Review: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About an Escape Campervan

This will be a living blog post - so if there is something I didn't cover, send me an email and I'll update it! Last updated: 7 Jan 2017

Be sure to watch this video tour of the van that I recorded, as it covers some of the same information and provides a visual to accompany this!

Take a tour of our Escape Campervan - home to the Scenic Traverse Road Trip for the past month. More information about the trip, including photos and other videos can be found at www.ScenicTraverse.com

Greetings! Chances are, you Googled and came to this article, which professes to be everything you need to know about Escape Campervans. That is a half truth. Really the article should be titled “Practical things that people who are thinking of renting an Escape Campervan ought to know” - but that seemed a bit long.

Anyway, welcome. Let me first introduce myself for the uninitiated in the group - I’m Kristen Meister, a professional photographer and Scenic Traverse is my domain. In December 2016, I rented an Escape Campervan for a month, and drove over 3,682 miles in it. I spent 27 nights sleeping in the van, and I feel that has earned me ‘expert’ status in the art of road tripping in one of these vans. I rented the Mavericks model, which is the bigger of the vans rented by Escape, and is built in a Ford chassis. 

Who should rent a camper van from Escape?

Other than the obvious qualifiers of someone who likes to be outdoors, explore, and isn’t afraid of a little adventure….. for a trip of this length, I would not recommend more than two adults in one of these vans. In the summer, if we had the roof top tent thingy equipped, I could argue that one or two other passengers could attend, but it’d get really cozy, really fast.

The van, which I nicknamed "Sulley" on Malibu Beach

What is the van? How does this work?

This is basically a 12 passenger van - like the airport shuttles - modified into a camper. It has a convertible bed/sitting area, a pull out kitchen, and enough creature comforts to feel homey for a long trip. You don’t need special driver’s licenses to drive one.

I picked up our van in Los Angeles, California, and the awesome staff was happy to let me choose from an assortment of vans on the lot. Since I were going to be gone so long, I prioritized van ‘newness’ and tire tread above all else. I found a nice van with only 77,000 miles and almost brand new tires painted in an Avatar theme - which happens to be my favorite movie - and were set.

After a quick introduction to the van, I moved in and was off….. 

Sulley, the neon mushroom van!

What does Escape provide?

For the money, a rental from Escape is an extremely good value. Not only are you renting the van, but they include a lot of the basic gear you’d need anyway, which minimizes overhead for trip planning. They include (in no particular order):

Kitchen:

  1. A small pull-out drawer refrigerator. If you are well organized and play Tetris, then you can easily fit 4-5 days worth of food in there. We even managed some craft brews amongst the meals. See note below on electricity.

  2. A standard propane gas two burner stove and two tanks of propane.

  3. Some basic pots and pans, cups, cutlery, cutting board, and a towel.

  4. A sink that is vacuum pump operated. The fresh water tank on board holds a little more than 5 gallons. There is also a dump tank for holding sink waste water. This isn’t sewage - just sink water.

  5. A battery powered light useful for cooking in the dark (this is mounted to the roof, so you can’t use it around the campsite).

The back of the van opens to reveal the kitchen area. The bottom right drawer is a small fridge. There is a stove on the left side.

Fully stocked with a week of groceries and the all important craft brews (don't drink and drive, enjoy your brew after parking for the night!)

The pull out camp stove

Electricity

  1. There is obviously the normal car battery deal to start the car. We can skip that.

  2. What you care about is the plug-in electricity and the solar electricity. Let’s start with solar…. on the roof, above the crew area of the van, is a solar panel that collects sun and charges the onboard battery that powers the refrigerator and cooking lamp. This is all done automagically! You will hear the faint sound of the compressor for the fridge turn on in the middle of the night, but it’s incredibly quiet.

  3. Depending where you camp, you may have the option for plug-in power. Essentially they provide a long extension cord and a plug adapter (should you need it for the campsites). You have to crack a window and run it in that way. They also provide a power strip so you can charge cameras, laptops, phones, etc. It also powers the heater….. (see staying warm).

  4. There are three cigarette lighter things in our van - two up front and one in the passenger area (near the table). A cigarette to USB lighter adapter thingy is a must-have, and Escape sells them for like $5.

  5. I used a power inverter to plug in laptops and other electronics and charge them via the 12V cigarette lighter for the days when electricity was not available at the campsite.

