Thinking of converting a cargo van into a camper, DIY? It’s the best way to ensure your home on wheels fits your needs and preferences. You can plan your build in detail, making the most of the available space and choosing to install only the gear you truly want in your cargo van conversion.
A DIY cargo van conversion is great because:
- It’s cheaper than a converted vehicle or a professional conversion
- You can choose every single bit of gear to install yourself
- You’ll know exactly how everything works
- It’s nimble and small, which is perfect for driving around and parking in a city
- You can add equipment as you go along, when you realize you actually need it
- A cargo van is cheaper to maintain and buy parts for
- A DIY conversion can look a lot more stealth (no stickers or big windows)
- You can buy a second-hand cargo van, rather than a new one
To balance things out, you should also know the disadvantages to converting a cargo van:
- Many vehicles have a high mileage and can be beat up, as they last for many years
- Cargo vans don’t have much headroom, so they are only really worth converting if you plan to stealth camp a lot
- The “creepy white van” stigma is still widespread
The Most Popular Cargo Vans To Convert
Cargo vans conversions are extremely popular vehicles among van lifers who want to build a nimble, versatile home on the road.
The reasons why people choose these vans vary from reliability and affordability to headroom and stealth capabilities. Before you settle on a specific model, make sure to research each one, so you know you’ve made the right choice.
Find out more info on The Sprinter Vs Transit debate in this post!
6 Inspirational Cargo Van Conversion Examples
Here are the best DIY cargo van camper conversions we could find. Get inspired to design your own build by checking out these fantastic specimen.
The Palm Van Cargo Van Camper Conversion
Irish couple Rob and Layla are completing an overland tour down the Panamerican Highway, from Vancouver to Patagonia, on their self-converted Ford E-350.
Their cargo van conversion looks extra cute, thanks to the stickers they applied around it. The design features palm trees and waves on one side, and mountains on the other.
The interior looks modern, neat, and cozy. The walls and doors are lined with wooden slats and there are lots of geometric soft furnishings. At the rear of the vehicle, there’s a platform bed with good headroom and decent storage underneath.
Towards the front of the van, on the left hand side, there’s the kitchenette with a water tap, countertop, and lots of storage. Opposite the galley, by the doors, there are some shelves.
Everything is made of wood. Rob and Layla even covered the door step with it. The result is a camper that looks extremely well-built and emanates a strong sense of adventure.
Chase’s Ford Eco Line Cargo Van Conversion
After years of traveling full-time in a car camper, Chase converted a Ford E-150 into a home on wheels. He rock climbs, mountaineers, and skis around the US.
To fund his travels, he has a photography business and has opened a car camping conversion company with his friend Jared.
His cargo van conversion looks tidy and practical. There’s a platform bed at the back of the van. When opening the rear doors, Chase can reach the storage underneath it to grab his camping gear.
Above the bed, there are two cabinets. As you open the side doors, you see a cooler and a kitchenette with a sink and countertop.
The floor between the front seats and the bed is long enough to sleep an extra person. By the bed, there’s a small bench where Chase can sit and relax, or eat.
The whole cargo van camper conversion cost Chase about $10,000.
Vendy And Marz’s Ford Transit Cargo Van Conversion
Vendy and Marz have converted three vans to live full-time on the road in Australia.
Their third cargo van conversion is a Ford Transit and you can really tell that they have mastered the art of van conversions by now. The interior is expertly decorated by balancing clean white with warm wood and cream or orange soft furnishings.
Every inch of the van has been lined with slats, making it look like a professional build. The furniture was pre-built, so the finish is excellent.
At the back of the van, there’s a platform bed. In the middle, on the right, there’s a kitchenette. Opposite it, there is a bench with storage underneath.
One side of the cargo van camper conversion is fully taken up by cabinets at the top. These go from above the bed to above the galley. They offer plenty of storage, without taking away any headroom.
Abbie And Sam’s Chevy Cargo Van Conversion
Abbie and Sam converted their Chevy Express 1500 to travel part-time around the US.
The interior of this cargo van conversion is white all over. The guys went for the classic platform bed at the back with a galley in the middle of the van.
