• Randy Reek

Full-Size Van or Minivan?


Which is better for YOU: standard van or minivan? That depends on your travel and camping plans.

GoneCamper began with the objective of creating a self-contained camper conversion for minivans. The goal was to squeeze a full-size bed and a kitchen into the 4-foot by 8-foot cargo area of a minivan.

One year later, this objective has been completed, tested extensively, perfected and VERY well-received. Yes, you can travel and camp comfortably in a minivan with the GoneCamper conversion! (See the series of articles on How to Camp In A Minivan.)

In fact, the GoneCamper minivan completed a 10,000-mile round-trip camping adventure from Arizona, through the western U.S., British Columbia to Alaska – and back in 2018.

GoneCamper 2.0 bed for standard vans

The GoneCamper Dodge Caravan at Mile Zero of the Alaska Highway

Now others have purchased their own GoneCamper conversions and are enjoying economical travel and comfortable camping in minivans. I have published many articles and uploaded many videos detailing the advantages of fast, simple, and efficient camping in minivans.

But I have also received numerous inquiries asking about using the GoneCamper conversion in standard vans. While there is no reason you can’t use the same minivan camping conversion in larger vans, there is a better alternative: the GoneCamper 2.0 conversion for full-size vans!

Which is better for YOU: standard van or minivan?

We truly enjoy the economy and versatility of the GoneCamper minivan. With a modern minivan you have a reliable and thrifty vehicle for daily driving, carrying passengers, and non-camping road trips. But we will also admit that a minivan is not the best choice for some people.

GoneCamper 2.0 bed for standard vans

Base camp in the GoneCamper Chevy Express near Quartzsite , Arizona

Why choose a standard van instead of a minivan?

1. The first and most obvious reason not to choose a minivan is that you ALREADY own a standard van – either passenger van or cargo van. If you need a large van for work during the week, or have a passenger van to transport your family, then it makes sense to start there with your camper conversion.

2. If you have a trailer that you want to tow you should consider a standard van. Our Chevy Express van has a 9,000-pound towing capacity. Our Dodge Caravan has an “advertised” towing capacity of 1,500 pounds. In reality, you should NEVER approach the “rated” towing capacity. This means that I would not recommend towing more than 1,000 pounds with a front-wheel drive minivan. (My EMPTY ATV trailer weighs almost 1,000 pounds!) The large Chevy has a truck frame, V-8 engine, heavy transmission with an auxiliary cooler, huge brakes and larger 10-ply truck tires. The Caravan is front-wheel drive, V-6 with lighter car tires. The bottom line is if you want to tow a boat, ATV, motorcycles, etc. you will be a lot happier and safer with a full-size van.

GoneCamper 2.0 bed for standard vans

Chevy Express GoneCamper 2.0 with ATV in the red rocks of Sedona, AZ

Note: The RAM Promaster is a standard size van that has the SAME engine and transmission as our Dodge Caravan: 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 and front-wheel drive. For some reason, RAM (Fiat-Chrysler) gives this van a 5,100-pound towing capacity? Yes, the van has a heavier frame, brakes and tires. But it has the SAME engine and transmission as our minivan! In my opinion, you should not tow over 2,000 pounds with this front-wheel drive van.

3. The next consideration is how you plan to camp. Are you going to be driving and sightseeing during the day and using the van for sleeping at night? Or are you going to camp in one place for days at a time? The longer the distance that you plan to drive, the better the more economical minivan will suit your needs. The longer you plan to camp in one place, the better the larger standard van will satisfy you.

4. What else do you plan to take with you camping? Traveling in a minivan requires economy in clothes, tools, and gear. If you have tent camped, a minivan will seem luxurious! But if you are downsizing from an RV you will need to minimize your gear.

Do you plan to camp on hunting or fishing trips? Are you going climbing, skiing, or motorcycling? Do you have a passion for Dutch oven cooking – which requires heavy and bulky equipment? Do you want to be completely self-contained with water tanks, solar collectors and battery banks? The more gear you want to bring along, the happier you will be with a standard van. Yes, you can add roof-top or rear cargo racks to a minivan. But you can do the same to a standard van AND have more interior space.

