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The Chevy Express Van makes for a great, nimble, and stealthy home on wheels, which is perfect for van lifers who spend a lot of time in cities. But there are also campers who have fit enough camping gear on the vehicle to be able to go boondocking off-grid for a whole week.
This low-roof cargo van is very versatile. You can choose to use it for long weekends and holidays only, big outdoor trips, or full-time living. In this article, we’ll show you some cool options for DIY conversions and conversion kits, so you can start daydreaming about your own van adventure.
Just imagine finishing your digital nomad workday inside the camper, in the heart of a city, and stepping out the doors to enjoy a vibrant night out – heading to your favorite bar and then to a new, exciting restaurant for dinner.
Before we get too carried away, let’s look at the strengths and weaknesses of a Chevy Express Van, so you can decide if it’s the right vehicle for you.
Table of Contents
Pros Of Converting A Chevy Express Into A Camper
- It’s fairly cheap to buy and easy to find
- Repairs don’t cost a lot
- You can easily get away with stealth camping in it
- You can access most covered parking lots and drive-throughs, thanks to the low roof
- Driving it is easy.
Cons Of A Chevy Express As A Full-time Van
- It’s not super reliable
- The size is fairly small and there is no standing headroom, due to the low roof
- 4WD drive is not available; however, you can carry out a conversion
- The gas mileage is 14.2 MPG on average
- Some vans present rust issues.
So, all in all, there are some great pros to a Chevy Express, if you are happy with its size. Just like with any vehicle, it’s important you take the time to find one that’s a good deal – a van that’s been well-maintained, has not been in accidents, and doesn’t show any rust.
5 Rad DIY Chevy Express Van Builds
Now that you know the advantages and disadvantages of converting a Chevy Express Van into an adventure vehicle, we’ll give you some inspiration for your own build. We have selected our favorite 5 DIY conversions, so you can start planning your own.
Eric and Ashley converted their Chevy Express Van into the perfect boondocking camper and called it Casper. They live in it full-time with their pup Jonie.
The couple spent a long time planning their build in detail and even tested various floorplans by taping them out on the floor of their spare bedroom to get a feeling for the space. The result is a super-cozy and spacious camper.
Inside, there’s a couch that turns into a bed, swivel driver and passenger seats, a slide-out table, and a beautiful, modern kitchenette. On the roof, the couple fitted some solar panels, which are connected to a power system, and a deck on which to hang out.
A super stealth conversion for city van life
Brad has lived full-time on his Chevy Express for over a year and a half now and he loves it. In order to keep the vehicle as stealthy as possible, he decided to buy one with no extra windows and covered the rear ones with panels.
The interior looks very modern and cozy. In the front of the camper, the van lifer installed a platform between the driver and passenger seat, on which he fixed a fridge. The passenger seat swivels, so he can sit there to relax and read.
Behind the front seats, there are two kitchen units – one with a sink, and one with a countertop and storage space. At the back, there’s a platform bed, which folds into a couch. Throughout the van, there’s overhead storage and the walls are covered in pine wood paneling.
Brad also installed a roof rack made of wooden planks, on which he mounted solar panels. It also doubles as a deck. The solar panels aren’t visible from the street, as they have a protective barrier around it to conceal them.
Silver Bullet Chevy Express Van Build
Blackhawk and Madi created one of the most gorgeous and equipped DIY Chevy Express Van conversions out there. The floorplan is ingenious, as it allows you to use both the bed and couch at the same time. The interior has a very modern and snug Scandi style. On board, there’s everything you need to live the van life full-time.
On the left hand side of the camper van, there’s a decent-sized kitchenette with a sink and fridge. The couple decided to create a counter space that’s as big as possible, so the sink is the only fixed piece of equipment, but they can attach their camp stove to it when they need to.
At the rear of the van, there’s a platform bed with lots of storage underneath. In front of the kitchen, there is a bench with a swivel table. Under the bench, there’s a well-hidden cassette toilet and the electrical system control panel.
In the garage, there’s a diesel heater, and an outdoor shower. The shower and its water heater are fitted to one of the rear doors and the guys can get total privacy by using the doors in conjunction with two shower curtains. Super smart.
On the roof, there are a roof rack, a side-awning, LED lights, and solar panels. This little Chevy Express camper really has it all.
The couple discovered how much they loved the van conversion process and started their own camper van conversion company. Check it out here.
A $1,000 rock climbing base
British rock climber Mark needed a camper van to live out of for his 9-month long climbing trip around North America. So he bought a Chevy Express Van and fitted it out for camping on the road. He equipped it all with economical, yet functional gear.
On the left-hand side of the van, Mark fitted all his furniture – a kitchenette with sink and camp stove, plus some cabinets where he stores his clothes. On the right-hand side, there’s a bed. This folds into a couch, so he can have friends over for a meal or a cup of coffee. It’s not a fancy camper conversion, but it worked great for his long trip.
30-Day Chevy Express Van Conversion
Emily built her Chevy Express Van camper while in quarantine in just 30 days. Ever since, she’s toured the United States with her boyfriend Ryan full-time. Emily built everything DIY out of plywood, painted it green, and installed it in the empty van.
