It’s just right.

Adventure vehicles come in all shapes and sizes. Each has pros and cons; potential and compromise. Some, like Land Cruisers, are better at tight, technical trails. Others, like EarthCruisers, are better at circumnavigating the planet. When it comes to just jumping in and going, though, it’s hard to beat a van.

For most of us without the big overland Q-ships, a weekend camping trip involves quite a bit of prep, planning, and packing. Even with a quick-deploying rooftop tent, there’s still the matter of loading up all the camping gear from the garage before we go. And when we get to camp, it’s all gotta come out and get setup before we can finally enjoy that second beverage. 

Not so with a van. Especially an adventure van like the one we have today. The reality is, van owners can probably just hit a grocery store on their way out of town to stock the fridge when they want to go camping. And when they get to camp? Open the door, extend the awning, and maybe unfold a chair before grabbing that first frosty beverage. 

The grass is always greener, though, right? Vans are smaller than the big rigs, but they’re bigger than most SUVs. They deliver greater comfort, but often at the cost of technical prowess and fuel economy. 

In any case, one of our forum members asked if I could find a 4WD van owner for one of these features. Truen Pence, up in the Pacific Northwest, answered the call. 

The mountains are calling… | img: Truen Pence

It’s an amazing machine!

[tgp] Introductions: My understanding is you’ve got a Quigley 4WD Econoline (and might have moved up to this from a beefy, JDM Land Cruiser). Is that correct? Anything else you’d like to mention?

[you] It’s an ’08 Ford E-350 V8 Diesel Econoline and the 4WD conversion was done straight away by Quigley. I spotted this van in somebody’s yard out in South Dakota, and was clearly not being used for its intended purpose. I knew it was going to be a project but it’s actually turned out pretty well for me. The last owner was a climber and had partially outfitted it to be a weekend stealth camping rig, so had some things done to it like a power inverter, a bed platform, and insulated walls. That was huge and I knew that was the hardest part of the build. 

A cozy interior made for comfortable camping. | img: Truen Pence

On 4WD vans…

[tgp] The most important automotive opinions are those of real, actual owners. As a Quigley 4WD Econoline owner, could you share a little unvarnished truth with the rest of us? What do you love about it? What do you not love about it?

[you] There is a lot about this thing that I love. I spent about four months building out the interior, insulating and finishing the walls/floors/cabinets, and now it feels like a proper adventure van. I’m about one hour from Mt. Hood, so typically put the 4WD through its paces when camping or shooting (film/videos) up there. It comes in handy a few times a year, but due to the clearance, I typically can get through most things in just 2WD. So is it worth it? A few times a year it is! And with the snow, it is nice in the winter as well. 

The problem that many large vehicles face is that most of the fire roads and really fun/sketchy stuff is so grown over with tree limbs that a 10-foot tall van can’t get through there anyway. Another issue is that this is a big vehicle, and it drives like one as well. A lot of people in this category go to Sprinters or a more modern Transit, but those are too expensive to make into 4WD.

Adventure vans make camp setup a breeze. | img: Truen Pence

[tgp] How did you end up in this camp? Why did you go this route (instead of sticking with the Land Cruiser, for example)?

[you] I tend to trade out my vehicles fairly frequently and if it doesn’t suit my needs or I find a deal I have no problem swapping it out for the next. I’ve had quite a few vans over the years, just because they are fun to camp with, and work well with my profession of hauling around camera gear. I guess my transition went from VW Vanagon to VW Eurovan to this, but there were about a dozen non-vans in there as well. 

Truen’s short-lived Land Cruiser | img: Truen Pence

The vehicle I had before this was a JDM right-hand-drive Land Cruiser that I picked up in Canada. I imported it to the US and it was surprisingly much easier than I expected. I loved driving it around the city and it was a really nice light off-road vehicle. But I tried camping in it one time and it was WAY too small. I came back from a weekend sleeping in the back and sold it a couple of weeks later! 

The van checks all of my boxes at the moment. It allows me to be spontaneous and just jump in and camp, it can go anywhere (except most drive-throughs), and is easy enough to work on myself. 

But everything is for sale! haha

The 4WD van community…

[tgp] How’s the 4WD van community doing these days? Where do y’all hangout, share tech, and whatnot?

[you] I’m sure there is a local community around me somewhere but other than a couple of Adventure Van get-togethers, I don’t see many 4WD vans on the road. When I do, we usually figure out some way to say hello. 

Most of the tech and advice I get is from forums and online communities. A couple to mention are:

Sportsmobile Forums. While mine is not, technically, a Sportsmobile build, it has many of the same components, issues, and tech that these do, so is a good starting point for unbiased conversations about these type of vans.

Expedition Portal. I typically look here for actual user reviews of gear or equipment but find that there is a lot of “paid” content in here as well, so I don’t make it my only resource. 

The only angle where the van looks small. | img: Truen Pence

This gearhead life…

[tgp] When you think about automotive culture in general, what stands out as being the biggest issue we should be working on together? What’s your biggest concern and what should we be doing about it?

[you] A culture of people all interested in the same thing can be really inspiring. I went to an adventure van meetup a couple of years ago and immediately found a bunch of guys that were also into camping, cycling, outdoors, etc… and what brought us together was our vans. 

The fact that your vehicles can do that is really cool. BUT it’s also possible to build a bubble around ourselves with people who all look and sound just like us, simultaneously shutting out other voices. It should be the responsibility of that community to be inclusive and not shut out other ideas, other voices, backgrounds, races, or genders. 

Truen Pence

Moderators and event organizers can help by celebrating and encouraging the unique parts of a community and what makes it diverse, not just the sameness. Both online and in real life. Remember when that was a thing? 🙂

If you can get there, you can stay there. | img: Truen Pence

Shout outs…

[tgp] Who’s made the biggest difference in your life with cars? How so?

[you] My dad, for sure. I get a lot of my car knowledge and nostalgia for vintage cars from him. He’s had hundreds of cars and motorcycles over his life and keeps a spreadsheet to track them. I remember as a kid asking him “what year is that” and he would name it and then tell me a story about it. I’m sure most of them were not true but that love of storytelling stays with me. 

Now THAT’S a forest. Wow. | img: Truen Pence

Goldilocks Overland

Doesn’t matter what you’ve got, or even how much you love it, there’s a pretty good chance another vehicle out there might be a better fit for you, should your priorities change. As a longtime Mitsubishi fan boy, I like how Truen holds no allegiances. 

The Land Cruiser was too small. Other rigs are too big. But the Quigley Econoline was just right for Truen. For now. I really appreciate Truen taking the time to share his experience with us. 

You can find Truen on Instagram.

This is the van’s account.

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