Nestled along the Front Range and DIA, Boulder serves as a launchpad for adventures throughout Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and, to a lesser extent, New Mexico.
Whether you go one hour away to Twin Sisters Peaks off Peak to Peak highway, six hours to Moab, or 2 hours to the Medicine Bow National Forest outside of Laramie, Boulder has rivers, mountains and deserts just a short road-trip away.
Campervans, a rolling home more streamlined than an RV that provides a bed, a kitchen, storage, sometimes a toilet for dirtbaggers and glampers alike. They range from VW vans to the vanlife Mercedes Sprinter elite.
Regardless of the flavor, they provide the many of us with dirtbag hearts a freedom to slake our wanderlust, unbounded by the ties to civilization. They support off-grid adventuring, a connection to nature that we don’t get from a hotel room or the airport gate.
And now even more so, with the new Covid-19 paradigm blowing up our routines, and since hotels and plans don’t exactly hold as much appeal (or even much of an option), people have begun turning to #vanlife to seek out adventure in a socially-safe, solitary way. With a van as a home on wheels, we can take life at our own pace, untethered.
In the last few years Boulder has become home to three vanlife companies that either build out or rent vans to those looking to take life off grid. We profile these three companies in this article — why they started and why they chose to make Boulder their home.
A-Lodge + storm-chasing
Local Boulder hostel Adventure Lodge, which has just opened up a new Lyons-based location, added van rentals to its roster a little over a year ago last summer. The lodge currently owns two vans, both built by Boulder-based Titan Vans, which it rents for a minimum of two nights.
This past winter, a skier with an Ikon Pass, a ski pass which allows unlimited access to 15 ski resorts and flexibility at 25 other destinations, rented a van from A-Lodge for a month. During that time he drove the van from Boulder to Aspen to Jackson Hole, WY, all the way to Taos, NM, and Salt Lake City, UT, going everywhere the Ikon Pass allowed.
“What was great about his trip he could follow where the powder was,” A-Lodge owner, Asa Firestone, tells BLDRfly. “He could storm-chase. He had a month to go and ski and could go to all the Ikon Pass mountains. He didn’t have to be at any place at any specific time because he didn’t stay at any hotels. He was completely flexible.”
Asa, who started A-Lodge in 2014 as a way to create a basecamp for adventurers traveling through and around the Front Range, tells BLDRfly that the hostel has seen an increase in van rentals with Covid-19, as people who had other summer plans find themselves SOL and need something local that supports social distancing.
Since city regulations make camping illegal anywhere within Boulder city limits (including sleeping in your car or RV), actually living in a van doesn’t happen as frequently or easily as it once did in Boulder. This means that the prominent need for vans in Boulder rests more in having a getaway toy to experience the nomadic lifestyle and temporarily cut off from daily life.
Most of A-Lodge’s van rental clients either seek to try something new or want to test a van prior to buying one as a second home-on-wheels before diving in headfirst to a big financial commitment, which can easily measure into six figures.
Asa, who moved here in 2000 for college and never left because of Boulder’s proximity to so many outdoor experiences, tells BLDRfly that he gets to enjoy the van life in part on the days that the vans don’t get rented.
“It’s one of the perks of a van business and why I wanted to do it,” says Asa, “When it’s not rented, like on a Thursday night, I can talk to my fiance and we can take the van and go up to South Platte River or Rifle or all the way to Moab. Each time, I’m learning how I can make the vans better.”
While initially Asa worried that the vans wouldn’t get as much use in the wintertime, realizing snow-lovers can take them out to chase fresh powder, Asa hopes that storm-chasing becomes a big part of A-Lodge’s winter business model.
Boulder Campervans + doing something special
Founded in 2016 by Brian Crider, Boulder Campervans offers highly customized build-outs as well as rentals to those interested in getting a taste of vanlife before buying.
Brian has always loved getting creative with automobiles, first working in a pimp-my-ride type of garage as a teenager doing custom things like stereos, rims, tires and exhausts.
After falling in love with Colorado while visiting a friend in Telluride, Brian realized that his dream of living in a small ski town off-grid wouldn’t accommodate his business side, having spent a lot of time in the financial industry as well. Brian knew he had to plant himself in a financially stable environment that would offer a solid market for business, and Boulder offered the perfect mix of stability and adventure.
