Camp Westfalia

Archive for Product Reviews – Page 2

Winter Van Camping

Tips and advice for staying warm while van-camping

Photo: highsierra, Samba member

Photo: highsierra, Samba member

Most camper vans are put away during the colder months. But we’ve found winter to be a great time for a weekend getaway, with none of the crowds, bugs, or excessive heat of summer.

Off-season camping means you usually have your choice of campsites, too. In fact, we often find ourselves the only residents of the campground!

And winter can be a spectacularly beautiful time to see the great outdoors in a whole new light.

Here are some tips and advice for staying toasty during your own winter van-camping ventures.

Prepare your Van

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  • Before embarking on winter camping forays, make sure your Vanagon’s heating and ventilation system is in good working order. Check that the front and rear heater cores are flowing correctly, and are not plugged with mineral deposits, etc.. Ensure that the heater-control valves are functioning well, and the front forced-air flaps are sealing properly to prevent the entry of cold air.
  • Use a winter-grade motor oil as specified in your Owners Manual for the temperature range you plan to drive in: 10W-40 for -5 to 50F (-20 to 10C)
  • Make sure that your coolant mixture offers the correct freeze protection for ambient temperatures. Use a simple tester to ensure you have the correct blend of water and anti-freeze.
Photo: vanis13, Samba member

Photo: vanis13, Samba member

  • Check that your tires are in good condition, with adequate tread. For better traction in snow and ice, you can also deflate your tires to the lower end of your safe load range.
  • Use an antifreeze fuel additive suitable for your specific type of fuel (gasoline or diesel) to prevent fuel gelling or freezing.
  • A winter road kit can help get you out of a snowy jam: jumper cables, tire cables or chains, a small snow shovel, extra fuel, a blanket and additional winter clothing, etc..


While Driving

  • A set of cushy seat covers can help keep your bum warm on long cold drives.
  • Take occasional breaks to warm up; pause during fuel stops at convenience stores to warm up with a cuppa coffee or hot cocoa for the road.
  • When driving in especially cold weather, wear additional comfortable winter clothing if necessary: gloves, hats, heavier socks. These are easy to add or remove as needed.
  • Breakdowns are always an inconvenience, but can be especially dangerous in cold or snowy winter weather. Always keep good winter clothing close at hand, as well as some food, water, any crucial medications, etc..

While Camped

  • Photo: mpabegg, Samba Member

    Photo: mpabegg, Samba Member

    Choose a campsite that offers good protection from winter winds. Pine forests generally offer more wind protection than leafless deciduous trees.

  • A site with eastern exposure will allow the morning sun to help warm your van. If at all possible, avoid raising your Westfalia popup roof, to conserve heat, but if you must, orient the rear of your Vanagon into the prevailing wind to reduce your heat loss.
  • Perhaps the single best way to stay warm while camped is some sort of a space heater. Of course, there are several types available: electric (110-volt), small portable LP (liquid propane) heaters intended for camping, and permanently installed RV furnaces fueled by LP or diesel.
  • Be sure to utilize a small battery-operated household carbon-monoxide detector whenever using a fueled space heater, to prevent CO poisoning.
  • If 110-volt AC campsite shore power is available, an electric blanket can be a great way to stay toasty while sleeping or lounging in your camper.
  • If you have one installed, use an engine block heater to help with starting on especially cold mornings; be sure you carry an extension cord and choose a campsite with a power source.
  • As when driving, warm winter clothing can help take the chill off when camped. Common synthetic outdoors gear (pullovers, caps, gloves, socks, etc.) is all you’ll need.
  • Add a thermal-fleece liner to your three-season sleeping bag for additional winter warmth.

camper-van-window-insulation-set

  • Put some hot water in an uninsulated camping water bottle and stow it at the bottom your sleeping bag, to keep your feet warm through the cold night.
  • The shorter daylight hours of winter mean more time spent lounging in your van, so bring plenty of games, books, and digital entertainment.
  • In the morning, bring your daytime clothing inside your sleeping bag with you to warm it up for several minutes, to avoid putting on icy clothes.
  • Add a set of thermal covers to your van’s windows to help retain heat. This series of infrared photos provides some valuable insights into areas of heat loss in a Vanagon Westfalia, and offers some tips on insulating your own camper.
  • If you ever need to remove your van’s interior panels or cabinets for other work, take the opportunity to add more insulation wherever you can.


Following these tips will keep Jack Frost from nipping at your nose while winter camping in your van, and help you enjoy a safe and unique camping experience.

Have any tips for your fellow winter van-campers? Leave a suggestion or question below, and use the social links to share with friends!

Product Review: Pioneer MVH-X580BS Digital Media Receiver

This affordable easy-to-use car stereo is a direct fit for the VW Vanagon, and offers several modern features to update your classic van.

NOTE: This original review of the Pioneer MVH-X560BT Digital Media Receiver was updated to reflect the functions of the newer MVH-X580BS, which was eventually superseded by an even newer model. Pioneer continues to roll out new compact Digital Media Receivers, with all the same great features as previous models but typically adding SiriusXM-readiness, a dedicated Spotify app, and other extras.
Aside from these new features, this review offers a good overview of Pioneer Digital Media Receivers to help you choose one for your own Vanagon.

Features

  • New Compact Chassis Design
  • 3 RCA Preouts (2V) for System Expansion
  • Built-In MOSFET 50W x 4 Amplifier
  • Detachable Faceplate
  • Front USB Port and AUX Inputs
  • Wired Remote Input
  • Included Remote Control
  • Large, Multi-Line, Multi-Segmented LCD Display with LED Backlight
  • 13-Band Graphic Equalizer
  • Access and Control Music from iPhone or Android™ Device
  • AM/FM digital receiver
  • MP3/WMA/WAV Playback
  • Spotify, Works with Pandora, SiriusXM- Ready

The Vanagon is an old vehicle with an old audio system. Since our van’s build date in 1983, we’ve seen cassettes replaced by compact discs, and CD’s replaced by MP3 format. Soon enough, even MP3’s may be entirely replaced by on-demand music streaming services. So, when it was time to replace our old VW Design stereo recently (yes, we still had a cassette player …), we looked for a unit that would musically power our Vanagon another decade or more into the future.

We use our Westfalia for travel and long-distance roadtripping, and without a decent stereo the endless miles of lonesome highways can be mind-numbing, so the ability to listen to music, audio books, or local radio helps to pass the time and stay alert.

I should mention here that we are no audiophiles. We’re cheap. And without some fairly significant modifications, the boxy Vanagon has all the acoustic qualities of a Chinese shipping container. Our goal was only to replace the unremarkable and aging original stereo system with something functional, offering modern connectivity and features, and which would leave some money in our wallets for fuel.

The Pioneer MVH-X580BS appeared on paper to meet all these simple requirements, and offered some new features we’ve unexpectedly come to appreciate.

Rockford-Fosgate-R14X2We also took this opportunity to replace the original Blaupunkt speakers and all the related wiring. I chose four Rockford-Fosgate R14X2 4” 2-way full-range speakers, rated at 30 watts RMS, mainly because these came highly recommended, are affordable, and easily fit into the original Vanagon locations with almost no modifications. For better sound, and a bit of protection from dirt and water intrusion, I slipped a pair of closed-cell baffles behind the speakers when installing.

The Pioneer easily powers these 30-watt speakers, and while perhaps no great improvement over the original speakers when new, these were suitable replacements for the worn out factory speakers.

