Brand Spotlight: Sportsmobile

The #vanlife is a trendy thing to do these days. People jump into this trend headfirst with everything from custom-built homebrews to professionally built adventure-ready rigs. One company that has been at the forefront of providing custom-built, adventure-ready platforms is Sportsmobile.

The company was founded in El Paso, Texas, and now has three different locations located around the United States. If you don’t know, they specialize in customizing vans to fit your travel needs.

Early years found the company customizing VW vans at the port of entry. Later the company was able to the same thing with Ford vans at assembly plants. Sportsmobile shipped their kits to each location where it was installed. Vans were then sent to dealership lots to be sold. A detailed history of what they worked on and what those vans looked like can be found here.

Fast forward to today, and the company deals with any manufacturer or customer with a van from Chevrolets up to the Mercedes Sprinter. The work they end up doing with newer model vans is absolutely amazing.

Photo From The Sportsmobile Website.
The Classic Sportsmobile. Photo From The Sportsmobile Website.

The amount of floor plans and options they offer is almost overwhelming. If something they have to offer doesn’t fit your needs, they will work with you to customize a vehicle to your specifications.

While campervans are primarily what Sportsmobile is known for, they do make vans for other applications. One is for people with disabilities who still want to get out and travel, which is just the tip of the iceberg. As stated, they have customized vans for just about every application.

If the #vanlife is something you are interested in, consider looking into a Sportsmobile built vehicle. The prices might scare some folks away, but you’re getting exactly what you want for the money you spend.

Gear You Deserve: Roof Racks and Accessories

A roof rack or safari rack or cargo rack or whatever you choose to call it can be a useful addition to your rig. While it’s not entirely recommended to overload the roof with a bunch of stuff, roof racks still can serve a purpose. There are plenty of companies that make roof racks and accessories to go with them. From basic tool mounts up to being able to carry more elaborate things like a table.

If you’re in the market for a rack system and accessories, keep in mind that most companies sell their accessories to fit their systems. Most accessory pieces are not going to be compatible with other systems, and some are specific to certain types of racks. Below will highlight some companies and accessories to consider without diving into detail on a particular brand.

Gear You Deserve is a rundown of gear you might be interested in relating to a specific topic. The series highlights gear that runs from small to large, cheap to expensive, basic to advanced, and leaves it up to you to decide what a good fit for you is.

Cargo Bars

Most roof racks are made to mount on standard cargo bars on the roof. These bars are the load-bearing pieces you want to have on your roof. Companies like Yakima and Thule are the more prominent name brands that started strictly selling cargo bars and accessories. Both have since branched into offering cargo racks. Yakima especially with their upcoming LockNLoad series being released later this year.

The Rack/Basket

Not all racks are designed and created equally. While the basic shape and function are the same, you have to decide what you want. Do you spend the money on something high-end or go with a cheaper version? Do you want sides or no sides? If you want sides, how high do you want them? The questions go on and on.

Gear Mounts

One benefit to having a rack on the roof is that you can move items from inside your rig to outside. Things like shovels, axes, and hi-lift jacks can be mounted on the sides of a rack. Other items like water or fuel cans can be mounted on top of the rack. Most rack manufacturers will have a minimum of some mounts for specific gear like axes, shovels, and jacks. Some companies offer more specific options for certain types of gear like a fuel canister for a grill or stove.

Storage Options

Some of the companies mentioned offering their storage solutions. Front Runner and Leitner Designs both offer their storage solutions for their respective systems. Front Runner has their Wolf Pack storage cubes and rack mounts that work seamlessly with their racks. Leitner Designs has a unique solution in the form of their Gear Pods, which mount to their Active Cargo System. While these are great options, you can always go with something like a Pelican case filled with gear mounted to the rack.

Adventure Gear Mounts

Companies like Yakima and Thule got their start supplying adventurers with cargo bars and mounts for bikes and kayaks. Most of the companies that make their rack systems offer mounts for varying types of adventure gear. Front Runner is probably at the forefront again with the number of accessories they offer. From bike and kayak racks to precision rifle mounts that allow you to shoot off your roof. If you take part in anything else outside of overlanding it’s worth looking into.

Truck Bed Mounts

If you have a truck, it is possible to mount a rack on the roof of the cab. Mounting over the bed requires the use of a bed rack system. These offer a way to mount cargo bars and a rack up and over the bed. The downside here is you lose the ability to put anything tall in the bed without removing the bed rack. Bed racks tend to come in different sizes and utility. Some are low to the bed to keep gear below the roofline and others stick out above the roof. Companies like Leitner Designs, Front Runner Outfitters, and our friends at New Holland Overland offer varying takes on bed racks.

