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How to Choose a Van for Van Life

Ready for a new adventure? One that involves travel? And possibility living out of your van? We’ve spent many, many hours discussing, processing, debating and learning about how and what kind of van we should get for van life. In this post we discuss some of the questions we’ve wrestled with ourselves. Answering them should help you narrow the decision making process and get a van that suits your needs: How to Choose a Van for Van Life. Already picked a vehicle? Head on over to our thoughts on outfitting the inside of your home on wheels.

What’s the best van for van life?

Best Van for Van Life | Authentic Asheville.jpg
Who doesn’t love the look of this van?!

Is it a vintage VW? A mini van? A cargo van from the 90’s? The long and short answer is that the best van for you might be the worst van for someone else. (We’re making the assumption that you’ve decided to actually live in a van and have already ruled out school buses, RV’s, truck campers, etc.) Vehicle choice is a personal decision and one that is going to take a good bit of time to figure out. For starters, though, we’ve found that the following questions are good jumping off points for figuring how to choose the best van for van life.

How much money do you want to spend?

The answer to this question is one of the most important when it comes to figuring out how to choose a van for van life. Your budget is definitely going to impact your options. You might be lusting after a 4×4 Mercedes Sprinter van with clearance, a hitch, a bamboo ceiling and all kinds of internal wiring as well as solar BUT if you can’t afford it, you can’t afford it. Figure out how much money you have (or want to spend) on a van and go from there. There are so many options these days that figuring out your budget is going to be one of the first steps in narrowing your options.

In addition, a new van is likely going to be more expensive than a used van. That said, if you have the experience necessary to fix up a used van, you might be able to save a lot of money by buying a vehicle someone else has given up on. We’ve had two vintage vehicles but we will never go down that route again. Lesson learned! We dumped way too much money into them and ended up abandoning both.

Also, when it comes to money, think about gas mileage. Our Dodge Ram Promaster City gets pretty good gas mileage. It averages about 24 miles per gallon. If you think you’ll be doing a lot of driving, this might be a question to really ask yourself when trying to decide which van to choose for van life.

Starting prices for our top three van life vehicles are below.

Will you be living in the van full-time?

This is another one of the critical questions to ask when deciding which is the best van for van life. Part-time adventures mean you can have a rig that maybe isn’t the perfect fit  but it’s close enough because you can problem-solve relatively easily. For example: the van is missing a shower but you’ll mostly be staying at campgrounds so it’s not a big deal. Or, it’s lacking electrical wiring but you’ll only be using it on weekends so you can bring most of your gear fully charged.

How many people and pets will be traveling?

Space needs will be different based on how many people and pets you plan to travel with. The fewer the people and paws, the less space you will need. Space needs include seats, seatbelts, sleeping spaces, food storage spaces, gear storage spaces, etc … all of which expand as you add more bodies to the trip. We traveled with a dog for a while in our 1976 Toyota Chinook but it was tight. For the last year it’s just been the two of us. We’ve managed to cut down on how much space we’ll need by decluttering (more on that HERE) and making sure that almost everything in the van has at least two purposes.

Do you need to stand up?

What's the Best Van for Van Life | Authentic Asheville
We drove across the country and back in this van and are thankful for good gas mileage!

At first I wrote, ‘Do you want to stand up’ but then I realized, almost everyone is going to want that. It’s one of the main reasons we have outgrown our van (pictured above.) Most of the time being able to stand up isn’t an issue but it really gets the best of us when the weather is bad and we’re cooking and making coffee outside. But purchasing a high roof van is going to impact how much it costs. There are different options for van height but, basically, the taller you go, the more it’s going to cost. That goes for both the cost of the van as well as gas mileage. That said, if you’re only going to be weekending or taking short trips in your van, you might not need the extra height.

Do looks matter?

What the van looks like really comes down to personal preference. For the longest time I really wanted to get a VW van. I just love the way they look. But when it came time to choosing a van, the practical side of things took over. I wasn’t willing to sacrifice reliability for something that looked really great on Instagram. Maybe you are? (Especially if you’re handy with tools and love a good project. In all honestly, I’ll probably always love the way a VW looks but will never own one because I’m too afraid of the costs.) One look at Pinterest will show you that the sky is the limit when it comes to van life aesthetics. That said, often the most affordable rigs are really, really ugly. (A quick scan on Craigslist is bound to turn up all kinds of examples.)

What are your van life needs?

