After six months in Australia and New Zealand in 2017, where we traveled with both a small camper van and a 4×4 with a roof tent, we decided to convert a van into a camper at home. We really liked having our own house and office on wheels, but we had too many ideas of our own, so we preferred to convert a van ourselves instead of buying a ready-made camper. We built our first camper at the beginning of 2018, but version two soon followed a few years later. We wanted more flexibility so that we would be limited as little as possible by the size of the van and still create enough comfort to live, work and travel in it for a few months a year. And see the result here: our Mercedes Sprinter L1H1 Self-Build Camper based on the smallest Sprintervan model in the world! In this blog we share more photos of the interior and tell more about how we built it.
Mercedes Sprintervan L1H1: the smallest sprintervan in the world!
We opted for a 2011 Mercedes Sprinter L1H1 with 239,000 km on the odometer when we bought it. That is slightly more km than we would normally look for, but the Mercedes automatic transmissions seem to be very strong and vans with five tons on the clock are no exception. We therefore had confidence in it and the van was also well priced, leaving enough budget for repairs that were logically due with this relatively high mileage. The van also has a 130 hp diesel engine, air conditioning, cruise control, rear view camera, parking sensors and an air-suspended driver’s seat. Because we like to camp freely and want to be as flexible as possible, we opted for an L1H1. Abroad this version has sometimes a different name or doesn’t even exist. The L1 stands for length one and H1 for height one, which means it’s the shortest and lowest Sprintervan there is. That makes this version the smallest sprintervan in the world. The van is therefore too small for most people due to headroom and, for example, a bed in width. However, we are not that tall – I am 1.55 m/5 feet 1 – and can therefore stay comfortably in the van even without lifting the roof tent. I’m even small enough to be able to stand completely straight in it and lie stretched out in bed across the width 🙂
Because we travel all year round, enjoy wild camping and regularly drive off-road, we have provided our van with a number of upgrades. For example, the van is equipped with a set of all-terrain tires, we have mounted a bull bar with two spotlights, there is a wheel carrier with a spare all-terrain tire on the left rear door and a ladder on the right rear door to have an easy access to the roof. Because we hardly use the pop-top roof due to our height and some trips (we travel a lot in the winter as well), we placed a removable roof rack on the roof with two solar panels and two large suitcases to store things. This gives us just a little extra storage space and we can put things on the roof in the suitcases that we would rather not keep inside. Think of the water hose, shore power cables, our hiking boots, campfire wood, snow shoes and other outdoor gear. These items quickly become dirty when used outside, so it’s really nice if you can store them outside the van. Also our recovery tracks hang on the roof rack.
Layout and interior
With the smallest sprintervan in the world, space inside is limited, so we had to be creative with the layout. To qualify for the favorable road tax rate for campers in the Netherlands, we had to have a pop-up roof installed. This is the only way we met the requirement of at least 1.70 m of headroom and a bed of at least 1.80 m long. We also wanted space for a compost toilet, small refrigerator and a boiler. We also wanted to be able to walk from the front to the back, sufficient storage space to take enough things with us when we are traveling for a long time and of course a nice place to sit where we can work properly and that we can convert into a bed so that we can sleep downstairs. with the lifting roof closed. This resulted in the following layout. With a sofa bed combination in the rear, a complete kitchen with plenty of storage space and space for a compost toilet.
Insulation, ventilation and heating
Because we camp all year round, insulation, ventilation and heating are extra important to us. We therefore insulated the van with Armaflex. This prevents condensation from forming on the metal and causing it to rust, while at the same time providing better insulation. We have curtains and insulation mats that we can place in the windows. This works fine, but if it gets really cold, condensation is best prevented by extra ventilation. We have therefore placed two CRL sliding windows on both sides of the van, which we often leave slightly open at night (often with a curtain in front of them in winter). The windows are equipped with a mosquito net. We have placed a folding window in the sliding door. We deliberately chose this so that we can continue to ventilate when it rains. The folding window is equipped with a mosquito net and blackout as standard. Insulating is nice to keep the heat better within the camper, but to get it warm inside, heat will first have to be added. For us, that warmth is extra important because we camp all year round and also like to travel to Scandinavia in winter with temperatures down to -25°C. We therefore placed a 2kW diesel heater in the base of the passenger seat and connected it to the diesel tank of the van. We also have a 230V underfloor heating mat under the vinyl that we can turn on when we have shore power at the campsite. Most of the cold comes from below, so having warm feet is really nice!
