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The Li-MITLESS ENERGY Podcast: Cold Weather Van Life with Chad DeRosa of Living the Van Life

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The desire to get not only get far off the grid, but also in extreme weather conditions, has caught the interest of many adventurers, but Chad DeRosa has been pushing the limits of cold-climate van life since 2011. Chad has been able to share his adventures with an ever-growing following through his passion for filmmaking, with his popular YouTube channel, Living the Van Life. On this episode of the Li-MITLESS ENERGY Podcast, Denis Phares sits down with Chad DeRosa to explore his overlanding adventures in the Arctic. 

Filmmaker Chad DeRosa is wearing a baseball cap, a "Living the Van Life" Tshirt and holding a Battle Born Battery

Surviving Cold Temperatures and Creating Scenic Films

Chad DeRosa developed a love for camping and road-tripping in the outdoors as a kid—a time when he and his family would get out and explore the open road. After growing up in the desert, and then later moving to the wintery mountains in Washington State, he first began his YouTube channel where he found his passion for filmmaking. This inspired Chad to document his travels and off-road adventures, which snowballed into becoming one of the internet’s most popular van life content creators.

Chad moved his life to the road, utilizing a van to travel and capture footage of the outdoors, with the goal of sharing his experiences in nature and inspiring others. His explorations took him to very cold temperatures where he sought to push the limits of overlanding, seeing how far out he could go to capture the ultimate extreme weather footage to share with his viewers.

On this episode of The Li-MITLESS ENERGY Podcast, host Denis Phares talks with Chad DeRosa, YouTube filmmaker, van lifer, and educator about his cold weather adventures, what inspired them all, and how they have been made possible with the right gear, mindset, and equipment. Chad weighs in, talking about his experiences with different lead acid battery systems and how ultimately, heated lithium-ion battery technology has made it possible for him to continue his work and inspire others along the way.

You can listen to the full episode wherever you listen to podcasts or watch the video version on The Dragonfly Energy YouTube channel.

And check out YouTube’s top van life, Chad DeRosa, on his channel, Living the Van Life.

Podcast Transcript:

Denis Phares  0:15

Welcome to The Li-MITLESS ENERGY Podcast. And today, we’re in San Diego, we’re on the road and I have the great pleasure of meeting up with Chad DeRosa, filmmaker, YouTube content creator, welcome.

Chad DeRosa  0:24

Well, thank you. Appreciate it. Appreciate the opportunity to be here.

Denis Phares  0:27

It’s awesome to have you on the podcast. And I always love the opportunity to talk to you because you have such an interesting background. You have such an interesting lifestyle. I want to get right into it. So, how would I describe it? You are always seeking the opportunity for extreme cold camping.

Chad DeRosa  0:46

Yeah, Growing up as a kid, as a family, we were always out camping in the backcountry. So, I grew up with that kind of lifestyle.

Denis Phares  0:56

Where did you grow up?

Chad DeRosa  0:57

I was originally born in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and so spent the first 10 years of my life down in southern New Mexico. It was kind of a desert area there, and so we spent a lot of time on the weekends as a family going up into the mountains and exploring the backcountry. So, of course, when I became older and had my own vehicles, it kind of led into that and just slowly evolved into getting out and exploring the backcountry. And eventually, I started my YouTube channel, I found my passion for photography and filmmaking. And after we moved to Washington, spending time up in the North Cascades, there’s just a ton of winter happening up there. The North Cascades of Washington State have some of the world records for the most accumulated snowfall. And so, that’s just right in the backyard.So, in looking for interesting content for the Van Life YouTube channel, I was like, “Well, let’s go see what it takes to camp in a van in the snow.” And so, I did a few videos, and those really took off, and that just kind of became a thing on the YouTube channel with like, let’s go see how crazy things can get in a van in the wintertime.

Denis Phares  2:05

For you, it really is around the interaction between the vehicle and the outdoors, right? Or is it more just camping?

