Tiny Kitchens

Hi Steph,
I’m taking a job that will have me moving every year, so I’m thinking of building myself a tiny house (http://www.tumbleweedhouses.com/ for inspiration) on a trailer to move around with me. I’m young (21) and a civil engineer by training so I’m drawing up the plans and building the house myself, but I’ve got some design questions!

Top Burning Question:
Of all the spaces, I spend most of my time in the kitchen. How is life without an oven or refrigerator? I’m newly vegan, which helps a lot but how have you managed your food in the past living out of your truck? All I can think about right now is how much I will miss hot morning scones and cold almond milk! Any advice you have in the “I wish I’d known this then…” style for a girl contemplating a simple trailer lifestyle would be great.

I don’t own much, just some clothes, a laptop and some climbing gear. My first stop would be Henderson, NV this July. Have you done much climbing in Red Rocks?


Hi Kelly,
I really like small living–I am extremely happy with the back of my pickup and find it totally comfortable for one plus dog.

It’s actually better than living in a house because you can cook dinner AND breakfast in bed, and it’s the place where I seem to get the most work done too, and the most climbing (I mean, not climbing IN my truck, but when I’m living in my truck :).

Right now my small house project is building an octagon-shaped cabin in the desert. Since wood comes in 8 foot pieces, all 8 walls are 8-footers, and thus the square footage turned out to be about 300 sf. (That’s how I like to “plan” my building projects 😉

300 square feet turns out to be truly mansion-ous, even for two plus dog. 🙂

It’s very strange to have room to put everything you want in there, and then there’s still MORE room. So I have learned from this project that 300 square feet is quite enormous, especially when it’s round. But there you have the advantage of having learned to be totally comfortable in a 4×6 truck bed.

Ironically enough, the whole idea of this cabin was to make a place to hide out and write this book I’m writing–but one thing I’ve learned about building projects is they take a lot longer than they seem like they should–and the book is going to be done much sooner than the cabin, as it turns out 🙂 There is no running water or electricity, naturally, (no kitchen yet either, or floor or insulation) but there are walls and a roof, and even unfinished, it has already proved to be an excellent place to hide and write when things are too crazy in this bustling metrocenter of 5000 people in Moab.

I know your setup will be much smaller (I’m guessing more like 50-80 sf?). But it is a really fun project, figuring out exactly what you need and that’s all, with no excess and no wasted space. That is really the best way to live, in my opinion.

Don’t worry too much about keeping things cold. All you really need to do is invest in a very good cooler–although this can be harder than it should be, as I have learned. First of all, it needs to be big enough for a block of ice, but not enormous, and it needs to fit wherever you have designated to stow it (for years I had a cooler that was just one inch too high to slide under the shelf in my truck setup, and it drove me nuts, taking up all this room in the truck body all day while I was climbing, leaving tons of wasted space under the shelf. I finally got a shorter one, and I can’t tell you how psyched I am that I can push my cooler under my shelf!). Where it gets tricky is that this cooler also needs a drain valve–oddly, many coolers nowadays, especially the medium-big size that fits better in a vehicle, don’t have a drain valve. I kind of think this is a cooler manufacturers’ plot to make me go insane. When someone dies and leaves ME in charge it will be illegal to sell coolers without drain plugs. Currently my new cooler that fits under the shelf in my truck does not have a drain valve, and it is a cause for daily annoyance because I have to take everything out of the cooler, pile it up somewhere where it will not get dirty, fall on the ground, or get eaten by my pup during this process, dump the water, and put it all back in again. Grrr. So sometimes you can’t have everything, but anyway, you know what your goal is. And lastly, always use block ice. Do not buy cubed ice, unless you are desperate–it’s just not worth it in terms of money and water-dumping labor. With a block, everything will stay cold and fresh for two or three days, and you can have cold almond milk in the morning, and your vegetables, hummus and tofu for lunch and dinners, no problem. If you really want to get fancy, you could buy a tiny propane fridge, but those always seem like such a pain to me, personally. But then again, I like living in the back of a truckbed, so I might not be the best judge of that.

Not having an oven is really no big deal. You’re living in your car! On rest days, you can find a good coffee shop and enjoy a baked good or two–and no one’s going to stop you from buying an extra one for tomorrow 🙂 But I expect you’ll find you don’t even miss it on climbing days. I also spend about 80% of my time indoors in the kitchen: unless there isn’t one. I think you’ll be very surprised to find that you don’t really miss not having an official kitchen. And when you’re in one again, you’ll appreciate it even more.