Key features we sought:

  • AM/FM digital receiver
  • Connectivity to popular external media (smartphone, flash drive, etc.) via AUX jack, USB, Bluetooth wireless
  • Single 1 DIN size for easy installation into the factory Vanagon dash slot

See more Pioneer Car Audio Receivers here

First Impressions

Pioneer MVH-X560BT-InstallationOut of the box, the Pioneer MVH-X580BS is a compact lightweight device. Lacking cassette or CD drive decks, it’s barely half the weight and depth of most earlier head units, leaving lots of air space behind the head unit for wiring and ventilation.

Unlike too many modern car audio head units, seemingly intended to appeal primarily to 14-year-old boys, the front panel of the MVH-X580BS is a fairly subdued design which does not visually clash with the square and spartan Vanagon interior.

Pioneer MVH-X560BT-whats-in-boxAlso included in the box:

  • Remote Control
  • External microphone with visor clip
  • AUX & USB input cables
  • Primary multi-pin harness/connector for power input and speaker outputs
  • Additional mounting hardware and extraction keys
  • Owner’s Manual

Follow the Owners Manual’s simple directions for installation, final hookup, and initial setup: setting stations, lighting & display features, etc..

On The Road or In Camp

Basic operation of the Pioneer MVH-X580BS is fairly straightforward, and the large front display is bright and generally easy to read, though the glossy reflective faceplate can sometimes be hard to read in very bright sunlight conditions. A dimmer toggle allowing quick Bright/Dim adjustments helps with this.

The colors of the front panel illumination can be be custom tailored to suit your tastes, or even set to an ever-changing kaleidoscopic effect. The settings for these custom colors are buried a few levels within the menus and can be a chore to get just the way you like, but you’ll likely never have to do it again.

The Vanagon ignition switch lacks an ACC (Accessory) position, so like most modern car stereos the MVH-X580BS will not automatically turn On/Off with the key unless you add a custom cutout relay or switch. To turn off the front panel and prevent battery drain while parked, simply press and hold the upper-left SRC/OFF button; press again to turn it On. Optionally, you can remove the detachable faceplate.

Even while driving, one can easily adjust volume, station presets, scan/search, even change input sources. Beyond these primary controls are myriad additional adjustments (balance, fader, 5-band graphic equalizer, etc.). Like all modern car stereos, most of these secondary controls are buried within successively deeper menus rather than using dedicated control knobs, making adjustment while driving nearly impossible. For the most part though, common menu functions are straightforward and user-friendly, eliminating the need to frequently refer to the manual.

Music

The main use for a car stereo, of course, is music, and this unit offers excellent AM/FM radio reception, crisply pulling in music or talk radio stations from sometimes far-flung cities along the route. In addition to AM/FM reception the Pioneer MVH-X580BS plays tunes from a variety of external input devices: USB flash drive, music players, and iPhone & Android smartphones.

The MVH-X580BS can read MP3/WMA/WAV music files from a small USB flash drive when connected via the included cable. The MVH-X580BS’s USB and AUX inputs are conveniently located on the front faceplate.

Pioneer MVH-X560BT-phone-illuminationBy far our favorite input device is a smartphone. Both Android and Apple iPhones can be paired to the stereo via Bluetooth for wireless streaming, and the unit can store pairing data for up to three phones with the ability to quickly pair/add a new phone using Pioneer’s Guest Mode feature.

When paired to a phone via Bluetooth, the stereo automatically pauses and resumes your playlist upon parking and continuing. When connected to an iPhone, iPod, and portable USB drives and Android devices via the USB port, users can use basic controls (Play/Pause/FF/Rev/Random/Repeat) and display track, artist and album information.

Wireless music streaming via Bluetooth sounds excellent on the MVH-X580BS, offering more robust audio quality than many other Bluetooth-enabled stereos.

In addition to playing music from an external storage device, the MVH-X580BS is also able to stream music via a number of music apps. Usings Pioneer’s ControlApp, the unit can play and control music from iHeartRadio, Pandora, Aupeo, gMusic, Rdio, and others. Play, pause, next and back commands, if enabled by the connected app, are available on the receiver when used with an iPhone (via USB connection) or Android (via Bluetooth) devices.

Moki Dugway, Mexican HatFor the full sensory-overload experience, the MVH-X580BS offers MIXTRAX, a “virtual DJ technology … transforming a music library into a nonstop playlist that delivers a unique DJ-infused listening experience.” We’ve never used this feature, but evidently it provides enhanced audio transitions between songs plus entertaining “visual effects” on the front panel. Not wishing to suffer a seizure while traversing a treacherous road such as the Moki Dugway, we heeded the advice of the MVH-X580BS’s owner’s manual: “Turn MIXTRAX off if the visual effects it produces have adverse effects on driving”.

Phone

In addition to music, the Pioneer MVH-X580BS optionally integrates your smartphone into the audio system so you can make & receive hands-free phone calls while underway. The included hands-free microphone, like the USB and AUX inputs, connects to the rear of the MVH-X580BS head unit and the small cable can be routed behind the Vanagon dashboard to a suitable mounting location, like visor or dashboard. The contacts stored in your phone can be sent to the stereo unit and searched alphabetically for easy calling (not while driving, please).

When a call comes in the music is automatically muted and you can answer the call, the caller’s voice being piped through the audio speakers and your voice picked up by the hands-free mic. This feature generally works well, the mic and speakers allowing clear conversations, with no complaints from the other end. But much depends on ambient conditions like vehicle speed and road or wind conditions, and it can sometimes be difficult to use while, say, driving a diesel Vanagon on a gravel road.

Using Bluetooth for either music streaming or hands-free phone, the MVH-X580BS is able to connect at a pretty good distance in and around the campervan. In fact, we often run the entire stereo via our smartphones while sitting around the nearby campfire.

In short, Bluetooth is awesome …

Navigation Apps

Another especially useful feature, particularly when traveling in unfamiliar whereabouts, is the ability to integrate your favorite navigational app with the car audio system. Google Maps, CoPilot GPS, HERE Maps, or any number of other nav apps all integrate well with the MVH-X580BS via Bluetooth, helpfully cutting into the music to provide turn-by-turn prompts via the stereo speakers, then returning you to your regularly scheduled programming.

Remote Control

The small handheld remote allows us to control most head unit functions from anywhere within the Westfalia, and even from some distance outside the van: volume, mute, tuning, phone calling, display, pause & playback, and more.

A clever accessory, perhaps helpful to the average user, the remote control is especially useful in the camper van, whether enjoying dinner on the bench seat, a nightcap around the campfire, or sleeping in late in the upper bunk.

Detachable Faceplate

Pioneer MVH-X560BT-detachable-faceplateThe Pioneer MVH-X580BS includes a nice feature typically found on more expensive car stereos; the removable front panel. With a simple press of a button the faceplate can be removed from the head unit and hidden someplace away from prying eyes or even taken out of the vehicle entirely.

Though a full-featured car stereo, the MVH-X580BS is not an expensive unit, and an opportunistic thief may happily smash your front window worth a few hundred dollars in order to grab your stereo worth less than half that.

The detachable faceplate can help prevent such ironic travesties …

See more Pioneer Car Audio Receivers here

In The Long Run

We’ve been using the Pioneer MVH-X580BS for over a year now, and couldn’t be happier. From weekend camping jaunts to month-long cross-country road trips, this head unit has really upgraded our traveling listening experience.

The AM/FM digital receiver pulls in and holds stations, and accepts music or audio books from a variety of smartphones, MP3 players, USB flash drives, streaming sources and more, using the included input cables or wirelessly via Bluetooth. Turn-by-turn navigation from Google Maps and other apps makes traveling easy, as we tend to get off the beaten path, so GPS voice prompts via the speakers lets us enjoy the scenery without getting lost in it. The ability to make and receive hands-free phone calls lets us contact local restaurants, lodging, or other sites, and keep in touch with family and friends back home.

