The Hitchenette

So with the new camping platform put together,  and all our updated storage worked out to keep us organized as we go full-time in the truck this year, we were eager to hit the road. But despite all the improvements, we weren’t quite done. One of the reasons we were so eager to build a new platform and get more organized was that we got tired of constantly moving our cooler and bins of food gear in and out of the truck — then stashing it in the front seat every night to keep it away from animals. Laziness is the mother of invention!

Having spent almost six months mulling it over and scouring endless vanlife and truck camping Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest accounts, I had an idea that was almost original. I decided to take a trailer hitch storage rack and build and mount a small kitchen/storage box to it. Basically, a giant chuck box that we could plug right in to the back of the truck.

I drew up my plans, designing the interior around the dimensions of the Aquatainer and new RTIC 45 cooler I had ordered. I found a well-reviewed 500-lb capacity hitch rack over at NorthernTool.com for a great price,  and ordered that as my base.

5 feet of work space, and it doesn’t block my taillights!

My cooler came in right behind it, and I quickly got a feeling for just how tight the space in this new build would be.

The answer being “pretty darn.”

As I designed the build, Rebecca and I developed a list of must-haves to be incorporated:

  • It needed room for our two-burner Coleman camp stove, and leave plenty of remaining counter space for food prep.
  • It needed slide-out storage for the cooler so it was easily accessible.
  • It needed to store the six-gallon Aquatainer in a way that made water access easy.
  • It needed drawers to replace the food storage drawer we’d lost when we switched to the new camping platform.
  • It needed room to store our overly large but oh-so-comfortable camp chairs that we love.
  • It needed to store my ax, hatchet, and saw in a place that was easy to get to.
  • It needed room to store the odds and ends of camping and cooking gear in a way that was easily accessible.
  • It needed to be weather resistant.
  • It needed to lock for security.

After a few drafts and some tweaking, we were ready to get building! The camper was parked at my in-laws over the holidays as we were working on this, and my father-in-law was gracious enough to let me use his basement workshop and all his tools — it was realllllly cold out, and being able to work inside was a huge godsend. I also couldn’t have done it without the help of my awesome brother-in-law Jay, who dedicated countless hours to helping me design and assemble this monster. Thanks Jay!

With our designs finished, we were ready to get to work! We went with 3/4 inch ply, cutting carefully and pre-drilling every screw hole, along with using wood glue to keep it all snug.

I found some 100-lb capacity ball bearing drawer slides from Home Depot, and was able to mount my new cooler snugly up under the counter top.

After that, we moved on to the drawer and Aquatainer storage area. Due to the size of the camp chairs I mentioned previously, we weren’t able to make the drawers as deep as I’d hoped — we simply couldn’t have gotten the chairs out from underneath the cooler if the drawers were full depth. However, we were still able to get 12 inches of depth, which has worked out to be plenty.

With the slides and drawers assembled, it was time for a dry fit, to see how everything was going to fit before we glued it all together. It all worked great, so we loosened it all up, glued it to death, and cinched it all down tight!

Once we got the lid built and mounted, it was obviously time for a progress photo to send around.

As we were getting close to painting, and had gotten a few days of warmer weather, we moved our workstation upstairs to the garage. Once we were up there, I also built an overlapping lip system to help both hold everything closed and solid, and also to help keep water out.

It sure looked nice in the sunshine!

We started applying layers of polyurethane to the interior, and while those were drying, I went ahead and build actual drawers, and lined them with some drawer liner Rebecca had left over in the camper from our camper reno.

Then it was time to get outside and paint! We decided to go with multiple coats of a matte black Rustoleum paint, and got a locking hasp to match.

On the inside, I installed the drawers, and started mounting some organizational items: rubber-coated eye hooks to mount pots and pans and a small dustpan, Rebecca’s spice rack, and our camping first aid kit. I also installed some small bracing pieces on the left side of the counter top keep the stove and propane canisters from sliding around.

After a few coats of poly over top of the paint to seal it, we dropped the whole thing into the hitch rack, bolted it down tight, and were ready to plug it into the hitch! Around this time, I decided to call my monstrosity The Hitchen — hitch kitchen, get it? However, my brother-in-law scoffed and quickly corrected me. “It’s too small to be a Hitchen,” he said — “It’s a Hitchenette!” And since he was so obviously correct, I can now proudly present to you: The Hitchenette.

(Full disclosure: My after pictures were taken in Louisiana after I got a car wash, because everything was IMMEDIATELY covered in salt and snow when we were in New Hampshire, and I wanted better looking after pictures.)

On the right side, you can see the handles we installed, along with my Sam Adams bottle opener — gotta keep that handy!

We put some adhesive-backed reflectors around the frame for visibility. So far, no one’s hit us, so so far so good! And now for the opened up and loaded up view…

We love it! Everything is easy to get to, it takes seconds to open everything up and break everything down, we can get to the cooler without a problem, and it stays locked and secure when we’re not using it.

