Outdoor adventurers, stealth campers and climbers have called vans home for years. But guess what?
Social media has made VanLife incredibly mainstream and famous. Images of beautifully decked out camper vans parked in gorgeous outdoor landscapes have inspired many people to ditch their worldly possessions and comfortable homes for the freedom that comes with the open road.
The reality is that traveling in a cargo van or campers van, as many people like to call it, is pretty different from traveling in an RV. Plus, there is so much you need to learn about stealth van life.
Here is the catch, vans are a lot cheaper than smaller RVs. So while it is affordable, it is also easier to park. And yes, vans used for living space do not require all the fancy hookups you’ll find at RV parks.
Unlike RVs, vans don’t typically have bathrooms. This means you have to get creative when maintaining your hygiene. Let us also add that when you live in a van, cooking is going to be a challenge.
But now the million-dollar question is, what are the best vans for van life? Read today’s guide to see our list of best cargo vans for van life. Also, some of these vans are great for camper conversion.
The Mercedes Benz Sprinter
If you’re on the market for one of the best vans for stealth camping, this Mercedes Benz sprinter will be a brilliant option. Plus, many van lifers see this vehicle as the gold standard for van lifers.
Since this van has been around for many years, it is possible to come across one that is nicely fitted with all the van life essentials. On the flip side, if you decide to get a brand new Sprinter, you can still go-ahead to do the camper van conversion yourself.
This will save you some extra bucks. And if you don’t want to do it yourself, you can outsource the job to a van conversion company to put together your dream vehicle. Let us also add that you can opt for an already decked-out model.
To be clear, the Mercedes Benz Sprinter cargo van with a diesel engine comes in three lengths. The longest Sprinter is just as big as a small RV. You can carve out a nice spot for a bathroom with this option.
Also, the Mercedes Benz Sprinter is available in 4X4, making it a brilliant option for van lifers who plan on spending a good deal of time off-road.
The only complaint we have heard about the Mercedes Benz Sprinter is their insane price point. Also, the high cost of maintenance and repairs is also an issue.
In terms of pricing, the Mercedes Benz Sprinter goes for $34,985 to $57,985.
- This vehicle is very popular among van lifers.
- There are tons of brilliant layouts and conversion tips available for this van online.
- It has a remarkably high interior design. This allows for versatility.
- It comes in three lengths, with the largest being 4×4
- It is pretty expensive. Plus, the cost of maintenance and repair is high
- Most repairs are only handled by Mercedes dealers, which makes it even more expensive
- It can be pretty hard to come across replacement parts. To this end, you can have repairs delayed for many weeks.
The Dodge Promaster is just as unique as the Mercedes Benz Sprinter. And yes, we like that this van comes in various lengths and roof heights.
This has pitched it among some of the best vans for van life on the market. The Wheelbase version of the Dodge Promaster, which measures 159,” is among the widest conversion vans on the market.
This van is large enough to house a standard full-sized mattress, precisely on the passenger to driver side.
Unlike other campervans out there, the Promaster is a front-wheel-drive van. This makes it great for fuel economy and provides more traction in winter.
While it isn’t as expensive as the Mercedes Benz Sprinter, it is still a tad expensive and costs between $29,995 and slightly higher.
- The Dodge Promaster is arguably one of the widest conversion vans on the market currently.
- It is slightly cheaper than other vans on the market, especially if you compare it to the Sprinter.
- The Dodge Promaster is a front-wheel-drive van, which means it can perform better in snowy conditions.
- Unfortunately, this camper van is only available in front-wheel drive
- Since it has a low ground clearance limit, this van isn’t great for off-road driving.
Even though the Mercedes Benz Sprinter is the gold standard for van life, it isn’t the only camper conversion that has made it into the mainstream.
The Ford Transit made its debut in the U.S market in 2014 and became an instant hit and a popular option for van lifers, especially because it looks quite similar to the Mercedes Benz Sprinter.
Like the Mercedes Sprinter, the Ford Transit comes in three unique lengths and three different roof heights. This makes it a popular option for van lifers looking for a van that is a bit taller and roomier.
Before 2020, nearly all Ford Transits available in the US markets feature a rear-wheel drive. But things seem to have slightly changed in 2020, as the company now builds an all-wheel-drive version of the van.
Unfortunately, since this version is pretty new to the market, it can be quite challenging to find used models for sale. This means you’d probably have to fork out a lot of money for a brand new one.
The cool thing about Ford is that replacement parts are cheaper and easy to find. Plus, they can be serviced by pretty much any qualified mechanic.
As per pricing, the Ford Transit is expensive and costs between $34,510 or higher.
