The 13 Best Vans to Live In for Van Life

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If you’re considering living the van life, there’s a lot that goes into choosing the right type of van for your needs.

While the campervans you see on Instagram might be fancy Mercedes Sprinters or Ford Transits with $100,000 custom builds, you don’t have to spend a lot of money on your perfect van.

In fact, I bought my Chevy Astro van with only 57,000 miles for $6,000 on Craigslist and made a few adjustments to make it an off-grid van. If you’re interested in going cheaper, here are our top 8 favorite vans for under $25,000.

Whatever your budget, there are some considerations you should think about before you look through the best vans for van life:

  • Do you need to stand up in your van?
  • Do you want a 4×4 van or is 2wd enough?
  • What is your budget?
  • Do you want a new or a used van?
  • How many people will be living in your van?

With these factors in mind, here are our top picks for the best vans to live in.

Keep in mind the price point I am using for vans still in production are right out of the dealership. You can find much lower prices if you’re searching for a used van to live in.

Want to learn even more about Van Life? Here are our favorite articles:

The Best Vans to Live In

1. Mercedes Sprinter Van

Sprinter van camper conversion with awning and side door open to reveal kitchen
Photo courtesy TouRig
  • Price: $35,000-$50,000
  • Drivetrain: 2WD and 4WD
  • Roof: Low, Medium and High

A Mercedes Sprinter is considered one of the best vans for van life, even though it has a heftier price tag than similar vans in its class.

With a Sprinter van, you can choose between two drivetrains, a diesel or gas engine, and 21 variations of the cargo van.

Mercedes Sprinter camper vans have higher-than-average off-road capabilities, are easy to handle and boast the highest payload in their class.

You’ll see many Class B RV manufacturers such as Airstream and Winnebago going with Mercedes Sprinter vans.

Sprinter vans are known for roomy passenger quarters, high-quality materials and an abundance of safety features. The largest cargo van offers more room than the biggest Ford Transit.

Their biggest downside is their expense. Usually, you have to take them to a Mercedes dealership if you have any problems on the road.

You’ll find even used Mercedes Sprinter vans costing a pretty penny.

Examples: Want to see a Sprinter campervan in action? Check out this incredible 4×4 off-grid Sprinter van, or these 9 custom Sprinter van conversions.

2. Ford Transit

Ford Transit campervan with side doors open with a kitchen inside, considered one of the best vans for van life
This Ford Transit camper is available for rent on Outdoorsy
  • Price: $32,000-$38,000
  • Drivetrain: 2WD and AWD
  • Roof: Low, Medium and High

If you love looking at photos of camper vans, you’ve probably noticed quite a few Ford Transits. These are some of the best vans to live in thanks to their roomy interiors, smooth handling and choice between 2WD and AWD.

You can also choose between a gas or a diesel engine, and three different powertrains, two of which are new in 2020.

There are plenty of safety features in the Ford Transit, including forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking, with lots of options available as upgrades.

The interior cargo space of the largest Ford Transit is smaller than a Mercedes Sprinter, but larger than a Dodge Promaster.

Reviewers say the Ford Transit is pleasant to drive, with a modern interior and low freeway noise.

Van lifers consider this one of the best vans to live in thanks to its lower costs to repair.

Example: Check out this video of a beautiful Ford Transit campervan conversion that cost under $1,000.

3. Dodge Ram Promaster

A couple sitting on the side of a Dodge Promaster camper, one of the best wide vans to live in
This Dodge Promaster camper is available for rent on Outdoorsy
  • Price: $32,000-$42,000
  • Drivetrain: 2WD, Front
  • Roof: Low and High

The Dodge Ram Promaster has a couple of qualities that make it one of the best vans to live in. For one, it’s wider than it’s two main rivals, making it easier to sleep across the width of the van.

Some say a person 6′ tall can fit width-wide in this van, which opens up a lot more space for a kitchen or dining table.

Another main point is its tight turning radius and easy maneuverability.

The Dodge Promaster comes with just one type of engine: a 3.6 liter, V-6. According to CarAndDriver track tests, the Promaster is the slowest compared to the Ford Transit and the Mercedes Sprinter.

Other issues to think about is the Promaster lacks driver-assist and safety features offered by the Transit and the Sprinter. Both Edmunds and Car and Driver say the vehicle doesn’t have a refined feel when driving, with a loose-feeling steering wheel.

Example: These two custom van conversion companies are offering Dodge Promaster conversions for under $60,000.

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4. Ford E-Series (Econoline)

White Ford Econoline DIY camper parked on a dirt road
Photo of writer Nikita Andester’s Ford Econoline
  • Price: $4,000-$15,000
  • Drivetrain: 2WD, Rear
  • Roof: Low

The Ford E-Series is one of the best vans for van life if you’re planning on doing a lot of stealth camping. These nondescript white cargo vans are often used by construction workers, electricians and plumbers.

Ford replaced the Econoline with the Ford Transit in 2014, except for the cutaway version, which Sportsmobile now uses for its 4×4 van conversions.

You won’t be able to stand up in a Ford E-Series van unless you install a pop-top, but its large, boxy interior gives you plenty of room for a bed, kitchen and storage.

