Camper Van

I am interested in putting together a basic camper van built from a standard cargo van. Plan would be to use as much of my standard canoe camping gear as possible for the internal systems and then be able to remove them for use when camping out of the canoe. This will also be my only vehicle so I am trying to keep the modifications as simple as possible.

My basic ideas:

Sleeping - Simple cot with my standard sleeping pads and sleeping bag.

Cooking - Couple of gas canister stoves sitting on some sort of roll up table that was small enough to fit in canoe.

Storage - Simple plastic bins

Refrigeration - One of the multi-day ice coolers.

What I do not know much about and would like some help with is:

1.Insulating the interior - Have read some things about problems with trapping condensation. Is it prudent to put some soundproofing on before the insulation?

2.Ventilation - Do I really need sliding windows and/or some type of roof ventilation fan?

3.Electrical system - Really would like to have a way to use 110V power in campgrounds and to have auxillary power (12v and 110v) for at least short boondocking times. Main concern with a simple extension cord is way to keep out mosquitos/black flies and rain if cord is run through window opening.

Any information on these topics or reference sources for them would be appreciated. Also any “Don’t make this silly mistake” suggestions would be useful since I have never used anything even close to a camper.


Expedition Portal
The folks at the Expedition Portal have posted hundreds of photos and threads about converting all kinds of vehicles. Browse their extensive forum list at

Here’s a thread about drawer systems:


– Last Updated: May-30-14 9:29 PM EST –

I feel baited.

I sleep in a van doing biology field research. The yokels who run this gig know that.

Buy a Ford with LSD rear axle. Use Toyo A/T tires, Bilstein shocks and a Hellwig rear bar. A stock van delivers, doesn’t drive over the Sierra. With shocks and bar over you go.

Use an Odyssey battery ordered for your model, Optima deep charge batts (2) with a Whistler inverter over the rear axle with 8 Ga wire/fuses….from Summit Racing.

110Ac to DC is expensive.

Stock alternators are borderline….buy a 200Amp unit from Summit.

Fords need turning lights.

Buy a tire air compressor.
Add extra hose from McMaster Carr. Buy a battery powered drill and bits. ¼” pilot head bits are used with your tire repair kit. Drill out punkchur hole to fit plug.

On lug nuts, use a quality six point deep reach socket with half inch ratchet and a 2’ steel water pipe to fit the ratchette handle…beat it flat a bit with a 10 pound hammer. Screw together a jack platform of 3 2x4x18” cover with painted ½” plywood. Keep extra blocks handy for jack elevation and a tarp. Blown out air mattresses are cool.

Pack a full size spade and crow bars small and large. Tool kit, electrical tape…..$15 duct tape.

Use rainex. Apply with grocery bagged hand on cleaned windshield. You will find many water supplies are not filtered leaving dirt on glass. Filtered store bought water is inevitable as a final rinse.

Buy a radio/amp/bookshelf speakers from Sonic Electronics and a subscription from the twerps at XM.

Grand trips are made with XM....'LIVE Munich' rolling down 1 toward California, 'Spa' rolling up Baja thru cactus country.

Equip your big screen laptop with GPS. Laptop sits on a removable shelf atop the doghouse. Secure without question.

A platform roof rack is usefull. Sleep on it, vantage, watch birds, store garbage, generator, work on boat.

I’ll post photos … van’s rain gutters take Quick n Easy rack clamps. The roof rack shades the van’s metal roof. A rack mounts driving lamps.

I sleep in the front. Windows have netting from Seattle Fabrics. Netting goes on with masking tape, also useful for all door seams before sundown in truly buggy areas.

The front is nice. Glass to sky, off ground, dry dry dry. A 3/8th’s A/B plywood interspacer twen seats, supported here at the back by the mtal cargo partition. There’s a hospital fan from Holmes.

The cargo area is a vacuum cleaner sucking crap including agricultural dusts and dirt, industrial poisons, oil, tar dead animals particles…off the road into the van.