How to Choose the Best Van for Van Life | Authentic Asheville
Making coffee in the rain is one of the drawbacks to a smaller van.

Some van lifers can get by with fewer amenities than others. We have traveled for over a year without a bathroom or running water. There are lots of different hacks to staying clean on the road but if you can get away without a bathroom, you’re going to save yourself money and valuable space.

Another question to ask yourself is whether or not you’ll want a sink, or electricity, running water, a bed that you don’t have to break down or not. The answers to each of these questions is going to impact the amount of space you’ll need and therefore the size of your vehicle.

Conversion kit or DIY van life build?

Another super important question to consider when trying to narrow down which van to choose is whether or not you’ll be using a conversion kit or doing the build yourself. A conversion kit will take a lot less time to install (this means getting on the road faster) but it can potentially cost more money than doing it yourself. A DIY build, however, requires having the skills to do the work or learning them. In addition, building your own van out requires time, tools and the space to do it.

There’s plenty of options when it comes to custom builds but if you’re trying to keep costs low, you can pretty much cross this option off your list. The minute you go custom, the costs start skyrocketing. We’ll post more about the interiors of different vans and their options. For now, we’re going to just stick on the vehicle itself.

Gas or diesel?

Ah, the debates for this one seem to go round and round. Especially on reddit. Personally, we’re big proponents of gas engines. The main reason for us isn’t actually fuel economy or torque (we’re not going to be towing anything) but it’s that we don’t want to have to stress about being able to find a diesel mechanic if we break down.

So, what’s the best van for van life?

Since you made it this far you probably guessed we were going to say “it depends” when it comes to choosing the best van for van life. It’s really all about your needs as van lifers (or weekend users) which are different from one person to the next. But we’ve narrowed our top picks to three:

Dodge Ram Promaster City

This is what we’ve been traveling in for about a year. You can read a ton more about it by checking out our Van Life page. It’s got a Wayfarer Plug-N-Player Camp Conversion Kit in it. It’s great for people who are on the smaller side (especially if there are two of you traveling). It is also great if you are wanting a daily driver (meaning that your van will double as your regular vehicle) and want to still get fairly good gas mileage. It’s also the most affordable option of all the ones listed below. It’s starting price new back in 2018 was $23,995. These days you can get a used one for much less. Full disclosure: We’ve had some issues with our van. We finally decided to write about it. You can learn more here on our post Problems with the Ram Promaster City.

Dodge Ram Promaster 1500 with a high roof

This is the bigger sibling to the Dodge Ram Promaster City. You can stand up in this van and spread out a bit more (it’s got a super boxy shape to it.) If you’re wondering why we like this one over the Ford Transit, it’s mostly because the base models come with more things than the base models of the Transits. In addition, we like the look of it a tad more than the Ford, it has a few more inches of roof height and we can get a Wayfarer kit for this van. It’s starting price new is $32,695. Again, this is for a high roof. The standard sized roof Promaster starts at $29,295.

Mercedes Sprinter Van

We never really considered buying a new Mercedes Sprinter van because it’s a big jump up in price from the Dodge. Not only does the cost go up for the vehicle itself, but it also prices the conversion kits and van life builds in a much higher group. Rising costs = rising panic. That said, if you can find a used one that hasn’t been in an accident and has low mileage, you might have found a winner. We think it’s a great vehicle and it makes the list because, even though it’s out of our budget, it’s still a great vehicle. New Mercedes Sprinters start at around $36,495.

All of the above vehicles we mentioned above are at the 2018 models.

Additional Camper Van Resources

How to Choose a Van for Van Life Recap

There’s obviously lots to think about when it comes to figuring out which is the best van for van life. Hopefully the information above helps you in choosing a vehicle that fits your needs. If you’ve already picked a great van for van life, hop on over to our next post in this series about Custom Builds, DIY Van Conversion and Conversion Kits.

Still not sure which van to choose? It’s helpful to try them out. Luckily there are numerous companies out there that rent vans so you can test them out for a weekend or a week-long adventure (even more) to see which ones suit you best. Learn more on our post about the 7 Best Camper Van Rental Companies.

In addition, be sure to check out the full list of van life posts HERE.

Authentic Asheville is a team of two. We are freelance Squarespace web designers, photographers, writers and content creators.

