Sprinter Camper Conversion: Amenities

Our first Sprinter camper conversion was a 2012 low roof passenger van with limited amenities. It didn’t work out.

We are a family of four and stand by our decision to camp and travel in a passenger van but our decision to start with a low roof van was ill informed and flawed.

5 reasons why we chose a low roof Sprinter:

  1. It would be a more practical daily driver.
  2. We could drive under bridges, park in parking garages, or go through a drive thru.
  3. Additional vertical space wouldn’t offer additional benefits.
  4. The kids can stand up and I can nearly stand up.
  5. It cost less.

5 reasons why this reasoning was flawed:

  1. A low roof and a high roof are essentially the same when using as a daily driver.
  2. Parking in a parking garage, going through a drive thru, or driving under some bridges may not be possible in either Sprinter.
  3. Vertical space adds many more storage options!
  4. I really want to stand up. Oh, my aching back!
  5. The low roof initially cost less but we lost any initial savings when we sold it four months later.

All about us.

  • We are a family of four, including two kids under 10.
  • More days are spent driving than camping.
  • We love windows!
  • CD is 6′ tall and I am 5’8″. We are both over 40 and maybe not as flexible as we once were.
  • Sometimes we stop along the road just to hang out in the van.
  • Money is a consideration but we would rather spend a bit more to have a van that suits us than have an aching back and a cluttered van.
Our high roof Sprinter with some fun amenities.
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Passenger Van: Pros and Cons

Pros:

Windows!

  • The kids can see.
  • Improved visual field when driving.
  • We can see if the kids are in the van from outside.
  • Sunsets!

Cons:

Windows.

  • People can see in from outside. It doesn’t bother me really but it is worth being aware.
  • We spent a few hours and a little money making curtains. Each day we spend a little time putting up and taking down curtains.

Seats

  • Safe seats for the kids.
  • Seats for family members and friends.

Seats

  • Spare seats take up garage space.
  • The spare seats are not easily removed and re-installed.
Sprinter amenities. Seats anyone?

Other Sprinter Amenities: Blind Spot Monitor, Electric Running Board, and Cross Wind Assist

These are things that our first van did not have. Do we enjoy these features?

Yes!

Blind spot monitor: changes my experience every day!

Electric running board: a bench, a welcome mat, a table, and a reminder to close the door fully.

Cross wind assist: We think it actually helps.

Thoughts on rear AC.

Rear AC: It cools the van to arctic temperatures, even on the hottest days. Luckily, it cools all the way to the front as the main AC isn’t very effective. I sometimes walk to the back and realize that the kids need blankets while I am just right. We debate its importance each time we look at solar panels for our roof but then re-affirm our need for it each summer. Our solar panels will work around it and our Maxxair fan fit just fine.

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Sprinter Roof Rails Self Installation: 12 Easy Steps.
How do you know when family van life has gone off the rails?

For other insight on choosing a van, check out this article!

What Is The Best Van To Live In?

Sprinter Roof Rails Self Installation: 12 Easy Steps.

Disclosure: Please note that this post contains affiliate links. This means that we may get a small commission if you click a link and purchase something that we recommend. Clicking these links will not cost you extra money but will help us grow our website. Thank you for your support!

Are you looking for a DIY alternative to Sprinter factory roof rails? If so, we can help.

Check out our step by step guide to self installation of roof rails in your Sprinter camper. Enjoy!

Supplies:

  • Part no. 1575 from 8020.net (for the roof rails themselves)
  • Heat gun, rented from local hardware store
  • Round file
  • 5/16″ counter sink bit
  • Drill Press, borrowed from a neighbor
  • 5/16″-18 flat head bolts, 1 inch long
  • 5/16″-18 nuts
  • 5/16″ Fender washers
  • 5/16″ Lock washers
  • Loctite
  • 3 in 1 oil
  • Butyl tape
  • Ladder
  • Safety glasses

Total cost in 2020 was under $150 (excluding items we already had or borrowed)

Step 1

Make a jig for using with the drill press.

This is dependent on the drill press or equipment that you are using. I do not claim to be an expert on this but here is a picture of what we used.

Notice that the green tape and block dots are for alignment and so that if I remove the jig, I can put it back in the same spot.
Jig for drill press

Step 2

Place the 8020 on its side on top of the van and mark the 8020 at the center of each plug.

We used a mechanical pencil in order to have a very specific line for reference.

Step 3

Use 3 in 1 oil to lubricate each drill site on the 8020.

Step 4

Align 8020 in the jig and drill it at each line.

Consider looking in your drill manual in order to set it to the correct speed.