Ok, not the best photo ever, but you can see the solar panel on the roof of the van

Ok, not the best photo ever, but you can see the solar panel on the roof of the van

Running the extension cord up in the window of the suicide doors

The all important (at least in winter) space heater. Provided by Escape

The all important (at least in winter) space heater. Provided by Escape

Bedding

  1. The camper van comes equipped with a flip down convertible bed / dining area. When in bed configuration, it’s roughly the size of a queen bed.

  2. Escape provides some linens for use in the van - thats two pillows, a fitted sheet, and a comforter / blanket. They are clean and 100% came from Ikea.

The empty main seating area. The bench folds flat (like a futon), the table breaks down, and there are spare cushions (not seen) that create the final bed.

The empty main seating area. The bench folds flat (like a futon), the table breaks down, and there are spare cushions (not seen) that create the final bed.

Staying warm

  1. This was a great concern of mine, particularly since I went during the winter and it often hovered near freezing at night. Not to worry - Escape will send you with another comforter for the bed, and you have a small space heater that can be used at campsites with electricity. I found that placing it in the kitchen area and using the auto thermostat mode was very helpful - it kept the camper comfortable at night by automatically turning on and off.

  2. I would also recommend traveling with layers for bedtime. This is particularly handy when you inevitably have to pee at 1am and need to leave the warmth of the van.

  3. Finally, I also brought our camping sleeping bags in compression sacks and a small blanket to add to the warmth.

Storage

  1. This was my greatest stress before I arrived. Would I have enough storage space? I actually rented the roof top storage box and ended up not needing it, so I never had it mounted.

  2. There are a few tricks to storage - the first is to pack into luggage that collapses and can be left at their depot. Second, you get a huge storage space if you stack the small thin pillows for the bed. Third, you have a big storage bin behind the kitchen. And finally, collapsable cloth storage buckets are your friend.

It may not look very organized, but the buckets on the ground under the table helped hold all the cameras and electronics. There are similar bins behind the couch holding clothes.

It may not look very organized, but the buckets on the ground under the table helped hold all the cameras and electronics. There are similar bins behind the couch holding clothes.

This is why I had to get organized - thats all my camera gear for the trip!

This is why I had to get organized - thats all my camera gear for the trip!

It may not look it, but the van is super clean. The orange towel on the ground served as a doormat. You can also see where I stacked the cushions on the right to create more storage area in the wooden box below.

It may not look it, but the van is super clean. The orange towel on the ground served as a doormat. You can also see where I stacked the cushions on the right to create more storage area in the wooden box below.

Modifications and Van Hacks

Here are a few recommended ‘hacks’ for your van - designed to help make living in it as comfortable as possible. Have a hack I didn't list? Email me and I'll add it (and give you credit!)

  1. Get organized. Seriously. I brought (and then bought) a few collapsable storage boxes and that made a huge difference. Walmart sells these for a few bucks each - they are a god send. I stored clothes, camera gear, food… you name it. The buckets make it easy to move things around the van - like moving daytime gear into the front seat during nighttime bed configuration.

  2. Buy $10 in egg crate mattress toppers for the bed. As is, the bed is very comfortable. But you can feel the seams where the pillows merge, and a quick foam topper will resolve that issue and make it even more awesome.

  3. You can bring some simple rope and craft a rigging line in the back to hold lanterns, keys, watches, headlamps, etc at night. I used what is called “550 cord” and is sold at most outdoor stores. Mine was an X shape and made it easy to have lights and accessories at hand.

  4. REI and outdoors stores sell microfiber towels that are nice and small. I had two in the back for drying dishes, one in the main area that served like a doormat, and one in the front to wipe condensation from the windshield in the mornings.

  5. Clothespins are great for helping to keep the blackout curtains in the van closed.

  6. Bring a laundry bag to shove dirty clothes in, as that helps keep the clothes piles organized

  7. Use a spare plastic grocery bag as a trashcan for the front driving area

  8. Download some audio books to listen to during your drives.

  9. Leave the freshwater tank drain opened at a slight crack as you drive, so the water can slowly drip out.

  10. Buy a cheap pair of gloves (like dishwashing gloves) to keep your hands clean as you handle the water tank drain.

  11. If it is well below freezing overnight, the water tank can freeze. If there is something you want to keep from becoming frozen, pull it out and place it near the heater overnight. This was never really a huge problem - I just had to defrost our Dawn dish soap and some jars of Nutella.

  12. Keep your van clean, because random strangers will ask to look inside. I was stopped at gas stations, parking lots, and at restaurants and asked to show off the inside. Don't have a pair of underwear sitting someplace you don't want people to see, because they will peer in the windows in the parking lots. It's alright, it's also good security. No thief will break into a van that has that much attention.

