Building your own camper van is an exciting challenge. If you have the time, it's well worth the effort to produce a design that fits your needs exactly. Doing it yourself can be a great source of pride, and if done right, you can save a great deal of money in the process!
I've written a 378-page book about converting vans into camper vans, the Sprinter RV Conversion Sourcebook. In this 15-post Campervan HQ series, we'll outline some of the same design and equipment considerations that I discuss in the book. I hope you find it useful!
The posts will cover:
- Camper Vans Part 1: What's Your Camping Lifestyle?
- Camper Vans Part 2: Renting a Camper Van/Motorhome
- Camper Vans Part 3: Planning the Interior Layout
- Camper Vans Part 4: Choosing (and Finding) a Base Van
- Camper Vans Part 5: Starting the Build
- Camper Vans Part 6: Adding Windows
- Camper Vans Part 7: Adding Soundproofing and Insulation
- Camper Vans Part 8: Adding Wiring
- Camper Vans Part 9: Adding Heat
- Camper Vans Part 10: Adding Plumbing
- Camper Vans Part 11: Adding Interior Paneling
- Camper Vans Part 12: Adding Cabinetry
- Camper Vans Part 13: Adding Beds
- Camper Vans Part 14: Adding Upholstery
- Camper Vans Part 15: Exterior Modifications
Camper Vans: What's Your Camping Lifestyle?
The very first question to ponder: What do you want to do with your camper van? Do you see yourself traveling within your state? Around North America? Or would you take the Pan-American highway all the way down to Tierra del Fuego? Different types of recreational vehicles (RVs) are suited for different types of uses.
When talking about camper vans and motorhomes, you should be aware of some terminology used in North America for motorized RVs:
- A-Class Motorhome - Generally the largest kind, with a giant box-like body and often on a diesel-engined chassis. These motorhomes are the most expensive and have the most space, making them a top pick for "full-timers" who live in their motor home 100% of the time. Since they're large and heavy, A-Class RVs use the most fuel, cost the most, and are only suitable for using on paved roads.
- B-Class Motorhome - An RV built on a van chassis, most frequently using the Mercedes Sprinter, Ford Transit or Ram Promaster in North America these days. They're often the smallest kind of motorized RV, and range in length from 19' to almost 25' long. Vans are available in multiple roof heights, so you can stand up in some high-roof vans, or build a pop-top sleeping area into a low-roofed van. Some models are available with 4x4 for off-road use, but short-wheelbase 2WD versions can be fine on the dirt roads often found in national forests and wilderness areas.
- C-Class Motorhomes - These are RVs built on a cutaway or cab chassis, where the chassis just has the driver's seating and engine at the front, and then a large separate box for the RV living space is added onto the chassis. These are often quite large and heavy. While usually smaller than a class A motorhome, they offer much more living and sleeping space than a class B motorhome. They can be great for families, as there's enough dedicated sleeping space for 4-6 people, and the beds can stay fixed in place for both day and night use.
Of course, many people buy a trailer for occasional camping trips. While this can be an nice, affordable alternative, trailers have some pros and cons:
- Can just unhitch a trailer and take your vehicle into town
- Can leave a trailer in your driveway when you don't need it
- No additional vehicle that might sit unused a lot of the time
- Require a tow vehicle with adequate power, trailer hitch and trailer brake controller
- Can be tricky to tow in mountainous areas, high winds, rainy or snowy/icy weather
- Small trailers not very comfortable in windy or cold weather
- Bigger trailers more comfortable and have more space but require bigger tow vehicles
I hope this post has helped you identify some of the factors you'll want to consider when choosing a camper van.
In the next post, we'll talk about renting different RVs with different equipment and layouts to really hone in on what does and doesn't fit your needs.