June 19, 2024 9 min read

Introducing HEST Quest! This year, we want to take a deeper dive into what is the ideal set up for sleeping outdoors. Is it a van? A rooftop tent? The back of your truck? A truckbed camper? A tow behind trailer camper? A ground tent?

With so many options out there, HEST has set out to answer the big question: What is the BEST car camping set up? 

Whether you are new to camping or a veteran overlander; everyone wants to know what is the BEST setup. What’s the most efficient, cost effective, easy, comfortable set up for sleeping outdoors?  HEST Quest will explore all the different setups; sharing the benefits and setbacks of each, plus “how to” tips when it comes to building or shopping for your next mobile basecamp.

HESTQUEST: Comparing the Best Van options

We’re here to see what van does the best on space, comfort, off-roading, portability, affordability and of course overall swag factor. So, whether you’re looking to upgrade your van or are toying with the idea of van life (full or part-time), we’ll be able to help you make an informed decision when it comes to your camping set up on wheels.  

Here is the overall scorecard and grading key when we looked for the best van category:

What van setup is the best? 

We’ve seen an overall boom in people getting vans as their camping rigs or full time homes versus sleeping in the back of their truck, a good old fashioned tent or even paying rent! Your home is on wheels and it makes it easy to get up and go. The added space and functionality make vans a viable investment if you’re looking for more comfort and ease with your camping rig. Plus, all the HEST Quest van options can comfortably fit any HEST Sleep System.  

In this blog we will explore a few options of vans so you can make the best choice when choosing your next rig upgrade: 

Mercedes Sprinter 

Ram Promaster 

Toyota Sienna

GMC Savana      

Each van has its pros and cons—think price range, amount of space or 4WD capability. We’ll compare them all side by side so you can get a good feel for which option will be best for you when you decide you want to upgrade your rig.  

How many does it comfortably sleep? 

Across each van type you can comfortably (and we mean comfortably) sleep 2 people. There is some wiggle room for a kid or a furry friend depending on the make and model of your van.  

With higher price point vans like a Sprinter or Promaster, you’ll be able to sleep 2 comfortably and then have room to get creative with more sleeping areas. While vans like the Toyota Sienna and GMC Savana are on the smaller side and will only really have room for two people on the mattress plus your gear.  

Is a van family friendly? 

The answer to this question is split down the line. If it’s just you or you and a partner the Sienna or Savana are great budget options as we’ve learned from our Savana HEST Quest:   

“It's the ideal set up for a bachelor. I now have a wife and a baby so I think we’d opt for something slightly bigger inside and maybe not so homegrown from a safety perspective.” 

If you want to travel with kids or pets, upgrading to a Promaster or Sprinter is the way to go.  Since there is much more room in the Promaster and Sprinter vans, you’ll be able to build out an extra bed area across the bucket seats in the front or install a convertible sleep system from benches. 

What about the 4wd/off road capability of a van? 

Across the board the majority of van options have some off road capabilities depending on their aftermarket additions, but not ones that are going to push the limits of overlanding.  

What’s great about these rigs is the customization that can happen when it comes to 4WD. The HEST Quest GMC Savana took their van to a 4WD specialist to get a 4WD conversion and lift, so now it can take them wherever they want without being scared of getting stuck or scraping the bottom.  

The Ram Promaster falls short in this category, with only having front wheel drive. And while it can make it to most places, it sometimes feels sketchy to get there. The Toyota Sienna joins the Promaster in the 2WD category, and while you may think a minivan like the Sienna isn’t as capable as the next van, with a 3 inch lift, it can get up and down most dirt roads. 

The BEST 4WD performance of our Van HEST Quest: GMC Savana or Mercedes Sprinter. With some aftermarket love at a 4x4 specialist, the GMC Savana “now is beast mode.” While the Sprinter is one of the larger vans in this roundup, the 4x4 capabilities that come stock with the van allow you to go on any forest service road and off grid overlanding areas. 

What’s the kitchen/cooking set up like in a van? Is it inside or outside? 

The majority of vans in this line up have the luxury of an inside kitchen. The outlier being the Sienna, which has an outside camping set up with a table, stove, drybox with kitchen items, etc. With vans being homes on the go, you’ll find more of those creature comforts like a fridge, spice racks, cabinets, drawers and cooktops.  

The BEST van kitchen from our van options: Mercedes Sprinter and Ram ProMaster.  The Sprinter and Promaster alike offer a full kitchen set up with inside and outside cooking options depending on the mood you’re in. 

“Inside we have a sink, fridge and freezer, drawers and cabinetry, and a full kitchen set up inside. Our stovetop is portable with propane so we can cook inside or outside.” 

How easy is it to set up the van, move around, go to town? 

Across the board, all our van options say it’s very easy to move around - even with everything set up at camp. All the accessories for camping seem to be attached to the van or easy to clean up, like awnings and camp chairs, respectively.  

Plus, vans make it easy to stealth camp on streets if you can’t find a campsite nearby. With window covers, you can pull over where parking permits, pull the window shades and set up for the night. And with all of these van options, you won’t even have to get out of your car to hit the hay.  

Benefits/Pros: What do we love most about each set up? 

