Home » The Clever And Easy Way To Turn Your Van Into A Camper For Less Than $10,000

The Clever And Easy Way To Turn Your Van Into A Camper For Less Than $10,000

Diy Flatpack

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.

Diy Vanlab 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.

Enter VanLab.

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.

Vanlabinterior

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.

Vanlabinteriorlayout

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.

Vanllab Layingdown

All images via VanLab

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40 Responses

  1. I think it would be awesome if they developed some RV furniture kits that you could use in a custom trailer or cargo trailer. With the mainstream towables being built so crappy, there could be a market for IKEA-like furniture in both a small form factor (like homebuilt teardrops) and large form factor. Make simple beds, convertible furniture, or cabinets and I could build myself a really nice 22′ camper for the family at a fraction of the ready built ones.

  2. This looks more reasonable than a factory built van, and decent materials. I’d be more interested build plans and maybe a hardware pack to roll my own. A table saw, jig saw, drill hand tools and Sketch Up gives you the means to build out a van, and then it’s just time and materials

  3. This stuff looks like a bigger version of children’s play furniture you see in elementary school classrooms but with considerably worse fit and finish. For $5000 I’d expect at least a couple coats of lacquer to half ass waterproof the wood, especially since this is all CNC and the only material costs are plywood. If you get this either waterproof your toys or make sure they don’t get wet.

  4. Ok. Where’s the kit for my Mazda5?
    Nevermind, I already have it figured out.
    I have an imagination and own a jigsaw. I don’t need any of this crap.

    Side note: So much space, comfort and time is wasted on having a bed in an RV. Hammock’s are a simple, comfortable, space saving solution.

    Fuck this IKEA RV. It’s just expensive furniture wrapped in an adventurous looking package.

    You don’t need as much as you think you do. Make your own damn van.

    “I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.”

  5. A less janky and cheaper RV? Well, there go all the vans.

    This has appeal. A high roof Transit with a shower and toilet plus one of these would make a great cheapish “class B” style motorhome. Cheap compared to a $100k ready-made class B.

  6. The design and aesthetic of these kits are exactly what I have been looking for. Everything I have seen thus far is bulky, macho, ugly and unappealing, AND double the price. These kits are European minimalist sophistication. Show me something else that offers this style and price point? (I can’t afford custom and I’m no good with a jigsaw or power tools!)

  7. Having built out a van, I think constructing the wall coverings is the toughest part. Those aren’t included.

    I don’t hate this, though. They’ve figured out the headaches and done all the cutting.

  8. I like this. I have no desire to spend time in it, but I appreciate a well thought-out product.

    These things always seem to prioritize kitchens over bathrooms. I very much appreciate a comfortable, clean bathroom (I’m even flexible on the comfort, considering it’s a van and compromises must be made).

    If it comes down to it, I would much rather improvise a food preparation area than a bathroom.

        1. Just think about the engineering for a second.

          I had a slide in camper. The sink had a little squeeze hand pump, you could slide one of those Walmart jerry cans to pump from and it had a little dumpable grey water tank under the faucet. Very simple.

          Shower/toilet setup? You need gallons of water from a storage tank. Substantial electric pump – so you’ll need 12V from somewhere. Black water and grey recovery tanks which all need to be positioned underneath the entire system for gravity. Since you need vertical room you’d need to go through the floor for the plumbing. Interior needs to be sealed or you’ll have mold issues. You’ll also need propane water heater capable of heating the shower water and plumb hot/cold sides.

          Way easier to make a little flat pack table/stove combo that can be slid in/out. It’s not a dig, it’s just the reality.

      1. Those type of campsites really aren’t far off the beaten path. If I’m going to do that kind of camping, I may as well just drive a normal car and stay at a hotel. The cost of this kit would cover quite a few hotel nights even without the van.

  9. As someone who has done a lot of cabinet making, I really appreciate modern CNC machines and how they have become easier to access. Accurately cut parts are a huge step up from even carefully cut parts on a table saw. Add to that good CAD software to help lay it all out. Big difference.

    I wonder, though, if there would be better composite materials than plywood. Don’t get me wrong. Plywood is amazing, but there are some thinner lighter composites at also would be better at resisting mould in spaces like a camper.

    1. If they use Baltic birch it a huge step up from regular crappy birch ply. That said, some of the recycled plastic like Loll uses in their furniture would be amazing.

    2. Maybe marine-grade plywood (but way too $$$$) or some elbow grease applied to a can of spar urethane (as long as you know what you’re doing, so you don’t have a permanently sticky van, or at least sticky because of what you did to the furniture).

  10. The whole time I’m reading this I’m trying to figure our who the heck would want something like this and who their target market is. Then I got to the last image and was like, oh yeah. There it is. Scraggly beard, bare feet, Apple laptop, van. I get it now.

    1. I think the target market is exactly who it says no? People who don’t have the skill-set to convert their own van but also don’t have the money to pay someone else to do a custom? The website says it’s delivered flat-pack to you so I’m guessing it also means you could receive it quickly and looks real easy to screw together.

    2. I can tell you that there are plenty of my friends who have lived in a Sprinter over the last 5 years. If you have no kids, and enjoy the outdoors, it seems to have a lot of people interested. One set of friends are both traveling nurses, so they use it as a kind of home base. Not my thing, but I would love to borrow their van for a couple summer trips.

    3. “Who the heck” would want this is anyone who knows how to use a screwdriver and also wants a new camper van with decent build quality for less than the price of a house, I’m not sure why that’s confusing.

      If you do a lot of travel camping – which is pretty common in the Western US – this seems like a great way to get into it cheaply while ending up with a comfortable sleeping space.

    4. I’ve had a few friends who’ve built their own versions of this, mostly it’s so that they can take their families camping, but I’ve also had friends who lived in a van full time, because it’s cheaper than renting a house.
      In particular I have a friend who’s a really good carpenter, and he has built a whole kit that he can use to convert his work van (a VW Transporter) into a camper, and then back to a work van when the holiday is over.

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