How to go off-grid in your Mazda Bongo or any other camper van

Whether you’re planning a short overnight stay or a couple of weeks on the open road there are a few essentials you’ll need to function off-grid and be self sufficient in your Mazda Bongo (or Ford Freda). With plenty of campsites scattered across the UK you’ll never be far from amenities, but for the more adventurous, you may be considering some overnight stops away from civilisation to enjoy the freedom of the great outdoor wilderness.

Whilst this post is aimed at Mazda Bongo (or Ford Freda) owners it does apply to any other camper van. I’ve applied the basic knowledge of taking your vehicle off-grid and shown some of the items I’ve purchased or am planning to purchase. If you’re planning to go off-grid it’s important to be prepared. I hope this post will help you do just that.

Bongo at Sully Island
Mazda Bongo adventures in Wales – Sully Island

Before you can consider something like this you’ll want to be prepared with the right equipment and knowledge of the area you are staying. So let me start off with some useful information on what you can and cannot do in the UK when it comes to overnight wild camping.

Unfortunately it is currently illegal to wild camp (in a camper van) in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. So this really only leaves Scotland for free wild camping stays, but again you must adhere to some specific rules. You can read them here: https://openroadscotland.com/2014/beginners-guide-wild-campervanning/

Overnight sleeping in the UK, however, is generally tolerated. As long as you don’t set up camp with awnings and chairs etc., stick to one night only, no fires, clear all you litter and obey ‘no camping’ signs in car parks you should be ok.

Apps like Park4Night are a great way to find these spots.

Great campsites

If you’re looking to set up camp in England, Wales or Northern Ireland there are some amazing campsites that offer affordable stays, with a vibe that resembles that of a wild location. Here are some of my favourites:

These campsites offer some great rural locations, private pitches and some basic facilities, giving the off-grid feel without breaking the law.

The Mazda bongo or Ford Freda off-grid upgrade guide

If like me you own a Mazda Bongo (or a Ford Freda) then you’ll likely be looking to upgrade certain aspects to make your trips a little more comfortable. But it’s not all just about comfort. Being self sufficient is a great way to avoid unnecessary charges, park without restrictions and makes finding the best site super easy.

There are loads of upgrades you can make to your camper van but I’m going to cover those that I think will make life easier whilst travelling the off-grid lifestyle. Some of these I have already completed and some are on the to-do list.

One – Solar panel upgrade

Generating your own electricity has to be up there in terms of camping off-grid. You could opt for a portable generator but these are noisy and cumbersome. Wind power is also an option but a little trick to install on a small camper van like a Bongo.

Solar panels on the other hand are silent, flat and easy to install yourself. You can buy solar kits which include a panel (or panels), a solar charge controller and all the cabling. Places like Solar Camper Solutions or Ebay are perfect for these kinds of kits. Then all you need to do is hook it up to your leisure battery and you’ll have enough power to keep a 12V compressor fridge running, charge your laptops and mobile devices, power lights and keep the van stereo going indefinitely.

I installed my solar panel kit easily in under 2 hours.

Bongo in cornwall
Haryln Bay, Cornwall

Mine was purchased as a kit from Solar Camper Solutions who provided detailed instructions. The kit included a 100W rigid solar panel, roof mounts, a Victron MPPT bluetooth charge controller and all the cabling.

Solar power is a great way to stay off grid but there are limitations. For example, you can forget boiling an electric kettle and any kind of heater is out of the question. You’ll have to think of alternatives to boiling water and providing heat in the colder months.

To install I simply drilled a hole through the AFT (although you don’t have to drill it does look a little neater) and fed the cable through behind the canopy and into a grommet at the back where the electrical cables feed into the cabin. From there I fed the cables down the rear post and behind the side panels where I then mounted the charge controller. From the leisure battery I fed the cable through a small hole into the cabin, located behind the leisure battery and behind the glovebox. Then the cable follows down the centre console and off to the side panels where it meets the controller. Super easy if you have an unconverted van like mine.

Portable power stations

A portable power station is another option for off-grid power in your van. If you don’t have a leisure battery then this is a great option for charging devices on the move. Something like this can easily power all your portable devices for 3-5 days and you can even add the fold out solar panel to top it up during the day.

Two – Compressor fridge

Storing food such as milk and cheese won’t be possible without a fridge so it’s worth investing in a 12v portable compressor fridge. These little fridges can run easily for 2-3 days on a 80Ah leisure battery and with the addition of a solar panels will run indefinitely. They are also powerful enough to freeze items (up to -20 degrees) so you can even take frozen foods with you on a journey.

Who doesn’t like a nice hot tea or coffee in the morning to perk them up. And if like me you want a little milk in your hot drink then this is a no brainer.

Here are a couple of options for consideration:

Three – Human waste

Everyone has to do their business at some point so it’s important to have access to facilities, even in a small van like the Bongo. Thats why we invested in a portable toilet. With the blacked out windows (or window blinds), doing your movements in the back of the bongo is no problem at all. You’ll just need to ask others to vacate before you start. 🙂

We purchased a Thetford Porta Potti 335 because it’s small, light and a good quality well known brand. The 335 is the most compact design that Thetford manufacture and is a step up from the 135 which doesn’t have the full waste tank indicator and has the cheaper bellow style pump, as opposed to the more reliable piston pump. Here’s a quick guide for Thetford portable toilets.

