The 4 Best Vans to Convert Into a Camper #VANLIFE

By: Scott Adamson
/ August 3, 2020
With the ever-growing Vanlife movement, vans built with the original intent of being used as Cargo or Work vehicles have become Instagram sensations.

Why?

Because people are converting their vans into jaw-dropping campers.

 

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Sprinter Conversions | Vanlife (@sprintercampervans) on

(Instagram post by @Sprintercampervans)

 

Before we jump into our list, it’s important to note one thing. Choosing the right van for you will really depend on your lifestyle, how much of an investment you’re willing to make, and where you plan on traveling.

The vehicles we’re talking about today are the most popular vans for long-term travel.

These vans are best if:

  • You’ll be traveling in it for weeks/months/years.
  • You want to be able to stand up.
  • You need an area to cook.
  • You need some space to work remotely while on the road.
  • You want to be able to move around a little (or a lot).

If you’re looking for more of an occasional road-trip-style camper van that you can sleep in overnight, we’ll cover that in a separate article.

Today, we’re talking VANLIFE and which vans are most suited for long-term van living.

1. Mercedes Sprinter

Starting at: $37,270 (2019 144″ High Roof Sprinter Cargo Van)

Sprinter Vans are one of the most popular conversion van options available today, and for good reason. In our (possibly biased) opinion, they are downright beautiful.

What’s nice about the Sprinter is that they’ve been available in the U.S. since 2001 (branded as the Freightliner). So unlike other popular vans, it’s much easier to find older used models with some good years left to give.

While Mercedes offers a lot of great options, it’s fairly straight-forward to narrow down your van of choice. Sprinter vans come in 3 different lengths – 144″, 170″ and 170″ Extended. There are 2 different roof heights (high or low) to choose from, depending on the wheelbase. And if an off-roading adventure is what you’re after, you’ll be happy to know that the Sprinter has a 4×4 option, unlike some of its competitors.

The downside to the growing popularity of the Sprinter is that you might find yourself waiting a few months to get your hands on one! New Sprinters are often on backorder, especially if you’re after a 4×4.

 

 

What scares some aspiring Vanlifers away from the Mercedes Sprinter is the price tag for the vehicle and it’s future repairs. While the base standard model starts around the $35k mark, other models and options can add up very quickly. And with specialty engines and parts come specialty mechanics.

Some Vanlifers have experienced difficulties in finding independent repair shops that are knowledgeable in Sprinter repairs. While that hasn’t been my experience, it’s something to consider researching before hitting the road with your Sprinter.

If you’re looking to tackle a DIY Van Conversion, another perk to the Mercedes Sprinter is the level of information available about converting them.

Pros

✅  Easier to find older/used models than some of its competitors.
✅  Several configurations and options to choose from.
✅  Available in 4×4.
✅  Will be well sought-after upon resale.
✅  Lots of conversion information available online.
✅ Gas or Diesel options.

Cons

❌  New Sprinters are often on backorder, especially 4×4.
❌  Can often be more expensive than other vans.
❌  Some have experienced difficulty finding independent repair shops to work on their van.

2. Ford Transit

Starting at: $34,510 (2020 Ford Transit Cargo Van)

The Ford Transit has been the best-selling van of any type in the US since 2016, and are becoming increasingly popular in the Van Conversion space.

It currently comes in 3 body lengths (regular, long and extended), 3 roof heights, and 2 wheelbase lengths – 130″ and 148″. Some Transit configurations can actually be a bit more spacious than the Sprinter. And as of 2020, the new Transit will also offer an all-wheel-drive option, a long-awaited option for Transit-lovers.

This van is known to have easy-to-find parts bringing some peace-of-mind when considering future repairs.

The biggest drawback with the Ford Transit is that, unlike the Mercedes Sprinter, there isn’t a huge used market for these vans yet. While Ford has been producing the Transit since 1965, it wasn’t marketed in North America until 2013 when it replaced Ford’s E-Series in 2015.  So if your heart is set on a Ford Transit and you live in North America, you may find yourself having to purchase a brand new van.

Pros

✅  Many spacious configurations to choose from.
✅  As of 2020, available in AWD.
✅  Easy to find parts.
✅  Gas and Diesel options.

Cons

❌  New to the North American market, making it harder to find older used vans.
❌  No 4×4 option available, only AWD for 2020 models.

