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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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.

Please follow our blog and our Sprinter adventures!

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!

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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

How do you know when family van life has gone off the rails?

Here are the top three signs that life while traveling in a van with kids has gotten out of hand.

  1. You endorse a Burger King vs McDonald’s french fry taste test.
Yikes!

2. You stop to buy fly strips. Yes, they still make fly strips and, yes, we needed them in the van.

3. You have a can of easy cheese in your purse.

Embarrassing as it may be, this was actually one day in our life. I can’t remember what got us to this point but I imagine it was a hot day and we drove quite a few miles. I was obviously delirious.

The day ended with a relaxing dinner at our campsite.

THEN … We woke up to this and everything was okay. As the kids would say: We were “livin’ the life”!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Storage In Our Sprinter: A simple solution

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!

We tried suitcases, duffel bags, and plastic tubs but none of these solved our family of four’s Sprinter storage problem.

What Is Our Priority?

Easy and fast access to clothing and daily use items.

Where Did We Find Extra Storage In Our Sprinter?

Under a bed with a hinge.

Our bed has a hinge and folds up from the front.

It is then be held open by two pieces of wood.

Sprinter Storage under our bed. Easy to access, organized. I love it!

What Is Inside The Space?

Typically there are four red bins and two square black bins. We get one red bin each.

Four red bins hold our clothes, everything from socks to sweatshirts.

Two square black bins are there as well. One hold toiletries and the other holds a bag full of dirty laundry.

Past the black bins in an open space that hold our curtains and two blankets. Our curtains go up each night when we put away our toothbrushes and go back to storage each morning after we change our clothes.

Follow our blog for more tips and family Sprinter adventures. Have fun out there!

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For more ideas check out this post!

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Sprinter Conversion: Insulation

CD decided its time to put insulation in our Sprinter. I gladly drove from the Willamette Valley to Hood River, Oregon to pick up Thinsulate at DIY Van.

Here is a short picture documentary of the insulation project.

Removing the head liner.
Putting in the insulation and getting into every crack.
More insulation stuffing.

For our 144 passenger van, we purchased 39 linear feet of insulation. CD is not quite done yet but agrees that we have about the right amount. Our only other expense was a new pair of scissors.

While CD was busy wrestling Thinsulate, the kids and their friends practiced their camping skills. As you can see, they are ready!

Please follow our blog for other updates!

Sleeping 4 in a Sprinter: Budget Friendly Guide.
Suttle Lake, Oregon: Camping Review.

Christmas Break Finale: Willamette Valley, Oregon

The past three days have been a blur. The neighborhood kids descended on the street and yards. They played outside together through lunch and well past sunset. Some of us finally got in on the action with dinner and Euchre last night.

In a last ditch effort to have a productive Christmas break, I tore apart our master bathroom. The wall paper is mostly down and our tooth brushes are on my night stand.

Despite this, we hopped in the Sprinter for “Sunday Fun-Day”. We headed to the only hike we could think of that was on the way to Home Depot but far enough to justify driving the Sprinter and close enough that we usually don’t go there.

Jackson Frazier Wetlands. Sprinter DIY

I hadn’t been there in three years. It had changed. Much of it looked more like a farmer’s field than a wetland. There were signs explaining that a “emergency restoration” was in progress. Apparently this includes removing invasive species and modifying water drainage.

It was a nice day in Oregon for a hike on a boardwalk. We found two geo-caches, got plenty of mud on our boots, and had snacks in our van.

While I am on the topic of invasive species, I will pause to mention my current least favorite invasive species.

Have you heard of Phragmites? Have you seen the videos on our media page? Of all the invasive species that I have battled, these are by far the most impressive. Here is a quick video from Lake Huron. This was part of the lake but now it is a field of Phragmite.

Please follow our blog for other adventures.

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!

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We don’t give our kids electronics when we travel.

We don’t give our kids electronics when we travel and sometimes I wonder what we are thinking.

I didn’t watch movies or have fancy electronics in the car when I was a kid. It was okay. I also didn’t have a car seat so I am not sure that the “good ole days” philosophy is really the way to go.

In any case, our Sprinter trip timer total from last summer was over 190 hours. That is 190 hours of sitting in a van. I find that number a bit alarming. At the very least, it can’t be healthy.

They also don’t sleep in the car. Their refusal to sleep in the car may be an entirely different blog someday.

Two days ago we drove a mere 600 miles from Corvallis, Oregon to Vernon, BC. We left in the dark and we arrived in the dark. They didn’t sleep.

What did they do?

  • Talked
  • Asked questions
  • Argued
  • Ate snacks
  • Kicked my seat
  • Sang songs
  • Argued
  • Invented a new version of the “Florida or Bust” signs that I used to see in car window’s on I-75 South Bound during spring break. HB used most of a pad of sticky notes writing messages to passing cars. The notes included “Merry Christmas”, “Big White, here we come”, “We the North”, and “I love adventure.” The notes are still there.
  • Engineered a pulley system to lift HB’s “toy box” from the floor to his lap. Grace was involved in pulling the rope when he needed both hands to secure the box on his lap
  • Reviewed their license plate list from last summer. (60 license plates, spanning 4 countries)
  • Ate snacks
  • Listened to audiobooks
  • Talked
HB’s window notes! Sprinter DIY. #vanlife
The pulley system. Sprinter DIY. #vanlife

It is unlikely that there was a consecutive sixty seconds of silence at any point during that 600 miles. There may have not even been thirty seconds of silence. At least they still talk to us I guess. Until they find out that other cars have DVD players, I think we will continue to travel the more old fashioned way.

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Suttle Lake, Oregon: Camping Review.

We live in the Willamette Valley and enjoy camping in Oregon.

