If you’re asking yourself if you ‘need’ a high roof camper van for van life, then let’s first get the obvious out of the way. It’s absolutely not REQUIRED to have a high roof van. The overall shape of your vehicle won’t limit where you can and cannot travel to.
But after almost 3 years on the road, we believe that if you have an opportunity to buy a high-roof van (or install a custom high-roof top) then you should definitely do it. 100%. Why?
If you’ve read some of our articles in our van conversion guide, you’ll know that we’re big believers in doing everything possible to make long-term van life more viable. And having a high-roof van is one of the key components to enjoying ongoing life on the road.
So in this post, we want to give our reasons why a high-roof van is essential to long-term van life.
So if you’re ready, let’s get to it!
High-Roof Vans Are Better For Internal Livability
It’s no secret that most of us who choose van life do so to travel and get outdoors. We value camping, hiking, and exploring. But if you plan to travel long-term, it’s unsustainable to get up and go every single day.
Both your body and mind need to rest. And there will be days where you just want to hangout and do absolutely nothing inside your van. It’s normal and perfectly okay.
But when your body demands rest and relaxation, it’s much nicer to do that inside a high-roof van. Tall vans are brighter, roomier, allow you to stretch out, and are less likely to induce feelings of claustrophobia. If we had a low-roof van, we couldn’t truly feel at ease knowing that the ceiling was just a couple inches above our head.
Better For Rainy Days
But the internal livability factor isn’t just critical for basic R&R. It’s also an important factor during rainy days, when you’re forced to remain indoors. Few things are worse than that trapped feeling you get when it’s pouring rain outside and you’re stuck inside your van.
The air gets humid and things get wet. And very quickly, van life becomes more uncomfortable.
We get that feeling even in our high-roof van. And we can’t imagine how much worse it’d be with a low-roof vehicle.
Standing In A Van Is Critical
You’ve probably heard it many times already, but being able to fully stand inside a van is so important for overall physical comfort. With a high-roof van, you don’t have to hunch your back and crawl around to get in and out of the van or into bed.
Not to mention you can also cook meals and clean up afterwards without having to kneel down or contort your body to some awkward, uncomfortable angle.
If your version of van life only involves the weekend or for just a few months, then standing room isn’t critical. But for anything longer, get a high-roof van. Your future body will thank you.
In fact, the Ford Transit has the tallest overall interior height of the big 3 commercial vans. And it’s one of the reasons why we think the Ford Transit is the best for camper conversions.
More Storage Capacity
With a high-roof van, you’ll have the opportunity to install full size upper cabinets, which greatly increases your van’s overall storage capacity.
In fact, our upper cabinets make up roughly 50% of our van’s total storage capacity. And it’s in these cabinets that we store our clothes, dry foods, toiletries, books, and electronics.
In a low-roof van, you might be able to install miniature upper cabinets, but you’ll get nowhere near the same practical storage capacity.
Downsides of Having a High-Roof Van
High-roof vans do come with their downsides, however. Below we list some of the more prominent issues with having a tall van.
1. Less Stealthy
No argument here. Tall vans are simply more noticeable than their low-roof counterparts. However, we don’t think a vehicle’s “stealth factor” is very important. In fact, we think building a stealth van is an awful idea! Read that post to learn why.
2. Parking lots with height restriction
Parking is always an issue when visiting urban areas. But the issue is compounded with taller vans because some parking lots have height restrictions. Oftentimes, if your vehicle is over 8ft. (2.5m) you won’t be able to enter.
3. Off-Road Driving Is Less Stable
The higher the van, the more exaggerated the side-to-side sways become when driving on uneven surfaces. Even just trying to enter a main road from a bumpy driveway would send our van rocking 5-6 times, back and forth.
The items we stored in our upper cabinets used to get thrown out onto the floor when the roads got too rough. It wasn’t too serious, just annoying.
But the problem largely went away once we purchased SumoSprings, which are a highly recommended (and affordable) suspension upgrade. Check out our SumoSprings review to learn more.
4. Lower Fuel Economy
No surprise here. Not only are high-roof vans heavier but they’re also less aerodynamic than their low-roof counterparts. This means that taller vans generally require more fuel to travel the same amount of distance. However, we’re not talking about a massive difference in fuel consumption. Perhaps just 1-2 MPG. But if you plan to do a lot of driving, the costs do add up.
If you’re worried about fuel economy, there are other things you can do to save on fuel costs, like not getting a 4×4.
Want Install A Custom High Roof?
We did not install a custom high roof on our camper van, but from all our research, we have just one definitive piece of advice:
Get your high roof professionally made & installed. Don’t try to do it yourself.
You can find articles online, like this one, that try to show you how to install your own high roof using wood beams. But by following these directions you would be seriously degrading the internal structure of your vehicle. Not to mention, the roof likely won’t survive a windy trip down the highway.
It’s near consensus among the van life community that these beautiful DIY high roofs are a bad idea, from an engineering standpoint.
Instead, get your high roof professionally built and installed. Many companies, like TuffPort, offer custom made fiberglass roofs.
Final Thought: A High-Roof Van Assuages The Long Term Grind Of Van Life
When you remove the gorgeous Instagram photos and YouTube footage, you’re left with raw van life. This includes the cooking, the cleaning, the hanging out, the sick days, and so much more.
And while a high-roof van won’t solve all your life problems, it can provide a comfortable safe haven to rest and relax, both physically and psychologically.
And being able to fully recharge, day-after-day is critical to anyone dreaming of living long-term van life.
Go back: DIY Van Build Guide