Best Places to Drink in Hendersonville, NC

The beer scene in Asheville gets a ton of attention but there are also a bunch of great breweries and wineries in Hendersonville, NC. (Hendersonville is about 35 minutes south of Asheville.) These are our top picks for the best places to drink in Hendersonville, NC. Whether it’s a beer or a glass of wine, there are numerous options to choose from.

Best Places to Drink in Hendersonville, NC

Appalachian Ridge Artisan Hard Cider | 749 Chestnut Gap Road

The hard ciders at Appalachian Ridge are made by combining the “…farming traditions from Hendersonville with the classic Cider making techniques that were created in Normandy, France.” And what you get is nothing short of bubbly goodness from no less than 14 varieties of apples on the farm. And the best part is, you can enjoy a glass from one of the prettiest outdoor patios in Hendersonville, NC. There are frequently live music events Friday-Sunday so check their website before you go if you’re looking for entertainment.

Blue Door Bottleshop and Beer Hall | 146 3rd Avenue East

The inside of Blue Door bottle shop, there are lots of six packs on a metal shelf. The shelf has four shelves and the beers are various sorts and colors in bottles and cans. To the right of the shelves is the entrance which is a glass door surrounded by a wooden frame. The whole exterior has lot of glass. The logo for the shop is on the door but backwards so visitors approaching can read it.

Craft beer enthusiasts are sure to love Blue Door. They’ve got over 500 craft beers in stock as well as wines from all over the world. They’re sake collection is growing, too! And if you want something they don’t have, you can put in a request and they’ll do their best to source it for you. In addition to all these take-home beers you can also get a a beer on tap – they’ve got 20 to choose from in this dog-friendly place. Oh and while they don’t serve food you can bring it into their space from one of the neighboring restaurants.

Burntshirt Vineyards | 2695 Sugarloaf Road

If wine tours and wine tastings are your thing, you’re going to want to pay a visit to Burnshirt Vineyards. Their trained staff offers guided tastings but if you’re not feeling that, you can also do a flight or just go for a glass or even a bottle. The space is great for weddings and events and they even have their own lodging on site. Food trucks are frequently on-site but you can also order a boxed lunch to eat with your wine if you place your order 24 hours in advance. Burnshirt Vineyards is also dog friendly.

Dry Falls Brewing Co. | 425 Kanuga Road

The exterior of Dry Falls Brewing Co. A sign bearing the logo hangs from the corner of the building from a black wrought iron hanger. The building itself is red brick and has a wooden awning over the side facing us. There's a bike rack to the left of the entrance and lots of seating to the left of that. In the foreground is a handicapped parking area.

The Oates Paint and Body Shop was a fixture in the Hendersonville community for nearly 70 years but the spot, with a lot of its original character, lives on as Dry Falls Brewing Co. There’s a ton of outdoor seating, lots of beers to choose from, and there’s a food truck on site daily. Friday and Saturday nights typically have live music and there’s often other events like Bingo during the week. Check out their events calendar for more info.

Marked Tree Vineyard | 623 Deep Gap Road, Flat Rock, NC

Marked Tree Vineyard near Hendersonville, NC.

In the spring of 2022, Marked Tree Vineyard was nominated by USA Today for their Readers’ Choice for the Top 10 Best New Wineries in the Country. Now technically Marked Tree Vineyard is located in Flat Rock, NC but it’s just a ten minute drive east of downtown so we’ve added it to our list of the best things to do in Hendersonville. Reservations are recommended for the weekend but walk ins are always welcome. Reservations are required for tours. Kids and dogs are also welcome at Marked Tree but pets are not allowed in the tasting room. Bonus points: this is an LGBTQ safe space.

Oklahawa Brewing Company | 174 1st Avenue East

Two cold IPA’s await you at Hendersonville’s Oklahawa Brewing Company.

The beers are tasty and there’s outdoor seating at Oklahawa but beyond those two basics, there’s a lot to love about this local business. For starters, they’re supportive of the LGBTQ community and beyond just stating it in their FAQ section and posting about it on Instagram, they are also involved with Pride events in the Hendersonville community such as hosting Gay Trivia. This is a great spot to visit after walking or riding on the Oklahawa Greenway.

Shine | 202 North Main Street

Two words: Rooftop bar. This is one of the best places in Hendersonville to get a drink, whether it’s a beer or a craft cocktail. They have a good selection of bourbons and the classics like Negronis, Sazeracs, and Dark and Stormys, as well as wines and beers. They’ve got a solid food menu as well so we recommend coming hungry.

