For years, the North American RV market was missing what so many adventurers seemed to want: A compact camper that fits in your garage, can function as a daily driver, and still sleep two to four people for short weekend camping trips. It’s what has made the Volkswagen California van—unfortunately not sold in the U.S.—so popular around the world. Love campers and trailers? Come join our community group.
The good news? Things are changing, fast. The biggest announcement of the last six months is that Mercedes-Benz is bringing a pop top camper—called the Weekender—to market in 2020. Companies big and small have recognized the demand, resulting in a range of new innovative camper vans.
Other choices are built on smaller versions of best-selling larger vans (like the Ram Promaster City or the Mercedes Metris) while some companies are converting low-roof Nissan NV200 cargo vans. One seller is even building out a minivan—the Toyota Sienna—into a weekend getaway.
In the past, we’ve written guides to other popular campers—like the best teardrops, lightweight trailers, Class B camper vans, DIY camper van kits, and vintage trailers. Now we turn to the newly competitive small camper van market, with five picks that are sure to impress.
Cost: Debuting this spring with price TBD, but rumored to be just under $70,000
Details: You’ve probably seen a Mercedes pop-top van before, but the Weekender will be the first factory-built version in the U.S. Thanks to a partnership with Seattle’s Peace Vans and Mercedes-Benz Master Solutions partner Driverge, soon you’ll be able to walk into a Mercedes dealership and snag a Metris with a seating for five and sleeping spaces for four.
The Weekender will fit inside a standard seven-foot-high garage and will come with a pop-top sleeping are for two that pushes up easily thanks to spring loaded lifts. The camper also features privacy curtains, a rear seat that folds down to a double-size bed, rotating front seats, and an auxiliary battery.
Cost: The 2019 Free Bird SV+ starts at $37,165
Details: Built on the Nissan NV200 cargo van, the Free Bird from Caravan Outfitter uses a convenient slide-rail system that makes switching from camper van to cargo hauler a cinch. The slide-and-glide system allows all of the components to be installed or removed in about two minutes. The main cabin is a series of boxes that hold everything you need to camp.
The kitchen is accessed from the rear in a slide-out kitchen box; it consists of a portable butane stove and two storage drawers. A seating area and table makes a comfortable indoor dining or workspace, and then at night the table legs remove and the table slides in to form a mattress platform. The cushions combine to form a 76-inch full-size bed, with space for two adults. Read more, this way.
Cost: Van conversions start at $4,000
Details: Unlike other small camper van companies that use Nissan or Mercedes vans, Colorado-based Oasis Campervans converts the all-wheel-drive Toyota Sienna minivan into mobile homes-on-the-go. Oasis Campervan conversions include a main living room with pull-out drawers, a finished floor, and a moveable table for working. One of the most innovative parts of the design is a foldable chair that transforms into part of the bed with a helpful back rest, and when in the sleeping position the full-size mattress can hold one or two people comfortably.
Similar to a teardrop trailer, the van’s rear area accesses a small kitchen with a sink, running water, drawers and shelves, and a large countertop. Dinner prep is made easy thanks to a fold-up kitchen table, and in certain van layouts, the kitchen can also fit a slide-out drawer that fits a cooler or refrigerator. Head over here for more.
Cost: Starting from $28,500
Details: Recon Campers uses the Nissan NV200 commercial grade van to create campers that give you #VanLife at a fraction of the cost of many larger builds. Their Envy camper features seven feet of standing room thanks to a pop top that contains an 88 inch by 40 inch upper bed.
Down below, the Envy boasts a custom rear bench seat—made with breathable multi-density foam—that folds flat into a 42 inch by 72 inch lower bed, perfect for a couple. A galley kitchen isn’t large but houses most of the basics, like a stainless steel fridge, sink, and pantry area with a bit of room for storage.
Recon Campers temporarily stopped taking orders in 2018 to expand production, but they should open up sales again in spring 2020. Read more about the Envy, this way.
Cost: The Cascade Camper conversion fits on Ram Promaster City Cargo vans newer than 2015 and retails for $7,000
Details: California-based Cascade Campers uses a Ram Promaster City (that’s smaller than the longer Ram Promasters) to install basic, no-frills kits that give you just what you might need for life on the road and nothing more. Unlike other camper kits that you can install yourself, Cascade Campers does all the work. You just need to get them a Promaster City and wait about two weeks for installation.
The company has added insulation, wall, and ceiling paneling to help with heat, and a long, futon-style sofa on the driver’s side is the only rear seating option. That same sofa allows for plenty of seating when at camp, and at night it transforms into a 42-inch by 76-inch double bed. For cooking, a small kitchen runs along the passenger side of the van and includes a sink and a Dometic fridge. The sink runs off of a 19-liter jerry can with quick-release water lines, and a single-burner butane stove is a simple solution to cooking. Head over here for more.