The MVH-X580BS installs easily in the Vanagon dash slot, and the remote control allows us to handily control most music and other functions from within or near the van. With storage space at a premium while traveling and camping in the Westfalia, the MVH-X580BS eliminates the need to fumble and store bulky CD’s. Since we keep all our favorite tunes on our phones, we can just pull up a playlist appropriate to the mood and rock on down the highway. In fact, after enjoying the MVH-X580BS for a full summer in our Westy, we purchased an identical unit to replace the factory stereo in our other car.

In short, the Pioneer MVH-X580BS has succeeded in bringing our ‘classic’ campervan well into this century, for many more years and miles of happy camping.

Hits: affordable, easy to install and use, modern connectivity (USB, Bluetooth, etc.), lots of features, turn-by-turn GPS via car speakers, hands-free phone calling, remote control, removable faceplate

Misses: shiny faceplate sometimes hard to read in bright sunlight, custom front panel colors tedious to set, head unit should be manually turned On/Off in vehicles lacking ACC ignition switch

See more Pioneer Car Audio Receivers here

What do you think? Leave a question or comment below, and use the social links to share with friends!

Product Review: Mr. Heater “Little Buddy” Propane Heater

A safe, portable propane camping heater for use in camper vans, RVs, and other small spaces

Specifications

  • Indoor-safe portable propane heater for rooms up to 95 square feet
  • Continuous odor-free heat for up to 5-1/2 hours; 45-degree heating angle
  • Simple on/off buttons; uses 1-pound disposable propane cylinder (not included)
  • Low-oxygen sensor and accidental tip-over switch with auto shut-off for safety
  • Built-in piezo ignition

Assembled Dimensions, including propane cylinder: 18” H x 9” DIA (46cm H x 23cm DIA)
Weight, without propane cylinder: 5.85 lbs. (2.65 Kg)

The Mr. Heater “Little Buddy” is an easy, portable propane heater that works well in the small space of the Westfalia or other camper vans. Its safety shutoff features helps keep you and your family safe.

Depending on where you live and camp, it’s always just about this time of year that your camping season comes to a close. And if you’re like me, it’s always just a little bit too soon.

Maybe you enjoy the cooler weather of the shoulder seasons, with no stiflingly hot days, no bugs, and no crowds. Or perhaps you simply haven’t yet got the camping jones out of your system for the year …

In any case, even the most pleasantly cool days of autumn or early winter can come with cold nights. If your campsite has 120V AC shore power you can employ a small electric space heater to keep warm. If not, a small portable propane heater like the Mr. Heater “Little Buddy” can be just the ticket when Jack Frost nips at your nose.

Get the Mr. Heater “Little Buddy” Propane Heater here

NOTE: To meet varying regional safety regulations, Mr. Heater also offers a version of this heater suitable for Massachusetts & Canada.

First Impressions

little-buddy-heater-controlsThe “Little Buddy” is a relatively compact and portable heater fueled by common disposable 1-lb. liquid propane (LP) cylinders. It consists of the upper head unit, a propane cylinder (not included), and a base to stabilize the entire unit upright on the floor of your camper or RV.

The heater’s head unit includes an integrated carry handle plus two large control buttons: ON and OFF.

On The Road or In Camp

To assemble the Mr. Heater “Little Buddy” simply thread a propane cylinder into the bottom of the head unit and set the whole thing firmly into the base. NOTE: Some brands of propane cylinders have a thin plastic ‘foot’ glued to the bottom of the tank; you may need to remove this in order to fit the tank into the heater’s base.

little-buddy-heater-burnerOnce assembled, the “Little Buddy” is easily lit be simply pressing and holding the red ON button to light the pilot flame and then the main burner. The honeycomb burner matrix soon turns orange as it heats up, and the heater can then be set somewhere safe on the floor.

The “Little Buddy” soon heats up the Westfalia interior comfortably, even on very chilly nights. For especially cold or windy conditions, keep the Westfalia popup roof down to prevent heat loss. The Little Buddy has no temperature control, so is either On or Off.

If you need more heat, Mr. Heater also offers the “Buddy”, a larger 4,000-9,000-BTU portable heater.

little-buddy-heater-frontThe “Little Buddy” includes a built-in tipover shutoff device, which kills the fuel supply in case the heater is knocked over, as well as an oxygen-depletion sensor which shuts the unit off in a low-oxygen situation. We’ve found the tipover device to be quite sensitive, sometimes shutting the heater off even when only moving the unit, and we still use a common household carbon monoxide detector whenever operating the heater in the van, if only as a backup alert.

The heater requires a bit of fresh air (the manual specifies 4 square inches), so be sure to crack a window a couple of inches. The rim and wire guard of the burner assembly gets quite hot during operation, so always be mindful of it, and teach kids and pets to avoid getting too close to it. Allow the heater to cool down after use before touching or storing.

Like all propane heaters without external venting, the “Little Buddy” produces water vapor during operation; burning an entire 1-lb. propane fuel cylinder will produce about 26 ounces of water. Though invisible and harmless, this vapor will condense on cold interior surfaces such as walls and windows, so just be prepared to towel off your windows before driving in the morning.

In The Long Run

We’ve been using the Mr. Heater “Little Buddy” model in our Westfalia for a few years now, mostly to take the edge off those chilly temps before bedtime or when arising in the morning. I can even turn the heater on from the comfort of my sleeping bag.

little-buddy-heater-34-viewIt’s a safe, easy, and economical heater that doesn’t require us to find a campsite with shore power. After use, the “Little Buddy” easily disassembles for storage, and quickly stows beneath the Vanagon bench seat. The heater does not include a carry bag, but I added a simple stuff sack to keep the parts clean and together.

A 1-lb. propane tank lasts 4 or 5.5 hours in the “Little Buddy”; about a week’s worth of 30-minute daily warmups, or about 70 cents per hour of operation. Extra cylinders are cheap, compact, and easily purchased at sporting goods or hardware stores while travelling.

Hits: high heat output, quiet, large control buttons easily used even with gloves
Misses: no temperature adjustment, 5.5-hour max time, produces condensation

The Mr. Heater “Little Buddy” has proven to be a great way to extend our camping season on both ends of the summer, letting us get out to the woods both earlier and later in the season!

Get the Mr. Heater “Little Buddy” Propane Heater here

NOTE: To meet varying regional safety regulations, Mr. Heater also offers a version of this heater suitable for Massachusetts & Canada.

What do you think? Leave a question or comment below, and use the social links to share with friends!

Replace the Vanagon Cigarette Lighter with a USB Port

Update your loose lighter socket (and optional DIN socket) with modern 12-volt power and USB ports

Many early-1980s Vanagon dashboard cigarette lighter sockets are slightly larger than North American plugs, making for a sloppy fit when using modern 12-volt phone chargers, lights, dashboard fans and other accessories.

In addition, some Vanagons are also equipped with a DIN receptacle, a small enigmatic electrical ‘silver socket’ similarly mounted to the dashboard near the glovebox, and commonly used in Europe for 12-volt accessories. Sadly, accessories which can utilize this DIN plug are nearly impossible to find in North America, so the socket typically goes unused here.

Fortunately, both these power sockets can be rather easily updated with better fitting and more useful modern sockets; I opted for one standard cigarette-lighter socket, plus a modern dual-USB port for charging digital devices. Both sockets are close enough to the glovebox that charging cords can easily be routed to your electronic toys even when safely tucked away inside the glovebox.

