Small camper vans are a great way to live the van life without paying an arm and a leg for your rig. Plus, these campervans are a lot stealthier than a high-top van like a Mercedes Sprinter or a Ford Transit.
You can park on any city street stealth camping style, and nobody will ever know you’re inside one of these small vans.
Plus, mini camper vans get better gas mileage and are easier to maneuver and park. Plus, they can fit into most standard garages, if you’re more a weekend warrior van lifer.
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Small camper vans: passenger or cargo?
Most of these vans come in two different styles – a cargo van or a passenger van. Which one you choose depends on what type of campervan build you want.
Most people go with the cargo van as it’s easier to build out. You don’t have to rip out seats and carpeting before starting your DIY campervan build.
The nice thing about a passenger van is it has tons of windows. This option is great if you’re not sleeping in cities and trying to be stealthy. I personally love having a Chevy Astro passenger van with windows all around. All of my windows have curtains, so the van is private when I need it to be.
You’ll have to think hard about what type of build you want before you decide on a cargo or passenger van.
Pros and cons of buying a mini camper van
It’s good to weigh the pros and cons of a small campervan before you buy. Ask yourself if you’re okay with not standing up. with these small vans, you’ll most likely need to cook outside the van.
- Great gas mileage
- Cheaper than larger vans
- Easier to maneuver
- Easier to park
- Can fit in a standard garage and parking spot
- You can’t stand up (although you could put in a pop-top)
- Very small
- A lot less room for what you might want in a campervan
- Can’t load it down with too much stuff
- Engine not as powerful as larger vans
Renting a campervan before you buy (coupon!)
One awesome way of making sure you like the size and feel of a camper van is to rent one before you buy. There are plenty of small vans already converted to campers.
Just plug in the name of the type of van you want to try and your location, and the screen will populate with campervans in your area. Outdoorsy has partnered with The Wayward Home to offer you $40 off any van rental. Just enter the code: wayward40 upon checkout!
1) The Mercedes Metris camper van
Gas Mileage: 21-22 mpg
The Mercedes Metris is a new van to the North American market, being introduced in 2015. With the cargo version of this van, you can pick from a standard or long wheelbase.
This van 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. Compare that to the Nissan NV200, which has a payload of 1,480 pounds.
Mercedes Metris vans have a larger cargo area than the competition, which means more room for your campervan build.
The main problem with this van is that it’s the most expensive of the smaller vans, needs premium fuel, and is harder to park due to it’s longer wheelbase.
Check out what Sportsmobile did with a Mercedes Metris van. This might inspire you to build a small DIY camper van.
2) Ford Transit Connect mini camper van
Gas Mileage: 24-29 mpg
The Ford Transit Connect is an affordable mini camper van that gets great gas mileage. It’s been around since 2012, which means you can find a lot of used vans for cheap, or even camper vans that are already built out.
You can get two types of engines with this 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.
Click below for FREE van specs for the top 10 vans:
This custom Ford Transit Connect campervan build shows what can be done with a really small van:
3) Dodge Promaster City camper van
Gas Mileage: 21 city/28 mpg highway
The Promaster City van was introduced in 2015, and prides itself on being efficient with a highway fuel economy of 28 miles per gallon. This little van packs a cargo capacity of 131.7 cubic feet, and a nice-sized cargo area width of 48.4 inches between the wheel wells. This van comes in second for cargo space behind the Mercedes Metris.
The Promaster City drives with a 2.4-liter, 4-cylinder engine, and can be loaded down to 1,886 pounds. It also has a nine-speed automatic transmission.
One level up from the basic cargo van model, or the SLT, gets you a van that needs oil changes every 10,000 miles, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, cruise control and heated seats.
Check out this Promaster City camper van conversion by Wayfarer vans:
4) Nissan NV 200 compact cargo van for camping
Gas Mileage: 25 mpg combined fuel economy
The Nissan NV 200 is an affordable small van with great gas mileage, built for easy maneuvering in a city. The van does fall short in cargo space compared to the Metris, Ford Transit Connect and Promaster City. This little van also has less power than its competitors with a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine.
This van only has a maximum payload of 1,480 pounds, so keep that in mind when planning out your DIY campervan build. Make this van too heavy and it won’t perform as well.
The benefit of this van is that it’s the cheapest of this group of vans.
Check out this video by Recon Campers, which does wonders transforming the agile Nissan NV 200 into a camper van.
Are you ready to get started building out your camper van?
Want to start building out your van but have no clue what you’re doing? Don’t worry! Greg Keith is here to help.
Don’t let the name of this 378-page book stop you. The Sprinter RV Conversion Sourcebook is a wealth of information and can be applied to any van build.
Here’s some of what you’ll learn in the Sprinter RV Conversion Sourcebook:
- An RV plumbing chapter on pipes, fittings, tanks, pumps, water heaters, toilets, you name it
- How to get internet access in your van
- The five criteria to think about when insulating your camper van
- Advice on choosing solar panels
- How to install blackwater, greywater and freshwater tanks
- Fifty pages of information on designing an electrical system and wiring your campervan conversion
- And soooo much more!
Check out the Sprinter RV Conversion Sourcebook and start working on your van right now.
Remember, so much of this info can also be used on a small camper van, or any type of van, really.
Conclusion on small cargo vans for a camper conversion
If you’re looking for a small van to convert into a DIY camper, there are plenty of choices on the market. Whether you choose a cargo van or a passenger van is up to you and depends on the type of campervan build you want.
Also, keep in mind that you could buy a car camping conversion kit to turn your small cargo van into a camper. Then you don’t have to do everything yourself!
The Mercedes Metris van has the most amount of interior space, but is also the most expensive at $26,000-$ 34,000. On the other side of the spectrum, the Nissan NV200 is cheapest at $22,000-$23,000 with the least amount of cargo space for a van build.
All of these small vans have their positives and negatives, so you’ll have to read through the specs to determine what’s best for you.
Enter your email address in the form below to download the specs. And good luck in your search for an awesome camper van!
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Kristin Hanes is a journalist and writer who lives on a sailboat and in a Chevy Astro van in San Francisco. She worked in radio news for 15 years before a massive layoff in 2016. Kristin has written articles about alternative living published in Good Housekeeping, Business Insider, Marie Claire, SF Gate and The Bold Italic, among others.