The coastal range is to the East and the Cascades to the West. It rains; it is wet. Lichen and fungi are prolific.

CD and I met in the high mountains of Colorado. The high desert is a comfortable climate for us. With that being said, we both enjoy the Willamette Valley. It is not typically until I leave the valley that I realize how much more comfortable I am with brown pine needles than with banana slugs and trees chocked by lichen.

Birthday Weekend Camping: Oregon

It was CD’s birthday weekend. We had been home from our summer trip for less than a month. Our Oregon to Oregon odometer reading for the summer was 8528 miles and our trip timer reading was 190 hours and 55 minutes. Even with just having returned home, we missed the Sprinter life. The kids and I suggested an overnight camping trip for CD’s birthday. It needed to be a quick 1 night get-away.

We all agreed to drive East towards Sisters. CD had eyed up a few places and chose Suttle Lake mostly because we were short on time. It wasn’t as far as Sisters or Bend but was still on the dry side of the pass. There were several National Forest campgrounds and had easy access from the highway. Although he is not a fisherman, CD was kind enough to suggest that the kids and I bring our fishing poles and try our luck. We were sold.

If you have even driven Highway 20 from I-5 to Sisters, you may remember that there is a tipping point were the lichen stops and the high desert begins. I can’t tell you at exactly which mile marker this happens. This time, I didn’t think much of it until we pulled in to the campground. The ground and the air was dry.

The campgrounds were only a few miles from the highway. We drove through Blue Bay campground. It was nice but we kept going and settled on Link Creek.

Link Creek Campground

There were plenty of sites available. We chose a central site so that the kids could fish from the dock and we could see them from the van.
There was a dirt boat launch, fish cleaning stations, and pit toilets. The sites were plenty large and it was generally clean.

It was CD’s birthday so he was calling the shots. CD was happy to sit on the picnic table, strum his guitar, and enjoy the air. The view wasn’t anything spectacular.

Sprinter DIY. #vanlife
Sprinter DIY. #vanlife

I set up the kids fishing poles and started dinner. There were a few boats on the lake. From where we stood, it was shallow and not very inviting for swimming. It may be noted, however, that I was born and raised in Michigan and have high fresh water standards.

The Boats, Oregon Camping at Suttle Lake

In any case, it wasn’t long before we heard a motor revving. Some sort of race boat with two exhaust pipes sticking up launched at the adjacent dock and was driving around the lake. This lake isn’t huge, by the way. The boat would speed around the lake two or three times, then idle for a bit. When it was driving it was so loud that we could barely talk to each other. I am sure other campers were irritated but I was more amazed, interested, and surprised. The whole thing went on for an hour or so and then they loaded the boat on the trailer and drove away.

The second most interesting thing we saw was a good sized cabin cruiser. It was anchored off shore a bit. Again, this is not a huge lake. I assumed they would sleep there but rather than doing so, they pulled into the dock at the campground and slept in a tent.

I guess people really love boating on this lake. Based on our lack of success fishing and the fishing equipment on their boat, it occurred to me that you may need a boat to get to the fish.

Several campers had kayaks pulled up on shore and easily accessed by walking paths from their campsites. This seemed like a nice idea to me.

The Great Awning Experiment

By the time the kids and I got back, CD was fully immersed in his much anticipated awning experiment. Years ago he made an awning for our minivan. He had been wanting to try it out on the Sprinter. Rain was expected over night and I guess he decided this was his chance.

Here it is. Don’t trip over the guylines. Sprinter DIY. Oregon camping
oregon camping

Well, he did it. It was set up and surprisingly solid. I was curious about the sag in the middle but it sounded like he had a plan. The guylines were a bit of a hazard but I was willing to humor him and give the thing a try. It was his birthday after all.

He told me to walk around the van to see how he secured the awning.

This is what I found:

oregon camping

He seemed to know it was ridiculous and not any sort of ground breaking invention. Since we couldn’t open the driver’s side door, it was barely even a short term solution but he was so happy.

HB woke up around dawn. We found a bridge that we had failed to see the night before. There were fish rising and jumping all over the place. We tried every fishing trick I knew but they just didn’t bite. We watched the sun come up, saw trail runners and walked some of the trail. It may be worth mentioning that you can see and hear highway 20 while standing on the shore but we didn’t notice this from our campsite.

Shortly after CD and Grace woke up, the skies opened up. The awning held. We ate oatmeal in the van and broke camp.

The Suttle Lodge

CD was curious about the Suttle Lake Lodge. It was near Highway 20 and not far off the road. We walked into the main lodge and were greeted by a crowded room of happy lodge guests. There was shelf after shelf of board games. The dining area was community style with big long tables next to sofas and coffee tables. Dogs were welcome and everyone was smiling. Big windows and glass doors offered a lake view. A large patio and lawn were beyond. There were docks with row boats and fishing boats for rent.

I am quite sure that CD didn’t intend to spend time or money here but it was just too tempting. I ordered fresh squeezed orange juice, grapefruit juice, and an egg sandwich with aged cheddar.

We already had breakfast at camp but the opportunity to drink fresh squeezed juice while playing board games by a hot fire with tons of happy people just seemed like the right thing to do. The kitchen was slow but for good reason. The place was packed and they were obviously making every order one by one. We didn’t mind the wait.

In Summary,Oregon Camping Review:

Would I camp at Suttle Lake again? Probably not.

What would I do differently if camped there again? Walk, boat, or bike to breakfast at the Suttle Lake Lodge. Spend time playing corn hole and drinking fresh juice. I may consider happy hour at the lodge too. I may consider just staying at the lodge if I need an easy to get to lodging location for a few people that like that kind of thing.

Please follow our blog for more adventures!

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