Have you ever been out camping in more of a secluded area and felt like your RV or camping gear stuck out like a sore thumb, and you wanted just a little bit more privacy? Or perhaps you just want a bit more freedom to camp pretty much wherever you want and maybe even live in your RV for a while . Then I can tell you that a stealth camper van is likely the right choice for you.
A stealth camper is a van that is converted to a camper or living quarters but still has the look of a regular van. This allows campers to be able to sleep in their vehicle while not drawing any attention to themselves.
Does that sound cool, or what? Continue reading to see if stealth camper vans are really the choice for you.
What Makes it Different From a Regular Camper Van?
Okay, we all know that regular camper vans are a type of Class B RV that is basically a small camper in the shape of a van that can be one of the most fuel-efficient RVs out there.
For those of you who don’t know that already, feel free to take a look at my article, All About the Different Classes of RVs: An Illustrated Guide and pay special attention to the Class B section for more information. It’s a pretty neat read and can give you lots of helpful information on camper vans in general–along with the other classes of RVs of course.
Anyways, the main difference between a stealth camper van and a regular camper van is that they tend to be homemade. Yes, that means that people can make them on their own, for all of those DIY enthusiasts out there.
Really, then, it’s pretty much a great DIY solution for van enthusiasts who want a bit more freedom with where they can park their van for the night, right? Maybe not…but it’s still a nice concept.
The other big difference is that they do not look like campers from the outside. They look like ordinary vans and can blend in just about wherever; whereas, a normal camper van tends to be pretty obvious that it’s a camper van from the outside and has someone living inside.
Stealth camper vans will also typically have the windows tinted or no windows at all in order to disguise the sleeping area and allow for more privacy to the person (or people) living within.
They also tend to have either roof vents or solar panels on the roof in order to let a little more air into your van or to supply a more affordable and reasonable power source for all of your heaters and electrical units on the inside.
What’s on the roof of the stealth camper, in my opinion, really depends on whether or not windows are included and just how stealthy the van is supposed to be.
Some people like the stealth camper van style just because it allows them to camp just about anywhere for free while others prefer the stealth to allow them to hide in plain sight without having to pay rent.
Why Get A Stealth Camper Van?
Okay, I don’t know about you, but just the word stealth makes me think of just about any spy music– The Spy Kids Movies, Mission Impossible, you know the ones. Interesting enough, though, I’m sure there are actually top-secret spy vans hiding out there, but that’s not exactly what we’re going to focus on for now.
However, stealth camper vans can be used for hiding in plain sight, staying alongside city streets or in busy parking lots without anyone ever noticing. You’ll just need to check on the different city policies and make sure there aren’t any limited parking hours or anything like that to worry about.
But… the more common use for stealth camper vans is for being able to camp just about anywhere you want for free without sending out any signals to robbers and criminals.
I know that’s kind of a dark idea, but really, if a nice, little camper van is just sitting out in the middle of nowhere, there are chances (though small) that it could become a target for break-ins while you’re away.
Stealth camper vans tend to not attract so much attention, even out in the middle of nowhere. I don’t know about you, but I was always taught as a child to stay away from the large, white-paneled vans parked on the side of the road or in the parking lot because they had the reputation of being kidnapper vans…
Was I the only one who had that growing up? Maybe it’s a bit of an unfair stereotype and maybe even more common back in the day, but it stuck. If you see a big, white van in the middle of nowhere, you leave it alone.
And a stealth camper van built off the base of a white cargo van (we’ll get into how to do that next) is sure to be left alone no matter where it’s parked just because it will be completely uninteresting to the unknowing eye.
How to Make Your Own Stealth Camper Van
Now for the fun part. Of course, you can easily go buy a stealth camper van off of someone local or look it up on selling sites, but why do that when you could make it yourself? Just imagine all of the cool gadgets you could include in your stealth camper van to fit your very own needs and just how much you can personalize it to be exactly the way you want it.
Step One: Picking Out A Base
By base, I mean what type of van you will be starting out with before you turn it into a stealth camper van. The base you decide on ultimately depends on how you plan to use your stealth camper van and just how stealthy you want it to be. Your basic options include:
- Dodge Ram Van
- Chevy Van
- Volkswagon Van
- Mini Van
Now, some of these options are more expensive than the others as well as have more or less space and height than others. Overall, they’re all pretty great options to choose from and will allow for lots of different ways to convert the van into a stealth camper van.
Whichever one you choose, just be sure that it will be the right price for your budget as well as the right amount of space and height for your camping style. It’s also important to keep in mind when choosing the base for your stealth camper van just how much you will have to do to it in order to make it more non-descript for your stealth camping purposes.
For example, you’ll probably want to choose a less-memorable color like white or black compared to bright red. You’ll also want to consider getting tinted windows for more privacy.
If you plan to use your stealth camper van in plain sight in the city, then a simple, white cargo van with no side windows might be your best choice because they tend to be all over the place for various purposes.
Also, with considering the amount of space, keep in mind just how many people (and/or animals) you plan on housing inside your stealth camper van and just how much you will need to move around in it.
Step Two: Planning the Layout
I know, planning is never the fun part of DIY projects when you just want to get to the awesome building part, but it is a necessary step to ensure everything is laid out perfectly in your stealth camper van.
Start by considering your personal needs for your stealth camper van. How many people will be in the stealth camper van? How much storage space will you need? How much height does it need in order for you to comfortably stand inside? What kind of amenities do you want/need inside?
