You can’t show up at a trailhead, surf spot, ski resort, campground, or Whole Foods parking lot these days without confronting a wall of camper vans and camper shell-enhanced 4×4 trucks. From $100,000-plus off-road van-based behemoths to rusted-out Syncro Vanagons clinging to the last, oh, 100,000 miles of life. They’re lust-inducing almost to a fault. Climbing into even a roomy truck or wagon may feel cramped when watching somebody open a door to a camper, stand up full height, and stretch into a sun salutation when you can’t even sit up all the way in your backseat.
But they cost a fortune. Turn key models of any camper van are the cost of a house in some parts of the country. Fixing up an old model is a financial commitment that can seemingly never end. But there’s another way. Just #vanlife or #trucklife it for a few days or weeks at a time, then return to your normal-sized vehicle life. There are dozens and dozens of options out there for van and overlander rentals. These are the companies we’d be looking into using (in no particular order, whatsoever, nor is this meant to be an exhaustive list) if we were heading out for a big-time roadie this summer. If only.
Adventure Travel Sport Rentals
Out of Golden and Boulder, Colorado, these folks rent livable vans, trailers, and hardy rigs (including Sportsmobiles, Toyota Land Cruisers, and Jeep Rubicons) to get you into the mountains safely. From $130/night.
Denali, the Kenai Peninsula, Homer on the Spit, Gates of the Arctic, anywhere you wanna be in Alaska, a van is a pretty solid way to get there. Based out of Anchorage, AlaskaVans is a small company renting Dodge vans with everything two people would need to see as much of Alaska’s wilds as you possibly can on an adventure of your own making. Rates start at $270/day.
Out of Salt Lake City, Basecamper has a wide selection of camper vans (and one trailer!) Ask ahead and they can have your rig stocked with groceries and booze before you arrive. From $99/night.
Campervan North America
Offers five models of camper vans for rent out of Seattle, Bozeman, and Las Vegas. With an eye toward stewardship and conservation, Campervan donates one percent of their profits to environmental nonprofits.
If a trip through the South is on the menu, Knoxville, Tennessee’s 865 Campervans rents Dodge Promasters and an adventure-ready trailer to get you kitted. Prices are terrific, starting at $135/day for a van that will sleep 4 people.
Escape Camper Vans
In 2003, three buddies from New Zealand founded the colorful Escape rental service, which expanded to the United States in 2009. Their vans come custom-painted by one of many collaborating artists, and you can pick up your vehicle in one of 12 locations across the US and Canada. Their newest storefronts are in Portland and Calgary, which opened in May 2019. Popular with travelers visiting from abroad, Escape offers plenty of travel advice, from proposed itineraries to helpful tips like which side of the road you should be driving on.
Hawaii Surf Campers
Oahu is, well, it’s paradise. The North Shore offers all the surfing you could possibly want, the South Shore does too in the summer, with plenty of jungle hiking options along the crenelated Koʻolau Range of mountains running through the whole island. There’s a long tradition of vanlife in Hawaii, you won’t be surprised to learn, considering it’s about the best place on the planet to simply park, throw open the sliding door of a van, and just be.
This New Zealand-based company rents bright purple-and-green “mini RVs” out of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas. You’ve most certainly seen them if you’ve been anywhere in the West in the summer. If you don’t mind being a driving ad, their prices and service are terrific.
Headed to the Canadian Rockies? Western Canada? Karma Campervans rents fully kitted 2018 Ford Transit vans from Calgary; hop off a plane, into a van, and into some truly stunning wilderness. You can pick it up whenever and drop it off wherever, within reason. Bring a pet, they’re cool with it. They even stock the van’s kitchen with locally roasted coffee, a nice, uh, perk. Prices in summer start at $239/day CAN, including basic insurance.
Lost Campers USA
Lost Campers USA rents out of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Salt Lake City. Founded by Australians Emma and Nick Thomson, the company’s fleet of 120 vehicles connect their customers with the lifestyle they love: camping in the outback, road-tripping across the United States. These adventurers are exactly the kind of people you want behind your next big trip. Lost Campers prioritizes a low-profile vehicle, one that doesn’t stick out as a rental at your new favorite surf break and could be parked surreptitiously in a national park lot. Add one of their rooftop tents, and you’ve got the ideal vehicle for a family road trip or an adventure with friends. From $60/night.
