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The 8 Best Vans For Camper Conversions You Can Buy

Best Vans For Camper Conversion 0 Hero
Photo: Ford Transit Cargo Van

Travel is one of the best ways to see the world with your own eyes and experience other climates, cultures, and so much more. But there are so many ways to make it happen, we’re not even going to try and list them here. Classically, people tend to lean on hotels and, more recently, Airbnb-style rentals have become the norm. However, they’re far from the only option, especially if you want the freedom to go wherever you want whenever you want.

If unfettered adventure is what you seek, you might be in the market for a camper van — a kind of home-on-wheels that offers living, sleeping, and (in some cases) cooking spaces in a mobile and relatively small package (compared to RVs, at least). And while you can buy them fully-kitted and ready to go, the price of a pre-built adventure van can be, at a minimum, in the $100k and up range — and that’s a bit too steep for plenty of normal folks. Thankfully, there are other options, like buying a van and doing the conversion yourself. And that’s what we have for you today: the very best vans that you can buy for professional or DIY camper conversions.

The Best Vans For Camper Conversions

Camper Van Considerations

The Main Factors To Consider When Buying A Van For A DIY Or Turnkey Conversion

As is the case with any major purchase, there are some things you should think about long before you write that check or sign a finance contract. However, picking up a van for camper conversion is a bit different from other vehicles. It’s with this in mind we’ve put together the following collection of metrics you should consider, ensuring you’ll end up with the right base vehicle for your project.

Price: Probably the most significant factor to consider in your search is your budget, as your buying power will perhaps immediately remove some of the available options — unless you’re lucky enough to be independently wealthy. Even if money is no object, it’s still a good idea to set expectations for your project, as the cost of the van itself is only the first in a long line of other purchases necessary to get your vehicle up to snuff as an adventure rig. It’s also probably a good idea to consider buying a van used, as this could cut your costs significantly, so long as you’re okay with a secondhand vehicle.

Cargo Space: Not only will the internal space of a given van determine how much stuff you can pack into it, but it will also determine your own personal comfort level (some aren’t even tall enough to stand up inside), how you will outfit the interior (a smaller van doesn’t leave a lot of room for large beds, extraneous gear, and even storage solutions), and what kinds of equipment you’ll potentially need to mount on the outside. And that’s just the start of things — there may be issues that pop up that we haven’t thought of here.

Overall Size: While it might seem like the cargo space and overall size kind of go hand-in-hand, there are other reasons to think about the external dimensions. For starters, you’ll need to park your van somewhere. And if you have a tall Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, you’re not going to be able to fit it inside a standard garage, as it will be far too tall and long. If you’ve got a bigger garage or street parking, this might not be as big a factor, but you will need to be more judicious about finding a place to park when it comes time to wind down for the evening. The overall size will also affect overall maneuverability. Taller vans have higher centers of gravity and potentially are more prone to tipping and longer vans require more room to move, especially when making point turns and the like.

Engine: Let’s be frank for a moment; your van is going to be slow and will likely be a gas guzzler. Sorry, that’s just how it works with big heavy vehicles. Still, considering the engine is important because it will determine some other factors including capability, price to refuel, where you can refuel, sustainability, and even required maintenance. For instance, a diesel engine will cost less to refuel than petrol and likely offer better torque, but it isn’t available at every gas station (and even when it is there is sometimes only a single pump) and your overall horsepower will likely be lower. Similarly, electric power is arguable better for the environment and can combine superior HP and torque figures, but it will be hard to find places to charge up and will take a lot longer.

Intended Usage: This metric actually comes in a couple of different forms. First, if you plan to do any measure of off-roading, you’ll want to make sure you have a van that can handle it — or you’ll want to be prepared to spend a pretty penny on upgrading the running gear, especially the suspension. However, you should also be considering just how much time you plan to spend in your van. If you want to just use it on weekends, a smaller option might suit you fine. However, if you want longer trips or to even move into your van, a bigger, more comfortable van could be the better bet

The Cost Of Van Life

How Much Should I Spend Converting A Camper Van?