Paneling and finishing
Our van may weigh a maximum of 3,500 kg, but partly because we have a compact model, we had to pay much less attention to the weight during the conversion than with our previous van, which was only allowed to weigh 3,000 kg. For a warm look, we finished the walls with 7 mm wooden scraps and lacquered them with dark oak deco wax. We finished other parts with felt. We made the frame of the benches and the kitchen from 12 mm poplar plywood and finished it with white paint. We attached everything to both the wall and the floor so that everything is firmly fixed in the room. Because the floor has to support the entire furnishings, we opted for 12 mm Radiplex.
We need enough power to be able to work properly on the road, but we also wanted to cook on induction in the camper. Induction cooking is efficient, more environmentally friendly and safer than gas, and we didn’t have to make room for a gas bottle. The gas bottle also saved us having to sacrifice a cupboard, which we can now use for storing other things which is really welcome given the limited space we have. But the electricity was perhaps the biggest challenge for us during this van conversion. But after a lot of research and installing, we now have an electrical set-up that is suitable for camping off-grid all year round! And actually it didn’t become such a big or exaggerated set-up at all. This is partly because we usually do not cook very extensively and therefore do not have to spend a lot of energy for the option of cooking on induction. In addition, we drive a lot (otherwise we would have bought a caravan) and the household battery is also charged while driving and via the solar panels on the roof. The basis of our electrical set-up consists of a Victron 200Ah Lithium battery with BMS (outside Europe this battery is similar), a 12/2000 Multiplus (inverter and battery charger in one) with a continuous power of 1600 Watt, a Digital Multi Control to switch the inverter on/off and set the power limit of shore power at a campsite so that the Multiplus can temporarily supplement power if necessary (please note that the digital multi control only works with a Victron Multiplus and not other brands of inverters)., a DC/DC charger, two solar panels with a total of about 300 Watts and a 100/20 MPPT charge controller with Bluetooth .
We have LED lighting, a water pump, compressor refrigerator, diesel heater and a Mi-Fi router running on 12V. Thanks to a 12V socket and this Anker Charger, we can also charge our laptops, telephones and camera equipment on 12V. We do not have to switch on the inverter for this, which also saves electricity. Via the inverter we only use the 230V sockets with the Nespresso machine, boiler, underfloor heating and induction hob connected to them. Heat requires the most power and because the boiler and underfloor heating are often on longer for their warmth compared to, for example, making a cup of coffee, we only use these two when we have shore power at a campsite. Off-grid we only use the 230V sockets, Nespresso machine and induction hob via the inverter. And although cooking on induction also requires quite a bit of electricity, depending on your cooking behavior, it does not have to be as much as you might think. We often cook relatively simple meals (wraps, soup, salad, pasta meal etc.) and also like to cook outside on the Solo Stove Fire Pit. Cooking on induction in the camper is therefore no problem for us. In any case, the electrical set-up requires more budget because you have to choose a lithium battery due to the power of the induction hob.
The kitchen is built with 12mm poplar plywood and finished with white paint. The bamboo kitchen top is 20 mm thick and finished with a special coating so that stains do not penetrate the bamboo. The kitchen is also equipped with a stainless steel sink, mixer tap, induction hob with two cooking zones, 50L compressor refrigerator and a motor boiler. The boiler works on 230V, but is also connected to the coolant system of our van. As a result, we always have hot water after we have driven and it stays warm for about a day due to the good insulation of the boiler. The 60L clean water tank stands securely in the middle storage compartment of one of the benches and the waste water tank is mounted under the van. Because we camp in the winter season also, we have placed a 12V heating mat against the waste water tank. This switches on when the temperature has dropped to a few degrees above freezing and then heats up to about 18°C. This prevents the water in the tank from freezing. We also incorporated a compost toilet in a kitchen cupboard, because we had nowhere else to store it but wanted to have a toilet on board. The rest of the kitchen cabinets and drawers are all storage space. We have drawers for cutlery and pans, but also separate drawers for our toiletries, groceries, cleaning supplies, clothing and some other items such as games, headlamps etc.
Sofa bed combination
We have made two benches in the back of the van with various storage compartments. The removable table leg mount is from Lagun with a self build bamboo table top on it. There is a raised floor in the middle. This means we can store our camping table and chairs under the raised floor that we can reach from the back of the van. The pillows are made of artificial leather so that they are easy to clean and are 10 cm thick for comfortable sleeping. The raised floor has two separate floor planks that we can place on the edge of the benches to turn it into a bed. By sliding the cushions inwards, a bed of 120 x 175 cm is created. This is too small for most people, but Niels and I are both not that tall so it works fine for us. The left bench contains our electrical set-up, including the lithium household battery, Multiplus inverter and MPPT controller. On top of that, there is still storage space left for clothing and some small items, a supply of food, etc. The other bench houses the fresh water tank and extra storage for bedding, the solo stove etc.