If you do build a trailer that will have a designated kitchen spot, make sure you have a cutting-board-sized spot that is next to your stove. Unless you’re going to install an RV style 2-burner stove that is fixed, I recommend choosing a Coleman single burner camp stove–you can see mine in that first photo of my truck setup, and the propane tank too. I never miss 2 burners, and I can’t tolerate the space-wasting size and constant folding and unfolding hassle of those big Coleman 2-burner stoves. Those things drive me nuts! Almost as much as coolers with no drain plugs! So far I’m the only person I’ve met who feels this way about those stoves, but seriously, who has time to assemble and disassemble the thing twice a day, forever?? Not to mention how huge they are, which is also unacceptable in my book. I’m totally fine with one-burner cooking in the truck–you just have to time things correctly. But if you have enough space for a proper installation, the 2-burner RV counter stoves are excellent, and less space-eating than 2-burner camp stoves. I also recommend buying a very small propane tank (they cost more than big ones, which is frustrating, but it’s worth it for the space) and long hose to use with the stove, no matter what kind you choose to go with. You don’t want to keep buying those throw-away green cylinders on a long trip. If you are building, make a small compartment under the counter to house this.

A sink is a debatable topic. Some people don’t see the advantage of having a sink (usually these people are guys, and I am suspicious that they are not as expert on barebones kitchen necessities as me). For me a sink that drains is the one truly important thing in a tiny kitchen aside from a stove and cutting board. When I’ve lived in vans and tiny cabins without running water, I really don’t like having to go in and out to toss wash water or pasta draining water. It can be a huge hassle, especially if it’s dark, cold or snowy. In my opinion, it’s worth putting in a very small stainless steel RV sink. You can install it in your counter in that designated cutting-board-size place beside your stove, and fit your cutting board right over top of it so it’s not taking up any room in your kitchen area. This will also give you an extra little storage spot for dishes or pots or secret stashes of stuff, which is even more awesome. Run a pipe that will drain outside, and it will make your life SO MUCH BETTER. Believe me. You can just heat up a teakettle of water when it’s time to do dishes, and open the cutting board cover, and voila, you will be very psyched with your draining sink. I’m going to do that for sure in the octabin, when we ever get to kitchen-building (might need a real floor first though, and some insulation…but eventually).

I haven’t climbed in Red Rocks in years and years. Recently I have heard friends bemoaning the new development and the loss of some campgrounds. I remember camping out in the desert when I was there, but apparently that spot has been turned into condos….. I also remember enjoying the climbing very much. However, I would really not recommend Red Rocks in July–March or October would be much better. I’ve heard great things about Ten Sleep, Wyoming, and Rifle is also an excellent summer destination.

🙂 Steph

  • Man, I want to build one now.  Got me thinking of building a tiny cabin style that I can pull around too.  Aww that would be amazing, no rent, or anything… dang, I am going to start saving and planning 🙂

  • Erin

    I want an Octacabin!!!

  • Steph,

    I have a suggestion for your cooler drain plug woes! Put your ice in a dry bag. Then you can just pull the dry bag out and drain it, which you don’t have to do as often, as it keeps the meltwater from your stuff.


  • yes!

  • 🙂

  • Now that is a brilliant idea!!

  • I live in an 850 square foot home that I designed and built myself and it was a great joy to me.  Steph, I understand when you say it is taking longer to build than you expected.  I spent 7 years building mine!

    But, I only live in it a day or a week at a time.  The rest of the time I live in an over the road semi truck.  Here are a few suggestions from my perspective:

    I started out using the closet for my clothes, but didn’t notice until I had a few items ruined, that with all the movement of going down the road, the clothes were swinging and rubbing on each other and the closet door.  I fold them all now and store them in a Rubbermaid container.  It also seems to be more efficient spacewise, but I’m a guy and don’t care as much about wrinkles!

    Walmart sells two different sizes of portable toilets and the larger one seems comparable in size to a regular toilet.  Instead of filling the water storage portion of it, I leave it empty because the whole thing can get pretty heavy if you store it under a counter or shelf and pull it out each time.  You will use much less water to “flush” it if you get a pump sprayer and just spray it clean after it use.  I put a bit of bleach in the water.  Walmart also sells a blue 7 gallon water can.  I place it on a shelf laying down and use it for a faucet.  It comes with one built in.  

    If you will need electrical power, I recommend a Honda inverter generator because they are very quiet and fuel efficient.  A/C has many options, but I recommend installing a roof mounted one like RV’s have or a window model.  Avoid a portable, because by it’s nature, it uses inside air blown to the outside to remove the heat, but that causes outside air to be sucked in through any available openings thus bringing more heat inside that has to be cooled.  For heat, get something safe like an infrared heater where the case doesn’t get hot to the touch.  In a small space, it’s not easy to keep the heat source away from other items!

