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Peace Vans Rental Adventure: Avid Truck Camper Tries on Van Life for Size

truck camper versus van lifeTruck camper, named Max, versus Peace Vans Metris, named Crescent; (photo/Mike Misselwitz)
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I usually travel in a home-built truck camper, but it was time to try out this whole van life thing. Peace Vans made it easy, and a ton of fun.

Last month I toured one of my favorite destinations — Washington’s Olympic Peninsula — twice on back-to-back road trips. Each was a 4-day scenic tour along Highway 101 complemented by hiking in Olympic National Park and camping along its rugged coastline. Between the two trips, the key difference was that the first trip took place in my old truck, and the second was in a Peace Vans rental.

The goal of the experiment was to determine whether or not my deeply ingrained road trip methods are fully optimized, using my truck — a 16-year-old Tundra named Max with a home-built camper — as the litmus test, and Peace Vans’ rental experience as the variable.

After 8 days of comparing road trip styles, I’m not abandoning my tried-and-true methods, or Max. But I do have a new benchmark for what an optimized road trip can look like.

Van Life vs. Truck Camper Living

Peace Vans

The Seattle-based enterprise specializes in building, selling, and renting premium campervans, both vintage VWs and new Mercedes Metris (think: a Sprinter’s little sibling). The man behind the vans — Harley Sitner, Peace Vans owner, lifelong Burning Man aficionado, and the host of my rental experience — is as charming, genuine, and quirky as business owners come.

He purchased Peace Vans in 2013 because he needed a mechanic to work on his own 1991 VW Vanagon. Over the years, Peace Vans expanded from its mechanical roots to accommodate even the most high-maintenance glampers, championing award-winning custom builds meticulously curated with top-rate amenities.

On the rental side of the business, its fleet of classic VW Vanagons and decked-out Metris vans are each equipped with the gamut of van life accessories and road trip accouterment.

Peace Vans Shop
“VWs are the soul of our brand,” said Peace Vans owner Harley Sitner during a tour of the Seattle headquarters; (photo/Mike Misselwitz)

Peace Vans Rentals Include Camp Sites

Renting a Peace Van will cost you $265 a day. While I’m not willing to pay that for every road trip, I can justify it on select occasions, given everything the rental includes.

That is, in essence, a fluid, stress-free, one-of-a-kind road trip experience. Along with their VW or Metris of choice, renters also gain access to any of Peace Vans’ private campsites. The sites are strewn about Washington in some of the state’s most iconic destinations.

peace vans set up for camping
Peace Vans camp at Kalaloch Beach; (photo/Mike Misselwitz)

Nestled among the evergreens on a bluff overlooking the surf, complete with hot showers and a lovely little fire ring, Peace Vans’ site at Kalaloch Beach proved to be one of the most beautiful campsites I’ve ever encountered. And the convenience of not needing to compete for a site at a crowded public campground cannot be overstated.

Despite the promise of hoity-toity amenities and world-class campsites, I entered the arrangement skeptical of Peace Vans and stubbornly partial to my humble truck camper. Less than a week earlier, Max and I scored great waves on the Olympic Coast, camped at our favorite beaches, caught delicious trout for dinner, and enjoyed blue skies every day.

I couldn’t help but chalk some of the trip’s success up to Max’s good juju, the ol’ chap. How much better could such a spectacular place be with a Peace Van?

Getting My Peace Van ‘Crescent’

Peace Vans model named Crescent outdoors in fog
(Photo/Mike Misselwitz)

On the first morning of my Peace Vans outing, I arrived at Peace Vans’ headquarters in downtown Seattle and met my rig for the trip, a freshly converted, cream-colored 2022 Mercedes Metris named Crescent. Instantly, my apprehensions began to wane. Crescent’s class and beauty were undeniable at first blush.

I loaded her up and pulled out of the parking lot en route to the Olympic Peninsula. She purred playfully through the city streets. I hadn’t anticipated the ease of using her backup camera, or the smoothness of her German-engineered transmission. She had such pep in her step for a four-cylinder engine, making Max’s V8 feel bullish in comparison.

A few miles later, we filed into the line for the Bainbridge Ferry exiting Seattle. With time to kill before the ferry arrived, I shut the engine down and climbed into the back to get better acquainted.

Crescent’s spacious rear seats boasted three OEM-standard seatbelts. They transformed into a comfy, twin-sized mattress with the flick of a lever, complete with custom bed sheets.

