Poll: What’s the Best Adventure Vehicle?

The Sprinter van is having its moment—can it usurp the VW van? Or is something else better?


Last spring, I helped judge the van life contest at the 5Point Film Festival in Carbondale, Colorado, and what was interesting was that a Chevy van took the overall award, but the model that was best represented, far and away, was the Mercedes Sprinter.

This won’t be particularly surprising to anyone who’s paid attention to what’s parked at trailheads, campgrounds, and along dirt roads. In the past five or ten years, the Sprinter has become the predominant dream vehicle of choice, eclipsing the beloved VW camper van. It’s aided by the fact that the Sprinter is new, reliable, safe(r), large, supported with parts, and easily customizable. The Vanagon, especially the four-wheel-drive Syncro, is becoming rarer and much more difficult to keep on the road. I saw the writing on the wall and sold mine when it took me six months to find a wiring harness—which I was able to track down only by hiring someone in Canada to search junkyards, as American salvage facilities have been picked clean. Sprinters are now available with four wheel drive and an automated stability system to deal with wind gusts.

Van life has been fetishized to the point of self satire, though, and the best vehicle is the one that you own. My son is searching for a car and we recently visited the annual local auto show to investigate all the new models; his first move was to get behind the steering wheel while mine was to put the seats down and get in the back to see if you could sleep inside fully stretched out. Still, that doesn’t mean we can’t dream. So, what rig are you dreaming about?

WIN SMITH SUNGLASSES JUST BY VOTING
This week, one poll participant will receive Smith Optic’s Lowdown sunglasses. We’ll pick the winner via random number generator (and announce it here) – all you have to do to enter is vote and leave a comment so we have your email to contact you. Must have a U.S. or Canadian address. Contest ends Sunday, October 30, 2016, at midnight PST.

LDCPBRMT

Steve Casimiro is the editor of Adventure Journal.
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Showing 131 comments
  • ac
    Reply

    i own a full size truck with canopy, but it’d be nice to have stand up space without exiting the cab when the weather is not the best

    (first! hook me with the smiths!)

    • Alaina
      Reply

      Taco truck!!

    • kirk whittington
      Reply

      Range rovers go any where in comfort!

  • David
    Reply

    the best adventure vehicle is the one you own……

    • Andrew
      Reply

      I was disappointed to not see this response in the survey. You can sleep in just about any vehicle. For that matter, you can carry a tent on a bicycle. Does that count as an adventure vehicle?

    • KW
      Reply

      Having owned or traveled in many of the above I have agree with David and Andrew. Anyone of them can be made to suit the individual my significant other swears by her Subaru and I swear by my low geared easy to work on early model truck and shell. That said the sprinter van thing has gotten out of hand like the author said its become a fetish. I have friends that customized them and they’re great but there is an over abundance of them cropping up. Often with the occupants all outfitted out with the cleanest shiniest gear I have ever seen whilst holding there pinkie up while they drink coffee in the morning then again while they drink fruity micro brews with airs about them in the evening. If they had been a bit less arrogant maybe they would have talked with one of the dirt bag locals who were just getting out for a bit who would have let them in on something special.. Sorry my dog pee’d on your tire by the way.
      No its not all and I am sorry if I offended anyone, except Land Rover praiser’s that is the one vehicle on here you will never fix without a spare grand and a week to wait for parts. At least a old VW you can drop the entire engine in a parking lot with a few tools and know whats wrong immediately.

      • Steve Casimiro
        Reply

        VW: Not if it’s electronic. The mechanics of the van are simple, but the wiring, especially if you’re dropped a Subaru engine it…oof.

  • Bjorn Syse
    Reply

    Land Rover, just keep the mud out

  • AndyDangerous
    Reply

    Love the truck + shell combo

  • kyle
    Reply

    You said it: The one you own! Put that $40,000 plus into some high quality outdoor gear and use the rest for multiple lifetimes of wilderness permits and gas to get you where you’re going.

  • D West
    Reply

    Toyota 4 Runner does just fine

  • Chris
    Reply

    I love my Subaru, but have definitely been thinking about going the sprinter van route.

  • LG
    Reply
  • Seth
    Reply

    Sprinter van! sadly i’ll never own one 🙁

  • Patrick
    Reply

    Subaru Outback, more affordable and can still haul your gear anywhere.

