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Gearhouse Presents Fireside Chats Featuring Harley Sitner, Founder of Peace Vans

Updated: Sep 2, 2023

Peace Vans Founder

At Gearhouse, Seattle’s only outdoor Social Club, we believe the outdoors are for everyone. It’s our mission to increase the accessibility and affordability of adventure in Washington and beyond. Through our adventure courses, outdoor gear rentals, and group outings, we strive to share our love for adventure with our community, which is exactly what this week’s Fireside Chat interview subject aims to do through Peace Vans, a camper van restoration and rental company located in Seattle. Peace Vans founder Harley Sitner connected with the team shortly after a trip to the Olympics in a rental van. If you’re interested in van life, car camping, entrepreneurship in the adventure world, or just want some tips on where to adventure for a weekend in the PNW, continue reading below to read our interview with Harley Sitner, Founder of Peace Vans.

Hey Harley, take me back to the beginning. How did Peace Vans begin?

Van life

Peace Vans began 10 years ago. When my daughter was born, I decided to pull the trigger on a vintage VW camper, so we’d have an escape pod to get out of the city and go camping as a family. As you’d expect with a vintage camper, it broke down regularly. I found a small garage in SODO that could work on the van, but it wasn’t being run well. Everyone in the van community seemed to have the same problem: good mechanics were hard to find. So, I bought the garage, and Peace Vans was born.

After you bought the garage, what did you do to set Peace Vans apart from a typical shop?

There was a huge gap in the market for van-specific mechanics. I reorganized the business to be a customer service-oriented operation and slowly but surely started adding other businesses to our offerings. In addition to our VW restoration business, we offer a rental fleet, Mercedes Metris conversions, vintage electric conversions, and most recently, Mercedes Sprinter support. What we’ve gained from all this is a cool way to connect with people and build a strong community.

Tell me a bit more about the rental business.

Vintage Van Rentals

Our rental business has grown significantly over the last few years. We currently have about 15-20 vans here in Seattle available for rent by the week or just for a weekend, and a few down in Baja. We offer exclusive itineraries to help our customers get out and explore the Pacific Northwest.

What advice would you give someone interested in van life but who maybe doesn’t know where to begin?

Try it out first. Go car camping. Go rent something. It doesn’t have to be from Peace Vans. There are great resources out there, like Outdoorsy, which is a peer-to-peer rental platform. If you’re seriously thinking about getting a van, think long and hard about how you plan to use that van. Ask yourself: Do you want your purpose-built van to be practical in the city, or are you okay with only using it for trips and getting 100 or so days of use out of it a year at most? Do you need something you can stand in? DIY vs. Prebuilt? Bathroom vs. No Bathroom. There are a lot of questions you’ll need to answer, and the best way to get those answers is to try out different models and find out exactly what your needs are. For some, a truck or car may be a better platform than a van, or it may be more cost-effective to rent rather than storing a van and gear in the city.

Once new van owners have a van (or are trying out a rental), where should they start exploring?

Van travel

Vans enable you to boondock and really get off the grid quickly. It takes practice to be self-sufficient and know all the systems on your van Start at paid campsites, either in national or state parks, or book private land on platforms like Hipcamp. Dial in your systems (water, electrical, cooking, bedding, and more) and work out the kinds before you head off the grid. Once you’re ready to head off the grid, use apps like IOverlander to plan your trips.

What’s somewhere you’ve taken your van that you keep going back to?

I have three favorite places: the Olympic Peninsula, the San Juan Islands, and Baja Mexico. Each is special in their own right.

Is there anything you want to share with the Gearhouse community?

Yeah, get outdoors as much as you can. Use organizations like Gearhouse and Peace Vans to break down the barriers and get out there and sleep under the stars. Renting a vehicle and gear rather than buying is the easiest way to get out of the city without breaking the bank.

To secure your next van rental, head to the Peace Vans website, then swing by Gearhouse to pick up your favorite outdoor toys. Stay tuned to the Gearhouse blog for more interviews with prominent voices in adventure through our Fireside Chats.

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