“Boulder offered the perfect mix of stability and adventure.”
True to Brian’s creative passion, Boulder Campervans completely customizes its van builds with everything from solar panels and batteries to insulation, wiring, plumbing, shower and kitchen. With such a small space, Brian wants to make sure it reflects the person spending the dough to have it built out, right down to where they want the sink to be or how many USB charging stations and where.
Those who have camped in a van know that everything has a place, and to truly go off-grid, it requires water storage and built-in power.
The company builds all of its vans with the ability to hold at least 25 gallons of water if not 35, since it feeds into the shower and sink, to give glampers more freedom.
“How much solar you have coming in on the roof is important, too,” says Brian. “There isn’t a plug in the middle of the woods. We don’t make our vehicles to pull up on concrete pads. They’re made to get out there and have solitude.”
Boulder Campervans also offers the option of rooftop tents on its vehicles, like a second home, cozy treehouse kind of style with a mattress built in, accessed easily by a ladder, made by local company Roofnest.
Like A-Lodge, the van company has a rental option so that people can try vans out before committing, and according to Brian, Boulder Campervans has seen a massive increase in van rentals and builds since the start of the pandemic, including a rush of at least 30 recent build requests.
“People still want to get out there but stay comfortable and stay in their own space,” says Brian. “I have tons of people, at least 30 to 40, who have called us over the past month. We’re completely booked out for rentals and our builds over the past two months have been slammed.”
Boulder Campervans is booked with builds until the end of 2021, and the company’s five rental vans are booked until August.
Titan Vans + infiltrating DIY
Established in 2017 by physics engineer Matt North, Titan Vans specializes in creating highly custom and easily serviceable vans for selling.
Matt moved to Colorado from Oregon in 2010 for the Colorado School of Mines’s Physics program after spending nearly a year backpacking and motorcycling through South America and Southeast Asia and realizing he needed a better physics engineering program than Southern Oregon University provided.
Inspired by his travels in South America, Matt actually built his own wooden truck camper which he moved to Colorado in. A few years later, tired of paying rent and unable to afford a home here, he and his partner built out a van in their driveway and moved into that when their lease ended.
After leaving Boulder and living in the van for nearly a year, they realized they missed it. Matt returned and decided to start the company doing what he loved: working with his hands as a machinist and use his engineering background to help others.
With so many reasons for wanting a van, and a client-base that ranges all over the West and East coasts, from living to recreation to handicap transport vans, Titan vans sees all sorts of requests.
Currently, it has one in production that the buyer wanted built specifically as his Burning Man hangout space vehicle, the initial idea involving an all-white interior with a projector hooked up to cast imagery all over the walls.
Titan Vans saw a pause amid the height of the Covid-19 with a decrease in service jobs, but its custom build business has picked up starting May and remains booked through mid-2021.
The company’s DIY kits and products, on the other hand, like its water tanks and paneling kits, saw a huge uptick.
“We believe because people were sitting around at home on their computers,” says Matt, “and needed something to do while quarantined.”
In response to this influx, the company began putting efforts into developing whole new line of DIY products catering to people building their own vans. It creates kits such as a kitchen kit, cabinets, or a water-system kit, and dropships pre-made kits with instructional videos, Ikea-style. Titan plans to create a simple DIY van e-commerce platform and in the next six months build it into a full kit option.
“A lot of people don’t know exactly what goes into building their own van,” a Titan Vans media and marketing rep tells BLDRfly. “People have questions like, ‘what pump should I use? How do I put together a water system?’”
Even with the switch to serving a different clientele and offering a different product, the company still maintains their regular full-build schedule, which is booked out for the next seven months or so, and is working on increasing production. Titan Vans puts out between two to four full builds a month.
Since serving other company’s builds also brings in a large portion of its business, the company also specializes in making sure that the vans it builds are fully serviceable, such as making sure that wiring and mechanics are easy to get to if the van breaks down.
Recently demand picked back up for full-build vans, and the company continues to grow a little faster than expected.
Header Image: Solar power via Boulder Campervans. Image: bouldercampervans.com.