How I Turned my Chevy Astro Van into an Off-Road Camper

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My 1994 Chevy Astro camper has been one of my tiny homes for two years now (the other is a sailboat). I was lucky to find this rig in excellent condition on Craigslist in Sacramento with only 57,000 miles, and a conversion van to boot!

Chevy Astro conversion vans were popular in the 90s, and add at least a foot of headroom in an otherwise small van. Ours has a gorgeous varnished wood interior with cabinets, and came with a TV and VCR that we tore out to make way for storage space.

Regular Chevy Astro vans are even cheaper than the 6k I paid; you can often find them on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace for just a couple thousand dollars. This is one of the most affordable small camper vans you can buy.

After a couple of years and several modifications (that weren’t that big of a deal), two of us can fit in our Astro camper van for weeks on end, exploring rugged dirt roads and boondocking on public lands.

Due to their affordability and reliability, I wholeheartedly recommend a Chevy Astro van as an awesome camper for van life. That is, if you don’t mind never standing up in your van and squeezing into a pretty small space.

Adding solar to our Chevy Astro van camper

We knew that if we wanted to camp for free for days on end in places like Death Valley, we’d need a self-sustaining campervan.

That meant solar panels, an inverter, a solar charger and two deep cycle batteries to charge our 37-quart ARB fridge and our laptops and cameras.

Adding the solar system to the Chevy Astro camper van was probably the toughest thing we did to turn this conversion van into an off-road-ready adventure van.

You can check out a quick video of our solar install below:

In a nutshell, here are the components we installed in our Astro van camper conversion thanks to Go Power:

We mounted the two deep cycle batteries underneath the Astro van’s chassis to keep them out of the way, since we have limited interior space inside the van.

So far, this solar system has been a complete game-changer for us. We’ve tested the panels and the ARB 12-volt fridge in temperatures up to 110-degrees and were rewarded with ice-cold drinks.

If you’re interested in wiring up your own campervan, we highly recommend these wiring diagrams by van life couple Far Out Ride.

Click the image below for more details:

If you don’t want to deal with an entire solar setup, you can also run your fridge and electronics using a solar generator, like this Jackery Explorer 500, which we tested out. It charged our fridge just fine.

The only issue is you’ll need to charge the Jackery during the day with a solar panel or charge it on a 110-outlet before you go.

The portable fridge we have in our Chevy Astro camper conversion

To stay off-grid for days, you really need a 12-volt portable refrigerator. Regular coolers demand new ice every couple days, which just doesn’t work that well for boondocking.

We are totally in love with our 37-quart ARB fridge. You can see a video of the fridge and more about it below. ARB is using a new fridge model which is why it looks different than in my video. But, same tech!

Amazingly, we can stuff enough into our 12-volt fridge to stay off-grid for about one week. I’m sure if we got creative we could go without a grocery store for two weeks, especially if we used freeze-dried veggies.

If you haven’t heard of 12-volt fridges yet, they are amazing! Our ARB fridge is basically a compressor fridge like you’d use in your house, but very energy -efficient.

Our fridge runs for about 10 minutes every hour to keep food and drinks super cold, no matter the outdoor temperature.

There’s an interior LED light to find stuff when its dark, and it’s easy to adjust the temperature.

Plus, if you do have the fridge connected to your vehicle’s start battery, it will automatically shut down if it sense too much battery drainage.

We can’t say enough good things about our 37-quart ARB portable fridge.

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Adding a lift kit to our Chevy Astro camper

We love going overlanding down rugged dirt roads where we can get far from people, but to do that, we needed to get a lift kit.

When I first bought my Chevy Astro van, it was super low! Check out the pic:

Chevy Astro Camper Van overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge from Marin Headlands

So, we took the Chevy to Journeys Off-Road in Prescott, Arizona, which specializes in lift kits for Astros, Safaris, Toyota Siennas, and other minivans.

They put on a 4″ lift kit, but we’ve only raised the van 3″ so far with room for one more inch.

Right after the lift, we drove the van down Prescott’s Senator Highway, and were really pleased with how it handled! You can see the video of our Senator Highway overland trip below:

However, after this overland trip we got a little overzealous with taking the van down dirt roads. With highway tires, we drove down a road in the Mojave Desert National Preserve and popped two tires at once.

That was a scary ordeal, and Tom put on tire repair plugs and Fix-a-Flat to get us to a tire shop in Victorville.

There, we added real truck tires (BF Goodrich T/A Ko2) to our Chevy Astro campervan to really get her off-grid ready.

