make a self-contained micro cook kit

Want fresh ideas for simpler more economical ways to cook when you're living off the grid?

Look into the cheap and powerful homemade backpacking stoves used by inventive campers like this guy. They're made to be easy to assemble from common items in your recycling bin for just a few bucks at most, and they run off alcohol or free wooden twigs you find lying around. All in all, much quicker and more efficient than setting up a whole campfire just to boil some water!

But what if you live in a camper like me?

As a matter of fact, my truck camper's cooking system is designed around backpacking principles exactly like the ones you see in the video!

When building a small camper, you want to keep things small and light. There's so little space inside that you'll do yourself a huge favor if you can find ways to eliminate unnecessarily bulky items. And when you apply backpacking principles to your cooking, you can really boost the overall efficiency of your operation.

For instance...

  • Small lightweight cook pots will heat up much faster than your standard household pots, saving you lots of fuel. I personally use an anodized aluminum backpacking cook set that fits inside a 1 lb. coffee can sized ditty bag (about the same size as in the video). While I often use "bowls" (that are actually just those little plastic "Twist n' Loc" food storage containers), I'll just as often eat straight out of the pots.
  • While I do have a small homemade "range" made out of a portable propane burner for when I need to cook inside, I'll more often cook outside on my mobile workbench using a wood gasifying version of the Hobo Stove from the video. And likewise, it's made to compactly nest together into a 1 lb. coffee can sized ditty bag for storage.
  • You might not think you have any use for a "wind screen" when you're cooking inside your camper, but you'd be wrong! A metal "wind screen" serves double-duty as a heat-reflector, containing the heat close to the pot so as to dramatically improve your fuel efficiency, allowing you to get considerably more usage out of every ounce of fuel, whether it be propane, butane, alcohol, white gas, or wood.
  • Use a lid! Even a simple lid made from a tin can or cut of aluminum foil will improve your cooking time and conserve more fuel.
  • Little alcohol burning stoves like the DIY Pop Can Stove in the video are really handy to have around as clean-burning backups that can be used indoors (with proper ventilation of course). Backpackers love them because they pack light and tiny along with a few ounces of fuel (denatured alcohol from the paint section), so you can easily use them for day-hikes.
  • There are even great lessons in backpackers' food choices. When prepping for long trips, ultralight hikers focus on foods that are lightweight, easy to prepare, and don't require any special storage arrangements like refrigeration to stay edible. So they'll typically pack 1) dry foods that can be eaten as is, like trail mix and crackers, 2) dry foods that can be cooked or reconstituted with water, like noodles or freeze dried foods, 3) heat-and-serve meals like MRE's -- which are basically the same as canned meals but in a pouch rather than difficult-to-pack tin cans. The lesson is that by focusing on these types of foods, along with vegetables and other foods that don't require refrigeration, you can dramatically reduce your energy requirements. (ex. Vegans have it easiest, because animal products almost always require full refrigeration, whereas uncooked plant-based foods generally do not.)
  • The pot cozy in the video isn't just for keeping your coffee warm. You can also use a good cozy instead of "simmering", saving a lot of fuel. (Not shown: You can use a thermal food jar stuffed into a sleeping bag when you need to simmer for a really long time. I do this all the time to cook rice. It's called "thermal cooking." Instead of boiling and then simmering for a half-hour, I just spend four minutes boiling, then stuff it all into the center of the roll and pull it out a few hours later completely done and still steaming.

The Takeaway Lesson (Big Hint!):

If you're a vehicle camper and want to reduce your boondocking expenses, look into what backpackers do. Not necessarily the ones who spend thousands on equipment (though you can get ideas from them too), but specifically research "DIY backpacking gear". What I've learned has been invaluable.

P.S. That chair he's sitting on, the one he calls the "Amazing Wilderness Camp Chair", is also part of it! It's a clever piece of fabric that takes up zero space in his pack, but is designed so that he can use it to quickly construct a tripod hammock chair out of four branches wherever he goes. Gotta love it!


make char cloth tinder

Never worry about starting a campfire again!

If you've ever experimented with alternative "survival" fire-starting methods -- like rubbing sticks together, focusing a magnifying glass, flint and steel, etc. -- you know that no matter how "dependable" the method, it can still take a while to get a spark to catch your tinder and get it glowing enough to actually get a fire going. Heck, if it's wet and rainy, it can be difficult to get a fire going even if you're starting with a lighter!

The key is in your source of tinder. Out in the wild it can be really tough to scrounge up the perfect combination of thin and light and totally dry. That's why those with Bushcraft experience always carry an emergency kit (like the famous "Altoids Kit") and always include in their supplies a pack of dependable all-weather fire-starters. One of the favorites is Vaseline-soaked cotton balls. Another is Char Cloth.

What's Char Cloth?

It's a funny word, right? Char Cloth is just cloth that is turned into charcoal. Why? Because charcoal burns very hot, and compared to ordinary wood, paper, or cloth, it's a more pure concentration of volatile carbon. And the great thing about using cotton cloth for your charcoal source is that your charcoal will be made of very thin fibers which will catch a spark even faster!

You can easily prepare your own quick lighting emergency "char cloth" with just a tin can, a cotton T-shirt, and a large source of heat such as a barbecue grill, campfire, or if you want to be tricky, by using the sun and a big magnifying glass like he does in the video below. The idea is to place your cloth in the can, heat up the can enough to release and burn off all the cotton fibers' biogases, and then simply collect what's left -- ie. pure charcoal.

If you're already pretty schooled in Bushcraft, you might be thinking ahead... What if we substituted cotton balls for the T-shirt? Would that work even better? Watch the video to the end! (He has you covered.) 

