After spending about 200 nights living in the van over the past 2 years (half alone, and half with my wife), here are some thoughts on what I think are essential items for me. You may have very different priorities.
Most of my camping is dispersed camping in National Forests or BLM land, not developed campgrounds. So I care a lot about ground clearance, and not a lot about an indoor toilet/shower.
- high roof (at least 6’5″)
- at least 200 Ah of battery capacity (300 Ah ideal)
- at least 250 watts of solar panels
- at least 25 gallons of fresh water, hot water heater, outdoor shower
- windows on both sides to provide cross ventilation
- nice roof vent fan that closes automatically (e.g.: MaxxFan Deluxe)
- very efficient 12V fridge / freezer (e.g.: Dometic CFX75DZW)
- passenger seat that swivels
- some sort of awning
- high clearance (ie: no water, black water pipes, etc in vulnerable spots under the van)
- queen size big enough for 2, and long enough for someone 6’2″
- reasonable amount of cabinets
- espar-like diesel powered heater (for cold nights)
Nice to have:
- 4WD / AWD (I don’t have it, and wish I did periodically )
Don’t Care about:
- shore power hookups
- inside toilet / shower
Which Length Van to Get
This one was hard for me. For 2 people, the longer van is definitely nicer. But they do much worse offroad, which I do a lot of at the moment. And they are much harder to park in town. At the moment I prefer the smaller 140 WB Sprinter, and would also look at the Transit LWB (not LWB EL).
What I’d do different
If I had it to do over I would have tried harder to get a van based on a Ford Transit LWB High Roof instead of the Sprinter. The Sprinter has been very expensive to maintain ($1300 for an alternator, ouch!). I don’t like the Dodge Ram Promaster rear axel design, which is terrible for offroad use. Starting in 2020, the Transit AWD is quite tempting, tho the Sprinter 4WD has better clearance.