Ready to dive into van life but not sure which van to buy? We’ll walk you through the best vans for van life to get you out on the road!
Choosing the best vehicle for your van life conversion is one of the most important aspects of your entire adventure on the road. Before you get too deep into researching what it’s like to live in a van, you need to spend time figuring out which van is best for you.
After all, it’s going to be your home on the road for the duration of your travels so it needs to be the right fit. Just as buying your perfect forever home isn’t an instant process, so too should choosing the right van.
There are so many options out there for conversion vans, depending on what you’re looking to get out of your van. Although we opted for Marlee, our pre-built Sprinter Van, you may be interested in a cargo van that you can build out yourself.
Or you may want or need a large van that is comfortable and suitable for multiple people, such as a small family and a dog. Or maybe you want a compact van that can pack a lot into a small space and give you loads of stealth camping opportunities.
76.7" - 79.1"
144" - 170"
132" - 189"
56.9" - 81.5"
130" - 148"
115" - 162"
Dodge Ram Promaster
66.3" - 77.1"
118" - 159"
106" - 160"
55.8" - 76.9"
52.9" - 53.4"
135" - 155"
126" - 173"
Varies (only used models)
53.9" - 54.2"
121" - 142"
Whatever it is you’re after, there is an option out there to suit your needs. This post aims at exploring the best vans for van life available to you in order to help you find the right starting point for your home on wheels.
Let’s dive in and get exploring!
The Best Vans for Van Life
We’ve selected a hand-picked list of the top options for conversion vans. They are some of the most popular tried and true vans that have stood the test of time and have served many a van lifer on their travels. Each has its own pros and cons, depending on your needs and what you’re looking to get out of your van.
Camper vans can be converted from just about any base vehicle, whether a cargo van, a passenger van or even an old school bus. The options are only limited by your imagination, and sometimes your ability – but don’t let that turn you off from building out a van!
There are also many conversion companies out there that can transform a simple old van into your dream mobile home.
Let’s start the list with one of the most popular and well-known vans — the Mercedes Sprinter.
144" - 170"
130" - 148"
118" - 159"
233.3" - 289.8"
219.9" - 263.9"
195" - 250.9"
94.5" - 105.7"
82.2" - 110.4"
91.7" - 105.9"
48.8" - 79.3"
49.7" - 76.0"
INTERIOR STANDING ROOM
66.5" - 77.8"
56.9" - 81.5"
66" - 77"
132" - 189"
115" - 162"
106" - 160"
MAXIMUM CARGO VOLUME
319.1 - 530 Cu Ft
280.9 - 536.4 Cu Ft
259 - 463 Cu Ft
Rear Wheel Drive w/
Rear Wheel Drive w/
Front Wheel Drive
GAS TANK / MPG
25 Gal / 20 MPG
25 Gal / 16 MPG
24 Gal / 16 MPG
Mercedes Benz Sprinter
The Mercedes Benz Sprinter van is one of the most trusted vans on the market today, making them one of the best vans to live in. They are a well-known brand that can be found throughout the world and come in many different shapes, sizes and configurations.
Mercedes has been manufacturing cargo models for years and with such brand recognition in the van living, no doubt you’ll see a fair share of them on the road.
Sprinters have some of the largest living spaces by offering long wheelbases with extended options. Many of the models also have windows all around which provide a lot of natural light and natural ventilation.
Sprinter vans are incredibly durable and reliable as they are built with German precision. They can go and go and go for many thousands of kilometers, and then go some more. Because of this, they are one of the most used models by van lifers for conversions.
Mercedes Sprinter vans are generally quite spacious and many after-market parts are available for them, which scores more points. And because of their worldwide popularity, parts are available everywhere. This is particularly advantageous if you are looking to cover large distances across many countries and continents.
Related: Learn more about why we think the Mercedes Sprinter may be the best van for van life.
Related: Need some inspiration? Check out Anthony and Sharon’s build!
Dodge Ram ProMaster
Next up is the Dodge Ram ProMaster — one of the cargo vans that gives Mercedes Sprinter vans a run for their money. Like the Sprinter, it is the perfect van for those who wish to live in the van for a long period of time.
They are arguably the most popular van on the road now due to their ease of conversion and, more importantly, their lower cost. If you are interested in building out your own van, you’ll find loads of resources ranging from build guides to forums of proud and happy ProMaster owners.
One of the top-selling points of the ProMaster is the ample space in the back — enough so to house a full bed width ways. This means you are able to save on space, which is one of the biggest considerations when it comes to van life.
By saving on space, you have more room for other home comforts or appliances such as a shower, toilet or large kitchen area. And the ProMaster is also the “boxiest” of the conversion vans on the market, making it much easier to build out than other options on our list.
Another big draw card is that the ProMaster is a front-wheel drive cargo van, making it an easy van to drive, maneuver and park. And they handle well in areas where traction can be an issue – such as in sand or snow.
Related: Learn more about why we think the Dodge Promaster may be the best van for van life.