Chad DeRosa  2:12

Everybody’s got their thing. A lot of people like to go out and hike and explore the backcountry that way. I really enjoy exploring dirt roads, getting a little bit off-road, challenging myself, challenging my vehicle. So, my thing always revolves around it’s gotten to be known as overlanding, and, back in the day, we just called it car camping, going camping. So, I really enjoy the vehicle aspect of it. How far can you get your vehicle out into the backcountry, and how can you set up your vehicle so that it’s sustainable while you’re out there, and you can spend extended amount of time in your vehicle out in the backcountry? So, that’s kind of what I’ve come to enjoy about it all.

Denis Phares  2:57

That’s what you’ve documented, and it resonated with a lot of people pretty quickly. Why do you think that is? Well, of course, we’ve noticed an inclination for people wanting to get off-grid, people wanting to just get far away. Is it that or is it about specifically what you do technically to get out there with the vehicle?

Chad DeRosa  3:15

It’s a little bit of everything. When I discovered my passion for photography and filmmaking, of course, as a photographer, I wanted to get out there and document the landscape. Landscape photography is one of my favorite things to do. So, initially, it was like, okay, let’s get out and shoot photos of the backcountry. And, of course, that leads to, okay, let’s find a vehicle that I can go camping in so that I can be there for the sunset pictures, but then, I can camp overnight and be there first thing in the morning for the sunrise. So, that’s initially where it all came about is finding a vehicle for that. And then, that just leads, and grows. In this day and age where we have YouTube being such a thing that I found it’s an awesome opportunity to document those adventures and put them on the YouTube channel, and let the rest of the people out there enjoy my adventures with me. And I never thought it would ever take off anywhere, and it just slowly grew. And I was like, “Wow, there’s a lot of people that are interested in these travels.” And so, now that’s become my full-time living.

Denis Phares  4:21

You’re the Ansel Adams of overlanding.

Chad DeRosa  4:25

(Laughs) Those are big shoes to fill.

Denis Phares  4:26

If the internet existed back then, he’d probably have similarly documented trips, right?

Chad DeRosa  4:31

I would imagine so. That’s a good way to put it, I never thought of it that way, but yeah.

Denis Phares  4:34

You’re welcome. So, let’s talk about how, I guess, your career has evolved. You started basically putting out some videos. It really did take off pretty quickly, I guess. So, how did that drive how your content evolved?

Chad DeRosa  4:53

Well, for me, I think that my biggest thing is I always want to take the next best picture, I always want to make the next best video, I always want to document the next best adventure. So, going out and trying something once it was like, “Okay, that was cool, it worked out really well. The next one, I want to do it even bigger, I want to document it even better, and tell a better story, and inspire more people.” So, with that just being my nature, it just slowly grows like that. And it’s been really crazy to see the channel evolve through that. People are like, “Oh my gosh, we get to watch you grow. We get to watch these bigger, better adventures,” and so it’s been pretty cool. And it just continues to push myself as a filmmaker, as a creator, and an adventurer to go out there and find the next biggest adventure.

Denis Phares  5:46

Are you doing things that folks are too scared to do themselves?

Chad DeRosa  5:50

My opinion is…

Denis Phares  5:52

I’m saying from experience because I wouldn’t do what you, but I love to watch it and see the content and the pictures that you are able to create.

Chad DeRosa  6:02

Yeah. Well, I’m definitely thankful for that opportunity to get to do a lot of things that maybe most people wouldn’t think of doing. And that comes from wanting to do bigger, more interesting adventures. It’s like, “Okay, how do I push the limits next time, maybe something outside my comfort level.” And that’s where it really comes down to is, I’m not doing anything that nobody else can’t do. Might be in a position where I can take those chances a little bit more, but I’m of the belief that anybody can go out and do this stuff, it’s just a matter if you really want to. And, like I said, I’ve been lucky enough to find myself in a position where I get to make my living this way through my YouTube channel and my filmmaking, and so that’s exciting for me.