When you are traveling in a minivan the camper is used primarily for sleeping. The emphasis is on traveling, and then having a comfortable place to sleep. On the other hand, the larger storage and weight-carrying capacity of a standard van allows you to bring more camping gear for a base camp. In the GoneCamper 2.0 Chevy Express we also pack a folding table, a cooking and eating tent that serves double-duty as a shower/toilet shelter, a pump shower sprayer, a heavy Dutch oven, larger camping chairs, extra water, and sometimes even firewood. We even have room for a 100-watt solar panel to charge the battery for the LED lights and ceiling fan!

GoneCamper 2.0 bed for standard vans

Rear storage behind the bed for bulky camping gear

5. Do you plan to camp year-round? If you are going to need more clothes, especially heavy winter clothes, you are going to need more space. Likewise, if you plan to camp in sub-freezing temperatures, an insulated full-size van will simply be more comfortable. Minivans designed for passengers actually have minimal insulation. A standard van even allows you to use a propane or electric heater – with caution.

6. Are you a full-time “van dweller”? More and more individuals and couples are abandoning high rents for the van life. They are combining a comfortable van camper with a nomadic lifestyle. If you are going to be LIVING in your van, then a larger van is the way to go, especially the high roof models that allow you to stand in the van. Long wheelbase, extended length vans are also available. These vans have room for an inside toilet and shower.

The exception for full-time van life may be the solo traveler. We have built many SINGLE GoneCamper beds for single people. The 28-inch wide bed provides 20-inches of unobstructed storage space alongside. You can sleep lengthwise and sit or work sideways without ever folding the bed.

Note: The GoneCamper 2.0 Chevy Express is a standard wheelbase, standard height van. We choose this model because we wanted to be able to use the van as a daily driver. We expressly did NOT want the added height or length of a larger van. Also, we are NOT living in our van. We did not want a shower or toilet inside the van. The standard height does not allow us to stand, but we still have plenty of room for camping, especially considering that we do most of our living and cooking outside. See also the article on camping, cooking, and showering at our van campsite.

7. How much of your driving will be on rough, unpaved roads? The more you plan to venture off the pavement, the more you will appreciate the heavier frame, larger tires, and added ground clearance available only in standard vans.

With caution you can drive a minivan on unpaved roads. We have driven the GoneCamper Dodge Caravan all over the back roads of Arizona, as well as over 1,000 miles in Alaska and the Yukon. The front-wheel drive provides excellent traction, but your ground clearance is limited. You must take on any obstacles at a crawl. You must also be willing to turn around when faced with deep ruts or running water.

GoneCamper 2.0 for Standard Vans

The GOOD NEWS is that GoneCamper has designed a space-saving bed for standard vans. We have applied the same space-saving designs and quality cabinet building that has defined the minivan GoneCamper conversion to create the new GoneCamper 2.0 retractable bed for full-size vans.

The most obvious difference when designing the interior of a full-size van is the larger volume. Full-size vans (that is, Chevy Express, Ford Transit, RAM Promaster, and Mercedes Sprinter) have a cargo area that ranges from 6-feet wide by 10-feet to over 12-feet in length. This is a 25% to 50% increase in floor space so a larger bed is possible. There is also much more headroom to work with.

However, we rejected the conventional (and simplest) practice of just building a fixed platform crosswise in the van. The GoneCamper bed for full-size vans is NOT a permanently-attached platform. Instead, the GoneCamper 2.0 features a retractable full-size bed that converts to a couch. In addition, the GoneCamper standard bed is completely removable in minutes, freeing up floor space for work, recreation equipment, or even passenger seats.

Here are the reasons for this design:

1. While there is more floor space in a full-size van than a minivan, this space is still very limited. A fixed platform bed – that you will only use at night, and maybe not every night – wastes too much valuable space. There is NO reason to consume valuable floor space 24/7/365 with a fixed bed that is used AT MOST eight hours a day.

2. A fixed platform bed takes up too much floor space and reduces the seating options in the van. Sure, you can sit on the bed but that is uncomfortable. (How often do you sit on your bed at home?) A much better option is a couch for sitting, reading and even eating during the day. You also gain more floor space for additional seating, working, fixing meals, etc.

3. A fixed platform bed eliminates the option of using the van for other purposes when not camping. With a permanent platform bed, you can’t easily haul lumber, dirt bikes, or bulky cargo. You also can’t install additional seats, in the case of a passenger van. If you need a van for work during the week, you will waste hours repeatedly installing the platform bed for weekend camping trips. Then you will need to remove the platform and store the bulky mattress during the week.

