Let’s face it. An RV, whether it’s a Class A motorcoach or a travel trailer, attracts too much attention because of their size and appearance. This is also what makes RVs easy target for thieves and other criminals.
Meanwhile, there are some among us who prefer to travel low-key. For those living the full time RV life, they value their security and privacy as they make their way from one city to another. These are hard to attain when you’re using the usual RV.
This is why the stealth camper van appeals to more and more people. You get to travel without drawing any attention to yourself.
Why is that? What is a stealth camper van? What is the best stealth camper van? Where can you stealth camp? Is it even legal? We’ll discuss all these and more in this article.
What is a stealth camper van?
A stealth camper van, as the name implies, is a van you use for traveling unobtrusively. How is that possible? Because it looks like a regular van from the outside.
But what makes it great for traveling is that the inside of the van has been converted to be a living quarters for its users.
Ah, so it’s like a Class B motorhome, you might say. Well, no. Class B motorhomes are made using a cargo van chassis. Manufacturers then design a floorplan to accommodate the needs of travelers to experience comfort and luxury while on the road. To know more about Class B RVs and the best manufacturers in the market, you can visit this link.
A stealth camper van is not an RV. It doesn’t readily come with those extra features that RVs offer such as a lounge area and toilet and shower. It is a van that’s converted to be able to add some amenities inside that would offer some comfort to travelers.
While there are some manufacturers that build this type of vehicle, most stealth camper vans are made from scratch. You buy a van, it can be old or new, and build the interiors the way you want it so that it can fit your specific needs. Think of rigs such as a cargo van, a Toyota Prius, an SUV, a high-roof passenger van, or a minivan.
Stealth camper vans typically have no windows or the windows are tinted to give users more privacy. It covers the sleeping area so it won’t alert outsiders that there’s someone sleeping inside.
They also usually have solar panels to supplement their source of energy and a roof vent to be able to let some air inside the unit.
So it has RV-like features inside but looks like a regular vehicle outside. How cool is that? You get to enjoy the best of both worlds, right?
It’s very versatile as you can take your stealth camper van in different places, whether urban or rural, and you won’t stick out like a sore thumb. It is also a relatively inexpensive way of building your very own motorcoach. Best of all, you have less carbon footprint as it is a fuel-efficient way of living the RV life.
What are the best vans to use for your stealth camper van?
Since there are no stealth camper vans readily available in the market (as this will defeat the purpose of traveling discreetly when everyone knows about it), you may just choose the base that you can work with in building your own stealth camper van.
Here are our recommendations for full-sized vans that will give you the most interior space to live in.
Nissan NV 1500 Cargo
- Exterior Length: 240.6″
- Interior Headroom: 42.8″
- Cargo Capacity: up to 323 cu ft
- 4.0-liter DOHC 24-valve V6 engine
- Body-on-frame construction
- 50/50 Split rear cargo doors with opening locking feature
- Bluetooth® Hands-free Phone System
- Pre-wiring for electrical and telematics upfitting
- Reinforced cargo-mounting points for custom shelving
- Integrated reinforced cargo-mounting points for bulkhead partition
Dodge Ram ProMaster Cargo Van 1500
- Exterior Length: 207″
- Interior Headroom: 65.4″
- Payload Capacity: 4,680 lbs
- Load it all in with ease with a Best-in-Class standard load floor height of 21 inches.
- Rear doors can swing open 260˚, open 60 inches and can fold nearly flat against the van’s exterior.
- Available dual sliding side doors open up to 49 inches for different loading needs.
- Has plumbing, electrical, and construction upfits
- Modular design and anti-slip surface and composite base help offer safety and protection
- Tie-down rail design makes it easy to quickly secure loads and install shelving without permanent modifications
Chevrolet 2500 Express Cargo
- Exterior Length: 224.05″
- Interior Headroom: 84.75″
- Payload Capacity: 4,280 lbs
- 4G LTE Wi-Fi® hotspot capable
- Cargo tie-downs
- Chevrolet Connected Access capable
- Electrical theft-deterrent system
- OnStar® & Chevrolet Connected Services capable
Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Cargo Van 1500
- Exterior Length: 233.5″
- Overall Height: 107.5″
- Payload Capacity: 3,920 lbs
- Available in Standard Roof or High Roof
- Built for upfitting, can be configured in a snap to fit your needs, including refrigeration, HVAC & plumbing, electrics and telecom
- Active Brake Assist
- Rear-view camera display
- Multimedia touch-screen control
Ford Transit Cargo Van
- Exterior Length: from 219.9″
- Overall Height: from 82.2″
- Payload Capacity: from 3,230 lbs
- Ford Telematics
- Pre-collision assist with automatic emergency braking
- All-wheel drive (AWD) balances torque between the front and rear wheels to enhance handling and maximize traction
- Can choose from three lengths, three roof heights and two wheelbases
- Interior Upgrade Package
- Plenty of space for racks and bins for safe storage of tools, supplies, equipment and more
Volkswagon Crafter Panel Van
- Exterior Length: from 235.7″
- Overall Height: from 92.7″
- Payload Capacity: up to 2,573 kgs
- “Large Van of the Year” in the 2021 Parkers New Car Awards
- Complete Telematics System
- Forward collision warning including autonomous emergency braking, without adaptive cruise control
- Cross wind Assist
- Bulkhead (steel) – full height without window
- 2-seater bench in cab, left with storage compartment
- Manual side sliding door passenger side
GMC Savana Cargo
- Exterior Length: 224″
- Overall Height: 84.6″
- Payload Capacity: from 3,247 lbs
- Standard digital AM/FM radio with auxiliary port
- Optional GMC IntelliLink with navigation radio
- OnStar with 4G LTE and Wi-Fi hotspot
- Six standard air bags: frontal, side curtain and seat-mounted thorax
- Six standard D-ring tie downs
- Optional single-pane side-view mirrors
- Optional 220-amp generator
- Optional dual isolated battery system
How to build your stealth camper van
As we’ve said earlier, you have the freedom to choose what you want to include inside your van. It can be pretty exciting so before you get carried away, here are some things you need to consider when building your stealth camper van.