  13. In the summer, I would recommend renting an extra table from Escape so you have more workspace. In the winter it was too cold to ever eat outside the van.

  14. If you don't need the extra seating space, you can pull one of the bed cushions out of the storage box and double stack them, allowing you to have a ton more storage space (see the video above to understand this).

  15. The van will get roughly 16 miles per gallon, which isn’t bad, all things considered. I know this isn't a 'hack' but it's still good to know!

  16. If you are traveling for any length of time, you will need more propane tanks. I used four during the month.

  17. Having a pair of spare shoes besides hiking boots is nice for driving and those 1am bathroom trips. I had a pair of slip-on TOMS.

  18. It pays huge dividends to be organized. I cannot stress this enough. I carried a moleskin book that contained our itinerary, locations of grocery stores, recipes, addresses, and trip diary.

  19. Tools like carabiners, mutli-tools, and pocket knives have about 100,000 uses in a van like this. I used a carabiner to hang the car keys up at night so I didn’t loose them amongst all the bedding.

  20. You can run the extension cord in the small window on the suicide door, or up the back through the rear doors.

Some road trip games

Some road trip games

I had to add air to the tires when the cold weather dropped the tire pressure. Most gas stations will have pumps, but it's another reason to have some quarters on hand.

I had to add air to the tires when the cold weather dropped the tire pressure. Most gas stations will have pumps, but it's another reason to have some quarters on hand.

That's five days of groceries. I paid a little extra at stores to buy pre-chopped veggies and fruits to save on the amount of prep and clean up required for meals.

That's five days of groceries. I paid a little extra at stores to buy pre-chopped veggies and fruits to save on the amount of prep and clean up required for meals.

Recommended packing / shopping list

OK, this is a stretch. I’m not going to tell you to pack underwear - this list is the extras that you’ll want or need to make your trip awesome.

  1. Clorox disinfecting wipes for the kitchen

  2. A collapsable water jug (many water fill stations wont have a hose for you to use to fill the van’s tank).

  3. A set of small quick-dry travel towels. I used two in the kitchen for drying pots and one in the front to wipe condensation off the windows. They will get fogged up overnight as you sleep.

  4. Your own set of pots / pans / dishes. If you like to cook, and if you already own a set of camping pots and pans, you may want them. What Escape provides is fairly basic. We had a set from REI that was two big pots and a skillet, plus a smaller pot for boiling water for coffee, etc.

  5. Your own set of plates and bowls - again, what they give is fine, but I already had some of this and it was worth bringing. For instance - I have Yeti cups and tumblers with lids that were great for drinking hot coffee / tea.

  6. Your own kitchen knife. I bought one at REI for $15 that was awesome. The one they give isn’t very sharp, and if you are cooking and chopping a lot, you’ll appreciate your own.

  7. A lighter / matches

  8. If it will be cold, suggest bringing a sleeping bag to use with their blankets.

  9. You may want an extra pillow - available for $3.44 at Wal-mart

  10. Lanterns and lights. They don’t supply anything besides the back cooking one. Headlamps and little lanterns are a must-have.

  11. Basic cooking tools - an extra spatula, slotted spoon, bottle opener, chip clips, measuring cups…..

  12. Trash bags. I got small ones in a 36 pack that let us throw away the trash every day and keep the camper smelling lovely.

  13. Roll of quarters to do laundry

  14. Clothes pins (in case you want to do some sink laundry, or for the aforementioned hack)

  15. A multi-tool

  16. Car GPS

  17. Laundry bag

  18. Water bottles

  19. Aux input cable for the stereo

  20. Cord / rope for a rigging system

  21. Laundry detergent and dryer sheets

  22. Paper towels

  23. Dish soap

  24. Spare batteries for lanterns, flashlights, cameras, etc

  25. Wet wipes

  26. Hand sanitizer

  27. Aluminum foil

  28. A small tarp (in case it rains and you want to cook, you can rig it over the kitchen area)

  29. Flip flops (to wear in the showers at campgrounds)

  30. Towels

  31. Re-usable grocery bags (California charges per bag!)

A pair of microfiber towels from REI for drying dishes

A pair of microfiber towels from REI for drying dishes

Your imagination is the limit when it comes to van dinners. I steamed a pot of crab legs and shrimp, along with drawn butter and a local California wine!