Generally speaking, most camper conversions are done for somewhere between $5,000 and $50,000, though there are obviously outliers and exceptions that cost substantially more — or even a bit less. The reality is that there are dozens of factors that will impact the total cost of a conversion, such as the type of amenities you want and the materials you select. Additionally, the cost of any DIY conversion will be hugely affected by the skills you possess, as well as the tools and equipment that you have access to. If you already own a full wood shop, know how to do wiring, and possess a few other basic skillsets, you’ll be able to complete a conversion for much cheaper than someone who lacks these resources and abilities. 

There are also certain major elements that aren’t necessarily vital, though are commonly seen on camper conversions — and almost always bring the price up quite a bit. This includes installing a bathroom or adding the myriad of necessary components to unlock some off-roading capabilities such as a lift kit, off-road wheels and tires, skid plates, bumpers, winches, snorkels, light bars, and so on. It’s also worth noting that even when trying to be conservative with your budget, camper conversions — not unlike custom motorcycle builds or one-off car projects — have a funny way of often snowballing and ending up costing substantially more than originally planned. As a result, we urge you to speak to other individuals and poke around online to find complete itemized build list costs, as you want to go into this project knowing all of the expenses ahead of time. 

Built Vs Bought

The Benefits & Drawbacks Of DIY Campers & Turnkey Campers

When getting a camper van, there are two basic routes one can take; buying a turnkey model; or building one themselves. Taking the DIY route and building your own camper is almost always substantially cheaper, plus allows for a much more personalized, custom build, where you get to select every element, system, finish, and fixture inside and out. You can often save a decent chunk of change by purchasing select appliances, systems, or components secondhand (assuming they’re in good shape and/or still under warranty) and installing them into your camper — something professional conversion companies don’t typically offer. 

As stated above, purchasing a pre-made, professionally-built turnkey camper is much costlier than piecing one together yourself, however, there are also a slew of major benefits to taking this more exorbitant approach. For starters, anyone with dozens of builds under their belt will have substantially more experience and knowhow than a first-timer. These are also professional with professional-grade skillsets, and as such are typically able to deliver much cleaner, better-crafted campers with markedly better overall fit and finish. Assuming you’ve opted for a reputable shop, going the turnkey route also affords you the peace of mind knowing that all systems and components have been correctly and professionally installed. 

What’s more, professional shops will almost always have access to much greater resources and equipment than your average DIYer, and as a consequence are almost always able to deliver an objectively superior product — assuming you don’t possess a substantial amount of carpentry, welding, wiring, plumbing, and upholstery experience. Lastly, with more experienced conversion shops, they will have built enough vans for enough clients over a long enough period of time that they will undoubtedly have received ample customer feedback, allowing them to tweak and improve their designs — unlike first-timer-built DIY campers that don’t benefit from this evolution. 

Nissan NV3500 SV Cargo Van

Nissan NV Cargo Van
Photo: Nissan
Who’s This Van Best For?
  • Anyone shopping for a super affordable cargo van offered with a variety of powertrains, lengths, & ceiling heights.

Best Value Pick: The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and the Ford Transit have been ever-so-busy competing for the top spot in the full-sized-cargo-vans-ripe-for-DIY-conversion space while Nissan has been quietly building an outstanding, slightly more manageably-sized, budget-friendly cargo van called the NV. While its maximum capacity is more than 100 cu ft less than either the Sprinter or Transit, the intro price is a full $10,000 less than those other two options (albeit for the NV2500 S with the 261-hp 4.0L V6 engine. And those savings could go directly toward making your DIY conversion more comfortable and convenient, which is a pretty enticing prospect when you start to consider how expensive these kinds of projects can be. And that alone might be enough to bump this into consideration for many folks. This Nissan cargo van is also powered by a 375-hp 5.6-liter V8 that affords a 3,500-pound payload capacity. 