Step 5

Check the weather report for rain. If the weather looks promising prepare the 8020 and get ready to remove the plugs from the roof.

Step 6

Use the heat gun to soften the glue and remove the plugs one by one.

A second person can help by pushing the plugs from inside the van. Be aware that the plugs and surrounding metal will be hot!

Heat gun removing plugs from roof
Plug from roof
Hole from roof plug

Step 7

Clean the roof but be aware that by the time you get up there with the 8020, it will be dusty again!

Step 8

Dry fit the 8020 and bolts on the Sprinter roof.

Use a round file if fine adjustments are needed.

Step 9

Line the 8020 with butyl tape. Be aware that the front and back of van have a slight curvature so you may need to double layer the butyl tape at the ends.

Additionally, be aware that your local hardware store may try to substitute putty for butyl tape. Stick with real butyl tape. There is a huge difference!

We ended up ordering more butyl tape online and waiting two days with holes in our roof because we ran out and could only get putty tape locally. This was less than ideal!

Step 10

Using butyl tape, line the 5/16-18 screws and the 8020 drill holes in order to fill any potential gaps during installation.

Sprinter roof rails
Butyl tape on 8020 roof rails

Step 11

With the 8020 on the roof, poke a hole through the butyl tape with a nail.

roof rail DIY

Step 12: Sprinter Roof Rails

Apply bolts and hardware and tighten. A second person may help by holding the hardware from the inside of the van.

working on the sprinter camping conversion

Sprinter Roof Rails, Installation Complete!

Congratulate yourself on another Sprinter DIY project complete!

Please follow our blog for other Sprinter tips and adventures!

Sprinter Van Shopping List For The Minimalist
Sleeping 4 in a Sprinter: Budget Friendly Guide.
Sprinter under seat storage.
Child Carrier For Hiking: Our Recommendation
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For further tips on installation we found the following blog helpful, as well.

How to Install Roof Rails to Your Sprinter Van

Throwback Blog Series: Our Littlest Camper

Our littlest camper was CD’s Honda Civic hatchback. He loved it. I took a bit more convincing to come around to it’s charm.

Our first mud season together, we hiked in to the Grand Canyon. I had a Chevy Trailblazer and CD had a 1997 Civic hatchback. His argument for taking his car was tangled in a discussion of gas mileage and climate change. I couldn’t argue against that so off we went.

Two people in a two door hatchback was different than one person in a Trailblazer. I still brought everything that I needed but I didn’t bring the other dozen or so things that I didn’t need. Everything had a place. The vehicle was no longer a suitcase in and of itself. It demanded a higher level of organization.

It was louder and hotter. The music was the same.

It was slower. Life was slower. Having lunch in the car wasn’t fun anymore. First of all, I couldn’t reach the food. The cooler had a carefully constructed place along side a tarp, tent, sleeping bags, clothes, shoes, sunscreen, and other amenities. CD’s Tetris-style packing skills were impressive.

Feeling hungry now required finding a park, pulling over, and unpacking half of the car. There is no way to rush that process.

What did I learn? This was a nicer way to travel.

Parks that I had never seen offered views that I would have otherwise missed.

The daily process of unpacking and re-packing the car was somehow therapeutic.

So, the 1997 Honda Civic hatchback and I reached an understanding. We appreciated each other.

So where did that Honda Civic take us?

Colorado, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, California, Nevada, Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Ontario. Here is a few pics of our inaugural trip.

Sunset Crater

Please follow our blog to enjoys more adventures!

A Glimpse of Southern Utah
10 Clues That Your Husband Was A Thru – Hiker.

Iceland: The Last Minute Ring Road Adventure

Arriving in Iceland, we were already aware that our Laugavegur Hut to Hut Trek was not possible. The trail follows the geothermal valley of Landmannalaugar and along the base of Eyjafjallajokull, which had been erupting for the past three months. This is a short tail about our last minute trip around Iceland via the Ring Road.

When we settled into our in Reykjavik hostel, we didn’t have a plan.

Our host recommended driving the Ring Road. That sounded fine to us. We inquired about a car rental and the conversation went like this.

What kind of car do you want?

It doesn’t matter.

How long will you be gone?

How long does it take?

Eventually, the hostel host said that he may know where we could get a car. He stepped out for a minute and came back with car keys. We rented his car and hit the road.

Pingveller National Park

Pingveller National Park was our first stop. It was amazing and beautiful and green and quiet. We spent all day hiking and looking at lichen. We made dinner at whatever time we were hungry and got back on the road.

