If you’re interested in building out a camper van, one of the best options is to pay for a camper van conversion. Not only can you potentially save money on the overall cost, but you can customize your rig to your liking.
While there are tons of components to install inside your van, some of the most essential items are cabinets. The best campervan cabinets are necessary to ensure that you have enough storage space for all your equipment and supplies.
So, since van cabinets are so crucial, the question becomes: should you build them yourself or install premade, plug n’ play models? While the answer depends on your preferences, budget, and skill level, we’ll look at the pros and cons of each option. Here’s everything you need to know about installing cabinets in your camper van.
What are Camper Van Cabinets?
The term is exactly what it sounds like – cabinets you install inside your camper van. Since storage space is always in short supply, having more cabinets ensures that you can make room for all your supplies and camping gear.
Typically, there are two types of cabinets – upper cabinets and wheel-well models. Both versions offer advantages and disadvantages, so you have to weigh the pros and cons before installing anything.
As a rule, upper cabinets are easier to install and they allow you to put more amenities along the sides of the van. However, wheel-well models can also come in handy, particularly if you don’t like reaching up to grab everything.
Also, as we mentioned, you can either build your own cabinets or buy pre-made models and install them yourself. In some cases, it might be best to do a mix of both, assuming you have the time, energy, materials, and expertise to build cabinets.
Finally, there’s a difference between cabinets and storage bins or drawers. Cabinets have doors that open up, while bins or drawers slide out. Also, keep in mind that kitchen cabinets can be part of a pre-built galley. In that case, you have to buy the entire galley and install it.
Top Camper Van Cabinet Models
Usually, if you’re going to buy plug n’ play cabinets, you have to purchase them from a camper van conversion company. In some cases, the cabinets come with a larger installation kit. Otherwise, you can purchase individual pieces and install them one by one. Here are the top five companies that offer premade camper cabinets for your build.
This company specializes in DIY camper van conversion kits. However, you can also purchase individual components like cabinets. Adventure Wagon is helpful because you can choose the option that works best for your needs. First, you can let the company build and install everything for you. This option is ideal for those who aren’t very handy and want a rig that’s ready to go as soon as they are.
The second option is to find a certified installer nearby. So far, Adventure Wagon is a west coast company, so installers are in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado. In this case, you can purchase the components you want and have a professional installer put it in your van for you. The final option is to install everything yourself.
With the DIY route, Adventure Wagon offers insider tips and tricks for maximizing your interior space. You can also reach out to the community to get some insight into what works best for your unique situation. Chances are someone else has run into the same obstacles and problems, so you can learn from their experience.
This company is unique because it doesn’t sell wooden cabinets. Instead, you can buy soft-shell units in either a single or double-wide model. The standard mule bag can hold up to 175 liters, and it comes with side mesh pockets for added storage. Instead of opening a door, you unzip the front to access the inside.
The single, mini mule option holds up to 90 liters. Both models work as upper cabinets, so you install them where the roof meets the wall. Theoretically, you could install hardwood cabinets and these models to get the best of both worlds. Although the mule bags are insulated, they’re not rated as cooler bags. So, don’t try to use them to keep your food cold (or warm).
Before you can start a camper van conversion, you need to have the van itself. Sprinter vans are a common option, and many companies offer complete installation kits for various Sprinter models. Esplori sells DIY kits that are exclusive to this van type, so if you have something else (i.e., a Ford Transit or Ram Promaster), you’ll need to buy from a different company.
As with Adventure Wagon, you have three options when installing your new cabinets. First, you can handle everything yourself. Second, you can find a certified installer to ensure you don’t mess anything up. Third, you can let Esplori take care of everything for you.
Sprinter Van Upper Cabinets by Esplori
What we like about these cabinets is that they’re made of powder-coated aluminum. At 50 inches, they have plenty of storage space, and since they’re built for the Sprinter van, installation is a breeze.
The base color is a light gray blue, but you can customize the coloring for an additional price. The company is based in Oregon, so if you want installation assistance, you have to live in the Pacific Northwest.
The cabinet door hinges are soft-close, so you don’t have to worry about making too much noise when opening and closing each cabinet.
As you’ll notice, most DIY camper conversion companies focus on Sprinter vans. Since Sprinters are widely available and easy to configure, most DIY enthusiasts choose them as their base vehicle.
What we like about FVC is that you can buy all kinds of DIY equipment for your camper van conversion. In addition to two cabinet body options, you can find storage racks, kitchen galley cabinets, ladders, bed systems, and more. Since you can pick and choose the pieces you want, you can customize your rig as much as you want. Also, feel free to buy some materials from FVC and the rest from other DIY companies.
