How To:

Campervans for Sport

A van for kayaks

1. Converting Leisure Vehicles for Sport

Many folk convert vans specifically for certain sports or leisure activities - combining the all important aspects of transport and accommodation in one.  There is nothing better than finishing a long day on the hill walking or biking, a hard session in the surf or at your nearest kayaking playspot and being able to get changed in a warm van, make some food, put some tunes on and crack open the beer knowing in one quick move you can put the bed up and will be right where you need to be again tomorrow morning.  Oh, yeah and the night doesn't cost you a penny.

We’ve had a bit of a think about some key activities and what these could mean for your van conversion, what size van you might want, how the layout might be affected by what you might want to put in your van and of course, one of the big issues, how to safely store that kit which is all important to your sport.

Campervan parked up for sunset

2. Campervans for Camping...

You have a campervan – camping will never be the same again! Gone are the days of deflating lilo's, not quite thick enough thermarests, leaking narrow tents not to mention trying to erect your tent and keep it held down in a force 5. Undoubtedly if you like to get remote, campervans have their limits, you can't take them up that mountain ridge! However, campervans definitely improve the comfort side of camping and you can take most of the luxuries you like without being limited by what you can carry on your back.

Camping doesn't really require any special tricks over and above a standard van conversion.  You want adequate storage for all your clothes and cooking equipment and a good bed.  Possibly, the sitting area is pretty important depending on how chilled you like your camping and rigging up some kind of proper lighting could be an idea. One thing you might want is to be able to attach an awning for that crucial outdoor living experience, and of course there should be plenty of storage under the bed / seat area for deck chairs, a table, beach ball, disposable BBQ, frisbee, whatever you fancy.....

Campervan for kayaking

3. Campervans for Kayaking...

If setting up a campervan solely for kayaking then here’s a few things you should think about:

  • Paddle box - built into the units, some kind of storage cupboard the length of the van for keeping paddles from getting scratched and crushed.
  • Drying area / wardrobe - a cupboard specifically for hanging wet kit and sealing it off from the van living area.  Possibly with a draining hole to allow water out of the van and even some kind of heat source.
  • Roof rack + ladder - have the option to put all you kit, especially boats on the roof. A ladder is super useful for getting up there but be warned might also offer temptation to someone else....
  • Cubby hole storage for straps and paddling essentials like duck tape. Somewhere near the back or side door so they are accessible.

However a lot of people, probably do more than purely kayaking so here are some things to think about when converting a campervan for kayaking as well as other sports, for example; skiing, surfing and biking.

Number one will be the possibility to get kayaks in the van if needed.  The main thing here is designing the back seat with a wide open frame so boats can be slid underneath.  Depending on the set up you should be able to get one or two boats in easily on the floor and still use the bed, seat and stove as set up.  More than 2 boats and you will probably need to push the seat right forward.  If needs be however, 4 boats, paddles, kit and everything else for a 3 month trip could be stored in the back of the van for ferry journeys and being left overnight in a city.

The other main thought for kayaking is wet kit and more importantly, what to do with it!  One option  is sealable storage crates and dry bags under the bed to keep it sealed away from the sleeping area (and hanging up outside to dry wherever possible!).   

A converted van to help you enjoy surfing more!

4. Campervans for Surfing / Windsurfing...

If you surf then you’ll know how fragile surf boards can be.  Getting a ding from being pasted on a reef is one thing but denting your board while transporting it in your van is a bummer! There are a range of options for layouts... some involve racking systems, either suspended from the inside of the roof (in a high top) or more often some sort of frame down the side of the van for racking up boards.  Whatever you do, it makes sense to take the time to put in padding where needed to keep your pride and joy in one piece.

This will reduce the space for other stuff considerably but if surfing is your thing then it’s worth it.  Much the same applies to windsurfing kit, especially sails.  The main issue here is the whole reason for having a number of sails is to give you variety. You can either go with one big space for sails (and masts, booms, etc) or even create one big rack partitioned to fit different sizes and remember you might be able to make use of diagonal dimensions so that kit isn't sticking into your living space too much.  Windsurf sails are a nightmare for introducing damp into your van – it’s amazing how much water a sail can hold and ideally you want to isolate that water and dampness from your bedding and living area. This is difficult to do without creating a dedicated box for wet kit.  Without a drying room the best thing to do is take every opportunity available to take damp stuff out of the van rather than leaving it to fester for days on end.