- This van is becoming popular among the VanLife community
- The high-roofed versions of this vehicle are cheaper than the new Mercedes Sprinter Vans
- A qualified mechanic can repair this van, so there is no need to visit a Ford dealership for repairs or maintenance.
- A lot of conversion companies are beginning to work with this van.
- Since the Ford Transit is still new to the US markets, it can be difficult to find used options
- 2019 and older models don’t have an all-wheel-drive
- Compared to other vans, the Ford Transit tends to be somewhat narrower.
For van lifers on the market for a reliable bus to live in, you’ll not be disappointed to check out the VW bus. This van has been a top choice for van lifers since it launched in the 1970s.
From the surf days to today’s digital world, the VW bus camper has remained an iconic vehicle, with a deep footprint in the van life culture. A close look at this bus reveals why it is an obvious choice for van lifers.
Unfortunately, the early Volkswagen bus campers are no longer in production. To this end, it is pretty hard to find replacement parts. And when you do find them, they aren’t cheap.
Notwithstanding, a growing number of van life DIYers and other small businesses are leveraging 3D printers to build smaller interior parts for the VW bus.
Also, there are budding companies that specialize in building replacement parts for VW Bus engines, especially those that are 100% electric with solar panels fitted on them. This makes it a great option for van lifers looking for an eco-friendly camper.
This small van with a roof rack is incredibly loved today, just as it was many years ago when it first hit the market. We do not doubt that it will remain an iconic van for many years to come.
- This conversion bus delivers remarkable performance
- More affordable than other options we have explored so far.
- It is easy to maintain and repair.
- Finding replacement parts can be incredibly hard
- Replacement parts are super expensive
Nissan NV cargo
The Nissan NV cargo van is a monster on the road. While it may not be a popular option among van lifers, what we love most about this van is that it can be seamlessly converted to 4×4.
This makes it a decent option for van lifers looking for a mean off-roading machine.
Another thing we would like to highlight is that the Nissan NV cargo comes in a variety of configurations. More so, it has a pretty large cabin. The not-so-cool part is that it has fewer cargo rooms, especially when you compare it to the Mercedes Benz Sprinter.
If you’re interested in a van with ample headroom, it’s best to opt for the high roof option of this van.
And just like other vans for road trips we have covered so far, this one is also expensive and costs $29,890.
- The Nissan NV is a bad boy on the road and great for one person
- The van comes in multiple options
- The van can be easily converted to a 4×4
- It isn’t as popular as other options on the market. This means you’ll get a good deal for a used one.
- With less cargo room, you have limited living place to play with
- The floor model isn’t so popular. It is only available in the rear-wheel-drive.
With the incredible options available on the market, there is an abundance of vans you can choose.
But to be honest, very few vans can match the performance of the Vauxhall Movano. And yes, it is a favorite among many van lifers globally.
This incredible van comes in various options, so you are sure to find one that ticks your boxes.
There are even some options that come with a fiberglass maxi roof. In terms of roof size, we can attest that this is among the tallest vans we have come across, so you’ll enjoy the high roof.
What’s special about this camper van is its brilliant fiberglass roof, which you can easily cut through. And when you do, it is also easier to patch back if you decide to change your building plan or make a mistake along the way.
As a live-in van, the Vauxhall Movano is a decent option. And good enough, the length is just right, so you won’t worry too much about finding a spot to park the vehicle.
If you aren’t so sucked up in the extra length provided by the Sprinter but want something with ample headroom that lets you easily install a bed, then this is the van for you.
Like the Mercedes Benz Sprinter, the Vauxhall Movano is an expensive van. While a good one will cost you nearly $30,000 or more, you can find used options for way less.
- This brilliant live-in van provides a lot of headroom.
- It provides users with ample living space.
- It is a monster on the road, thanks to its insane performance.
- It isn’t as big as the Mercedes Benz Sprinter, so you won’t have that extra length to play with.
- It is pretty expensive.
The VW Crafter is another iconic piece from Volkswagen. This brilliant bus is a superb option for van lifers looking for a decent vehicle that delivers on all fronts.
Like the Movano and the Mercedes Benz Sprinter, this van is mostly used to deliver goods. Thanks to its spacious design, many van lifers pick it up and turn it into their dream camper van.
One thing that makes the VW Crafter an obvious choice for van lifers is that parts are easier to get, and that’s because the van is still in production. This means you don’t have to worry about having your car fixed in the event of any problem.
Like other camper vans we have featured in today’s guide, the VW Crafter is designed for rough and rugged terrains, so we expect it to perform well during off-roading adventures.
Also, this van is a wonderful option if you’re on the market for a long-wheel-base van that doesn’t cost a fortune.
