Rigs of Moab Part 1: Live-Aboard Adventure Vehicles

When I win the lottery, this is what I am going to buy. But that seems unlikely since I never buy tickets!

When I win the lottery, this is what I am going to buy. But that seems unlikely since I never buy tickets!

One reason I love Moab so much is the huge variety of people and rigs that come here from all over the country and even the world. On a regular basis a bus or mini-bus unloads a group of Germans, Japanese, Italians or peoples from anywhere in the world. Take a trip up and down the aisles of the City Market grocery store (a Kroger store) and you’ll hear as many foreign languages as you do English.

Another thing that will stand out to you is just how young the people are. While Moab is surrounded by stunning beauty, it’s just as much a place for adventure and living on the edge. Because of that very unusual combination it has just as many young people partaking in adventure or extreme sports as it does older, retired RVers with their McMansions on wheels towing their off-road vehicles. For every older person with white hair there are just as many young, vibrant, athletic people with hard-bodies–both male and female.

This weekend I was shopping at City Market and had gotten a salad from the salad bar and was sitting out in the van eating it. As I watched the traffic roll in-and-out I was struck by how many vandwelling type rigs I was seeing. Of course there was no shortage of expensive rigs, but there was also a lot of really cheap live-aboard rigs that anyone reading this blog might be driving, but of course they tended toward vehicles that could be used for adventure.

I was so impressed with how many vandweller-type vehicles I could see while eating my salad I decided I should go around and take some pictures and share them with you. I’ll start with the very interesting cheap rigs that anyone of us could afford and then add in some of the more expensive rigs that many of us lust after and would love to have! First I’ll add the picture and then comment on it.

It was a rainy and overcast day so the photography isn’t that great. Remember, I saw all these rigs in one afternoon of driving around and taking pictures–they are that common here.

I don't know why more people don't do this. Buid a pony wall under the shell to get more height.

A 4×4 pickup is one of the very best adventure rigs because it has can go many places and has so much room, but they are expensive and adding a camper is both expensive and big and heavy, defeating it’s purpose of getting off-road. However, shells are a dime a dozen and really cheap, they are just much too low for me to try to live in. However, for just a little bit of money you can build a little wall that the shell sits on and gain a lot of headroom. I’ve often wondered why more people don’t do this–probably because its too “ghetto”. But there are few things that are too ghetto for me! If you’ve got to live in a shell, then I suggest at least build a pony wall at the bottom to get more height. Then build in a new back wall to get a door and windows. Paint it all to match.

Can’t afford a trailer to tow, build your own! I just happened to notice this rig as it drove by so I quickly grabbed this shot. Moab is full of cheap but practical rigs like this one. My kind of place!
Here is another nice older extended Dodge van with a great pop-top roof. He is also towing a home-built trailer but this one has seen better days.

My guess is that at one time this was a sxhool bus, but now it is adventure-central for some free-spirits who ramble around the country living life to it's fullest. Apparently they couldn't afford a roof rack, so they just built their own out of wood.

My guess is that at one time this was a school bus, but now it is adventure-central for two young free-spirits who ramble around the country living life to it’s fullest.  Apparently they couldn’t afford a roof rack, so they just built their own out of wood! They have their website on the back of the bus so I looked them up. You can find them here: http://www.aubreyandkira.com/
This was another short school bus but it has a very interesting extension on back. They have their website on the side of the bus so I looked it up and they are here: http://buslifeadventure.com/. It turns out they carry a snowmobile on the platform on back and are making a documentary on snowmobiling.
A Toyota pick-up with a pop-top camper is an outstanding adventure rig. Get an older one and they are  reasonably priced, but because they have Toyota’s legendary reliability they will last you a long time. They get decent MPG and with a 4×4 you can get way back off-road.
 riggs-off-rd-trailerHere is another option, a Toyota pickup towing a pop-up trailer. This one is designed for off road travel and it has it’s axle reversed for high ground clearance and is shaped for good approach and departure angles.
No line up of vandwelling rigs would be complete without an ambulance so here we go.
I thought this was an interesting combination with this box truck parked by this Express van. The box truck has a magnetic sign on the doors for a construction company, but I have to wonder if someone is living in there instead.
I’ve got a lot more pictures but I’m going to stop here. There are 10 pictures in this post and I’m concerned for those of us on a slow connection how long the page will take to load.So there will be more in Part II.
Before I go though, let me tell you what my ideal adventure vehicle would be and what I hope to move into within the next year.
I want to have a 4×4 1 ton 3500 pickup with extended cab and a 8 foot bed. Because I love the mountains and they require climbing big, monster hills I want the minimum weight on the adventure rig and no slide-in camper is light enough for me so I am going to buy a tall shell from this company: http://belairshells.com/wood-n-alum. Here are some of the models I might be interested in from their website:
This picture shows it on a Toyota Tacoma but I would have mine on a full size pickup. It’s 48 inches tall so I would just barely miss being able to stand up, but stooping a little is fine with me. Between taking the seat out of the back of the supercab and the over-cab storage, I could carry everything I needed, but I will have to greatly simplify my life–which is not a bad thing! It only costs $1900 for a full-size long-bed truck and they custom build each one to customer order.  I’d get several custom items like a rack for solar and vents.

