The popularity of the sprinter or transit van for camper van conversions cannot be denied, but there is a lot of evidence that a small camper van is a better choice for your camper conversion. Here’s why you should consider a smaller van and the 6 best small vans for your next camper conversion.
Why choose a small van for your camper conversion?
There are some major advantages to choosing a small van for your camper conversion. The foremost advantage being a cheaper initial cost of purchase and then a cheaper conversion cost as well.
Smaller vans are widely available, second hand and new, and are much cheaper than some of their larger siblings. On top of this having a smaller interior space means you need less insulation, headliner, lights, flooring… the list could go on and on. All this saving means more money to put fuel in the tank and go on an adventure.
The benefits don’t stop there though. A big sprinter or transit van can be cumbersome to drive and park, which can bring added stress to your van life experience.
A smaller van, like a Ford Transit Connect is as easy to drive and park as any normal car. This makes it less stressful to find parking and to navigate around new places.
A large, heavily laden van with a big engine will also have a lower fuel economy in comparison to a smaller engine light weight van. While this may not seem like a massive concern, if you are planning on taking your van on long road trips the cost of fuel will quickly become your largest expense.
What do you want to do with your van?
Before making your purchase it’s a good idea to consider exactly what you want your van for and to do. Here are a few things to consider before purchasing your van.
Do I need lots of storage? This applies if you have lots of hobbies and need gear storage. A roof box can be a great solution to this.
Do I need an inside cooking space? If you live in an area with bad weather this might be a lifesaver.
Am I going to doing long mileage? Do you plan to travel for an extended period, or do you want the van for short weekend trips? Fuel economy can be an important factor on longer journeys.
Do I want to go off road? If you like to explore the furthest reaches make sure you get a vehicle that can handle rough conditions. Now let’s take a look at the best small camper vans for converting.
1. Ford Transit Connect
These small vans are one of the most popular for a camper conversion. At 4.4m long, 1.8m wide and 1.8m high this compact van is a fantastic option for a camper. The cargo model van has 2 front seats with a large cargo area in the rear, perfect to create your tiny home.
There is also a longer wheelbase option which has an overall length of 4.8m. If you are still trying to decide what wheel base camper van is right for you have a look at our helpful guide.
The interior space of the short wheelbase is 1.7m long, 1.2m high and 1.5m wide. This gives the connect ample space to create a comfortable, cosy living space. As a result of their popularity, there is lots of conversion inspiration to be found online.
Some opt for a fixed bed with a pull-out kitchenette and storage on sliders under the bed, others go for the fold out bed giving you an interior kitchen space. This is where you can get creative and design your perfect camper van.
With a sliding door on the side and double rear cargo doors you can open up your living space to really soak in the view. These vans are inexpensive with good fuel economy and great availability of parts. If anything goes wrong it shouldn’t be too expensive to repair.
2. Mitsubishi Delica
Although the Delica is not as popular a choice as some of the other vans on this list, it has great potential to be a rugged van perfect for the more adventurous.
The exact specifications vary depending on the year of production. The overall length is between 4.3-4.8m, the width is 1.6m and the height is between 1.8-1.9m. There are a few different models but the most popular are the L300 and L400 built between the 1990’s and mid 2000’s.
This is a super compact option with a footprint about the same size as a car. This size is perfect for a solo traveller. The Delica is also available in a 4WD version and comes with great ground clearance, because of this it’s the perfect off-road adventure van.
The Delica can be transformed into a van that can take you quite literally anywhere.
Delica’s are a passenger vehicle, meaning there will be rear seats that have to be removed. This makes them slightly less of a blank canvas than a cargo van.
They also have slightly worse fuel economy in comparison to other vans, but these are the only downsides. The most popular interior conversion for a Delica is to fit a rock n roll bed with a kitchen and storage down one side.
3. VW Caddy or Caddy Maxi
VW are arguably the holy grail of vans for camper conversions. The VW Caddy Maxi is no exception. At 4.8m long, 1.7m wide and 1.8m tall it is a perfect size for a small camper conversion. The Maxi model is a longer version of the regular Caddy.
