuff doesn't have to keep going back into the house or elsewhere! I like to keep the bedding in the house well stored. I pack a bag of clothes to take on each trip. I get groceries for a trip the day before and load the fridge. Anything else you need should stay IN the camper . Just my own experience. YMMV.

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post #7 of 49 Old 04-12-2019, 04:19 PM
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I think you might want to think through your elec system more and install a decent 12V system with a couple of deep cycle batteries at a minimum. You could add roof solar if you want or just charge off the alternator if driving. That will give you the option for a 12V fridge/ freezer, and lot of other potential things that you might want if you are going to be spending significant time off the grid away from home. It gets harder to add a system like that later. Take your time upfront here and read a bunch of the idea and build threads on this forum. Water system, simple vs elaborate is up to you. Cooking, you didn't mention, lots of options. Toilet, I would consider something like the Thetford curve, pretty cheap, easy and portable and kind of like home. Storage and sleeping, all up to you and highly predicated on how long you will be on the road. Looks like you have a lot of storage, in fact a huge amount, so I would make sure that you have needs for all of that storage for your intended use, not simply putting it there because you can. Because if you have it there and don't need it, you will certainly fill it up.
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post #8 of 49 Old 04-12-2019, 07:36 PM Thread Starter
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to put everyones mind at ease. This is a similar set up (in regards to non electrical, etc.) to what we have done in our bus. So we have already traveled this way for a while now and i know its not for everyone, but it works well for us.
More or less this project is doing what we have already been doing in a smaller space and a more refined build, in a vehicle that we will use more and be more comfortable traveling in.

the main change is going to be downsizing the interior kitchen and having the main cooking outside (still have the space to do it inside if we need to.) This choice was made by our previous experience and not shooting from the hip.

HarryN, i hear you on the laundry, that was one we didn't think of much in our first build with the bus, the solution that worked for us was a laundry bag that we stowed away. I did have a designated trash can in the bus, but we ended up using recycled grocery bags more and just hung them on a hook where it was most convenient.

2018 Ram Promaster 159 wb - converting to an "off grid" camper/work rig for our family of 4.
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post #9 of 49 Old 04-12-2019, 07:42 PM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rich Maund View Post
We've owned dedicated camper RVs in the past. I have to agree that having a separate set of everything set up for cooking and stuff IN the camper is important. I could never get my wife to agree on that point and she was constantly swiping things from one camper to put in another. For some time there we had an RV plus a pop up tent camper to pull behind the sidecar rig. Drove me nuts. I am married to a squirrel who loves to mix all the nuts up and then play the victim when stuff isn't there anymore. LOL

So DO outfit your camper so that stuff doesn't have to keep going back into the house or elsewhere! I like to keep the bedding in the house well stored. I pack a bag of clothes to take on each trip. I get groceries for a trip the day before and load the fridge. Anything else you need should stay IN the camper . Just my own experience. YMMV.
this was one of the main reasons we bought a trailer years ago, then we upgraded to the bus. We really like having everything we want/need ready to whenever we want. Can't say i had the problem with my wife taking stuff out though ima lucky guy.

We actually keep bedding and a set of clothes out in the bus, i keep a heater running in it on low so things don't get musty. But this is also the motivation for the PM, that we will like driving in it, even for the town runs (we live on the coast, small town, so there are times we have to head an hour inland to eugene for costco and such.) So it will see more use and activity on a regular basis.

2018 Ram Promaster 159 wb - converting to an "off grid" camper/work rig for our family of 4.
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post #10 of 49 Old 04-12-2019, 11:22 PM
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Hi. Thanks for sharing. How are you handling seating for the kids? I can’t tell from the layout.
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