Want to go camping but don’t want to get wet, freeze to death, or be eaten by a bear or other large predator? If you said “yes” to one or all of the above and don’t have room in your driveway for a travel trailer or a bus-sized RV, then camping in a van is definitely for you. Reasonably sized, (relatively) affordable, and definitely not tents, camper vans are roaring into fashion as go-to accessories for adventure seekers. (Cheap options exist, or feel free to spend judiciously for an fully kitted off-road camper that can take you anywhere—either way, we can help you pick!) To show you why, we’ve rounded up our favorite reasons to go camping in a van, “roughing it” while still on four wheels.
1. The World is Your Campground
Let’s face it: A tent is acceptable if you’re holed up at a designated campsite or hiking through a forest, but what if you’re simply passing through town in the middle of an epic road trip? Chances are the local constabulary would take issue with you pitching a tent in the middle of the sidewalk, or even in a city park. And besides, remember all that stuff we said about moisture, temperature extremes, and bears?
Stop your camper van on a side street for a night, though, and you’re not likely to raise an eyebrow. The same goes for locations like highway rest stops, a friend’s driveway, or even the parking lot at Walmart, which actually offers additional services for campers seeking a safe place to sleep at certain stores. A van is far less attention-grabbing than a big-and-tall RV, not to mention much easier to park. This makes van camping one of the most versatile options for mobile accommodations, whether you’re camping or on a long-haul road trip.
2. You’re Safe From Wildlife and Weather
We were only half-joking about bears, although keeping food and trash away from wildlife is the responsibility of any camper. Still, having an enclosed space like a van to smother the smell of delicious, delicious garbage means you don’t necessarily have to rig anything up in a tree. Nor will you worry about being dragged off into the night by anything ursine intrigued by that half-eaten power bar in your pocket.
Grim endings aside, sleeping in a van also guarantees you won’t be swept away by any flash storms that happen to open up the heavens above your campsite. Nothing is worse than hiking in soaked socks the next morning, or waking up to discover that your sleeping bag now doubles as a wet noodle. A roof over your head guarantees better protection from the elements than any tent can provide.
3. No More Morning Tent-sicles
Temperature is technically a part of the weather, but it’s also the most common enemy a camper will be fighting, particularly as the mercury drops in the spring and the fall. You know what all vans have that most tents don’t? A heater! Some camper vans even offer air conditioning that works with the ignition off, using backup or battery power, although that depends on how fancy your rig is.
It might seem like a simple thing, but the climate-control capabilities of a van greatly extend the camping season beyond fair weather, allowing you to explore parts of the country that retain their natural beauty long after the expected seasonal crowd has shuffled back to the city. Want to check out a snowy mountain town in February? Go for it! Or Arizona in the middle of summer? Sure!
4. You Get to Meet a Bunch of #vanlyfe Influencers
There’s no way around the elephant in the room (or is that the backseat?). The #vanlyfe viral phenomenon has tinged four-wheel camping with more than a little hipster flavor over the past several years. Instagram influencers have clogged the Interwebs with tweets and photos of a mobile lifestyle marketed to anyone who’s ever dreamed of escaping the cubicle and seeing the world.
Cut through the filtered glitz and glamour, however, and the flip-side of the #vanlyfe hype has been an explosion in support for those who are seriously interested in van camping. A huge number of companies have stepped up to offer products and services geared towards making van living comfortable and easy, and that’s a direct result of the surging online attention turned towards this particular lifestyle.
5. It’s a Happy Medium
Perhaps the best thing about van camping is how accessible and hassle-free it is. You don’t need to splurge for a full-on conversion (as in, taking a stock van and having a company outfit it with a kitchenette, bed, etc.) to get started. You can stuff an inflatable mattress, a cooking stove, and some sleeping bags in an inexpensive minivan as a first step to see if you enjoy the experience before laying out more dough.
Should you take the plunge and end up in any of the myriad vehicles that qualify as camper vans these days, relax. There is no giant RV to try to maneuver through traffic, no complex trailer hook-ups to make at a campsite (or anxiety about towing a camper through the mountains), and you’re not stuck in a tiny tent with your back being beat up by rocks and twigs as you toss and turn all night long. Van camping isn’t just affordable, it’s a frictionless happy medium between full-on roughing it and all-in luxury glamping.