Van Life

Choosing a Van Size for Your Sprinter Van Conversion

Here at Outside Van, we have a saying: if you dream it, we can build it. But what size van do your dreams fit in? Whether you’re building a custom van through Outside Van, through another company, or doing it yourself, choosing a van size is one of the first important steps in the van conversion process. Here, we’ll take a look at how to approach choosing your Mercedes-Benz Sprinter wheelbase size along with their pros and cons.

 

DECISIONS, DECISIONS

First, let’s breakdown all of the possible Mercedes-Benz Sprinter options:

 

Wheelbases:

144” — The shortest wheelbase size available. This chassis measures approximately 19’ 5” total from front bumper to rear bumper.

170” — This chassis measures approximately 22’ 9” total.

170” EXT — The longest wheelbase available. This chassis measures approximately 24’ 1”.

Solstice – 144” wheelbase, high roof (left), Teton – 170” wheelbase, high roof (middle), Zeus – 170” EXT wheelbase, high roof (right)

 

Roof Heights:

High roof — By far the most popular choice for van dwellers. In Outside Van builds the interior standing height measures just about 6’ 4” total from floor to ceiling (this takes into account the floor thickness and the ceiling insulation and paneling).

Low roof — Less popular but a great choice for those taking a more “stealth” approach for urban camping. In Outside Van builds the interior standing height measures approximately 5’ 5” total from floor to ceiling. Low roofs also allow the option to add a pop top, which pops several more feet in the air providing more space and even sometimes another sleeping platform.

Bob – 144” wheelbase, high roof (left), Phatso – 144” wheelbase, low roof (middle), Pop – 144” wheelbase, low roof w/ pop top (right)

 

Towing Capacity:

 

IMPORTANT QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF

Before you start the process of choosing a van size, think about how you’ll be using your van. Ask yourself the following questions — they will help you inform for decision.

 

Will you find yourself mostly driving in remote areas or cities?

We ask this question for one main reason: parking. If you think you’ll be spending a lot of time in places where there aren’t a lot of people and parking isn’t an issue, a longer wheelbase shouldn’t be a hassle. However, if you know you’ll be spending a lot of time in cities or busy towns where parking is limited and may even require — gasp! — parallel parking, a shorter wheelbase may be your best bet.

One of the biggest pros of the 144” wheelbase is fitting easily in normal parking spots and it’s fairly easy to parallel park thanks to its outstanding turning radius. On the other hand, the 170” wheelbase will fit in a regular space if you pull up as far as possible (think front tires hitting the curb). If the parking lot or parking space is tight, maneuvering into and out may be extremely difficult due to the vans size and turning radius. The 170” turning radius is still quite good but isn’t as nimble as the shorter wheelbase. For the 170” EXT wheelbase — we wouldn’t recommend trying to park in a tight or busy parking lot. This is why we recommend parking further out in parking lots away from other cars and giving you more room to navigate. This shouldn’t be hard if all you’re doing is stopping in large parking lots during long road trips!

We also highly recommend ensuring your van has a backup camera, especially if you don’t have rear windows. It makes getting in and out of spots, both parking lots and otherwise, so much easier!

 

Will you be exploring and/or camping in rugged, off-road, off-grid areas or sticking to established roads and campgrounds?
Exploring dirt roads in Utah

Sprinter vans, especially if it’s a 4-wheel drive model (like 99.9% of the vans we build), are very capable rigs that can handle some real rockin’ and rollin’ terrain. But if you’re serious about trailblazing off the beaten path, choosing the 144” wheelbase might be your best bet for one main reason: turning around. If you’re heading down a road for the first time (or don’t have a lot of beta on) and you aren’t sure if there are pullouts, being able to turn your van around to get back out is extremely important. With a 170” or 170” EXT wheelbase, it might not be so easy (or possible) as compared to maneuvering a 144” wheelbase. You could very well be faced with the tedious task of reversing your way out, which could be extremely challenging depending on the terrain. With a longer wheelbase, while it’s not impossible to explore off-road, you may be required to do a bit more pre-planning and drive more cautiously.

Another thing to keep in mind is ground clearance. If you’re driving off-road and encounter a sudden steep incline, you’re more likely to bottom out with a longer wheelbase and less likely to do so with the shorter one.

 

How many passengers will you be carrying?

Knowing how many seats you need is paramount when choosing a van size. If you plan to travel solo, or only with one partner or friend, you’ll only need the two factory seats up front in the cab area. However, if you have children or more friends that you’ll want to bring along, adding additional seating is a necessity. But, adding one or two rows of seats can seriously limit your interior layout options in a 144” wheelbase. This is why choosing a 170” or 170” EXT might be your best bet depending on what other elements you’d like to include in your interior layout — that extra 40-55″ of space opens up a world of possibilities compared to a 144” wheelbase. You can even include additional sleeping areas for your passengers in a longer wheelbase!

Thundercloud – This 170” wheelbase has seating for up to four passengers. It includes a full galley kitchen and an upper bed and lower bed that can convert into a couch.
Alpine Palace – This 170” wheelbase has seating for six passengers total. The dinette seats in the rear have Lagun tables that can drop down to create a lower sleeping area. The upper three panel bed sleeping area is easily removed or included depending on whether the family is out for a day trip or an extended overnight trip.

 

Functional Seating: Regardless of wheelbase size, you can also choose a layout that functions differently when the additional seating is removed completely, with complete flexibility based on how many passengers are in tow.

Elevate – This passenger seat, in a 170” wheelbase, can be removed so that an upholstered couch with ample drawer storage can be used when less passengers are in tow.

 

Flares: If you’re leaning toward a 144” wheelbase, and don’t need any additional seating, adding flares is a great option as it allows you to sleep side-to-side saving around 20” of space in the living area.

Bob – This use of flares in a 144” wheelbase allows for an enclosed stainless steel shower as well as two galley kitchens.
Glacier – This use of flares in a 144” wheelbase allows for dinette seating with a lower storage drawer and a small galley kitchen.

 

How do you plan to use your van?

How much time are you planning to spend in your van? Will you be working from it? What gear will you be carrying with you? These are all important questions to ask yourself when choosing a van size.

Kristen Bor of Bearfoot Theory lives in her van full-time in the summer and uses her large Lagun table as a workspace while she’s on the road.

If you’re planning to spend extended amounts of time in your van or even live in it, either by yourself or with a partner, having a longer wheelbase may be necessary for keeping sane, especially if you and your travel partner aren’t the most organized people. If you plan to use your van for shorter trips having extra space to stretch out may not be as important.

If you have a remote job and need a space to work every day, consider whether you need a proper desk to spread out (best in a larger wheelbase), or if you can contain your space to a small laptop table (better for a smaller wheelbase).

Since Kristen lives on the road full-time in the summers, she packs her garage to the gills!

The gear you plan to carry can also affect your decision making. If you want to carry lots of gear for various outdoor sports (like mountain bikes and skis or surfboards, SUP boards, and fishing rods), having a longer wheelbase with more dedicated garage space in the rear for your gear might be a good choice. If you don’t partake in too many different activities, or they vary by season and you can store them at home until needed, you may not need a ton of storage space and a shorter wheelbase may be perfect.

 

 

Teton’s removable racks make carrying multiple skis and boards a breeze!

 

YOU CAN DO IT!

Choosing a van size is not an easy undertaking but hopefully these points can help you make a well-informed decision. If you plan to build a van with Outside Van, our dedicated design team will spend the much needed time with you to help you make the most informed decision tailored to your specific needs. Please reach out to our team at [email protected] or 800.971.8830 if you have any questions!

 

Reference: Bearfoot Theory