Ford E-Series vans come with the choice of both gasoline or diesel engines, with three different gas engines to choose from.

Some downsides to this van is it doesn’t come with safety features, and one reviewer claims it has loose steering and soft brakes.

Nevertheless, the Ford Econoline vans are Sportsmobile’s van of choice. The van conversion company builds its Classic 4×4 van using the Ford E-Series.

Example: Check out photos of the Sportsmobile E-Series van in this post about 4×4 camper vans. You can also check out how this couple converted an E-250 on the cheap.

5. Chevrolet Express/GMC Savana

4x4 Chevy Express campervan, one of the best vans to live in, parked on a hillside with a mountain view
This Chevy Express campervan is available for rent on Outdoorsy.
  • Price: $33,000-$40,000
  • Drivetrain: 2WD
  • Roof: Low

The Chevy Express and GMC Savana are basically the same van with different names. Like the Ford E-Series, these are some of the best vans to live in for urban stealth camping.

You’ll find a powerful engine on these vans, but there is no high roof option like the Ford Transit, Sprinter or Promaster. The look of the van is also a bit outdated – the last body redesign was in 1996!

Choose between several trim options with this van. You can even get an extended version of either the 2500 or 3500 versions, giving you more living space.

A safety package on the brand new Chevy Express and GMC Savana vans requires an upgrade that’s a little over $2,000.

If you’re craving windows in your campervan build, you can choose between a cargo van and a passenger van for either one of these options.

Need a little more headroom? You can find Chevy Express and GMC Savana conversion vans, which have a higher fiberglass roof and plush interiors. We’ll go more into conversion vans to live in later in this article.

6. Chevy Astro Van

Gray and white Chevy Astro van, one of the best vans to live in for stealth camping, near the Golden Gate Bridge
Me sitting in my Chevy Astro van, what I think is the best van for van life, but I may be biased
  • Price: $2,000-$7,000
  • Drivetrain: 2WD or AWD
  • Roof: Low

The Chevy Astro van is one of the best affordable vans you can live in. These sturdy cargo and passenger vans have a cult following, with people either jacking them up to make them off-road capable, or lowering them.

Chevy Astro vans were built between the years of 1985 and 2005. They were sold along with the GMC Safari. Both vans are nearly identical with different names and branding.

I’m partial to Chevy Astro vans because I live in one! I purchased my Astro conversion van for $6,000 off Craigslist with only 57,000 miles.

Some people report finding these vans online for just $2,000-$3,000, and they often run up to 250,000 miles.

A Chevy Astro van only works if you’re okay with a limited amount of space inside your van and semi-poor gas mileage. Cargo and passenger Chevy Astros have a barebones, outdated interior, but that’s what you get for an older, affordable van.

Get the AWD version if you’re planning on driving on sandy beaches, down muddy roads or through snow. I can’t imagine being without my AWD!

Chevy Astro conversion vans with a fiberglass roof are hard to find, but if you do get lucky, you’ll have a foot or so more of headrooom.

I just love my Chevy Astro camper and think its one of the best vans to live in for the price.

Example: See how I turned my Chevy Astro into an off-road van.

7) Dodge/Chevy/Ford Conversion Van

Brown Dodge conversion van with side doors open to see van interior, one of the best vans to live for affordability
GnomadHome’s conversion van
  • Price: $1,500-$28,000, depending on year
  • Drivetrain: 2WD or AWD
  • Roof: Medium

A conversion van is a Dodge, Chevy or Ford van that an outside company turned into a luxury passenger vehicle.

Usually, these vans are decked out with a TV and VCR, unique overhead lighting, captain’s chairs and a high fiberglass roof.

They were built for leisure travel, so you’ll often find conversion vans with low mileage, stashed in someone’s garage for years. At least that’s what happened to me!

You can find older conversion vans for van life for pretty cheap using Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist or Ebay.

Newer conversion vans are pretty expensive and may be upwards of $30,000! But if you don’t mind living in an older van, you can find great deals on these vans.

The conversion vans you’ll typically see are full-size vans, but on a rare occasion, you will find a Chevy Astro conversion van, which is what I have.

We think conversion vans are some of the best vans to live in because they’re affordable, have built-in cabinetry, fun lighting and even window shades!

Example: My friends over at GnomadHome bought a conversion van for just $1,500 and converted it into a camper!

8) Nissan NV 200

Nissan NV 200 camper with pop top and awning extended
Free Bird NV200 camper conversion with an awning and pop top
  • Price: $24,000-$25,000
  • Drivetrain: 2WD, front
  • Roof: Low

The Nissan NV200 is an affordable and stealth small van you can live in. This cargo van gets great gas mileage (24-26 mpg on the highway), fits into a compact parking space and is really easy to drive.

If you’re looking for an affordable van to live in, the Nissan NV200 is the cheapest in its class of compact cargo vans.

Each Nissan NV200 is powered by a 4-cylinder, 2.0-liter engine, which offers less power than similar vans, like the Ford Transit Connect and Mercedes Metris. That means it also hauls less weight than other vans of a similar size.