118” Wheelbase (STANDARD ROOF)
136” Wheelbase (STANDARD ROOF)
159” Wheelbase Extended Length (HIGH ROOF)
Interior Standing Room
Max Cargo Volume
259 Cu Ft
304 Cu Ft
353 Cu Ft
420 Cu Ft
463 Cu Ft
Related: Need some inspiration? Check out these great Promaster van builds:
The Ford Transit is often considered to be one of the best cargo vans to live in thanks to its trusted construction and worldwide popularity as a brand. After all, Ford was the first car manufacturer, so their workmanship is definitely trusted as they’ve stood the test of time.
It is also one of the few medium-wheel base vans on the market, which is an advantage for some as it is a little smaller and easier to maneuver. The good news for those who want more space is that there are long-wheelbase versions of the Ford Transit available. And for anyone over 6 feet tall, the Ford Transit offers the tallest roof height of any van on our list.
They’re also relatively easy vans to fit out internally given their shape. This means it’s an easier van to build out yourself without the need for professional help. Again, this saves you cash and it’s fun to fit out your own van.
Related: Learn more about why we think the Ford Transit may be the best van for van life.
The Nissan NV is one of the less-utilized cargo vans for conversions which makes it less conspicuous. This is ideal if you’re planning on doing a fair deal of stealth camping in urban areas — you’re less likely to get found out.
The shape of the Nissan NV cargo van means that there is a lot of extra space above the driver and passenger seats. This is every van lifer’s dream as every bit of extra space is welcomed. The factory standard storage can be taken out and you can construct your own storage unit, freeing up tons of extra space.
The Nissan NV cargo van is also priced on the low end compared to other camper vans, which automatically makes it one of the 4 best vans for van life.
Being Japanese-built, Nissan vehicles are extremely well-designed and reliable which is another huge plus for long-term van lifers. It’s like anything in life though — as long as you look after your van, your van will look after you. Regardless of which van you choose, you should always be servicing your van regularly to ensure it’s at its peak performance.
The Chevy Express is another one of the less-utilized vans for van life, which again makes it a stealthier option if you’re planning on being sneaky and spending time parked in residential areas.
They’re a pretty easy cargo van to come by and you don’t have to spend a fortune buying one. It’s also an incredibly versatile van that can be used for long-term travels or weekend getaways.
Oh, and they’re also a pleasure to drive. This is particularly important if you’re planning on spending large amounts of time on the road covering large distances.
The roof of the Chevy Express is unfortunately quite low, but this has both an upside and a downside. On the downside, this means that there is no standing headroom and the space is a bit limited. However, on the upside, this means that you will be able to access parking garages and other areas that have height restrictions.
Chevy Express vans are often used as fleet vehicles so you can typically find used models at a very low price point. If you don’t mind being a little cramped and care more about the low cost of entry into van life, then this is the perfect van for you and one of the best vans to live in.
Ford Econoline (E-Series)
The Ford Econoline (E-Series) is one of the most versatile vehicles on the market for a camper van conversion. These cargo vans are also popular fleet vehicles that have been used as delivery vans, overland adventure vehicles and even ambulances — and have stood the test of time.
The Transit vans predecessor, these conversion vans also have many different engine configurations available and come with both a gas and diesel engine option. While they are available to buy new, they no longer come in the van option and are merely a cab with a stripped chassis.
The off-road version of the E-Series has plenty of room inside for optimum mobile living. Although you’ll generally pick up an older van, these used models are the way forward especially if you’re looking to save money. Plus, if you have ambitions to travel internationally, one of the big selling points of this conversion van is that you can almost always find parts and qualified mechanics to repair them in the event you break down.
The Ford E-Series vans were also produced in large quantities which means that there are plenty on the market to choose from and parts are easy to come by. There are also a ton of aftermarket products available, whether it be internal parts for diesel engines or a roof expansion kit.
The roof expansion kit is something that we would definitely consider, especially if it’s going to be your full-time van. This hard top adds extra space that allows you to stand up inside the van. Or you could opt for a pop-up roof that will allow you to have full standing room and make living that much more comfortable.
Lastly, the E-Series can be easily converted into four-wheel campers making it an off-road beast capable of tackling the most hardcore terrain you’re likely to find in van life.
Related: Need some inspiration? Check out Bobby and Mary’s Ford E-350 van build!
Chevy Astro Van
Off the bat, the Chevy Astro van is both affordable and reliable, making them a popular choice amongst many van lifers. The only issue with these vans is that they’re not the best for full-time van life purely based on the lack of full-standing headroom.
Having said this, the Chevy Astro van is relatively small and maneuverable which means they’re easy to park and a pleasure to drive. If you plan to do any amount of stealth camping, you’re likely to find success with these conversion vans.
An Astro is also the quintessential van for two people to live in comfortably — any more than that and it will start to get a bit tight. And there are loads of creative ways that van lifers have learned to use the small spaces to their advantage.
Lastly, they come standard with a beautiful wood-cladding interior, window screens and even curtains. Together with a fold-down bench, you can use the Astro right away without any major conversions necessary.
Ford Transit Connect
Ford Transits are some of the most popular cargo vans for van life conversion. They are efficient on gas and are generally an affordable option for those buying their first van.
