When you start thinking about doing a Sprinter van build, one of the first questions to answer is what are the must-haves that you need for it to be a camper that works for your needs? The full answer to this question will eventually come down to your personal preferences and requirements, as everyone is different, however there are some common Sprinter van build essentials that every van conversion needs if it is to be a fully-functioning camper when it’s finished.
In this post, we explain the essentials that every Sprinter van build needs in order for it to be considered a camper van as opposed to a ‘cargo van with a bed in it’! This may be important when it comes to registering and insuring your Sprinter camper van, because in some countries and across different US states, there are certain requirements that a van conversion must have, in order for it to be classed as a camper van rather than a commercial cargo vehicle.
The great thing about doing your own DIY camper van build, or even paying someone to build you a custom van conversion, is that you can determine what the van build essentials are for your particular budget and preferences – and you don’t need to include everything that may come as standard with a pre-converted camper. For example (and we’ll get into this some more later in this post), for some people, their camper van MUST have a shower, however for others it’s a non-essential aspect of their build, and they may not even include any bathroom facilities in it at all.
If you’re in the early stages of planning your Sprinter van build, then consider this a checklist for the 10 essential items for your camper conversion, and bookmark this page to return to as you put together your plan and budget.
The 10 must-have Sprinter van build essentials
To help with planning your own Sprinter camper van build, here are the 10 must-have essentials that most people are going to want / need for converting a cargo van (or crew, or passenger van) into a liveable DIY camper van.
Often overlooked, having good ventilation in your DIY camper van is super-important. Why? Because if you’re living, breathing, cooking and potentially washing in your campervan, then you are generating moisture, and that moisture needs a way to escape so that it doesn’t become condensation and sit on the ceiling and walls of your van, where it creates problems like mold, mildew, bad smells, and ultimately rust on the metal infrastructure of your van.
This is particularly an issue if you’re going to be using your camper van somewhere with a damp climate – whether that’s tropical humidity, or somewhere that gets cold and rains or snows often.
The easiest way to ensure adequate ventilation in your camper van build is to install two things: a good-quality roof vent with a fan, and a window. The fan will draw air out of the van and give it somewhere to escape. Having a window that you can open allows the flow of air to take place, and brings in fresh air from outside.
Most people install a roof vent in the ceiling, and a good place for this is often above the bed. If you don’t want to add any windows in your van (aside from those already in the driving cab) then you could also consider having a second roof fan/vent instead.
2. A Bed – Whether Fixed or Convertible
Of course one of our van build essentials is to install a bed. It doesn’t have to be a permanent bed, there are lots of options when it comes to where to put the bed in your Sprinter camper van’s layout.
As the bed is one of the largest van build essentials to consider, it’s important to decide early on in the planning process firstly where your bed will be, secondly how big a bed you want (or need), and thirdly whether you want a permanently fixed bed (such as a platform bed) or if you want one that converts into something else, such as a seating area / dinette. Here are some ideas for van conversion bed layouts.
Once you have answered those questions then you can plan around it in terms of where other elements of your van build, such as the water tank, kitchen area, storage and electrical system, will go.
Another must-have for any good camper van build is good insulation. After the roof vent and windows, your van’s wall, ceiling and floor insulation should be installed. Some people also choose to pre-wire some of their electrical system through their van’s walls at this stage.
There are a lot of choices when it comes to what material to use for insulation as part of your Sprinter van build-out, and using good-quality insulation is – to us – a must-have to ensure you aren’t making a mistake in your conversion early on.
For our recommendation on the best insulation for a camper van build, you can read more in this post.
4. Walls, Ceiling and Floor
So your DIY camper van has a vent, some windows, and some insulation in it! What’s next? Our preference is to work on getting walls, ceiling and floor installed, at least partially. Eventually, you’ll probably want the whole camper to have walls, and there is some benefit to partially installing the walls at the same time as installing the bed, locating the water tank and key elements of storage, so you can work through attaching those heavy items to the van’s walls and chassis at the same time.
The same goes for the van’s floor. A good way to insulate a camper van’s floor is by removing existing flooring, cleaning the area, and laying down closed cell foam in the grooves, followed by a full foam layer of insulation before installing a plywood subfloor.
If your Sprinter van comes with a good quality factory floor, it should be made from plywood and would make a good subfloor, on which you can install your choice of vinyl or laminate flooring. If you’re concerned about damaging the main floor during the build process, you can also consider installing the subfloor and holding off on the main flooring until a later stage in the build.
Having walls, ceiling and flooring in your camper van also means that the insulation is covered up and it will start to look and feel more like a campervan than a metal shell – as well as there then being that extra layer of insulation from those materials – whether you choose to use baltic birch plywood, pine or cedar tongue and groove, or another material.