There weren’t any hotels or restaurants. We weren’t watching the clock and we weren’t tired. It was overcast but not dusk. We found a gas station and pulled in for gas. The gas station had a sign up that said: “Closed. Will return at 8 am”.

The gas station was closed for the night. What?

We had failed to account for our latitude and the date in relation to the summer solstice. Now we were in Iceland and low on gas. Even if we had a full tank of gas, we really didn’t know where we were going anyway.

The gas station opened in the morning and that was our first night on the Ring Road in Iceland.

Iceland’s Ring Road

The next day we headed out and found a cafe in house on a cliff overlooking the ocean. The parking lot was fifty yards or so from the cafe and the walk was picturesque. From there we went on to check out the sights.

What sort of scenery did we see on the Ring Road in Iceland?

Craters. Viti was the first was saw and it was beautiful.

Viti

Icelandic horses. They don’t look like other horses.

Geysir. This is the original geyser and hiked way up on a hill to look at it from a far. This was also the biggest crowd we saw in Iceland.

One way Tunnel. We survived a long, dark, one way tunnel between Dalvik and Olafsfjordur. Depending on which direction you were driving determined if you had the right of way or if you were expected to yield by pulling into a designated M space and wait for traffic to clear. It was nerve racking and bizarre but there wasn’t much traffic.

Camping. Shortly after that we found a campground on a grassy hill. Every tent had every guyline attached. There wasn’t any wind but we certainly took note that they seem to expecting wind. It was warm and the grass was perfect. We slept on the ground next to our car. I still expected a moment of dusk but it didn’t happen. There was basically the same amount of light, day or night.

Mývatn (Midge Lake)

Vatnajokull National Park. We stuck to the Ring Road and headed south. It was substantially colder but worth wearing an extra jacket.

I have seen other glaciers but this was different. It was remarkable and stunning. The ice was shiny and clean; it felt ancient and fragile. Wow!

We woke up in the morning surrounded by fellow campers. We are the second camper from the left in the picture below. Everyone else seemed to be a bit more equipped than us. What I would have given for our Sprinter and Lil Buddy heater in Iceland that day!

Svartifoss, Skaftafell National Park

Our last minute tour of the Ring Road was a success. I am sure it has changed since 2010 but here are a few things I remember.

  • Hotels may be hard to come by and will likely not be exactly what you expect.
  • Be attentive to the time of day. We didn’t see any 24 hour services.
  • Cheese can be eaten for lunch and dinner.
  • Bring a rain jacket, a winter jacket, a hat, gloves, short sleeve shirt, and sun screen.
  • Expect to see whale and puffin meat for sale. We didn’t try it.
  • People in Iceland are tough. We saw people tubing behind a boat near Reykavik. I was wearing a winter hat.
  • The Blue Lagoon will not be exactly what you expect.
Blue Lagoon. Notice the lifeguard in a biohazard looking suit. The weather was crazy that day!

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Sleeping 4 in a Sprinter: Budget Friendly Guide.

Sleeping 4 in a Sprinter 144 is our challenge. I knew that it could be done but we wondered if we could do within our budget.

Starting points:

  1. We need two beds.
  2. Our budget is a consideration.
  3. We can’t sleep on the van floor because then we have to move everything.
  4. Sprinter camping should be fun!

Our Plan for Sleeping 4 in our Sprinter

CD came up with a plan. I didn’t see his vision. He resorted to talking with neighbors. A short time later, and to my surprise, we had storage boxes and two beds!

The Final Product: High Roof Sprinter 144 with 2 Beds.

  1. The first bed is a fixed structure behind the third seat. It has storage underneath.
  2. Two mattresses are stored on the first bed during the day. One mattress was custom cut. The mattress measurements are as follows.

Bed #1: 54 x 72

Bed #2: 48 x 68

3. We remove the second and fourth rows and leave the third row in place.

4. Bed #2 gets built in front of the third row as needed.

5. Wooden storage cabinets are secured behind the driver’s and passenger’s seats. These are constructed in such a way as to support bed #2.

6. Bed #2’s platform pieces are stored next to the third seat. Directions to construct are below.

7. The second mattress gets pulled down from the first bed and placed on the newly constructed second bed.

To construct the Bed #2, follow these steps:

  1. Piece 1 goes under our cooler to add height to the cooler and allow it to be part of the support system.
  2. The next piece is a bridge between the two fixed storage boxes.
  3. Piece 3 is a 2 x 4 that pulls forward and attaches on the passenger side storage box.
  4. The final piece is a hinged piece that opens and covers the remaining space. It is supported by the storage box edges and the 2 x 4.

