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What Is Van Camping?

Table and chairs in front of pop top camper van at campground

Camping is a popular outdoor activity that many people enjoy doing in the US. According to, over 40 million people take part in this form of recreation each year. Van camping is one of the types of camping that has been growing in popularity over the past few years.

Van camping is quite literally the act of camping in a van. People modify the inside of their vans to have the modern amenities that they need everywhere they go. Instead of needing a lot of extra tent gear and accessories, you can have all of your equipment together in your van.

That being said, van camping is so much more than just sleeping in a van at night. It completely changes the way that people think about campgrounds, travel, and living. Let’s jump into more details about this recently renewed type of camping.

How Do You Camp In A Van?

Camping in a van is relatively simple, but you need to have the right van to do so. You can camp out of a van with a bed, food, and proper ventilation. However, most people prefer to make it a bit more like home, including all sorts of fun designs and additions. For more information, read on to the next section.

The key feature that you need to focus on is the bed, though. There is nothing that makes me more irritable than not getting a good night’s sleep. Unlike camping in a tent, you shouldn’t sleep right on the floor of a van. It’s way too uncomfortable to get even a minute of sleep, so you should build an elevated bed with a mattress for better support.

All of the camping essentials are still relevant when you’re staying in a van. Camping stoves, relaxing by the fire, and enjoying the stars at night are as good as it gets.

Another benefit is how mobile you are. If you’re van camping, you can park your van right next to a lake or enjoy an incredible view from the top of a mountain. You can even move in the middle of the night if your neighbors become too noisy without any hassle.

Besides, the fact that you don’t have to bring as much gear along for the trip, perhaps the biggest draw to van camping, is the reduced pack-up time. All you have to do is toss everything into your van and head out. This process is also very convenient for emergencies.

However, you can’t camp out of any ordinary van. You need to choose the right one. Sadly, many first-time van campers end up buying a minivan or something similar. It’s possible to camp in a minivan, but you won’t have nearly as much space to stretch out and enjoy the camping experience.

What is van camping infographic

Other Posts of Interest

The Scouts’ motto to “Be Prepared” can be applied when heading out on a van camping adventure. When camping, it’s better to have an item and not need it than to need it and not have it. The following items are some suggestions that you might want to carry with you.

What Kind Of Vans Can You Camp In?

Technically, you can camp out of any van of your choosing. Just find a parking spot, fold down the seats, pump-up an air mattress, add a couple of blankets, and you’re good to go. A cooler between the front seats is all that’s missing. If you are thinking about purchasing a new cooler, read why we chose a Yeti cooler.

Below are a few of the best vans to choose from when considering your purchase. Camping in a van with a few additional amenities requires one of the three vans listed below:

Cargo vans

Cargo vans are one of the most favorite choices for van camping. When going with this choice, you’ll have a blank slate to work with, unless you purchase one that someone has already modified. Customize the van with solar panels, install a bed frame with a nightstand. Add a sink and enjoy the ability to be able to wash your hands and dishes.

Passenger vans

Passenger vans are also a popular choice. They have seats in them, and they usually have room for 5 to 12 passengers. If you take out the seats by removing the mounting brackets, you’ll have a similar blank slate as with a cargo van.

A great benefit of using a passenger van to camp is that they often come with comfortable carpet. You can also use the brackets mentioned above to tie down furniture.

High-top cargo vans

High-top cargo vans are debatably the best choice of all. You can stand up in them, stretch out, and build all sorts of amenities inside.

Some people prefer to line the upper portion with bookshelves, while others load up on spices and cookware.

Popular van models include Ford Transit, Ram ProMaster, and Mercedes-Benz Sprinter.

Keep in mind that taller doesn’t always mean better. You won’t be able to drive into some garages, pull under the overhangs at apartment complexes, or the drive-thru at your favorite fast-food restaurant. High-top cargo vans also cost quite a bit more than low-top vans.

What Kind Of Amenities Can You Have While Van Camping?

Looking inside a new camper van from the back end

Camping in a van is sort of like the middle ground between tent camping and staying in a motorhome.

You get to enjoy the compact size without having to drive a large vehicle, but it has quite a few amenities. The luxuries you can enjoy depend entirely on what you’re capable of fitting inside the van.

Many companies sell kits or do installations for adding van amenities. In all likelihood, you’re probably going to have to do the build yourself. However, you’re not entirely on your own; YouTube and other media websites are loaded with guides and step-by-step instructions to make the ultimate van camping setup right from home.

Here are the five most popular amenities that you can install into your van:

A bed

A bed is a necessity. Using a few 2 x 4’s and a sheet of plywood, you can create a comfortable bed frame for under $100. Top it off with a full-sized mattress, a few blankets, and a pillow, and you’ll be sleeping like royalty wherever you camp.


Cabinets are also a very popular item to add to your van build. You can either have drawers underneath the bed frame, cupboards on the side of the interior, or both. Being able to store everything in a convenient location is the key to not feeling flustered and crowded in a van.

Solar panels

Solar power in vans is becoming increasingly popular. You can attach solar panels on the roof of your van and hook it up to a 12V battery, a charge controller, and an inverter to use electricity on-the-go. Read our post on inverters to learn more.

A cooler

A cooler is another amenity that most van campers can enjoy. Load it up with all sorts of food as if it were a pantry. Get a well-insulated cooler to keep your food dry and safe from warm temperatures. You can also get a mini-fridge if you have solar power. Check out our post on mini-fridges for more information.

Roof ventilation

Roof ventilation fans are designed to cool down a van or an RV quickly. You can hook it up to your solar power or the battery of your vehicle. Be aware; if wired directly to your vehicle’s battery, it can run the battery down, then starting the vehicle might be a problem.

Where Can I Camp In A Van?

Many state parks, campgrounds, and Bureau of Land Management sites all accept van campers. Some RV parks also allow van camping, but wherever you intend to camp, it’s best to call and confirm before reserving your site.

There are plenty of free camping locations as well as wide-open campsites that welcome campers of all types. You should never be limited in places to choose between when van camping.

Summing It Up

Van camping is a popular form of camping that’s continuing to grow. With so many fun layouts, blueprints, and design options, it’s no wonder that thousands of people keep converting their vans to be camp-worthy. Find out what you need to enjoy the outdoors and have fun with your new traveling house on wheels.

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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.