Although living in a van down by the river used to have a negative connotation of being broke and lazy, it’s become a sought-after dream to many. Today’s “van life” conjures up Instagram images of couples waking up in their small camper vans and throwing open the back doors to reveal idyllic settings like the beach or a pristine mountain lake.
If you’re tempted to join the growing #vanlife trend, finding the right vehicle will be your first priority. Check out our favorite small camper vans to see if one of them is the perfect fit for your excursions.
What Is a Camper Van?
Loosely defined, a camper van is a traditional or cargo van retrofitted with a sleeping area, kitchen space, and sometimes bathroom facilities.
Many DIY enthusiasts will purchase a small van and renovate the interior into a fully-functional camper. Doing this allows them to add their own style and design elements. These are generally referred to as camper van conversions.
Did You Know? Some people even convert minivans into RVs. See for yourself: 5 Best Minivan Camper Conversions That Will Blow Your Mind
But in the last ten years, RV manufacturers have been producing Class B motorhomes built on van chassis like the Mercedes Sprinter, Ram ProMaster, and Ford Transit. Class Bs are vans that have been created specifically for use as an RV.
Benefits of Small Camper Vans
For various reasons, one of the most cherished benefits of using a small camper van is its size. Here are just a few of the others:
Better Gas Mileage Than a Larger RV
Depending on the age of the vehicle and the size of its engine, a small camper van can get 12-20 miles per gallon. Some older cargo vans have large V8 or even V10 engines that will get figures on the lower end of that scale.
But the newer diesel and EcoBoost gas engines get up to 20 mpg, so using this vehicle for daily commutes is more economical than a larger RV.
You Can Stealth Camp Easily
If staying at organized campgrounds isn’t your thing, a small camper van is easy to hide in plain sight. Many van lifers who enjoy spending more time in commercial areas can park on city streets overnight if municipal codes allow it.
Some find it easy to stay overnight at 24-hour businesses like health clubs because the vehicle blends in with the others in the parking lot and doesn’t take much space.
Pro Tip: Before you pull over for the night, make sure you understand the legalities of stealth camping.
Some van lifers place a black-out curtain between the cab and living area, so those passing by can’t see into the living space. Still, others camouflage their vans by placing “business” magnets on the doors and leaving clipboards and work hats on the dashboard.
Camper Vans Are Customizable
Because many camper vans begin life as cargo or transport vehicles, you can customize them to your particular specifications. For example, you could create a couch that folds down into a bed or build a bench that hides your refrigerator. The modifications can be as numerous as the number of people enjoying this lifestyle.
Camper Vans Are Easy to Drive
Most small camper vans are 18-23 ft long. This makes them as easy to drive as a small pickup truck. They maneuver around corners and back up like an automobile.
Plus, they might have fewer blind spots than a typical motorhome depending on the number of windows. For the most part, vans will also fit into regular parking spaces.
The 12 Best Small Camper Vans for Life on the Road
When considering van life, several factors will make this lifestyle more enjoyable and comfortable for you on the road. As mentioned above, these factors include anything from gas mileage to size to interior and exterior features.
Below we’re showcasing 12 small camper vans and the factors that make them stand out.
Small Vans for DIY Camper Conversions
First, we’re looking at small units perfect for conversion projects. If you love the idea of building out your home-on-wheels, these six vans are your best bet!
1. Ford Transit Connect
Cost: New Transit Connects start at $25,100, but you can find many used vans that range in price from $5,000 to $20,000.
Built-in Features: New models include overhead cab storage, wireless charging, a folding passenger’s seat for more storage, and 127.4 cubic feet of cargo space.
What Makes It a Good Choice: This small cargo van gets excellent mileage, mainly because it has a four-cylinder engine. You can expect 24 to 29 mpg on the highway and around 19 mpg with city driving.
The cargo area floor is relatively flat, so building it is not as tricky as larger vans. It also offers more seating availability and safety technology than its small van counterparts.
➡ Van lifers love converting Ford Transit vans, but why? Find out here: Is a Ford Transit a Good Camper Van?
2. Mercedes Metris
Cost: The starting price for new models is $34,900.
Built-in Features: This mid-sized camper van has several safety features like hill start and crosswind assists, as well as electronic stability. It has 182.9 cu-ft of cargo space to work with.
