Full-time Vanlife: Choosing A Van – Introducing Our Roadtrek Zion

We wanted to introduce you to our van and talk a little about why we chose her!

Fulltime travelers, travel couples, full time travel tips, life on the road, vanlife, realities of living in a van, love van life, roadtrek, campervan

We are not sponsored or endorsed by Roadtrek, but we are going to be talking a lot about them here.

We met our van in Chilliwack, BC at O’Connor RV. We had been daydreaming about vans and researching vans, and really binging on vanlife YouTube videos to see what was out there and what it was like.

Fulltime travelers, travel couples, full time travel tips, life on the road, vanlife, realities of living in a van, love van life, roadtrek, campervan, chosing an rv

We love all the custom van builds out there, honestly, they are gorgeous and mostly what got us thinking about van dwelling in the first place. That being said neither of us is particularly handy or mechanically inclined so building out our own van didn’t seem like the right fit.

Our initial idea was a Volkswagon Rialta. we liked that they were a little roomier than a Westfalia, and had a kitchen and wet bath. Mechanical issues, costs, and standing room for Logan ended up being the main reasons we kept up our search.

We found a used Roadtrek 210 Popular online and really liked the look and features of it. So we figured going and seeing one couldn’t hurt. We drove 2.5 hours to O’Connor and went window shopping. Holy cow, RVs are insane, the dealership had everything from vans, to little $5000 trailers, all the way up to the massive half million dollar busses that are arguably nicer than any house we will ever own (leather furniture, a bar, a fireplace, two TVs) really. If you have never gone and walked around and checked out RVs it’s actually a really fun experience.

Back to the vans. We still knew very little about Roadtrek at this point. We saw the Popular models on Chevy chassis. We also got to check out the E-trek, and Adventurous models on the Mercedes chassis.

When you order a new Roadtrek you chose the chassis, and then the features to be included in your van. We did not order our van, so there are definitely things we would change. But the van was 2 years old but never owned so we were able to get a great deal on it.

When we found our Zion we loved it almost instantly.

Let’s start with the exterior the granite metallic paint job was actually our favorite of the available colors. (Though now we would be curious for the temperature to see how a white or silver van compares).

The ProMaster 3500 has a 3.6L, gas V6 engine, with front wheel drive. We may consider diesel and 4×4 in the future but again the base cost was a big factor. Another thing we considered and appreciate, is that we can take this van to any Dodge dealership so, along the way, we have never had an issue getting in for service. Mechanical issues are a headache, but in our minds easier to negotiate than with say a Mercedes.

The side sliding door has a Thule power step that can be locked out when we camp, otherwise it slides out when the door is opened.

There is a backup camera which is helpful. We had never used one before so it took some getting used to. We typically leave our rear windows covered so this is definitely handy.

Our van had the Continental Package. Our spare tire is hitch mounted on the rear of the van. For access to the spare this is great, but given the option, we would choose the standard under mounted spare tire. We have to lower the spare tire to access the rear driver side door. It’s a double-edged sword, we feel like its a little extra security and a buffer to protect our bumper…but it’s a hassle loading and unloading.

We have a full sized 12′ power awning. We didn’t use this much at first but now we use it often. It gives us shade on the passenger side of the van which really helps with temperature control. Easy to set up and take down. When it comes to being stealthy, awnings and air conditioners are a dead giveaway that its a camper van. But we would keep the awning its been really useful.

There is a roof mounted 11,000 BTU Dometic air conditioner. We have a love-hate relationship with this. One it puts the height restriction of the van over 9’5. Its noisy as all get out and it is right above the bed, so using it is not always fun, and at night it’s hard to ignore the sound. The draw of the a\c will kill our fully charged battery in an hour. We have been in some crazy hot spots like Palm Springs, or Key West in Florida where we really needed the a\c to help keep the van livable for us and Holly. We have the ability to plug in if we need to run the a\c a lot.

We have Roadtreks proprietary Ecotrek power module. This now includes 2, 200 amp lithium batteries mounted under the van (there is a lot of debate in Roadtrek land about AGM vs Lithium.) We started out with one battery and Roadtrek upgraded us to two. We are almost always off-grid, so we rarely plugin, and have rarely had any issues managing our power.

We have a 280amp under the hood generator. This is essentially like a second alternator that allows us to charge our house batteries automatically when we drive.

The van has full plumbing, so we have a 36.5-gallon fresh water tank, a 23.5-gallon gray tank, and a 9.6-gallon black tank. Filling fresh water is easy, the intake is just inside the driver side door. We can also connect to city water through a valve on the rear passenger side of the van (we have never needed to).