  • Brandon Bowling
    Reply

    If you wouldve asked me two years ago I would said VW van all the way. However, once selling my VW van and getting a sprinter 4WD I will never turn back. I had to admit it, the sprinter is the choice for me

  • rick
    Reply

    iv’e done a lot of traveling with just a pickup and shell leaves a lot of extra money for fun,
    but if your giving away a sprinter some day……

  • Thomas McDonnell
    Reply

    I’ve attended a vanlife rally- it didn’t look like the crew you would see at a trailhead, or put-in/ take out- it resembled more like a outdoor reps rally displaying the newest gadgets. I think the crew over at http://www.korduroy.tv/ are doing some cool things. Do with what you have.

  • Alex
    Reply

    A truck is an adventure

  • Alex
    Reply

    Using the car you already own will make for a better story

  • Kat
    Reply

    Econoline!!

  • Brandon
    Reply

    Honda Ridgeline

  • Chris
    Reply

    had both an VW EVC and Honda element…. I think the Element works better.

  • Krissy copeland
    Reply

    Sprinter van-you can stand up in the tall ones, fuel efficient and reliable! I had a ford 3500 and couldn’t afford to go anywhere so I took the leap and found a great used sprinter and remodeled it. I now live in the sprinter and LOVE it!

  • Chad
    Reply

    Truck with a camper, great combo!

  • John Sittler
    Reply

    Truck with a shell! You can hold your gear, sleep in it, great 4×4 capabilities, and its still a normal size vehicle you can drive to work! (If you’re trying to live the undercover corporate dirtbag life)

  • Geoff
    Reply

    Ideally, a pickup with a Four Wheel camper. A pickup with a shell works well for all around use – you can sleep in the back on the weekends in the mountains, and move furniture, take stuff to the dump, etc during the week.

  • Matt
    Reply

    Trucks plus she’ll works. Especially with a rooftop tent.

  • Tom
    Reply

    The van I already use for work!

  • Angela
    Reply

    Definitely a sprinter van would be the dream adventure ride!

  • Armando Martinez
    Reply

    SUV. Like a small apartment.

  • Bosco
    Reply

    The setup that works best for me is my Tacoma with a canopy and a removable sleeping platform, and a very small vintage camper trailer when needed. SO MANY OPTIONS and it still works great day to day.

  • Glenn C
    Reply

    VW Westfalia, as long as you can it running.

  • Vince
    Reply

    Van life WOO!

  • Dan Murphy
    Reply

    What, no trailer love?
    A pickup with a cap pulling a small trailer is a great option. You can put all your toys in the truck and live semi-luxuriously, especially for extended trips.
    Just sayin’

  • Chuck
    Reply

    Not enough love for mini-vans! They have a surprising amount of room

  • Greg
    Reply

    While I have a soft spot for Jeep Cherokees, I’d say any reliable vehicle with a roof tent sounds good to me!

  • DeWayne
    Reply

    E350 works great. Low milage and paid off long ago. But I do live in flat country.

  • Hannah Kenway
    Reply

    I own a vw transport kombi van – not original but it does the job, away for the weekend with 4 surfboards, three kids and it still feels pretty empty… Had a landrover defender 110 and the van beats it hands down in every way except off road…

  • Kyle Alhart
    Reply

    My Subaru has never failed me

  • Sandra
    Reply

    My Ford Focus gets me to where I need to go.

  • Todd McIntosh
    Reply

    I miss my Land Cruiser FJ60 everyday, but for a one-car house, I’m now looking at the Subaru Outback to cover my work, commute and adventures.

    • Dan
      Reply

      I went from 3 land cruisers to one brand new outback, and I’m loving it. Comfy plus great MPG. Outback still gets me to some crazy places.

    • RM2Ride
      Reply

      Ditto. Had to ditch my FJ60 after 235,000 miles of adventure. Took me everywhere I ever wanted to go, then gave up the ghost (or at least would’ve cost more than I had to bring the ghost back!). Every time I see one I pine for it. Now? Yes Outback, but I don’t sleep as comfortably inside…

  • Rich
    Reply

    A generic van or truck is the way to go. Common sense and reliability will take you many places, without 4WD.

  • eric richter
    Reply

    Toyota Previa AllTrac = Built in Japan reliability, 20MPG, mid-chassis supercharged 4c engine for amazing power at altitude and predictable handling in bad weather. They’re not common, but uncommonly good.