This model is more what it will look like, it is also 48 inches high but it is on a full-size 4×4 pickup. I don’t want the long cab-over so it won’t be this model.

I hope all these photos got your creative juices flowing and considering what might be the right adventure vehicle for you.


I've been a full-time VanDweller for 12 years and I love it. I hope to never live in a house again!

34 comments on “Rigs of Moab Part 1: Live-Aboard Adventure Vehicles
  1. Lucy says:

    I love the very first van U posted, that’s also my choice if I win the lottery, I buy tickets once in a blue moon, but guess what …the most i have ever got were $ 75 !!

    My regards., Lucy.

  2. Calvin R says:

    I buy lottery tickets when I can remember and feel I can afford $1. One never knows.

    You have answered the question of what to do with a pickup, if one has the money. If not, Bel-Air makes good shells to copy. I’m short; I can stand up in a 44″ cap. I might have to go to a 48″ unit to allow for insulation, but I’ll decide that if and when. I see no way building my own would be worthwhile if I could get my hands on one of those. There’s still plenty of freedom as far as what to put inside it. Does Bel-Air have any competitors in the tall units? Cap-high caps (and up to about 33″) are cheap used but stand-up headroom is valuable.

    • Calvin R says:

      Make that “cab-high caps. . .”

    • Bob Bob says:

      Calvin, I have not had any lucky finding manufacturers of tall shells. My guess is every state has at least one, but it is very hard to find them. A google search just beings up all the fancy fiberglass shells.

      If you build your own, be very careful with wieght, that’s what I did wrong with mine. It was hell-for-strong, but much too heavy.

  3. Ming says:

    nice rigs! The Toyota with pop-top slide in camper is right on my wish list. I buy vehicles for the long run, so older ones are not on the list for me. I had an older Toyota Celica and though the motor ran great and it was a dream to drive, it was falling apart in many other ways and I was always repairing it. Been there, done that, don’t want it to happen on in the middle of nowhere.

    I’ve got a tall cap on the little truck for now, with 2 bunks in it. I can sit up in it, but though the roof is insulated, it still condenses like crazy when 2 people sleep in it with the windows closed.

    After 3 short trips in it, I find that one lives out of it rather than in it, with 2 people. I’ve rigged up a rear awning, as well as a shelter off the back for rainy camping trips. I think the present rig answers some of my concerns about camping with the desert wind storms and it’s definitely better on logging roads than a little city car. I’ve had to turn it around when I met a road washout, so I’m glad I don’t tow anything.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Ming, I’m not a fan of pop-tops for full-timing, but they are perfect for trips.

      • Ming says:

        I agree with you on that. Your slide in shell idea for living in sounds great. I need the streamlining of a pop-up for long distance travel, day to day parking in town, and narrow, low clearance logging roads.

  4. Carla says:

    Those shells are great as such a lightweight blank slate. There was a time my former boyfriend and I would have jumped on one of those for his truck…but I had not found such things in an online search.

    I’d say I could make an almost ideal adventure rig from one of them but I really, really like being able to get from the living space into the driver’s seat without going out of the rig. (It did come in very handy once.) I’ve never been able to picture how one might connect a passageway for an adult from a pickup to the truck bed (unless one is very petite).

    So I may have to hold out for a lottery win and a Tiger. LOL
    Carla recently posted…Color in Your Survival Kit?My Profile

    • Bob Bob says:

      Carla, It is a big disadvantage not being able to get from front to back. But in the 2 1/2 years I lived in MY F150 with tall shell, it just never was a problem for me. It would NOT keep me from doing it again. But then I don’t stealth park ever and I only boonddock. I agree totally about crawling back being only for small people. I could never do it!!

