SPRINTER VAN BUILD-OUT 2.0: WHAT I’M DOING DIFFERENTLY THIS TIME
I had my first Sprinter Van converted in 2016. I wanted to build an adventure mobile that would serve both as a comfortable home and a convenient workplace while giving me easy access to off-grid adventures. I loved that van. It helped me build my business (somewhat unexpectedly), took me all over the West and up to Canada for the first time, and gave me some incredible memories.
However, I learned a lot in that van – about how I was using the space and the best materials to use in a Sprinter camper van. After three months in a camper van in New Zealand with no bathroom, I was sure I wanted a full bathroom in my Sprinter. But once I was on the road using the Sprinter, the full bathroom mostly served as a complicated closet. I also loved the open aisle down to the back of the van, but then I realized I didn’t have anywhere to store the big stuff – like bikes and bulkier camping gear. Finally, I loved the reclaimed wood and tile look, but in my next van, I’d opt for more durable materials that could go wherever the dirt road led.
So I sold that van, and right now, I’m having my second Sprinter Van built-out by Oregon-based Outside Van, taking into account everything I learned with my last one.
In this blog post, I want to give you a sneak peek regarding some of the major changes I’m making in my next Sprinter build-out. For Sprinter Van updates, click the button below.
Sprinter Wheelbase and Model
My last Sprinter Van was a 144” wheelbase. This time I’m going longer to the 170”. I’m a little nervous about maneuverability and hoping it doesn’t limit where we can go. At the same time, I’m excited about the additional space and the layout it will afford. Having both at different points also means I will experience the pros and cons of both and can talk about them here on my website in the near future.
My next Sprinter Van build-out is a Cargo Model van with aftermarket windows. We chose to put big windows with T-vents in to improve airflow in the van and also for the views.
Sprinter Van Layout
My last Sprinter had a convertible bed opposite the slider door where you could put a table/desk. Then the aisle ran to the back of the van where you found a shower on the left and the galley on the right. That layout was perfect for people traveling alone, for weekenders, or for someone who absolutely had to have an indoor shower in the van and didn’t mind moving things around.
The advantages of my last Sprinter Van build-out:
- Ample organized storage for the small stuff. You never had to pull a bunch of stuff out to get to the thing you were looking for.
- I loved being able to look out the slider door when I was sitting at my computer
- The kitchen felt like it was indoor/outdoor being so close to the back.
- The walkway to the back made it feel open and very convenient to go out either door.
- The bed was huge! We never felt cramped and the location of the bed near the driver’s cab overhead shelf made it convenient to easily store blankets and pillows
- I was obsessed with the white walls and how big they made the van feel.
- The porta-potty was pretty clutch and going to the bathroom in the middle of the night was as easy as it could ever be in a van.
So what will my *NEW* Sprinter Van build-out be like?
To be honest, there is nothing revolutionary about my next Sprinter Van build-out. The van will have a large platform bed in the back that is big enough for Ryan, Charlie (our dog), and I. Along with that, the 170” wheelbase is long enough to make room for a decent sized permanent dinette/workspace and a sizeable galley. I opted for simple this time around and storage solutions that don’t add a ton of extra weight to the van.
A majority of my new layout is tried and tested and the reason the platform style of bed is so popular is that it works. The layout is smart and offers plenty of storage without too many bells and whistles, and where the van really shines is functionality, durability, and the lightweight materials we are using, which I will be excited to share with you once the van is done.
Check out the top 15 must-have kitchen essentials for camper van cooking.
To Bathroom or not to Bathroom in a Sprinter Van?
My new Sprinter Van build-out will not have an indoor shower. I’m actually not even going to have a porta-potty, despite it being “clutch” as I mentioned above. As convenient as it was, I was annoyed every time the toilet would be near overflowing, and I’d have to alter my plans for the day in order to find a place to dump it. While it wasn’t that gross, it also wasn’t the most pleasant of activities, and I’d rather not waste my time dealing with it if there is an easier alternative. Also, I pretty much only used it for #1, except for one time I used it for #2 and I instantly regretted it.
With my new Sprinter buildout, for the most part, I plan on going #1 outside. In the middle of the night, I’ve been chatting with other Sprinter Van owners who are sans bathroom for ideas and think I’ve got it figured out. For #2, after spending 22 days backpacking the John Muir Trail, I’m pretty comfortable going outside (and following Leave No Trace principles, of course), or there is always the gas station. I’m also going to have a foldable toilet with a wag bag system that stores really small that I can set up inside the van or behind a bush. I see this coming in handy in case of emergencies or if I’m setting up camp for a few days.
Sprinter Van Build-Out Materials
I loved the look of my last van. To me, the van felt rustic, homey, and modern all at the same time – which is my style. However, I learned style shouldn’t come at the cost of weight and durability. Materials like tile and reclaimed wood add weight to the van, and while I didn’t have any issues, there are lighter, stronger materials available that give the same look.
So in my next van, I’m going for the same type of style, but instead of reclaimed wood cabinet faces, Outside Van is using a laminate. I’ll also have a white countertop, but instead of quartz or corion, we are using a much lighter and stronger material that will hold up as the van flexes. The walls in my last van were aluminum and the brightness they offered was one of my favorite parts of the van. In my new van, we found a really cool eco-friendly, waterproof white upholstery that will keep the van feeling open, light, and easy to clean versus a standard upholstery material.
The floor in my last van was a bamboo laminate, which is a strong material. But day in and day out, the wear and tear was starting to show. The floor in the new van will be diamond plate in the garage, which is pretty much the most durable floor you can put in a Sprinter Van. Then the living space of the van will have a different kind of floor that looks warm and homey but is more scratch resistant than laminate. I also chose a lighter color than the dark floors in my last Sprinter since they won’t show dirt and dog footprints as easily.
All of the other fabrics in my new Sprinter van will be weather resistant, stain resistant, and fade resistant. In my last van, the couch was a basic upholstery, and I simply covered up my couch with a blanket to keep it clean. I may end up doing that in this van too. We’ll have to test out the fabric and see if it really holds up to all of its claims.
My New Sprinter Van Electrical System
I’m scaling up a bit on my electrical system. I talked in m video below that my last system was pretty adequate. In the winter or after consecutive cloudy days, I had to be pretty cognizant of my use. With our electric bikes, all of my work electronics, and our desire to live off the grid as long as possible, even in inclement weather, I chose to install a more robust battery and solar panel setup. I’m sticking with Zamp Solar Panels, which is the same solar company that made the panels for my last van, and I’m increasing my battery bank a bit.
Learn more about my last Sprinter Van electrical system in my YouTube video.
Sprinter Van Exterior
I’m having a very low profile roof rack built by Outside Van that will allow me to access the solar panels, to hang out on the roof, and store some additional gear (although I don’t anticipate needing to store stuff on the roof)….but overall I want the least amount of stuff hanging on the outside of the Sprinter Van to reduce drag and weight.
As for color, my last van was arctic white. This time I’ve opted to put some cool artwork by my friend Giana Andrews on the outside, along with my website info. I’ve gone back and forth with putting my website/logo on the van, but I’ve decided to put it somewhere small on the back and figure I can always remove it if it causes me trouble.
This is Mount Baldy at Alta Ski Area – which I skied this year – painted by Giana. This is one of the pieces that will be going on the side of my van.
That’s just a sneak peek at what I learned from my last Sprinter Van build-out, and what I’m doing differently this time around. I’m excited to share more details and the final product with you soon! Leave any questions or thoughts below in the comments.