What is the best van for a camper conversion?
The best van for a camper conversion will vary depending on your requirements. If you are planning to live in your van full time then a Sprinter might be the best choice, whereas if you plan on doing weekends away in a hot country, a small VW Transporter might work for what you need. It’s important to work out what you want to use the van for first, to help you decide what make and model of van to go for.
Choosing the best van for a camper conversion can be answered by thinking about a few different questions:
- What length of trip do you plan on taking in your van?
- What activities do you plan on doing whilst away (i.e. how much storage do you need)?
- How many people will be using the van?
- What are your prerequisites for your camper van?
You will need a very different van for your camper conversion if you’re planning on living in it full time vs if you’re just using it for the odd weekend away. Someone who needs to fit surf boards, road bikes and climbing gear will need a much bigger van than those just planning on hiking and running. If you have a family of 3+, you will need a much bigger van than if there is just 1 or 2 of you. If you want a shower, toilet and big seating area this will impact the size of van you should go for.
Thinking about these influencing factors should help you work out the size of van to pick for your van conversion. Once you have decided on the size you need, then you will just need to pick a van! Below we detail some of the best vans for each size of camper van conversion you might be planning.
Large vans are the best vans for living in full time, as they’re a base vehicle that’s big enough to include features such as a big fixed bed with lots of storage space and a shower and toilet cubicle.
Our large van of choice is the Mercedes Sprinter. A LWB Mercedes Sprinter has internal load area dimensions of 1.7m x 4.3m, giving you loads of room for anything you might want to include: a fixed double bed, a shower and toilet, storage for bikes, surf boards and other outdoor gear. There is also enough room for most people to stand up inside, making these vans the obvious choice for someone planning to live in their van, or take extended trips away.
We personally chose a Mercedes Sprinter for our van conversion as Sprinters are very reliable vehicles. Most will see their mileage climbing well into the hundreds of thousands, which is exactly what you want if you’re going to invest a lot of time and money in converting a van into a little home! Most courier vans and ambulances are Sprinters, which shows just how reliable they are. These ex-fleet vehicles are serviced regularly and looked after, so can be a good option for a second hand van.
Another good option for a large van is a VW Crafter. These are very similar to Sprinters – they actually have exactly the same body, with a slightly different engine. They are also very reliable vehicles.
The Iveco Daily is one of the biggest vans available, with the LWB having internal load area dimensions of 1.8m x 4.5m. Iveco are a van and truck specialist, so their vans are well made and pretty reliable, with a lot of long haul couriers using them as their go to van.
Other options for large vans are the XLWB Citroen Relay, the XLWB Fiat Ducato and the XLWB Peugeot Boxer which are all slightly smaller than the Sprinter but slightly wider, with internal dimensions of 1.9m x 4m. These also taper in less at the top than the Sprinter and Crafter, so are a good option if you’re planning on sleeping across the van as it gives you a bit more room.
If you’re worried about getting a large van because you’re concerned you won’t be able to park it or will struggle to drive it, don’t worry – we have never had any issues parking at remote climbing areas or getting down tiny country lanes in our LWB Sprinter! We would recommend getting a rear parking camera as this along with the side mirrors provides plenty of visibility making it easy to drive and park.
If you don’t quite need the space of a large van and you’re a little worried about driving such a monster, a medium size van might be the right option for you. These aren’t as long as the Sprinters, but still have a lot of room inside for storing gear, and are still usually big enough to stand up in if you go for a high top option.
The classic choice for a medium van is the Ford Transit. Transits are well established as a good, dependable van and come without the premium price tag of a Mercedes or a VW. The Ford Transit is the most common van in the UK, which means if anything goes wrong, it should be fairly cheap to fix as the parts are easily available. The MWB (medium wheel base) Transit has internal load area dimensions of 1.6m x 3m, and the LWB has internal dimensions of 1.6m x 3.4m.
Other common medium size vans are the Renault Master, the Vauxhall Movano, the Citroen Relay, the Fiat Ducato, and the Peugeot Boxer, which are all medium sized vans in both the MWB and LWB versions. These all have an internal load area length of around 3m for the MWB and 3.7m for the LWB, with a width of 1.8-1.9m depending on. the make and model.
If you want to go for something a bit different and like the idea of having lots of natural light from big, clear windows, the LDV Convoy minibus is a great unique choice for a medium size van. They have internal dimensions of approximately 1.7m x 3.2m. It’s worth noting that lots of big windows in ex-minibuses do mean it’s much harder to keep heat in your van during the winter, and as the Convoy’s are all quite old, they may have a higher chance of breaking down and being expensive to fix with less common parts.
If you’re based in the US, the RAM Promaster is a popular vehicle for a medium size build.
If you are more of a weekend warrior and want to convert a van on more of a budget, or just don’t have the requirements for a big van, a small van like the VW Transporter might be best for you. Transporters are a very popular small van, however they do come with a premium price tag for being a VW. You have a choice from the T1, T2 and T3 which are the different generations of retro style Transporters, and the newer T4, T5 and T6.
Whilst the look of the retro style Transporters is very desirable, it’s worth remembering that these vehicles are much older and so are more prone to breaking down, and may be expensive to repair.
A nice option with the Transporters is the pop tops, which gives you valuable extra room in a smaller van. Transporters have internal load area dimensions of 1.7m x 2.7m.
If you want to avoid the premium of buying a VW, the Renault Trafic, the Peugeot Expert and the Ford Transit Custom are also good options for smaller vans. The Renault Trafic and the Peugeot Expert have internal dimensions of 1.6m x 2.5m and the Ford Transit Custom is slightly wider at 1.8m x 2.5m.
You can maximise space in a smaller van by making the most of features such as slide out kitchens to cook outside, roof racks to store extra gear that won’t fit inside the van, and awnings to give you some extra cover and space outside of the van.
Extra small vans
If you’re looking to convert a van to really only be a portable bed and a step up from camping but not much more than that, an extra small van such as a VW Caddy or a Citroen Berlingo might be the right van for you.
These vans are really only for people looking to use a van as somewhere to sleep, but not spend much time in as they really are very small. They are not much bigger than a car, so are very easy to park and drive. Both the Caddy and the Berlingo have internal dimensions of 1.5m x 1.8m.
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