  • Powered by available 375-hp 5.6L V8
  • Offers great value
  • Also sold in high-roof version
  • Produced w/ an available electric powertrain
  • V8 doesn’t offer the best fuel economy
  • Offers less cargo space than other cargo vans in its class
  • No longer in production but still widely available new in showrooms

Engine: 5.6L V8
Power: 375HP & 387FT-LBs
Payload: 3,500LBs
Interior Space: 234 Cu Ft (323Cu Ft. High Roof)
Wheelbase: 146.1”
MSRP: $40,805

Chevrolet Express Cargo Van 3500

Chevrolet Express Van
Photo: Chevrolet
Who’s This Van Best For?
  • Anyone looking for easy access to bolt-in & plug-&-play furniture, shelves, aftermarket upgrades, or replacement parts.

Best Parts Availability: Not everyone needs nor wants a full-sized, high-clearance cargo van — especially if you want to park in normal spaces or even in a standard garage. But you can still get a relatively spacious van that suits the same purpose and meets your needs if you opt for the Chevrolet Express you see here. Sure, you’ll have to duck down to get inside, but you’ll still get 239.4 cu ft of capacity in an easily customized format. Really the only time we’d maybe steer people away from this option is if they’re looking to spend an extended amount of time inside the van, like those who have decided to live their lives traveling the many roads of America. Furthermore, you could even feasibly tow a small trailer behind it, as the 6.6-liter V8 that it packs under the hood also offers up to 401hp and 464ft-lbs of torque. That’s not half bad for this space-saver of a conversion van.

  • Super large & powerful engine
  • Enormous towing & payload capacity
  • Design unchanged since ’96 intro leading to wide parts availability
  • Widely available on used market
  • High-roof option no longer available
  • Very dated design

Engine: 6.6L V8
Power: 401HP & 464FT-LBs
Payload: 4,280LBs
Interior Space: 239.40 Cu Ft
Wheelbase: 135.15”
MSRP: $42,995

GMC Savana Cargo Van 3500 Extended Wheelbase

GMC Savana Cargo Van
Photo: GMC
Who’s This Van Best For?
  • Anyone trying to find an extended wheelbase platform with a powerful enough engine to competently pull the rig along.

Best Extended Wheelbase Pick: Much of what you’ll find in the above option, the Chevy Express, you can also find in the GMC Savana — give or take. This van actually offers a bit more overall maximum space — 283.6 cu ft to the Chevy’s 239.4 — thanks to the fact that it comes in a standard or extended format. And, while it comes offered with a pair of petrol engines (276- and 401-horsepower), it can also be had with a 2.8L Duramax Turbo-Diesel, if that speaks more to your desires. This is also the same engine used on the Chevy 3500 model above, making replacement parts a bit easier to get due to the V8’s more widespread use. The one downside: GMC is pretty cagey about the MPG rating, which could mean you’re going to end up spending more on filling up than you might with the alternatives. Still, the GMC Savana is still very much a solid, viable DIY camper conversion option.

  • Offered with impressive host of tech & safety features
  • Has 10,000-pound tow rating
  • 4,404LB payload capacity allows for installation of ample shelves & systems
  • V8 doesn’t offer the best fuel economy
  • Extended wheelbase further hinders handling & maneuverability

Engine: 6.6L V8
Power: 401HP & 464FT-LBs
Payload: 4,404LBs
Interior Space: 283.60 Cu Ft
Wheelbase: 155.15”
MSRP: $43,795

Ford Transit Cargo Van

Ford Transit Cargo Van
Photo: Ford
Who’s This Van Best For?
  • Anyone interested in a widely available camper conversion platform with ample headspace & solid value.

