Have you seen a Suburban camper out on the road or at a cool boondocking spot? Were you intrigued? We’re here to provide you with even more inspiration and help you come up with a plan to make a Chevrolet Suburban your new home on wheels.
The Suburban is an affordable vehicle to buy second-hand and makes for an excellent platform on which to build your adventure RV. It’s easy to find for sale all over the U.S., as it has been a very popular model for many years.
Building out a Suburban camper is super simple, which is why it’s such a well-liked vehicle. While there are no camper conversion kits available on the market, you can easily create a no-build camper van.
In this article, we explain why so many van lifers choose the Chevy Suburban to camp in or to convert. We’ve also collected a number of rigs we love to show you, so you can start designing your own.
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Why choose a Chevrolet Suburban for your road and camping trips
It’s no coincidence many van lifers pick a Suburban camper to live off of full-time. It’s a fantastic vehicle for many reasons:
- It can be purchased for fairly cheap – a 2002 Suburban can cost as little as $3,000
- The space left when you remove the rear and middle seats is good
- On older models, you won’t need to build a bed to sleep on, as the back is flat
- It can sleep two people
- Storage under the bed comes as standard
- There’s enough headroom to sit up in bed
- It’s reliable – Chevy Suburbans are well-known for their longevity
- The 4WD drive model is a very capable off-road car
- It’s a low-maintenance car
- The engine design is simple, so most mechanics can repair it
- It has decent towing capacity
- Replacement parts are easy to find and cheap, as the model was in production for many years
- It offers lots of storage space
- Owners love their old Suburban
- There are some used custom models with a pop-top online
- 9th Generation models have the spare tire under the truck and a liftgate rear door under which to cook
- It’s quiet and rides smoothly
- Outfitting a Suburban costs as little as $1,500
- It can also be temporarily fitted out for a one-off trip.
Overall, the Chevrolet Suburban is a very versatile SUV, which can take you on incredible adventures, no matter what gear you fit in it.
It’s not the biggest or most comfortable camper van on the market, but if you’re on a budget, choosing it allows you to get on the road quickly, rather than saving up or financing your purchase.
How to choose a Suburban
When looking for used Chevrolet Suburbans, keep an eye out for these features.
If you aren’t very practical, choose a 9th Generation model, which was manufactured between 2000 and 2006. On these, the back seats fold flat, which removes the problem of building a platform bed that can fit varying heights.
If you choose an older Suburban, expect to see a decent number of miles on the odometer. Bear in mind this SUV can easily travel 250,000 miles. If it’s well-maintained, it can do a lot more.
LT or LS
LT is the more luxurious version, which comes with heated leather seats. LS vehicles have standard options. Look at the differences between these carefully, so you know what to expect when you go see the car.
1,500 or 2,500
Next, choose the towing capability. Check if the trailer you want to take with you can be towed by the 1,500. The 2,500 comes with extra weight and a higher gas consumption, so don’t go for it unless it’s necessary.
2WD or 4WD
While the 4WD models are a little more expensive, they will allow you to reach remote areas where to boondock in the wilderness. Plus, you won’t struggle up hills at all. Go for the 2WD if you only plan to tour cities and areas with good roads. Bear in mind that camping in cities can be quite challenging these days, though.
Z71 or not
Z71 is the off-road package, which includes a skid plate and extra suspensions. Whether you get it or not depends on how much driving on harsh terrain you want to do. Bear in mind these extras add weight to the car.
Just like with any car, it’s worth asking the owner how they maintained it and if they had any accidents. Chances are they won’t be honest, but they may have some paperwork for some of the maintenance work carried out.
Our favorite DIY Chevy Suburban campers
Ready to start designing your very own Suburban camper conversion? We have collected the best rigs we could find online to help you come up with the perfect floor plan.
Some are full-on RVs, while others are just cars equipped with the essential gear you need to sleep on the road. How far you take your conversion is up to you – you can start off with a simple no-build rig and then add to it once you have experimented with boondocking and you know exactly what you need.
1) Kat and Craig’s adventure mobile
Kat and Craig converted a 2002 Chevy Suburban Z71 and gave life to Hooper, their 4×4 adventure van. They have been touring Colorado and the American National Parks aboard him.
The couple wanted a camper van they could live out of full-time, so they fitted a refrigerator and a solar system to generate power. They also built a bed, shelves, and a sliding lockbox. Kat and Craig can store all their climbing gear and more under the bed, thanks to the bed’s fold-out sections.
Everything is built out of plywood, which is functional, yet looks really nice and cozy. On the roof, the couple store their bikes on the roof rack, which comes as standard on a Z71 version.
2) Suburban Camping modular, no-build rig
Suburban Camping bought a 2000 Chevrolet Suburban LT and kept the vehicle exactly as it came out of the factory. He simply removed the rear seats and folded over the middle seats. He then placed a foam single mattress on the resulting flat area and stored all his gear in plastic boxes, which he placed beside the bed. On the roof, he added a cargo carrier in which he stores extra equipment.
Finally, at the back, he mounted a hitch cargo carrier. He can fit two plastic bins on it with a small solar panel on top while he travels. He also uses it as a floating kitchen when he camps, which is super handy.
