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Do You Need A Van You Can Stand Up In?

A common question when looking for a campervan is “how important is it to stand up in your van?” If you’re coming to this post looking for a yes or no answer, prepare for disappointment! Like anything in van life, whether or not you should buy a van you can stand up in is a combination of your goals and finances. With that qualifier, there are a few points to go over that should make your decision easier.

short DIY campervan conversion build
@juliette.orlans

Things To Take Into Account

Where are you taking your van?

If you plan on spending a lot of time in nature, having a short van might not be that big of a deal. You’ll be more likely to spend time outdoors if you are boondocking or camping. Standing outside to stretch out before bed or to put a jacket on are easier when you aren’t in a crowded area and confined to the van interior.

Planning to live in a city? You probably don’t want to hang around cooking your morning eggs on the sidewalk with an outdoor kitchen. When city dwelling, you’ll likely be doing more chores and activities within the confines of your vehicle and will feel more restrained with a short roof.

Are you trying to be stealth?

This one works both ways. Vans with a standard height generally draw less attention than high top ones. That said, a taller van will allow to stay in your vehicle longer without being noticed.

Weather conditions

Spending time outdoors is only fun when the weather is nice. Consider how much control you have over these conditions. If you’re stuck in Seattle, that rain is going to constrain you to your vehicle more. Being forced to hunch over for days on end gets tiring.

Alternatively, if you have the flexibility to follow the weather you should take advantage of it. A short van will be less noticeable when you have the ability to avoid rain and snow.

Budget

If you’re van dwelling on the cheap, you’ll find that low top vans are cheaper and more abundant. Because they’re easier to find, you are more likely to grab one in good condition for a reasonable price.

high top sprinter van you can stand in
@rebeccamaroney

Benefits Of A High-Top Van

I’m not going to go into as much detail on the benefits of a high-top vehicle because most of these are obvious. Here are a few advantages:

  • You can stand!
  • Easier to get dressed and cook ect.
  • More storage space all around
  • Possibility of adding bunk beds or more sleeping areas for families
  • You can sleep further away from the celling
  • Roof solar panels and vents are more stealth

Rest assured, even if you are 6’2” there are vehicles out there that you can stand in (but it will cost you).

Benefits Of A Standard Height Van

building out a low top DIY campervan conversion for van life
@heyvoyager

You can build it in a garage

Depending on where you live, being able to build out a conversion van in a climate-controlled garage can be a huge plus. We built our van on an unshaded driveway during July in Phoenix, AZ and I can guarantee you it contributed to a number of arguments and poor construction decisions.

If you plan on building a sprinter van outside during a Minnesota winter you’re going to have a rough time.

Parking structures

Some cities are better about this than others. There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to find a parking space for a tall van somewhere unfamiliar.

Be forewarned, some parking structures will tell you the limit is 8ft. tall and as soon as you drive through the pay window the ceiling will magically drop to 6ft.

Drive-throughs and Car Washes

Just like parking structures, drive-throughs and car washes are something people rarely consider when planning their road trip. A tall vehicle will limit you in some situations. You will constantly have to be on the lookout for height limits during travel.

Easier to pack things on the roof

I’m sure this is not on everyone’s list, but once you hit the road – trying to secure a kayak or paddle board to your roof becomes a huge pain! We’ve also seen more than one high-top van with a rooftop cargo box and I bet I can count on one hand how often those cases are opened!

Canoe On Top Of a Camper Van

The ability to articulate solar

If you’ve read any of our solar posts, you know that angling panels directly at the sun can give you an advantage when it comes to power. With a short van you have the ability to add articulating frames beneath your solar panels. (I know you can do that this with a high top as well) but the ability to climb up high and adjust panels twice a day reduced.

Tips To Make Your Standard Height Van More Comfortable

Spend time outdoors

The less time you spend in the van, the less you’re going to notice the height of your ceiling.

