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The Best Vans For Van Life

Choosing an appropriate and comfortable van to live in is one of the most significant decisions you will make during your van life journey. For first-timers, deciding which vans are best for you can be difficult because how do you know which vehicle is best if you’ve never lived in a van before?

The answer to ‘the best vans for van life’ depends on your needs and requirements. There are many different types of vehicles to live in because everyone’s needs differ.

This blog post aims to showcase the most popular vehicles for van life and discuss each vehicle’s pros and cons. Ultimately, we also explain which vehicle we chose and why it’s been perfect for our needs.

What To Consider

Woman laying on the bed in her camper van
Thinking about our next van life vehicle!

When choosing the best type of van for your van life adventure, it’s essential to consider all the factors that go into a vehicle choice. These factors aren’t necessarily weighted the same, and you’ll have to decide which facets are more important to you than others.

  • Livability – Is it easy to live inside your van for extended periods? Can you stand up straight and move around inside? Is it comfortable to be in your van during bad weather days?
  • Drivability – How easy to drive is your vehicle? Can you navigate urban cities and compact parking lots? Is the van so bulky that you dread driving it off the highway? If the goal for your van life is to travel, then choosing a vehicle that drives and maneuvers well is essential.
  • Off-Road Capabilities – If driving out to rural, off-the-grid type places is your objective for van life, selecting a van with dedicated off-road capabilities may be necessary.
  • Gas Efficiency – If you plan to put thousands of miles on your vehicle and are budget-conscious, then gas efficiency is essential to consider when choosing the right vehicle for your van life. Even a difference of as little as 3-5mpg can really save your wallet.
  • Stealth – Do you care about how much your vehicle stands out? Maybe you plan to free camp in urban areas and want to deter curious eyes? To some, a stealth van is a crucial factor to consider when selecting their vehicle and a non-factor for others.

Now that you have a basic idea of the different factors to consider when choosing your best camper van let’s look at several of the most popular vehicles for van lifers today.

The Commercial Van: The Most Popular Van For Van Life

White Ford Transit camper van parked on dirt lawn
Our Ford Transit commercial van

Chances are, if you’re planning to build your own camper van, you’re looking at a commercial van.

The modern commercial van is quickly becoming the most popular van for van life. Their basic, commercial body exterior minimizes attention and offers greater possibilities for stealth camping, making this the perfect vehicle choice for many.

And if you love to customize your van interior, the commercial van is undoubtedly the best for you. These vans are a blank canvas and allow you to build your bed, kitchen, and dinette however you want.

These vans also come in various sizes to suit anybody’s needs. High-roof or low? Long body or short? There’s a van size for everyone.

The Usual Suspects

White Mercedes Sprinter van

Mercedes Sprinter

White Ford Transit Van

Ford Transit

Grey RAM Promaster Van

Ram Promaster

Chevy astro van

Older Models

Spoiler Alert: If you already know you want to purchase a commercial van and simply want to compare the Mercedes Sprinter, Ford Transit, or Ram Promaster, check our post: Why We Love Our Ford Transit.

Advantages

  • Fully Customizable – These commercial vans arrive as an empty slate, allowing you to build exactly the interior you want to fit your van life needs and requirements. Want a bathroom? Or a super large bed? Or a spacious, high-tech work environment? You can have it.
  • Stealthy – Because of their commercial van exterior, these types of campervans fly under the radar and go unnoticed by most of the general population. But fooling the police and thieves is another thing, so we don’t really recommend sacrificing other features simply to build a 100% stealth campervan.
  • Durable Workhorse – Commercial vans were made for racking up thousands of miles/kilometers and rough treatment by careless commercial drivers. These robust motors will last you for years.

Disadvantages

  • Tedious Conversion Process Required – Commercial vans come simply as themselves an empty metal shell. This means work is required on your part to build and convert your campervan from the very beginning. Luckily, we have a campervan build tutorial to set you on the right path.
  • A Tad Bulky – Not the worst of the group, but driving and parking in urban environments can be tricky without practice. Luckily, the smaller commercial vans are much more maneuverable than their larger counterparts.
  • Not So Photogenic – If the VW Combi campers are on one side of the spectrum, these commercial vans are on the other. Unassuming and a tad plain in shape, these campers will have difficulty dazzling on social media.

