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Building The Finest Off-Grid Sprinter Van Conversion – PART 1: Planning Our Luxury Tiny Home on Wheels

We will be converting our Mercedes Sprinter Van into a luxurious off-grid Tiny Home on Wheels over the coming months, which will serve as Trail & Kale’s mobile office, hotel, and transport all rolled into one. This off-grid Sprinter van conversion is something we have been dreaming of doing for many years and we are so excited to share with you our plans, designs, and journey as we work on converting our Sprinter van into a tiny home on wheels.

Planning our Sprinter Van Conversion

In this post I’ve set out our 10 van build design principles which set out what we are looking to accomplish with this van conversion, and how.

These principles form the basis for everything we are looking to do as we work through the project. We’ll use these to guide our approach to planning and completing each step of the process, as we take the van from an empty panel van into a cosy tiny home.

Here’s our first video in our off-grid van conversion build-series, where we introduce the van and our plans for it, as well as what the next step in our Sprinter van conversion is going to be:

About our Mercedes Sprinter Van

Our conversion van is a 144 wheelbase 2019 Mercedes Sprinter panel van. This is the shorter length option in the US – many people buying a Sprinter van to convert either choose a 144 wheelbase, or the longer 170 wheelbase. There is also an even-longer 170 EXT wheelbase option, and in some countries there is a version shorter than the 144.

Why a 144 wheelbase Sprinter van for the conversion?

The length of the van you choose depends on many factors, but in particular, how you are going to use it, what you’re going to store and carry with you, and where you are going to take it. We like the agility of our van’s shorter length, such as that it will fit in a regular parking space – as we may end up having this as our only vehicle at some point.

Two or four-wheel drive?

Trail Kale sprinter van conversion 1
2019 Mercedes Sprinter Van: We love the blue-grey color

Our Sprinter van is a two-wheel-drive (‘RWD’ in Mercedes terminology). We went with a RWD Sprinter van for our conversion vehicle for a few reasons – mainly because it was difficult to get hold of an AWD Sprinter van with the other specifications we wanted. It seems that despite the relatively high cost, everyone wants one and the manufacturer is struggling to keep up with demand.

Another reason we chose a RWD van is that, after researching the subject, we should be able to go pretty much everywhere we want to go in our van, assuming we have the right tires and suspension and are sensible with how we drive, where and when we go. So four-wheel drive is not a necessity for is. With the additional money we would have spent on getting an AWD (assuming we could find one), we were also able to up the specifications on our van so that the van we bought came with a very comfortable driving setup and some upgraded extras (thank you to Keith at Mercedes-Benz Seattle for all your help sourcing this van for us!).

Our 10 Build Design Principles For Our Off-Grid Sprinter Van Conversion

  1. End goal: A luxury tiny home on wheels – Our off-grid sprinter van conversion, once finished, will be our idea of the perfect blend of an adventure-ready campervan and luxury home comforts that you may find in a tiny house. Utility in function, but not in appearance.
  2. Be well insulated and ventilated – it’s important to get the basics right, because if you have poor insulation and ventilation then this impacts everything else you do and how you enjoy the use of the van. We will do this through good choice and application of materials for soundproofing, insulation, and enabling appropriate ventilation.
  3. Lightweight and balanced load – from front-back, side-side and top-bottom, the balance of the load within a van conversion can make a huge difference to how it handles, as well as from a safety perspective. Using light materials where possible will also help us maintain fuel economy when driving.
  4. Have a ‘smart home’ central systems control center for electrics, heating, ventilation, lighting, water pump, and heater, charging, sensors (CO, smoke, temperature and security cameras), and wifi.
  5. Use quality, efficient and non-toxic materials where they offer a high standard of function and/or finish.
  6. Function effectively as a mobile office so we can create content from it while on adventures. So this means features such as comfortable seating, plenty of off-grid power and a comfortable table at the right height to use a laptop with. And a composting toilet!
  7. Off-grid capability – we will have enough solar power and battery storage, as well as water storage, to allow us to spend the time we want off-grid and still be able to use our gadgets and charge batteries.
  8. Have a good-sized garage area to transport bikes, skis, BBQ, outdoor furniture, and dog crate safely inside the van. We also want to able to sit up in bed but also have space to fit bikes in, so we are planning the bed height carefully to allow for this.
  9. Secure heavy items to the chassis for safety and grounding, including cabinets, electrics and water tank to chassis. This seems to be overlooked by some people and is obviously very important, especially in the event of an accident as well as for general safety and stability.
  10. We will use experts where it makes sense to do things they can do so much better, cost-effectively, or quicker than we can. Otherwise, we are planning to do the work ourselves as a DIY van build over the coming months.

We have researched many many other van conversions, blogs, videos, and social media content but while we have seen so many Sprinter van conversions (and other brand van conversions) that inspire us in one or more ways, we have not found any one van that has the specifications and equipment we want in ours, with the tiny home-style and look we are going for.

So we are really excited to be building an off-grid van conversion that is going to be uniquely customized to our vision and to help pave the way for this genre of tiny homes on wheels!

What is next for our off-grid Sprinter van conversion?

Trail Kale sprinter van conversion 2
The blank canvas… our 2019 Mercedes Sprinter Van interior

Our first step with our Sprinter van conversion is to have our windows, heating, and ventilation in place. We are also investing in a set of Flarespace flares and a platform bed to enable us to sleep width-ways and free up some space in the van for the seating and cabinets.

Once we have these installed we can start to use our van more as a campervan, and confirm our intended van conversion layout will work for us in practice – as there’s still time to change the layout a little before we go full-on into the DIY build. As we explain in our first video in our Sprinter van conversion series on YouTube, this is one aspect of our van build that we are enlisting the help of experts for!

Looking for other posts in our luxury custom DIY Sprinter Van build series? Click the button below to see all van build and van life posts:

One of Trail & Kale's co-founders, a mom, and guardian of our resident trail dog, Kepler, Helen can be found trail running with Kepler and enjoying road runs with her mini in a jogging stroller, all while testing out the latest running gear for our readers.


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