    I could go on and on with ideas, but generally speaking, spend a lot of time in the planning stage thinking about and picturing what it will be like to do each daily task as you layout the interior and decide on what all options to include as far as heating, cooling, cooking, washing, showering, storage etc.  

    Also, go look at RV’s for ideas on how to design yours!

  • You could buy a cheap replacement drain plug online for about $6, drill a hole in your cooler and add some silicone calk.

    What are your plans for a bathroom setup?

  • Lifeblack

    Steph, when you were cooking inside your truck, were you ever concerned about carbon monoxide?  Did you do anything to ventilate the back of your truck while you were cooking?  (what if it were really cold outside?)

  • wow, thanks Brian, great information.

  • I have considered that idea…but since I keep my cooler on the crash pad that I sleep on, I’m nervous about a bad seal. Maybe I should try it.

  • usually I have the window of the camper open, unless it’s really cold. If it’s really cold, I’m happy the stove is making it hot in there 🙂 My friends at MSR would go nuts if they saw this, but I have cooked for over 18 years with all sorts of camp stoves in enclosed spaces from portaledge flys to tents to vans to truck beds with absolutely no trouble ever…..
    of course I am by no means recommending this to anyone as I’m sure it’s totally dangerous and against the law.

  • Nick

    Another option: siphon the water out.  All you need is a piece of tubing, long enough to reach from the bottom of the cooler to wherever the water will get drained to.  As long as the water is going to somewhere below the bottom of the cooler, this will work.

  • Trae McCombs

    Sorry to go all fanboy on you, but something about seeing, “steph davis” posted 5 hours ago. seems ultra cool.  🙂

  • 🙂

  • i can not wait to try this !

  • rockanboat

    I know it is a little pricey but I have been borrowing my dad’s Yeti cooler…and MAN ITS AMAZING! I can go 7 days without adding ice. They have one where there is a wire rack where I keep my eggs and cheese from getting wet and slimy. Take care, you are a true inspiration!

  • rockanboat

    p.s. its BEAR PROOF!

  • But hey! Don’t you want one of these instead??



    As for the cooler drain – I’ve always kind of assumed higher end coolers lack them because they compromise some of the insulation. But maybe I’m just making excuses for the evil cooler cartels. But I bet for a few bucks you can get 5-6′ of 1/2″ tubing that would make syphoning the water out of the cooler easy peasy.

  • I was just about to say that….! http://www.yeticoolers.com/categories/Tundra-Series/

  • omg. just watching all that assembly and disassembly wore me out 🙂

  • I am now officially obsessed with yeti coolers. i am so excited right now!!! 😀

  • I just hope there is one short enough to fit under my shelf…

  • Jeremy Leonard

    This is an awesome thread!  I love the idea of the round cabin! Did you get blueprints for the cabin, or has it been a design as you go?

  • we looked at a lot of hogans in Arizona, and really wanted an octagon shape. just a mile from my house in Moab, there’s a bird sanctuary that is protected by the Nature Conservancy, and they have this octagonal wooden bird blind–it was exactly what I wanted! the guys who built it live in Moab, so we got them to help us, and it’s basically the same as the bird blind except it has windows instead of open ports….

  • Mike

    Great Thread Steph,

    Looks like you are building yourself a Mansion with a fab view!!

    I’d like one of the Yeti Coolers so I never have to buy another cooler again…and buy less ice!!

    Mike from Canada

  • yes… me too! I am a little traumatized right now, because all of the Yeti’s are too tall to fit under my shelf 🙁 My cooler can only be 12.5″ tall….

  • Kelly Canfield

    Thanks Steph!! This is super helpful. I’ll have to let you know how it goes!

  • Thanks for a very interesting topic of conversation: please do send photos!

  • Naomipook

    Better skirt that thing, or the wind can pick it up!

  • 🙂 we bolted the supports into the slickrock with climbing bolts, it does get very windy there!

  • Emily K.

    I hope you do not mind that I uploaded two of your pictures on here to my pinterest account…..and I suggest not getting the pinterest account if you don’t need another addiction 🙂 (p.s. I gave you credit on them)

  • Thanks Emily 🙂

  • Grega

    hello 🙂
    that’s a great article, i found a lot of useful things! Thanx. Excelent blog you are writing.
    Hope we meet next year again in Lauterbrunnen.
    Ciao, Grega from Slovenia

  • thank you Grega 🙂


These are my sponsors. THEY ARE FABULOUS!