Get a good clothes line set up for outside your van.  This should just mean some good rope and then you can use part of your rig, an old pole, whatever.  One final consideration for any sport where you spend lots of time by the sea is salt water.  This is more of a maintenance thing but it is probably worth giving your campervan a good wash down after any long trip to try and keep rust at bay.

A converted van would make it easier to get here!

5. Campervans for Skiing / Snowboarding

Staying in a van in a ski resort in April time is fine - however, earlier in winter the temperature would limit how long you could really stay in your campervan for i.e. do you fancy a whole season in a van unless you have one large enough to contain a hot tub!  With this in mind, warmth will be the number one consideration.

As a must you need a good heater, on a thermostat which you are confident in leaving on all night if needs be. No point in having all that heat if it is just radiating out of your windows and van sides so really good insulation is also a must, including insulated window mats. 

In terms of kit storage, skis and snowboards should be easy to slide under the bed.  Building a storage box would however be better.  An upright, wardrobe type cupboard with a rack for poles, skis and boards would allow you to securely store your kit but also allow gravity to do its thing with snow melt.  Having dry, warm clothes and boots is pretty key to snowsports so we'd recommend at least getting boot warmers with a cigarette lighter plug-in and having fixing points in the van to hang jackets, salopettes etc.  Having some way to hang your boots upside down and let the heat in would be ideal - a wooden board with doweling at a 30deg angle to hook the boots over works well.  This can just hang over the back of one of the seats overnight.  In general, light, heat and therefore power is crucial so think about setting up a good power system.  You could even get fancy, set up a table and clamp and run a small travel iron for waxing and repairs!

Don't forget about bikes when converting your van!

6. Campervans for Mountain Biking / Cycling...

Any sort of biking/cycling you do will involve a fairly similar amount of kit; a bike each, biking clothes, helmets and then depending on how you like your adrenaline rushes more protective clothing for the downhill biker! You need to be able to fit bikes in or on your van, usually better if you can fit them in (especially if they're expensive or you’re likely to be getting ferries or staying overnight in a city)... this is likely to be challenging if you also need to eat, relax or sleep in the van at the same time as the bikes are inside as bike frames, even without wheels are difficult shapes. Luckily the clothing element in biking is more minimal than some other sports so you don’t need as much storage space for that although you might well want an extra pair of shoes as walking about in cycling shoes is never much fun!

You might want to think about storage space for wet and/or muddy clothing if the day hasn’t been as dry as you’d hoped and your kit will dry out on you the following day, it’s best to try to keep the inside of your van as ‘damp-kit’ free as possible. The other issue with bikes is the storage of wet and muddy bikes if you need to keep them in the van as you don’t want all of the inside of your van covered in mud and chain grease, so maybe a bike storage space/cupboard by the back doors would be sensible?

A converted van makes it easier to get to climbs early!

7. for Climbing / Walking...

Ok, so these are slightly different activities but we've put them together as they often involve similar amounts of kit and there is some crossover e.g. when does mountaineering stop being hill walking and start being climbing...? Anyway, somewhere good to store your rucksack, climbing ropes & rack and/or crampons and axes is a must and preferably somewhere these can dry out (along with your soaking wet waterproofs if you've been walking in Scotland in the summer!!).  A storage wardrobe with hanging space at the back of the van would be good with specific hooks for the axes, rope etc. and a way to secure these from swinging around. Similar to all the sports above, a source of heat is pretty useful and the skiing boot drying rack would work well for your ice climbing boots.

One of the most important things after a long day in the mountains though is a good bed and good seating. Sacrificing a little storage for a good sized bed and the all important seat swivels is a good move. Obviously for the most obsessive climbers out there some climbing holds bolted to your campervan ceiling or the outside could be an option!!  A roof rack as a minimum (if it's wide enough) lets you hang off and do pull ups, and to maybe hang those less than sweet smelling climbing shoes or walking boots outside the van overnight!