We’ll start by removing the original sockets, enlarging the mounting holes in the dashboard, adding new connectors to the existing wiring, then finish by mounting the new sockets.

PARTS & MATERIALS

TOOLS

  • flat-bladed screwdriver, very small
  • electrical wire cutter/stripper/crimper

Optional Tools:

Such power sockets can see heavy usage in a Camper, requiring extra durability, so I selected a matched pair of heavy-duty marine outlets designed for use in boats. These outlets included optional heavy-duty mounting plates and snap-in water-resistant rubber covers, both of which I found to be unnecessary.

Step 1: Remove old cigarette lighter socket

As always, when working on a vehicle’s electrical system, disconnect the battery to prevent shorts and shocks. If your Vanagon is equipped with a second (auxiliary) battery, disconnect this, too.

It will be helpful to completely remove the glovebox from the van, so empty it out and unclip the two plastic retaining straps located in the front corners; pivot the glovebox completely downward until it can be disengaged from the hinge bracket and removed.


Reach up beneath the dashboard and wriggle loose the plastic wiring connector from the back of the cigarette-lighter socket.

To remove the original cigarette lighter from the dashboard, insert a very small screwdriver into the socket and carefully pry loose the two metal tabs locking the metal inner portion of the socket to the plastic outer surround. The metal socket must be removed first, allowing the plastic ring to follow.

Step 2: Enlarge mounting hole

Try fitting the new cigarette-lighter socket into the mounting hole; if it fits, you’re good to proceed. Mine was too large so I needed to enlarge the hole in my dash using a small handheld Dremel motor tool and a grinding bit. I recommend covering the seats and floor with plastic sheeting to catch the inevitable metal chips while grinding or drilling.

Step 3: Connect wires to new power socket

Fish the wiring connector out through the mounting hole and carefully cut the connector from the wires.

Depending on the model year of your Vanagon, you may have a variety of wiring configurations; in general, there should be two Brown ground wires, one or two Red Positive wires, and possibly a Blue wire for the optional green illuminated surround.

When rewiring the new cigarette-lighter socket, keep the Brown ground wires together, and utilize the same Red wire(s) for the power supply. If your new socket includes an illumination feature, utilize the Blue wire for this; if not, be sure to securely cap off this wire with a wire nut or electrical tape.

Strip the wire ends, insert them in their respective fully-insulated female spade connectors, and crimp securely.

Step 4: Mount new power socket

Prepare to mount the new socket by reaching within the dash and slipping the locking retaining ring over all the power wires.

Draw the wires back out through the mounting hole and connect all the wires to their respective spade terminals on the back of the new socket: Red to (+) Positive, Brown grounds to (-) Negative, and Blue to optional illumination terminal.

Insert the new socket into the mounting hole, be sure it is oriented straight, then thread the retaining ring onto the back of the socket from behind the dash; tighten securely.

If only replacing the cigarette-lighter socket, reconnect the vehicle batteries and test the new power socket.

Your van may also have an unused European DIN socket, or you may simply wish to install an additional power or USB socket; leave the batteries disconnected and continue below:

Step 5: Replace DIN power socket

The European DIN socket utilizes its own independent power supply, but replacing it is nearly identical to the cigarette-lighter socket above except for a few notable differences:

a. The DIN socket is mounted to the dash using a retaining nut which must be removed using a 22mm deep socket from behind the dash
b. The DIN socket’s mounting hole is only about .75″ (19mm), so you’ll need to enlarge the mounting hole quite a bit to fit a new socket.
c. Originally, the DIN socket is grounded via the metal dash structure, so you will find only a single (+) Positive power supply wire. When replacing it with a new power socket, I suggest improving this by running a dedicated ground wire to one of the crown-shaped grounding points mounted to the vehicle chassis, located behind the dash near the driver’s left knee.

As mentioned above, this space can accept a second conventional cigarette-lighter socket, or a modern USB port; I chose a slick double-USB port for maximum charging capabilities.


I used a step bit designed for neatly drilling large holes in sheet metal, which worked quite well. First, measure the outside diameter of the shank of your new USB socket (in my case, approx. 1.125″ or 29-30mm), then find the corresponding ‘step’ on the drill bit. Wrap a section of tape around the bit to mark the proper depth to avoid drilling too deep/wide. When done drilling, smooth the hole edges using the Dremel grinding bit or emery cloth.

Install the second new socket as outlined above, utilizing the original wiring, then reconnect the vehicle batteries and test the new power sockets.


After a few camping trips with our new power sockets, we couldn’t be happier. Cigarette-lighter-type power plugs now remain firmly connected and no longer rattle loose, and the double USB power socket keeps all our electronic devices powered up while travelling.

This simple, affordable project is an easy way to modernize the ill-fitting or outdated power sockets of your classic Vanagon!

What do you think? Leave a question or comment below, and use the buttons to share with your friends!

Product Review: Sports Imports Folding Cup & Beverage Holder

A German-made universal-fit OEM-quality auto & RV cup holder that folds out of the way when not in use

ch-1-closed-600x600Specifications

Dimensions, Open: 4.75W x 4D x 4H”
Dimensions, Closed: 4.75W x 1.5D x 4H”

After breaking one too many cheap flimsy cupholders, what highway traveler hasn’t at some point wished for a compact, durable auto beverage holder? One that automatically adapts to most sizes of drinks, and which can be mounted on almost any flat vertical or horizontal surface?

Considering that the typical modern car boasts twice as many beverage holders as seats, the 30-year-old Vanagon is woefully under-equipped with exactly … zero factory cupholders.

A mere inconvenience during a daily commute, this lack of beverage holders can become an onerous travel torment for long-distance roadtrippers suffering caffeine deprivation.

The Sports Imports Folding Cup Holder offers an easy solution, in a compact folding form factor which adapts to a variety of cup and bottle sizes, and which can be mounted almost anywhere. Made in Germany by an aftermarket supplier to BMW and Porsche, these beverage holders are available as a factory accessory for the Mercedes E Class cars.

Get the Sports Imports Folding Cup Holder here

First Impressions

Sports-Beverage-Holder-OpenThe Sports Imports Folding Cup Holder arrives as an unassuming fully enclosed little flat block, easily opened at the front latch. But the deceptively simple device reveals the genius of its complexity, as an articulated spring-loaded assemblage deploys itself and snaps into place inside.

The cup holder includes mounting screws, and small plastic strips presumably intended to serve as standoff washers when mounting on curved or uneven surfaces. The inside corners of the holder feature small dimples which serve as easy guides for drilling your mounting holes. Just choose a convenient spot, drill your pilot holes, and screw the holder into place.

A few suitable places in the Vanagon cab area are the interior door panels, the large heater cover plate below the dash, or perhaps the sides of the automatic transmission shift lever housing.

I opted to mount my new beverage holders on the side of the passenger seat base, near the floor in the walk-though passageway between the front seats. This puts the holders within easy reach of both front seats, yet they fold up and out of the way when not being used.

On The Road or In Camp

Sports-Imports-Beverage-Holder-ClosedFirmly mounted somewhere convenient in your Vanagon cab, the Sports Imports Folding Cup Holder adapts to a variety of cans, bottles, cups and mugs, and securely holds all but the tallest or most top-heavy drink cups, even on rough dirt roads.

But when not in use its sleek design easily folds flat, out of the way and protected from damage.

In The Long Run

The Sports Imports Folding Cup Holder has held up well to the rigors of Westy traveling, standing up to rambunctious kids, dirty dogs, and other abuse. It’s not indestructible of course, and a misplaced hiking boot or loaded luggage bag could snap it off at the hinges, but it will endure most anything short of such abuse.