Her conversion features a sitting area with one couch that turns into a bed, two cabinets, a sink and storage unit on one side, and a worktop with a fridge underneath on the other. The couch faces a wall with overhead cabinets and a swivel, removable table.
The most innovative and interesting feature is her minimalistic toilet, which is a pee funnel. At the back, there’s a pull-down table for cooking outdoors. Everything about this build screams DIY, and that’s what makes it special. Emily built it all by herself, and shaped it around her needs.
Chevy Express Van Conversion Kits
If you’re not very handy or would like to save time on your build, you can opt for a van conversion kit. This is pre-made furniture that you can easily and quickly install in your van by yourself. Doing it isn’t nearly as overwhelming as building every single piece DIY. A basic DIY kit is fairly economical, too.
The only downside is the wait – sometimes production is so far behind that it can take various months to receive a kit.
Trail Kitchens build aluminum camp kitchens, chuck boxes, camping sinks, portable showers, and more. These are all simple and practical, which is ideal for anyone who wants to quickly and easily remove the camping equipment from their camper van after a trip.
Trail Kitchens offer various models – some can be removed in seconds to be used outside, while others are designed to be fixed to the van. For more information, head to the Trail Kitchens website.
Freeway Camper Kit
Freeway Camper Kits specialize in producing economical and removable camper kits. Some of their kits are designed to fit specific vehicles, while others are universal. It’s best to get in touch to find out which kit would suit your Chevy Express van build best.
You can choose between basic kits, which include just a sleeping platform, and more luxurious ones, which also feature a kitchenette and sitting area. Interested? Check out the Freeway Camper Kit site.
Professional Van Conversions
Finally, if you have a bigger budget, you can opt to hire a professional company. In this case, the van conversion process entails contacting a conversion company to discuss your project, approving a floor plan, waiting for your reserved spot, and then bringing the van over to their warehouse, where they do the build from scratch. Some businesses only have standardized floor plans, while others produce custom designs.
This is usually the most expensive option, but you will be followed by people with extensive experience in camper van building and the end result will be a well-thought-out, solid, quality conversion. Bear in mind that the waiting list for a full conversion can be rather long.
Let’s look at some companies that offer this service.
Colorado-based Contravans specialize in converting Chevy vans, Ram Promasters, Ford Transits, and more. For each model, the company provides a number of options to choose from, so every build is tailored to the van lifer who will live in the camper.
A typical Chevy Express Van build features a kitchenette with sink, drawers, and storage underneath, a couch which turns into a bed, and plenty of storage throughout the vehicle. Their furniture is made of plywood, which gives the interior a warm feel. You can choose between various colors for the cushion covers and curtains.
Contravans can also do a partial van conversion for you. They can take care of the more difficult bits, and let you get on with selecting and installing the rest of the furniture and gear – you decide exactly what to delegate to them.
If you can’t afford a full or partial conversion, Contravans also offer a DIY phone consultation to help you plan and build your own camper.
Find out more on the Contravans website.
Sportsmobile is one of the top van conversion companies in the US. They specialize in building adventure vehicles for campers who are passionate about Boondocking in wild locations.
Sportsmobile offers a number of standard plans for the Chevy Express. These include a rear compartment where to fit a toilet, a kitchenette, a gaucho, and a pop-top. The interior is very modern and practical, with a slight minimalistic feel.
You can see a preview of your final design on their DYO Studio program, available on their site. Either mix and match their standard options, or create your own floor plan from scratch.
You can read up more about the van conversion options and pricing on the Sportsmobile website. Sportsmobile has shops in Indiana, Arizona, and Texas.
Paved To Pines
Canadian conversion company Paved To Pines now does camper builds in the US, too. Their Chevy Express camper conversion is called “Astrid” and you can buy it right away, as it’s finished. This build stands out because of the gorgeous cedar-planked walls, which give it a cabin feel.
The floor plan features a bench, a platform bed, and a kitchenette. The camper van comes with a cooler, water heater, a Goal Zero Yeti 400 lithium battery system, Dometic fan, memory foam mattress, and more.
Look up more details about Astrid on the Paved To Pines website.
Oregon-based Van Specialties provide van lifers with custom camper van conversions. They have lots of experience working on Chevy Vans, Sprinters, Ram Promasters, and more.
The conversions by Van Specialties have a very modern feel and the floor plan is designed to make the most out of every inch available on the vehicle. Every item is self-contained to be as space-efficient as possible.
A typical conversion includes a sitting area with a small table that turns into a bed, overhead lockers, and a kitchenette. Each conversion is fully customized, so you can choose not only the gear, but also the style and colors of the furniture.
Check out the Van Specialities website to find out more. On it, you’ll find a price generator, so you can get an estimate of what your build will roughly cost.
The Chevy Express Van is an excellent low-roof van option for campers who want to enjoy a holiday or a longer trip on the road. It’s not huge, but there’s enough space to fit it with everything you need to go off-grid for a full week. It’s the ideal vehicle for van lifers who love to go city hopping and Boondocking near decent roads.
If you’d like to get something bigger for full-time living, look into Sprinter vans, Mercedes Metris campers, skoolie conversions, and more. There are plenty more options to weigh before you make a final decision.