10 Reasons We Love Our Two Beds

  1. The total price tag was under $500. This includes two mattress, one of which was custom cut.
  2. Bed #2 is elevated off of the floor so that shoes and other items can be stored underneath.
  3. There was a steep but short assembly learning curve. We are quite proficient at assembly and can even assemble with the kids asleep in their seats.
  4. We can sleep two people per bed and not feel crowded.
  5. The mattresses are comfortable.
  6. Our “>luggable loo is easy to access.
  7. Our cooler is helpful rather than in the way.
  8. I can sleep head to toe or side to side. CD is a bit more limited in his choices, however.
  9. We can assemble the second bed in under 10 minutes and without stepping foot outside the van or opening the door. This is amazing news during a downpour.
  10. We wake up well rested!

Our Inaugural Sprinter Van, Sleeping 4 Conversion

We drove 8528 miles with a trip timer of 190 hours, 55 minutes and we slept at campgrounds, friends’ driveways, gas stations, Walmart, rest areas, and parks. No matter where we slept, we woke up well rested and ready to go!

CD’s second bed conversion is pure genius as far as I am concerned.

Sleeping 4 in a 144 and how it can be done! Sprinter van conversions can be fun, too

Please follow our blog for other Sprinter family adventures!

Sprinter Van Shopping List For The Minimalist
Sleeping Bear Dunes: Bike, Swim, Repeat

Sprinter Low Roof vs High Roof

As you know, our first Sprinter didn’t work out. It was a low roof. We have since sold it and bought a high roof.

What did we learn and how did we learn it?

We bought our Sprinter in May and were on the road by mid-June. Our inaugural trip was 3062.1 miles from Oregon to Michigan via British Columbia and Montana.

Our first stop was an hour from home. CD thru hiked the PCT using a homemade beer can stove. Car camping isn’t something that comes to him naturally. Sprinter camping is obviously even a step beyond that.

In any case, he agreed to let me buy a camping stove. We parked at an REI just South of Portland and bought our stove. Since we were already parked, I ducked into Whole Foods. I must have been in the store for only 15 minutes. The kids were standing in the van making lunch when I came out.

Then HB decided to take a rest for bit. Sprinter DIY

A couple of hours later we were back on the road. It seemed like we were off to a slow but good start.

Now on to the cruel realities of the low roof Sprinter.

  • My head bent 45 degrees when I stood up. CD’s was even worse. My back and neck were sore
  • I could prop up on an elbow when laying on the bed but couldn’t sit up beyond that. This was less than ideal
  • The kid’s bike laid down in the back under the bed. This meant that everytime we got the coat box, shoe box, suitcases, or anything else out of the back, the bikes had to be removed. This usually meant untangling a peddle from tire spokes or something along those lines

Was the low roof a mistake? YES. Is the high roof really that much better? Yes.

Interestingly, prior to buying our first Sprinter, I read a blog written by a family that traveled by Sprinter. They had bought and sold a low roof and recommended not buying a low roof in the first place. I appreciate that they were trying to help me and I wish I had listened!

Why is the high roof better than the low roof?

  • I can sit straight up when on the bed. The kids can sit up fully on their knees
  • CD and I can both stand up fully on the floor. My neck and back no longer hurt
  • The kids bikes slide under the bed and stay upright. CD built a fancy bike rack to make this even easier
  • The vertical space offers many more options for storage
  • The high roof allows us the stack 2 mattresses on the back bed and storing the mattresses this way is key to our 2 bed conversion. Even with 2 mattress there, I can still lay and sit up on them.

Is cross – wind assist worth it?

We are not sure but we think so. We drove our high roof during some strong wind across the plains and think it really helped.

Do I recommend rear AC? Yes, Yes, Yes.

The windows in the back don’t open. The rear AC works better than the front AC. I have walked to the back seat more than once to find that it is too cold back there. One of the main complaints we heard from other Sprinter owner’s prior to buying our own was that the back was too hot in the summer. We have not had that problem.

It should be noted that if you have passengers, the AC is great. If you don’t have passengers, it may not be needed.

It is also worth noting that the AC takes up room on the roof. This is a consideration when looking at racks or solar panels but we don’t consider it to be a barrier at this point.

What about lane change alerts and back up cameras?

Our low roof version did not have these and it was possible to drive around without these but life is way better with these accessories. I recommend these!

Is an electric sliding step worth it?

