Creative camper vans: innovative designs for elevating escapes

Whether you are entertaining visions of van life or simply seeking fun and flexibility, the best camper vans have got creative – here’s our pick of forward-thinking designs

Hymer VisionVenture Camper van
Hymer VisionVenture concept camper van
(Image credit: TBC)

One of the many side effects of the pandemic era has been the surge in interest in camper vans, roaming homes, and off-grid living. The trend already had considerable social media momentum, in the form of the many photogenic couples and individuals dedicated to capturing the perpetually shifting utopian panorama of ‘van life’. The staid, conservative image of the traditional camper van and recreational vehicle is a world apart. However, the latter has certainly influenced the former, with contemporary campers becoming more compact and better suited to a long life on and off the road, rather than serve as vast glorified vacation cabins replete with cantilevered bedrooms, over-stuffed couches, and a flat screen on every wall.

There’s still a global hierarchy of scale in the camper industry, with the United States a natural home for the largest, most ostentatious machines on four (or more) wheels, while Europe favours small- to medium-sized campers, and the Far East is the realm of the micro camper. Here’s our selection of the latest and best camper vans and concepts from a freshly revitalised industry. 

Honda N-Van by White House Camper

Honda N-Van by White House Camper

(Image credit: TBC)

Honda N-Van interior by White House Camper interior


(Image credit: TBC)

Japanese firm White House Camper has taken Honda’s N-Van kei-scale microvan and turned it into a diminutive retreat, chock full of folding, sliding accoutrements, a pop top and accessories including a sink, fridge and oven. At 3.4m long, the N-Van is about a tenth the length of a large-scale American RV, although its accommodation is probably only a step up from being under canvas.

whitehousecamper.com (opens in new tab)

Hymer VisionVenture

Hymer Vision Venture interior

(Image credit: TBC)

Hymer VisionVenture interior


(Image credit: TBC)

A collaboration between German camper pioneer Hymer and chemical specialist BASF, the VisionVenture uses the industry-standard Mercedes Sprinter platform as a basis for a future concept that’s struck through with contemporary design and materials. This means a more domestic colour palette, the use of soft cloth and felt along with wood, and an inflatable pop-up roof, along with 3D-printed parts inside and out.  

hymer.com (opens in new tab)

PlugVan

PlugVan's transformable camper module

(Image credit: TBC)

PlugVan's transformable camper module interior


(Image credit: TBC)

German start-up PlugVan began with a simple question – why should a van be a camper all the time? Engineered to fit any make of panel van in the medium (3.5 ton) class, the company has built a beautifully crafted module that can be slid into the cargo bay as and when it is needed, providing creature comforts within the most basic day-to-day workhorse. The company has a range of different kits, colour schemes and equipment levels, and promises the conversion takes just five minutes to achieve.  

plugvan.com (opens in new tab)

Sunlight CLIFF RT Adventure Edition

Sunlight CLIFF Adventure van

(Image credit: TBC)

Sunlight CLIFF Adventure van interior


(Image credit: TBC)

Another German company offering, Sunlight’s Adventure Edition is a more rugged version of its CLIFF camper van, complete with rooftop pop-up bed, full bathroom, and seating and sleeping for four. Sitting on a Fiat platform, Sunlight’s warm material palette and clean design lines create a welcoming spot for extended sojourns. 

sunlight.de (opens in new tab)

EarthCruiser Explorer XPR 

EarthCruiser Explorer

(Image credit: TBC)

EarthCruiser Explorer interior


(Image credit: TBC)

Mercedes-Benz’s commercial division works hand in hand with several engineering specialists to craft overland and adventure trucks based on its products, including German engineering specialist Ziegler, and Australian manufacturer EarthCruiser. The latter can build its allterrain mobile homes on the tried and tested Unimog platform, Mercedes’ go-anywhere, ultra-flexible light truck platform that traces its roots back to 1948. EarthCruiser’s Explorer XPR is based on the Unimog U430 and can be tailored for practically any application, jungle to Arctic. The available equipment list is comprehensive and should you actually need proper roads, Unimog’s VarioPilot system will flip steering from right to left in minutes. 

earthcruiser.net (opens in new tab)

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Malibu Van Family-for-4

Malibu Family-for-4

(Image credit: TBC)

Malibu Family-for-4 interior


(Image credit: TBC)

As its name suggested, the Family-for-4 is a wholesome home from home for four, with a top double and flexible downstairs layout that includes twin beds to the rear. The Malibu’s design is indicative of a welcome industry trend towards sober, architecturally inspired interiors and exteriors, with none of the swirling side graphics, garish logos and jazzy fabrics that defined campers in the past. 

malibu-carthago.com (opens in new tab)

Schatzmeister 4x4 Zirbenbox

Schatzmeister 4x4 Zirbenbox

(Image credit: TBC)

Schatzmeister 4x4 Zirbenbox interior


(Image credit: TBC)

The Zirbenbox from Schatzmeister 4x4 is an expedition vehicle with a difference. Built using traditional carpentry methods and local materials, the Tyrolean-based firm creates living quarters that have the same precision and attention to detail as a modern mountain cabin. As well as solar panels, a retractable ceiling-mounted double bed and a lifting roof, the largest Zirbenbox can be configured to include an external kitchen, laundry area and even a stove. The timber-lined interior is the very definition of Alpine chic. 

zirbenbox.tirol (opens in new tab) 

Volkswagen Grand California

Volkswagen Grand California 600

(Image credit: TBC)

Volkswagen Grand California 600 interior


(Image credit: TBC)

VW’s vans have provided the basis for custom campers for well over half a century, in addition to the models that the company still builds in-house. The biggest of these is the Grand California, available in 600 and 680 models. The high-roofed 600 offers sleeping space for four, while the longer 680 provides generous amounts of space for two travellers, with a fixed double bed and a spacious wet room. 

volkswagen-vans.co.uk (opens in new tab)

Nissan e-NV200 Winter Camper Concept

Nissan e-NV200 Winter Camper Concept


(Image credit: TBC)

Still in the concept stages, this conversion of Nissan’s e-NV200 electric van demonstrates that silent, smooth running is the next key area of innovation for camper van design. This particular example includes extra equipment and insulation for out-of-season exploring, with fast charging capability and solar cells to keep you topped up. 

nissan.co.uk (opens in new tab)

Stella Vita Concept

Stella Vita Concept by Solar Team Eindhoven

(Image credit: TBC)

Stella Vita Concept by Solar Team Eindhoven sketch


(Image credit: TBC)

A little further down the road, but perfectly suited to a life of endless roaming, is this proposal for a solar-powered camper from students at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands. The fully functional prototype is an ultra-lightweight teardrop-shaped machine with an awning that doubles as extra solar cells. By incorporating minimal design but not skimping on the mod cons, the team of 22 believes a self-sustaining camper is a real possibility. 

solarteameindhoven.nl (opens in new tab)

Jonathan Bell has written for Wallpaper* magazine since 1999, covering everything from architecture and transport design to books, tech and graphic design. He is now the magazine’s Transport and Technology Editor. Jonathan has written and edited 15 books, including Concept Car Design, 21st Century House, and The New Modern House. He is also the host of Wallpaper’s first podcast.