What is the Best Small Campervan?

what is the best small campervan

Small campervans have some serious advantages over larger vans and RVs, including the fact that they are much more maneuverable, get better gas mileage, and are stealthier. In this article we’ll take a look at some of the best small campervans and hear from three owners about their experiences.

Here’s our list of the 7 best small campervans:

1. Oasis Campervans – Toyota Sienna Conversion

 

Toyota Siennas are classic minivans, but under the skilled hands of the crew at Oasis Campervans, a Sienna can become a fully converted camper with all sorts of amenities. Their premium conversion package includes a fully functional kitchen with running water, a full-sized bed, a dinette, privacy curtains, and storage space everywhere.

This conversion does not include appliances like a stove and fridge/cooler, although spaces will be built in for them, and the package starts at $8,500. Other amenities can be added for additional cost.

While Siennas are certainly small vehicles, many single travelers and even couples find that they are spacious enough for part- or full-time travel. If you have a Sienna or other similar style minivan that you want converted, the folks at Oasis Campervans will get you on the production schedule after you make a 50% deposit.

Of course, you can opt to DIY your Sienna conversion as well. With all the seats removed, you have a surprising amount of space to work with. An older model Sienna can be purchased quite affordably, and especially if you opt to DIY, you can have a fully functional campervan on a limited budget.

More info: oasiscampervans.com

2. Peace Vans – Mercedes Metris Conversion

 

Mercedes has recently announced that they will be offering a pop-top camper van that is built in their factory and sold to the American public. They have partnered with Peace Vans in Seattle to create ready-to-go campers that can seat up to five and sleep up to four people.

This is the first time since 2003 that consumers will be able to buy a pop-top camper from a manufacturer, instead of having to have aftermarket parts added as part of a campervan conversion process.

Until then, Peace Vans has tons of converted Metris vans and other similar small campervans available for purchase or rent, or they can convert a van that you already own. Pop-tops make these relatively small vans liveable by allowing you to stand inside and sleep in the loft, which frees up interior space for other amenities. 

Peace Vans offers a few different conversion packages, such as the full camper conversion package which starts at $39,995 (not including the cost of the van) and includes installing a pop-top, an integrated cooktop, refrigerator, sink and running water, storage, seating for five and sleeping for four. 

They also offer a weekender package that starts at $24,995 (also not including the cost of the van) and includes a pop-top, a fold-flat rear seat and a custom table.

Finally, you can opt just to have them install a pop-top on your Metris, which starts at $10,995, and then you can do whatever you like with the increased interior space.

When the Mercedes/Peace Vans manufactured campervan becomes available, it will include the pop-top, privacy curtains, a modular seating/bedding solution with rotating front seats, a house battery to power an ARB-style fridge, and a rear receiver hitch.

Other possible upgrades and amenities that may be available include solar panels, a touchscreen navigation unit, an 8-foot awning, swing-out rear doors, a pullout rear kitchen, a lift kit, and more.

While the Metris isn’t as big as a Sprinter van, it is one of the larger vehicles on our list today. However, when the pop-top is not deployed, the Metris can still fit into a standard garage.

More info: peacevansmodern.com

3. Recon Campers – Nissan NV 200 Conversion

 

Despite the diminutive look of the Nissan NV 200, it can seat and sleep four people, when it has a pop-top and convertible rear seat/bed. Recon Campers offers a few different packages for converting NV 200s. The first is the cleverly named Envy package, which starts at $29,950 (does not include the van) and includes all the amenities of an RV.

It features a pop-top, an upper and lower bed, custom furniture, a closet, pantry, sink, fridge, outdoor shower, and more. With the Envy package, you can go off the grid for three days before it becomes necessary to charge up the battery bank, either with solar panels or by turning on the van and using the alternator.

Recon Campers also offers a Weekender package, starting at $18,000 (not including the van), and it does not include the cabinetry that comes with Envy package, although it still has the pop-top and upper and lower bed. This leaves more interior room for hauling large pieces of sports equipment like skis or bikes.

Finally, Recon Campers also offers a pop-top only option, which starts at $7,500. This provides a great base for a DIY NV 200 camper.