They bought all the furniture pre-built, so everything looks professionally-finished. The floor is lined with a vinyl with a wooden look. There are plugs and a decent power system, so the couple can go off grid for a few days at a time.
Even though they don’t use it full-time, Abbie and Sam’s cargo van camper conversion has everything they need to go on long trips.
Big Rusty Cargo Van Camper Conversion
Lauren and Tom converted a VW Crafter to go on road trips in the UK. The exterior is dark grey and is rugged. Inside, this conversion looks like a professional build. The beautiful wood is nicely contrasted by white and black panels.
The mid-section is divided by a corridor. There is a big kitchenette on one side and a bench plus a cabinet on the other.
The galley is as big as many small apartment kitchens.
The bed is at the back, on a high platform. This means there’s lots of space underneath it. There are also cabinets above the kitchen and bed.
On the side of the cargo van conversion, there’s an awning, which is perfect for sitting in the shade or sheltering from the rain, which is very common in British summer. On the roof, there’s decking where they can chill out and two solar panels.
Isaiah Cargo Van Camper Conversion
Isaiah and Karin chose a Dodge Ram Van 1500 for a cheap DIY build. They live in California, where rent is incredibly expensive. They didn’t want to share an apartment with lots of strangers, so they decided to live in a van full-time.
The exterior is fairly stealth, so they can sleep in cities.
Inside, the ceiling is lined with wood, while the rest of the walls are covered in white panels. The couple turned the passenger seat into a swivel seat, so they can use it when camping, too.
Behind the front seats, there is a small kitchen with a sink, countertop, big refrigerator, camping stove, and cabinets. In the storage, there’s a power station, which charges via solar panels. At the rear of the van, there’s a full-size platform bed.
The conversion came in at about $8,000 and it only took them 7 days to complete.
Cargo Van Conversion Parts & Ideas
We have collected some of the best gear you can get to kick start your conversion. Buying a pre-made bed or kitchenette can speed up and simplify your build, as you’ll spend less time designing the equipment itself. Plus, there’s less of a chance of making expensive mistakes.
Cargo Van Conversion Beds
Choosing the right bed for your height and vehicle size is important. A good night sleep has a huge impact on your life and on how much time you’ll spend in the van.
Make sure to take precise measurements for the frame and select the right density foam for the mattress. You need room to move your legs sideways and rest your pillows.
If you like a soft mattress, go for a low density foam, but be careful about thickness. If you prefer a firm platform to sleep on, opt for a high density foam.
Many frames come in standard measures you can buy a mattress for. If you’d rather build your own frame, you may have to cut the foam yourself. An electric knife is the most used tool for doing this at home.
Below are our suggestions for the best beds you can install in your cargo van.
Flarespace Bed System
For: Sprinter and Transit vans
Flarespace sell platform bed frames for Sprinter and Transit vans. They are two-panel bed systems that create a level surface that perfectly contours the van’s interior profile.
The frames are made of Baltic birch. They are clear-coated and vented to keep moisture at bay and allow air flow to keep the foam in good shape.
The Flarespace bed system comes with structural sheet metal that provides a mounting surface for the bed rails. Included in the price, is all the hardware needed to install the platform, as well as the right size drill bit.
If your budget stretches a little further, you can look at the Flarespace Super Flyweight Anti-Gravity Bed Panel System. This is a lightweight panel that’s ultra thin, allowing you to leave more room for storage underneath the bed, or more headroom above it.
Check out the Flarespace website for more information.
MOAB Bed By Adventure Wagon
For: Sprinter vans
The MOAB (Mother Of All Beds) Elevator Bed by Adventure Wagon is an all-aluminium bed frame that creates a sleeping platform at the rear of a Sprinter van. It’s very light and can be mounted at different heights in your van.
The frame is made of three telescoping panels, each of which is expanded by a gas strut that exerts 15lbs of pressure onto the track system to fit perfectly against the van walls.
You can remove the panels instantly any time, which is a great option to have on rainy days when you’re stuck inside.
To install the MOAB, you’ll need to purchase a kit with the brackets and track.