Not only do you not sleep there unless sealed off from the outside but you need to seal the cargo from the front if sleeping in front.

I have a squirrel cage fan to exhaust the cargo area.

An Omega alarm system. Shock sensors on every door, stalk mounted radar back of cargo doors, one radar in front between seats. There are 4 sirens, 2 on roof. The Psycho fits in a Walmart flour scoop. Use diodes from Allied for multipower and wire the alarm ‘warning’ to always on ‘siren.’

Consider inside lock bars to link doors unopenable.

Disable the emergency pull systems inside front doors.

Build a full length shelf for two tier storage for cargo. Three rectangular box frames front, rear, before rear wells linked with flat 1x4” both sides bottom, flat laid 2x4 top, angle brace left side, brace right side leaving area before doors open. Paint quality 1/2' sheathing plywood well before install. Wal's best exterior paint is OK. Paint the rain gutter, clean out the box under that windshield hood cover.

Costs $600/gas drive up the coast.

Happy motoring ! I’m the van with kayak and maroon canoe passing you on the grass.

More Getcha…

Something is always left out…air horns ! Installed motorcycle air horns from Wolo under the hood’s front lip. These horns caws large hoofed animals to reconsider at the berm. tested at Sequim/Dungeness.

Backup lights mounted on the roof rack. A backup squealer ( Sonic ) and here there’s a backup sounder warning in Spanish. Mounted inside.

Use bug traps.

Not THE ULTIMATE HAULER but we place.

Yes more $$$
Ctek battery chargers, one each deep charge Optima, from Summit.

Laptops and whatever, have ID units communicating with proprietary inverters. No add on DC inputs. Charge the Optima DC from motor, power Whistler DC to AC, run AC back forward with 15 amp extension cord to proprietary AC to DC…whew…inverter powering laptop.

Or buy an air mattress.

I work out of an area saturated with RV. Mercedes camper owners are envied. I doahn know why after finding the rig rolls on one leaf spring. Have spoken with Merc owners buying their 100K used rigs after driving thousands of miles to check the unit out !

OTOH, I stop n speak with cross country cyclists, handing out RB and Cliff bars doing an interview with emailable photos…not once has a cyclist envied the van !

They drool over the kayak.

I lost your address.

Condensation and soundproofing

– Last Updated: May-30-14 9:01 PM EST –

Sounds like a fun project, and even more fun when it's ready to roll. I've never owned a camper van but have some thoughts from lots of camping in the back of my truck, using just a topper and camping gear. Also, my husband and I often camped out of the back of his Tahoe, and I've camped from rented minivans and SUVs.

You will probably want soundproofing. There is a noticeable difference in both sound deadening and insulation between truck-bed-topper camping and camping in the back of SUVs and minivans, which have things like carpeting and seats that truck beds do not. SUVs and vans also have better seals/gaskets around the doors and windows (than truck toppers do), which helps with soundproofing.

Cargo vans are more skeletal behind the front seats and more closely resemble truck beds in that respect. Yup, add insulation. Even though my topper has a fuzzy liner covering the fiberglass walls and ceiling, it's not the same as having thicker insulation.

I can't answer your question about whether soundproofing goes on before insulation, but a homebuilder should be able to answer that one.

There is a nice product made for truck beds that you might be able to get for a cargo van. I think it's called Bed Rug. It's made of stiff polypropylene and the cross section looks like closed-cell foam with a fuzzy surface. It could be obtained for just the floor or both floor and bed sides. Expensive, but it should be hydrophobic, which is a good thing for a paddler/camper. It was designed to be placed directly on a truck bed. I don't see why you could not cut and install a plywood raised floor and put the Bed Rug on top of that, though. You could get storage room underneath as well as air space that way.

I knew a couple who slept in their minivan, thanks to rigging up PVC posts and plywood over their gear: instant top floor and gear-hider.

Living in a humid area, you will want good ventilation. Get it wherever you can. Sliders are really nice because they come with bug screens.