Altama Maritime OTB Assault Shoe

While I managed to snag a pair of Red Wing Irish Setter branded boots through work for no cost, I did not have the same luck with the Altama Maritime OTB Assault shoes. I’ve had my eye on these for a while now mostly because Altama has them branded as an outdoor capable shoe.

I purchased two pairs of Maritime boots, the khaki-colored ones, and the elusive, special release greys, which I had to wait almost two months to get. I’ve had the khaki-colored pair for about a month now, and my initial impression of them is good.

These are probably the most comfortable shoes I think I’ve purchased. Most shoes, which contain any arch, cause problems for me because of having flat feet. The Altamas have a very small or next to no arch support.

Altama does not offer half sizes in these, so you have to jump up a size. I’m a 10.5 normally but went with the 11 after reading some initial reviews. The jump up in half size does not make the shoes feel like they are too big or loose.

Much like the Red Wing Irish Setters, these shoes will get worn throughout the next year, so I can report back on how they held up.

Red Wing Branded Irish Setter Boots

Every few years where I work, we have the option to get safety boots. The first time this happened, I made the mistake of getting some brand I wasn’t sure of. I never ended up wearing them because they were uncomfortable and rubbed against my feet in places. I also apparently didn’t get them seized correctly as I later found out. This led me to the Red Wing Irish Setters.

Fast forward a few years and the opportunity comes up again. This time though, my work decided to go exclusively through a local Red Wing dealer. I have had my eyes on some Red Wing brand boots for years but never went through with getting any. Mainly because the prices always scared me off, which was a mistake.

I knew what I was after this time. A comfortable boot that I could wear at work and out of work. Something that did not look like safety toed work boots. It had to hold up year-round in all conditions. It had to be comfortable to drive in. And it had to withstand the abuse of being outdoors on overland trips.

The History

The Red Wing Boot Company has an offshoot brand called Irish Setter. Originally made with the same color leather as their namesake, these boots were designed for people who enjoyed being outdoors.

As their popularity grew, they became one of the go tos for work boots. The model I got, Ashby, has an aluminum safety toe, which makes the boots very lightweight in comparison to regular steel-toed safety boots. While I was at the Red Wing store, I picked up a Heritage version of the same boots and found that it was considerably heavier than what I was getting.

My Impressions

I’ve worn these boots for a full year now. No other shoe than the occasional dress shoe for work reasons. I’ve driven in them, walked distances in them, done yard work in them, and of course had them out on weekend overland trips. I love these boots. They have to be some of the best boots I’ve owned.

They’ve held up exceptionally well to the abuse they’ve gotten. There are some noticeable marks on the leather on the toes, but that’s to be expected. These boots are comfortable to wear all day without your feet and legs getting tired. The lightweight safety toe helps that out also. You probably wouldn’t even know there is a safety toe unless you knock on the shoe and find that it’s hard.

In terms of size, they are not overly large. The pair I have is a 6-inch, and Red Wing does offer an 8-inch if that’s what you want. The sole is large and provides a good amount of grip in dry conditions and snow. Mud, on the other hand, not so much, but it is mud, and not many shoes would provide a good grip on it anyway. I’m talking some pretty deep stuff though and not what you might find in your yard after a rainstorm.

These are also very easy to drive in. I’ve owned some other boots that ended up being difficult because they would jam against the pedals. Granted, I’m driving in a full-size SUV versus let’s say a hatchback so that pedal spacing could be different. But, I have had the chance to drive in our minivan as well as a mid-size SUV with no issues whatsoever. The boots are not overly rigid, especially once broken in and move and bend in the right places to make pedal management easy.

All in all, I like these boots. I haven’t been wearing them through the summer as much because of trying out some Altama OTB Maritimes. And for the price at $155 you can’t beat them for comfort and safety. When I’ve run the course on these, I will be getting another pair.

Gear You Deserve: The Coffee Edition

Coffee is one of those things that can mean the difference between a good morning and a bad morning at camp. Just because you’re out on the road doesn’t mean you should sacrifice sound quality, homemade coffee for a packet of instant coffee. There are plenty of options when it comes to selecting how to brew your favorite coffee in the morning.