Have a good read of the above document as it also specifies which chemicals you’ll require to manage your Potti.

Disposing of the waste is the complicated part as you can’t just empty it anywhere. If you are staying on a campsite the chances are they are going to have a ‘black waste’ disposal point. This is ideal to easily pour the waste cassette contents down the drain and there is normally a tap with hose to quickly rinse clean the cassette.

Porta Potti in Bongo
Porta Potti

If however you don’t have access to one of these facilities you can pour the waste into a conventional toilet. I will however warn you, this should be done bit by bit to avoid blocking the toilet. Take your time and flush between each pour. Yes, nasty work but completely necessary.

There are other options for human waste if a Porta Potti isn’t for you. Why not consider one of the following:

Four – Heating

Camping in the summer months doesn’t really pose an issue for staying warm in a campervan, even in the Scottish highlands. But when it comes to autumn, winter and spring you’ll likely need something to keep you warm. Some of you may just brave it and layer up with multiple duvets, blankets and a nice hot water bottle but if this isn’t for you then it’s worth considering a diesel heater.

Diesel heaters are great devices that burn diesel, either from your main tank (if you have a diesel Bongo) or a separate small tank. They pump heat directly into the cabin of your Bongo. They can be mounter under the passenger seat and feed hot air into the van via a small vent located on either the sliding door step or on the centre console.

The 2kw heater is more than sufficient to heat the whole van so don’t waste money going for the 5kw heaters or higher. The 2kw heaters on Ebay or Amazon come with pretty much everything you need for a basic setup. They also come with a LCD control unit and remote which are used inside the van to control the temperature.

Hear are a few options available on Amazon.

Installation can be a little complex so if you’re not handy around the van, have a qualified person fit it for you. This guide is really usefully and goes into great detail for buying and installing diesel heaters. Please make sure you fit a carbon monoxide alarm.

Five – Cooking and drinking

Making a tasty meal whilst out in the wild is essential, especially after a long walk across the fells or coastal paths. Thats why you’re going to need some kind of cooking equipment. Ideally a gas hob and some pots and pans will provide what you need but there are a few other options worth considering depending on what you like.

We currently have a small portable stove which is ideal for boiling some water in a camping kettle or even cooking some beans, soup or pasta. All you need is a couple of gas refills and you’re good for several meals out on the road.

Storing water is also essential when out on the road. You’ll be able to top up in many places but ideally you’ll need about 3-4 litres a day per person for drinking and cooking.

This handy collapsible water container is ideal for 2 people and could last for a couple of days if used sparingly.

Here are a few other water container options for consideration. The one on the right even has a soap dispenser built in for easily washing your hands.

Conclusion

This completes my essential guide for taking your Bongo camper van off-grid. With each of these elements considered you should be able to survive for at least a couple of days without the need for mains electric, food, water, warmth and of course bathroom facilities. You may want to consider a portable shower but thats what waterfalls are for… right?

Natural shower! Aaaaahhhhhhhh

Other thing to remember when camping off-grid

If you’re thinking that off-grid camping or overnight stays are right for you then I’d recommend considering the following to make sure you are well prepared for almost everything.

  1. First aid kit – You never know when something unexpected is going to happen so make sure you pack a first aid kit in the van.
  2. A small toolkit – Any Bongo owner knows that a small tool kit is worth it’s weight in gold for long journeys. These 16 – 26 year old vehicles are great but do require a little attention every now and again.
  3. USB charging point – In replacement of the front cigarette lighter port you can easily install this quick charge dual 3.0 USB port charger. (see below)
  4. Extra blankets or a 12v electric blanket – Ideal for those chilly nights, especially if you don’t have a diesel heater these can make a big difference when trying to get a good nights sleep.
  5. Camping cutlery set – You can’t go camping without a cutlery set or you’ll be eating with your hands!
  6. Ridgemonkey compact frying pan – Ideal for cooking in an enclosed area with oil spit prevention and smell containment.
  7. Compact fire extinguisher – no brainer really.
  8. Sleeping bag
  9. Tea bags and/or coffee
  10. Toilet rolls
  11. Bin bags
  12. Phone chargers
  13. Flask for hot and cold drinks
  14. Bottle opener
  15. Tin opener
  16. Hot water bottle
  17. Sunglasses
  18. Torch
  19. Kitchen roll
  20. Baby wipes
  21. Wash bag including toothbrush and toothpaste

There maybe more items you can’t live without on the open road but hopefully, in time, you will get to know what you need and don’t need. I like to be prepared on my journeys and this is a list I live by.

Here is the USB charge port I installed recently in place of the front cigarette lighter. It was easy to install and provides two quick charge USB ports and a voltage meter.

Find it here on Amazon: (click image)

That’s all for now but please always remember to clean up after yourself wherever you stay and leave no trace behind you.

Please feel free to comment below with any essentials you think I may have missed from the list and any gadgets you can’t live without. Happy camping everyone. 🙂

On Pinterest? I’d appreciate a pin if you have the time. Thank you 🙂

4 thoughts on “How to go off-grid in your Mazda Bongo or any other camper van

  1. Very valuable hints and I appreciate your effort!
    I would like to ask if you know anyone who will fit a solar panel on my bongo?
    I would like to visit Scotland exploring the famous route!
    Your advice is appreciated on the topics you mentioned!
    Take care!

    Like

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