Most Versatile Pick: In the conversation about the absolute best base vehicle for a camper van conversion, the Ford Transit is probably the only option that comes close to mimicking the many successes of the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. In fact, across the board, the specs of the Transit (and its available sub-models) are extremely similar to the Sprinter — offering a range of heights, wheelbase lengths, and cargo capacities. The Sprinter has the edge in some cases, like maximum capacity, whereas the Transit has the leg-up elsewhere, as can be seen in the maximum MPG rating. We’re not saying that they are a one-to-one carbon copy, but if you’re a fan of domestic vehicles, it’s absolutely a suitable alternative to its German competitor. You’ll just want to make sure, especially if you plan to use a kit or standardized models, that you’re not simply trying to shoehorn Sprinter-intended gear into your Transit.

  • Comes w/ numerous high-tech features & driver assists
  • Powered by Ford’s legendary turbocharged EcoBoost V6
  • Offered from factory w/ optional adventure prep package
  • Large number of available plug-&-plug parts & systems
  • Doesn’t offer the best value
  • Newer platform can make sourcing some spare parts more difficult

Engine: Turbocharged 3.5L V6
Power: 310HP & 400FT-LBs
Payload: 3,775LBs
Interior Space: 227 to 445 Cu Ft
Wheelbase: 130” or 148”
MSRP: $44,455

Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Cargo Van

Mercedes Benz Sprinter Cargo Van
Photo: Mercedes-Benz
Who’s This Van Best For?
  • Anyone looking for an extremely popular & thoroughly proven van life platform w/ an unparalleled number of available plug-&-play furniture, cabinet, & appliance options.

Best Overall Pick: If there were a van equivalent to Apple’s iPhone, it would definitely be the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. That is to say, this is the van by which all others are judged, at least in regards to camper conversions. These vans are so en vogue, in fact, that almost every brand that does conversions or offers conversion kits uses the Sprinter as their primary focus (if they don’t specialize exclusively in the Mercedes-Benz). That means finding gear suitable for a DIY conversion is exceedingly simple for any and all Sprinter owners. Furthermore, along with a range of available sizes, Mercedes-Benz actually offers a Sprinter model that’s pre-equipped for light off-roading, giving this offering an even bigger leg up when compared to its competition. We’re not saying that this is the all-around best of all vans on our list, but we are saying that the industry has decided as much. Because of how insanely popular this platform is for camper conversions, there’s an enormous number of different plug-and-play appliances, shelves and cabinets, furniture systems, and other upgrades and items for this model making building out your conversion markedly easier. 

  • Most popular van life platform for camper conversions by significant margin
  • Outstanding reliability & lifespan
  • Enormous number of available plug-&-plug items
  • Tons of free plans, how-to videos, & other helpful tips from huge online community
  • Costly upkeep
  • Expensive price

Engine: 2.0L Turbodiesel
Power: 170HP & 295FT-LBs
Payload: 6,790LBs
Interior Space: 281.1 Cu Ft
Wheelbase: 144” or 170”
MSRP: $49,900

Ford E-Transit Van

Ford E Transit Van
Photo: Ford
Who’s This Van Best For?
  • Anyone interested in a super popular camper conversion platform that’s kicked along by a fully-electric powertrain.

Best Electric Pick: Electric power is certainly not a viable option for everyone that wants to do a DIY camper conversion. But we’d be remiss in our duties if we didn’t have at least one plug-and-play option, which is why we’ve gone with the outstanding Ford E-Transit. While the styling and sizing is on-par with its gas-powered in-brand counterparts, this version has an entirely different propulsion system that offers roughly 125 miles per charge (or 116 for the medium roof and 108 for the high roof) — which probably won’t take most folks further than their local campsites, but that could be enough. Of course, thanks to the likes of Jeep, there are also charging stations at trailheads — which means, with some clever planning, this is a very viable adventure van option. It’s also available in three different sizes, so you can pick the one that suits your needs best; just remember that a larger van will inevitably be heavier and, therefore, have a more truncated range than its smaller counterparts.

