Sprinter Camper Conversion: Things I Learned

We chose a 2015 Sprinter 144 for our family of 4 camper van. It is our third camping van and our second camping conversion. We chose it because we drive more than we camp.

I am not much of a camper. In fact, I am really only starting to learn to camp and this can be painfully obvious for my husband at times. It was recently that I realized it would be best if I tried to learn to camp.

I am really a cottage girl. I grew up with a cottage and that is where my skillsets lie. It could be argued that few are more skilled at the art of cottaging. I can arrive at the cottage any time day or night and have everything I need. My biggest concern may be getting the cold food and drinks in the fridge and my chair positioned correctly on the deck.

So, here I am, the proud owner of a Sprinter 144 DIY camper conversion. There are dozens of great things about this van! CD gets all of the credit for the modifications. They are amazing and have helped to ease me into van life. New cabinets, fishing rod holders, and LED lights are our latest upgrades.

Even with these latest upgrades, 2020 has been an eye opening year. Here are a few things I have learned so far.

1. A Van Chosen For Driving May Not Be Ideal For Camping

It may seem like I am stating the obvious but this one took me a bit to wrap my head around. Last summer’s trip racked up 8528 miles and 190 hours and 55 minutes of total trip time. Our average mileage was 23.4 miles per gallon.

Our van is easy to drive in nearly all conditions. It is fast, comfortable, gets decent mileage, can park in any parking spot, and makes a U turn like nobody’s business. We may drive a couple of hundred miles during a day in the Rockies but nearly 1000 miles once we hit the plains. No matter how many miles we put on in a day, we rarely spend more than an afternoon at a campground. Our Sprinter has rolled into some of our country’s most beautiful campgrounds at dinner and left the next day. We have slept at a gas station in South Dakota, a rest stop in southern Michigan, friends driveways all over the US and Canada, and plenty of Walmarts.

Yet, our van is a Sprinter 144 DIY camping conversion. So what happens when we camp?

Sprinter camper conversion

2. Camping In Our Sprinter Is More Like Car Camping Than Van Living.

It turns out that I don’t really know how to camp. Even the best camping conversion may be hard for me to navigate.

My cooler is always a mess. I spill things and burn dinner regularly. I am constantly rearranging everything. At the campground, I take things out of the van and put them back in the van. CD recently pointed out that even people with RVs tend to arrange thier campsite by using outside space. I have since noticed water coolers on tables, dish washing stations on benches, accesory tables full of who knows what, chairs all over the place, laterns, and so many things that I can’t even remember.

So, is the idea to set up and tear down your own mini cottage at each campsite? If so, I think I can work towards that, although I am not sure I fully understand it yet.

Are these the things that I use to build my mini-cottage each week? Sprinter camper conversion

3. Camping In Our Sprinter Is More Like Car Camping Than Thru-Hiking

Okay, this one is really for CD. He has hiking tons of long trails, including thru hiking the PCT in 2004. Some of the skills that he learned on the PCT are not fully transferrable to our Sprinter. He does not need to drink the cooking water, save his one spork for every meal, eat two breakfasts, or check his pack weight for our day hike. Even though he doesn’t need to, he does all of this anyway. I guess that if I need to set up a mini cottage each week, he can act as if he is on a thru-hike! I am just glad that he hasn’t gone back to eating pop tarts in order to up his calories!

CD’s tent on the PCT

4. Putting Up A Tent Does Not Mean We Failed Our Sprinter Camper Conversion

The kids love tents. If we were staying at a campground for a few days and put a tent up near our Sprinter, it would not mean that we failed. It may mean that CD can sleep alone outside or the kids can play in the shade during the hottest part of the day.

The only time we put up a tent next to this Sprinter was last summer when we took our annual camping trip with my nephew. CD slept in my twenty year old tent. The rain seeped up from below and he soon realized that it is no longer water proof! The kids and I laughed about it while watching the storm from inside the van.

This was our first Sprinter and this actually did mean we failed. The low roof Sprinter did not work for us and we often used a tent to escape it! Waterton National Park

5. Camping, Either By Van Or Not, Requires Skill and Practice

It takes time to put up the table, organize the dishwashing station, unpack the kayaks, look for a fishing hole, or find a place to launch a boat. This all takes time away from my personal rest and relaxation. How much does that matter? Not much, I guess. My time is currently well spent organizing campsites and exploring unchartered rivers. Do I wish I was sitting on a deck or in a super fancy Sprinter drinking coffee and waiting for the best time to go fishing? Well, maybe – but now that I know that the van is just one part of the campsite, everything is looking up!

Schwarz camp

Would I change anything about our Sprinter camper conversion?

Not really. Well, maybe. Given endless time and a bottomless wallet, I would get a custom built Sprinter 170 for driving and camping. CD could spend his time doing minor modifications to the exsisting camping conversion, rather than being in charge of every detail starting with camping conversion design all the way through finish carpentry.

Wood paneling around rear AC. Part of our recent upgrades!

Would I recommend a Sprinter 144 camper conversion for a family?

Sure. Please make peace with its limitations in space and love its efficiency! I do!

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Sprinter Camper: 10 Upgrades That I Love!

Our Sprinter camper conversion benefited from the pandemic lock down. Here is a list of my 10 favorite upgrades!

1. LED lights

We added four lights. 1 goes on and off as the door is open and closed. The other three click on and off via one of two dimmer switches. One switch is over the bed and the second is behind the driver’s seat.

2. Guitar storage

Finally, a reasonable way to travel with a guitar! It hangs under the bed and over the kids bikes. Easy access and never in the way!

3. Trekking pole and kite shelf

Poles and kites run the length of the van and next to the kids bikes. They are easily removed via the back door.

4. Fishing pole holder.

This was a last minute addition and a surprise for the kids and I. I couldn’t be more happy!

Our three poles run the length of the van, on the driver’s side, over the bed.

5. Food and kitchen supply storage boxes.

You may have already seen these as they are part of our second bed set up but CD improved the efficiently of these as well. The lid of the box has recently been cut into two pieces so that I may access food at one end while sitting on the other end. Amazing!

6. Cabinets at eye level.

Check this out! We have two cabinets at eye level. One is on the driver’s side and is used for kitchen supplies. The second is on the passenger side, over the bed, and used for PJs and other daily use items. Both are secured to 8020.

7. Wood paneling.

Cedar tongue and groove gives the illusion of being in a cabin. Don’t underestimate the power of wood paneling!

8. Bike storage in our Sprinter camper

The kids bikes attach to wood and a metal bracket to slide under the bed easily. It takes less than 5 minutes to get them out and I have yet to encounter a peddle stuck in spokes or any of the other problems that I had prior to storing the bikes upright. Thank you high roof Sprinter camper!

9. Maxxair fan

Again, you may have heard us talk about this already but we installed the fan last year. Now that it is framed in, it not only works great but looks great too!

10. Rear AC wood paneling

CD framed the rear AC unit and vent with the Cedar tongue and groove. I don’t know how he did it but I am glad he did. It looks amazing!

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