There is a 25L\7 gallon propane tank mounted under the rear of the van. We have put propane in 3 times in 10 months and we have never run out of propane. (This feeds, hot water, stove, and furnace).

We also have our outdoor shower. We have actually only used this twice, but it’s definitely handy to have.

Since we have a black tank the van comes equipped with a 12V macerator sewage dump as well as gravity dump. We have always used the macerator, we are able to dump our tanks and hit the road in about 3 minutes. We have had the cover for this area replaced twice. We aren’t sure what the answer is, but hopefully, we can find a more durable solution.

We have 2, 100-watt solar panels on the roof. This is actually only enough power to trickle charge our battery management system, so we would love to upgrade this, to power more than our batteries. Roadtreks can come with significantly more solar when you order them.

Stepping into our van the standing room is listed at 6’2 but Logan is able to stand upright with his head grazing the ceiling so this was a pretty good physical fit for us.

The cabinets are oak and the floors are laminate in ebony, and countertops are granite.

The front chairs swivel so we use the passenger seat facing back pretty much any time we are parked. There is a small table that can be installed between these seats. Though we have only used it once.

Our control panel sits right above the sliding door, we can monitor our batteries, tanks (though they are never accurate), our inverter, patio lights, and awning are all controlled here as well.

There are 6 USB ports, 6 12V DC outlets, and 8 110V outlets throughout the van.

We have a fully enclosed bathroom. Its tiny, but it works for us. Having your own toilet when traveling is so nice (no more nasty outhouses). We do use the shower. We are always surprised to hear that some people don’t but to each their own. We try to limit our water use when we are off-grid, but being able to wash off after a long hike and not going to bed dirty and sweaty is a treat. We do have wipes, but nothing beats soap and water.

Our Fantastic Fan is probably our most used appliance. It is remote control operated and has a rain sensor. This fan creates awesome airflow to help keep the van cool, and also works as our exhaust fan for cooking and showering.

Our kitchen includes a small sink, we don’t love the fold-down faucet but it allows more prep space for us to cover the sink, there is a fold up counter to extend the kitchen space. Stainless steel backsplash so cleanup is easy. There is also a 2 burner propane stove. Given the way our battery system works, I am glad to have propane vs induction. We have never run out of propane or had any issues with the stove. Though we may be interested in buying a small induction unit to try.

The storage capacity in our van is actually huge. Roadtrek did a good job of using the space well. We have food and kitchen supplies stored in the two cabinets under the sink and stove (and we stock so much food like we are Costco shoppers). The slide-out pantry is great, though we did have an extra latch installed to secure it so it doesn’t pop open while we’re driving. The large drawer under the fridge has been a pots and pans drawer, a clothes drawer, and now its an everything drawer (laptop, Dyson, first aid, sunscreen, towels, doggy bags, you name it) our closet is also used for food and coffee brewer storage.

Our fridge was another selling feature, it’s a 5 cubic foot NoreCold fridge which is pretty big by van standards (food storage is a biggy for us). We like that it sits high in the van, so we can see what’s in it, and don’t have to bend down to grab things from it. The fridge runs on 110\12v so it requires the battery to operate. There is a small icebox, we would love more freezer space but we make the most of it!

Fridge cleaning day…

We have a 16000 BTU Suburban furnace with a programmable thermostat. We have used this on a few cold nights and it’s worked pretty well to keep us comfortable.

The valves for our water are tucked in a small cabinet under the fridge. We have a Girard hot water on demand system. There are some good and some bad to it. There is no reservoir like in other water heaters, so less space. It’s a heat exchanger, so you have to pass a lot of water through to get the hot water (not great when you are trying to conserve water and gray tank space).

Our 2000 watt Microgreen inverter is stored in a cabinet under the rear driver side bench seat. This allows us to run our 12V appliances and the a\c.

The rear cabinets are also pretty spacious they run all the way to the rear of the van. We store all our clothes in the rear cabinets and we have a lot of clothes!! Our solar control panel is stashed up here. We also use one cabinet as an electrical supplies cabinet. Our remotes, Weboost Drive 4G X, and our antenna receiver for the tv is in here.

Our van came with a Samsung 24″ flat screen tv on a swivel mount as well as a Panasonic blue ray player. We mostly use our own external hard drive for movies, or we stream Netflix.

Our lighting in the van is LED, each light is controlled separately like a push button.

All of the window coverings and upholstery come standard in the van. It would be nice to have more options to make them a little cuter. That being said we visited the factory we met the man who makes most of it, and he does very good work. We may eventually do some DIY projects to make it feel a little more “us” in here, but really we don’t mind black and gray.

