Remember our story last week about Virginia’s retirement van-life? Meet Madison and Raynor (@vandmvanlife on Instagram), the masterminds behind her off-grid van renovation. This couple created their own solar-powered van and has created a whole business (Ray Outfitters) helping clients in Canada reach their tiny-living dreams.
After finding out the hard way that a 5th wheel RV can’t stand up to Canadian winters, Raynor — a licensed automotive mechanic — outfitted his own van capable of withstanding -40 Celsius temperatures. They’ve lived in this van for two years and are now in the process of building a permanent workshop where they can assist more clients. Be sure to read our interview with the couple below and watch their full van tour to see where they’ve hidden a composting toilet!
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Off-Grid Sprinter Van Renovation (Interview & Tour)
This amazing van is ready for any weather.
Beneath the bed the couple has storage for all kinds of things including their mountain bikes.
The solar system on the roof is able to tilt, which is one of its most unique features.
Under the kitchen counter you’ll find a fridge, and they use an induction cooktop and Instant-pot for cooking meals.
The couple has a work station for their self-employment.
TV in the bedroom. Great storage cubbies for all their clothing.
The privacy curtain allows the couple to split up the tiny space more effectively.
Somewhere in this van they’ve hidden a toilet. Watch the tour below to find out where!
As you can see, the solar panels can seek the sun!
Q&A with Madison and Raynor of Ray Outfitters
What are your name(s)?
Madison and Raynor.
How many people (and animals) are living in your van?
The two of us.
Where do you live?
We are based out of Ontario, Canada but travel coast to coast working on off grid projects. Now two years into our vanlife, we are building a shop for our work and to have a home base. We continue to travel but we’re passionately focused on getting others into their tiny and off grid homes. Wherever the work takes us, we’ll go.
What will never change is our passion in tiny living. For the habits and approaches to life that tiny living encourage. We’ll never let go of tiny living – it’s the best thing we have done for ourselves.
Why did you decide to go tiny? What are you hoping to get out of living tiny?
We decided to go tiny to find our reason for being. What are we skilled at, can earn money doing, and will bring value and benefit to others? At the end of the day – we want to build a life we don’t need a vacation from.
Self employment enables us to feel more control over our future and lives. To build your own business, keeping costs down is critical.
Going tiny has let us invest fully into our passion, our business and our dreams.
How did you first learn about van life?
After making several downsizing moves we decided to go on the road and explore where we wanted to live and where we could build a tiny home. We moved into a 5th wheel RV and unfortunately learned the hard way that even an RV rated for winter camping and “snow flake ready” aren’t really capable of handling our Canadian Winters.
We learned about DIY campervans then – which solved all the issues we were facing as Raynor could ensure the van was equipped for what we needed to do. We quickly proceeded with the project.
How long did it take to finish your van?
Upfits are never finished in our opinion as maintenance, repairs and adjustments are endless in any type of housing. December 2017 we ordered the van. January 15, 2018 we got the keys and on February 28, 2018 we crossed into the US for our first trip. We haven’t changed the layout and the van’s interior looks the same but there have been small tweaks and optimizations as we mastered our vanlife.
Our YouTube channel has a timelapse of our camper upfit. It was a intense 36 day marathon – seriously give yourself more time than we did. Haha 🙂
How did you build your van? Did you have any help? Did you do it yourselves?
Raynor is a licensed automotive mechanic and experienced marine mechanic. He managed our entire project, including the design and fabrication. He worked so hard on the van while I worked my desk job. Friends and family participated in laying the floor, painting cabinets and lifting our solar array onto the roof. The rest – Raynor did entirely on his own.
While our home was his first upfit – he’s now worked on 64+ campers of all kinds, often alongside the DIY owner.
How did you find a place to park and live in your bus?
We have so far travelled coast to coast in Canada and the US. Our work keeps us traveling around Canada. We park in a wide range of places depending on what we’re doing. From parks and public lands to private property to industrial streets and other urban areas that allow overnight parking. We call it driveway surfing when we’re parking on people’s driveways at their invitation.
Before going tiny, what was life like?
I was working 100+ hours a week and experiencing the health impacts of corporate burnout. I was unwell, unhappy and in serious need for change.
Raynor was bored and unchallenged at work and seeking new opportunities.
We married but weren’t able to live together as work kept us apart and on different schedules. It wasn’t the dream – to find your match and get so little time together.
What benefits are you experiencing after going tiny?
Simple living to us is the reality that we no longer have time in our days to worry about things beyond our control. The day to day is filled with our projects, our clear goals.
We have been able to invest fully into building our own company and now get to live and work together – building a life we don’t need a vacation from.
What about some challenges?
Perhaps the biggest challenge is managing your expectations. We find it’s not worth planning long term routes in much detail – if you set lots of expectations you will be disappointed. If you don’t have many expectations, you’ll be surprised and delighted by what you find. Manage your expectations. Be flexible. Adapt. Roll with the punches, whatever saying you want. You’re guaranteed to have a wild ride!!
We believe joy is a temporary state of being that comes from solving problems. To this end, tiny living and nomadic living is filled with endless challenges. There’s many problems you have to solve – basically everyday. The fight for this lifestyle is a large part of the appeal.