5. Electrical System
A Sprinter van build’s electrical system will usually be one of the more expensive aspects of your camper conversion. This is particularly true if you expect to need to power electrical items that require a larger system, or spend time off-grid without running the batteries down fully. You can’t truly use a cargo van as a camper without some form of electrical system installed.
The electrical system can be as simple as one AGM battery and a small 12v system to power key items such as LED spotlights, the roof fan, a fridge and 12v outlets. You can also look at systems like those offered by Jackery, for a sleek, easy-to-install electrical setup.
Alternatively, your camper van’s electrical system can consist of multiple lithium batteries, a solar charging setup, a 3000w+ inverter and a 120v/240v system, similar to what you have in a house.
Either way, an electrical system is definitely a camper van build essential, and will also take up a fair amount of space in the build – not just in terms of the size of the batteries, but also where the wires and outlets will need to be for you to use them how you like.
6. Refrigerator or Cooler
Depending on how long you intend to spend in your campervan at any one time, as well as where your preference is on the spectrum of camping vs. RV/tiny home living, the size and calibre of refrigerator in your van build will vary.
There is a lot of choice when it comes to 12v refrigerators, and the decision you make will come down to available space, budget and tolerance for a noisy fridge. Also think about whether you prefer a portable or slide-out top-loading fridge like this one, or if a more traditional marine-style fridge is better suited to your van build layout.
You may also be able to get by with an ice-box (i.e. non-electric) cooler, however if you see your van as being more of a tiny home than a means of camping then you’ll probably need a refrigerator to live that lifestyle.
Some people will argue that you do not need a heater in your Sprinter van build. However, most people will appreciate the comfort of having a heater, at least at night – even in warm places and with good insulation, vans can get cold very quickly and you’ll be grateful that you thought to install a heater in your camper.
A popular (albeit expensive) choice for a camper van heater in a diesel Sprinter is the Espar D2, which is often installed in the base of the passenger seat, and powered using the van’s diesel tank.
8. Water System
Every camper van build needs some form of water system for drinking eating, washing, and cooking with.
The size and complexity of your van’s water system can range from one or two jerry cans / water containers, a foot pump and a sink, to a 20+ gallon system with water stored under the van and in tanks within the van’s base cabinets (or under the bed), a water pump and more.
The decision around how large and sophisticated a water system you install in your van comes down to:
- how much space you have in your van
- how much of a priority it is to you that you can cook and wash inside your van, and
- how often you want to be able to do that before having to refill the fresh water tank(s), and empty the gray (dirty) water tank.
One way or another, you will need a way to transport, store, use and refill your water supply.
9. Cooking facilities – BBQ, Stove or Induction Cooktop?
Being able to make the simplest of meals is another camper van build essential, however you don’t necessarily need a full kitchen to do that.
Some people prefer to do all their cooking outside the van, on a barbeque or gas stove that keeps the mess, gas and smells outside of the van. This is definitely one end of the campervan cooking spectrum, and means you need to take up less valuable interior space with planning out where the cooktop will be installed.
At the other end of the scale, more comfort-focused Sprinter van build-outs feature kitted-out kitchens, including induction cooktops and even mini ovens for cooking home-baked meals and pizzas onboard. For van kitchen inspiration, read this post next.
Your choice of cooking setup will also affect whether or not you opt to include gas in your van build. Many newer Sprinter van conversions do not include gas in the build – instead, you can choose to have a larger electrical system that will power higher-wattage items such as the electric induction cooktop above – and remove the added safety and space impacts that having gas stored and used in your van can bring.
10. A Toilet (Definitely A Van Build Essential!)
The last item on our Sprinter van build essentials list is a mildly controversial one, and that is a toilet. Yes, we believe having a toilet in your Sprinter camper van is a must-have. Some people beg to differ, but I will explain why it is a necessity.
Firstly, many countries (or US states) are unlikely to consider your vehicle to be a camper van / RV for registration and insurance purposes, if it doesn’t have a self-contained toilet on board. You may be fine with that, but it can cause issues when it comes to getting affordable insurance and how you use the van.
Secondly, if you are going to be traveling around in your campervan, a key criterion is to be able to be self-sufficient. Going to the bathroom is one of life’s necessities, as is breathing, sleeping and eating. Therefore to not include a toilet in your van is an interesting choice as you know you’re going to need to use one at some point on your travels, and to have to rely on businesses and public facilities is not something we would advocate, in the name of being self-reliant 🙂
The good news is, it doesn’t have to be anything fancy. A porta-potty or composting toilet is a great, compact choice that doesn’t require its own ‘room’ within your van to store and use and are easy to install if you’re doing a DIY camper van conversion. Here’s some van bathroom inspiration to give you some layout ideas.
So there you have it, our top 10 van build essentials for a DIY Sprinter van build. Wondering why a shower didn’t make the top 10? Here’s why.
What other van build essential items are must-haves in your dream Sprinter camper van? Let us know in the comments!