It’s also very important to make sure that the weight will be distributed evenly–the last thing you want is your stealth camper van tipping over. You could also consider doing a layout where things will have multiple purposes, like having a raised bed frame that not only holds up the mattress but also serves as a nice storage area underneath.
Here are some sample layout plans for converting a cargo van into a stealth camper van to give you some ideas.
Step 3: Consider and Install Solar Panels or Charge Batteries
For your stealth camper van, you’ll likely want to have some form of an electrical unit to charge all of your devices when plugging in at a campsite is not an option. In my opinion, the best options are either solar panels or battery isolators
Solar panels are pretty nifty and can convert sunlight into electricity for you without much hassle. You just need to make sure that the places that you’ll be parking your camper van will be able to reach enough sunlight.
Hint: If you plan on using solar panels and charging them up, it is not recommended to park your stealth camper van inside a parking garage or in an area that doesn’t get a lot of sunlight.
But honestly, what are you doing with your stealth camper van if you’re just hanging out in a parking garage? There are so many other places to go with much better sights.
Anyways, you can either make and install your own solar panels and system, or you can get professionals to do it, but really that choice is up to you, depending on how much money you are willing to spend and how much work you are willing to put into the installation.
The other option is a pretty cool battery isolator, which can be pretty useful for when you get stuck under a lot of shade for a long amount of time. It can either be supplementary to solar panels or an alternative to solar panels.
Basically, a battery isolator works by converting the charge from the van’s alternator over to the auxiliary batteries while you’re driving without draining the van’s battery.
One fan favorite for the battery isolator is a Keyline Smart Battery Isolator.
Step 4: Ventilation
Living in a normal van can get pretty stuffy pretty fast, and that doesn’t change for stealth camper vans. Of course, to ensure the most amount of stealth, you’ll want some form of ventilation that doesn’t stick out too much or seem very memorable.
The most common among stealth camper vans is the roof vent. Whether you make it to where your roof can open up just a bit or install an actual fan on the top is up to you.
If you go with installing a fan, then I can recommend the Maxxfan Deluxe for its sleekness and great airflow. It also comes with a rain cover to protect both the fan and your stealth camper van.
Sure, you’ll have to cut a hole into your stealth camper van, but compared to all of the other things you have to do to convert the van, is that really that big of a step to take?
Step 5: The Rest is Up to You
I know it’s not an easy step to take, but really, stealth camper vans are all about freedom anyways, and that includes the freedom to design it however you choose.
Remember those layout plans we discussed earlier? Once you have your electrical units and ventilation set up, you can just go off of those. A bit intimidated by all of that freedom?
Don’t worry, I’ve provided a couple of videos below to give you some ideas on how to set up the interior of your stealth camper van.
Just a few hints for you though, having a shower in your stealth camper van might result in a lot of moisture buildup, so don’t be afraid to use public bathrooms for cleaning up.
As that is, a small portable toilet can be useful if you don’t feel like rushing off to the closest store or gas station every time you need to use the bathroom, but it is obviously not required.
Here’s a video of someone explaining how he was able to make his very own stealth camper van in just one day. A thing to keep in mind though is that making your own stealth camper van will typically take a little more time than just one day just to give yourself enough time to make it exactly how you like it, but this video will give you a basic idea.
As you can tell from the video, there are a lot of choices to make when deciding on how to layout your stealth camper van, but the key is to be flexible and include only the amenities and furniture that you will absolutely need for your stealth camping.
Here is another video of someone who turned a Chevy Uplander into a stealth camper van to give you some ideas on how you might set up your stealth camper van if you’re working with a smaller van.
Both of these videos have been for stealth camper vans that are more focused for city living rather than using the van for camping anywhere you want, and they have focused on being super quiet, super non-descript in order to hide in plain sight. Here is a video of someone who made a stealth camper van meant for boondocking and privacy.
Other Things to Consider with Stealth Camping
Now, I have talked a lot about hiding in plain sight with your stealth camper van, but you still have to pay attention to local ordinances and regulations as far as overnight parking goes.
Typically, sleeping in a van is completely legal, though there might be some specific rules and regulations depending on the city you plan to stay in. It’s always a good idea to look into those regulations before spending the night in your stealth camper van.
Also, as part of hiding in plain sight without setting off any alarms to the neighbors, you’ll probably want to rotate your parking locations and try to drive around every once in a while. This way, you won’t seem too suspicious to the locals.
Another way to ensure that you don’t draw attention with your stealth camper van for city dwelling is to arrive late at night and leave early in the morning. This way, few people will be awake to see you coming or leaving and won’t bat an eyelash when you park or leave.
As for using your stealth camper van for camping basically for free, you’re going to want to bring your own supplies and will have to go off of your own resources because it isn’t likely that there will be free amenities nearby unless you stay at an actual campground.
Also, be sure that you’re camping legally. There are tons of areas to camp in the wild for free without any possible legal issues known as BLM land, which is owned by the Bureau of Land Management. As I said, these legal camping areas will not provide anything for your camping trips, so come prepared, but this also means that you must leave it exactly as you found it.
As they say in scouting, “leave no trace.”
A great site to find legal areas for free camping or BLM land is www.blm.gov. You can type in any location that you want to visit, and it will give you a list of free camping areas for your stealth camper van.