The Best Van For Camping – High Top, Pop Top, Full Size, or Minivan

best van for camping

As always, the best van for camping is the van that best suits its owner’s needs.  This means that the best van for you might not be the best van for me and vice versa.

So how do you choose the best campervan for you?  Should you go with a fixed high-top van or a pop-top?

Do you even need to stand up in your van?  Maybe you should go with a full-size van that you can’t stand up in.

What about minivans?  Do minivans make good campers?

In this post, we’ll go over the different types of vans that you can use as van campers so that you’ll know what the best van for camping is for you.

High Top Campervans

High-top campervans are the most common professionally built campervans on the market.  Companies like Winnebago, Airstream, and Leisure Vans have been making them for years and you can find many on the new and used campervan market.

Let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of high-top campervans below.

Advantages of High-Top Campervans

  • Cooking is safer and easier in a high-top van.
  • High-top campervans are easier to get dressed in.
  • A high-top van has more storage space.
  • High-top vans are more socially acceptable.
  • It’s easier to live in a high-top van.

Cooking is a lot easier and safer when you can stand up while doing it.  Being able to stand up while washing dishes and putting away food is also a lot easier.

Getting dressed in a high-top campervan is also easier.  This might seem like a small advantage but it’s something all of us do at least once a day so it’s really important that we’re comfortable while doing it.

High-top vans also offer more storage than any other type of campervans.  You can store items in overhead cabinets as well as on the roof.

A high-top van is also more socially acceptable to live in when compared to a low-top van or minivan.  This could make it easier to date while full-timing in a van or could simply make you feel better about van life in general.

Life in a high-top van is just easier than living out of the other types of vans.  You can easily get dressed, cook, shower, and use a bathroom in a high-top.  These things are essential to life so they play a critical role when it comes to your quality of life.

Disadvantages of High-Top Campervans

  • High-top campervans are harder to drive.
  • Gas mileage is often lower in a high-top campervan.
  • High-top campervans usually cost more to buy.
  • A high-top campervan costs more to maintain.
  • High-top campervans can’t travel through or park in some areas.

A high-top van is more susceptible to the wind.  This can make high-top vans more difficult to drive on windy days.  A high-top can also make a van more top-heavy, which can make sharp turns more difficult to handle.

The additional weight and wind resistance will usually make a high-top the least gas-friendly type of campervan.  This means that all of the trips you take in your high-top campervan will cost more than they would have in the other types of campervans.

High-top campervans are usually more expensive to buy.  These vehicles usually cost anywhere from $75,000 to $200,000 new.  Even DIY builds are more expensive with high-top campervans as the base models tend to cost more and are more difficult to find.

A high-top campervan model usually costs more to maintain.  This is because they are usually diesel vehicles and diesel vehicles have more costly parts.  There is a silver lining here though as diesel engines usually last longer, so you may end up saving more money in the long run.

The most common complaint of high-top campervan owners is that they leave their owners with parking and travel restrictions.  You can’t go through some drive-throughs in a high-top campervan and you can’t park in many parking garages in a high-top campervan.

Pop Top Vans For Camping

Pop-tops are good for people who want the advantages of a high-top campervan combined with the advantages of a low-top campervan.  However, these types of campers often have their own unique advantages and disadvantages associated with them.

We’ll go over the advantages and disadvantages of pop-top campervans below.

Advantages of Pop-Top Campervans

  • A pop-top campervan is easy to drive.
  • Pop-top campervans can go places high-top campers can’t.
  • Ventilation is easier in a pop-top camper.
  • Pop-top campers tend to offer more sleeping options.
  • Gas mileage is better in a pop-top.
  • Pop-top van campers offer the most headroom.

Pop-top campervans have a lower profile than high-top campervans.  This makes a pop-top easier to drive than a high-top and only slightly more difficult to drive than a low-top van.