Digging Deeper...

As cool as this is, I find it fascinating to think about what's "wasted" in this process.

What if you didn't just burn off the escaping gas and actually used it for something useful? Like, say, cooking?

Essentially the video above describes the same principles used to make a DIY wood gasification stove -- like the ones many backpacking survivalists use to cook food, and which I personally use when I'm out boondocking in my camper. But rather than use the gases to cook dinner, the focus of the char cloth project is simply to get at the valuable leftover charcoal. 

The process in each is the same, though. The idea of a wood gasifier is to separate the natural combustion process. Contrary to the common assumption, wood doesn't actually burn. When you make a campfire, what you're actually doing is heating up the wood to release the gases (a stage called "pyrolysis"), then burning the released wood-gas.

Pyrolysis (gas release) happens in the absence of oxygen. That's why he puts the cloth in a tin can, leaving only a small hole for the gases to escape. A gasifying cook stove (like the SoloStove) uses the same idea to separate the pyrolysis process from the combustion process, first heating up wood in the central chamber to release the hot gases, then introducing "secondary air" from side chambers to combust the gases at the top of the stove. The result is a very clean-burning wood-gas stove that can cook dinner very quickly using only easy-to-find twigs.

To circle back around to char cloth...

If you already have a charcoal-producing gasifying camp stove -- like the SoloStove or another homemade version -- then you can make your own emergency kit char cloth without even being wasteful! All you have to do is use a cotton T-shirt or cotton balls in your fuel chamber while you're heating up leftovers, and you'll be ready for your next out-of-lighter-fluid emergency. (Helpul note; To get the purest charcoal you need to make sure your gasifier stove restricts oxygen to the fuel chamber and lets in plenty of secondary air.)



diy camper electricity

Doing your own electrical systems for your homemade camper isn't as difficult as it might sound -- especially if you commit to keeping it extremely simple!

You can think of an RV or camper electrical system as made up of just three components:

  1. The Battery (a.k.a. the "House Battery", as distinguished from your "starting battery"
  2. The DC Circuits (direct current)
  3. The AC Circuits (alternating current)

Keeping things simple...

I'm sure you know what a lead-acid car battery is, right? OK! You'll need one of those. (There are matters of the best battery type for a camper, but that can wait...)

The DC circuits are those wired to run 12V devices that can run off a car battery, i.e. from your car's cigarette lighter. These circuits are connected directly to the battery, just as your cigarette lighter is wired directly to the battery.

inverterThe AC circuits are those wired to run standard household plug-in devices. If it has a standard plug, then it is an AC device, and it requires an "Inverter" to be placed between it and the battery. The inverter turns standard "flat" direct current into the special"rippling" AC current that household appliances require.

Camper electricity revolves around Battery Powered DC Wiring. While it's in many ways easier for a beginner to implement, it's different enough from standard household wiring that it can be very confusing at first, even for electrical engineers! To help wrap your head around it, a crucial point to "get" is that...

An Inverter Is A DC Device!

(That is used to run AC Devices)


It might be easiest to think of camper wiring as implemented in layers:

First you have DC layer, which at it's simplest is a lot like wiring your speaker system together, or more accurately, like wiring a high-end car audio system. 

  • You first connect a set of cables from the battery to a hub, i.e. set of "distribution blocks." 
  • From there you branch off wires to DC devices like DC fans, LED lights, cigarette lighter outlets for plugging in your phone, AND... an Inverter.

Once you have an inverter connected (to a branch of the DC circuit), you can then plug your AC household appliances (portable fan, clock, heater, coffee maker, mini-refrigerator, etc.) into the inverter. Simple right?

That's really as complicated as it gets, ie. not very complicated at all! 

build a truck camper

It might seem difficult to believe that I was literally able to build a truck camper and get off the grid in JUST 3 DAYS, but that's exactly what I did! 

  • Of course it took some planning to get there. (About a week to draw up the plans.)
  • And it took quite a bit of research to decide which approach would best suit my needs. (About a month of web surfing.)
  • But that's all! It didn't take six months. It didn't take a year. It didn't take a decade. It took just one month.

The precise reason I was able to do it so quickly is because I decided early on that the most important thing I could do is Keep It Stupidly Simple.

The excerpt below explains how I did it. 

Please enjoy this excerpt from my book
"How To Build Your Own DIY Truck Camper And Get Off The Grid For Dirt Cheap", on sale September 4, 2014.

To get the special launch price, make sure you join my mailing list.


Keep it stupidly simple - Excerpt from Mobile Rik's book - How To Build Your Own DIY Truck Camper And Get Off The Grid For Dirt Cheap
bigfoot is off the grid

If you're anything at all like me, then "getting off the grid" has been an ambition of yours for a very long time!

And chances are, your idea what what it means to get off the grid is very personal to you. Maybe your dream is to live in a cob house with a windmill. Or an Earthship with a huge array of solar panels. Or a Tiny House in the forest with a wood stove and lots of animal friends. Or maybe you don't even care... You're just wanting to untether yourself from all those "unnecessary" monthly utility bills!

The fact that there are so many visions in people's heads of what it really means to be "off the grid" can lead to some interesting disagreements. But that phrase does in fact have a particular definition. And the real question, as I see it, is "how far off the grid do you really want to be?"

Please enjoy another excerpt from my book "How To Build Your Own DIY Truck Camper And Get Off The Grid For Dirt Cheap", released September 4, 2014.

To get the special launch price, make sure you join my mailing list.


How off the grid do you really want to be? Mobile Rik book excerpt. MobileRik.com
How off the grid do you really want to be? Mobile Rik book excerpt. MobileRik.com