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Stealth camper vans have become popular in recent years thanks to a growing movement of online people who have made the lifestyle seem more glamorous than it actually is.
Being stealthy in a camper van sounds like a great idea and it can have its advantages. When I was first considering a camper van, I was taken in with the idea of being stealthy and being able to park nearly anywhere and sleep for the night without being noticed.
Is this a reality though? Is it possible to have a stealthy camping van?
What is a stealth camper van?
A stealth camper van is a converted passenger or cargo van that is set up as a camper inside but doesn’t look the part from the outside. This means that you can park anywhere without being noticed and you may be able to sleep or even live in your van without drawing attention to yourself.
Compare this to a traditional camper or RV, in which it would be difficult to park anywhere without being noticed. With a larger RV or traditional camper, you are likely limited to staying in RV parks or campgrounds.
If you were to park a large RV on the side of the street somewhere, everyone would know that someone is inside and it may cause someone to call the police or to ask you to move.
With a stealthy camper van, you may be able to park on side streets or in parking lots without ever bringing attention to themselves, allowing them to stay for free in locations all over the place.
What Type of Van is Best For a Stealth Camper Van?
Most stealth camper vans are custom built from empty cargo vans that are typically used as commercial work vans. These types of vans are usually solid in color and may have features that make others think they are work vans.
There are a few popular brands that people generally use when converting a cargo van into a camper van for stealth camping. The list below will identify the most popular options currently on the market.
Note: the models listed below are for the American market.
The Promaster, made by Ram (Dodge), is a popular option that can be purchased in various configurations. You can purchase it in a standard low roof or you can purchase a high roof to create more space and allow yourself room to stand up and walk around in without hunching over.
It can also be purchased in three different sized lengths. For a stealthy configuration, it is best to stay with a low roof van because these types of vans draw less attention. However, a high roof van is also fine since you are seeing more and more of them on the road nowadays.
Many companies use Promasters as their company vehicles. Even companies like Amazon use this type of van for their prime deliveries. I have seen them driving around my neighborhood and other places around my town.
A lot of Class B motorhomes are built using the Promaster as well so it is a very common van.
The Sprinter van is also a great choice since these can be found all over the place used by painters, plumbers, delivery companies, electricians and other workers.
As you can imagine, Mercedes makes a dependable work van that many companies love to use. It’s easy to take a Mercedes sprinter and turn it into a camper van that can be stealthy yet highly livable on the inside.
The Ford Transit is a common option that many class B motorhome manufacturers use for their camper vans. The Transit replaced the Econoline that Ford used to make and is available in a low roof, medium roof, or high roof.
This makes a good choice for a stealth camper van. You can choose a solid cargo van or you can choose to have one with windows installed.
The best way to do it if you were going to be stealthy about it would be to go without any windows at all. However, the trade-off for being stealthy with no windows also may create a closed-in claustrophobic feeling.
The Ford transit is known to be one of the most comfortable vans to drive and it is also now available in an all-wheel-drive model.
This allows you to go off-road or access locations that may have been difficult to access with a standard 2 wheel drive van.
Although the Econoline is no longer in production, a good used one can provide a great van to use as a stealthy camper van. These are common vans that are seen used by businesses of all kinds.
I have driven a few of them over the years and they are as good as any other one.
If you choose one of these, you’ll have to settle for a low roof van because that is the only option. However, low roof vans make a great option since no one would expect someone to be living in one.
The NV is a bit strange looking for a van but it does make a good option as a stealthy camper van. You don’t see a lot of them, at least where I live, but I have seen a few different businesses using them.
They come in low roof and high roof options and they don’t have the look of a standard camper van so they would make a good option if you are considering stealthy camping.
I’ll have to admit, if I was to see a Nissan NV parked in a parking lot somewhere, I would not think that it was a van that someone is camping in or living in.
I would assume that it was a company van parked and someone was shopping in a store or something.
This one is a trusty old van that is used quite commonly in the United States as company vans. Back when I worked in electronics and installed home theater systems, our company exclusively used the Chevy express vans and these were always solid vans.
They make great stealth camper vans if you don’t mind having a low roof. You will just have to crawl around in it but it is very possible to sleep in it, move around, eat, and find safety from the weather and all the other things you would want out of a camper van.
There is plenty of room inside one of these to build a nice living area, kitchen and have a toilet and other essentials that you might need.
The good thing about these types of vans is that you can find them at almost any dealership and you can find one used online with no problems.
You can usually get a good deal on these but you have to be careful. These types of vans are usually used and abused by companies and they are driven into the ground by different employees.
You will need to do your due diligence if you decide to purchase one of these to make sure you are not getting a piece of crap.
Make sure you have someone that you know who is a mechanic or knows what they are looking at that can help you out and decide on whether it’s a vehicle worth purchasing or not.
You don’t want to end up with a pile of junk that’s going to be more costly with repairs and maintenance.
VW Camper Van
It’s the old tried-and-true camper van that you often think of when someone talks of living in a camper van. These VW vans are classic and have been serving people well for decades.