A pop-top’s roof is usually low enough that it can go into parking lots and garages with ease.  It can also be used to travel through low tunnels and drive-throughs, so you really don’t have many travel restrictions in a pop-top campervan.

Pop-top campervans usually consist of tent-like walls.  These walls allow air to freely move in and out of the campervan.

Another great benefit of the pop-top camper is the fact that there is usually one or two additional sleeping options on the “second floor” or the campervan.  This is because a pop-top can make use of the space over the van’s cab.

Pop-top campervans are less susceptible to the wind.  These campervans are also lighter than high-top vans.  Combine these two factors and you have a vehicle with better gas mileage.

A high-top campervan will offer standing room for your average person.  However, a high-top campervan does not offer enough space to stand in for especially tall people.

Pop-top campervans, on the other hand, will often offer over seven feet of standing room.  This is great for tall people who want a campervan that they can fully stand up in.

Disadvantages of Pop-Top Campervans

  • Pop-top roofs are less versatile.
  • A pop-top camper requires more maintenance than other types of van campers.
  • Pop-top campers can be expensive.
  • Stealth camping in pop-tops is more difficult.
  • Some people are concerned about the safety of sleeping in a pop-top.

A pop-tops roof usually can’t be used for storage.  This is because it would be too difficult to lift a pop-top with a large amount of weight strapped to it.

You’ll also find that pop-top campers require the most maintenance.  A pop-top camper’s canvass walls may tear, the lift mechanism may fail, and the van’s roof will be more fragile.

You won’t be able to fully realize your pop-up campervan’s full capabilities while stealth camping.  This is because everyone who sees your roof lifted up is going to know someone is inside of the van.

The pop-top could also make you a little less safe.  Not only will people know you’re sleeping in your campervan but they’ll also be able to easily use a knife to cut into the walls of your campervan.

Full-Size Low-Top Van Campers

Many DIYers and even some professional RV manufacturers make use of low-top vans for campers.  VW has been making low-top van campers for years and the van life movement is full of people who have converted their Chevy Expresses and Ford Econolines into campervans.

Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages that low-top – full-size van campers have to offer.

Advantages of Low Top Van Campers

  • Low-top campers are easier to drive and park.
  • A low-top camper is less expensive to buy.
  • Gas-powered low-top vans are easy to find.
  • Low-top camper roofs have the most potential.
  • A low-top camper has the best towing capabilities.

A low-top camper doesn’t have any built-in weight at the top of the van.  The lower center of gravity means that turns and stops are easier in a low-top van.  These vans can also park anywhere and go under overpasses and tunnels with ease so they’re just easier to drive when compared to most other types of campervans.

Low-top campers are also less costly to buy.  A DIYer can find an old cargo van for just a few thousand dollars.  This makes getting into van life easy for people on a budget.

While most high-top campervans are built on diesel platforms, many low-top vans are not.  This is great for people who travel through areas where diesel fuel may be hard to find.

A low-top campervan roof offers a lot of possibilities.  One option is to mount a rooftop tent on the van for additional sleeping.  Another option is to create a rooftop deck.  Some van lifers add additional storage, large solar arrays, kayaks, and even bikes to their roofs.  The low roof makes all of this easy to do.

Another thought to keep in mind when buying a campervan is the van’s towing capabilities.  A campervan that can tow an additional camper opens up all kinds of possibilities.  Get a full-size van and you could tow an extra camper, a cargo trailer, landscape trailer, or even a boat!

Disadvantages of Low Top Van Campers

  • A low-top van is more difficult to move around in.
  • Low-top campers have poor gas mileage.
  • Professionally-made low-top camper options are limited.
  • Storage space is limited.
  • Low-top vans often carry social stigmas.

You aren’t going to be able to stand up in your low-top van.  This is going to make everyday living more difficult.  You won’t be able to stand up to get dressed or to cook and you’ll have a lot of trouble bathing or even using a toilet inside of a low-top van.