Sports-Imports-Beverage-Holder-Closed2We’ve found that the inevitable soda and flavored-coffee goo can eventually gunk up the internal folding mechanism, but this is easily cleaned with a bit of warm soapy water and an old toothbrush. If the beverage holders become difficult to open or close, don’t force them but give them a good cleaning, and perhaps a light spritz of silicone spray lubricant.

Though costing more than most other aftermarket cupholders, the Sports Imports Folding Cup Holder is no flimsy gas-station-variety beverage holder, but an invaluable addition to any roadtripping vehicle.

Hits: sleek and sturdy design, adaptable, can be mounted on nearly any vertical or horizontal surface
Misses: can be difficult to clean interior, somewhat pricey

Get the Sports Imports Folding Cup Holder here

What do you think? Leave a question or comment below, and use the social links to share with friends!

Product Review: ZeroLemon SolarJuice Dual-USB Portable Charger

A compact, rugged solar USB charger for maintaining portable electronics & digital devices while on the go

Modern road-trippers now travel with more and more digital devices: smartphones, handheld GPS units, tablets and laptop computers, and more.

And all these devices require frequent charging to provide their valuable functions and features. But if your travels often take you off the beaten path, it can be hard to find convenient power sources for charging.

Does the ZeroLemon USB Solar Charger provide an easy, portable, off-the-grid solution to keep all your travel electronics topped up?

Specifications

  • Content: 20000mAh Battery Pack / Clip
  • MicroUSB charging cable
  • The world’s largest capacity rain resistant & shockproof portable solar charger on the planet
  • Shock-proof design for rough handling and drops.LED flashlight
  • Top Grade A cell, Built-in 20000mAh Lithium Polymer battery which charges via a powerful 1.2W mono-crystalline solar panel
  • Dual 2.1A & 1A output allows for simultaneous charging of your devices at high speed
  • 1000+ recharge cycles over the life of the battery.
  • 36 month Guarantee

ZeroLemon-Solar-Charger-portsWhen you are taking the road less traveled, this is the charger you are going to want on board. It is small, durable, compact, and powerful.

Get the ZeroLemon SolarJuice Charger here

First Impressions

This is a nicely built battery: solid and durable, admittedly a bit heavy, but so compact that it matters little when car- or van-camping.

The case is well made, and doesn’t flex at all. It has two USB ports and one mini USB port for charging, so you can charge two devices at once. The power LEDs light up if you are charging via the USB.  There are four power level LEDs. They are labeled 100%, 75%, 50%, 25% to show how much charge it has left. A nice feature so you know when you are running low on juice.

On The Road or In Camp

ZeroLemon-Solar-Charger-backThe ZeroLemon SolarJuice works great. It charged my husband’s Samsung Note 2 and my LG Optimus in less than 2 hours. It is very rugged, so if you drop it you don’t have to worry about damaging it—I know from experience! You can charge it via solar, but this will take several hours in full sunlight. We have plugged in our phones and other devices and left the unit in the sun to charge for a few hours, and it worked well. (I recommend covering the phones and other devices with a towel, etc. so they are not in direct sunlight.)

We often charge the ZeroLemon SolarJuice via the USB cable powered by our dashboard power ports <link>, but we generally leave the unit laying on the Vanagon dashboard to take advantage of free solar charging. Or utilize the solar-charging feature by leaving it on the dashboard or campsite table in full sunlight while we go for a hike, walk the beach, visit a museum, etc..

In The Long Run

ZeroLemon-Solar-Charger-water-resistantAfter using the ZeroLemon a few times, I have to say we have been impressed with its charging ability. We easily charged our devices using both ports pretty fast. You will need to turn the battery on for it to charge, or else it won’t charge. To turn the battery on, you have to hold the button for three seconds. To turn the battery off, you hold the button for three seconds. It charges from the sun, meaning you can recharge it anywhere. It is easy to use and does the job. For the price, this is great device.

The durable rugged ‘outdoors’ design, and dual-charging capability of the ZeroLemon SolarJuice make it a versatile device for van-campers and other road-trippers!

Hits:
Large capacity battery
Compact design
Good Construction, built to take it
Continued, simultaneous device charge cycles while on the go
Flashlight

Misses:
Heavy (but to be expected for a large capacity battery)
Flashlight minimally useful
Long solar charging times

Get the ZeroLemon SolarJuice Charger here

What do you think? Leave a question or comment below, and use the social links to share with friends!

Staying Cool On Summer Road Trips in Your Camper Van

Tips and advice for keeping yourself, your children, pets, and other companions cool while travelling

The summer travelling season is upon us, and we’ll all be putting on some miles in our camper vans. For many of us, road-tripping is the best part of owning a VW Westfalia!

Every VW Vanagon or Bus owner knows how cool it is; you can tell by all the waves, thumbs-up, and friendly honks you get! But the simple challenge of travelling and living in a confined space for a week or two at peak heat season, combined with a few inherent design characteristics of the Vanagon, can get you hot under the collar.

The Vanagon’s large untinted windows offer panoramic scenic views, but can also collect a lot of solar energy, and these campers come from a bygone era before automotive air conditioning was ubiquitous. The engine’s in the back, with the radiator just a few inches ahead of your Birkenstocks, which can lead to a condition known as Vanagon Hot Foot Syndrome. Not as bad as Athlete’s Foot, perhaps, but almost as uncomfortable … So, we’ll offer some suggestions specific to the Vanagon.

These recommendations for staying comfortable while driving or camped are grouped into easy, basic habits you can adopt, affordable products you can purchase, and helpful modifications you can make to your Vanagon, listed in order of ease, practicality, and cost.

Behavior — Things you can change about you

While Driving:

  • Beat the heat. Start driving earlier in the day to take advantage of cooler temperatures, and pull off when the day begins to heat up. Rack up some bonus miles by resuming your drive in the late afternoon or evening when things cool off a bit.
  • Take a break. Occasionally get off the hot highway and step into a restaurant, retail store, museum, or other air-conditioned refuge to cool off and stretch your legs. Such breaks are especially important for the comfort and health of children and pets.
  • Laugh it up. In the summer heat, as passengers become fatigued, uncomfortable, and irritated, things can heat up in the Vanagon too. Keep your sense of humor and maintain a positive attitude, especially in regards to your travelling companions.

vanagon-lakeside-campsiteWhile Camped:

  • Catch a breeze. Choose a campsite in an open clearing or near a lake to take advantage of cooler breezes.
  • Get some shade. Find a spot in the shadow of trees, and park your Vanagon with the rear oriented toward the afternoon sun to benefit from the protective shade of the popup roof.


Van & Accessories — Features & products to help you stay cool

While Driving:

  • Chong-bandannaDress appropriately. Lighter summer wear like shorts and T-shirts are obvious choices, but wicking synthetics made for sports and fitness will help shed the heat. A “Cooling Towel” worn around your neck will help cool your shoulders and upper torso. Or for a classic hippie vibe, wear a wetted bandanna to chill out, man.
  • Wing windows, the original air-conditioner. Along with full-size spare tires, manual transmissions, and ashtrays, most modern cars no longer offer wing windows, those small triangular moveable sections of glass near the side mirrors. Thankfully, your Vanagon still has these hot-weather lifesavers, and they can really help keep a breeze going while travelling.
  • During one of the above-mentioned restaurant breaks, get a large insulated cup of ice water or other cold beverage for the road. This will not only help lower your body temperature but also keep you properly hydrated (avoid caffeinated drinks, which can dehydrate you).
  • Spritz yourself (or your travelling mates!) with cool water from a spray bottle to aid in evaporative cooling.
  • Toss a Coolmax or microfiber towel over your seats to help wick moisture and perspiration away
  • Circulate air in the cab or passenger area of your Vanagon using 12-volt DC fans, ranging from the simple dashboard variety to more permanent versions.
  • Your Uber driver may enjoy his swanky wooden-beaded seat cover, but you can do better than that; consider a ventilated seat cover with integrated 12-volt DC fan which forces air from near the floor through internal channels to keep your bum and back cool.
  • Children or pets will appreciate a little extra ventilation, too; use The Noggle to extend fresh air to the rear passenger area or anywhere else you need it.