  • Dane
    Reply

    For me the Jeep Wrangler is clearly the best but there are many close seconds in the medium SUV and light truck work including the Xterra, 4Runner, Tacoma, Land Cruiser, Discovery and many more. #overland

  • Al
    Reply

    Been a truck and camper shell all my life, but one day…….SPORTSMOBILE !!!!!!

  • Bill Guiffre
    Reply

    I have had numerous VW vans, one I built into a camper. Only problem with the VW vans now is age. I am now looking at starting with a Ford Transit 250 High Roof. Cheaper than the Sprinters and all reviews I have read, like them better than the Sprinter. They drive decent as well although I have never driven a Sprinter.

  • David D
    Reply

    eurovan

  • Alex
    Reply

    Since we’re dreaming, I’d like to buy back my series 3 … and replace all the rust

  • Mike
    Reply

    Keep it simple.

  • CRAusmus
    Reply

    Definitely a Sprinter…

  • Hezy
    Reply

    Outback will take you anywhere you want

    • Loraxed
      Reply

      Ha. That’s hilarious. You must live in some pretty tame country.

  • Kyle
    Reply

    Pickup with shell ftw! I have a first generation Tundra with a shell and a rack system wide enough to fit a canoe and a gigantic rocket box for gear, leaving room for a foam-pad-bed in the back. Nothing better than off-roading to a remote lake and then cracking a few beers and playing with the dog while everyone else is still putting up their tents.

  • Richard
    Reply

    Just sold my FJ60 and an XTerra. Currently outfitting Ram ProMaster.

  • Kevin
    Reply

    Having a family, I like that the Westies will seat and sleep 4+, but those 4×4 Sprinters are the jam. Can we combine the layout of the Westy with the reliability of the Sprinter?

  • Matt St.Amand
    Reply

    As great as Sprinters are, c’mon… they’re waaaay overpriced, and then you’ve gotta build them out. Skipping all the in-between, finite details, I don’t think there is anyone who can argue that a truck will go places you won’t or can’t take a Sprinter. Adventures don’t all happen from the comfort of a parking lot access point, and (shout out to the Jeep fans to which I’m one… new 2017 Jeep truck anybody?) it’s not called a “Sprinter trail” for a reason.

  • Laura
    Reply

    Wish I could afford a sprinter!!

  • PNW
    Reply

    Whatever gets you outside

  • arl
    Reply

    I have an xterra that, with very little effort, is long enough for me to sleep in. My buildout is optimized for my bed, gear, and some work stuff I can take on the road, plus I can park it anywhere! Would be nice to be able to stand up though

  • Pamela
    Reply

    I just LOVE my GMC Safari van, not just for camping, but also for carrying 4′ by 8′ sheets of plywood, hauling branches to the composting centre, for moving furniture, for visiting my parents with my child and our dog and four rabbits in the back, for helping friends, you name it! I had a 1996 GMC Safari van for ten years (bought it with 270,000 km on the clock in 2004), and then bought a 2003 GMC Safari van in 2014 which I have since driven all over Ontario, including up to Lake Superior (with almost 300,000 km on the clock). I would love to upgrade my van with AWD with lifted suspension and a pop-top in the future. I would really like to have a 4×4 Sportsmobile in future!!

  • Peter Holcombe
    Reply

    If you are all in meaning full time van life with the whole family like I am a Sprinter chassis based Winnebago View 24J is the ticket. I’ve been on the road now for almost 3 years in mine and it’s a dream. Way more comfort than a van but still nimble to get to out of the way places. Now its not a tacoma blazing down a jeep road (had that too) but on your 8th day in the PNW rain you are so happy. All the comforts of home in a wonderful package.

  • Ed Manning III
    Reply

    I voted for this and I will vote again on the 8th.

  • Brian
    Reply

    Westy

  • Loraxed
    Reply

    Screw all those choices.

    The ‘best adventure vehicle’ is a bike.

    • Mitch R.
      Reply

      A fat bike, no doubt!

  • Kevin
    Reply

    Four Wheel camper

  • Mitch R.
    Reply

    I can afford a Sprinter, but then I need to find a place to park it. So the best vehicle is one that fits in your garage and you can use it as your primary vehicle. Currently, mine is a 2001 Toyota Sienna. If it ever dies, which I doubt, I might get a Mercedes Medris, which has 184 cf of interior space and would fit in my garage.

  • Adam
    Reply

    Whatever runs and gets you out there.

  • Victor Molenda
    Reply

    Only own one rig? I want a split window VW bus for cruising, outback for groceries, sprinter motorhome for road trips, and full size truck for work.