3) Ursus – a mini apartment on wheels
For a more luxurious and modern rig, check out Ursus. This more recent Suburban has been fitted by married couple Anne and Marin to look like a mini apartment. The back features laminate flooring throughout. On top of it, there is a bed, storage cabinets, a sink, and a fridge.
On the side of the bed, there are small fold-out cupboards, which offer more space. At the back, a slide-out drawer reveals a kitchen you can utilize off the back, under the tailgate. On the side of the truck, there is an awning, under which you can sit and relax on camping chairs. Finally, at the back, there is a bike rack for stowing bicycles or extra gear. Check out Ursus on Instagram.
4) Kyle and Makenna’s cheap and fast build
Kyle and Makenna bought a 2002 Chevy Suburban and converted it in just a few hours, so they could hit the road fast and get on an 88-day road trip.
The couple created a bed frame using just some wood battens and brackets. The top of it folds up, so the guys can easily access what they store underneath. The bed is short enough to allow move the middle seats out of the way, which means Kyle and Makenna can still transport two or three friends even when they’re out camping.
5) Noel’s off-road rig
Noel converted his 2007 Chevrolet Suburban LS into an off-road camper DIY. Noel went all out and added leveling kits to the front and rear of the vehicle, as well as a winch and a cargo carrier.
On the roof, there is a roof rack in which he keeps some gear and a water tank, which also acts as a solar shower. Next to it, he fitted a DIY side-awning and solar panels. At the back, Noel installed a hitch cargo carrier to help him carry more equipment. Inside, he built a bed and some shelves to go to the side of it. The conversion took him 8 months to complete but the SUV can now take him anywhere.
6) Kim’s no-build Suburban
Tristan of SUV RVing met Kim in Idaho. She converted her 2000 Chevy Suburban into a camper van without fixing anything in place or using any tools. This rig is quite interesting.
At the back, there’s a swing-away cargo box. Inside, she set up a single bed by laying a trifold mattress on top of slide-out storage bins. At the entrance, she placed a cooler, which is easily accessible from the outside.
At the back of the car, she added some extra boxes in which to store her cooking and camping gear, as well as a water tank. Hidden away, Kim keeps a foldable toilet, which she can line with a trash bag when she needs to use it. This is a super clever piece of kit.
7) Jerome’s non-permanent conversion
Jerome and his friend Zack did a quick, no-build camper conversion on his Suburban to go on a fun road trip. They just wanted to enjoy a long vacation, so they made the whole furniture removable. Nothing is screwed; all furniture floats.
In the back, they installed a platform on which to sleep and under which to store their equipment. Next to the bed, they added some shelves. Behind the front seats, the guys placed some plastic drawers to provide extra stowage room.
This is also where they keep their water tank. This rig is super simple but looks very smart.
8) The Adventure Hobo’s simple camper conversion
The Adventure Hobo converted a 2014 Chevy Suburban LT to live and travel full-time on, with his girlfriend. At first, they traveled on a Honda Civic, setting up a tent every night. After a couple of months they upgraded to a Suburban, which they love.
The guys wanted to get going quickly, so the only thing they built is a simple bed platform. This is made of 4 cinder blocks wrapped in foam and carpet to support a plywood sheet. On top, they placed a queen size mattress, which they cut to fit the car’s dimensions.
At the back, they placed three chests of drawers, so they can easily grab their gear out of the trunk. They also added extra storage via a roof box. That’s it.
9) EverVenture’s 1999 GMC Suburban
For some inspiration from a professional company, check out this rig. The layout of the interior is similar to those of the other DIY campers we’ve looked at. They fitted side cupboards on both sides of the bed, rather than just on one. However, at the back, the team fitted a very long slide-out drawer with an extension, which creates a big outdoor kitchen.
On the other barn door, they installed a flip-up table on which to chop vegetables and fruit. This set-up is incredible and super practical. With some good DIY skills and some patience, you can achieve the same design.
How to camp in a non-converted Chevrolet Suburban
As you’ve seen, if you don’t want to fully and permanently convert your Suburban, you can still camp out of it on occasional road trips and holidays.
Follow these easy steps:
- Buy a foam or air mattress which fits in the back of the SUV
- Use sleeping bags and camping pillows as bedding
- Invest in a roof box or buy plastic tins to organize your gear in the back
- Carry a roll-out table on which to cook and eat
- Buy collapsible camping chairs
- Pack a portable stove and cooking gear in a box
- Carry water tubs and a collapsible sink to do the washing up
- Buy a solar shower you can hang on a tree
- Invest in a Porta Potti or other portable toilet if you plan to go to busy boondocking spots.
Camping out of your Suburban is as simple as throwing your favorite gear in the back and setting off.
If you need to carry lots of equipment, you can always take a tent or a trailer with you. Some models come with a kitchen and rooftop tent. For longer trips, you could add an awning to create an outdoor living room that’s protected from the elements.
A Chevrolet Suburban camper conversion makes for a rad adventure vehicle you can boondock in anywhere. It’s also an affordable and easy-to-maintain car, on which you can do many miles.
What’s not to love? Just like all small campers, it has space limitations, but at this price-point, you can’t expect a luxury van.