It's getting real! It's time to move in, take a short trial trip to Tahoe, slap on Slayer and Iron Maiden stickers, and be on our way in the next couple weeks! Our trajectory takes us to the Grand Tetons and Ten Sleep in Wyoming and Yellowstone to catch the fall colors, then down to the Red River Gorge where a ton of climbers are descending in mid October. We'll be back after the holidays!
We had the van converted at Sportsmobile in Fresno. It started out as a stripped down Ford Transit. Our layout is pretty standard compared with Eurovans. On with the tour:
Pop-top for living quarters upstairs. About 3 feet of clearance:
Awning extends about 2x this size:
Passenger seat swivels around:
Sink, port-a-potty stored in the bottom middle, refrigerator on bottom right.
3-seater bench with seat belts that lays down for another bed on bottom:
Closet space on the upper left. Climbing gear and other stuff under or on top of the bench. Shower hookup with a hose out the back:
Where all the fun is:
Other stuff not pictured: we have two solar panels on top that charge a separate battery for LED lights, outlets, and fridge. We've got a diesel-to-propane converter for air heating and hot water. The sink runs off of 10gal freshwater tank. Two side windows open like louvers and can be left open if it's raining. We opted not to put a built-in stove and rather take a camping stove so we can cook outside and not stink up the van.
Here's the quick 5min decision tree of the van conversion process. Unless you go with pre-built, it's a half marathon from end-to-end.
Pre-built RV or not. There's the VW Eurovan and the multitude of RVs you see at Camping World that are pre-converted. Eurovans are a bit smaller and older (they were last sold in the US in 2003). Traditional RVs are too huge to get to climbing crags and get terrible gas mileage.
Base van. The most popular are the full size Ford Transit and Mercedes Sprinter. You can go with the Dodge Promaster and Chevy but, well, Dodge and Chevy. The Sprinter has for years been the only choice in the US, but as of 2015, Ford started importing the Transit. You don't need to pay for the Mercedes sign on the Ford, they're cheaper to repair, and you can take them anywhere in the US, Canada, and Mexico for repair. Not all Mercedes dealerships, if there is one in the town you get stuck, work on Sprinters.
Size. Sprinters and Transits come in 3 lengths and 2 heights. Longer the van, more room, but less nimble, esp on dirt roads since you effective clearance is lower. With the lower top, it's easier to drive and gets slightly better gas mileage, but we had to get the pop-top. We can sleep 2 upstairs and 2 downstairs. With the higher roof to begin with, you can stand up and configure the bed in the back. Pop-top is generally not a DIY thing.
4WD or not. This is somewhat of a no-option. We floundered here for a long time. 4WD is great for offroading to get closer to the crag and avoid a 2mi approach, especially in Tahoe. Only the Sprinter comes out of the factory with a 4WD option, but it's not rated for off-road use. You can add 4WD after-factory for like $13k, but it still won't handle like a Tacoma offroad, especially after you add over a ton of weight from the conversion itself.
Diesel or gas. Diesel's a few thousand dollars more, but you get better gas mileage, the engine will last 500k miles (esp great as an RV), and it'll handle better when you add the conversion weight to it. Worth it if you can shell out the money upfront.
DIY or not. Tons of climbers get a cargo van and convert it themselves with bedding and shelving. Definitely saves you on cost if you have the time and know-how. Getting someone else to do it for us was one of the few luxuries we afforded while slaving away in tech.
Once we ordered the cargo van from Ford, it took about 2 months for delivery. We designed our layout with Sportsmobile, but for the most part was a standard layout. They'll do as much or as little as you want. The wait was 2 months from there to even get on the factory line at Sportsmobile, and was 4 months there getting converted.
Most exciting thing: peeing inside!! It'll be luxurious.