While low-top campers do get better gas mileage when compared to high-top and even pop-top van campers, they still use a lot of gas.  A gasoline-powered cargo van might do as poorly as 12 miles per gallon.  This is a far cry from the 30 to 40 mile per gallon numbers that some minivan campers can get.

VW makes professionally-made low-top campers but they don’t have much company.  This means that if you want a low-top van camper, you’ll probably have to build it yourself.

You aren’t going to get much storage space in a cargo van either.  Take away the high top and you take away a lot of cabinet space that could have been devoted to storage.

Cargo van campers are often referred to in derogatory terms.  I won’t name them here but I’m sure you won’t have any trouble thinking of a few that you’ve heard in the past.  This could be an issue when you try to stealth camp in residential neighborhoods.

Minivan Campers

Minivan campers are a type of micro camper that is usually relegated to weekend camping adventures rather than full-time living situations.  This doesn’t mean people aren’t using them though.

Here are five advantages of owning a minivan camper and five disadvantages of owning a minivan camper.

Advantages of Minivan Campers

  • Minivan campers are the easiest campers to drive and park.
  • A minivan camper is the least expensive type of camper to buy and maintain.
  • Minivan campers are the most stealthy.
  • The gas mileage on minivan campers is the best.
  • Minivans can be used as daily drivers.

Minivans are built using a unibody construction process exactly like they use on cars, crossovers, and even some SUVs.  This makes the minivan the easiest van camper to drive and park.

A minivan is also inexpensive to buy.  You can get new minivans for less than $30,000 and you can pick up used minivans for less than $1,000.  These vans are also more common than the other types of vans so they’re easy to find.

Minivans are also the most stealthy van campers of them all.  Block your minivan windows the right way and nobody will ever know you’re in there.  Combine this with the fact that a minivan looks perfectly natural in a residential neighborhood and you have the most stealthy van camper of them all.

A camper made from a minivan also makes a great daily driver.  This goes along with the fact that it’s easy to drive and park as well as the fact that it’s great on gas mileage.

New hybrid minivans will give you around 36 miles per gallon.  Older minivans will give you 20 to 30 miles per gallon, which is still significantly better than any other type of campervan.

Disadvantages of Minivan Campers

  • A minivan camper may cost more to insure.
  • Minivan campers offer the least amount of space.
  • You won’t be able to tow much with a minivan camper.
  • Ground clearance is low on minivans.
  • Minivan campers are less durable.

One issue that some people have with minivan campers is that they generally aren’t classified as true campervans.  This means that they can’t be insured under an RV insurance plan.  As a result, minivan camper owners may end up spending more money on vehicle insurance.

Another issue that minivan campers have is the issue of interior space.  A minivan usually only offers a 4’x8′ floor area and a small amount of headroom.  This being said, many minivan camper owners get around this by simply adding screen rooms and tents to their camping setups.

Minivan campers aren’t going to be able to tow much behind them.  While some minivans with towing packages may be rated up to 3,500 pounds, the reality is that once the minivan is weighed down with campervan items and people, you’ll be lucky if you can comfortably tow 1,500 pounds behind your minivan camper.

The ground clearance on minivans isn’t great either.  Minivans like the Honda Odyssey are only going to leave you with 6″ of ground clearance.  This isn’t good for people who want to drive their minivan campers down state roads.

While a minivan camper will cost less to own, operate, and maintain, it is also likely to die sooner than a full-size van.  This is because minivans are built with unibody construction methods rather than truck construction methods and the parts just don’t last as long.

Wrapping It All Up

Different types of campervans have different advantages and disadvantages associated with them.  This means the best van for camping is going to differ depending on your needs.

My advice is to think carefully about how you intend to use your campervan and choose the one that best suits you and your particular lifestyle.

Christopher Schopf

Christopher Schopf like to write about hiking, camping, snowshoeing, kayaking, and anything else that gets him outside.

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