Best Places to Drink in Hendersonville, NC Recap

Whether you’re in town for the weekend or just for the day, there are some really great spots to grab a beer or cider or wine. Keep an eye out for updates on the Best Places to Drink in Hendersonville, NC as we’ll do our best to add places when we find another we like. And if you’re reading this and have a recommendation, please send it our way! We love hearing from our readers.

A Gift Guide for the Outdoorsy Person in Your Life

It’s that time of year again when many of us are faced with the daunting task of purchasing gifts for others. We’ll help you take the stress out of things with our curated list. Each of these pieces of gear has been tested by us out in the field for at least 6 months, if not longer. Keep reading to find out our top picks: A Gift Guide for the Outdoorsy Person in Your Life.

Camping Gear

Solo Stove Bonfire 2.0 with Stand
This portable fire pit has been one of our favorite outdoor gear additions for us this year. It’s helped us have fun in cooler temps and is better than a typical fire pit because it has technology in it that keeps the smoke to a minimum. See our full review here. Check Price: Amazon

ENO DoubleNest Hammock
Lightweight, easy to use, and made for 1 to 2 people. It’s our favorite way to relax at camp. Check out our favorite places to hammock in Asheville, NC. Check Price: Amazon REI.com

BioLite AlpenGlow 250 Lumen Multicolor Lantern
Light up your camp and set the mood with this cool light that has not only a candle flicker mode but a multicolor mode as well. It has a hook to hang from the top of your tent and can withstand rain and splashing. Check price: Amazon

Black + Blum Meal Container
We’ve been trying to be more sustainable so we finally invested in these lunchbox totes that are made with stainless steel and have a bamboo lid which doubles as a cutting board. I love ’em because they look good, travel well, and they are plastic-free. Check price: Amazon

Fellow Atmos Vacuum Canister for Coffee
This airtight storage container does an awesome job of keeping my whole coffee beans fresh until I’m ready to grind them. I’ve put this canister to the test for the last year and I still enjoy using it every morning and getting that first strong whiff of coffee. Coffee enthusiasts will love this. Price check: Amazon

Sawyer Products Squeeze Water Filtration System
We first learned about Sawyer Products about two years ago and have been impressed by how they’ve made clean drinking water in the backcountry easier and safer. This is a must-have if you’ll be camping or backpacking and relying on streams or lakes or ponds for your water. Price check: Amazon REI.com

Coleman 1900 Collection Hard Cooler
This 20-quart steel belted cooler not only looks rad but keeps this food and drinks cold like no other. Check Price: Amazon

Jackery Portable Power Station Explorer 500
Great for when you need to recharge cell phones, laptops, etc. and you’re off the grid. Quiet, powerful, and even works at home when you’ve lost power. See our full review here. Check price: Amazon

Coleman OneSource Bluetooth Wireless Speaker
Listen to your favorite songs or podcasts while at camp with this wireless speaker. There’s also a charging port for USB devices to recharge off. Check price: Amazon

GSI Outdoors Santoku Knife Set
We were given this set to test out two years ago and while it’s small, it’s mighty and travels with us everywhere. Caroline actually uses the smallest knife at home when we’re not at camp; she loves it that much! Check price: Amazon REI.com

Otterbox Performance Fast Charge Power Bank
This little device keeps your phone charged when you’re out in the field all day. It’s slim design fits neatly into a pack and is compatible with USB-A and USB-C devices. Price check: Amazon

Coleman Insulated Stainless Steel 20oz Brew Tumbler
This is my go-to coffee mug that doubles as my beer cup. It’s been dropped out of the van numerous times and is still going strong. Bonus: there’s a bottle opener on the bottom of it. Price check: Amazon

Leatherman Wave Multitool
I’ve been using and relying on a Leatherman just like this for over a decade. It’s built to last and if you keep it in your glove box, I guarantee it’ll come in handy more times than you can count. Price check: Amazon REI.com

Sunglasses

Costa Del Mar Sullivan Square Sunglasses
These polarized sunglasses are a must-have for days on the water or at the beach when you want to cut through the glare. They’re solidly built and are stylish enough for both the brewery and the boat. Check price: Amazon

Tifosi Optics Swank XL Sunglasses
Lightweight, durable, and selling at an affordable price point. These are our go-to sunglasses for all things outdoorsy including a 100-mile bike ride we did in the Florida Keys. Check price: Amazon REI.com