  • Ease to get up and go
  • Comfort, thanks to HEST mattresses and bedding 
  • Everything is right inside the van 

Each van rig has its own highlights for the BEST thing it offers: 

  • Ram Promaster:We can make all of our food - we never go out to eat, we never have to get a hotel and we can work from the van because we integrated a table on the hitch. 
  • GMC Savana: Being diesel means it has a lot of power and fuel efficiency.  I barely put it in 4x4 as it's heavy and can always find traction. 
  • Toyota Sienna: COMFORT, the minivan is cozy and warmer than a tent & has more room than the truck, it’s a dark spacious cave of luxury.  We are budget people and this is what we can afford. 
  • Mercedes Sprinter: Easily pick up and go biking, skiing, fishing or whatever.

Challenges/Cons: What is the main hurdle/setback of each van set up? 

  • While we might not find the problems with our set ups until we’ve used them for awhile, these are the biggest challenges when it comes to sleeping in a van: 
  • Finding space for everything, especially if you are full-timing out of your van 
  • Most often every build needs to be custom 
  • Cost of entry—vans are $$$ 

Here are the biggest frustrations when it comes to each van: 

  • Ram Promaster:We are a family of five (2 med to large dogs + 1 kid) - it’s tight and when our kid gets bigger we might need more space. Right now our kid sleeps in a canopy that fits him perfectly. When he grows bigger we connect the bucket seats and put a mattress over it. 
  • GMC Savana: It's an older van that's built like a barrel so there's no straight lines to work within.  Everything feels like a custom build because it is. 
  • Toyota Sienna:Whelp, it sure would be nice to cook inside for colder days, but that requires a totally different rig which is $$$ and may be in the future but for now this fits our needs. 
  • Mercedes Sprinter:Just figuring out all what is needed to permanently store stuff - to make loading and taking off or returning as easy as possible.

What are the budget considerations for investing in a van? 

There is no doubt that vans are large investments, especially when you add in all the customizations that you can opt for when it comes to comfort and functionality.  

The BEST van if you’re on a budget: Toyota Sienna 

The Toyota Sienna is the best option since you don’t need to fully build out the back of the van. You’ll just need to take out the seats to have a place to lay your HEST Dually in the back. So your biggest upfront cost will be buying the van itself. 

The owners said it best:  “We do camp a lot but when budgeting we are not high rollers by any means—it is camping, not a house. The older we get I’m sure our rig will change as we age and want more amenities and will have to fork over the funds.” 

The BEST investment van: Mercedes Sprinter 

Sprinter vans have the highest MSRP of all the vans in our HEST Quest, but you get what you pay for with an investment like this. You’ll have the most space and best 4x4 capability out of these large vans. You will have to fork over some upfront cost to build out the van with and since it's a German vehicle, it may be more expensive to service when you need it.  

What’s the swag level of a van? 

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and when it comes to each of these vans, most of our participants have made their van a home with customizations on the inside to up their swag level. At the end of the day, it's what’s on the inside that counts, and being able to bring your personal style to the design makes your van swaggy.  

The van with the BEST overall look:Ram Promaster 

For the van with the cleanest and most original look, we turn to the Promaster. These vans are big and don’t need a lot of additional parts to do everything you want to do. 

On the inside, the owners added special touches like:  “Japanese shou sugi ban ceiling, custom art burned in the wood cabinet, a funky tile floor with a squishy vinyl, wicker covering to the cabinets  (to breath and look cool), leather poles for handles, everything is handmade/homemade, a lot of wood and pops of color, we made a baby canopy hammock that fits a HEST dog bed for our kiddo to sleep.”

Which HEST mattress works best in a Van? 

The HEST Dually or two Sleep Systems with all the bedding options—fitted sheet, double top sheet, pillows, pillowcases and our down comforter.  

What are some tips or hacks that your experience using the set up has taught you? 

Each set up is different, so tips and hacks may vary depending on which van you get! 

  • Ram Promaster: Make sure you can get the van serviced in your area, a diesel heater is LEGIT—you can set the temperature and it doesn’t take much diesel to work, our wood burning stove is nostalgic on winter nights.    
  • GMC Savana:The Dually would be ideal versus the Sleep System as I changed my sleeping design from a bench to a full bed platform in the rear. 
  • Toyota Sienna: Keep it simple.  The van is super easy to just throw in whatever we need & go.  It is bigger than the back of our truck which is a 6 ft bed, the Sienna is +4 ft of more space to move around in COMFORTABLY & pack even more junk that we sometimes don’t even need.    
  • Mercedes Sprinter: Definitely want more battery capacity.  The more the 12v appliances the better.

What are some upgrades you’ve made or want to make? Are there some key upgrades that you recommend to make your setup even better?  

Just like a normal home, vans can always be a work in progress. The more you live in it the more you’ll want to adjust, add or take away. Most of the upgrades in our HEST Quest vans come down to functionality like adding more battery power, storage options or changing up the sleeping situations to be more comfortable.  

If you had the chance to do it over again, would you choose the same set up? 

Across the board, everyone is satisfied with their choices! So trust your gut with which van buildout will work for your lifestyle. At the end of the day, you’ll be able to make upgrades and changes to make any option work.  

What were your main considerations in choosing your setup/why did you choose it? 

Each consideration comes down to the lifestyle you live, but the main considerations between each van options were: 

  • Cost of the vehicle and the buildout  
  • Versatility
  • Comfort 

How’s the sleep quality you get in your setup? Do you wake rested? Are there any pain points in the sleep situation in your adventure setup (e.g. pesky light, temperature issues, etc.)? 

The combination of HEST sleep systems, heaters in the winter, fans in the summer and blackout shades—all the van owners sleep well every night.


Mercedes Sprinter 

Ram Promaster 

Toyota Sienna

GMC Savana

Follow along @hestoutdoors as we meet the people behind these different setups and build outs.