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Van Life

Blog By James Taylor

Venga Van life….

It’s a sad truth… the crag rat is no more. Drowned by socio-economic changes, dole sponsored climbers have all but disappeared from the barns and woodsheds across this green isle. The history books are filled with tales of past heroes living in the dirt, small groups of renegades in a sub-societal community hell bent on just one thing: climbing rocks. That was my bread and butter; nothing got me more psyched, perfect reading before a trip into the mountains, I loved that shit. Regardless of right or wrongs, the crag rat lifestyle demonstrated an utter commitment to climbing, a full and total devotion to the art. This lifestyle is however no more, deceased.

The 80’s ended 26 years ago and now a new band of misfits are starting to emerge on the scene, the same passions exist, that same fire that powered previous generations. This generation have however literally driven onto the scene. Crags are awash with VW’s and Transit vans, packed with weekend warriors and the odd full timer. People have been dossing in cars and vans for years, it’s nothing new, however I feel like a change has occurred that is sizeable enough to be worth mentioning. I was amazed when I found parked up next to my van at Santa Linya was Ondra’s van, which in turn was next to Edu Marin’s van, so we can see from punters to pro’s…. everyone is at it.

Times change and holding onto the past is rarely a positive action. With the evolution of climbing comes the evolution of a new climbing lifestyle.Yosemite had the stone masters, that later merged into the stone monkeys as the generations turned from aid to free climbing. The UK had the crag rats, living in the dirt; however no new group or named collective has emerged to reflect the changes in the British scene. In accordance with Christopher McCandless (Into the Wild) we should be called ‘Rubber Tramps’, therefore my first thought was that the van dwelling climbers should be called the ‘Rubber Rats’. The alliteration worked nicely and it rolls off the tongue, descriptive yet humorous, however after some reflection I have concluded that this name sounds more a new brand of sex toy than a name for climbers, therefore should be disregarded. I will leave the renaming of this generation to others as (despite my 3 years’ experience living in the back of a van) I feel unqualified to make the decision, therefore please comment below if you have any suggestions, and make it something snappy and alliterative we could #hashtag on Instagram… #Vanvagabonds?

There is a certain twisted pride in going dirt-bag as a climber, savouring the dirty looks as you slide open the door at 11.45am to eat your breakfast. Sitting in a café for hours on a rest day, or better still if you have an inconspicuous van, just park up next to the café and hijack the WIFI from the comfort of your own wheels!It’s a lifestyle many associate with the Gypsys from films like Snatch, but to us it means simplicity and freedom. I don’t expect everyone to understand, most people think a gaston is a Disney character for god’s sake.

Any hoo… here are some top tips for anyone wishing to become a dirt-bag, get a van, live in a van, travel in a van or indeed just own a T5 and park it on your drive then think about using it for adventures whilst sitting safely indoors:

1. Babywipes… My childhood hero (Bart Simpson) once said “I wash myself with a rag on a stick”, well a baby wipe on a lapis brush will reach most of the unreachable parts if needed. I would recommend something biodegradable with as few chemicals as possible, that said I have heard of people using industrial cleaning wipes to great effect on washing up, van cleaning and chalk removal.

2. Go inconspicuous… don’t plaster your new van in stickers from outdoor brands who don’t even sponsor you, you just look like a try hard tit with no idea. A simple “no tools are kept in this van overnight” sticker is the best option. I would suggest getting the magnetic ones in a variety of different European languages and keeping them in the glove box. A simple Google search will land you on this fool proof thief deterrent for about £12.

3. Print out all documents and read the guidelines for each country before you enter… For example in Switzerland you have to have lights on 24h a day whilst driving, dogs have to be in a cage (I escaped a 2000 euro fine by pleading ignorance on this one). Places are not as cool at the UK where any number of people can be in the back of your van without a seatbelt so long as you have a bulkhead fitted (Click Here). Print this document and keep it in your glove box to show to the police when you get stopped with people in the back, it has got me off scott free before.

4. Bin diving. Now this is sketchy one, I personally take great pride in recycling and repurposing things as it’s easy enough not to bother me in any way and just eco-friendly enough to make me feel self-riotous and superior over others. Bin diving should be regarded as a form of recycling and not an illegal act. Many supermarkets  lock there bins at night to stop you however most bins are only locked use a triangle key which you can easily buy yourself if you wanted: Click Here

5. Spend more money on the trip than the van. I have seen too many people ploughing money into vans and van interiors, I spent £300 on my interior and saved the rest so my trip could be longer. In reality you spend little time in the van, apart from when sleeping in it. Sunny days are spent out climbing and rainy days are spent in a café so really your van is just a place to sleep. If you even thought about putting a TV in the van you should just stop what you are doing, sell the van and go back to your 9-5 job as you have clearly misunderstood this lifestyle.

6. Having just advised to go cheap on the van interior there is one aspect you should not skimp on - Insulate the van like an Inuit’s underpants. Sleeping in an un-insulated van at -18 degrees a few years ago was not fun, a few layers of bubble-rap style insulation stopped my water butt and me from freezing overnight… it is remarkably effective.

7. Window hoods are a must have bit of kit. You can crack the windows at night even when it’s raining and avoid the inevitable condensation. Also you can get the smell of slowly rotting climbing shoes out the van whilst diving by winding down the windows to the height of the hood without getting the annoying “wubwub” sound from the pressure difference.

8. Whilst self-building the inside of your van (the only way to go about business) make sure you build a safe box into the design, somewhere hidden and attached to the metalwork. Gives you a bit of peace of mind whist leaving your valuables behind as you head to the crag each day. Needless to say get one with a pin code not a key or you just end up keeping the key in the glove-box thus voiding the entire process.

9. A few last things: don’t park at Bas-Cuvier at night (unless you like hookers), don’t shit all over the crags (unless you like shitty crags) and don’t #hashtag your #vanlife every 10min because the likelihood is that it’s unremarkable and your time would be better spent climbing -“Never before have so many, so diligently documented so little - #instagram”

Sorting gear with Tom Livingston and Rosie the dog before a day in Pembrokeshire (photo: Lukasz Warzecha)

Parked at a snow filled Magic Wood ready for a day bouldering

Yes, I have a double Beastmaker set up on the back of my van... #training!

Mr Monkey Fist drinking wine from a bottle, before midday, in a carpark... but he did just send his first 8A boulder... #classy

One last photo for good measure: 10 points for guessing the car park



(P.S. Don’t let the pursuit of money kill your enthusiasm for the things that you love).

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