Get an awning

Adding an awning to the outside of your van will make spending time outdoors significantly more comfortable. An awning can block the sun, rain and snow opening up the indoor space. Bonus points if you travel with a folding chair that packs down small.

build a custom interior in a standard height campervan conversion
@juliette.orlans

Make a space where you can sit up straight in the van

Perhaps the number one differentiator to your comfort level is the ability to sit up straight. If you can’t stand in your van, you should try to construct an area where you won’t have to lean over to use a laptop or read. This way at least your back can have proper posture for times when you’re confined to the van for long periods of time.

Take it from us, sitting on your bed with your legs propped out straight in front of you is not going to cut it long-term. A swivel chair is an excellent way to add seating without taking up space. On a lower budget, a folding camp chair is all it takes to have comfortable seating. We keep a short 12×12” ottoman on-board that doubles as a garbage can and stool.

Keep foam padding handy so you can kneel on it

Similar to having seating in a van, being able to hold different positions for longer periods of time makes you feel less restricted in your movement and living space. Inexpensive foam padding from Home Depot or Lowe’s will help save your knees.

Don’t Forget About Pop-Top Vehicles

living in a pop-top campervan conversion
@jake_and_amanda

With a pop-top vehicle you can get some benefits of both worlds. If you’ve got solar or a roof box, it’s easier to access the roof. If not, you are basically at normal height for vehicles and can fit in most garages. They also neatly store your bet away above your head so that you can use valuable floor space for seating and storage.

Pop-tops are certainly the least stealthy of the options, but they do great in the outdoors. There’s nothing better for sleeping in the summer than an elevated, breathable elevated mesh room!

Eternal Flame In NY

Kate Moore

Kate is the lead content creator for ParkedInParadise.com and has spent over two years living in a camper van conversion. She has traveled through 48 US states and writes about van life, camping and RV living.

This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. Nice insights, fun to read. I have an extended f250 I have had a bunk in for years. Not a total build out but “campable”.
    The perpetual hunch back was aggravating to say the least.
    Though it is no longer stickered nor registered I still use it in my own woods as a bunk house and good dry tool storage.
    RE your foam cushion for kneeling: boat seat cushions are fabulous for this. I have newer ones I use in my boat but I have a pair of ancient ones I use working on my own projects and keep one in my utility truck for working on job sites.
    They have handles which are usually stitched towards one side so it is easy to keep one side consistently UP as the bottom can get smudged and maybe you should not kneel in that.
    At one time I had marked “TOP” with a magic marker but that faded with use, probably transfered to my knees as “POT”, sort of.
    I build sleeping cabins, sheds, vardos, huts n hovels all of which one can stand in at least the center but are not stealthy and convenient as the van was.
    Thanks for your website, be well, Jeff

  2. Hi, I’m looking for a pop top for my Chevy 3500 passenger van 2018. Do you know where I can get these? I had a Chevy 3500 2016 passenger van, that was just totaled out in February 2019. I had converted it to a camper van, also. I can’t locate any dealers that sell these pop tops on the east coast of the USA. Thank you in advance

    1. You should look at the YouTube channel for CheapRVLiving.com, they had a few videos specifically about this and listed costs and named the people you can pay to do it for you.

  3. Good list, but there’s one you missed. High top vans generally have longer wheelbases and therefor wider turning circles. Lack of manoeuvrability can be a real issue when dealing with bush/beach/mountain tracks and in older cities (especially Europe) where roads can be quite narrow. egs; U-turns and 3 point turns/K turns can be impossible and could mean having to reverse a considerable distance.
    https://youtu.be/_3KlhNGqRrQ
    https://youtu.be/g0Xk6Mct4lo

  4. I like to extend the roof of my 2002 GMC Savana long bed. I cannot stand up in it. Please can you email mesquite or information on how, who can do that. Right now, I live in Tucson, AZ.
    Thank you!