The Van — Things you can change about your van

While Driving:

  • gowesty-wind-deflectorsWind deflectors. These accessories are easily installed and besides allowing more fresh air (even in the rain or when parked), also reduce wind noise.
  • Combat Vanagon Hot Foot Syndrome. Keep hot air from the radiator out of the cab by replacing your old and faulty heater control valve and/or adding an auxiliary shutoff valve in the heater hose circuit. Reseal the small exterior accelerator-pedal housing, and install foil-faced insulation on the firewall behind the radiator.
  • Rear window vents. Vanagons built after 1988 featured additional vents in the rearmost side windows, to aid in drawing stuffy air from the interior. Though no small task, these windows and vents can be installed in your early-model Vanagon for better flow-through ventilation.

While Camped:

  • Once you’ve reached your campsite for the afternoon, draw the curtains on the sunny side of the van to prevent solar gain, or install reflective foil automotive sun shades.
  • Purchase or make your own front window screens to allow a cross-breeze while keeping bugs out.
  • Build your own portable camping evaporative air conditioner. Sometimes known as a ‘swamp cooler,’ these work best when camped in hot, dry environments.
  • Install a 12-volt thermostat-controlled ceiling vent fan in your Westfalia popup roof to help draw warm air out.
  • Some inventive Westfalia owners even carry compact 120-volt home air conditioner units for use in campsites offering electrical hookups. This will require a custom panel to mount the unit in your front window, or a shroud attached with Velcro to your Westfalia tent.


With a bit of planning, a slight attitude adjustment, and maybe a few dollars, you and your family can keep your cool this summer!

What do you think? How do you keep cool in your camper van? Leave a question or comment below, and use the buttons to share with your friends!

Product Review: Pioneer MVH-X560BT Digital Media Receiver

This affordable easy-to-use car stereo is a direct fit for the VW Vanagon, and offers several modern features to update your classic van.

Features

  • New Compact Chassis Design
  • 3 RCA Preouts (2V) for System Expansion
  • Built-In MOSFET 50W x 4 Amplifier
  • Detachable Faceplate
  • Rear USB Port and AUX Inputs
  • Wired Remote Input
  • Included Remote Control
  • Large, Multi-Line, Multi-Segmented LCD Display with LED Backlight
  • 5-Band Graphic Equalizer
  • Access and Control Music from iPhone or Android™ Device
  • AM/FM digital receiver
  • MP3/WMA/WAV Playback
  • Pandora® Station Creation from Multiple Sources

Get the Pioneer MVH-X560BT here.

NOTE: In the short time since this review was published, the Pioneer MVH-X560BT Digital Media Receiver has been superseded by their new MVH-X580BS, with all the same great features but also adding SiriusXM-readiness, a dedicated Spotify app, and a few other minor extras. Check it out here >>


The Vanagon is an old vehicle with an old audio system. Since our van’s build date in 1983, we’ve seen cassettes replaced by compact discs, and CD’s replaced by MP3 format. Soon enough, even MP3’s may be entirely replaced by on-demand music streaming services. So, when it was time to replace our old VW Design stereo recently (yes, we still had a cassette player …), we looked for a unit that would musically power our Vanagon another decade or more into the future.

We use our Westfalia for travel and long-distance roadtripping, and without a decent stereo the endless miles of lonesome highways can be mind-numbing, so the ability to listen to music, audio books, or local radio helps to pass the time and stay alert.

I should mention here that we are no audiophiles. We’re cheap. And without some fairly significant modifications the boxy Vanagon has all the acoustic qualities of a Chinese shipping container. Our goal was only to replace the unremarkable and aging original stereo system with something functional, offering modern connectivity and features, and which would leave some money in our wallets for fuel.

The Pioneer MVH-X560BT appeared on paper to meet all these simple requirements, and offered some new features we’ve unexpectedly come to appreciate.

Rockford-Fosgate-R14X2We also took this opportunity to replace the original Blaupunkt speakers and all the related wiring. I chose four Rockford-Fosgate R14X2 4” 2-way full-range speakers, rated at 30 watts RMS, mainly because these came highly recommended, are affordable, and easily fit into the original Vanagon locations with almost no modifications. The Pioneer easily powers these 30-watt speakers, and while perhaps no great improvement over the original speakers when new, these were suitable replacements for the worn out factory speakers.

Key features we sought:

  • AM/FM digital receiver
  • Connectivity to popular external media (smartphone, flash drive, etc.) via AUX jack, USB, Bluetooth wireless
  • Single 1 DIN size for easy installation into the factory Vanagon dash slot

Get the Pioneer MVH-X560BT here, or check out the newer MVH-X580BS here >>

First Impressions

Pioneer MVH-X560BT-InstallationOut of the box, the Pioneer MVH-X560BT is a compact lightweight device. Lacking cassette or CD drive decks, it’s barely half the weight and depth of most earlier head units, leaving lots of air space behind the head unit for wiring and ventilation.

Unlike too many modern car audio head units, seemingly intended to appeal primarily to 14-year-old boys, the front panel of the MVH-X560BT is a fairly subdued design which does not visually clash with the square and spartan Vanagon interior, perhaps the only minor exception being the Klingon-inspired angular levers on the large chrome multi-control knob.

Pioneer MVH-X560BT-whats-in-boxAlso included in the box:

  • Remote Control
  • External microphone with visor clip
  • AUX & USB input cables
  • Primary multi-pin connector for power input and speaker outputs
  • Additional mounting hardware and extraction keys
  • Owner’s Manual Pioneer MVH-X560BT (download here)

Follow the Owners Manual’s simple directions for installation, final hookup, and initial setup: setting stations, lighting & display features, etc..

On The Road or In Camp

Basic operation of the Pioneer MVH-X560BT is fairly straightforward, and the large front display is bright and generally easy to read, though the glossy reflective faceplate can sometimes be hard to read in very bright sunlight conditions. A dimmer toggle allowing quick Bright/Dim adjustments helps with this.

Pioneer MVH-X560BT-front-panelThe colors of the front panel illumination can be be custom tailored to suit your tastes, or even set to an ever-changing kaleidoscopic effect. The settings for these custom colors are buried a few levels within the menus and can be a chore to get just the way you like, but you’ll likely never have to do it again.

The Vanagon ignition switch lacks an ACC (Accessory) position, so like most modern car stereos the MVH-X560BT will not automatically turn On/Off with the key unless you add a custom cutout relay or switch. To turn off the front panel and prevent battery drain while parked, simply press and hold the upper-left SRC/OFF button; press again to turn it On. Optionally, you can remove the detachable faceplate.

Even while driving, one can easily adjust volume, station presets, scan/search, even change input sources. Beyond these primary controls are myriad additional adjustments (balance, fader, 5-band graphic equalizer, etc.). Like all modern car stereos, most of these secondary controls are buried within successively deeper menus rather than using dedicated control knobs, making adjustment while driving nearly impossible. For the most part though, common menu functions are straightforward and user-friendly, eliminating the need to frequently refer to the manual.