As for running an extension line without letting bugs in, maybe you could have someone cut a small hole in the sheetmetal in back, line it with rubber or silicone, and put a firm "donut" (maybe with a bellows) in that to allow a cord to pass through without gaps. When you pull the cord inside for driving, plug the donut. I'm sure this has been done before. Maybe you could visit an RV shop and ask to look at how they run lines to the outside.

Link for cargo van BedRug

I’m going to check if they have made a liner to fit my truck by now.

We converted a Ford Econoline back in 77 during the heyday of Van Shows and conversions. At that time there were companies that sold patterns for paneling the walls. We insulated the walls, and covered it with black tufted vinyl over foam. We put foam on the floor and covered it with carpet. We covered the windows with sliding curtains and put one between the rear and the front seats. We made a pull out couch out of plywood that had storage underneath. We covered it with two thick foam mats. We purchased a table kit that was a tube that slipped into two holders, one that was screwed to the floor and the other to the bottom of a tabletop we made. It fit between the 2 front seats. We had left a spot for our cooler at the end of the couch. We didn’t do any electric other than using an extension cord thru the window. The screening sounds like a great idea. If you built the floor slightly raised you could store paddles, fishing poles etc underneath.

have you picked the van yet?

– Last Updated: May-31-14 12:12 AM EST –

Start there and be thoughtful about it. Make, MPG, types of roads it'll see use on and types of roads it won't have to be used for; whether you need to tow with it or not, and how much; parts availability and costs, how long you plan to keep it. Start at the beginning, you don't want to end up with lipstick on a pig.

I hear people saying fullsize ford, and I don't know what use it'll see but you said it'll be your only vehicle. For my money and use I'd be checking out the old Toyota Previa "egg" van. People have made all sorts of campers with it, it's AWD, it's cavernous, and, well, it's a Toyota.

Rented a Previa. Outstanding vehicle ! Large Mini…handled stopped hauled cruised…super.

Too small. If you ask these owners what…too small is common. Of course the van is not ‘too small’ yet the smallness irritates people…mainly caws they can’t get enough stuff in. Lack of effective organization skills ? Impatience ?

The space is like a day pack vs a backpack with the Ford.

No doubt an excellent hauler with mileage but using average standards, you may need to adapt to the van not adapt the van to you.

Older Previa are no longer seen here in warm country where older Econolines are often seen.

An AWD Sienna with roof rack and 300hp would go…

turbo !
but where does the hull go ?

Take a look at the VW Eurovan as a model–Winnebago modified a stock VW delivery van. I have a 1997: fabulous.

Go Westy is the go to place for all thing VW Bus. Many of the gadgets you’d want for your conversion could potentially be adapted from the bus world…

Good luck on the project…

I’ve been considering the same thing
I found this site with some interesting info

site has a Synchro review. If you go for this try the Land Rover’s Club video’s ! pip pip ! The oil field crew.

San Juan Island Park is a stop thru for the Software Ford E250 4WD Camper going to Slave Lake crews. Too much !

The camping van idea is hauling equipment not a motel room.

Rosewood burl cabinets doahn hike or yak across Washington or Hi Sierra.

The van provides utilities not a comfy place for watching TV.

Like you doahn wanna look stupid right ? Man up !

I did what you’re thinking about
twenty years ago. I still have the van. I wouldn’t do it again like I did. I’d buy a simple passenger van with seats that can be folded into a bed. That will give you all the insulation, window etc. without having to do anything. Then you can modify that. The main problem with a cargo van is windows. I really regret putting in my own windows since after awhile they started leaking and continue leaking all these years later.

Thanks to everyone

– Last Updated: May-31-14 10:27 PM EST –

Got some great ideas and some neat resources for more information.

If I follow through I will post some pictures.


take a look at the cu. ft.
It’s not small, it’s larger than a VW van inside.

Ford transit!
You gotta do it dave.

good source for miscellaneous parts
I’m in the midst of restoring a 1977 mini motorhome and found this good source for miscellaneous parts for outfitting a vehicle. Might be some useful stuff on there for you.