One of the niches you’ll find in the camping world is the stealth camper. As the name suggests, some people will build a camper that looks like a regular work van or box truck on the outside but features a cozy home on the inside. I found one of these that appears to be a brilliant example of the concept. Someone converted this 2001 GMC Savana 3500 box truck into a camper and it’s a home inside while maintaining a work truck look outside.
Now, some of you may have the immediate question “Why?” Why would you go through the work of building a camper just to make it look like you’re a plumber or a roofer? The stealth camper is pretty much the exact opposite of the pretty campers plastered all over TikTok and Instagram. The idea with a stealth camper is to allow the owner to fly under the radar and not draw attention to themselves. If you see a van parked on a city street with a roof air-conditioner and camper-style windows, you will probably guess that someone is living inside. But if you see a plain box truck parked on a street, you probably won’t think anything of it.
Some vanlifers believe that by having a stealth build, they can get away with parking their rigs in places where a camper might not be welcome, but a work vehicle might be. For example, a camper van would look out of place near an industrial park, but a box truck looks the part. There are entire guides dedicated to what vehicles to choose for stealth builds, how your vehicle should look, proper etiquette, and where stealth campers may be able to park for the night.
Just Another Box Truck
When it comes to the idea of stealth camping, I think this 2001 GMC Savana 3500 box truck hits just the right spot. If I saw this truck parked in my neighborhood, I would assume that there was repair work going on. If this were parked in one of the lots in the corporate parkway directly behind my apartment complex, I probably wouldn’t even notice it was there. That’s the magic of a build like this.
This camper started life as a 2001 GMC Savana chassis cab with a box on the back. The seller doesn’t note what powertrain it has, but assuming the listing’s specs section says the fuel type is gasoline. That selection is sometimes chosen in error, but if accurate, power is coming from a 5.7-liter V8 making 255 HP and 330 lb-ft torque. That drives a set of dual rear wheels through a four-speed automatic.
The body of the truck looks like that of a work vehicle. Its paint isn’t perfect, it has a few dents, and behind the cab is a big box that looks ready to go to a worksite. Basically, it looks like it has the 201,000 miles that are noted in the listing. Even the roof deck looks the part. I’ve seen trucks like these carrying ladders and pipes on their roofs.
The only part that doesn’t look exactly right is the rear, which has corrugated metal in place of a roller door. Though, I’ve even seen that before on specialized box trucks. In this case, there isn’t a roller door, but there is a split door that folds open, revealing the camper’s interior. Sadly, we don’t get a view of what it looks like with the door closed.
The opened door reveals a porch, which is a nice touch. From there, you walk through the door and right into the bedroom, which has a double bed. The seller says that the interior has a 7-foot-tall ceiling, which is better than many of the factory-built campers you can buy at this price range.
Forward of the bed is a small cooking area, which features electric cooking appliances, a sink with running water, and a wood countertop. The seller says that there are a lot of storage areas from the sink’s cabinets to under-bed storage and the bins forward of the kitchen.
In terms of power, the camper sports residential outlets, LED lighting, and 1000W of slim solar panels on the roof. The listing says that additional goodies come in the form of an internet router, a diesel-powered heater, and an app for the solar power system that allows you to monitor voltage. The seller doesn’t state how large the house battery is or how big the water tanks are, but I do spot a refrigerator and even a safe for your important belongings.
The cab of the camper looks like your standard-fare GMC Savana. This makes sense. I could see adding a better stereo and maybe better seats, but too much more and it stops looking like a work truck to someone passing by.
Stealth Has Its Limits
Of course, there are limitations to the stealth camper idea. When I drove around Florida during the 2023 Florida RV SuperShow, I often ran across rows of custom campers parked outside of interstate rest areas. A few of the campers were clearly stealth builds, but there’s no stealth when you’re parked among skoolies and camper vans. You also have to be mindful of where you park.
Someone might call the police if they saw a random white van or box truck parked in front of their house, but few people will bat an eye at a work truck parked at a Walmart. At the same time, a box truck on a beach looks weird, but a camper van wouldn’t. Additional stress can come in the form of a campground that doesn’t allow unorthodox builds like these. So, stealth isn’t a perfect solution.
Another detail I’ve noticed is that those who go with a stealth camper have to make concessions. You’ve already noticed that this camper doesn’t have any windows, air vents, stickers, outside outlets, or any other easily visible element that you might find on the exterior of a camper.
The whole point is that the vehicle is supposed to look like a normal work vehicle on the outside. But that may mean giving up on some sunlight, ventilation, and style. That said, this camper seems to do the stealth rick better than some of the others I’ve written about.
If camping out of a box truck seems right for you, this 2001 GMC Savana 3500 camper build is listed for $18,000 out in Bend, Oregon. Given the price of new RVs today, the price doesn’t seem outrageous.
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My wife actually found this on Facebook Friday night while we were idly searching for vans. It helped that we live in Bend, so Craigslist hat over 200 hits on “van”. She thought the interior was cute but wants windows.
We are thinking a JDM Toyota HiAce Cruising Cabin is the sweet spot for us since it’s effectively a more modern and less expensive Vanagon Westfalia with more power and good AC.
An interesting variation on this is an old fiber optic cable splicing truck. These have some windows and more camper like doors as well as insulation and HVAC in the box. There’s usually two small hatches for the fiber optic cable that would be ideal for concealing hook ups. There’s one of these in town that still looks industrial apart from the bike rack.