Denis Phares  6:43

Do you have an ambition further along, or are you basically living your dream?

Chad DeRosa  6:48

I got to say, man, I think I’m living my dream right now. That was the whole reason I started living in a van was so that I could quit my career in the construction industry as a truck driver and a mechanic. I spent 18 years in that industry. And I did filmmaking and photography as a hobby, and I started living in a van, not because I had to, but because I wanted to chase that dream of becoming a professional filmmaker and photographer. And never did I think I was actually going to be a YouTube content creator, that wasn’t a thing back in 2011 when I started this, YouTube was just a place where you posted home videos and stuff like that. So, yeah, the fact now that I’m living in a van, and I get to go out and make cinematic films about my journeys, to me, that’s like, holy cow, it’s come full circle that now I get to make my living this way. So, thankful enough to say that I’m living my dream, but there’s always what’s the next bigger dream.

Denis Phares  7:52

Do you have aspirations in terms of filmmaking, in terms of making more widely distributed feature films, or documentaries, or that sort of thing?

Chad DeRosa  8:01

Yeah, of course. I think the biggest thing is I don’t… And that’s kind of where I’ve pushed the YouTube channel, it’s into more cinematic-style films rather than just videos is because I do aspire to be an actual filmmaker, I don’t want to just make videos here and there. That’s why I put so much work into the cinematography and try to improve my storytelling is because of that filmmaking desire, and trying to turn these into . So yeah, the opportunity to do something beyond YouTube would be cool. I think the great thing about the platform as YouTube is it’s kind of an endless platform. You could be a feature-length filmmaker on YouTube.

Denis Phares  8:41

Right, release it on YouTube. But I think that makes you pretty unique in terms of YouTube content creators. A lot of them actually say, “Well, I can make a living doing this. And let’s just optimize the monetization of this.” Eventually, it turns into shorter and shorter things, and maybe even blogs. You’re going the other way, it’s more of an artistic thing for you, which I think is awesome.

Chad DeRosa  9:07

It really is. I feel very fortunate to live in a time where we have a platform such as YouTube. And this isn’t a commercial for YouTube or anything, but just the internet in general. If we go back, even 10 years ago, if any of us here in the room had an idea for a film, what we would have to go through to actually turn that into reality. You got to come up with a script, you got to come up with a pitch, you got to figure out how to break down the doors of networks or studios. To even get our idea in front of somebody and get it to materialize into an actual production would be a huge challenge for somebody like us in this room. But right now, we can pull our phones out of our pockets. We can start bringing our ideas to fruition. And then, we’ve got the platform like YouTube, or any of the other various platforms, and we can make that a reality in that. As filmmakers, that’s a pretty cool time to live in.

Denis Phares  10:04

Well, speaking of people in this room, Tyler, our chief marketing officer here has his own feature film, which was a true feature film and in distribution now ‘Desert Shadows.’ So, that was not an easy endeavor.

Chad DeRosa  10:17

Yeah. And I enjoy sitting down and talking with Tyler about those kinds of things. We enjoy this conversation, so that’s pretty cool.

Denis Phares  10:25

Well, let’s talk about the van because, obviously, we know each other because you have been using Battle Born batteries. And you’re one of the first ones we had in mind when we put in internal heat so that you can charge at cold temperatures. Has that made a difference for you? How has that affected your career?