More info: reconcampers.com

4. Blue Ridge Adventure Vehicles – Ford Transit Connect Conversion

 

If you are looking for a company to convert your Ford Transit Connect, Blue Ridge Adventure Vehicles offers conversion packages. They have several different conversions shown in their gallery, and since each conversion is custom, their pricing varies dramatically depending on which options you select. They have a price sheet as an estimation tool available on their website.

More info: blueridgeadventurevehicles.com

So far we have highlighted companies that convert small campervans, but I was fortunate enough to be able to speak with Brianna Kocka, a singer-songwriter from Minneapolis, who frequently goes on tour in Van Wilder, her 2012 Ford Transit Connect XLT. She provided some amazing insight into choosing and part-time living in a small campervan through a Q&A session:

Why did you choose this vehicle over all others?

I picked my Transit Connect for a few reasons. Firstly, it’s incredibly compact. When I’m not on the road I live in the city, so it’s important for me to be able to park anywhere I want. It’s also my daily driver, so being able to get reasonably good gas mileage while in the city is important to me.

Second, it’s an extremely common work van, so it’s much easier to find shops that can service it in a pinch (and it’s inevitable that at some point, you’re going to need to drop some serious money into your van).

Finally, it’s a really stealthy van. The majority of nights I’ve slept in it have been in Walmart parking lots while on tour (check out my music at briannakocka.com!), and no one seems to think twice about it being parked there. It can be a bit more obvious that a person lives/sleeps in their vehicle when you’re in a bigger van or RV, so having something a bit more stealthy lowers the chances of having it broken into, or being bothered by the police.”

via – @briannakocka

How many people can sleep in your camper?

You can fit two people comfortably, but it’s really quite a snuggle!”

Did you buy it pre-converted, DIY, or have a company convert it?

“I bought Van Wilder pre-converted.”

What kinds of amenities are in your van?

Van Wilder is a work in progress, so I’d say my van is lovingly half-converted. I have a very basic set up: two cubbies to store gear in, as well as a bench that converts into a full size bed with storage underneath.

After contemplating installing a secondary battery and Maxx Fan, I decided to skip those features for safety reasons (mainly off-gassing of the battery and not feeling comfortable with any venting plan I’d come across), and instead have made great magnetic mosquito netting for the windows for summer sleeping.

I hope to install tongue-in-groove walls, as well as some shelving this summer. I also hand sewed my curtains to block light from the windshield while I’m sleeping.”

via – @briannakocka

What are some pros and cons of your camper?

Pros include that this campervan is extremely agile: it’ll fit in a tight spot when you need it. But that also means you can’t do as much with it as you might want. The engine is very small, it has low wheel clearance, and Transits are also known for having brake issues.

This is a great tour van for a solo musician, and great for a weekender camper situation, but I’m not sure I’d ever want to do full time van life in this little guy.”

Do you have any advice for people considering a small campervan?

If you’re considering a small campervan, it’s worth really thinking about what you are trying to do with it. Because Transit Connects are so small, if you plan to do the build out yourself, order of operations for the build is extremely important. But don’t let that stop you from giving it a go!

The best way to learn with these vans is by doing, and that means messing up a few times (I’ve already done one re-build of my bed system in the back). If you want to save time and not give yourself a headache about your build out, it’s worth considering hiring someone to help—it may be more expensive but the results I’ve seen are beautiful. Finally, just have fun with it!

These vans are meant to be your adventure mobile, so don’t forget to let them be what they are: a tool for you to get going where you want, when you want.”

5. Fifth Element Camping – Honda Element Conversion

 

Honda Elements are also very popular for conversion into small campervans. Fifth Element Camping offers modular systems that can easily be installed and removed to transition your element between camper and daily driver. 

More info: fifthelementcamping.com

If you’d rather go the DIY route, you’ll love this Q&A I had with two owners, Brian and Phoenix, about their Element camper conversions:

What year is your Element?

Brian: 2003 Element EX 4WD

via – @wherestheelement

Phoenix: 2005 Element EX in Rallye Red, named Pokeball

via – @pokeballex

Why did you choose this vehicle over all others?

