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How Do You Pick The Perfect Van To Camp In?

White Mercedes-Benz van backed into parking spot

The urge to travel and get out in nature is strong, but you need something to camp in as you wander across the country, what should you pick? You don’t want to go to the expense of a large RV so maybe just a simple van would fit the bill.

But how do you pick the perfect van to camp in? To pick a van for camping make a list of the activities that you want to do in your van and what amenities are a must then you can narrow it down real fast. Additionally decide on a budget that way you will know if you are going to be looking for a new or used van.

Make a list of what you want in a van before you start looking for one this will help keep you from getting analysis paralysis. Here are some of the factors that you need to think about when picking your perfect van for camping:

1. Do you want to be able to use the vehicle day-to-day easily when not camping?

If this is going to be the only vehicle that you own you don’t want it to be a major project to get ready every time you want to go camping, the same applies if this is a vehicle that you use for business.

You could build a platform to put your bed on or cabinets but then you would have to put them in and take them out every time you wanted to go camping. On top of that you would have to find a place to store them when not in use.

The best solution in this case would be to just put a mattress in the back of your van. You could use a regular mattress or an air mattress and with a few other essentials it will work out great for van camping.

2. Do you want to sleep in the van or tent outside of the van?

To be able to sleep in the van and carry supplies you will have to figure out a plan that allows you to have the room to do all of this inside the van, so you will need to take this into consideration when making your purchase.

You also have the option of sleeping outside of the van in a tent to give you a little more room for carrying your supplies and giving you the option of purchasing a smaller van.

Another option is to purchase a roof top tent that goes right on the roof of your van. These tents are super fast to put up and then you access it with a ladder when you are ready to use it. We have a post about sleeping in a van here, if you want more information.

3. How much work do you want to do to get your van ready?

To keep work to a minimum, buy a van with seats that recess into the floor or that you can remove then you can sleep on the van floor on a mattress without the cost of converting a van. A small cargo van will also work great for doing this.

If you know how to build things and want to go all out you can buy a bigger cargo van and convert it into a van camper and include some of the amenities that you would like to have.

When you have a bigger budget or don’t have the time to get your van ready the best option for you might be to purchase a van camper that has all the amenities built in and all you have to do is get in it and go.

4. Are you going to be staying in your van for long periods of time?

If you are going to be staying in your van for long periods of time in addition to room for sleeping you will need to have a place for storage, a way to cook and maybe you will even want a way to shower and go to the bathroom.

For this purpose you will probably want to look for a van on the bigger side to be able to lay out a floor plan and build the van out to suit your needs.

5. Are you just going to be staying in the van on weekends or for a two to three week trip?

When you just want to camp on the weekend once in a while or go on a trip you can get by putting a mattress in the back of your family van or purchasing a small cargo/passenger van. You can include a folding table, cooler, camp stove, a couple chairs and your gear and it will work out really well.

Going this route is an easy and convenient way to camp and you can keep your expenses to a minimum.

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6. Do you want to look stealthy?

Why would you want to look stealthy? To reduce the risk of someone breaking into your van because they perceive you as a tourist carrying lots of equipment and possibly cash in your vehicle. To look stealthy you will want something that blends in well, like a white work van, not a $75,000 conversion van that screams “I’m on vacation.”

Besides if your van looks stealthy you can save on campground fees by stealth camping.

7. Do you want windows in your van?

If you are going to be staying just locally at a park or campground once in a while on the weekends or if you want to use the van as a family vehicle then you probably will want to have the windows in the van.

On the other hand if you are going to use the van primarily for camping and don’t want people walking by looking in the windows while you are sleeping or to even know that you are in back sleeping, then opt for a vehicle that lacks windows or has fewer windows.

8. How many people are going to be camping with you?

Do you have kids or friends that are going along with you? If so you will need to figure out sleeping arrangements for however many people are going to be with you on your trip. So the more people, the bigger the van you will need, unless some of them will be tenting next to the vehicle.

Consider what type of layout you can come up with if everyone will be sleeping in the van to accommodate all campers and size the van accordingly.

9. Do you want to cook in your van or outside of your van?

For cooking in your van you will need a more extensive DIY conversion, first you will have to decide if you are handy enough to do the conversion, if you want to go to the expense and the time it will take to do the conversion.

Perhaps you don’t have the expertise to go this route in that case you can always purchase a van camper that is all set up ready to go with a mini kitchen, though they will be more expensive if you are trying to stick to a budget.

You can easily cook outside your van with a camp stove or even over a campfire. All you will need is a table to set your stove up on and a couple of folding chairs to sit in. Some parks and roadside rests even have picnic tables that will work for this so you might not even need the table.

10. Do you need room to be able to stand up in the van?

A higher roof in the van can be beneficial in many ways, the extra height will allow you to stand up straighter and move around better.

Maybe you are going to put in a sink, a way to cook or make an indoor shower, for these additions you will need the height in the van to be able to stand up to do these things, so keep height in mind when choosing the right van for you.

11. Do you want to shower and be able to go to the bathroom in your van?

If you want to shower and go to the bathroom you need to consider the space that this will take, so in addition to the room for your sleeping accommodations you will need to include this extra space in your floor plan. Also again take into consideration the height of the van, so it will give you the headroom you need to complete this.

Having a place to go to the bathroom isn’t essential in a van if you are okay with using public bathrooms at convenience stores, fast food restaurants, roadside rest areas or if you are going to be staying at a campground. There are also places to shower on the road or you can use a portable camping shower.

12. How much storage are you going to need for what you are taking with you?

Not only do you need to think about the space you need for sleeping, cooking, going to the bathroom and showering you also need to think about what you are taking with you and where you are going to put it.

Do you need or want to keep everything inside the van? You can come up with some extra storage space if you put some of your gear on roof racks on top of your van, but this isn’t very conducive to stealth camping.

13. What if you are not handy, are poor at designing, don’t have the time to convert a van or just don’t want to do it?

You have the option of buying a van that is already converted to meet the needs that you are looking for. As soon as you buy the van you can be ready to start camping, just pack up your clothes and you’re basically ready to go.

Picking the perfect van to camp in may seem daunting but with a few simple questions you can come up with important information to help you in your quest to find the perfect campervan for your needs.

You will find that even though you have narrowed down what you are looking for in a van there are still lots of options to pick from.

Don’t rule out the iconic VW or the old Chevy van that Sammy Johns sang about in the ‘70s for a van camper. Just pick the van that meets your needs that you have determined from the list above and any other requirements that you can come up with on your own.

Related Questions

What vans make the best camper conversions? Some of the most popular vans for conversions are: Ram Promaster, Ford Transit, Mercedes Sprinter and the Chevy Express.

How much does it cost to rent a van camper? The daily cost to rent a van camper will average $115 to $250 per day. The cost will vary depending on the size, time of the year, area of the country you are renting in and year of the van.

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Ever since I was little I have been a traveler at heart. It all started when I was six years old and my family took a road trip to Alaska. I enjoy visiting new places and revisiting some of the great locations that I have been to already.