Your imagination is the limit when it comes to van dinners. I steamed a pot of crab legs and shrimp, along with drawn butter and a local California wine!

Have fun! Van life is incredible, and will take you to some amazing places!

Have fun! Van life is incredible, and will take you to some amazing places!

What did I forget? If you have rented a van, send me your hacks to include!

ST Road Trip: Big Sur Update

Good morning! We have started the final leg of the #ST_roadtrip with a drive down the Pacific Coast Highway, aka California Rt. 1. Despite some really crummy weather, we enjoyed Big Sur, and stopped at some beaches like Pfieffer Beach to enjoy the view. Taking photos was tricky-I was using a neutral density filter to get long exposures, but the rain kept getting the front of the filter and lens covered in raindrops. Eventually I started using my hat to cover the camera lens in an attempt to keep it dry, and that worked! The big waves crashing over the rocks left this awesome view, and you can see the splashes in the rock holes in this photograph, which was taken with the @leica_camera SL. 

ST Road Trip: New Year's Update

Let's kick off the new year with a bang... this is one of my favorite photos from the #ST_roadtrip, taken at Badwater Basin in Death Valley. I had to hike several miles into the salt flats to get these gorgeous geometric designs for the foreground. This is a composite panorama photo- the bottom (the salt flats) is a panorama of three vertically oriented images, while the top (the stars) is a panorama of two horizontally oriented images. Although shooting it as a composite like that significantly increases the amount of work in Adobe Photoshop to create the final image, it has the benefit that I can now print this photograph in a massive format. Taken with my sidekick for the trip- the @leica_camera SL and 24-90mm lens. 

ST Road Trip: Rhyolite Update

Outside Death Valley (and even within the park), are reminders of America's history in the form of ghost towns. We explored one of those towns, called Rhyolite. This town in the desert cropped up to support nearby mining, and contained schools, an opera house, a bank, and train station. But the city was abandoned almost as quickly as it was formed when the mining ores were depleted by 1911. This photograph was taken looking through a rail car that had once served the area- the contrast of the red exterior paint and turquoise inside paint was too wonderful for words. Taken with the @leica_camera SL. 

ST Road Trip: Night Sky Update

Photography is a form of art.... though most people don't think they are making artwork when they whip out their cell phone cameras. But for those of us who study light, texture, contrast, color and who obsess over capturing that one decisive moment.... it's art. Picasso took many liberties with the human form, MC Escher bent the laws of physics, and so - sometimes - as a photographer, I too "break the rules". This photograph breaks a few rules.... but it's all real. Everything you see here was captured by me with my @leica_camera SL.... but it's not possible to make this photograph in a single click of the shutter. A little photographers magic is required, and that's okay. I am not trying to present this as a documentary of reality, rather as an expression of what my eyes and mind saw. 

Brrrr.... A cold front has moved through Moab, and with it came some ice and snow. Of course this made for some interesting photographs of snow on the brilliant orange arch rock formations of Arches National Park, but it also tested my resolve for photos like this! Since a clear night was in the forecast, we stayed at an area called "The Windows" until darkness fell. We were the only idiots out there in the freezing temps, but the view of the nights sky helped keep us warm. Thousands of stars, constellations and even the Milky Way were out, and the silhouette of the crazy rock formations was the perfect framing for some star trails. Thanks to the WiFi capability and Leica SL app, I was able to setup the camera for this 10 minute exposure and then retreat to the warmth of the car for a few minutes! Hopefully the clear sky persists tonight, though it is expected to get even colder on our next stop.... Bryce Canyon. 

ST Road Trip: Start of the Trip!

Well it was a long flight, but, all things considered, was a good one. Heathrow security didn't nuke my huge pile of film, our flight was on time, and our luggage made it without hiccup. Really, the only surprise of the day came from the cab driver, who was a bit pissy that we had all this luggage and were only going a few miles down the road. He was gung-ho to drive us until he heard the destination, then tried to play games with the tip. C'Mon man.

Anyway, we're working hard to adjust to the 8 hour time difference, do some last minute shopping  / errands, and preparing to start the adventure. There are so many logistics involved in a project like this - from having trail routes pre-mapped and downloaded to figuring out where there are grocery stores and when to re-stock. I am amazed that (so far) I haven't thought of anything we forgot to pack.... we'll be sure to post pics and videos with a tour of the van when we're all moved in!

Assuming we have a little bit of free time today, we'll try to visit Venice Beach and see that popular area of LA.

Make sure you keep an eye on Instagram and Twitter.... or keep coming back here!