The hand-finished, wood-grain cabinets curved perfectly plumb to the interior walls, thoughtfully retrofitted to maximize interior storage capacity. Dual sliding passenger doors opened wide, one providing entry beneath a sturdy rollout awning, the other making way for outdoor access to the convertible kitchenette.

Metris Peace Vans: Features

Peace Vans model 4 Metris interior
A Peace Vans Mercedes Metris configured in camp mode; (photo/Mike Misselwitz)

Configured in camp mode, Crescent’s front swivel seats, hydraulic pop-top bunk, and pull-out dining room table provided ample space for a dinner for five. The cabinets are stocked with provisions ranging from TP and towels to headlamps and a french press.

Behind the back seats, Crescent packed a set of brand new Dometic foldable chairs and tables, soft storage and a cooler, and a blanket designed to make lying on the dirt comfortable — optimal gear for an overland adventure.

I ruminated on the contrast from my usual space. If Max was a Motel 6, Crescent was the Ritz-Carlton.

Crescent and I spent the next few blissful days caravaning with friends between Peace Vans’ campsites along the same route Max and I had enjoyed a few days prior. All the while, I secretly sized Crescent up. Peace Vans’ was indisputably a more luxurious experience than Max’s. The competition stiffened with each warm, cozy night’s sleep beneath the pop-top canopy.

Big Green Egg

Big Green Egg grilling
(Photo/Tara Yant)

Then, on the third evening of our journey, something happened that soiled the experiment with an unfair advantage Max could not rival. Two new friends toting a secret weapon — the Big Green Egg — joined our party.

I’d heard tales of the Big Green Egg. Part kamado grill, part ceramic grill, part smoker — the alien-looking outdoor cooking contraption has a cult-like following of culinary enthusiasts. Among them, our new camp buddies, Mary Cressler and Sean Martin — professional chefs and authors of Fire and Wine, a cookbook covering smoke-infused BBQ and wine pairings — are some of the most talented camp chefs on earth.

Making proper use of their Big Green Eggs, Mary and Sean served up feasts of royal proportions for the remainder of the trip — scallops in smoked honey butter, mushroom risotto and perfectly grilled veggies, sage-rubbed salmon filets, and for breakfast, gourmet biscuits and gravy. The food provided a stark contrast from the doctored-up ramen I’d enjoyed camping in Max a few days prior.

While not a provision of Peace Vans per se, more just a coincidence, I wondered how much Crescent’s good juju had to do with this fortune of great food.

Biscuits and Gravy breakfast on plate with fruit
Gourmet biscuits and gravy fresh off the Big Green Egg; (photo/Mike Misselwitz)

‘The Goal Is to Make the Outdoors Feel Welcoming to Everyone’

Regardless, I was thankful for the wealth of sustenance, particularly on the final day when it fueled our group for an 11-mile hike into the Olympic rainforest. There’s nothing like a long and tiresome hike, albeit beautiful, to bond a group of strangers.

A lot was revealed about our group during the afternoon’s trail banter. Most surprisingly, I learned that the lot of us — a collection of journalists brought together to experience Peace Vans — came from entirely different walks of life.

Some, like me, were well-versed in a more rustic camping style. Others hardly camped at all. And yet somehow, Peace Vans felt appropriate for all of us. Hiking beside Harley, the guru-like Peace Vans owner who’d orchestrated the tour, I mentioned the curious dynamic.

“That’s the spirit of Peace Vans,” he said. “Just like Burning Man, the goal is to make the outdoors feel welcoming to everyone.”

Harley Sitner stands next to VW van
Harley Sitner standing proud with his VW van at Peace Vans’ Kalalock Campsite, where guests are welcome to stay while renting a Peace Van; (photo/Mike Misselwitz)

Peace Vans Adventures

The next morning I said goodbye to my new friends, and Crescent and I took the long route back to Seattle, where Max waited dutifully at the Peace Vans headquarters. Five hours later, we pulled into the parking lot and slowed to a stop directly beside him. Sitting there with both rigs side by side, the results of my experiment were finally revealed: inconclusive.

Neither mine nor Peace Vans’ road-tripping methods outshone. Instead, the takeaway was this: there’s more than one way to optimize a road trip. It’s the experience itself, not the vessel, that makes a trip great.

Max and I will continue to hit the road hard and often, creating those experiences as we always have. And I expect now, on occasion, Crescent and I will, too. Only next time, we’ll probably opt for a different stretch of highway.

To rent Crescent yourself or any of Peace Vans’ other camper vans, check out their website.

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