Off-Road Camper Vans for #VanLife: Everything You Need to Know
As Sprinter vans become more popular, a new sub-set of van conversions is emerging: Off-road adventure vehicles that can get you to just about any campsite, and provide plenty of comfort once you’re there.
Off-road Sprinter vans are no joke. These tiny homes on wheels are serious 4×4 vehicles with the ability to handle a variety of road and trail conditions.
Like other camper van conversions, off-road Sprinters tend to be packed with amenities that turn camping into a luxe “glamping” experience.
It’s easy to understand why many outdoor enthusiasts would want a beefy four-wheel drive van. These rigs afford access to all sorts of off-the-beaten-path trailheads, campsites, and recreation areas—and include all the amenities needed for full-time living.
But not all off-road camper vans are created equal.
Below, you will find a full breakdown of what distinguishes the best 4×4 van conversions and where you can go to buy a new 4×4 camper van.
What Van is Best for Converting Into an Off-Road Adventure Van?
The most important part of an off-road adventure van is the van itself.
Camper van conversions take ordinary cargo vans and transform them into miniature motorhomes with all the amenities needed to live off-grid for days or even weeks.
There are several vans that are popular for converting into campers, but they’re not all up for the task of becoming an off-road machine.
Below, we’ve ranked the best vans for converting into off-road campers.
Best: Mercedes-Benz Sprinter
The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter has long been the gold standard for people looking to convert a cargo van into a camper.
With best-in-class fuel economy, reliability, and premium features, it is easy to understand why the best camper vans tend to be built on the blank canvas of a Mercedes Sprinter van.
When it comes to 4×4 adventure vans, things are no different. Mercedes’ 4×4 system is the only one of its kind in full-size cargo vans.
While other vans, like the Ford Transit, have optional all-wheel drive (AWD), no other full-size cargo van is offered with true four-wheel drive.
Any off-road enthusiast will tell you that when it comes to truly challenging road conditions, 4×4 is a must and AWD simply does not compare.
Mercedes’ widely loved turbo-diesel powertrains provide impressive torque and power, which, paired with the 4X4 system, are needed for challenging off-road scenarios.
Other features that distinguish the Mercedes Sprinter as the best van for converting into an off-road adventure rig include:
- best-in-class stock ground clearance
- heavy-duty components
- multiple wheelbase options
- 5,000-lb towing capacity
- premium features like adaptive ESP for more stability and capability off-road
- the most compatible options for suspension upgrades, roof racks, and other off-road must-haves
Runner-up: Ford Transit
With the introduction of their first AWD van in 2020, Ford has made steps towards including itself in the off-road conversion van conversation.
Still, the Ford Transit AWD pales in comparison to the Mercedes Sprinter 4×4 when considering it as a base for your off-road conversion.
Ford’s AWD system provides better traction than 2WD, but it lacks some of the torque and traction that 4X4 systems, including the Sprinter’s, are known for.
Furthermore, since Ford has only been offering the AWD Transit since 2020, there are far less available options when it comes to important upgrades like lift kits, metal bumpers, roof racks, and more.
Although Ford’s AWD system makes the Transit worth considering, it ultimately pales in comparison to the Mercedes Sprinter for off-road van builds.
Not Worth It: Dodge Ram Promaster
With no available AWD or 4X4 system, the Dodge Ram Promaster is the worst option among the three most popular high-roof cargo vans.
The most basic necessity of any off-road van is traction, and with only a two-wheel drive system available, the Ram Promaster lacks this essential feature.
The Promaster is also notorious for having build quality issues, an issue that the German-built Mercedes Sprinter has never struggled with.
With no option for 4X4 or AWD, very few available suspension upgrades, and poor build quality that is not intended to withstand rugged dirt roads, the Ram Promaster is simply not up to the task of becoming an off-grid adventure van.
What Are the Best Upgrades for 4×4 Vans?
The world of off-road vehicles is all about upgrades. Even trucks like Jeeps or the well-loved Toyota Tacoma that are built for going off-road are commonly upgraded and modified to better meet the challenge.
Camper vans are no different. To turn a cargo van into a truly off-road-ready adventure rig, some upgrades might come in handy.
We could write a book about available upgrades for off-road vans, but instead, we’ve determined the three most important features to include in a 4×4 Sprinter van conversion:
- Off-Grid Electrical System: Electrical systems are part of what make camper vans such comfortable little homes on wheels. The ability to have lights, cold food, hot water, and other comforts rely on your van’s electrical system. In an off-road van designed to get to camping spots away from the city, the electrical system needs to be capable of charging and powering your components without hook-ups. Plenty of solar panels, lithium batteries, and efficient 12V appliances are essential for a good off-grid electrical system.
- Suspension Upgrades: If you want a van that can really get back to some remote spots, you’ll probably want to upgrade its suspension. The best suspension upgrade for Sprinter vans is the Van Compass Stage 4.3 system. This system allows you to easily adjust the shocks to match different road conditions. It also provides a valuable 1.25 inches of lift to get you through those tricky trail scenarios.
- Quality, Durable Conversion: Ok, this isn’t exactly an “upgrade”, but we cannot stress enough how important it is for your van conversion to be up to the challenge of off-road driving. Many DIY and inexperienced builders make the mistake of designing a living space for their off-road vans that cannot handle the bumps and movement of dirt roads. It is imperative that every element of your van’s floor plan, from sleeping space to storage space, is designed with vibration and rattling in mind. Only the highest-quality van builders can outfit a van that is both luxurious and capable of withstanding off-road travel.
Where to Find the Best Off-Road Camper Vans for Sale
Off-road camper vans give you access to remote trailheads, campsites, and recreation areas, allow you to drive in extreme winter conditions, and of course, look super badass.
As the demand for off-road camper vans increases, companies across the country are hopping on board and producing their own versions of this popular type of rig.
But not everyone is up to the task: Many conversion companies charge top-dollar for van builds that have cheap components and can’t withstand the demands of the job.
A quick search for off-road vans will yield dozens of camper van builders and models, from Storyteller Overland to the Winnebago Revel to the popular builds from Outside Van.
With so many companies to choose from, it can be hard to sort out the quality builders.
Muse & Co. Outdoors is a California Sprinter van conversion company based in the San Francisco Bay Area.
With a line of semi-customizable camper van models, Muse Outdoors vans toe the line between hand-crafted luxury and rugged durability.
Available upgrades like the Van Compass Stage 4.3 suspension system, roof racks, and off-road tires and wheels can turn any of our van models into capable off-road machines.
Head to the Build My Van tool to customize your very own Muse & Co. Outdoors adventure rig!