Visions of peace signs and flower symbols come to mind when I think of a VW camper van. There are many different models but most of these are in a condition that will need repair and maintenance before hitting the road.
When you purchase one of these, you are probably opening yourself up to costly repairs just to get it on the road. Not only that, a VW van is likely not going to make a good stealth camper van, at least in the United States.
The reason for this is that it is unique to what you typically see on the road. This means that you will stick out like a sore thumb amongst all the other traffic. You will probably turn heads in parking lots instead of going under the radar.
The key to being stealthy in a van is to use something that blends in with today’s world. While you might get away with using a VW van, I believe your best bet would be to stick with a van that is more commonly seen so that people don’t even notice it as much.
You would be better off with something that you can just park anywhere and blend in with your surroundings. You would not be able to do this with a classic VW van.
Perhaps the best way to create a stealthy camper van is to use a standard minivan. Although not as spacious as a cargo van, a minivan will give the impression that it is just a regular van parked and no one could be living in it.
However, minivans can be converted into camper vans and provide a more spacious floorplan than you might think. Even if it isn’t as spacious, it still allows you to have a place to sleep for the night and do it stealthily.
A standard minivan may also not have the creepy factor that a stealthy white cargo van might have.
A minivan is a great choice to use as a stealth camper van because they are accessible and can be had for an affordable price. You can find used minivans all over the place.
Another plus about minivans is that they are usually owned by families and taken care of better than a commercial van.
What Is The Best Van For A Stealth Camper Van?
If stealth camping is your goal, I would probably seek out one of the options that you see the most of on the road. The idea is to have something that blends in well and no one even knows that it is being used for something different.
Perhaps a minivan is the best option if you want to go completely under the radar. However, this is not the best choice for comfort and overall enjoyment.
The best choice to have a good living or camping experience would be a larger van such as a high roof Sprinter, Transit or Promaster.
I can’t recall a time when I was ever out in public and saw a minivan and thought to myself, I bet someone is living in that.
Minivans just blend in.
However there have been times when I have seen larger, commercial vans parked in parking lots with no windows and no company name on the side and I assumed that there might be someone inside sleeping or living.
The truth is, the larger the van, the larger of a target that you are.
Why Would Someone Want a Stealth Camper Van?
There are many reasons that a stealth camper van could come in handy. The thing that drew me to the idea, in the beginning, was how I could drive to a location, park and sleep in my van without being noticed.
As an amateur landscape photographer, I am often driving to locations early in the morning for sunrise and with a stealth camper van, I would be able to park at my location and be prepared for sunrise when it comes.
Other people may be looking for a cheap way to live and stay in their camper van without having to pay campground fees. This could come in handy if you are traveling around the country and are not always in a location where a good campground exists.
There could be problems that could arise from parking in areas that you are not supposed to. There may be fines imposed or other legal action taken so it’s important to understand where you can and can’t park.
Tips For Staying Stealthy In A Van
- Keep your van as stock looking as possible. Tricked out vans with aftermarket items all over it is a sure sign that your van is more than just a work van.
- Stay away from adventure stickers. Many people add stickers to the back of their van windows and this is also another sign that it’s more than just a work van.
- Fewer windows equals more stealthy. Although you may not have as much airflow, having fewer windows means less opportunity for others to see inside.
- Use the front doors. Don’t come in and out the side door. Use the front doors as if you are just using the van for driving and working out of. Using the side door all the time may be a giveaway that you are living in it and allow people to see inside of it better when you open the door.
Is It Possible To Be Stealthy In A Van?
Having a stealthy van sounds good in theory but is it really possible to make it work? I used to think that this was going to be an easy task to build a camper van out of a cargo van and stealthily stay anywhere.
However, it is getting much more difficult to do such a thing nowadays as many people have grabbed on to this idea.
I believe it is possible but you have to use common sense about it and plan for where you are staying.
If your van looks remotely like someone could be living in it, people are going to notice it. They may not take action to get you moved but people will look and wonder if maybe someone is living in it.
During the process of building my own stealthy camper van, I abandoned the idea and simply built a camper van to look the part. Why did I do this? Let’s discuss this below.
I decided that I didn’t want to have to worry about sneaking around trying to find good parking spots. Instead, I wanted to park in safe, legal places that were meant for campers to be parked in.
My camper van has a roof fan, sliding window and I generally put window coverings up when I park. A van like this isn’t really stealthy because anyone with awareness would know that someone is in there.
I say this from experience because I have parked in places that have gotten me weird looks and also people looking in the van windows as if someone was inside doing something wrong.
This gave me an eerie feeling and made me want to just pack up and go to a place that I knew I was supposed to be. An RV park or a designated place that allows overnight parking is a much safer option.
My favorite options have become Harvest Hosts and Hipcamp. I can use these platforms to find places to park my van for a minimal amount of money. This way, I know I am welcome at the location and won’t be asked to move or get in any kind of trouble.
As stealth vans become more and more popular it has become more difficult to pull off a stealthy camping experience than it used to be. There are a few reasons for this and there are a few reasons that a stealthy camper van may not even exist nowadays.