Brian: “Gas mileage, compact, price, has 4WD, the doors open wide, has a tail gate like a truck and a hatch like a van with plenty of room in the rear for a bed and storage. Very reliable, you can find Honda parts at any part store. Also I blend into towns better. I feel big or small white vans are targeted now.”

Phoenix: “The Element was always my dream car, for its reliability and versatility.”

How many people can sleep in your camper?

Brian: 2

Phoenix: “My rig is set up for a single person and a dog. It has the ability to sleep two if needed. It has a mattress and hammock inside.”

Did you buy it pre-converted, DIY, or have a company convert it?

Brian: “DIY.”

Brian also has a YouTube video about his conversion:

 

Phoenix: “I purchased my E used, and converted it myself over a 5-year evolution.”

What are some pros and cons of your camper?

Brian: “Pros: Small, good on gas, 4WD, utilitarian. Cons: It’s too small to really hang out in during the day like a van and can’t really cook inside, depends on your setup but it’s still very snug. So usually I’ll be at a coffee shop or hiking mid day.”

Phoenix: “Pros: stealth camper, fits in one parking space, good on gas, reliable, amazing community of Element owners, easy to work on. Cons: expensive to maintain with Honda parts and fluids, can’t stand up in camper, space is an issue but I’ve adapted to make it work.”

Do you have any advice for people considering a small campervan?

Brian: “4WD if you plan to do any dirt roads. If you move around a lot like I do, gas mileage will be a priority. Don’t over-design, keeping it as minimal as possible seems to be the best way to avoid the lengthy bedtime struggles of moving things.”

Brian’s cooking setup. via – @wherestheelement

Phoenix: “Biggest piece of advice is make sure you are buying a sound vehicle before you buy. You’ll put a lot of miles on it and will need to do more maintenance more often. Approach a small build out with a minimal attitude. Less is more, you will go through phases of adding and taking away mods.”

Phoenix also provided a list of the camping mods on Pokeball:  “On the front, factory fog lights, bull bar with fishing rod holder and 3 rods. Yakima Slim Shady awning and Yakima Space Cadet cargo box on OEM roof rails. Trunk mounted bike carrier with custom “rust proof” bike build on the back, tow hitch with cargo carrier and cargo box bolted down.

Interior has a fold away sink custom plumbed to a 1-gallon big sprayer for a pressurized system, attached to a normal house side tap. Hanging storage everywhere, hammock from two farthest parts of the interior, 12V fans, solar lighting, cooler for holding dry goods, no refrigeration, foam mattress and 0-degree sleeping bag for cold nights.

The majority of my outside storage is dedicated to holding tools and parts, I’m a mobile mechanic.”

Sadly, Phoenix and Pokeball were recently in an accident in which the Element was totaled, so while this is an homage to Pokeball (RIP), Phoenix has plans to start over with a new Element as soon as possible.

6. Contravans – Dodge Promaster City Conversion

 

The Promaster City is the little brother of the standard Promaster, offering better gas mileage and maneuverability in exchange for less interior room.

Contravans offers some incredible conversion packages for Promaster City vans that include memory foam beds, finished wall and ceiling panels, remote-controlled vent fan, house electrical system with a 100Ah battery bank, LED interior lights, and tons of storage options. Other available accessories include all kinds of racks, awnings, and exterior storage, beefier insulation, and optional solar panels. 

Contravans conversions are beautiful with a light and airy interior feel and clean lines that maximize space efficiency. A 50% deposit reserves your space in the production lineup and prices vary by the conversion package and finishes that you select.

More info: contravans.com

7. VW Westfalia

 

VW Westfalias are the classic small campervan, and it’s possible to still find 35-plus-year-old relics that are incredibly still driving and functioning. They can certainly be expensive to maintain for this length of time, but the classic pop-top and interior setup have provided the foundation for today’s new generation of small campervans and these retro vans are making a resurgence.

There’s certainly a reason that they are still on the road after so much time!

More info: westfaliasforsale.com

 

Up Next In Campervans:

10 Best Ford Transit Van Conversion Companies

What do I Need for Vanlife? 25 Essentials for Life on the Road

How Much Does it Cost to Put a Pop Top on a Van?

How To Shower When You Live In a Van

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