Gear You Deserve is a quarterly rundown of specific gear you might be interested in. The series highlights gear that runs from small to large, cheap to expensive, and basic to advance. We leave it up to you to decide what a good fit for your needs is.

The Oxx Coffeeboxx

We’ve highlighted this piece of gear before early on when we were just getting started. It’s worth mentioning again because of the appeal it may have. Oxx offers a ruggedized coffee maker they’ve dubbed the Coffeeboxx ($230). What sets this coffee maker apart from others, other than its need for power, is the ability to use standard K-cups like you would at home. The biggest downside to going this route is its cost at just under $300. Granted, is it a ruggedly built coffee maker designed to withstand abuse.

Coleman Drip Coffee Pots

Coleman makes a couple of different drip style coffee pots. The Grill-Top Coffee Maker ($40) sits nicely on your camp stove, and the QuikPot ($110) is a propane powered machine. Both provide that simple set up for anyone who has a drip coffee maker at home. Their ease of use means you don’t need to have any available power source.

A Percolator

Percolator’s, before the invention of the drip coffee maker, were and still are a popular method for making coffee at camp. Percolators work by heating the water in the pot and cycling it through the grounds in the top basket via the tube in the center. The water runs through the coffee, providing a usually aromatic scent when brewing but often a weaker cup of coffee.

Several companies still make good percolators, including Stanley, Coleman, and Cabela’s. We have a percolator from Cabela’s and can attest to its quality. It’s what we used early on to make coffee, before converting over to a French press, which we’ll take about later on.

French Press

Coffee is inherently not hard to make. It just depends on how strong you want it and your preferred taste. Using a French press is probably as easy as using a drip coffee maker in terms of setting it and forgetting it for a few minutes. We currently carry a Stanley Mountain Vacuum System which has an integrated thermos and press all in one neat package.

GSI offers a few options for self-contained travel mug style presses. Snow Peak has its stainless steel version ($56). And Jetboil provides a lid that can be used on their cooking system to create that perfect cup of coffee.

Single Serving

Pour over coffee is an easy method to gravitate towards when camping because of its ease and the small footprint pour over systems have. The Primula single cup ($7) is a K-cup style filter that sits over a mug with grounds in it. You pour your water over it and let it steep for a bit. The GSI Java Drip ($10) is the filter and sits on top of your mug of choice. Snow Peak also offers a folding drip ($30) that would work nicely for a single serving.

The AeroPress is an interesting piece of coffee technology that offers a rapid cup of joe. Add your grinds and steep the coffee to your preferred strength. You then press down on the plunger over your coffee mug. The end product, according to the manufacturer, is an espresso-like output. It’s a great coffee maker for some lightweight trips or if you are short on space.

GCI Slim-Fold Cook Station Review

In 2015, sometime before we kicked off Michigan Overland as more than just an idea I surveyed the gear I had. One thing that was missing was a good table to cook off of. I did my research and looked at several different variations of tables at varying prices. What I ended up with was the GCI Slim-Fold Cook Station that I managed to snag on sale and with a discount at REI.

Cooking up some tasty burgers at camp.

Eventually I concluded that, while cool, I did not want a table that required a lot of assembly. Something that folded up. Had a low profile. And would pack easily into the back of my Suburban.

The cook station itself unfolds with ease and has four fold-out plastic side tables. The main middle section is made of aluminum, unfolds up, and locks into place. I can say that I have not had any issues with the main section or the side sections folding back down once they are up and locked. There is also a lower section that folds out by itself and can be used for storage.

The GCI Cook Station almost completely unfolded.

Folded up it only takes up about 4 inches of space. It’s till pretty tall folded up at just under 35 inches. It fits in the back of my Suburban behind the third row with no problem, but something smaller might have issues. I will say that despite its weight at 20 pounds it does not feel overly cumbersome. The counter section will hold up to 48 pounds and each side shelf will hold up to 30lbs.

Packed up and ready to be deployed or stowed.

There is really only a few small drawbacks I’ve had with this table. Adding a stove makes cooking easy at a manageable and comfortable height.

However, cutting on the side shelves is a different story. You end up hunched over in an uncomfortable position whatever you are cutting up. Along with that, the shelves feel flimsy when cutting on them. To the point where it almost feels like you are going to slip or the shelf itself is going to collapse.

Overall this has been a solid table and cook station. It packs up easily and is small enough to be out of the way in and out of the vehicle. For the price, either bought on Amazon or directly from GCI, I would recommend this to anyone in the market for a folding cook-station.

Purchase Links: GCI | Amazon