Smallest vehicle for 5 campers?


Staff member
Dec 14, 2002
New Jersey
I know this is probably better at the RV forum, but I’m not a member there.

After enjoying far Northern Europe, and seeing how many folks go around in small self-powered rv/camper vans, it got us curious.

I’m not looking for a “lifestyle”. I don’t think there’s any money in a giant RV, truck, etc. I’m also not into luxury. Well, I might be into AC…

The intent would be tent camping without the tent. Essentially a family of five driving places in the vehicle, sleeping in it some places when convenient and needed, and not other times. But use the vehicle as a comfortable way to get around and do some weekend outings in it.

It isn’t our primary transport, doesn’t need to be pretty… just reliable and comfortable.

In my minds eye it’s something like a late 1980s conversion van that was well kept and had low use…. But can one of those sleep five?


What I’m looking for is this:
-drives five
-sleeps five
-no kitchen
-no bathroom
-routine resupply of ice chest
-2-3 nights max, more likely just for overnights.
-possibly some form of hvac since 5 in a vehicle will get hot in most of the us for half the year or more.
- four tires

What I don’t want:
- kitchen
- refrigerator
- TV/entertainment
- anything fancy

Remember I’m looking for using a vehicle in lieu of tent camping. So a van with cots is more my interest. No campers. No towing. All one unit. Ideally a van so it’s more like normal dimensions.

Does such a thing exist? How many people can a 8, 12, and 15-passenger type van sleep?

While I’d buy this:

I suspect it’s out of my price range and kind of big….

These are neat, but too darn expensive and fancy.


I think something like this is too complex too:

There were some small Ford transit diesel rvs that we saw stateside, and I’ve seen some nice Mercedes’ sprinter RVs that I’d consider. But I really want small, compact, incognito. Start small and simple and go from there.

Like used Amazon delivery sprinter outfit for camping. Can it be done for five? Seating with windows could be an issue…. But hopefully you get my angle.

I’m seriously not opposed to building bunks in a used 15 passenger van with all but the second row removed… just build from wood. But I’m not sure what works.

So what’s the best bet for a near zero frills camping setup in a van?
There are some pretty reasonable pop-up campers that you might look at. They don't take much to pull around, and you wouldn't have another vehicle to maintain. Several of them would sleep 5 so long as 4 of those people wouldn't mind doubling up. I know you said no towing, but......
I grew up with 2 brothers, 2 sisters, 2 parents and my dad had a full size conversion van. I couldn't imagine 5 of us 7 camping/sleeping in a van for the night. Does anyone really want to have a day of sweaty summer activity and than sleep in close proximity for the night? Wake up smelling skip the shower only to repeat the day? You going to have one of those portable sun showers?
5 in a van will be tough. The tent in top of a van/truck looks doable, but is a real injury hazard. Bathroom run at night, not a great idea with a rooftop tent. Kid or adult falls breaks a bone ,then you be at the mercy of what ever healthcare you are near.
I think 5 in a van will be a pain and will get old fast . Van capable of sleeping 5 will probably not get much more mpg than a small class c.
I have a 1975 VW Westfalia and it has a cot option that fits side to side over the front seating and dashboard area. It also has a pop up top with a bed for 2 and a wide downstairs bed that can sleep 2 adults and a child. The back door opens and has a snap in screen panel for ntilation and the pop up has a large scrren section with a zipper to allow air flow thru the camper. a camping fan can be put by the upper screen to increase airflow. I also has seat belts for 5 people and a small sink and water take and an icebox too. There is room for a camping toilet between the front cabinets. We traveled this way for several years but have now upgraded to a Roadtrek Versatille that seelps 4. It also has a list of other features too. The VW gets 18-20mpg and the Roadtrek gets 16mpg. I;ll take that.
European "caravans" are typically set up for 2 people. I can't think of anything small that's set up for 5.

Your also wanting HVAC - which means you need power, which means you need to stay at an RV Park or State Park. Most now have rules about sleeping in your "vehicle" that isn't titled as an RV. There trying to keep the van life folks out. So your going to have trouble on that front.

Your going to be more comfortable with a decent tent and 5 cots, and it will be a lot less money. Or just get a small trailer as recommended. Reconfiguring from driving to sleeping each night will take longer and be less comfortable than the tent anyway. If the weather looks bad just head to the Hilton instead.
I think the problem is seating 5 for travel, in most campervans, but they always have a kitchen, and a table inside. finding a spot to sleep for kids is pretty easy.
Your 15 passenger van idea is the easy winner to get exactly what you want, as is the T4 Eurovan weekenders, which are basically designed to do what you want, although getting 3 kids to sleep down below might be a challenge!
If you are going to buy another vehicle for this, I'd try for one with a kitchen and get a 5th seat added, from our experience in campervans for 10 weeks. The kitchen was very nice to have and my wife likes to cook, so it was great to have real food whenever and wherever we were.
The only rigs I know set up for sleeping 5 are toyhaulers with the 2 queens on the jack screws, and the flip down couches.
They have all the stuff you dont want though- bathrooms, kitchens, refers.
typically tow them with crew cab pickups.
The only rigs I know set up for sleeping 5 are toyhaulers with the 2 queens on the jack screws, and the flip down couches.
They have all the stuff you dont want though- bathrooms, kitchens, refers.
typically tow them with crew cab pickups.
Lots of tent trailers sleep 2 adults and 3 kids pretty easily, and you just tow it behind the minivan, but you can't park too easily in a big city. Set up is pretty fast once you get some practice, but needs to be setup again soon if folded up wet, etc....
See if you rent a small setup and see how putting 5 people together works out. My wife and I thought a pop up was a good idea for 5 and we borrowed one but our middle was tossing and turning all night and we slept poorly.

Your pickup is not extracab? Why not a slide in bed camper ?