Chad DeRosa  10:44

Yeah, absolutely. Especially with pushing the limits of my adventures and my content creating into these colder weathers, these colder extremes, pushing it that direction is doing something that nobody else was doing on YouTube at the time. And so, having the equipment, having your vehicle is part of the fun challenge of like, “How can I make this vehicle capable of going out and sustaining me as a filmmaker,” and that’s also taking, basically, a miniature film studio on wheels out into these conditions. And having power is absolutely key to be able to run this kind of thing off-grid. You’re charging camera batteries, computers, and lights, and keeping yourself alive and comfortable. So, having a battery system that is capable of doing that is huge. And, before I met you guys, I ran the gamut of all sorts of different battery systems. And me trying to learn about the science behind how they work, how lead acids work, and don’t work in different kinds of conditions. So, meeting you guys and the technology had been developing, and you’re like, “Oh, matter of fact, we’ve got this…”

Denis Phares  11:59

Yeah. As it turns out, we’ve been thinking of cold temperatures. No, honestly, it was because we were thinking of ice fishermen and extreme sportsmen. But the funny thing is that, now when we deliver batteries to an RV manufacturer, they’ll almost exclusively want the ones with the internal heated feature because they don’t know where the end user is going to take the rig.

Chad DeRosa  12:22

Exactly. Yeah.

Denis Phares  12:23

And it’s because of people like you. It’s like, “Look what we can do with this van.”

Chad DeRosa  12:29

Yeah, it’s been definitely a thing. There’s been times when I’m traveling without the heated batteries, it’s a good experiment. Times when I’ve traveled without the heated batteries of like, “Oh, look. Now this is where we’re running into the issue of like this is where you need the heated batteries.” So the fact that that is an option is huge. And it really takes out any of the questionable things about lithium. A lot of people say, “Oh, well, it doesn’t work well in the cold.” It’s like that the heated option really gives you guys some ammunition against that.

Denis Phares  13:03

It does, yeah. That was nice to be able to say, “Well, actually, that whole thing goes away.” But, to be clear, when we say heated, we’re talking about keeping just above freezing and not like a hot, warm battery, or whatever. So, anyway, yeah, we were excited to be part of that, especially for what you were presenting. What else about the vehicle do you have to really focus on when you’re doing what you’re doing in extreme weather?

Chad DeRosa  13:29

You got to make sure you’re mechanically sound, it’s having a vehicle that is mechanically capable of going into…

Denis Phares  13:37

Do you have a mechanic-type background? Were you interested in cars in general?

Chad DeRosa  13:41

Yeah. I grew up working on my bicycles as a kid with my dad and working on motorcycles. So, I did all my mechanical work on my race motorcycles when I raced Motocross. And then, when I was in the construction industry, a lot of what I did was working on equipment and the mechanical aspect of it. So, when it comes to my vehicles, it’s just natural that I do all of my own work. And I really appreciate that aspect of it because you really get to know your vehicle inside and out. And when you’re going out into these adventures completely off-grid, and if something goes wrong, it’s nice to know that, at least, I know what’s going on with the vehicle inside and out. So, having that background really gives you a lot of confidence in going out and doing this sort of thing.

Denis Phares  14:29

Yeah. Well, the information about, not just your power system, but about your vehicle is more accessible now than before the internet when you’d have to find those Haynes manuals, or whatever, you had to take it all apart, which was cool. I remember those days and that was pretty cool too. So, when you travel, are you usually by yourself?

Chad DeRosa  14:52

Yeah, for the most part, I usually am.

Denis Phares  14:55

Is that something that you’ve sought?

Chad DeRosa  14:58

No, not necessarily. Back when I first started it, it wasn’t like, “Oh, I need to go do this by myself.” I love going on road trips with other people, and like I said, grew up doing that as a family, as a whole family. But it got to the point of when I was able to quit my career and start doing my filmmaking photography full time, everybody else had a job.