However, the 30×9 tires are little too big for our current lift, so looks like we’ll have to raise the van one more inch and add longer shocks.

These are the tires we got. I purchased five, with the fifth a spare:

Here’s what our Chevy Astro camper van looks like now:

Astro van camper conversion parked in an outdoor camping spot
Chevy Astro van camper with a 3″ lift and 30×9 truck tires.

Living in our Chevy Astro camper van

It’s sort of amazing that two people can live out of this small camper van. However, we do spent much of our time outside the van, and only use the inside for sleeping and working.

To sleep, we just unfold our back bench seat. We added two foot stools from TJ Maxx which store our clothes.

I can cook inside our outside my Astro van with this one-burner stove and a pressure cooker. Photo courtesy Marin Magazine.

Here are our top items we use to live in our Astro camper. Click the link to check out any of the products:

Hopefully this list will get you started with outfitting your Chevy Astro van for camping!

Interested in your own Chevy Astro camper van?

1995 Chevy Astro Van in a parking lot

If you’ve enjoyed reading all about my Chevy Astro conversion van and want one of your own, you’ll have to do a little research.

There are different types and styles of Astros, depending on the year, and whether its a conversion van.

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.

These vans were GM’s first venture into the minivan world, and now, there are a variety to choose from. There are Chevy Astro cargo vans, passenger vans and conversion vans. There are normal back hatches or Dutch Style back hatches. (mine is Dutch style, like barn doors)

Outside companies took over the Chevy Astro to make conversion vans, or luxury minivans. These vans typically have a fiberglass high-top, interior wood paneling, a mounted television, captain’s chairs, and a fold-down bench seat.

This is the type of van I have, and the conversion company was Chevron.

A Chevy Astro conversion van makes the perfect camper. It has the width of a full-size bed and easily fits two people. I’d found my van home.

Positives and negatives of a Chevy Astro conversion van for van life

I’ve been amazingly lucky with my Chevy Astro van so far. The van has only needed a few things replaced and fixed, like old hoses, tires, the starter, two front brakes and a recharge of the air conditioning. For a 25-year-old van, that’s not all that bad.

Here are some of the pros and cons I’ve discovered since owning my 1994 Chevy Astro Conversion van.

Positives:

  • small and easy to maneuver
  • a pleasure to drive with great handling
  • just big enough for two people to sleep
  • beautiful interior with wood paneling, curtains and window screens
  • a built-in fold-down bench seat so we could spend the night in it right away
  • conversion vans are taller than typical Astro vans, so I can stand up a little bit

Negatives:

  • gas mileage isn’t amazing (ranges from 15-22 miles per gallon)
  • too small for some people
  • can’t stand up fully
  • some people have problems with Astro transmissions
  • they are old and need more repairs than newer vans

Of course, all this depends on which type of van you buy and how it was cared for. I’m lucky that my Chevy Astro van lived in a garage for most of its 25 years, and it’s owner scheduled regular maintenance. My van was in exceptional condition and I feel very lucky about that.

Did you miss my Astro Van tour? Check it out on YouTube. Keep in mind I filmed this tour before I added a lift kit or solar panels. This just shows you what the van looks like inside.

Chevy Astro camper van conversion ideas

Need some ideas on how to convert your own

Here are some amazing Chevy Astro van camper builds that might also inspire you as they do me!

1) Check out this video tour of a Chevy Astro. 

This is not a Chevy Astro conversion van, but a regular Astro. I love the wood paneling, the gorgeous countertop with a sink, and that little wood stove. I mean, too cute!

This wouldn’t work for us as we have two people sleeping in the van, but it’s great for a single. 

 

 
 
 
 
 
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2) Chevy Astro 2003 AWD camper van conversion

Just look at this amazing wood paneling! And sink! And fold-down platform bed. 

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Need a little help with a DIY Chevy Astro van?

Check out the below book, which has tons of information about building your own DIY camper van.

Our Pick
The Best DIY Van Build Book
  • A 378-page step-by-step guide to building out a campervan.
  • Learn about the six major interior design considerations that lead to 13 secondary features in your design
  • RV plumbing: pipes, fittings, tanks, pumps, water heaters, toilets
  • Advice on choosing solar panels
  • How to install blackwater, greywater and freshwater tanks in a campervan
  • Fifty pages of information on designing an electrical system and wiring your campervan conversion


Buy Now Learn More

Good luck in your search for the perfect campervan. Maybe you’ll end up with a Chevy Astro, like me!

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