- The VW Crafter is a decent vehicle with remarkable performance
- Since this vehicle is still in production, it’s easy to find replacement parts
- Great for off-roading activities
- Though parts are available, they can be a little expensive.
Ford E-series (Econoline)
If you’re on the market for the best vans for van life or looking for a decent vehicle for stealth camping, you’ll fancy this superb vehicle.
The Ford E-Series is among the most popular vans among plumbers, construction workers and electricians.
While the company behind this van has replaced the Ford E-Series with the Ford Transit, which hit the market in 2014, the only difference is that the company kept the cutaway version. Sportsmobile is now using this version for their 4×4 van conversions.
What we don’t like about this Ford E-Series is that you can’t stand up, and that’s because of the small headroom it offers. But you can fix this by installing a pop-top.
Despite the inadequate headroom, the Ford E-Series offers a large, boxy interior which provides you with plenty of room for kitchen, storage and bed.
With Ford E-Series, you have various options you can choose from. First, there are some with gasoline engines and others with diesel engines. Overall, Ford E-Series comes in three different gas engines you can choose from.
Despite its incredible features, we aren’t so pleased to learn that the Ford E-Series is missing safety features. Some reviews even claim that the vehicle comes with loose steering and soft brakes. So keep this in mind when shopping for a camper van conversion.
The good news, however, is that the Ford Econoline vans are becoming an obvious choice for Sportsmobile, and that’s because they can easily be converted to 4×4.
- The Ford Econoline is spacious enough to house a kitchen, storage and large bed.
- It can easily be converted to a 4×4. This has made it an obvious choice for big companies like Sportsmobile.
- The car comes in various options, including a gas and diesel engine option.
- Standing inside this van is difficult as it doesn’t have enough headroom.
The Ram Promaster is one of the finest stealth camping vans we have come across in recent times.
And just like the Ford Transit and Mercedes Benz Sprinter, the Ram Promaster comes in various configurations. The Cargo vans model measures 118-inch, 136-inch and 159-inch. It also has different wheelbases and distinct exterior heights.
The interior front dash of the Ram Master is way nicer than what you find in the Transit.
DIY van lifers love the Ram Promaster because its rear cargo area has 90-degree angle sidewalls and a large space, allowing for build-outs. Besides being decently priced, we also love the van because it comes with front-wheel drive.
Unfortunately, many van lifers have complained about the van’s overall aesthetics and its poor maneuverability and low ground clearance.
The good news is the Ram Promaster can be nicely customized to suit your taste. You can even include custom woodworking finishes to revamp its original aesthetics. While this vehicle will cost you between $30,000 and more, if you decide to opt for conversion, the price can go as high as $60,000.
We doubt this will be a big deal for van lifers and stealth campers as we are sure the conversion will allow them to live out their dreams.
- This remarkable vehicle delivers impressive performance
- Being a front-wheel-drive van, it is great for off-roading activities
- The van can be easily converted to meet your taste
- Converting this van to a camper van will cost a fortune
- Some people have complained of its low ground clearance and poor maneuverability.
If room height isn’t something you’re worried about when shopping for a decent camper van or if you plan to buy a van that you can easily convert to a pop-top, we are sure you’ll love the Chevy Express.
This robust passenger van hit the market decades ago and is still pretty popular among van lifers. Like other vans we have reviewed so far, this one also comes in three varieties, including 1500, 2500 and 3500 versions.
Thanks to its built-to-last chassis and fine interior, the Chevy Express is great for DIY conversions. Plus, you’re sure to get plenty of used models for a bargain. Unfortunately, these selling points aren’t fancied by some van lifers, especially those who are out for a van with modern styling and better upgrades.
If you desire to have a camper van that ticks all your boxes and performs incredibly well, now is a great time to consider getting a Chevy Express. In terms of price, the Chevy Express cost a whopping $32,000 minus conversion.
- The Chevy Express comes in different models, including 1500, 2500 and 3500 versions.
- It’s easy to convert to a camper van.
- Finding used models isn’t that difficult as the car is super popular.
- The vehicle is a tad expensive
- Building conversion models will cost you a fortune.
GMC Savana/Chevy Express
The Chevy Express and the GMC Savana are super identical vans. The only difference is that they bear different brand names. And just like the Ford E-Series, the GMC Savana and Chevy Express are great for urban stealth camping.
Unfortunately, while these vans boast powerful engines, they don’t have a high roof option.
This puts them behind top stealth camping vans such as the Promaster, Ford Transit and Mercedes Benz Sprinter. And just to add, the van looks pretty outdated, with the last body design going way back to 1996.
The cool part is that you can choose between multiple trim options. Plus, you can even get an extended version if you opt for the 2500 or 3500 version. This delivers more living space.
