As van life has skyrocketed, so has the interest to build stealth camper vans that are completely incognito to the outside world. When we were first planning our own camper van build, we were intrigued by this ‘secretive’ concept. But after almost 3 years into van life, we think converting a 100% stealth camper van is an awful idea.
This post is going to explain 4 reasons why that is and also provide several alternatives to pure stealth living.
Too Much Comfort Is Sacrificed
In order to have a truly stealth camper van, you’ll need to forgo most exterior installations. Exterior installations can include:
Let’s not kid ourselves here. The moment you install even one of these onto your van, you’re not longer a stealth van. The type of people who you want to be stealthy from will identify your van immediately (this is actually reason #2, below).
And we believe that to forgo these types of exterior installations really deteriorates a camper van’s livability & comfort.
No Vent Fan or Windows? Impossible!
Without a vent fan, living inside a van gets really hard. This is especially true in areas where temperatures are above 80F (27C). Without any way to effectively circulate fresh air into a van, internal air becomes:
Seriously. Have you ever entered someone’s bedroom and the air smelled thick & sour? The inside of a camper van can get just like that without proper air flow.
Although you can find small & low-profile fans on the market today, we wouldn’t recommend any vent fan other than the Maxxfan. All other fans either simply don’t move enough air to make much of a difference or do not come included with a rain cover. And after living in our van during multiple rainy seasons, having a fan that can be used while it’s raining outside is critical.
Thieves & Police Aren't Fooled
Van life is exploding and every year more and more camper vans are hitting the road. Clearly, this lifestyle is here to stay.
But as a result, camper vans are literally everywhere. You don’t have to go very far to find a van parked on the street side, in highway rest areas, and in Walmart parking lots all across the country.
So practically everyone, and their cousin, knows what camper vans look like. And if you’re the police or a thief, you ESPECIALLY know what to look out for.
You’d be lying to yourself if you think flexible solar panels and low-profile vent fan won’t be noticed by the wrong people. So why try so hard to create a perfectly stealth camper van when you won’t be fooling the very people you’re trying to fool?
Stealth Vans Look Creepy
Let’s say you STILL go ahead and build a perfectly stealth camper van.
You forgo all exterior installations and you keep your van as anonymous-looking as possible.
But let’s face it, a bland commercial-looking van that is parked in an unusual spot just looks creepy! And a van that’s parked in an unusual place sticks out in people’s minds, which causes some people to ask questions.
And when people don’t trust an unknown vehicle, they end up calling the police to investigate.
You may find free, undisturbed nights some of the time, but if you keep trying to stealth camp your way through van life, you will get plenty of knocks on your door from the police.
We’ve seen it happen.
Many Legal & Safe Free Overnight Options Without Stealth
If you find yourself saying, “I want to build a stealth camper van because I can’t afford to pay for campsites”, then you should know that stealth camper vans have little to do with how much you’ll pay during van life.
You don’t have to stealth camp in order to sleep for free. You can still have all the luxuries of a conspicuous camper van while still safely parking overnight and avoiding paid campgrounds.
When traveling, there are enough free and safe places to park overnight that don’t require you stealth camp. This includes:
We cover an extensive list of places you can camp for free in our post: How To Sleep For Free In Your Camper Van. But we discuss a few of the popular places below.
Authorized Parking Lots
Certain stores often allow overnight parking for campers. These stores include Walmart, Cabellas, Cracker Barrel, Home Depot, and Sam’s Club. Though not all of these stores allow overnight parking, so it’s best to ask a manager of the store to confirm.
Truck Stops & Rest Areas
When you’re on the road, major gas stations targeting the trucking business allow for overnight parking. These include businesses like Pilot and Flying J.
Many rest areas along the highway also allow for overnight parking.
BLM Land & National Forests
Especially if you are traveling in the western US, there are plenty of free overnight camp spots out in nature. Search online for locations of BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land and national forests. Almost always there will be spots dedicated for campers that are legal, safe, and free.
Use The iOverlander App For More Information
We always use the iOverlander app to help give us suggestions where we can legally park overnight for free. If you’re not sure where you can park, give this app a try.
Alternatives To Building A Stealth Camper Van
In our case, just because we don’t believe in building a pure stealth van doesn’t mean we didn’t style our camper van a certain way to draw less attention to ourselves.
This was the “compromise” we talked about earlier between a fully stealth van and a flashy, head-turning RV.
In fact, if you look at our campervan in the picture above, you’ll notice a few things we did to reduce attention.
Keeping Our Van The Manufactured White
We kept the outside color of our van the same white as when our vehicle rolled off the factory floor. This helps, to some degree, to keep our van looking like a regular commercial van.
Smaller RV Windows
Instead of going for the full frame RV windows in the back of our camper van, we opted for smaller, “half-slider” windows from Motion Windows.
No Roof Rack
We chose not to install a roof rack on our van’s roof to help keep the top of our van more streamlined and less of a head turner.
The downside to this means we ended up screwing our solar panels right onto our van’s roof, which means risking water leaks in the future. But check out our mounting solar panels post to learn how we created a strong, water tight seal.
Keeping Our Front Cab Clean
When we park our van in urban, public settings, we try to reduce our chance of theft by keeping the front of our can as clean and free of possessions as possible.
Your Camper Van Is Your Home. Make It Comfortable!
Making your van comfortable and truly livable is the sustainable way to live and travel in a camper van for the long term. And we believe in order to build a livable campervan, this means having a solid ventilation solution, allowing natural light to enter, and having a robust electrical system with solar charging capabilities.
Having good light and air in your van keeps you healthy, both physically and mentally. And when you’re healthy and happy in your home, you’ll have the energy and enthusiasm to really get out there and explore this world.
Great read: Do you need a 4×4 for van life?