Sprinter Adventures: 2020 Re-cap

We have enjoyed countless day trips and many long road trips in our DIY vans. Despite the hours and seemingly endless Sprinter adventures, we failed to anticipate how 2020 would elevate our attachement to our van. There is nothing like a pandemic to help us appreciate traveling in a vehicle that is more of a self-supported safety bubble than a mode of transportation. I have never been more grateful for our Sprinter and, as most of you know, I was so grateful that I took just went out and bought a 2020 4×4 Sprinter to start our DIY camping conversion all over again!

Here is a run down of some of the experiences that our Sprinter camper brought to us in the midst of a 2020 and a world wide pandemic.

Sprinter Camper DIY additions!

CD spend March and April in the van and it was worth it! I learned a ton about 8020, wiring, finish carpentry (van style), hinges, and options for storing fishing poles in a Sprinter 144. The van has never looked so great or been so comfortable. Despite this, CD kindly agreed to do it all again! I look forward to seeing what is next!

Exploring the Oregon Coast, pandemic Sprinter Adventure 2020 style

Any where on the coast is fair game when you can eat, sleep, change clothes, and use the restroom in the safety of your van! Once we realized this, we hit the coast enough times to find a favorite beach, settle into a routine, and pick up two new skimboards along the way (thank you grandma and grandpa!)

Revisiting Oregon Dunes

A great thing about the Pacific Coast and Oregon Dunes is that the weather is nearly the same whether you are there in winter or summer. The difference is that in the winter, it may be warmer than in the valley and in the summer it may be cooler. Either way, it is always fun! We spent Thanksgiving there and it was just the escape we needed. Thank you Sprinter van!

Camping anywhere that is less than a two hour drive

It wasn’t super easy to find available camping in Oregon during COVID times but we happened accross a campground that was open and perfect for us! This also led to a third child-size kayak purchase. We now have kayaks several thousand miles apart and one to spare.

Sprinter Camping in a lava field while watching a comet

No worries if the campgrounds are full. We slept like babies in the parking lot of an observatory in the middle of a lava field on a night of prime comet viewing. Not too bad!

Escaping wildfire smoke

As self supported travelers, we felt it was safe and reasonable to leave the state to escape wildfire smoke, even though traveling during the pandemic was not recommended and included post travel quarentines. School and work continued without interruption despite everything. We even snuck in a few hikes and a national park stop while on the road.

Checking off more National Parks

We managed to get a few new parks in the mix and that isn’t easy to do, even in normal times! Dinosaur National Monument was a win for sure! We also hiked, slept, and explore a handful of other parks and monuments, some of which we would not have taken the time to explore during our usual summer travels.

Waking up in Michigan

We made it to Michigan. I am grateful. It wasn’t long enough and it was a tough and confusing time earlier in the pandemic. Mostly, I know we can do it again. We can safely travel thousands of miles in our Sprinter to be with those we love. Next time has been on my mind everyday since.

Here is the van we will do it in next time, summer or winter.

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On to 2021, a new Sprinter camper DIY project, more pandemic safe adventures, and more opportunities to take the road less traveled. I look forward to seeing what’s next. Happy New Year!

Follow our adventures!

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Click for: Tips on packing for a pandemic road trip

Click for: Tips for starting a camper van make-over

Sprinter Camper Conversion 2020

We are a family of 4 that wants to combine efficiency for long trips with comfort of frequent day trips. This is our third Sprinter. Our first was a low roof, our second was a 2015, and our third is a 2020 4 x 4. The big question is: what should we do differently with this Sprinter camper conversion?

Answering that question has not been as easy as I imagined. We are still at the beginning. Here is a list of five considerations for our most recent Sprinter build.

1. Time

I have never been known for my patience. I sold our mini-van to buy this Sprinter. In doing so, I kept our 2015 Sprinter. While having two Sprinters in the driveway seems a bit unusual, I do not regret it! We have one van ready to go for day trips at a moments notice!

We spent Thanksgiving at Oregon Dunes and yesterday hiking in the pouring rain. Our van made it all possible, even in the midst of a pandemic. For better or worse, we have time to debate and plan our next build. So far, insulation is in and all of the other plans change hour to hour.

2. Sleeping Space

We are all older than during our first build and we plan to keep this van for much longer than the others so we need to use the space much more carefully than before. We went from 2 people sleeping on the floor in our first van to a genius 2 bed system in our second. The challenge of our second build is that when the beds are converted, you can no longer stand on the floor. How can we use space to allow privacy and preserve floor space even at night? Is this even possible?

3. Kitchen Space

Our prior Sprinter camper builds did not have kitchens. I am typically happy to cook outside or eat cheese and crackers inside when the weather is bad. It rains in Oregon, however. Rain is so much more difficult for me to deal with than snow. Rain means mud.

I cooked two meals while on our recent Thanksgiving trip. I sat on the electric step in a puddle of mud both times. It was the best option.

If you have ever tried to sit at a picnic table in the Pacific Northwest between the months of October and March, you know what I mean. Everything is muddy, wet, and mossy.

In retrospect, my shift towards indoor cooking started last winter with hot chocolate and went as far as soup and instant mashed potatoes by July. By then I was really stretching the limits of the Camp Chef Stryker that we bought for boiling water for tea. At this point, I am open to discussing a kitchen.

4. Thinsulate installation goes more quickly the second time.

The van was insulated in a fraction of the time of our last build. The panels did not go back in more easily than last time, however. We still needed two people and a bit of patience to get the front panel back in. The airbags added to the stress a bit but mostly because it felt nerve wracking to have exposed airbags just hanging around.

5. All options are on the table and that doesn’t make the process easier.

This is the first time that I have been ready to spend additional money to get the best build for us. It turns out that short of buying a van that is already converted, deciding to spend money doesn’t really help. The world of DIY Sprinter Camper conversions is open ended, confusing, and popular, especially right now. Everyone we talk in the business is busy. Supplies are back ordered but ideas are still limitless. Everyone has good ideas. Not all of the ideas are interchangable so each decision affects the next.

So far, in addition to insullation, we have installed a modular rack system. It was easy to install and we love what we can do from here. With that being said, we drilled holes to secure it to the van, so we must go forward from there. As we browse the internet, we are careful not to click on other modular systems or accessories attached to systems other than what we have in place.

It feels like we are headed down a rabbit hole but keep getting turned around and going back. As I mentioned, patience is not my strong suit but I am doing my best to give the process a chance. Even I look forward to seeing where this all lands! I just hope it lands somewhere while there is still time for a ski trip this winter. Wish us luck and leave us comments with your ideas and questions!

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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!

Please join our blog!

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Sprinter Roof Rails Self Installation: 12 Easy Steps.

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!

Sleeping 4 in a Sprinter: Budget Friendly Guide.
Sprinter Van Shopping List For The Minimalist

For more ideas check out this post!

11 Camper Van Bed Designs For Your Next Van Build

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
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Please follow our blog for other Sprinter family adventures!

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