  • Dano
    Reply

    Mountain Bike!

  • Megan Kopp
    Reply

    4-dr Chev Colorado with shell, roof racks (for canoe and/or gear box), and custom-built box storage unit with easy slide out trays – the best option we’ve had in 30+ years of adventure vehicles. Upsides – economical to run, relatively inexpensive to purchase, completely functional. Downside – not 4-wheel drive, but then again mtn bikes are easily stored on bumper hitch rack!

  • Dustin
    Reply

    +1 Bicycle for the win, but I do also desire the Winnie 24J as they are cheaper used than a Sprinters

  • Scott Campbell
    Reply

    Such a hard decision, maybe the best one is the one you adventure in!

  • Anne
    Reply

    Sprinter van for the win!

  • Sijil Or
    Reply

    sprinter!!!

  • B
    Reply

    Whatever vehicle gets your out of the house, on the road, and into the spirit of adventure!

  • Marko Koskenoja
    Reply

    While I think the Sportsmobile Van would be the perfect adventure vehicle I am happy with my manual transmission Subaru Crosstrek

  • Bob
    Reply

    I still like the syncro Vanagon camper or tin top for it size and maneuverability in tight spots. And if you do your own wrenching, which is possible on a older vehicle, it is much more affordable.

  • Aaron Carew
    Reply

    Sprinter is the dream but anything that gets you there will do.

  • DK
    Reply

    A canoe. Great mileage, quiet and big enough to haul all of your camping gear. Plus you can catch dinner while you travel. It worked for Lewis and Clark.

  • neil
    Reply

    yugo

  • DF
    Reply

    truck n camper

  • Jason
    Reply

    Subaru Outback- Dependable, good mpg, plenty of room, environmentally sound company, etc.

  • Roy
    Reply

    My honest thought and answer to this question is “the one you own”, but I voted Unimog because if given the option, hell yeah!

  • RadBoarder
    Reply

    Toyota pickup with a camper shell for the win.

  • Oliver
    Reply

    A 4wd pick ’em up truck will always be the classic, and the best. You don’t look like 1) a soccer mom (SUV, any Subaru [sorry, it’s true, and they suck in any actual off road situation]), 2) rich city slicker/hipster (Sprinter, VW, Landy), or 3) white trash rock crawler (any Jeep, seriously). I’ve had ’em all, and once I got a full size 4×4 diesel-powered pickup I wondered why it had taken me so long to see the light. 25+ mpg, can haul a house, amazing off-road (Dana lockers), huge sleeping area, ultra-dependable (a Cummins will go half a million miles easily, well over a million if taken care of), and runs on bio/veggie/used motor oil (true story). Trucks win easy.

  • JT
    Reply

    We have 2 Subies… Outback and Forester, and while they’re toy haulers and very reliable-go-anywhere vehicles, sleeping in either for me is not an option. Too tall.

  • Gyuri
    Reply

    Peugeot 806 for two persons with 2 seats. Tested many times, I can sleep comfortably despite I am almost 2m tall.

  • marquisb
    Reply

    What? No Subaru Brat?

  • Alex
    Reply

    Need to get myself one of these!

  • Todd Duncan
    Reply

    Sportsmobile!

  • Lance
    Reply

    For a long time I have figured a tent was good enough, although the Sprinter route had been tempting. Then I spent two weeks tooling around Iceland in a pickup with a camper and was converted. With the full size 4×4 I was able to cross rivers that stopped the small SUVs and was able to travel on all the F roads and away from the crowds. Came home and bought a used popup slide in. I can slide it in and out in 15 minutes and don’t need to worry about putting up the tent in the rain. Plus the queen size bed and real mattress is a nice upgrade.

  • J
    Reply

    Pretty sure that main picture was taken from the inside of a Promaster…. much cheaper than a Sprinter for those who are $ conscious!

  • Steve
    Reply

    No specific option for a Tacoma? The Tacoma and 4Runner are a culture of their own separate from other ‘small pickup with shells’ etc.

    Rocking an Outback at the moment, and hopefully a Tacoma next. As nostalgic as a VW Combi would be, they’re too expensive and require too much attention to keep going.

  • Tasha
    Reply

    Kinda bummed not to see the Ford Transit Connect (aka the “Pigmy Sprinter”) on this list!!

    • andy
      Reply

      I’ve been living in mine for a year and love it.