There are three primary options for upper cabinets by Flatline Van Company, and they’re all designed to fit your Sprinter van or Transit van walls. Since they’re already conformed to the wall shape, you can install them much faster than if you tried to jerry-rig a universal cabinet model yourself.
The first cabinet is a 24-inch model, which is small enough to fit over your sleeping area. Both this and the 48-inch cabinet uses powder-coated aluminum for the frame and bamboo wood for the doors.
Overall, the 48-inch model works well as galley cabinets since they offer more storage without imposing on the rest of the van. Also, even though there are two doors, there is no divider between them, so plan accordingly.
The third cabinet option is an open-faced model. This unit works well if you want easier access to your gear while traveling. Since you don’t have to mess around with cabinet doors, you can store various supplies, such as kitchen utensils or cookware.
If you have a Mercedes Sprinter, Ram Promaster or Ford Transit van for your conversion, Titan DIY is the best option. As with FVC, Titan offers a wide array of camper van components, including kitchen galleys, shelving, water tanks, furnaces, seats, and a lot more. If you like the idea of picking and choosing individual components instead of buying a full installation kit, you could build everything from Titan products.
DIY Cabinet Kits
You can buy single or double cabinets from Titan to fit your specific needs. Each cabinet frame is made of birch plywood, and they come with gas actuators. The actuators connect to the cabinet door hinges. This way, the door lifts up automatically, making it much easier to access your gear inside.
That said, each cabinet is made from unfinished wood, so you’ll have to paint or stain them yourself before installation. Otherwise, the wood could break down over time, especially if you’re traveling in humid environments.
Another point to remember is that the cabinets do not come pre-assembled. Instead, you have to build them from scratch. Titan does provide all the tools and components, but the process is much more time-consuming.
Zenvanz offers a complete DIY camper van conversion kit for Sprinter vans, so you’ll get everything from cabinets to the kitchen to the bed to a gear drying rack. Everything is made of bamboo, which is both durable and lightweight.
You can let Zenvanz take care of the installation process if you’re not interested in building cabinets or reformating them to fit your chassis.
Bamboo Upper Cabinets
The DIY conversion kit comes with five passenger side and two driver side cabinets. They have a small hole for you to open them (as opposed to push button latches). However, the hinges do stay open for your convenience. If you want to upgrade your cabinets, you can buy an interior LED lighting system. This way, you can see what’s inside without having to use a flashlight or your smartphone.
How to Choose a Camper Van Cabinet
Before starting your camper van conversion, you have to make sure you’re choosing the right equipment and materials. Since cabinets are pretty straightforward, it can be hard to know which model is right for your needs. So, here are some factors to consider when making a final decision.
As we’ve seen, most camper cabinets are made for a specific van wall. For example, you might find a cabinet body for a specific Sprinter van. Since these units are built for that type of chassis, it’s hard to install them in a different vehicle. Also, depending on the construction materials, you might not be able to reshape the cabinets as you see fit.
Also, keep in mind that cabinets may not be universal for all makes within a specific vehicle brand. For example, just because the cabinets are built for a Sprinter doesn’t mean they’ll work in all Sprinter vans.
The two primary material options are wood and aluminum. Wood can work well because it’s much easier to adjust if necessary. For example, if you buy Baltic birch plywood cabinets, you could cut and mold them to your van wall more easily than powder-coated aluminum.
Alternatively, you can choose a soft shell cabinet that offers some flexibility. For example, the mule bags from Adventure Wagon can be easier to install and will fit most van walls easily. Soft-sided bags have the extra benefit of being quiet and super lightweight.
No matter what, storage space is always in short supply, especially inside a camper van. So, you need to choose a cabinet body that will fit wherever you need it to go. As a rule, wider cabinets work best over the galley, while thinner models are excellent for your sleeping area. You can also mix and match cabinets to accommodate your specific needs.
Also, consider whether the cabinet has dividers between the doors. If not, you have more flexibility when putting gear and supplies inside. However, a divider can be nice if you’re trying to prevent everything from shifting while driving.
Features and Amenities
Camper cabinets can offer more than just a storage area with a door. Some extra amenities can include:
- Push Button Latches – Instead of using a handle or grip opening, you just push the door and it opens automatically.
- Interior Lighting – If you’re trying to grab something at night, cabinet lights allow you to see without using a flashlight.
- Door Locks – If you want some extra privacy, you should get locking cabinets. However, if it’s just you and/or your travel partner inside the camper, locks might not be necessary.