Rebecca did a fantastic job packing the drawers, and they hold a tremendous amount of food and supplies. We keep them from sliding with short bungee cords attached to a few eye hooks.

We locked the cooler down tight to the shelf with some 2-inch velcro straps I found at Home Depot, attached to some simple drawer pulls mounted to the top of the drawer.

And there you have it: The Hitchenette in all it’s newly-built glory! We’ve loved having it — it keeps our sleeping area free of food and camping supplies, it gives Rebecca a clean and organized place to do her food prep and cooking, and just generally saves us from endlessly loading and reloading the truck. Between the camping platform, the car top carrier, and the Hitchenette, we feel like we have everything we need to be successful full-timers this year. We’ll see how it goes — stay tuned, and let us know what you think in the comments!

Author
I grew up in New Jersey, went to college in Virginia, and married a girl from New Hampshire, so I can drive the East Coast in my sleep. I love exploring, jumping out of airplanes, whitewater rafting, fast cars, comic books, and generally refusing to act my age. More practically, I love budgeting and financial planning, renovating and updating older homes (and now campers), and learning to make our family as self-sustaining as possible.

14 comments

  1. This is incredibly cool. You really maximized the space and the workmanship is truly impressive. A couple questions: how often do you expect to have to replace the ice for the cooler? What do you do about trash? I’m assuming you’re planning to stay at campgrounds most nights and use their facilities to clean your dishes and all. Where will you store them in the meantime (i.e., if you make lunch out in the road, where do put the dirty dishes until you can clean them? What kinds of foods do you expect to primarily be making when you’re out on the road (i.e., do you make big batches of stuff and then reheat, do you buy pre-packaged dehydrated camping foods, or is mostly sandwiches and that kind of stuff? ). Whatever the case may be, this is super cool and you guys did a great job!

    1. Hi Laura, thanks much! We upgraded to the RTIC cooler, and have been getting new ice 3-4 days. It would last longer if we found block ice, but that hasnt happened yet. We keep a trash bag either in the bottom of the hitchenette or in the back of the truck till we find a trash can — even when we’re backcountry camping, it never takes that long till we find one. We’ve been mostly off-grid camping this trip, and we do our dishes in a small plastic container, using water from the Aquatainer. During the day, we do a lot of sandwiches and snacky food, and Rebecca tends to cook breakfast and dinner when we’re set up. Lately, we’ve been eating leftovers from a huge batch of chili she made with her brother about 2 weeks ago — chili and eggs for breakfast!

  2. Hi – I just found your blog through @ditchingsuburbia on Instagram when they featured your hitchenette. I’m SO glad I did! I’ve been tentatively planning a summer long road trip with my two boys and have been trying to come up with the best solutions for different scenarios – one of them being cooking. We have all the equipment, but I wasn’t sure how to keep it organized and together without it becoming a pain in the neck. I kept envisioning giving up with it two weeks into the trip and eating out every meal for the rest of the summer. Talk about a waste of money! Your hitchenette is exactly what I need! Thankfully, I’ve got some handymen in my circle and I do believe, should ‘tentative’ turn to ‘actually happening’, I can get one made. I’ve been looking around the rest of your blog and have been inspired!! Thank you for sharing your journey!!

    1. Hi Carolyn — thanks, you’re very kind! Your road trip sounds great, hope you’re able to make it happen. If you do get someone to build one, email us at ourstreamlinedlife@gmail.com and I’ll share more details on the build — and a few pitfalls to avoid. Happy travels!

    1. Hi Roman,

      Thanks for reading and commenting! The short answer to your question is yes — I actually got pulled over for the first time the other day because the officer couldn’t see my licence plate. However, even mounting my licence plate on the back of the Hitchenette wouldn’t fix this, as I keep a waterproof cover over the whole thing when I’m driving. So, the licence plate issue is actually a work in progress — since our little run in with the police, I’ve been sticking it in the rear windshield.

  3. Awesome design and build. .

    I was wondering what you did when the weather is bad. Living in the PNW I was wondering if you have thought about some kind of rain cover.

    Also, has it caused any problems not being able to open the lift gate? It seems like it would be difficult to get it on and off the receiver. Maybe some of those extendable feet like are on trailers.

    Thanks for sharing. It’s inspiring.

    1. Hi Bill, thanks for reading, and for your comments! So far, we’ve been in the desert, and bad weather hasn’t been an issue. Ultimately, I’d like to get the 4 foot ARB awning and mount it to the back of the truck for use over the hitchentte during bad weather. Right now, our plan is to set up our folding table, and cook under the 8 foot ARB awning we have on the side of the truck during bad weather. And yes, I purchased a waterproof cover online, and keep that on the hitchenette most of the time to protect it.

      As for the lift gate, it hasn’t been a problem because I designed the sleeping platform to be accessed by the side doors. The storage in the back of the sleeping platform can be accessed through the rear windshield, which lifts up independently of the lift gate. I do like your extendable feet idea — we don’t take the hitchenette off very often, but it would make it a lot easier if I had those. Thanks for the idea!

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