If the thought of #vanlife appeals to you but you don’t have the desire to make everything from scratch and you’re wary of a high mileage used van that someone else has pooped in I have good news. A company called VanLab has started producing IKEA-like kits that can transform a regular van into a camper for prices starting at $5k and with no complex work required.
Many of you were interested in the Airstream Rangeline RV but bristled at the price, which is reasonable compared to the competition but is certainly high for someone who can do any bit of work themselves.
This is, essentially, a flat-pack-like DIY kit that is designed specifically for whatever van you’re using as a base (more on that in a minute). The interesting thing about this is that they’re also apparently reversible, so if you have a van you want to use for non-camper activities you can take everything out.
Conceptually, it’s very similar to the Happier Camper Adaptiv system that offers a high degree of modularity in order to double up sleeping/camping spaces (but those start at around $30,000). The difference with the VanLab version is that each kit is specifically designed for the van so there aren’t many options.
VanLab’s kits use birch plywood and have a nice, modern, clean look. There’s a kitchen area, which comes either with cutouts for a sink and fridge or with a big flat space. If you want to install your own battery (probably a good idea) they’ll also pre-wire it for you.
In the rear there’s the typical platform bed with storage underneath. There’s room for bits that you might want, including a water tanks, and a nice bench for when you’re hanging out with friends or reading/working.
This timelapse of someone building one shows how relatively simple it is and is also deeply satisfying. A slower version of it is here:
This timelapse appears to be of an NV200 or Chevy Express, which is one of three vans offered and starts at $4,750 without the integrated wiring loom (chuck on another $1,250 for that). They also offer it for the Mercedes Sprinter 144 ($8,995 unwired) and the big-boy Ford Transit Cargo or Transit Crew ($8,995 unwired).
Having slept in a stock Sprinter van on a cold race track morning, the fact that the larger vans add not only a lot of useful space but also a layer of insulation is pretty killer.
If you like, VanLab will assemble one of these for you for $1,750, but it looks like it can be done easily in a day and I think it’s beneficial for the owner to think about what they want to do with the van and install things like water tanks and refrigerators as they assemble it.
Price of the van aside, it looks like with a huge battery ($1,399), Dometic fridge ($615), cooler ($219), sink ($97), and water tank ($131), you’re pretty much there for about $2,500 on top of everything else.
Since I’m nowhere near being able to afford the Airstream of my dreams, this already has me on Craigslist looking for used Transits and Sprinters. At this price-point it’s competitive with a lot of traditional towable campers, other than maybe those purchased while inebriated.
Just save up a little money and you, too, can look like one of those moody hipsters on a laptop drinking expensive coffee and contemplating life trapped inside a sepia-tone filter.
All images via VanLab