While these vans don’t have a lot of great safety features, you can tweak things by installing safety packages. This will cost you an extra $2000.
If you’d love to have windows built on your camper van, you can opt for the cargo van or passenger van. Either of these options should work just fine.
For van lifers who want their vans to have more headroom, the best thing is to take your vehicle to a professional. These guys have the skills to convert your van to include a higher headroom. But keep in mind that this would cost you even more.
- The GMC Savana/Chevy express delivers incredible performance both on and off the road.
- The car can be easily converted into a camper van, making it great for stealth camping.
- These vehicles come in various options, including cargo and passenger van options.
- Converting this vehicle to your dream camper van will cost you a fortune.
- Replacement parts are also a bit pricey
Chevy Astro Van
The Chevy Astro van is among the best and most affordable live-in vans you can find on the market currently. Without mincing words, this van has a cult following with many people doing their magic to convert them into off-roading monsters. Some people even lower them to increase their performance.
The Chevy Astro van hit the market between 1985 and 2005. This van was sold along with popular brands like the GMC Safari. While both brands look pretty much the same, they carry different brand names.
What we love most about the Chevy Astro Van is that it is a lot more affordable than other vans we have featured so far. We have seen listings of this van on Craigslist for as low as $6,000. And this is for the converted option.
Also, other people have reported seeing ads for this van for as little as $2,000 to $3,000.
If you’re okay with the limited space available in the Chevy Astro, we doubt you’ll have any issue with the van as every other thing works pretty fine. The only complaint about this van is its semi-poor gas mileage.
Let us also add that you won’t find its outdated mirror or barebones appealing. But this doesn’t surprise us as the Chevy Astro is older and more affordable.
If you are going to be driving your van on sandy beaches, we suggest you go for the AWD version. This vehicle performs superbly on muddy roads and snowy paths.
Sure, it’s quite hard to find a Chevy Astro conversion, especially one with a fiberglass roof, but you’ll enjoy extra foot or headroom if you’re lucky to find one.
Considering the price of this van, we can say for sure that this is one of the best live-in vans we have come across.
- This live-in van is one of the most affordable options you’ll find on the market.
- Because the van is insanely popular, it’s easy to find a converted option.
- There is an AWD version. So you can opt for that if you plan to go on off-road stealth camping.
- Compared to other vans, this one has limited space. So keep that in mind.
- Also, there is the semi-poor gas mileage to worry about.
The School Bus
The School bus may not be a van in the true sense of the word, but there is no denying that this vehicle is the poster boy of the alternative living lifestyle.
Many van lifers, including travel enthusiasts, will tell you that our famous yellow school boss is the perfect van to live in and here is why. First off, the van is sturdy, spacious and can be seamlessly converted into the ultimate camper.
We love school buses because of their incredible performance. Despite the incredible job they do day in and day out, they have stood the test of time. Another thing you want to keep in mind is that schools ensure that their buses are in great condition.
Another unique thing about school buses is that replacement parts are readily available. And they don’t cost a fortune to get, which is a good thing.
There are many reasons why the school bus is highly sought after. The most exciting one is that this bus is rugged and can take anything thrown at it.
Similarly, they are spacious and feel homely when fully converted. The windows are nicely positioned to allow natural light to flow in.
More so, they have a decent head roof, making it easy to fit a bed without giving up tons of living space.
If you’re looking for some great ideas on conversion, a simple Google search will leave you with tons of brilliant options.
Also, you can explore YouTube for some superb ideas on conversion. This should give you some ideas on how to take on your conversion project.
- School buses are decently priced, so you won’t spend a ton of money to get your dream stealth camping van.
- Since the bus is quite popular, you can get a used one without sweating it.
- Finding replacement parts for this vehicle is super easy, given its popularity.
- Converting this bus will cost quite a sum.
- It may not perform as great as other vans featured in today’s guide.
Frequently asked questions
What are the most affordable conversion vans?
There is no right or wrong answer, as this entirely depends on your budget, especially considering that different brands are priced differently.
But if you’re looking for something that doesn’t cost too much, you should consider getting the Nissan NV or Chevy Astro van.
Which vans are easier to convert to a camper van?
If you’re looking for a van, you can easily convert to a camper van; there are many options on the market.
To save you the stress, some of the best include the Ford Transit, Mercedes Benz Sprinter, and more.
What makes a reliable camper van?
Some of the most reliable camper vans are those built by top brands, including Ford, Mercedes Benz, Volkswagen, etc.
Also, keep in mind that a van with a low mileage doesn’t necessarily guarantee it is great, so it’s best to get the van inspected.