I don’t know what this cost or if it is worth it. We bought our van used and this was included but I find it to be handy. It has been a shelf for cooking supplies when I am cooking next to the van with the door open, a door mat to scrape off mud and sand, a bench to take off shoes and socks or just rest a bit, or as an alert to let me know that I haven’t shut the door all the way. Would I get this feature again? Sure

Our current van is a 2015 Mercedes Sprinter 144 passenger van. It has cross wind assist, back up camera, lane change alerts, and rear AC. If you haven’t spend much time in Sprinter’s yet, please know that the most fancy feature we have found is the giant Mercedes symbol on the front. The inside of the van has been quite underwhelming. If they made the Sprinter with even a fraction the features of my Toyota Sienna, it would be a traveling family’s dream!

Please comment or contact us if you would like more specific details about space in the low roof vs high. CD handles measurements and that sort of thing and is happy to share what he has learned.

Please follow our blog and our adventures!

Storage In Our Sprinter: A simple solution
Sleeping 4 in a Sprinter: Budget Friendly Guide.

Sprinter Van Shopping List For The Minimalist

I could write dozens of blogs about products we use and love in our Sprinter. Each time we change the layout of the van or try a new design, we end up with new products. Some last the test of time; others are quickly proven ineffective and re-purposed or passed on to the next person. The most important products are best discussed in detail with friends on a Friday afternoon. In any case, here is a minimalist’s Sprinter shopping list.

Disclosure: Please note that this post contains affiliate links. This means that we may get a small commission if you click a link and purchase something that we recommend. Clicking these links will not cost you extra money but will help us grow our website. Thank you for your support!

Light My Fire Titanium Spork

Light My Fire Titanium Spork: We stand by the titanium model but please beware that if you pair stainless steel plates with a titanium spork, you may have to tolerate the metal on metal scraping noise.

For those of you that are not quite ready to commit to titanium, there is a plastic model as well.

3 mm Accessory Cord

3 mm accessory cord: CD’s exact words are: “3 mm cord is handy“. It may be because CD knows every knot and when exactly to use every knot but I actually am starting to believe that string is an important travel accessory. Regarding everyday use, we have a piece approximately 6 inches off the floor of the van, extending from one end of the kids seat to the other. This cord keeps the storage boxes under each seat from sliding across the floor and it is quite effective!

Plastic Soap Dish

Plastic Soap Dish: When CD recommended this, I laughed. It reminded me of going to the community pool in 1985. That led me to consider going to garage sales looking for one. I don’t really like shopping, however.

I soon admitted that the best option was to just spend a few dollars, sacrifice a little plastic, and buy a soap dish. Wow, what a game changer. Our Sprinter has a hand washing station and now our bar of soap stays nicely in its soap dish.

No Mess! Clean hands! This was a win!

National Park Passport Books

National Parks Passport Book: Pick up at any National Park. Warning: May be habit forming.

CD has commented that he is glad we didn’t have one of these before we had kids or else we may have doubled the length of all of our trips by just driving around to get our stamps.

Hydroflask

Hydroflask: We live in Oregon. This is standard equipment. It really keeps hot drinks hot and cold drinks cold. It doesn’t leak. Try it!

Dustpan and Brush

Dustpan and Brush: This is another one that I thought I would never use. CD had this in his Honda Civic when we met. I never used it and was actually against using it. I just thought it was crazy and the car would be sandy anyway.

My opinion has since changed. Last summer CD caught me brushing out the van floor, step, and seats. Once I started, I just couldn’t stop. I keep this next to the sliding door, secured by 3 mm climbing cord, of course.

A quick brush of sand or dirt off the step or floor is super satisfying. It may be the mom in me speaking but I just can’t see traveling without it!

All The World by Liz Garton Scanlon

All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon.

We travel with the smallest version of this book. We love it. It inspires us. The full size edition is great for a baby shower, grandparents gifts, or just anyone that appreciates a pick me up.

“Hope and Peace and Love and Trust, All the World is All of US”.

Headlamp

Head Lamp: The kids and CD love their headlamps. I prefer to use my “night vision”. Ha! I am sure we couldn’t travel without these!

Notebook

  • Notebook: An old fashioned lined notebook . There is just something great about it!

Portable Charger

Portable Charger: We charge this each day using our portable solar panel. Then we charge our cell phones or whatever else. It has saved us tons of times. We have the Jackery Bolt 6000 mAh

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Portable Solar Panel

Portable Solar Panel: We have the Biolite Solar Panel 5 and we like it. It even works on cloudy days.

Small Wooden Cutting Board

When you eat cheese and crackers everyday you need a good cutting board!

Have fun out there!

Please follow our blog for more tips and adventures!

Hiking Pack List: PCT Northern California.
Sleeping 4 in a Sprinter 144. Sprinter DIY camping conversion.