We’ve spent the better part of 12 years overlanding the world with our family in all different types of campers: from a T@B trailer to an Airstream trailer to a Four Wheel Camper to a Casita Travel Trailer to Sprinter van. The two rigs we get asked the most about are the Four Wheel Camper and the Sprinter van.
Can a family of five fit in either of those rigs?
Yes they can! It all comes down to layout. We bought a ready made Four Wheel Camper (FWC) Grandby front dinette and put in on a Ford F-250 Super Duty Long Bed crew 4×4. The model we chose has a king-size bed up on top with a dinette below that converted into a full size bed. Our current home is a Sprinter 4×4 170 van that we built out ourselves with permanent bunk beds. In both rigs, the kids sleep on top and the grown-ups sleep on the bottom. Both rigs also have a stove, fridge, portable toilet and no separate bathroom/indoor shower.
How do they compare and why did we switch?
The FWC was a great vehicle for the travel we did around North America but we didn’t think it was the right choice for to continue our full-time travels overseas. Below I will break down our reasons into separate categories.
Gas vs. Diesel Engines
We chose a gas engine for our Ford F-250/FWC set-up because our plan was to take it into Mexico (and possibly further south) for extended periods of time and Mexico was not set-up with Ultra-Low Sulfur Diesel (ULSD). By choosing a gas engine for the truck, we could easily travel south without worrying about causing detrimental and costly issues to its engine. But by choosing a gas engine, we also ended up with terrible fuel economy and a slightly underpowered truck as well.
Because the Ford did not have great gas mileage (10-12 mpg fully loaded), it did not make sense to ship it overseas to Europe where the price for a gallon of fuel was a lot more expensive than what we are use to paying back home. The Sprinter gets about 15-18 mpg and diesel in general is cheaper in Europe than gasoline. ULSD is also standard in the Europe and also in countries off of the continent that we’ve visited (Turkey and Morocco).
4×4, Width and Turning Radius
Our Ford F-250 Super Duty truck’s 4×4 was great. It got us out of some sketchy situations during our travels. Our Sprinter’s 4×4 is not as robust as the Ford’s but ours is commercial grade with low range and has done fine for us in mud and sand so far. Both rigs had BFG KO2 tires.
Both vehicles are pretty long at around 22 feet but the Sprinter’s turning radius is lot better than the truck’s. In the FWC, we could take turns a little quicker than we can in the Sprinter due to its higher center of gravity. The Sprinter is also 6 inches narrower than the Ford. Neither of these are a big deal in North America but in Europe, having a more nimble and narrower vehicle has saved us in some sticky situations while driving through old cities, towns and villages.
Cab Space, Walk-Through and Storage
In the Ford/FWC set-up, the cab is not used as useable living space. When at camp, our cab would be used to store our extra stuff that did not have a dedicated space in the truck camper because storage was limited, i.e. outdoor chairs, tables, scooters, portable solar panels, extra duffles of clothing. We call it living the “Shuffle Life”. In case of an emergency, it would be very difficult for us to drop the pop top and clear the cab space to quickly drive away if we needed to do that. We would also need to exit our camper in order to get into the truck’s cab.
In the Sprinter, the cab is now completely accessible, usable and has made our living arrangement a lot more efficient. The Sprinter has a lot more storage space so we no longer have to live that “Shuffle Life”. The cab area is now an extra space for us to hang out. We now can have beds that are always in “bed mode” and indoor seating for all of us at anytime.
Pop-Up versus Hardside
The FWC is a pop-up truck camper that required set up and break down every time we needed to drive. It wasn’t a big deal but having to shuffle our extra things from the cab to the camper was annoying after awhile when you live in it full-time with five people.
Condensation in a small space is normal when you live in it full-time with five people. The soft sides of the FWC meant a lot more noticeable condensation than the Sprinter. The kids would sometimes wake up to wet sheets and pillows up on top.
We also had to be more aware of strong winds. During some high winds, we had to park behind tall buildings for protection. I worried about the struts possibly failing and smashing down on top of the kids. I’m sure that wouldn’t have happened but I am a worry wart.
Roof top storage and space is something to consider. We had to be conscious of what we put on top of the FWC but in the van that is not an issue. Both had room for solar but now we can also have a solar shower, more surf boards, and more solar panels as well without worrying about the struts holding up the camper top.
The pop top of the FWC allowed us to drive in places where height wasn’t much of an issue. In the Sprinter we have to be thoughtful of tunnels and underpasses outside of the US. But the trade off is worth it because it allowed for us to have permanent beds in our home instead of having to make them daily.
Ford versus Mercedes
We chose the Ford that we did because of the simplicity and minimal electronics like a manual transfer case. But because we chose to continue our adventures overseas, we knew it would be difficult to service and find parts for a Ford F-250 if it ever needed any work. Sprinters are really common in Europe and getting it serviced would not be of any issue to us. We wish the Mercedes Sprinter had a lot less electronics but so far so good. Fingers crossed.
The price might be a deciding factor for your choice between a FWC and a Sprinter but for us it was almost a wash. The Ford cost us $38,000 and the FWC cost $25,000. Then we added on solar and a few essential modifications which totaled to about $65,000. The Sprinter cost us $60,000 but we built it out ourselves for about $5-10,000 more. So the price was a wash for us. If you are thinking of paying someone else to build your van out, the price can run close to double that cost.
And that concludes our thoughts about living in a Four Wheel Camper versus a Sprinter Van. We are really happy with our choice to switch vehicles for our travels overseas.