For the nomadic community, the COVID-19 pandemic may be the biggest challenge yet. It’s far less about your hard work, creativity and problem solving when facing this challenge. Our community has many questions and in time, I’m confident we’ll have better answers.
What makes your bus special?
We think every tiny home is special as they are all crafted to meet the needs of the occupants. Tiny has to be highly efficient and functional.
We opted for no added fuel sources and therefore have a very robust off grid electrical system. Our tiltable solar array got a lot of attention when we first hit the road and now we fabricate them for clients.
Being grounded in the realities of needing to earn a living, our van is built to enable us to work and adVANture with ease. We’ve got a full desktop workstation inside the van and Raynor has his mobile tools in a storage system he designed to slide out from under the bed that still left room for our mountain bikes.
What is your favorite part of your van?
Perhaps our favorite part is our Canadian winter capabilities. -40f is a temperature we experience and our van is capable of keeping us warm and comfortable. Being able to go anywhere, in any weather is the freedom and flexibility we dreamed of.
The electrical system is the beating heart of our van and brings the comforts of home and the capability to live & work on the road.
We love the entirety of the upfit and what it enables us to do.
What helpful advice would you give to others interested in going tiny/living in a van?
Test runs and baby steps! Don’t rush things.
Rent a camper or tiny home. Make sure you like it beyond novelty. Take note of not just what you like but also what you don’t like.
Downsize your possessions and if you live in a larger home currently – shrink down. Empty rooms. There are all kinds of habits you need to develop and doing them before investing in and making the transition will be the greatest gift you can give yourself and your family.
Scale your kitchen back to learn how to live with less. Live with less everywhere practical. Take note of what things your tiny home will need to prioritize functionality for. Realize how much work it can be to stop accumulating things.
Raynor builds and upfits off grid campers and tiny homes. I work more with our clients on the realities of living in them – from managing water usage, understanding your off grid electrical system, tips and tricks for humidity, grocery shopping, trip planning, parking location and more. Highly recommend connecting with people who are living the version of tiny that most speaks to you. Attend events where possible that let you experience more tiny homes and speak with tiny home dwellers.
We do offer DIY consultations globally and other services within Canada. www.rayoutfitted.ca/services
Do so much more research. Question what you read online and stay grounded in the realities of climate in your region(s).
Do you have a website, blog, or social media page where we can follow along?
Our van life
Our work with DIY’ers on their tiny homes
VIDEO: DIY Sprinter Van Tour | Tilting Solar & Desktop Computer | Off Grid – V&M Vanlife and Ray Outfitted
Our big thanks to Madison for sharing!🙏
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Natalie C. McKee
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I was so impressed watching this video, I couldn’t believe how this couple thought of everything they needed for work and traveling. Never having to worry about the cold winters either. It’s seems just genius! Wonderful! 🙂
Totally agree! What a great job they did.
I don’t have enough great words. Simply fantastic! I love it 😍
If I understand correctly, you are promoting tiny house living… as I grew up, we had one as a cottage. It was a simple design… dad made it homey. I really want to be a tiny house owner -and liver- but there is still lots of prejudice against this kind of living… “trailer trash” attitude. I’m not yet receiving pension and as poor as a church mouse. I came back from living a nice life in China to Canada in poverty. Since I am poor… how can I be part of this economical movement?
Thanks for your response…
Regards and keep safe,
Hi Joan — I really recommend scouring vans and van life on YouTube — and our site! Doing a DIY conversion is likely the least expensive way to get a home of your own. They CAN cost a lot, but can also be done cheaply if you have the skills necessary.
Great detailed video! So many great features and organization.
I do have a question though…maybe I missed the shower option but if there isn’t one, how are you showering/bathing?
Most van-lifers actually shower at local gyms — which you can imagine is difficult with all of them closed during COVID-19! I see more renovated buses with room for a shower, but many vans are simply too tiny to fit one.
How much does it cost for you to outfit a van into a livable rv? I am a senior disabled veteran with a large service dog. A I need something easily accessible and/or a lift for a scooter. My funds are limited. Any ideas or help. Thanks. Mary isher
Hi Mary! It really depends on so many factors. I did see a couple got a handicap bus from a nursing home and transformed that into a home. That would be a great starting point because it would already have the lift you need. I do know that van/bus renovations are very DIY though, so you would either need to pay someone to outfit it (like this couple did) or do a lot of it yourself. And obviously the price of DIY is cheaper.
I’m a nurse who wants to start travel nursing. I bought a 5th wheel but realized that many of the places I want to go don’t have a place that is affordable to stay, or there isn’t a campground available. I’ve been watching van life videos on YouTube and just bought a Promaster 2500 159″ wheelbase this week! I’m terrified to get started but have started buying tools and even a Maxxair fan.
I’m wondering if there is a checklist of what to do first, second, etc? Some of it makes sense but others I’m not sure about. I have to carry a huge amt of supplies for my work (hospice), and have no garage to work from. Any ideas? Oh, it will be a year long DIY due to lack of funds and will be working alone!
Oh wow!! Congratulations! I highly recommend searching #vanlife on Instagram and then following as many DIY builds as possible. I’ve never done it myself, but for the most part the van community is very helpful and I’m sure they could answer your questions.
How do you keep cool, in the summertime, with no operable windows?
Many folks in Sprinter vans open up the back “garage” doors.
Very compact & functional. Good job!