Plug N’ Play Cabinets vs. DIY Build
As we mentioned, you’ll be faced with a choice when starting a camper van conversion. On the one hand, you can buy pre-built components and install them yourself (or have a professional do it for you). The other option is to build everything from scratch. Let’s break down the pros and cons of each option.
Plug N’ Play Cabinets
- Pro: Less Work Involved – Since you don’t have to measure and shape your cabinets, you can install them much faster. Even if the piece requires assembly, it’s easier than building it all from scratch.
- Con: Compatibility Issues – Not all cabinets work within any van. So, you might not have as many options, depending on the chassis you’re using.
- Pro: Built-In Features – As a rule, plug n’ play cabinets have doors that stay open, along with features like push-button doors. Building these components yourself can require extra technical expertise.
- Pro: Guaranteed Results – If you make a mistake when building a cabinet, you have to fix it yourself. Since plug n’ play models are built by a third-party company, they may come with a manufacturer’s warranty against defects.
DIY Building Cabinets
- Pro: Complete Customization – How big do you want your cabinets to be? What if you want to install them over your kitchen with overhead lights shining on your countertops? What if you want cabinets with dividers and specialized compartments for your gear? If you want all these elements, you have to build them yourself. Off-the-shelf models won’t have these amenities.
- Con: Time-Consuming – Building your own cabinets can take days or weeks to finish. Not only is the build process time-consuming, but you have to measure everything to ensure that it will fit. If you make a mistake, you have to adjust or start over.
- Pro: No Compatibility Issues – Custom-built cabinets can fit any camper van, no matter the make or model. As long as you measure the curvature of your van wall, you can be sure your cabinets will fit correctly.
- Con: Tricky to Source Materials – While wood is pretty easy to come by, what about other elements like gas actuators or grabber latches? In some cases, you might have to pay extra for these pieces and wait a while for them to arrive.
How to Install Cabinets During a Camper Van Conversion
Since each van conversion has unique challenges and specifications, we won’t go into specific details here. Instead, we’ll focus on the general steps involved when installing your own cabinets.
Step One: Preparation
Before you start drilling or attaching screws, you have to make sure where your cabinets will go. As we’ve mentioned, plug n’ play cabinet models can be relatively easy to install if they’re designed for a specific van type. In this case, you just have to pinpoint where the cabinet will go and then attach it to the wall.
As the saying goes, you should measure twice and cut once. So, be sure to mark the edges of the cabinet before installing it. This way, you can be sure you’re putting it in the right spot.
Another part of the preparation process is ensuring you have all the right tools and assistance. Even if you know what you’re doing, it’s best to have an assistant with you. This way, one of you can hold the cabinet in place while the other installs it.
Step Two: Installation
During this step, you want to work slowly and surely. If you make a mistake, you might not be able to recover. For example, if you drill a hole in the wrong spot, you might damage the van wall and have to figure out a way to patch it.
We recommend starting with the larger cabinets first and working your way to the smaller units. If you’re using cabinets from different companies, double check to see that they’ll fit together. Otherwise, you might have to return one set for a uniform and cohesive look.
In some cases, you might have to install other components before working on the cabinets. For example, you probably want your bed and kitchen in place before installing cabinetry. This way, you can be sure how much space you have to work.
Step Three: Testing
You want to verify that your cabinet can hold your equipment before heading on the road. This way, if there are any issues, you can address them immediately instead of trying to figure out a workaround in the field.
When testing your new cabinets, be sure to check the weight limit. Put some extra pressure on the cabinet to see if it will cause the screws to come loose or rip out. Also, if possible, put the gear you know will go into the cabinet inside as soon as possible.
For example, you might run into space constraints when putting something inside a cabinet. Perhaps the door isn’t tall or wide enough, or maybe the cabinet isn’t deep enough to hold the item. Again, it’s best to discover these issues before heading out onto the road.
FAQs About Camper Van Cabinets
Before you start on your new project, it helps to understand as much as possible about these cabinets. Here are some frequently asked questions related to the purchase and installation of van cabinets.
How Do the Cabinet Doors Stay Closed In Transit?
Usually, the doors are held by grabber latches or some kind of pneumatic system. This way, opening them requires a little bit of force, meaning that road bumps shouldn’t knock them open.
If you build your own cabinets, you can install these latches or use magnets to hold the doors in place.
Which Material is Best for RV Cabinets?
If you’re building your own cabinets, we recommend pine or birchwood. However, if you’re buying premade cabinets, powder-coated aluminum is more durable and lasts longer. Also, you don’t have to stain or paint aluminum cabinets.