    1. Beginner on this adventure. Had this dream almost all my life. Now I am 77 and it’s time to get off the dime. I want a van that I can go on short trips over about two weeks and the longest one being one month.
      I am a sponge for any and all information

  5. Does anyone find that a sunroof or moonroof helps with the perception of roominess, even if it doesn’t provide a place to actually stand up? Or how about a sliding or removable moonroof? I was thinking someone might make an aftermarket “mini-popup” that would fit in a factory opening, but haven’t found anything. (I’m researching vehicles for part-time van living to buy in the next year, am looking at minivans or a mid-sized SUV like the Toyota Highlander. Some sort of sunroof.moonroof is a requirement.)

  6. My wife and I use my 2008 Ford E250work van (home contractor but I like to think I save marriages).
    In 2017 I stripped out the shelves/safety wall and we headed south for Kentucky and found a great spot for our quest, the total eclipse.
    I mounted a queen-sized bed (memory foam) with under-bed storage, a flush toilet, a small kitchen area with a butane stove, and even hung our CPAP machines from the ceiling. L.E.D. lighting (dimmable) gave us coverage and nets gave us added storage. I also installed a pop-up vent over the bed so that air coming in through the front windows could channel through the van and out the vent.
    I made a mosquito net that was held on by magnets so both back doors could swing open and we got a great breeze (but not while driving :-). A small Ridgid 18volt fan cooled us at night and we put a cooler between the front seats which acted as a table and food storage. My van has sonar in the rear bumper which makes parking a breeze as it uses sound signals to let me know just where I am and I don’t have to take my eyes off the mirrors. A tilt-out bike rack mounted to the hitch gives us the capability of carrying our bikes for our much-loved cycle trips.
    In 2020 we went north and headed first up Mt. Washington and yes, they inspected me for weight and allowed me to drive up to the top. We had a wonderful omelet (my bride can cook) prepared on our stove and then took a nap. Hiked over the top to the A-Trail and to the cabin, then back for another nap (We’re in our 60’s so we like naps).
    The next day it was off to Acadia and (thank you Mr.COVID) we were the only ones up to see the sunrise and sunset on Cadillac Mountain July 7th. I used the same van configuration and since everything was already cut to fit the buildout only took 18 hours. The interior is not insulated (metal walls) and the floor is carpet over 5/8″ plywood but we were rarely uncomfortably hot.
    Having a low top meant I could put the folding chairs and canopy on top and had easy access via a mounted rear ladder. It also gives us a great place to open then folding chairs (I have deck boards up there) and take in the view.
    During our trips, we often stayed at hotel Walmart (60%) and small campgrounds with electrical hookups for most of the remainder.
    In 2024 we are heading south to view the eclipse in Texas and then doing 3-month navigation of the country. In the meanwhile, I still use my van for work (reinstalled all shelves and tools). And throw the kayaks or bikes in for the weekend.

    Some Notes: Older work vans only get about 13 to 14 mpg highway so fuel adds up. The suspension is stiffer so the ride is a bit bumpy if your running E-rated tires at 80 p.s.i. and of course you do bend over a lot. But you can back into some really tight places and get yourself out of some really tight situations because your turning radius is smaller. Getting items from the top is much easier.
    Comfort key: Shag carpet to protect your knees. Have a pop-up shower stall and battery-powered submersible shower unit (together about $100). Keep an extension cord for times you do have access. A five-gallon bucket filled with 4.5 gallons of cold water and 1/2 gallon of hot water from your stove will give two people comfortable showers. The shower wand is also great for rinsing dishes after a bucket wash.
    By 2024 I will change: Powered cooling for food storage (ice added up quickly).
    The front passenger seat will be able to rotate to face the living area. And I will have a mounted roll-out canopy from the side door.

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Eternal Flame in NY

ABOUT US
Hello! We are Kate, Ian and Harper. We spent over two years living in a DIY camper van and visiting 48 US states. Along the way, we've met with other van lifers, checked out their rigs, and learned a lot about adventure travel. We hope this site can help you plan your next road trip.

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