  • Brooke
    Reply

    My Outback has certainly taken me on my best adventures, but I’d love to own a van someday. #subiediaries

  • Elie L
    Reply

    Them camper tops are luxe

  • Ashley
    Reply

    How is the earthroamer only at 3.2%?!

  • Alexander
    Reply

    Depends on the adventure!

  • DanO
    Reply

    A truck with a camper lets you do so much and gives you a quick setup on th way to your destination.

  • SarahO
    Reply

    The element is easy to work on, cheap to fix and never leaves me wanting for more room or power.

  • Eric
    Reply

    Love my RAV4 for adventuring solo. I custom built a trunk organizer that slides out for a kitchen setup as well as storage for all of my gear and leaves a side to sleep on (perfect length for 5’10”). Bike, extra gas, and solar panel on roof (battery in organizer). Upgraded to AT tires, and custom mounted skid plate. I also get great gas milage.

  • Marie
    Reply

    Currently reside out of a Jeep Patriot. It’s tight but worth it!

  • Aaron
    Reply

    I own a Honda Element and Subaru Outback. The Element was great for just me, my wife and dogs but now with a kid the Outback is top choice with more modern features and comfort level. Cargo space is a little short for longer trips but the addition of a soft roof bag fixed that.

  • roger
    Reply

    4Runner!

  • Will
    Reply

    The one you’re rolling on, homie!

  • Mike
    Reply

    “Hazel”, my 1991 Land Rover Defender 110

  • Atlas Catlett
    Reply

    VW for life!

  • Jeff
    Reply

    Anything that gets you outside

  • James
    Reply

    Ok, I’ve done the full size pick up thing with the camper. The camper got to be a pain to load after pulling out the tools and taking off the topper. Spent many a night just hunkered down with the kid chasing storms in the topper. It got old over extended trips, probably because I wasn’t as organized as I should’ve been but it added to our adventure. It was a great vehicle for getting out, driving up two track until you get buried on mother’s day, camping for a couple of nights then winching yourself out to get home, yah!!!! But 8mpg sucks. That all being said I just bit the bullet and bought the 4×4 Sprinter and it will be a dedicated camper. Heading to the coast, Wolf Creek or up to whistler at 22mpg, WOW!!!

  • D
    Reply

    Couldn’t vote for a non-Syncro Vanagon? Which I own, but I also have an Element. I like them both for lots of reasons. The Element, like a mini van wins in being discreet about the use, so if you’re going to be stealth camping where someone may object they’re perfect….. It’s also a Honda, built in this century, if reliability is part of your version of adventure, that may be important to you. Other than that, the Vanagon is my favorite vehicle that I have ever owned, in all its 62 HP of glory. It isn’t a slow car, it’s a fast living room.

  • Cuau Sandoval
    Reply

    I’ve been losing sleep on how to get my sprinter van dream to come true

  • Guthrie Alexander
    Reply

    Lived in my landcruiser for months at a time.

  • Kurt Kenney
    Reply

    Make all the fun you want of our mini van(mommy van) (soccer mom van), but we can put both bikes in the back and not take off the wheels, plus room for all the other stuff. See you at the trailhead, you’ll still be there putting on your wheels while we will already be riding.

  • cully todd
    Reply

    Full sized Chevy AWD please

  • Ryan
    Reply

    Outback ftw

  • Sinjin Eberle
    Reply

    Toyota Tacoma with a shell, drawer system inside for all the gear, rooftop tent on top. Boom.

  • Joanne
    Reply

    I also like the idea of a small camp trailer, but then rough roads could be a problem. This is an ongoing conversation in my house!

  • Dirtyfnhippy
    Reply

    The Element has always been awesome

  • Ashley
    Reply

    So many good choices..depends on the adventure I guess!

  • Ash
    Reply

    It might not be ideal, but I am a big fan of my volvo!

  • Dave mable
    Reply

    Subaru. No question. Bikes and skis on the roof = bonus. Pulling a 1950’s canned ham camper = over the top! (Free parking at Copper Mt. Is super bonus)

  • Nick
    Reply

    Love my Jeep….but lust after the sprinters

  • John Craig
    Reply

    Love my Tankoma…

  • colby
    Reply

    you hit the nail on the head when you said the best one is the one you own

  • Tristan
    Reply

    Toyota truck between 97-03 with shell, go anywhere do anything, not brake your bank…can’t adventure if all your money is tied up in your rig!

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