As the smaller version of the Transit vans, the Transit Connect is also pretty maneuverable given its compact size which makes it the perfect vehicle for nipping around and even fitting into that tight urban parking space.
There were some transmission issues with the earlier models of the Transit Connect so be sure to fully assess the van and its transmission if you’re looking at an older used van. Luckily, Ford replaced the transmission system in the newer models so this shouldn’t be an issue.
But always check, check, and double-check. The last thing you want is to end up with a lemon.
The Ford Transit vans are also pretty easy and affordable to fix compared to a complex Mercedes Sprinter van, so DIY repairs on the road are a lot simpler to tackle.
The Connect is also one of, if not the best van to use for urban stealth camping. It doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb and looks like an everyday vehicle.
Volkswagen is one of the most well-known car manufacturers in the world, and the VW Vanagon and Westfalia are probably considered the OG’s in the camper van world and the epitome of classic vans.
Any VW bus is considered one of the best vans for van life and the majority of the vans manufactured are still on the road today in one shape or another. This speaks volumes about VW’s quality and reliability.
They are also the dream van for many van lifers and if you own one, you will most likely be envied by owners of other vans because of their classic look and feel. VW buses don’t pack all the amenities of other options on this list. But they are in a class of their own when it comes to the community of van lifers who own them.
The beauty of these vans is that they come complete and ready for life on the road — VW buses come standard with a two-burner stove, sink, fridge, and a couch that converts to a bed. The VW bus also features a pop roof, giving you full headroom and making them one of the best vans to live in.
VW buses are also seen as the van life classic vans and because the systems don’t feature a computer box, making them relatively easy to work on without any complicated electronics to deal with. You can find parts and knowledgeable mechanics virtually anywhere in the world, so you won’t have much downtime in the event of a breakdown.
If you’re not already convinced by the epic features and the tons of storage space, they are all-around a head-turner compared to other vans on the market. You don’t get the same looks from a Ford Transit camper as you do from a classic VW Westy.
If you’re not in the market for a used van, there is also a new, modern version available today called the VW California. Based largely on the old designs, these modern vans are also considered by many as the best van to use for van life.
While not the most affordable van, the VW California features a modern engine and general refinements from the older models. They also double up as passenger vans making them super versatile too.
School Bus (Schoolie)
A converted school bus, or “schoolie” as they are affectionately known, is considered one of the best vans to live in, although they are not a van per se. These boxy recreational vehicles offer the most space of any van on our list and some DIY schoolies give RV manufacturers a run for their money in terms of their aesthetics and functionalities.
School bus conversions are some of the best van-life vehicles to live in as they can literally be an apartment on wheels. Some will even rival a New York apartment for size!
They have plenty of living space and room to fit in everything from home, including the kitchen sink. Oh, did I mention that there is tons of living space? There’s even room for separate rooms so you can have a bedroom and living room inside your home on wheels.
Aside from being a real head-turner, school buses are incredibly reliable as they have to be kept in good, working order to transport children to and from school and cannot break down.
The options for this type of van conversion are endless and there are so many different ways to kit them out. There’s even a bus lifer fraternity out there, a subset of van lifers more close-knit than others, so you will be part of a movement if you decide to purchase one.
If you’re jonesing van life, the good news is that there is a perfect van out there for you. Whether you’re looking at brand new cargo vans to build out yourself, or you want an older classic model like the VW Vanagon or anything in between – van life has definitely taken off and the options are virtually limitless.
While we covered the ten most common and popular types of vans that are considered the best vans for van life, you could even find yourself getting creative with a box van or even a mid-size SUV or the car you currently own.
By far, the Sprinter van is the most popular van for those willing to spend a little extra cash for the most spacious living arrangement. But the higher purchase price also includes higher maintenance costs as well, and the van conversion won’t be cheap.
Dodge Ram ProMasters, Ford Transits and Nissan NVs follow behind the Sprinter van as the “Big 4” most common conversion vans on the road. They come at lower upfront costs and there are loads of resources out there to help you turn the cargo van into your home on wheels.
Older used van models like the Chevy Astro or Express and Ford E-series vans have the lowest initial costs for any conversion van. But they also lack the space and buildability of the Big 4. Yet you won’t have to put too much into them if you’re goal is to get out on the road as soon as possible.
And, of course, the classic VW vans will have every van lifer turning their head as you drive to the next meetup because your VW may be the same van that was featured in a magazine or movie in the glory days of rock and roll. The history of these vans, along with their built-in functionality makes them some of the best vans for van life, but at a bit of a steeper price.
Finally, break free from the van life mold and find an old school bus. Rip out the seats, strip down the floor and walls and customize your skoolie to give you everything you could ever want or imagine in a home on wheels. Used models will come cheap and you can customize them to your heart’s content with things like wood-burning stoves and rooftop decks.
Of course, the best van for van life is the one that offers you most of what you want or need and gives you the ability to adapt to the rest.
Did we miss a van you think should be on this list? Let us know in the comments below or tell us why you chose the van you did for van life!