Music

The main use for a car stereo, of course, is music, and this unit offers excellent AM/FM radio reception, crisply pulling in music or talk radio stations from sometimes far-flung cities along the route. In addition to AM/FM reception the Pioneer MVH-X560BT plays tunes from a variety of external input devices: USB flash drive, music players, and iPhone & Android smartphones.

The MVH-X560BT can read MP3/WMA/WAV music files from a small USB flash drive when connected via the included cable. The MVH-X560BT’s USB and AUX outputs are located on the rear of the head unit, making them difficult to access in normal use. So on installation we routed the USB and AUX input cables behind the Vanagon dash and into the glovebox, so flash drives, smartphones, and other input devices can be discreetly connected with no visible cable clutter.

Pioneer MVH-X560BT-phone-illuminationBy far our favorite input device is a smartphone. Both Android and Apple iPhones can be paired to the stereo via Bluetooth for wireless streaming, and the unit can store pairing data for up to three phones with the ability to quickly pair/add a new phone using Pioneer’s Guest Mode feature.

When paired to a phone via Bluetooth, the stereo automatically pauses and resumes your playlist upon parking and continuing. When connected to an iPhone, iPod, and portable USB drives and Android devices via the USB port, users can use basic controls (Play/Pause/FF/Rev/Random/Repeat) and display track, artist and album information.

Wireless music streaming via Bluetooth sounds excellent on the MVH-X560BT, offering more robust audio quality than many other Bluetooth-enabled stereos.

In addition to playing music from an external storage device, the MVH-X560BT is also able to stream music via a number of music apps. Usings Pioneer’s ControlApp, the unit can play and control music from iHeartRadio, Pandora, Aupeo, gMusic, Rdio, and others. Play, pause, next and back commands, if enabled by the connected app, are available on the receiver when used with an iPhone (via USB connection) or Android (via Bluetooth) devices.

Moki Dugway, Mexican HatFor the full sensory-overload experience, the MVH-X560BT offers MIXTRAX, a “virtual DJ technology … transforming a music library into a nonstop playlist that delivers a unique DJ-infused listening experience.” We’ve never used this feature, but evidently it provides enhanced audio transitions between songs plus entertaining “visual effects” on the front panel. Not wishing to suffer a seizure while traversing a treacherous road such as the Moki Dugway, we heeded the advice of the MVH-X560BT’s owner’s manual: “Turn MIXTRAX off if the visual effects it produces have adverse effects on driving”.

Phone

In addition to music, the Pioneer MVH-X560BT optionally integrates your smartphone into the audio system so you can make & receive hands-free phone calls while underway. The included hands-free microphone, like the USB and AUX inputs, connects to the rear of the MVH-X560BT head unit and the small cable can be routed behind the Vanagon dashboard to a suitable mounting location, like visor or dashboard. The contacts stored in your phone can be sent to the  stereo unit and searched alphabetically for easy calling (not while driving, please).

When a call comes in the music is automatically muted and you can answer the call, the caller’s voice being piped through the audio speakers and your voice picked up by the hands-free mic. This feature generally works well, the mic and speakers allowing clear conversations, with no complaints from the other end. But much depends on ambient conditions like vehicle speed and road or wind conditions, and it can sometimes be difficult to use while, say, driving a diesel Vanagon on a gravel road.

Using Bluetooth for either music streaming or hands-free phone, the MVH-X560BT is able to connect at a pretty good distance in and around the campervan. In fact, we often run the entire stereo via our smartphones while sitting around the nearby campfire.

In short, Bluetooth is awesome …

Navigation Apps

Another especially useful feature, particularly when traveling in unfamiliar whereabouts, is the ability to integrate your favorite navigational app with the car audio system. Google Maps, CoPilot GPS, HERE Maps, or any number of other nav apps all integrate well with the MVH-X560BT via Bluetooth, helpfully cutting into the music to provide turn-by-turn prompts via the stereo speakers, then returning you to your regularly scheduled programming.

Remote Control

The small handheld remote allows us to control most head unit functions from anywhere within the Westfalia, and even from some distance outside the van: volume, mute, tuning, phone calling, display, pause & playback, and more.

A clever accessory, perhaps helpful to the average user, the remote control is especially useful in the camper van, whether enjoying dinner on the bench seat, a nightcap around the campfire, or sleeping in late in the upper bunk.

Detachable Faceplate

Pioneer MVH-X560BT-detachable-faceplateThe Pioneer MVH-X560BT includes a nice feature typically found on more expensive car stereos; the removable front panel. With a simple press of a button the faceplate can be removed from the head unit and hidden someplace away from prying eyes or even taken out of the vehicle entirely.

Though a full-featured car stereo, the MVH-X560BT is not an expensive unit, and an opportunistic thief may happily smash your front window worth a few hundred dollars in order to grab your stereo worth less than half that.

The detachable faceplate can help prevent such ironic travesties …

Get the Pioneer MVH-X560BT here, or check out the newer MVH-X580BS here >>

In The Long Run

We’ve been using the Pioneer MVH-X560BT for over a year now, and couldn’t be happier. From weekend camping jaunts to month-long cross-country road trips, this head unit has really upgraded our traveling listening experience.

The AM/FM digital receiver pulls in and holds stations, and accepts music or audio books from a variety of smartphones, MP3 players, USB flash drives, streaming sources and more, using the included input cables or wirelessly via Bluetooth. Turn-by-turn navigation from Google Maps and other apps makes traveling easy, as we tend to get off the beaten path, so GPS voice prompts via the speakers lets us enjoy the scenery without getting lost in it. The ability to make and receive hands-free phone calls lets us contact local restaurants, lodging, or other sites, and keep in touch with family and friends back home.

The MVH-X560BT installs easily in the Vanagon dash slot, and the remote control allows us to handily control most music and other functions from within or near the van. With storage space at a premium while traveling and camping in the Westfalia, the MVH-X560BT eliminates the need to fumble and store bulky CD’s. Since we keep all our favorite tunes on our phones, we can just pull up a playlist appropriate to the mood and rock on down the highway. In fact, after enjoying the MVH-X560BT for a full summer in our Westy, we purchased an identical unit to replace the factory stereo in our other car.

In short, the Pioneer MVH-X560BT has succeeded in bringing our ‘classic’ campervan well into this century, for many more years and miles of happy camping.

Hits: affordable, easy to install and use, modern connectivity (USB, Bluetooth, etc.), lots of features, turn-by-turn GPS via car speakers, hands-free phone calling, remote control, removable faceplate

Misses: shiny faceplate sometimes hard to read in bright sunlight, custom front panel colors tedious to set, head unit should be manually turned On/Off in vehicles lacking ACC ignition switch

Get the Pioneer MVH-X560BT here, or check out the newer MVH-X580BS here >>

What do you think? Leave a question or comment below, and use the social links to share with friends!

Product Review: GSI Outdoors Bugaboo Folding Camp Fry Pan

A lightweight, compact non-stick frying pan with folding handle for van-camping and travel

Specifications

  • Durable high quality aluminum
  • Easy-to-clean Teflon® Classic non-stick surface
  • Folding handle makes it easy to pack and easy to store
  • Available in three sizes:
    8 inches (20 cm): 12.8 oz (363 g)
    10 inches (25 cm): 17.7 oz (502 g)
    12 inches (30 cm): 1 lb,. 12 oz (794 g)

The GSI Outdoors Bugaboo Frypan claims to offer all the durability and even heating of a conventional home frying pan, but in a compact and lightweight design suitable for backpacking, kayak-touring, and car- and van-camping. But can any one pan meet all these requirements without sacrificing function and easy cleaning?