Think about it. Let’s imagine that a white van has pulled off on the side of the road in your neighborhood. You haven’t noticed this van before and you know it isn’t your neighbors or anyone else in the vicinity.
Who’s van could this be? Could it be a visitor to one of your neighbors? Maybe or maybe not but it probably will make you a little bit uneasy not knowing why a white van is parked near your house.
There are some dead giveaways that you are possibly in a stealth van and anyone might be able to pick it out. A few of these are listed below.
- Roof fans
- Solar panels
- Shore power plugs
- Offroad tires
- Other customizations
Having these items installed onto your van will likely signal to others that you are living inside or it is some sort of van that is set up to have a living area.
If someone were to see a van with a roof fan on top or noticeable solar panels, it’s highly unlikely that they would not assume that someone is inside.
This is especially true of authorities or others who have been tasked to patrol an area.
Tips For Staying Safe In A Stealth Camper Van
If you plan on having a stealth camper van of your own then you might be tempted to stay in almost any location since you can go undetected.
Commonly, people in stealth camper vans ride around and find wherever they can park for free and go unnoticed and that’s where they stay the night.
However, there are some safety concerns with camping stealthily in a van. This is especially true if you are all alone.
The following list provides some tips that can help to keep you safe while you are stealth camping in a van.
1. Know the area that you are in
Avoid sketchy areas that just don’t seem safe. There are going to be some areas where you could potentially stealth camp and go undetected but the area might not be well suited for a safe experience.
You may end up on the bad side of town and not even know it unless you are aware of the area. The important thing is to do your research before you decide to park somewhere so that you know where you are and how safe the area is.
2. Park Yourself In A Position Where You Can Easily Drive Away
If you are parked for the night and a dangerous situation arises, you want to be able to get out of the area as soon as possible. This is one of the benefits of vans so be sure and set yourself up for an easy getaway if the need arises.
Vans are nimble and easy to go places in so be sure when you park in an area that you have assessed that area and made sure you can leave in a moment’s notice.
3. Have A Backup Plan
If you do have to leave a certain area because of a dangerous situation make sure you have scoped out what you are going to do and have made a backup plan.
This might not always be possible but make sure that you at least are aware that you might have to leave a location or parking area that you are in and head to a new location.
4. Install an alarm system in your van
An alarm can be something simple like an alarm contact on a door that makes an ear-piercing noise if the door is opened.
If this were to ever happen and the alarm was to go off, it would not only scare the intruder away but it would also alert those around you that something is wrong.
Other people could potentially come to your rescue in a situation like this.
5. Park where you have cell phone coverage if possible
Be sure and always check your cell phone coverage before parking in a location. This could be life-saving if you were to ever need help and need to contact somebody.
If you are in a location where you have no service, you wouldn’t be able to make that call in a dangerous situation. If possible, opt for a location that has good coverage.
Building A Stealth Camper Van Conversion
Building a stealth camper van for yourself is not as difficult as you might think. Although my camper van is not completely stealthy, I did maintain some stealthiness throughout my build.
There are a few reasons that I would not consider my van to be completely stealthy.
- My van has a window in the rear that I installed. This can be a dead giveaway that someone is living inside of it since it is a standard RV style sliding screen window.
- It has a vent fan on top of it. The typical RV vent fan sticks out like a store sore thumb on top of my van so anyone who sees this will likely know that I am inside of it.
- My van has a shower power socket on the side. I installed this so that I could have electrical service when parked at a location that offers it.
Other than those three things, I consider my van to be fairly stealthy and I would be able to park in several places without being noticed. I have done it a few times and feel that I went mostly unnoticed.
The important part of building a stealth camper van is to pick out a van that will play the part. As mentioned earlier in the article, I would suggest starting with a van that is very common so that no one would suspect anything different from it.
After a van has been chosen, you would want to decide on what you want the inside layout to look like. How livable do you want your van to be?
Many people are fine with a place to sleep and a place to cook and lounge. The sky is the limit on how you can design your van and it can be a fun experience setting it up the way you want it. However, it can also be a challenge so be prepared.
After a layout has been chosen, the real work begins. If you are experienced with this type of work, it may be a fun project but for a total newbie, it will be a difficult process.
I have a fair amount of experience with woodworking and electronics and still had a difficult time with various parts of my build.
Don’t be afraid to hire skilled carpenters, electricians or other workers that you may need to get the job done right. Once your van build is complete, you will feel a sense of pride and enjoyment as you finally hit the road with it.
Having a stealth camper van can be a great way to travel and spend the night in places without having to pay. Many places allow free camping but many places prohibit it.
Being stealthy provides you with a home on wheels that can help to ensure that you will always have a place to stay. Whether you choose to live in it full time or just use it to take occasional trips, it can be a great solution.
If you are going to be building a stealth van, I would advise you to make sure you know the rules in the locations you are going to. Stealthy or not, you don’t want to be staying in areas that are unsafe or that could cause you to get in trouble.
Use common sense and trust your intuition when seeking out a stealth camping spot and enjoy the journey.