However, its cargo space is above average for its class, making it a great small van for van life.

The Nissan NV200 is the van of choice for conversion company Recon campers, which adds a pop-top to create an even roomier interior.

Example: Check out this couple’s super cheap Nissan NV200 van conversion.

Did you see that awesome awning above? Check out this article for even more amazing awnings for your campervan!

9) Mercedes Metris

Mercedes Metris van for van life with a pop-up camper on top, rated one of the best small vans to live in
You can buy a Mercedes Metris with a pop-top right from the dealership
  • Price: $34,000-$37,000
  • Drivetrain: 2WD, rear
  • Roof: Low

The Mercedes Metris is a new van to the North American market, being introduced in 2015. What’s cool about this powerful little van is that you can order the Weekender camper package right from the dealership.

The Weekender includes a pop-top roof with a bed that can sleep two, a sliding rear bench seat that converts into a bed for two, and and front swivel seats. You can pay for even more upgrades or do them yourself.

This Mercedes Metris has a turbocharged 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine with a 7-speed transmission. The Mercedes Metris can carry more than the other vans with a maximum payload of 2,502 pounds.

But on the flip side, it is the most expensive compact cargo van, needs premium fuel, and the extended wheelbase is more difficult to park than smaller vans.

Example: Check out these Mercedes Metris camper conversions for some inspiration.

10) Ford Transit Connect

Ford Transit Connect campervan parked in front of a mountain
  • Price: $24,000-$29,000
  • Drivetrain: 2WD
  • Roof: Low

The Ford Transit Connect is one of the best vans to live in if you’re looking for great gas mileage, a peppy engine and maneuverability.

This small campervan was introduced in 2012, which means you’ll find a lot of used vans on the market.

You can get two types of engines with this small camper van, a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder van, or a turbocharged 1.6-liter Ecoboost 4-cylinder. Maximum payload on this van is 1,620 pounds.

This is a very small van (the second smallest in this class) that doesn’t offer the same cargo space as some of its competitors.

Also, some people say this small camping van doesn’t have a lot of power but is comfortable to drive.

Example: Why I chose a Ford Transit Connect Camper for Van Life

11) Stepvan

The bright red stepvan parked near water is one of the best larger vans for van life
Instagram: The Stepvan Diary
  • Price: $2,000-$70,000, depending on new or used
  • Drivetrain: 2WD
  • Roof: High

If you’re looking for even more space, you may think a stepvan is one of the best vans to live in. You’ll often see these boxy vehicles on the street working as delivery trucks. Think UPS or old milk delivery trucks.

A stepvan is a light-duty/medium-duty truck that got its name from a step leading up to the driver’s compartment. It was made to be driven either sitting down or standing up. Current stepvan manufacturers include General Motors, Ford and Freightliner trucks.

Choose between a gas or a diesel engine when looking at a step van for van life. These are also typically low-slung vans, which may not be best if you want to do a lot of off-roading.

The roomy interior of a stepvan means you’ll have plenty of space for things like a full kitchen, bathroom, bed, and workspace. There’s also no problem with standing up inside your van.

A stepvan also makes a great stealth camper as nobody will suspect you’re living in a bread truck!

Example: Single mom turns stepvan into adorable tiny home

Looking for more vans with bathroom? Check this out.

12) Volkswagen Westfalia

Orange VW Westfalia camper with the pop topped and side door open
This VW Westfalia camper is available for rent on Outdoorsy.
  • Price: $15,000-$45,000
  • Drivetrain: 2WD, rear
  • Roof: Low with pop-top

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Volkswagen Westfalia, long considered one of the best vans to live in by hippies and families alike.

Even though this van is slow, doesn’t like hills, and is overly expensive, it continues to be a favorite among van lifers.

Many love driving around a piece of history on wheels, I mean, who doesn’t love the look and style of an old VW Westfalia?

This is a great van for van life if you don’t want to put any money into converting your own van. The Westfalia comes with two comfortable captain’s chairs up front, a little kitchen with a stove, fridge and sink and a bed.

It also features a pop up roof so you can stand and walk around in your van.

Due to its iconic nature, this little van does keep its value in case you ever want to resell.

But if you want to go climb mountains, go off-roading or drive in snowy or sandy conditions, the VW Westfalia isn’t for you.

13. Toyota Sienna

Toyota Sienna Camper conversion
Photo courtesy Oasis campervans
  • Price: $32,000-$45,000
  • Drivetrain: 2WD or AWD
  • Roof: Low

The Toyota Sienna is a popular minivan camper as its one of the only brand new vans available with All Wheel Drive. To boot, the newer 2021 Siennas are exclusively hybrids, meaning you’ll get incredible gas mileage driving to far-flung destinations.

The Sienna is one of the best minivans for van life due to its roomy interior and length. Believe it or not, this minivan is longer than both the Ford Transit Connect and the Ram Promaster City.

However, it is the most expensive in its class. If you’re looking for a cheaper minivan, you may want to check out the Honda Odessey and Chrystler Pacifica.

But if AWD is important to you, the Sienna is your only choice.

Example: See what Oasis campervans is doing to Toyota Sienna minivans.

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