BruTrek rig, a converted Toyota Tacoma sponsored by Planetary Design, allows Patrick live the vanlife while travelling across the US.
Educational, General

DIY Projects for an Off-Grid Vanlife

Our beloved Parker has been travelling across the country toting Planetary Design swag in the BruTrek Rig. You may have seen our suped-up Tacoma anywhere from Montana to Washington, Colorado to California, Nevada to Tennessee, all the way to Georgia and everywhere in between.  We built up the BruTrek rig from nothing more than a salvaged Tacoma with good bones and a will for wanderlust to explore, experience and spread our love of coffee.


BruTrek rig being made, blue tacoma trailer spray painting


As you may well know, living the #vanlife can present you with a myriad challenges to contend with and problems to solve (usually when you least expect it!)  We have learned a thing or two throughout our travels and believe this list of DIY projects can help you live the most fulfilling off-grid vanlife possible, or at least keep you busy for a few weekends in the off-season.


Rainwater Catchment System


When you’re trekking it cross-country, nothing will shape your route more than the next place to get water and gasoline.  While this may not apply to you if you’re ride of choice is an RV, water is a frequent consideration for those of us living our #vanlife in Vanagons, Sprinters and Tacoma camper conversions — i.e., without large, built-in containment tanks.

It’s time to ditch the gas station fountain drink machine water;  it may be free in most cases, but ya know what’s free in all cases? The water from the sky!  

These two YouTube videos show you how to install your very own water catchment system. It’s way cool, relatively easy and inexpensive to construct and allows you to take your van off-grid for longer periods of time.


Part One:


Part Two:


For more ideas and inspiration, check out this guide from — even though it’s for an RV, this system has a different style of construction and could be adapted to any kind of van or camper.


Van Sink, Plumbing System and Kitchen


Now that you’ve got fresh rainwater coursing through your van, it’s time to put that water to use!  When we’re out on the road, we cook as much as possible to cut costs and keep ourselves as far off the grid as possible.  Having a sink with a human-powered pump and a stove top that runs on propane has helped prevent us from being tethered to electricity and enabled us to go out further for longer.  Here’s how to do it yourself:

We found that having a bare-bones and minimalist kitchen and plumbing system setup to be one of the most useful DIY upgrades.  For an inexpensive DIY van sink/cooking setup, check out the following video for some inspiration; after all, you can learn how to do pretty much anything on YouTube.  



The coolest part about this kitchen-sink-drain combo system is that you don’t need any electricity to power it… just your toes!  With just an inexpensive portable propane cooktop, your minimalist van kitchen is complete., a website devoted to the minimalist and #vanlife lifestyle, has curated a list of top-notch stove and cooktop options here.

If you want to be inspired by what some other nifty vanlifers have done (like the picture above), check out this list by and how all these people took their vanlife kitchen game to the next level.


Solar Panel Array


There is nothing more off-grid than creating your own electricity just by parking in a sunny spot.  Vans and campers tend to have a lot of unused space on the roofs (unless you’re one of the lucky ones with a VW Westy Bus.) If you don’t use the roof for storage or a pop-out sleeper, why not create your own freedom by harvesting energy from the sun itself?

We want to say installing these free energy machines is easy, but it isn’t at all. It can be a dangerous and complicated process to get these bad boys running — if you fancy yourself more a coffee expert than an electrician like we do, we recommend splurging and hiring a professional to install solar panels.

For those of you who have enough experience (assuming the risk of serious injury!), here are a couple installation guides: the first focusing primarily on the installation of the panels themselves, with the second being geared more toward the electrical system and wiring.  The third link serves as an excellent reference to help you maximize the efficiency of your solar array.


  1. Simple Panel Installation Guide by
  2. Extensive Equipment List and Wiring Guide by
  3. Maximizing the Efficiency of your System by


Open Road, Comfy Ride

Life on the open road can sometimes be troublesome and unforgiving, but that’s kind of the whole point.  The minimalist, #vanlife lifestyle has never been about being simple or easy for the sake of being simple and easy; it’s about doing more with less.  Much more. The ability to move your home wherever you please, to have the experiences you never knew existed and meet new people all over the world… that’s why we vanlife.

We hope this article will help you go further into the unknown to live off the grid with fewer reservations.  Have anything to add? We learn best from talking with folks, please chat with us here.


A view into a custom-designed, surfer-themed van reveals beautiful matching wood paneling, cabinets, drawers and counter tops with a sink, two-burner stove top, spice racks and knives on a knife magnet.

Photo courtesy of