4. Finally, and this is most important, a fixed platform bed that extends crosswise in the van is TOO SHORT for most people. All full-size vans are too narrow to accommodate a full-size bed INSIDE the structural ribs of the side walls. Yes, from unfinished wall to wall the width is just over 6-feet. But since most camper vans have insulation and finished side walls OVER these structural ribs, the usable space inside the van is just under 6-feet in width.

Now this is not a problem if you are around 5-foot 6-inches in height. But I am 6-feet tall and like to stretch out in bed – NOT have my head and feet touching the walls. I want the same comfort in my camping van as my bed at home! You will, too, if you want to be warm and comfortable in your van bed.

For these reasons, the GoneCamper 2.0 bed runs LENGTHWISE. The bed is a full 6-feet 2-inches long. (Longer mattresses and bed frames can be special ordered.) Plus, the foot of the bed is open to the remaining living space, so you are not wedged between the van walls.

GoneCamper 2.0 bed for standard vans

Full-size mattress provides a bed that is 6-feet 2-inches long!

The GoneCamper bed for standard vans solves all these issues. The bed has plenty of length, so you can stretch out. The bed, with the removable front platform and tri-fold mattress, retracts to a comfortable couch for use during the day, freeing up about 16 square feet of precious floor space. And the entire bed can be removed in minutes to transform the van into a cargo or people hauler.

GoneCamper 2.0 bed for standard vans

The GoneCamper 2.0 bed (with headboard) converted to a comfortable, space-saving couch

With the GoneCamper 2.0 retractable bed insert you can transform your work van, cargo van or passenger van into a comfortable and versatile camper in minutes! No tools required.

Best of all, you can convert ANY full-size van into a versatile camper for under $1,000!!!

The GoneCamper bed also addresses the other main issue with van campers (besides limited floor space), and that is the lack of storage. The GoneCamper bed fits between the wheel wells of any standard van. You can then add storage shelving, containers or cabinets along both side walls of the van.

GoneCamper 2.0 bed for standard vans

Full length bed with LOADS of accessible storage underneath.

The GoneCamper bed has a raised platform that allows for plenty of storage underneath. We use this space for folding chairs, tools, and camping gear. This storage space is accessible from the front or rear of the van. Long items like lumber, skis or tools can extend all the way to the front seats without removing the bed.

The GoneCamper bed can also be ordered with a storage “headboard”. Compartments at the rear allow you to store tools, propane bottles, shoes, and more. A storage net helps control small items like jumper cables, maps, flashlights, and so on. Compartments at the front of the headboard hold your phones, books, medications, or other items you might want during the night.

GoneCamper 2.0 bed for standard vans

Storage is built into the front and rear of the headboard. A cargo net is not shown that covers the rear compartments.

Because of the extra floor length in standard vans, you have the flexibility to position the GoneCamper bed any distance from the rear doors. We like to leave about 15-inches of space behind the bed for milk crates to haul a propane tank, firewood, water jugs, and the “Luggable Loo” portable toilet. You could place the bed tight against the rear doors to maximize floor space up front. Or you could move the bed farther forward to provide enough room for bikes, a generator or other bulky gear. Or – you could do ALL three. That is, change the position the bed depending on your needs for that trip, or portion of your trip.

You can’t beat the versatility of the GoneCamper retractable bed. You have a full-size bed when you are ready to sleep. You have a comfortable couch during the day and more floor space. And you have the option of moving the entire bed forward or back depending on what else you need to haul. Then, when not needed, you can remove the entire bed in minutes. (Optional quick-release attachment brackets are available to secure the bed frame to the floor of the van.)

With the GoneCamper 2.0 bed you also have a blank slate for other camper conversion options. The GoneCamper bed fits any van regardless of the ceiling height, floor covering, wall insulation or panels, or other options. All you need is a 52-inch open space down the length of your van. Everything else is optional. Plus, this also means that the GoneCamper bed is 100% removable should you sell or trade your van. (GoneCamper beds can even be resold if your needs change.)

Contact us for more information and to schedule the delivery of your new retractable GoneCamper 2.0 bed!

GoneCamper 2.0 bed for standard vans

Traveling Efficiently, Camping Comfortably, Living Frugally

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