Why We Love Our Ford Transit Commercial Van

We chose the Ford Transit commercial van for our camper conversion, and after 2+ (and counting!) on the road, we absolutely believe that a commercial van is one of the best vans to live in.

Learn More: Why The Ford Transit Is The Best Van Conversion Vehicle

Ford Transit Van – Why It’s The Best Camper Van

We love our Ford Transit camper van. But we understand that when building out your own DIY camper van, there are so many different vehicles to choose from, like the popular Mercedes Sprinter & Ram Promaster. And every vehicle has its pros and cons.

Top Tips When Buying A Van From A Dealership

If you decide that purchasing your future campervan from a dealership is best for you, that can be daunting. For many, this vehicle purchase will be the most expensive purchase of their lives.

The Kombi Van: The Most Iconic Van For Van Life

Pink VW combi van parked by the water
Is The Kombi The Most Iconic Van Life Van?

Is there anything more iconic than traveling in a beautiful VW campervan? The looks, the 60’s authenticity, and the gorgeous Instagram-able content. There’s not much to dislike about choosing this classic and original van life vehicle. Or is there?

Advantages

  • Iconic & Photogenic – Relive the groovy 60s in style and relish in the jealousy of others. These beautiful campervans look great no matter what angle you take their pictures.
  • Pre-Built For Van Life – Oftentimes, these vans are already converted with a basic living/sleeping area and kitchen. Pick up a Kombi, and you’re good to go.
  • Easy To Work On – Simple mechanics means anyone, including yourself, can work to get this vehicle back up and running.

Disadvantages

  • Old Vehicles – These vehicles are anywhere from 30-60 years old. Meaning these campervans tend to break down often and without notice. Patience is required.
  • Small Living Quarters – Long-term livability is questioned as living quarters are cramped. Impossible to stand and difficult to move around in these vehicles.
  • Expensive – At least in the USA, VW campers are in high demand and usually start at $15,000+ for just a basic, unmaintained model.

The Truck Camper: The Best Hybrid Option For Van Life

Old truck camper
Is The Truck Camper The Best Van For Van Life?

Some people want complete 4×4 off-road capabilities. Others prioritize livability with creature comforts from home. But with a truck camper, you can have both.

Those with truck campers can quite literally take their home wherever they want and are only limited to the capabilities of their pick-up truck. Truck campers give you the best of both worlds.

Advantages

  • Powerful 4×4 Capabilities – Go wherever you want, whenever you want. We’ve seen truck campers plow through soft, sandy beaches to camp in places few would dare go in other vehicles.
  • Professionally Built Interior – The camper unit is usually constructed by professional mobile camping outfitters. Convenient, functional, and everything works.
  • Detach Truck From Camper – The truck can separate from the camper unit when needed. This leaves you free to drive your truck anywhere you want without the bulky camper on top.

Disadvantages

  • On The Bulky Side – A truck camper is a tad wider and taller than other camper options, making urban maneuverability harder but not impossible.
  • Low Gas Mileage – These trucks were made for off-road use, not gas efficiency. Lots of driving on endless highway roads can put a dent in your wallet.
  • Tight Sleeping Compartment – Hanging just above the truck’s cab, the sleeping quarters can be a bit tight. Not much room to sit up and relax.

Professional RV: The Most Luxurious Van For Van Life

Professional rental RV
The RV – The Most Luxurious Van?

Luxury on wheels, the professional RV is the mobile home of choice for many in the retirement generation. And for many, the RV is the best van to live in and travel.

Incredibly spacious and includes all the creature comforts from home, these RVs really allow the person to travel farther and longer without missing home. Full-size kitchens, large beds, and a proper living and dining space. These campers have everything you could want.

Advantages

  • Spacious and Best Internal Livability – The professional RV provides a real “home away from home.” Full-size sleeping quarters, functional kitchen, and spacious living/dining room. Bring all the creature comforts from home with you.
  • Fully Functional Bathroom & Shower – Worried about bathroom and hygiene issues while traveling? These RVs provide the best bathroom solutions today for those living on the road.
  • Professionally Built Interior – Everything works. Every part of the RV has been built by trained professionals, from the plumbing to the electrical.