- Choose a base.
- Build according to your camping style.
- Work within your budget.
- Blend in.
Choosing your base.
We’ve already given you our recommendation for the best cargo vans in the market today. But you can also buy a reliable second-hand van for your base.
You can choose a brand new van or an old one, it depends on you. Your base will determine how much space you have to work with to build your very own stealth camper van.
Your Camping Style.
What is your camping style? How many people will be using the van? Do you want to have some luxuries while you’re on the road or are you okay with just the basic amenities? Do you like going on long trips or even go full-time van living or you’re just the occasional traveler? Will you be traveling off the grid and into the wilderness? Where will you get your power source? How about ventilation and hygiene? What are your storage solutions?
Your answers to these questions will determine what features you need to include inside your stealth camper van. You will plan your build accordingly.
Obviously, brand new vans are expensive and as you add more features, your expenses will also increase. Do you have the budget for that? Or are you okay with buying a used cargo van? As long as it is properly maintained and still offers decent mileage, it can be a wise decision and you can use the money that you save to enhance your interiors.
Think about the features you want to include in your stealth camper van – your bed and cooking area are important. You can also get a portable travel toilet so that you won’t have a hard time looking for public restrooms when you’re on the road. You can also put a roof rack to hide the solar panels and ceiling fan.
Choose which ones are essential for you as you travel and stick to that so you won’t exceed your budget.
This is the whole idea behind stealth camping. You want to blend in with other vehicles so that you won’t draw attention to yourself when traveling.
Pick a basic color for your van’s exterior. It can be white, grey, black or silver. Make it simple. Don’t add too much extras inside and outside that would give away that you’re a van lifer.
A stealth camper van is just a regular van from an outsider’s point of view. This allows users to travel without drawing too much attention like what happens when you’re using an RV. But the inside of the regular van has been upfitted according to the travel needs of the users.
There are many vans to choose from to be able to build your stealth camper van. The ones we mentioned above are just a few examples of full-sized vans that can give you more interior space when you have them converted into a living quarter that will fit your requirements.
Just don’t forget the general idea of stealth camper vans. That is to not stand out while on the road. To others, your van just looks like a regular cargo vehicle. What they don’t know is that many wonders can be found inside that’ll make van life much more comfortable for their users.
Common Questions Related to Stealth Camper Vans
Q:What is stealth camping?
A: Stealth camping is camping discreetly. This is an unobtrusive way of traveling. You use a van that looks like any regular van from the outside but inside, it has been converted to make traveling and camping more comfortable.
The idea is that nobody knows you’re inside the van. You do this to avoid drawing attention to yourself.
Nowadays, stealth camping has become synonymous to urban stealth camping. It means someone lives and sleeps inside a van within the city. This is a big deal especially among full-time vanlifers because not all towns and cities consent to this kind of living. It also gives vanlifers added security and privacy wherever they go.
Stealth camping is also ideal for traveling in the backcountry if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life. You can drive through the woods to look for a comfortable spot where you can get lost in peace and solitude without anyone disturbing you.
This also helps preserve their favorite campsites that not many people know of. As they stay out of sight, it does not attract attention and they can enjoy the site and everything it has to offer all to themselves.
People also save a lot of money when stealth camping since they don’t have to pay for overnight parking rates in RV parks. But of course, make sure that you have your own amenities since you can’t expect to have them where you’re parking.
Q:Is stealth camping illegal?
A: There are cities where camping or sleeping inside your vehicle is illegal. Make sure you are ware about the local regulations if you plan to go stealth camping in the city.
There are also cities where parking your car along the streets between 2:00 AM and 5:00 AM is illegal. When police or parking enforcement catch you doing so, they will ask you to leave or give you a ticket for your violation.
This also applies even to private properties within the city limits. This means that technically, it is illegal to park your stealth camper van at Walmart or Costco.
