When he was in school, years before he built his business renting campervans in Canyon Country, Matt Wolski thought he’d spend the rest of his life behind an air-conditioned desk. It wasn’t until he took a pilgrimage of sorts to Yosemite Valley, California, that everything changed. As he puts it, “I spent 2 years completing advanced studies in dirtbagging. Coursework included “rock climbing” and “eating leftover food out of bear boxes.”
For years, he earned money by guiding visitors and humping loads to the base El Capitan for vacationing Europeans. He didn’t really settle down until he met the girl of his dreams Jennifer Lo (aka J. Lo).
Together they bought and remodeled a foreclosed house in Salt Lake City and started Basecamper Vans, the RV rental company for campervans in Canyon Country. Through Basecamper, Matt and Jen build community. It’s filled with art, dogs, bikes, tools, and friends as they drop by between skiing, biking, and climbing trips.
One of Outdoorsy’s co-founders, Tyler Bunnell, had the chance to catch up with Matt and Jen to learn more about their journey toward their rad campervan business earlier this month.
Outdoorsy: How did your past experiences prepare you to start Basecamper Vans?
Matt: I’m not sure there’s anything that fully prepares a person to be a small business owner – I find myself wearing many hats. I spent close to nine years working with seriously at-risk youth deep in the Utah desert. On a good day, that’s a stressful environment. From staying awake all night with students on safety watch to running out of water on long, hot hikes, I’ve definitely spent time with folks having a bad time – and learned how to solve problems on the fly because of it. Not much fazes me at this point – especially a broken lawn chair or a lost spoon. Big picture – my customers are on vacation and they want to enjoy themselves. I’m here to help with that.
Outdoorsy: Why did you decide that camper vans were the way to go?
Matt: The breaking point was when I got into biking. I had made the mobile life work in a Volkswagen Golf for about 5 years. I’m short, so I can kind of camp in it. My main interests at the time were climbing and skiing which aren’t super gear intensive. But then I bought a road bike…and then a mountain bike…and added a dog (or four) and a girlfriend to the mix. I needed a vehicle to haul my life and toys around. So I built one. And then all my buddies wanted to borrow it for their trips…figured there might be a business opportunity. The idea of renting vehicles instead of building and selling them actually occurred on the skin track up Flagstaff Peak in Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah with my friend Neal.
Outdoorsy: I can tell, by looking around, that you’re a builder…
Matt: I’ve always enjoyed building. As a kid, I spent my summers building model rockets and R/C cars. I paid for my model airplane collection hauling my dad’s toolbox around. He’s a contractor; that’s where I learned to measure, saw, glue, and sand.My campervans are 100% custom. I buy stock cargo vans – just the sheet metal box – and build the interior to my spec. My design principles focus on functionality, clean lines, and high-end materials. We don’t cut any corners. Each build is a process and I try to incorporate something special into every campervan. I owe a lot to my friend Mark—a gifted craftsman, good friend, and backcountry skier—for teaching me how to pay attention to the little things.
Outdoorsy: How do you choose what to prioritize when you’re building out your vans?
Matt: Jen and I are huge fans of modern design – efficiency, flow, and durability. We prioritized comfortable sleeping space, because after a long day of exploring, everyone wants to get a good night’s sleep. Next on the list is cooking, heating, and food storage. We like to include the things a renter needs to have a good time: bedding, camp kitchen, and a local guidebook or two. I don’t want anyone to have to go buy a bunch of bigbox cheapness they’ll just throw away after they come back.
Outdoorsy: What’s something that people might be surprised to learn about you?
Matt: I live on a daily diet of $3 burritos from the local food carts down the block from my office. I’ve tried the dozen and have mapped out the ones with the best barbacoa, carne asada, and pico de gallo. Toro Taco has become the place I’m excited to take friends out to eat. Seriously. They’re tastier than any restaurant with walls, and even when there’s a line at lunch, it’s a quick meal between van checkouts.
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