Maine would be a fine place to spend a few days or weeks puttering around back roads and dirt roads and dipping into coastal towns. Uncrowded and underrated. Maine Campers will hook you up with a pristine-ish VW Westfalia for your vanlife needs. Their collection is all ’85-’91 Vanagons built out for camping by Westfalia. They’re manual transmissions (applause!) with kitchens and all the camp gear you could want. Plus, they’re freaking Vanagons. Enjoy that Vanagon charm with absolutely none of that Vanagon ownership headache. $175/day.
Mercedes Sprinter RV Rentals
29 locations across the American West. Customers can pick up one of their Mercedes camper vans and head off into just about any national park in the country in a matter of hours. Bonus: 10 percent of their proceeds go to the National Parks Conservancy. Get a quote here.
Off the Grid Rentals
Off the Grid Rentals offers teardrop trailers and rooftop tents out of Mesa, Arizona and Laguna Hills, California. Specifically built for off-road terrain, these towable living spaces are tougher than they look. Founder Nizar Najm, a father of three, wanted to give his customers access to luxury camping tools like their trailers and tents, as well as fridges, freezers, and compact generators, without having to deal with the costs of ownership. Though the business idea was sparked during a family camping trip, these rugged camping trailers are definitely worthy of your next big friendventure–they’d be perfect for a week of climbing in nearby Joshua Tree. From $100/night.
Outdoorsy, Trailermade, Campanda, Turo
These companies take the Airbnb model and apply it to adventure vehicles. From perfectly stocked livable camper vans to classic RVs and trailers, you can find just about anything you need. Trailermade also connects their users to primo camping sites on often-private land that other members own or manage and rent out to enterprising travelers. Outdoorsy, Campanda, and Turo give you all the benefits of peer-to-peer renting: when you’re renting a livable van from another outdoorsperson, they might have a kayak or two they’ll throw in for an extra $100. Got a dog? No worries–with so many options, you’re bound to find the right, pet-friendly person to rent from. If you’re in the US and you want to finally drive that Mitsubishi Delica you’ve long drooled over, one of these peer-to-peer options is a good bet.
If a full-on 4×4 is more your thing, Pacific Overlander has you covered. They offer Jeep Rubicons, Toyota 4Runners, and the indefatigable Toyota Tacoma, fully built and ready for off-roading and camping. Their rigs all have roof-top tents, camp furniture, a Yeti cooler or ARB fridge, water tank, cooking gear, even snow chains if you need ’em. They’ll even sort you with personal locator beacons and emergency jumper cables. Trips, insurance, they’ll help you get that squared away too. Locations in San Francisco, California, and Las Vegas, Nevada. Rentals usually start at $195/day. Get a quote for your particular voyage.
Based out of Portland, Oregon, ROAMerica (formerly known as just plain ROAM) rents fully equipped vans capable of getting you to some rugged PNW spots. They rent the indominable Sportsmobile vans, burly 4×4 full-sized rigs that you often see bouncing down horrible dirt roads in the deepest reaches of Baja. You likely won’t drive one of these that far south, but they’re cool with you hightailing up to Canada.
Teton Backcountry Rentals
Teton Backcountry rentals has lots of ski and climbing gear available, but they also have 4×4 truck rentals, based out of their Jackson, Wyoming HQ. Their truck fleet is full-size, with Chevy Silverado, GMC Sierra, and Toyota Tundra options. The Chevy and GM come with pop-up campers big enough to stand in, while the Tundra is fitted with a rooftop tent. Prices vary.
Based out of the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, Texino has three Vanagons, two Sprinters, and…are you sitting down?…a sweet 1989 Toyota High Ace popup. Yew! Bookings are four-day minimum and include insurance.
Vintage Surfari Wagons
Offering a fleet full of VW vans, Vintage Surf Wagons is geared toward the surfer looking to cruise the California coast. Whether in a Microbus, Vanagon, or even the modern Eurovan, the fleet is dialed with full camping setups, some even with pop-up campers. Based in Southern California, fly into and out of LAX after tripping the whole Golden State.
With locations in Boise, Idaho, and SLC, Utah, Wandervans has two fleets of Ford Transit vans of various sizes ready to hit the great roads of the West. They come loaded with beds, fridges, kitchens, water tanks, and lots of extras are available. The website is easy to navigate, has tons of how-to vids for the camper-challenged, and explains policies clearly. Best yet—they even offer one-way rentals. All starting at roughly $100 per day and up.
Note on rentals and rates: Some of these companies don’t include insurance in their daily rates. Most rental services will equip you with everything you need in the kitchen and provide bedding as well. Others will set you up with tents, sleeping bags, headlamps, and other adventure gear. Keep an eye on the amenities as you plan your next adventure. Prices accurate at time of publication.
Top photo: Balkan Campers