When we first began planning our camper van build, we asked ourselves many of the same questions that others did regarding whether or not to build a stealth camper van.
- “Should I build a fully stealth camper van?”
- “Or…should I just forget about stealth and build the type of camper van that I want?”
In the end, we chose a compromise between the two; not 100% stealthy, but not a head-turner either. And after 2+ years on the road, we’re glad of the decision we made.
We also realized that going ‘full stealth’ would have been a huge mistake. In this post, we will tell you why.
So if you’re ready, let’s get to it!
What Is A "Stealth Campervan"?
Stealth camping means to sleep overnight, usually in an urban environment, without drawing attention to yourself from strangers or even the police. A “stealth camper van”, therefore, is a vehicle designed to help someone stealth camp safely.
This means a stealth vehicle is designed to draw as little attention to itself as possible. This is usually achieved in a number of ways:
- Keeping the outside of the camper van plain & basic to deter attention
- Selecting a low-roof van to match the average commercial/construction van
- Forgoing the installation of any windows, solar panels, or roof fan.
Regarding the 3rd point above (exterior installations), these types of installations are usually dead giveaways that the vehicle is intended for living in. We’ll talk more about this further down.
Why Do Some People Desire A Stealth Campervan?
Though everyone lives their own version of “van life”, most people’s basic requirements are the same; stay safe & sleep overnight without being disturbed.
Whether we use our vehicles to travel or simply to live frugally in our cities, we want to live in our camper vans without drawing attention to ourselves from antagonistic groups of people.
Therefore, a logical conclusion might be that in order to keep safe and remain undisturbed, we need to avoid drawing unnecessary attention to ourselves.
And to achieve this, we need a stealthy camper van.
Why A Stealth Campervan Is A Terrible Idea...Really
Though the temptation is there, we believe designing and constructing a fully stealth camper van isn’t the way to go, no matter what it is that you want to get out of your van life experience.
We list our reasons why below.
1. Too Much Comfort Is Sacraficed
Too much comfort is sacrificed in order to build a fully stealth camper van.
To us, living and traveling in a stealthy van sounds stressful.
Perhaps you could do it if you only planned to be in cooler climates. But once temperatures rise above 80F (27C), van life gets harder from a long-term livability standpoint.
2. Would-Be Thieves & Police Aren't Fooled
Van life is already a growing trend and is clearly here to stay. As a result, camper vans are everywhere; on the street side, on the highways, and in Walmart parking lots all across the country.
People know what camper vans look like.
And if you’re the police or a thief looking to break-and-enter, you especially know what to look out for.
If you know what to look for, these are all dead giveaways that the vehicle is meant for living in.
3. A Stealth Van In The Wrong Place Looks Creepy
Let’s say you STILL go ahead and build the perfectly stealth van.
You forgo all exterior installations and you keep your van as anonymous-looking as possible.
But let’s face it, a commercial-looking van that is parked in an unusual spot just looks creepy. A foreign-looking van that is parked in an unusual place sticks out in people’s minds and 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 score 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.
We’ve seen it happen.
4. There Are Many Legal & Safe Places To Park For Free
When traveling, there are enough free and safe places to park overnight that don’t require you stealth camp.
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.
Still Hankering To Build A Stealth Van?
GreenVanGo provides a great write up for The Best Used Vans For Camper Conversions and what to look for when purchasing your first used vehicle.
Alternatives To A Stealth Camper Van
In our case, just because we don’t believe in building a pure stealth vehicle doesn’t mean we didn’t style our camper van a certain way to draw less attention to ourselves.
This was the “compromise” be 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.
1. Keeping Our Van The Manufactuered 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.
2. Smaller RV Windows
Instead of going for the full frame windows in the back of our camper van, we opted for smaller, “half-slider” windows from Motion Windows.
3. 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.
4. Keeping Our 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 Campervan Is Your Home. Make It Comfortable!
Making your van comfortable and truly livable is the sustainable way to live and travel in your 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 capabilities.
For us, this means forgoing a truly stealth campervan look and installing windows and a ventilation fan on our roof.
We’ve traveled and lived in our campervan during hot and sweaty seasons, the rainy season, and through some pretty chilly winters. And a big reason why we were able to get through tough climate conditions is because the inside of our van is livable. We can get lots of natural light and a good breeze, when we need it.
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.
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