Denis Phares  15:25

By necessity, I guess your…

Chad DeRosa  15:26

A regular nine-to-five job, let’s put it that way because I do consider what I do a job. But, at that time, it was like, if I waited around till I could go with somebody else, I’d never be going anywhere. So, it’s like I’ve got to pull up my bootstraps and just go. And I started doing solo trips, and I’m like, “Wow, this is actually really freeing.” My first trip out was in 2012, I think I went on a five-week road trip mostly by myself. And all my friends and family thought I was crazy for doing it, but when I was out there on the road by myself, I realized how much I learned just about myself. And, after that road trip, I really craved that kind of solo time out on the road. And it’s great for self-exploration and getting to know yourself. So now, everybody’s working. So, if I’m going to go do these adventures, I do it solo. And I find that, for my filmmaking aspect of it, I really appreciate being solo because then I can really take the time to set up the camera shots. And there’s a lot that goes into putting together a 30-second sequence of a van driving down the road. That’s a lot of getting out, setting the camera up, backing up, driving through the scene, backing up, grabbing the camera, and repeating throughout. So, when you’ve got other people traveling with you, it’s like, “Oh, my God, are we really stopping?” And maybe they’re fine with it, but it’s my [Inaudible 16:51], like, I don’t want to hold up.

Denis Phares  16:52

Well, I guess if you had someone who was useful then it’d be worth having them. Actually, I was talking to Tyler about it and he was marveling at some of the shots you’re able to produce by yourself driving down the road with a drone, and getting the shot exactly the way you want it by yourself, which is pretty incredible.

Chad DeRosa  17:11

Yeah. So, I’ve gotten to where I appreciate that time alone, it really just lets me focus on doing the work that I want to do and taking the time to set up the shots. And when it comes to the point where you get out to maybe your destination, like when I set foot on the Arctic Ocean for the first time after driving all the way there. And those emotions that are flowing through, like, “I just made this journey, and now I’m going to speak to the camera,” if I had five people standing there, like, “What’s he going to say?” It wouldn’t come through on camera. So, being out there by myself allows me just to kind of speak freely to the camera so that those true emotions do come out there.

Denis Phares  17:52

Well, do you feel like you’re speaking to the camera or to hundreds of thousands of people?

Chad DeRosa  17:57

I feel like I’m definitely speaking to the camera but I do treat it as if I’ve got everybody with me. I always say, “Okay, well, we’re about to go down this road. And we’re almost to this pot spot.” And a lot of people in the comments are like, “Well, who’s ‘we,’ do you have somebody with you?” I’m like, “No, ‘we’ is the hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions of people that are watching this.” So, I treat it in that aspect that I’ve got all of my audience with me, and that’s how I try to document it. It’s like, “Guys, here’s what we’re doing. Like really, this is amazing.”

Denis Phares  18:30

Have you gotten incredible feedback? Like, “This is something that I’ve always wanted to do, I wish I could do it.” “This changed my life, seeing how free you can live.”

Chad DeRosa  18:42

I had no idea that it would ever go that way. When I first picked up the camera and made my first video about living in a van, I had no idea that it would turn into anything, I had no aspirations of being a YouTube content creator. Like I mentioned earlier, that wasn’t a thing. And through this whole journey of building my channel, I’m absolutely blown away by the feedback that comes in from all over the world. Countries that I’ve never heard of, it’s wild in the messages where people say exactly that, like, “You’ve changed my life. I was on the verge of going down this path, and actually watching your videos changed that for me.” And so, it’s all of that feedback that keeps me going.

Denis Phares  19:32

Do you interact with people like that at all?

Chad DeRosa  19:34

I try to, yeah, for sure. When somebody takes the time, especially when it’s an email that comes in, or something like that, and they’ve really opened up their hearts to me, it’s like, yeah, you got to take the time to interact with that for sure. I get a ton of positive feedback in the comments and it becomes impossible to respond to every single one of those. So, I’m completely overwhelmed with the amount of positive feedback.

Denis Phares  20:02

That must really drive you actually. I know you have your own artistic… You have the freedom to do what you want, but you must also be driven by your effect on other people.