Disadvantages

  • Very Bulky – Heavy and difficult to drive, these RVs have the least maneuverability of all the camper vehicles listed on this page. Avoid urban settings and small parking lots at all costs.
  • Expensive – Big and professionally built means a much larger price tag than other campervan options. Prices can reach into the hundreds of thousands.
  • Poor Gas Mileage – Not hard to guess why these get such pool gas economy. These RVs are meant for livability and comfort, not for getting great gas mileage. Expect to pay large sums of cash at the pump, and often.

The 4WD Overland Vehicle: The Most Adventurous Van For Van Life

Green SUV 4x4 overland vehicle with pop top
The Best Van Life Vehicle For Off-Roading?

The ultimate overlanding vehicle. This tough and rugged vehicle lets you drive wherever you want. These vehicles will get you to where you want to go in the cities, on dirt roads, and in dense forests.

Advantages

  • Great Price Point – More affordable than other campervan options and easier to maintain and work on yourself.
  • Go ANYWHERE – If there is a road, no matter the quality, you can likely drive that road to get where you need to go. These vehicles really are off-road champions.
  • Blends In Anywhere – Depending on outside accessories, these vehicles largely blend in with regular, everyday vehicles. They don’t turn heads nor attract attention.

Disadvantages

  • Tiny Interior Living Space – Interior livability is almost non-existent. Most campervans who drive these vehicles sleep in tents outside.
  • Lack of Privacy – Because internal space is limited, everything you do will be outside. This is great for outdoor living but less so for privacy considerations.
  • For Long-Term Travel? – Realistically, how long can you live and travel in an SUV? A few weeks or months, maybe? Though it can technically be done, most people choose not to travel long-term in these vehicles.

Do you really need a 4×4 for van life? In our opinion, we don’t think so. Check out our post to learn why.

The Best Van For OUR Van Life Is…

Woman practicing yoga next to a camper van
Yoga by the seaside

We knew we wanted to be on the road, living in our van for at least 2-4 years while driving from North to South America.

Therefore, when choosing the best van for our van life journey, we prioritized both livability and drivability for our future tiny home vehicle. We wanted to be able to drive not only in rural environments but also in urban places and small towns and villages with narrow roads.

Lastly, we wanted to build our own campervan from scratch. The opportunity to learn new skills, as well as being able to build the perfect camper to meet our needs, provided challenges that attracted us.

And though driving off-road on unmaintained roads appealed to us, we felt we could compromise with our 2WD van by outfitting it with some serious All-Terrain Tires for extra traction. We haven’t needed a 4×4 for most places we’ve visited.

Therefore, when deciding which vehicle was best for our van life adventure, the choice was an easy one. We went with the commercial van.

Related: Why We Love Our Ford Transit Van

Below, you can see how we dissected each vehicle by van life factor to arrive at our choice.

Camper/Combi

  • Livability: 6/10
  • Drivability: 9/10
  • Off-Road: 5/10
  • Gas Efficiency: 6/10
  • Stealth: 6/10
  • Total: 32/50

Commercial Van

  • Livability: 8/10
  • Drivability: 8/10
  • Off-Road: 6/10
  • Gas Efficiency: 7/10
  • Stealth: 8/10
  • Total: 37/50

Truck Camper

  • Livability: 9/10
  • Drivability: 6/10
  • Off-Road: 8/10
  • Gas Efficiency: 5/10
  • Stealth: 4/10
  • Total: 32/50

Professional RV

  • Livability: 10/10
  • Drivability: 4/10
  • Off-Road: 4/10
  • Gas Efficiency: 3/10
  • Stealth: 2/10
  • Total: 23/50

4WD SUV

  • Livability: 3/10
  • Drivability: 9/10
  • Off-Road: 10/10
  • Gas Efficiency: 8/10
  • Stealth: 8/10
  • Total: 38/50

Choosing The Best Vans For Van Life Takes Time

After 2+ years on the road, we believe the commercial van was the right choice for our needs. We have no regrets.

Although we do have camper van conversion mistakes!

But when choosing the right vehicle for yourself, it’s important to list out which aspects of van life are important to you and which you can do without. Only when you sit and write it all down can you select the right campervan for your van life journey.

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