Over the years, we’ve tried a variety of frying pans for van-camping and kayak-touring. Typical home-kitchen pans, though offering good non-stick surfaces and even heating, are heavy and bulky, while dinky lightweight backpacking pans are often too small for more than two eggs at a time, and often lack permanent handles, relying instead on separate pot grippers.

Many cheaper versions of dedicated folding camp frypans seem to skimp on wall thickness, resulting in uneven heating and burnt-on food. Even their non-stick coatings seem to be little thicker than spray paint, and soon begin flaking off after a few camping seasons, making both cooking and clean-up more difficult.

The GSI Bugaboo seems to have done the thing so obvious that no one else has thought of it: combine the best of both into one easy-cooking and easy-cleaning, compact folding pan.

Get the GSI Outdoors Bugaboo Frypan here

First Impressions

GSI-Frypan-2On first appearance, the GSI Bugaboo seems little more than a conventional home-kitchen frying pan, but with a simple folding handle. The pan body itself is a fairly thick-walled aluminum with nicely curved sides, nearly two inches deep. The interior is coated with one of the smoothest Teflon® surfaces I’ve seen, certainly more slick (and less stick!) than the previous camping frypans we’ve used.

GSI-Frypan-heat-ridges-bottomNearly the entire outer bottom surface of the pan bears deep grooves, which keep the pan from sliding around on a stovetop and to help evenly disperse heat.

The handle, which folds into the pan interior for storage & transport, easily pivots out and snaps solidly into its hinge/retainer. The heavy-gauge stainless steel wire handle is coated in black vinyl to offer some heat protection for the hands.

On the Road or In Camp

So far so good, but we care less for looks than for function (after all, we drive a Vanagon). So, how does the Bugaboo actually cook? After an initial washing at home, we chucked the GSI into the van and hit the road for our next weekend getaway.

The next morning found me uncharacteristically eager to whip up some breakfast, and I started by gently sauteing a diced onion in the Bugaboo with some butter, followed by a few scrambled eggs. Halfway through, I was surprised by how evenly the eggs cooked without requiring much prodding, and what little stirring I did easily drew errant egg from the sides of the pan with no sticking.

But the real test of any pan is a fried egg, and this Lorie did the next morning, with similar results. When she finally brought the hot pan out to the campsite picnic table and lightly stumbled on a stone, the perfect over-medium eggs nearly slipped right out of the pan and onto our plates.

Of course, the real real test of any pan is cleanup, and today was my turn. Not surprisingly, the Bugaboo needed little more than a quick washing with hot water and CampSuds, requiring no scrubbing or scraping.

GSI-Frypan-Westfalia-stoveThe 10-inch Bugaboo pan fits nicely on the Westfalia stove top without crowding out other pots on the adjacent burner. This size is a bit too large to entirely fit into the Westy kitchen sink, but its excellent non-stick interior is easily washed and rinsed over the sink; the 8-inch Bugaboo should fit inside the sink nicely.

We very seldom cook over an open campfire or coals, and the Bugaboo is not designed for this, as its non-stick coating and rubber-coated handle can be damaged by excessive heat.

Once washed and dried, the Bugaboo easily folds up and is stowed with the other pots and pans in the Westfalia lower kitchen cabinet.

In The Long Run

The GSI Bugaboo’s high walls easily contain plenty of food without spilling over (extra cheese, please), and the gently rounded interior fillet makes for easy sauteing and quick cleaning, with no tight corners for food to become stuck in.

The versatility of the Bugaboo can be further improved with the addition of an aluminum pan cover from a thrift store, but unfortunately is not offered as an accessory by GSI.

While camping, we’ve cooked everything from the typical eggs with bacon or sausage and pancakes, to grilled-cheese sandwiches, burgers, stir fries and skillet pizzas. Since switching to the Bugaboo we’ve found ourselves trying more new and tasty meals than before, mainly due to the ease of cooking and cleaning. The Teflon non-stick interior has held up well through years of camping and cooking.

The GSI Bugaboo allows us to spend less time on the chores of camping, and more time enjoying al fresco dining in camp …

Hits: quality construction, durable non-stick coating, easy cleaning, even heating, compact folding design
Misses: no cover available, not suitable for use over campfire

Get the GSI Outdoors Bugaboo Frypan here

What do you think? Leave a question or comment below, and use the social links to share with friends!

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Product Review: Collapsible Gray Water Container

Use a common folding water container to collect used wash water while camping in your Westfalia

reliance-collapsible-gray-water-bag-folded

Reliance Fold-a-Carrier Water Bag

Specifications

  • Durable flexible high-grade polyethylene
  • Integrated on/off spigot design
  • Comfortable handle w/ metal clips
  • 2.5 gallon (9.5 liter) and 5 gallon (20 liter)

Whether camped in an established campground or in the backcountry, it’s important that “gray” water—used dish and hand washing water—not be dumped on the ground. The food particles and detergents, even biodegradable camp soap, can contaminate local water sources and attract wildlife. Instead, such gray water should be disposed of at a sanitary dumping station or in campground toilets.

But how to collect it?

Large RVs often have built-in gray-water storage tanks, and smaller versions are available for Vanagon campers, but a quick and easy DIY solution can be improvised from a common bag intended for carrying drinking water while camping.

First Impressions

vanagon-gray-water-bag-hookupThe Reliance Fold-a-Carrier is a collapsible water container with sturdy fold-down handle and On/Off spigot. Made of durable polyethylene, the bag easily unfolds to its full size for use, then collapses down for storage when empty.

To use it as a gray-water bag, simply slip a snug-fitting length of flexible hose over the end of the outlet of your Westfalia sink drain.

When my outlet broke several years ago, I replaced it with an ABS plumbing flange fitting, a short stub of 3/4″ ABS pipe, and an ABS nipple with “garden hose threads” (3/4″ diameter straight thread, 11.5 TPI pitch). This allows the easy attachment of a short (10″) section of garden hose with a female fitting.

In Camp

Setting up the gray water bag in camp is a simple matter of attaching the short hose and sliding the folding water carrier under the van, tucking the hose into the bag’s neck.

reliance-collapsible-gray-water-bag-with-connectionTo get the most from your collection bag, minimize the amount of gray water you produce; eat all you cook and collect solid leftovers in the trash.

NOTE: If wildlife are about (mice, raccoons, and bears, oh my), bring your gray water bag inside the van at night to avoid attracting unwanted campsite visitors.

The Reliance Fold-a-Carrier is available in both 2.5 and 5-gallon sizes. Depending on the number in your camping party and your cooking & cleaning habits, the 2.5-gallon bag will hold 1-3 day’s worth of waste water before requiring emptying into a campground dump station or toilet.

Once empty, the bag easily collapses to a space-saving size, easily stowed under the Westfalia bench seat.

To keep your gray water bag relatively clean and odor free, rinse after each use, and periodically clean with dishwashing detergent. Allow to thoroughly dry before stowing between camping trips.

In The Long Run

reliance-collapsible-gray-water-bag-under-camperWe’ve been using such folding gray water bags for many years of camping in everything from rough backcountry campsites, conventional state park campgrounds, to hoity-toity RV parks which especially frown on dumping one’s slop water on the manicured lawns. These bags hold up well for several year’s worth of camping, though repeated folding/unfolding may eventually stress the plastic and cause a pinhole leak, usually along the fold lines, requiring periodic replacement.

Overall, it’s an affordable solution to a common need, is easily deployed and stowed. And using this DIY gray water bag will help preserve the great outdoors we all enjoy …

Hits: affordable, compact, lightweight, very easy to deploy and stow
Misses: flexible plastic may eventually leak and require periodic replacement

Get the Reliance Fold-a-Carrier here

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