      • Ming says:

        no one could do it with the stock sliding windows, you’d have to knock out the windows and connect the truck and shell with a tunnel… and be a tiny person.

    • Douglas says:

      I can get between my crew cab and the bed through the sliding rear window of the cab, but it takes a bit of wrangling. The truck is also a crew cab, which means I have a back seat to crawl through before getting to the drivers seat. I am 5 foot 10 and pretty large and working on it. It my 20s i could fit through the split rear windows on the late 80’s early 90’s f series.
      Douglas recently posted…Radio FrequenciesMy Profile

  5. Steve says:

    Bob, I may have this wrong but I thought at one time you mentioned that going into some of the mountains and blm lands that there are low hanging trees and branches that cover over the roads because the mountains and such are not that well maintained. Would this be a problem with the truck topper you are considering?
    BTW, I still have my Runaway. No one is interested in purchasing it so far. Of course I have it priced probably too high. But I have added things that didn’t come from the factory. I am still kind of on the fence about getting rid of it. It does seem to serve the purpose but I can’t seem to get my head around heading out west with it to live in. I guess I should just do it and see how it turns out.
    But that rig you are thinking about seems to have the best of both worlds. Getting where you want to go and being pretty comfortable when you get there.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Steve, My Fi50 4×4 had a 48 inch high shell on it so it was an identical height and it was never an issue. What I was saying is that slide-in campers and nearly all RVs are another 2 feet taller at least and almost always at lest 1 1/2 to 2 feet wider. Yes, I’ve camped many places that a full-size camper could not get in. Plus they are very heavy and even worse, top-heavy.

      My camper on the F150 was 6×7 that is 42 square feet. Your trailer is 4×8 which is 32 square feet, not that much less! And when you consider the extra room of the Escape you actually have more.

      I could almost stand up in my camper so that’s a big difference. Here’s how you learn to live with a small space: you set up your bed so that when you get in the rig, you sit on the corner of the bed. Then you arrange everything around that sitting position so you don’t go to the back of the trailer, you just stretch out over the bed, or crawl on the bed. Everything up front, you can reach by just strethching forward to it. That’s exactly what I am doing this summer in my low=top van. Being in a low-top had not been a problem at all for me.

  6. T says:

    Bob, these are great pictures! When you move into the new truck and shell, will you be selling your van? If so, is it still in good running condition, and what might you want for it?

    • Bob Bob says:

      T, I probably will sell it, that won’t happen until winter at the earliest. I don’t know yet about a price, but one thing I always do is make sure when I sell something the other person thinks he got a good deal. It’s either got to be a win-win or I won’t do it.

  7. Cae says:

    Love the bus with the roof deck. I just got a travel trailer and it s great. I’m thinking about a roof deck for it. One main drawback is the clearance issue. But not a huge problem.
    It’s fun enough where I think I’ll be selling my boat and just using a kayak to still be able to get out on the water.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Cae, yeah, having a deck up top would be a blast! I’m sure your clearance with a TT is mediocre anyway so what another foot or two!

      I’m not a water person, but I do understand the attraction. The kayak does seem like a very good compromise!

    • Ming says:

      to save even more room, you could go inflatable kayak. The nicest non-exorbitant ones are from Innova. I’ve gone even lighter with boats from Alpacka.

  8. T says:

    Please keep me in mind when you’re ready to sell. I’m really craving the extra mobility/ease of travel of van-life (vs this Class A), and I know yours was built-out right!

    • Bob Bob says:

      T, to be honest since I never planned to live in it it really isn’t built-out right! I didn’t insulate it or put vents in. If I were going to live in it I would tear everything out and start over.

  9. T says:

    Oh, well, keep me in mind for the NEXT one you sell then. 😀

  10. 3Up Beth says:

    Love this post! It’s always so much fun to check out people’s adventure homes. 🙂

  11. Jeremy says:

    That Quigly van is a beast! Hope the lotto feels rich 🙂

  12. David De Souza says:

    Bob, really like your site!
    How do you deal with the “Obamacare” health insurance requirement?
    I really would like to do what you guys are doing in the future.


    David De Souza

    • Bob Bob says:

      David Obomacare for me really is no different than living in a house. The only difference is it isn’t nationwide so I an get emergency care anywhere but then I’ve got to get back to NV after that for care. I go there once a year for a checkup.

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