Lastly our bed. So our King sized bed is actually three pieces. The Zion comes in different configurations. Ours had the front facing power sofa (also two more seatbelts so passengers are possible). The front-facing sofa slides flat, and the two seats easily transition to cushions for the bed. The wooden panel that is used to bridge the gap under the bed is actually not big enough (we feel the hole in the middle or a sag at the foot of the bed). We will be cutting a new piece to fit it properly. We also have a 3-inch memory foam topper that we will be replacing. We leave our bed down like a bed all the time. There is ample storage under the bed, but it requires raising the bed to access it. If we were choosing or building custom, we would likely have a fixed bed and have it raised to make access easier.

So why Roadtrek?

  • This a Canadian based company, their factory is in Kitchener, Ontario. They have been building Class B campervans for decades.
  • Roadtrek offers a pretty amazing 6-year transferrable warranty. This covers all the RV components. This warranty has already replaced a cabinet, our fantastic fan motor, a macerator dump hose, and more.

The downsides:

  • Roadtreks proprietary Battery Management System is definitely great, but if you do run into problems, you need someone certified to fix it. There is a shortage of great RV repair technicians, and we were lucky enough to find one of the best in servicing Roadtreks, but not everyone is so lucky. Turn around time and back and forth with the factory leaves a lot of owners frustrated. That being said if you can book in at the factory in Kitchener, the service is incredible.
  • Customization is not what they are about. You have a lot of options to chose from when you order a new Roadtrek, but they are not in the business of customizing. With the growing popularity of vanlife, Class B vans, and Roadtreks in general that factory is pumping out more vans than ever. They won’t be adding in features just for you. There are the standards that they offer, and that’s it.
  • The price tag is high. The website lists the base MSP for a new Zion at $96,022 USD. Financing options are available at most dealerships, which is good because most people don’t have this kind of cash. These vans really are gorgeous and are built well. We think the higher price has been worth it for us so far with the warranty alone.
  • In our van specifically, the low clearance is the price we pay for the holding tanks, plumbing, propane, and batteries. Having a van with higher clearance would be nice for the kind of traveling we do. But we have made it work.

If you have any questions about our van or van life just let us know!

Hi! We are Kira and Logan! we have been travelling fulltime in our Roadtrek Zion since November 2017!

6 Comments

  • Maya

    This is a great explanation of the features of your Zion and why you chose it! Being in an RV I know there are definitely a lot of trade-offs if you don’t buy new from a company that’s willing to customize for you. The cost is high, but worth it (if you can afford it) if you don’t want to do your own build for whatever reason. I’m thinking that with a new Promaster, all the materials and all the tools (if you don’t have any) you might be very close to this price to get all the appliances, etc. that you have in your van. So congrats on saving yourselves the time and potential frustration of a van build! You have a ready-made home. =)

    • Life As We Roam It

      Thanks Maya! We have been pretty happy with it so far! It’s a treat getting the great features even though you didn’t hand pick them 🙂

  • M

    Hey, we found a 2019 with the outback package which is nice from a dealer at a price we like. Of course now there is no warranty as RT is out of business. Trust the quality and take a chance?

    • Life As We Roam It

      Hi!
      It has definitely been a bit of a blow having RT going through receivership. So we have a couple thoughts on this. One, it may be a good idea no matter what rig you chose, to have someone inspect it for you first. (For the price tag, it is like a home inspection independent of the dealer who is trying sell it.)

      The rigs are really pretty great, we have had a couple of issues that were covered under warranty, but knowing about the batteries, and charging system before buying will help.
      Most people who own Roadtreks are lifers, although, like any RV company, we know within the RT community that some have had bad experiences.

      -You want to know that the batteries are working as they should. That the under the hood generator is charging correctly, that the solar is charging correctly (each battery charges to the right voltages and holds those charges, test them individually)…those are the most costly issues, so check them well before you buy.
      -Test the water pump and heater.
      -If the vehicle has Alde heating that system should be tested.
      -The furnace if it is propane.
      -Check all the cabinets and hinges.
      -Check each light as they all opperate individually.
      -Check each outlet. Roadtreks have DC, USB and 110 outlets throughout.

      Depending on where you are located we know someone who is a Roadtrek genius and is doing a lot of inspections for new owners (based out of California).

      There are a few parts in Roadtreks that are custom to the company, otherwise, the RV components are easy to find or replace if needed.

      All in all, negotiate a price that reflects not having the warranty. These vans are great, we love ours and most issues are common in any RV.

      If your dealer is offering to sell you a warranty, consider the cost vs. Setting aside money for potential repairs. Also if you do buy a warranty make sure it covers the batteries, generators, and solar.

      You can email us any time to chat more about it
      Lifeasweroamit@gmail.com

      That is really exciting that you might get one! I hope this helps!
      -Kira

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