The dimensions provided here are for the Caddy Maxi as the extra length is a great asset for a campervan conversion, although the Caddy is a great option as well.
The Caddy Maxi is available as a passenger van or cargo van. The passenger van comes with side windows which could be a nice addition for your camper conversion. However, there would be more work in converting it as the seats and headliner need to be removed.
The cargo van is a clean slate ready to be converted. The load space of the cargo Caddy Maxi is 2.1m long, 1.6m wide and 1.2m tall. This is where the Maxi model pays off as you get more than 2 meters of length to create your living space.
Take a look at our breakdown of the cost of converting a VW van to a camper to get you started on your budgeting. This van has good fuel economy and VW parts are common, which should help keep running costs low.
Our founder Brandon owns one of these and he swears it’s one of the best small camper vans around for easy converting for our European and British readers.
4. Renault Trafic
Like the Delica this van might be something of a dark horse. Slightly less renowned in the van life community, it is still an amazing option for a small camper conversion. The Trafic is the largest van on the list, but it is available in a short wheelbase version that is less than 5m long. The dimensions will be given for the short wheelbase, as the long wheelbase version would make it a medium size van. It’s also important to note there is a high and low roof version. The overall length is 4.9m the width is 2.2m. The height of the low roof version is 1.9m and the high roof model is 2.4m.
The traffic has lots of interior space, with a total length of 2.5m a width of 1.6m and height of 1.3m. This gives you lots of room to work with, it also makes it a better small van option for a couple. A little bit more room gives you more storage space which is vital if you have lots of gear to bring with you, or you are travelling with a partner.
As with many of the other vans the Trafic is available as a panel van, crew van or passenger van. The crew van would be the ideal camper conversion as it comes with an extra window behind the front cab, and only has one additional row of seats that would need removing. The traffic does have slightly worse fuel economy, averaging around 36 mpg, but this is a trade-off for its larger size.
5. Vauxhall Cargo Combo
The Cargo combo is another fantastic campervan conversion option. The short wheelbase is a compact 4.4m in total length, 1.8m wide and 1.7m tall.
This makes it a similar size option to the Ford Transit Connect. The Cargo Combo is also available in an XL version which extends the overall length to 4.7m, because of this its a great option for taller people or if you just want a little bit more room inside.
The load space, or cargo area, in the standard van is 1.8m long 1.2m wide and 1.2m tall. The length of this space extends to 2.1m if you decide to choose the XL model.
As with most other models of van there is a passenger version, which has windows along the side of the van. The Cargo Combo has good fuel efficiency, with an average MPG of 43.
6. Citroen Berlingo
The Citroen Berlingo’s size almost makes it a micro camper, but it is exceptionally popular among the van life community. Kits can be purchased online to convert the rear into a camper for as little as £450.
These kits are a great alternative to a DIY conversion and often consist of a dual-purpose seating area with table that folds down into a bed. Storage areas are built in underneath the bed to give you space for clothes and food making it one of the best small camper vans out there.
As usual there is a short and long wheelbase option. The SWB is 4.4m long, 1.9m wide and 1.7m tall. The LWB is 4.7m long and 1.8m tall with the same width as the SWB.
The interior specifications between the long and short wheelbase are similar with the width being 1.5m and the SWB height being 1.2m with the LWB providing a few extra cm of height. The SWB interior length is 1.8m with the LWB extending this to 2.1m.
The Berlingo is very fuel efficient due to its smaller engine with an average MPG of 50. This makes them an ideal long-range cruiser. If your travel plans include long mileage, then this might be the best choice for you.
There are a great variety of small vans that are perfect for camper conversions. It’s important to consider your specific needs and desires because this will help you make the right decision when choosing what van to convert.
A small van can help you get on the road faster as they are cheaper to convert and cheaper to run due to good fuel economy.
One last important consideration is ventilation. A small van can quickly become a very damp environment. Luckily, we’ve got you covered, check out our best campervan ventilation tips to help keep your tiny home comfortable.
These are out 6 best small camper vans for your next camper conversion. If you have a favourite let us know via Instagram DM or email! Tag us in your small van adventures @tinyhomehub.