  • Popular cargo van platform powered by fully-electric powertrain
  • Offered in 3 lengths & 3 roof heights
  • Includes SYNC 4, optional 12” screen, & available enhanced voice recognition
  • Available Pro Power Onboard power supply offers 2.4kW of power
  • Low running costs & requires very little maintenance
  • Expensive price
  • Limited range

Engine: Electric Motor & 68kWh Lithium-Ion Battery
Power: 198kW (266hp) & 317FT-LBs
Payload: 3,880LBs
Interior Space: 280.9 to 536.4 Cu Ft
Wheelbase: 130” or 148”
MSRP: $51,495

Ram ProMaster 3500 Cargo Van Super High Roof 159″ WB EXT

Ram ProMaster
Photo: Ram
Who’s This Van Best For?
  • Anyone looking for a stretched camper platform with an enormous amount of headspace & an engine that sips gas.

Most Spacious Pick: If you were interested in building out a camper van and you just did a quick Google search to see your options, you might not even come across Ram as a viable marque. And that actually might be a good thing, because that means the ProMaster is the perfect under-the-radar option, boasting a format and silhouette that are remarkably similar to the two leading options (Mercedes-Benz’s Sprinter and Ford’s Transit), but the intro price is several thousand less. Furthermore, according to the brand, this van boasts best-in-class standard cargo height and width, meaning you get more space for your dollars than similar options. This van even has an MPG rating that’s on the higher end of the spectrum. Whatever the reason is that this van isn’t more popular for DIY camper conversions, we’re not seeing it. And that makes this a true dark horse of an offering. Based on its overall dimensions coupled with its overall capabilities, we’re also extremely fond of the full-length high-roof version of this camper conversion platform, as it provides an enormous amount of interior living space. 

  • Huge living space platform measuring 250.6” L x 80.3” W
  • Great mileage
  • Solid aerodynamics for a high-roof model
  • Super reliable powertrain
  • Not being offered in 4WD version limits off-roading capabilities
  • Not very powerful engine (even more so when pulling weight of fully-built camper)
  • Rounded interior makes installations more difficult

Engine: 3.6L V6
Power: 276HP & 250FT-LBs
Payload: 4,000LBs
Interior Space: 463 Cu Ft
Wheelbase: 159”
MSRP: $54,230

Volkswagen Crafter Panel Van Startline

Volkswagen Crafter Panel Van Startline
Photo: Volkswagen
Who’s This Van Best For?
  • Anyone (that isn’t a U.S. resident) looking for a modern conversion platform with numerous configuration options & ample interior space.

Best Premium Pick: Sadly, the Volkswagen Crafter Panel Van isn’t available in the United States. Still, it’s definitely a viable and, frankly, pretty upscale option for your camper van DIY conversion. In fact, this van is so well designed that it actually won Parkers’ Best Van of the Year award for its superb combination of utility, versatility, and standard creature comforts. What really helps set this bad boy apart, as well, is its integrated driver assistance technologies, including an emergency braking system that will help you avoid collisions, a bevy of sensors to help with situational awareness (especially helpful when parking), and something called Cross Wind Assist, which helps keep your van on the road in the case of, you guessed it, strong gusts of wind. It’s a pricy starting option for those who can access it, but you can plainly see that the money would be well-spent.

  • Boasts a huge amount of interior space
  • Offered in multiple lengths & configurations
  • Also sold w/ available EV powertrain
  • Sleek modern appearance
  • Great fuel economy
  • Expensive price
  • Not sold in U.S. market

Engine: 2.0L Turbodiesel
Power: 102HP & 221FT-LBs
Payload: 3,767LBs
Interior Space: 350 to 399 Cu Ft
Wheelbase: 128”, 144.3”, or 170.3”
MSRP: $55,420

The Best Camper Vans For On & Off-Road Exploration

Best Camper Vans 0 Hero
Photo: Benchmark Vehicles Iglhaut Allrad 170

Not interested in taking the DIY approach and would rather go the turnkey route? Then be sure to head over to our guide to the best complete camper vans for a curated list of the finest professionally built options for modern-day van life.