Footwear

Merrell Moab 3 Mid Waterproof Hiking Boot
Rain, snow, mud…doesn’t matter what you throw at this boot, your feet are going to stay dry. Check price: Amazon REI.com

Brooks Glycerin 19 Women’s Neutral Running Shoe
A solid trainer built for all the road running miles you can throw at it. This is my go-to running shoe. Check price: Amazon REI.com

Dansko Women’s Karmel Rain Boot
Lightweight, cute, and waterproof. Great for rainy day chores and dog walks. I wear ’em out to the brewery, too. Check price: Amazon

Brooks Cascadia 16 Women’s Trail Running Shoe
I’ve been trail running in the Cascadia’s since 2012. They’re my top pick for comfort over multi-surfaces and long days on the trail. Check price: Amazon REI.com

Gifts for Pets and Pet Owners

RUFFWEAR Front Range Dog Harness
Our dog never leaves home without this harness. It’s safe, durable, padded, reflective, and great for all day adventures. Plus, she looks cute in it. Check price: Amazon REI.com

Rhino Valley Chalk Bag
While this bag is designed for holding chalk for climbers, I use it to store an extra roll of dog poop bags and treats! It’s got an adjustable waist belt, is durable, and comes with a carabiner which you can clip to your leash. Check price: Amazon

Google Nest Security Cam – Wired
My dog has separation anxiety and turns out I have a little bit of it myself. So we got this little camera and set it up so we can see what she’s up to (and if she’s okay) when we’re not home. It works great and while there’s a monthly subscription you can opt into, we use the free version and it does just what we need it to. Check price: Amazon

RUFFWEAR Knot-a-Leash Dog Leash
The secure, locking carabiner gives me peace of mind that my dog won’t somehow get away from me. Plus the leash is comfortable and has an accessory loop for the poop bag to affix to. Check price: Amazon REI.com

RUFFWEAR Bivy Dog Bowl
If you can’t tell, we’re kind of obsessed with RUFFWEAR. We think their gear is just some of the best available. This bowl is lightweight, collapses, travels easy, and can be used for food or water. Maggie approves. Check price: Amazon REI.com

RC Pet Products Cascade Coat
It gets legit cold in Western North Carolina and though Maggie has a natural coat, we wanted to get her something for those days when it’s extra cold. Loving the reflective stripe on this one. Plus it’s easy to get into and out of. Check price: Amazon

Accessories

BUFF Adult Original Multifunctional Headwear and Face Mask
This is just one of the many different patterns that BUFF makes. Literally there are so many cool styles to choose from. I wear a BUFF during the winter around my neck to keep the chill away. I also wear them on runs around my head to keep the sweat and hair from getting into my eyes. Check price: Amazon REI.com

Kelty 5 Liter Sunny Waist Pack
We each have one of these fanny packs. It’s great for short hikes, trips into town, and even while running errands. It has plenty of space to hold two phones, two wallets, random stuff and even a couple beers. Check price: Amazon

Swiftwick Vision Six Impression Running Socks
I’ve been running in Swiftwick Running socks for about two years now and they’re my favorite. They’re thin and keep my feet dry, comfortable, and blister free no matter the distance. Check price: Amazon

Thread Wallet’s Elastic and Leather Vertical Wallet
I’ve never been one to lug around a huge wallet. I’ve been using the same Thread Wallet for about five years and it’s still going strong. It holds my license, credit cards, and cash when I have it. Check price: Amazon

Safety

Giro MIPS Mountain Biking Helmet
Does your helmet have the Multi-Directional Impact Protection System (MIPS) to redirect energy in a crash? If not, it may be time to upgrade. Price check: Amazon REI.com

3M Waterproof and Washable Reflective Stickers
We got a pack of these at a bike safety event and stuck them on our bikes so we’d be more visible at night. We’ve had them on for over a year and have not even begun to show signs of peeling off. Price check: Amazon

A Gift Guide for the Outdoorsy Person in Your Life Recap

Whether you’re buying a gift for someone special in your life, a co-worker, or even yourself, you can’t go wrong with these items we’ve handpicked. And if you find that in getting new gear, you’ve got no use for your old gear, we encourage you to re-home it rather than sending it to the landfill. Also, though we’re linking to Amazon and REI.com, when you’re able, we encourage you to shop local and keep your resources within your community.

What are your top gear picks this year? We’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.

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