3. Ram ProMaster

Starting at: $37,170 (2020 ProMaster 1500)

The ProMaster is available in many configurations, including 3 wheelbase lengths – 118″, 136″ and 159″,  and 2 roof heights. While many people simply don’t like the look of the vehicle, it’s a definite contender in the Vanlife space.

One of the main draws to the ProMaster is that the 159″ WB is currently the widest conversion van available. Unlike the Sprinter and Transit where you often need to sacrifice some length, you can fit a standard full-sized bed across the width of the van!

 

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Vanlife | Kipp & Anne (@roadlifeadventures) on

(Instagram Post by @roadlifeadventures)

 

The biggest complaint about the ProMaster is its low ground clearance and the fact that it’s not available in 4×4. So if intense off-roading is important to you, this won’t be your best option.

Pros

✅  Cargo area has almost 90 degree angled walls, making it easy to build on.
✅  Width of the 159″ WB allows you to fit a standard bed width-wise.
✅  Available in Front Wheel Drive.
✅  Good turning radius.
✅  Comfortable roof height for most people (77.1″ in the 159″ WB).

Cons

❌  Low ground clearance.
❌  No 4×4 option available.
❌  Some people don’t like the aesthetic.

4. Nissan NV

Starting at: $33,190 (2020 Cargo NV2500 High Roof V6)

While the Nissan NV Cargo Van is a much less popular option, it is a worthy mention.

If you don’t mind the outdated and unique look of the NV, you might be interested to know that this van comes with a 5-year warranty / 160,000 miles, while most others include only 3 years or 36,000 miles warranty. It’s also known to be extremely reliable.

Larger vans such as the Sprinter or Ford Transit have made Vanlife so well-known that it can be difficult to mask it as a standard vehicle when attempting to camp stealthily. The Nissan NV, on the other hand, looks much less like a home-on-wheels. So while the long nose of the NV can stand out at a Vanlife meet-up, it’s a little easier to “hide” when parked in the city.

The main downside to the NV is that it doesn’t get very good gas mileage (only 12 pg). Its size is also really only suitable for solo Vanlifers.

If you’re looking for a smaller cargo van to convert into a solo adventure-mobile, but still want the ability to stand up straight, this may be a good option for you.

Pros

✅  High roof.
✅  There’s much less demand so you may be able to find a good deal.
✅  Easier to stealth-camp.

Cons

❌  Less cargo space.
❌  Only fits 1 person, comfortably.
❌  Doesn’t get very good gas mileage.

So which van is best for Vanlife?

Selecting and purchasing your van is a huge decision. Not only is it a sizable expense, but it’s also going to play a HUGE roll in making some of your best memories.

The decision as to which van is best for you will come down to a few things that only you can decide for yourself:

1. Budget

How much are you willing to spend on your camper van? Are you looking for a luxurious vehicle with all the bells and whistles? Something used that you’re willing to fix up?

2. Size

Are you traveling solo? As a pair? As a family? How much space will you need to live comfortably?

3. Lifestyle

Is this just a weekend getaway van? Or will you be traveling in it for weeks/months/years/forever? Will you be driving through thick snow? Or want to park it on the beach? Want to stretch it’s off-roading limits to find the coolest views you can possibly find? Or will you be sticking to campgrounds and easy-to-access sites?

4. Diesel or Gas?

In some countries, Diesel is cheaper than Gas, while others are the other way around. But if you plan on taking your van to other countries, it’s possible that Diesel will be more difficult to track down than Gas. So think about where you intend on traveling and what that might mean for fuel, as this would be a big differentiator between van options.

Final tips on finding the best van for you

1) TEST DRIVE any van you’re about to purchase, whether it’s new or used. Make sure the van feels good, sounds good, and even smells good.

2) Do your best to spot a lemon. Consider mileage, the vehicles history, rust damage, frame issues, tire condition, etc.

3) Think about your current lifestyle, but also your future. Would you like to have a partner in the van one day? Maybe a pet? Maybe one day you’d like to do some more off-roading or chase the snow. Without over-extending yourself, buy a van that allows for some lifestyle adjustments (like a future mountain-biking hobby!).

There are many other vans that can make for a great camper van but these are certainly the most popular in the Vanlife community today.  There are so many creative ways to convert a van into an amazing camper. Hopefully, this has inspired you to choose your next home-on-wheels!

Scott Adamson
Wanderful Idea Guy
Coffee drinker, adventure seeker, below average photographer.
Recommended
Trending
Get The Wanderful Newsletter
Subscribed! We think you'll enjoy being part of our community!
Be the first to see our tips, stories, news and more.