Panel Beds By RB Components
RB Components offer adjustable panel bed kits that come in various sizes. Their platforms can collapse down to 60″ and extend out to 72″.
They are made of aluminum and come with two spring-loaded self-locking pins, which allow you to secure the bed onto the mounting rails. This platform is extremely versatile; the ideal bed for anyone who needs to convert a less popular cargo van.
On the RB Components website, you’ll also find cushion kits and individual panels.
Flatline Van Company Sprinter Bed System
For: Sprinter vans
The Flatline Van Company offers four models of bed platforms for Sprinter vans.
Made of three aluminum panels, they can be mounted between 25 inches and 41 inches in height. This allows you to position the bed as high or low as you like. The platform also comes in various sizes, so you can choose one based on your height.
Cargo Van Conversion Kitchens
If you plan to live on your cargo van camper conversion full-time, you will need a decent galley, where you can cook nutritious food from scratch. We have selected the best kitchen units you can buy out there.
Titan Vans’ DIY Kitchen Kit
For: Sprinter vans
Titan Vans offer DIY kits that are ready to assemble and finish. This solution is very cost-effective. The cabinet is made of Baltic birch plywood and it includes a stainless steel sink and faucet.
The countertop is made of black formica. The galley comes with water tanks and room for a cooler. It’s compatible with the Isotherm Cruise 130 Elegance and the Truck fridge TF 130.
Check out the full description on the Titan Vans website.
Van Kitchen, By Trail Kitchens
If you’re looking for a kitchen system that you can use both inside your cargo van conversion and outdoors, the Van Kitchen is for you.
The galley is mounted inside the van. On top of it, there’s a portable sink-stove unit complete with a sink, water tank, and cooker. You can quickly take this out, add the legs, and place on the ground.
There is even a counter space and a shelf, which you can mount on each side. If you like, you can add a water heater, for luxurious hot water showers.
Figure out exactly how this unit works on the Trail Kitchens website.
Flatline Van Company 41″ Galley
For: Transit vans
Want to get a traditional, finished galley? This FVCO system comes in three colors and all you have to do is install it.
It features a stainless sink, a bamboo worktop, and a drawer. There’s room to install water tanks under the sink and add a refrigerator under the drawer. You can either use a portable cooker, or install a stove next to the sink.
The cabinet is compatible with the Engel SR70 Fridge-Freezer and the Isotherm Drawer 65; however you can fit most coolers with a little trimming.
Check out more campervan kitchen design ideas here.
Cargo Van Conversion Water Tanks
If you plan to spend a lot of time on your cargo van camper conversion, you’ll need to install water tanks.
Using a sink and shower is that much easier with a decent amount of water in your tanks.
Plus, van-specific water tanks that fit around the wheels really help maximize the available space. In order to do this, you’ll need to buy them and install them before you add the rest of the furniture in.
20 Gallon Wheel Well Water Tank
For: Ford Transit, Mercedes Sprinter, Ram ProMaster
This Titan Vans tank is designed to sit on top of your van’s wheel and it’s reversible, which means it’s suited for both the driver and passenger side.
Want more info? Have a look at the Titan Vans website.
NW Conversions Water Tanks
For: Sprinter vans
If you’re looking for a different shaped tank that will still fit over a wheel, you could go for the NW Conversions ones.
There are 10 models to choose from. They are available in 20, 21, 22, 24, 28, 30 and 32 gallon sizes. These tanks can be extremely useful, as they fit perfectly around a wheel and offer a flat, solid surface on top of it.
Check out the options on the NW Conversions website.
Also check out tankless water heaters in this post: The Best Campervan Tankless Water Heaters
Cargo Van Conversion Roof Racks
These are extra useful for installing solar panels, decking, and other gear on the roof.
They also offer great support for an awning. These roof racks have a low profile and are very easy to install.
Prices start from $1,250.
Conclusion On Cargo Van Conversions
There you have it. This article should provide you with plenty of inspiration to convert your own cargo van into a camper – whether that’s for full-time, or part-time living.
You can get super creative with a full DIY conversion, where you build every cabinet and shelf to your specs. Or you can source some of the furniture to make things easier and faster.