How to Convert a Van Into a Camper

How to Convert a Van Into a Camper
Factory-built campers can be expensive, and often contain gear that is unnecessary for off-road or primitive camping conditions. The added weight, height and width of most campers can make a difference when ground clearance is limited because of rough or nonexistent roads, or low-hanging trees. Poor ground clearance can result in damaged plant life, taking years to recover. Fuel economy is also affected, resulting in poor or incomplete combustion, release of damaging carbon monoxide and other pollutants, and a larger carbon footprint. When you convert a van to a camper, you can control all these factors by choosing a smaller, hybrid van, using lighter materials and including only essential equipment.


Difficulty: Moderate

Things You’ll Need:
  • Van
  • Carpet or rug matching dimensions of van floor
  • Black marker
  • Carpet or utility knife
  • Foam mattress or futon
  • Bedding
  • 5-gallon plastic bucket with tight-fitting lid
  • Bag of kitty litter
  • Toilet seat
  • Bungee straps
  • 12-inch-by-12-inch-by-18-inch tall set of drawers
  • 12-inch square mirror
  • 12-inch-by-12-inch-by-18-inch wide wood cabinet
  • Two-burner camping stove
  • 1.5-inch long self-tapping sheet-metal screws
  • 3/4-inch diameter sheetrock screws
  • 1/8-inch diameter drill bit
  • Power drill
  • 16-gauge, black annealed-steel baling wire
  • Curtains
Step 1
Sketch several floor plans for your camper. Decide where to place everything so that your toilet will be as far away from your pantry/kitchen area and the head of your bed as possible. Sit in your van and picture how your plan will work.
Step 2
Measure the van floor in every direction and between the wheel wells. Turn your carpet or rug back side up and lay out the dimensions of the van floor with a black marker (Reference 1). Use a utility knife to cut away the areas that are taken by the console, seats and wheel wells. For best results, just cut through the backing and pull away the pieces. This will prevent you from making uneven cuts in the fibers of the carpet.
Step 3
Lay carpet in your van. Do not glue, tape or otherwise permanently attach the carpet to the floor. Although it might slip a little from time to time, it will be easier to clean if it can be removed when needed. According to long-time camper Gypsy Wilburn, "Vans and campers get much dirtier than your house, and it is not always convenient to vacuum or shampoo a fixed carpet (Reference 2)."
Step 4
Place your futon or mattress close to the front of the van. This will make it easier to go from seats to bed and back. You will be able to bug out of bad weather or other hazardous situations quickly if needed. It will also be easier for the driver and passengers to trade places for breaks during long drives.
Step 5
Drill holes through the inside back of your wood or metal cabinet and into the back doors or upright supports of your van wall, depending on whether you want a door-mounted-swing-out kitchen or a wall-mounted, fixed kitchen. To save weight, get a cabinet made from 1/4-inch plywood, Masonite or 1/16-inch thick sheet metal. Mounting your kitchen on the rear doors gives you the option of cooking outdoors and assures adequate ventilation. Mount your cookstove to the top of your cabinet as shown in the diagram. There is usually a narrow lip around the stove that can be drilled into for the screw placement. If not, you can use storm window clamps, which are available at most hardware stores and glass shops.
Step 6
Drill through the back of the drawer set and into the supports of the van walls to mount your vanity. Use self-tapping sheet metal screws. Place the toilet in your van, near your vanity. secure with bungee straps screwed into the van or vanity walls.
Step 7
Stretch black annealed-steel baling wire across the van, behind the driver and passenger seats and across the tops of all windows, to make curtain rods. Secure with the existing screws in the van walls or use sheet metal screws where needed. Hang cottage curtains to provide privacy for your sleeping area. Lay your bedding on your bed, stock your van with food and personal items. Triple-check that you have everything you need, and take your shakedown trip. Use this first trip to decide if everything has been placed properly.

Tips & Warnings

Eliminate items you do not use on your first trip.
Cottage curtains are the easiest to hang, because the rod slides through a casing rather than requiring any clips, hooks or rings.

Article Written By Jane Smith

Jane Smith has provided educational support, served people with multiple challenges, managed up to nine employees and 86 independent contractors at a time, rescued animals, designed and repaired household items and completed a three-year metalworking apprenticeship. Smith's book, "Giving Him the Blues," was published in 2008. Smith received a Bachelor of Science in education from Kent State University in 1995.

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