And speaking of technicality, police officers don’t really mind vehicles that are parked overnight along the city streets (as long as there is no sign against overnight parking). It’s the fact that there’s someone sleeping inside the vehicle that makes it illegal. That’s why campers and van lifers who are already a pro at urban stealth camping make sure that no one finds out that they’re inside the van.
When stealth camping, make sure it’s legal. There are many areas where you can park for free where you won’t encounter any legal issues such as BLM lands and truck and rest stops.
Q: Where can you stealth camp?
A: Here are some of the recommended places for stealth camping from pros or full-time van lifers.
- Walmart. Many Walmart stores are campervan-friendly. They said that campers and van lifers are their valued customers and have offered their parking area for campers to stay overnight. However, not all Walmart stores allow this. Check their signs or better yet, ask the store manager or security guard if you can stay for the night. And make sure you also shop from their store if you’re staying there as a way of saying thank you and it is also a good opportunity for you to replenish your stocks.
- Truck and rest stops. These are very easy to find when you’re on the road. You can spend the night here and they also some amenities like shower, restrooms, and WIFI for a small cost.
- Gas stations. Don’t underestimate these places. There are fancy gas stations out there that offer free WIFI, hot showers, and other amenities. You can ask permission from the attendants if you plan to stay for the night.
- Gym. If you have a gym membership, check if they allow stealth camping as there are some who do. Aside from having a place to spend the night, you can also use their amenities such as shower and restroom.
- Church Parking Lots. Some churches offer their parking grounds to people who want a place to stay for the night. Of course, this is their way of helping the homeless but you can also ask them if you can also stay there overnight.
- Hotels and Motels. It is easy to blend in among the cars parked in hotels and motels. But just a heads up, some issue a parking permit to their guests so that only those who are really staying there get to park at their designated parking area.
- National Forests. These are a favorite spot among van lifers because they’re close to nature. You can park in the trailhead parking road or along the side road in a National Forest unless there’s a sign which says that the area is off limits from visitors. It would also help if you camp where someone has already stayed before to minimize your impact in the natural environment.
- BLM Lands. This is another favorite among campers and you can stay here for up to 2 weeks. This is a very campervan-friendly place. You can park anywhere as long as you don’t go beyond unauthorized sites. If you’re wondering why there’s a limit of 14 days, it’s to minimize the long-term negative impact on the land and still preserve the environment.
- Marinas. If you’re traveling along a coastal area, you can park in marinas. There are even some marinas that have shower areas for a small fee.
- 24-Hour Restaurants. These places are accustomed to having different vehicles in their parking lots. If you do not mind the noise of people coming and going, then this is another good option. You can also order your breakfast from them so that you won’t have to cook and also as a way of saying thank you.
These are just some of the places where you can stay when you’re stealth camping in or outside of the city. Again, make sure you’re not breaking any rules. Be discreet and try your best to blend in with the rest so that you won’t draw attention to yourself.
Q: What are some best practices for stealth camping?
A: Here are some helpful tips from the pros for your stealth camping adventure.
- Blend in. After all, this is the main idea behind stealth camping. Do not draw attention to yourself. That’s why you choose a vehicle that looks like an ordinary vehicle. Keep everything else simple.
- Park late and leave early. This is a unanimous advice among full-time van lifers. They swear that it’s the key to not being noticed by enforcers as they usually arrive after hours (around 9 pm) and leave in the early morning (around 6 am).
- Keep your rig and surroundings clean. Your van is where you live so make sure to keep it tidy at all times. Don’t leave your trash outside as it will also draw attention to you. Leave no trace when you go camping, be kind to Mother Nature.
- Change Locations Frequently. Even if you like to stay in the same city, you can do so by spending the night in different places. Don’t stay in the same spot for more than 2 days because people will surely start to notice that unfamiliar vehicle in the street or parking lot.
- Dim your lights. The point of stealth camping is that no one knows you’re inside the van remember? Having bright lights is surely one way of telling other people that there’s someone inside the van. This is also where tinted windows and heavy curtains come in handy.
- Scout your parking space. It’s a great idea to survey the area where you plan to spend the night so that you know if it’s safe and you’re allowed to park there. You should also have a plan in case you become the target of burglars and criminals.
- Don’t move around inside your van too much. As much as possible, get everything done before you settle in your camping spot for the night. This includes having dinner, your bathroom needs, and dishes. The less movement there is, the better because people won’t notice that you’re inside.
- Use your front doors when going out of the van. When leaving your van, make sure you use the front doors like regular people do. When you open the side doors, people will see what’s inside your van and you’ll draw attention to yourself.
- Get Headphones with noise cancellation. This is a practical buy. When you want to enjoy some music or movies inside your van, people outside won’t be able to hear you and you won’t be disturbed by outside noises also.
- Don’t argue with enforcers. When the police or security guard asks you to leave, do exactly as you’re told. They’re just doing their job and have the community’s best interest at heart. This is why we keep reiterating that you do your stealth camping where it’s legal so that you can avoid these issues and have a restful night.