Kiwi trail runner Sophie Grant shares her tips for off-grid camping and van life in the mountains
The mountains around the Aosta Valley are great for van life in summer. Pila is our latest find, with excellent running trails, and cycling and mountain biking options.
Over in Switzerland, Saas-Fee is beautiful year-round, with enough ski touring, climbing and running options to keep anyone entertained.
Back in Italy, head to the Dolomites if you want views to take your breath away. It’s best to avoid it during the busy season of August, when it is overrun with tourists and motorbikes. There are lovely spots to park around the Falzarego Pass
When it gets wet in the mountains, you can get a cheap ferry to Sardinia in September. There you can park and step straight out the door onto white sandy beaches with crystal blue water.
To maximise your time off-grid in a camper, obtaining and conserving water is vital, making showering difficult. In summer this means lots of wild swimming to stay fresh. We have recently been using a pressure solar shower from Decathlon, which heats up in the sun and gives you a lovely hot, powerful shower. Try not to let your soapy water flow into the surrounding environment, so you don’t damage the very place it is such a pleasure to be in.
The most indispensable tool we use is the park4night app on our phones. It shows you all the closest places you can stay and is full of helpful reviews.
It can get unbearably hot in the van in the summer months, so having bug nets that cover all of your doors and windows are a must, as you’ll want to be able to keep your doors open.
Being able to fill your water tanks without going to a rest stop or campsite is very helpful. A selection of universal tap attachments for filling your tanks from fountains is essential.
Powerful solar panels make a massive difference to our ability to stay off-grid. Keep them clean in the summer and snow-free in the winter to get the most out of them.
An Omnia stove top oven is an excellent piece of kit if you don’t have an oven in your van and you fancy some baked goods. I have made everything in it, from cinnamon scrolls to lasagne.
Research areas before going to them to make sure they are safe. Looking at reviews on apps like park4night gives excellent insight.
In general, parking your van is tolerated widely across Europe, as long as you don’t put out chairs/tables, etc. There are some places like Austria where it is strictly forbidden, and hefty fines are issued – so do your research.
Avoid low altitudes at the peak of summer. Vans hold heat, and we have had to do midnight dashes up mountains in Corsica when it is over 40 degrees inside.
* Sophie Grant is sponsored by La Sportiva