What Makes It a Good Choice: Mercedes has created a 2.0L 4-cylinder turbocharged gas engine that produces 23 mpg on the highway and 19 mpg in the city. And if you need a little more ground clearance, the manufacturer has an optional lift kit available.
3. Chevy Astro Passenger Van
Cost: This van is no longer in production, but you can currently purchase a used model from $3,000 to $18,000.
Built-in Features: Models built from 1990 had an all-wheel-drive option (the first U.S. minivan to offer such a feature). Before that, only rear-wheel-drive was available.
Dutch doors were added to the design of the Astro in 1992. If any of these modifications are attractive, look for a van from the specified date when shopping.
What Makes It a Good Choice: Made between 1985 and 2005, the Chevy Astro has an enormous amount of cargo space that you can convert into living space. The engine is a large 4.3L V6.
It will get you where you’re going a little faster but still produce 22 mpg on the highway. And in 1994, General Motors began using CFC-free air conditioning units in these vehicles.
More Van Life Articles You’ll Love:
- 9 Best Camping String Lights to Set Great Camp Vibes
- The Truth About Van Conversion Kits
- Can You Overland in a Van?
4. Ram ProMaster City
Cost: New Ram ProMaster City vans start at $27,700. The van was new on the market in 2021, so used versions at this point are hard to find.
Built-in Features: Equipped with a 2.4L 4-cylinder engine, the ProMaster City can tow up to 2,000 lbs. It has five seats with a rear “fold and tumble” seat, hill start assist, and a cargo area of 131.7 cu-ft.
What Makes It a Good Choice: This van will give you the most bang for your fuel buck with a fuel economy of 21-28 mpg. It’s on the small side but is the right size for minimal van life living.
The ProMaster provides optional navigation, cargo tie-downs for build-out connections, and fuel economy to take you across the country with change to spare!
5. Nissan NV200 Cargo Van
Cost: A new 2021 model starts at $23,600, with older vehicles currently listed between $14,000 and $31,000. Nissan has decided to end production of the van with its 2021 vehicle, replacing it with an all-electric van called the Townstar.
Built-In Features: A 2.0L engine produces 24 to 26 miles per gallon—a win for frequent travelers! And with a fold-down passenger seat in the back, the Nissan NV200 offers options that its competition does not. A cargo area of 177 cu-ft provides ample room to design your custom small camper van.
What Makes It a Good Choice: The NV200’s maneuverability on city streets makes it a favorite of those who enjoy skirting around town while keeping a low profile. Fuel efficiency is also an attractive benefit of this little camper van.
6. Toyota Sienna
Cost: A brand new Sienna starts at $35,000, with older versions priced anywhere from $5,000 and up, depending on mileage and year of production.
Built-in Features: Beginning with stowaway third-row seats, rear air conditioning, and navigation, the Sienna has several plusses when considering it for van conversion. It also comes with vehicle stability, traction control, and blind-spot monitors.
What Makes It a Good Choice: A cargo space of over 100 cu-ft is a great starting point for building a small camper van. The Sienna provides the perfect foundation with extra room in the rear when taking the third row of seating out of the vehicle.
It also has three climate control zones to keep the “living space” cooler or warmer when need be. Add to that a fuel efficiency of 36 mpg on the newest model, and you’ve got a winner for #vanlife.
Small Class B Vans from RV Manufacturers
We’re rounding out our list with the six best small Class B motorhomes. If you’re searching for a camper van that’s already equipped for adventure, check out these options!
7. Winnebago Revel
MSRP: Starting at $202,401
Built-In Features: At 19’7″, The Revel camper van comes standard with a 3.0L turbo-diesel engine and on-demand four-wheel drive. It also has a power lift bed, lithium batteries with a complete solar system, a movable exterior ladder, and an on-demand water heater.
What Makes It a Good Choice: The Revel has several features that make it perfect for living off-grid, like two lithium batteries and a hydronic heating system. Much of the interior is movable, adapting to different locations throughout the van.
The power lift bed gives you flexibility in using the garage space for larger items by moving the bed out of the way.
8. Winnebago Travato
MSRP: Starting at $139,316
Built-In Features: The 21′ Winnebago Travato is available in four floorplans that each sleep two people. The 59G and 59GL models have double beds, while the 59K and 59KL units have twin beds.
