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Kayaker Van Life

This is the first of hopefully many posts about taking a passenger van and converting it into the ultimate whitewater kayaking camper.

Here is the background to making the decision to go from a 4×4 truck to a van: I wanted to head to Canada and California this previous July but circumstances stacked up and that trip didn’t happen. I thought “if only I had a van, I could throw my boats in it, load up the dogs and go wherever I wanted.” Later, I pulled into the river parking lot to kayak and my friend Nikki had a brand new Ford Transit cargo van. After talking with her I made the decision to check out the various options.

I went and test drove a new Dodge City Master and even had a friend of mine in Charlotte test drive one that I was considering purchasing. I ultimately decided against the newer cargo vans because I did not want to give up all my ground clearance that I’ve grown to love in my truck and I really didn’t want to give up four-wheel drive. It was recommended that I look into the Chevy Astro/GMC Safari. After a couple of months, numerous hours looking online and contacting potential sellers, finally I came across a 2004 AWD with 107,000 miles. I pulled the trigger and made her mine.

With the backseats
Seats removed

If you have ever considered the van life, or you are living that life, you know there are countless resources out there with advice on what to do and what not to do when converting your van into a camper. It’s a bit overwhelming actually. Here is my situation: whitewater kayaker with two dogs. My primary use will be to camp for 1-3 days out of it until the summer hits, then I could easily go for a couple weeks out of it.

I read to not do anything when buying a van and just see how you move about it, develop your wants/needs and then make a plan to convert it after a couple of months and this is the advice I am going to follow. I just camped out of it for one night going from the Green to the Pigeon and discovered a number of things:

  • It gets dirty quickly
  • Having a place for trash is crucial
  • Need a way to open up the back hatch to exit (easier to slide out the back than the side door)
  • Need essential parts (bed, storage, etc.) to be movable, not fixed
  • Some sort of entertainment (laptop playing movies) could be a good idea
  • Cabinet for making breakfast that isn’t fixed would be a good idea
  • New head unit as streaming my tunes is vital to the energy of the day
  • New tires and possibly lifting the van (also would make it look more badass!)

I’m sure the more I camp out of it, the more I will figure it out. The most daunting task for me at the moment is figuring out the power that I will need as I will need to run the electrical before putting in a new floor and insulation. So many options out there. Suggestions are appreciated. Stay tuned for more on the kayaking van life!


I started kayaking in Wisconsin of all places, because this is where I am from. I then moved to San Diego and took on kayak surfing along with heading to the Kern River when water was available. I then made the move to Asheville, NC and have been hooked on this sport since my Wisconsin days. With whatever it is that you do, do it because you love it, not because society tells you should or for other outside factors. Don't simply exist, live!

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