Chad DeRosa  20:13

Absolutely. Like I said, that’s a lot of what keeps me going, that’s the fuel, it’s hearing that positivity of like, “Man, this changed my life.” It lets me know that what I’m doing has purpose behind it, even though that isn’t my goal of, like, “Oh, I’m going to go influence these people.” I’m just going on doing what I do as a regular guy, the fact that people are finding inspiration in that, that really is pretty cool. And getting to go to the overland expos, last year I went with you guys for the first time in Expo West in Flagstaff. And it’s one of the biggest industry shows for overlanding and doing exactly what we do. I’m more van life that really blends into the overland community kind of blurring the lines, but between the two, and the amount of people that were there in person that came up and recognized me, I was blown away, I had no idea that that was going on. It’s one thing when you sit there on the screen, and you see the numbers go up, and you see the comments.

Denis Phares  21:11

Yeah, I was going to say, you must have some idea that, “I’m getting pretty well-known in this community.”

Chad DeRosa  21:16

Well, it’s interesting because you could sit there for years, and that’s what I do. I always focus on creating a content, doing the adventures. And I see the numbers go up, and it’s like, “Wow, that’s a lot of numbers,” but you never, in that realm, never get to actually put faces with that. So, when the numbers on screen go up, it’s like, “Wow.” And right now it’s getting close to 700,000 subscribers, to the thought of, “What would it be like if I were standing here and you’re looking over a crowd of 700,000 people?” That would be mind-blowing. As content creators, we never get that opportunity because we’re just doing this digitally. So, getting out to the Overland Expo was the first time of like, okay, I see lots of numbers, but the fact that you get to interact with real humans in that kind of scene, it was pretty cool.

Denis Phares  22:08

If you made a product and you sold 700,000 of that product, that would be incredible. But these are subscribers, these are 700,000 people that follow what you’re doing everywhere you go, which is pretty remarkable. Congratulations on that.

Chad DeRosa  22:22

Well, thank you. It’s crazy to think. I think of what it must be like for a rock band that is selling out a giant stadium, pick the biggest stadium in the world. I don’t know what it is, I’m pulling a number out of my hat, 100,000 and they’re sitting there at a sold-out crowd, that must be incredible. And to think that almost every video that goes out gets, at least, that, and oftentimes, much, much more. So that’s crazy to think about that we even have that opportunity to have that kind of reach these days.

Denis Phares  22:55

Yeah. Well, that’s fame.

Chad DeRosa  22:58

It’s crazy.

Denis Phares  22:58

I think you apply it well. So, keep doing what you’re doing.

Chad DeRosa  23:02

Well, without things that you guys are doing that we wouldn’t be able to go out and do. If I didn’t have a system to sustain myself and my production with the products that you guys produce, I wouldn’t be able to do this kind of stuff. So thanks to you guys for being able to provide that opportunity.

Denis Phares  23:23

Well, thank you for saying that. But I often think I’m happy to be involved, but often think, man, I wish I was on the other side of this transaction.

Chad DeRosa  23:35

Well, maybe someday.

Denis Phares  23:37

Maybe someday.

Chad DeRosa  23:38

You’re putting in the hard work now. I think it’s incredible what you guys have created. And hearing your backstory, that’s been one of the great things about working with you guys, not just, oh it’s a brand partnership, but I’ve also got the opportunity like this to sit down and have conversations with you, and this has been a few years now. And getting to sit down and hear the story of how you guys started this whole thing, I think is pretty incredible the fact that you guys basically started in a garage. And the fact that you’ve built it to this point, that’s awesome.

Denis Phares  24:08

It’s pretty surreal. Yeah, I’m sure. From that context, we’ve got pretty similar experiences. You watched the numbers tick up and like, “Wow, we’re selling a lot of batteries.”

Chad DeRosa  24:15

Yeah. That’s incredible, man.

Denis Phares  24:17

Well, anyway, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, man, it’s always a pleasure.

Chad DeRosa  24:22

Well, thank you for having me. It’s really appreciated.

Denis Phares  24:25

That’s going to do it for today’s episode. Be sure to subscribe to The Li-MITLESS ENERGY Podcast on any of your favorite podcast platforms.

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