All four floorplans have a fully equipped galley kitchen and wet bath. Additionally, this small camper van has a Coleman-Mach 10 NDQ air conditioner and a Truma Combi Eco Plus heating system.
What Makes It a Good Choice: Unlike the other vans on our list, we love that this Winnebago offers multiple floorplans. It’s also a powerhouse with its Ram ProMaster chassis, 3.6L V6 gas engine, and 62TE transmission.
The Travato is a good option if you plan to camp in all four seasons. Beyond the impressive air conditioner and heating system, you’ll also get roof and sidewall insulation, heated tanks, and the option of adding dual-pane windows.
➡ Insulated windows may be a pricey addition, but it’s a must-have for full-time RVers. Here’s why: Top Reasons to Invest in Double Pane RV Windows
9. Airstream Interstate 19
MSRP: Starting at $191,125
Built-In Features: This 19′ camper van boasts the largest bed you’ll find in a Class B at 66″ x 73″. It also has a European-style wet bath with a sink and a mirror.
The kitchen has a two-burner recessed stove, sink, 12V fridge, and a microwave. Tech-savvy buyers will love having a digital touch screen panel that controls everything from the lights to the powered shades.
What Makes It a Good Choice: As you might expect of Airstream, the Interstate 19 is as capable as it is luxurious. The chassis is a Mercedes Sprinter 2500, and the engine is a 3.0L V6 turbo diesel.
You can expect a safe and comfortable ride in this rig. It has over 50 best-in-class features, such as dual 100Ah lithium batteries, heated tanks, and a Truma Combi water heater and furnace.
10. Pleasure-Way Tofino
MSRP: Starting at $85,150
Built-In Features: This little camper van’s stand-out feature is the sleeping space. It includes a sofa that converts to a queen bed and a 49″ x 72″ overhead bunk.
You could easily sleep three adults or two adults and two kids in this model. It also includes a functional kitchen with plenty of counter space and 70 cu-ft of rear cargo storage.
What Makes It a Good Choice: The Tofino by Pleasure-Way is one of the most affordable manufactured camper vans on the market. The price makes it more accessible for new van lifers, as does the size at only 17’9″.
While this van doesn’t have as many bells and whistles as its larger counterparts, it’s still spacious and comfortable. We also love the addition of the pop-up overhead bunk.
11. Pleasure-Way Rekon 4x4
MSRP: Starting at $175,500
Built-In Features: The minimalistic interior design of this camper van immediately catches the eye. A 70″ x 72″ removable Murphy bed system is located in the rear of the coach.
In the center is a spacious wet bath with a 5-gallon cassette toilet, a kitchen sink, a Truma removable 12V fridge, and a single burner induction cooktop. The coach also has a lagun table for eating or working.
What Makes It a Good Choice: The Rekon 4x4 sits on a Mercedes Sprinter 2500 chassis with a diesel engine and Toyo all-terrain tires. This combination makes this 19’5″ long van a force to be reckoned with!
The garage area provides 124 cu-ft of storage, which is more than any other 4x4 camper van this size. Plus, the private wet bath doubles as a gear locker. And with four 100Ah lithium batteries and a 400W solar panel package, this van is ready to go wherever you point the wheels.
12. Storyteller Overland MODE LT
MSRP: Starting at $153,748
Built-In Features: This small camper van comes with everything you need for an overland adventure, including a 90W solar panel to power your off-grid stays. Inside, you’ll find a bed and a convertible sleeper sofa, a galley kitchen with a portable induction cooktop, a Halo shower system, and a portable toilet.
What Makes It a Good Choice: Storyteller Overland’s MODE LT camper van is built on an AWD Ford Transit chassis and has a 3.5L EcoBoost V6 engine. At 19’4″, it’s an agile choice for off-roading.
If gear storage is a priority, you’ll appreciate the roof rack and side mount ladder, cargo area under the rear bed, as well as the removable upper cabinetry. Additionally, the sheep’s wool insulation is guaranteed to keep you warm if the temperature drops.
Are You Considering a Small Camper Van?
It’s apparent that living in a van down by the river is now a lifestyle many aspire to, and happily so. There are so many small camper vans available today you can make that desire a reality without sacrificing comfort or luxury.
Not sure if a small camper van is right for you? Renting one for a short trip is a low-risk investment that allows you to experiment with this lifestyle. Check out our van rental story: We Rented an RV Camper in Hawaii. Here’s What We Learned
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