Choosing an Adventure Vehicle

Choosing an adventure vehicle for our family was certainly not the easiest decision we’ve ever made…

It all started with the first camping trip we took our son Ben on a few years ago.  We quickly came to the realization that tent camping with kids was not as fun as it was before kids…  This realization came sharply to us at 4am while driving back to Seattle after a sleepless night with a too cold, too tired child.

The solution initially was to stick with day trips.  You can visit some great areas within a day of Seattle and this combined with some international trips provided a few good years of entertainment.  However, with the arrival of Emma, child #2, we decide it was time to figure out a better solution to camping, thus, the search for an “adventure” vehicle.

Looking back now, it took longer to define what we wanted in an adventure vehicle as it did to find the vehicle itself.  We went around and around with what was “nice-to-have” vs. “have-to-have”and looked at a ton of different options including camper vans, truck campers, trailers, expedition vehicles, and roof-top-tents.

Our final list of adventure vehicle requirements

  • Ability to go off-road
  • Room for two adults and two kids
  • Separate beds for the kids
  • Mechanically reliable and utilitarian
  • Toilet
  • Water storage
  • Heater
  • Ability to “boondock” for 3+ days (camp without utilities, including water)

After evaluating all the different options out there, we ended choosing a truck camper because it best fit the list of things of things we really wanted in a vehicle.  While the truck camper certainly isn’t perfect and it’s tough to go wrong with any option if it gets you out on the road, we liked the truck camper for the ability to combine the reliability of a standard pickup with the flexibility of the truck camper platform.

Our second choice was Sportsmobile camper van, which I loved.  However, it had two things that held us back from getting one.  First was the lack of a factory 4×4 option.  While the Sportsmobile 4×4 conversion on the Ford vans has great reviews and appears really well built, I preferred a 4×4 setup that came from standard from the factory.  The second issue we found was with using the kids’ carseats in a Sportsmobile, or any camper van for that matter.  Since the second row of seats are used for the living room layout within a van, we felt putting in and taking out carseats repeatedly was going to be a giant pain.

Photo credit: Mia & Steve Mestdagh

The other options we specifically considered were VW Vanagon Westfalia vans which had some similar draws backs with the carseats but the bigger hangup was not being able to get one with 4WD.  While the Syncro model does have 4WD, they were so expensive that I would have had to sell one of the kids to finance it…

Photo credit: IFCAR

Sprinter vans were another great option but the lack of a 4WD option steered us away from getting one.  I have heard a 4WD version is coming to the US shortly so this may be a better option for those in the future.  One of the great things about the Sprinter is the diesel engine; great gas mileage for long road trips.

Photo credit: IFCAR

Sonja and I considered a roof-top-tent for a second but ended up nixing it immediately.  While a really great option for a couple travelling, with kids, it’s like a prison on wheels…Photo credit: Gordigear

And lastly, we did look at a few different types of expedition vehicles like MANs, Unimogs, Earthroamer, and Unicats.  However, they were just all way above our budget.  Very fun to look at online but not really feasible for us currently.

Photo credit: Klaus Nahr

We’ve had our truck camper (Four Wheel Camper Hawk) for a little less than a year now and have been very pleased with it.  See our other post about choosing a truck camper for more of the thought process we went through after deciding to get a truck camper.  Another fun but prolonged decision!



  • Love what you are doing. We are starting The process of looking for our traveling home and this information is helpful. My family and I ( husband and eight-year-old son) plan to leave Colorado in the fall of 2019 and spend a year on the road traveling south through Central and South America. We are staring more toward a 24 foot class C vehicle, just for the comfort. But what is your feeling about this after traveling through their yourselves? Did you see any of them?

    • Sonja

      Hi Shannon,

      How exciting! I think a 24′ is an awesome choice, especially in the comfort category. I very much wished for more space sometimes as we were crammed like sardines in our camper. The trip is definitely do-able in a rig that big; keep in mind you’ll have to do (and pay) flat rack going across from Panama to Colombia. You’ll probably also pay more for toll roads and maybe even some campsites. We met a wonderful family that did it in a big rig, and then ended up selling it to a family we knew from Seattle. Small world. It’s definitely a different experience than what we had as we did quite a bit of rough gravel roads in the boonies. Places like (parts of) Baja, Bolivia, and southern Chile will probably be off limits, depending on how adventurous you are. The nice thing about this trip though is that it’s a huge area and you will find a lot of activities and places that suit your travel style and rig. Have a wonderful time!

  • Mitch

    Any problems with payload, seems like a pretty light camper. Just curious if you’re ever overloaded on a payload weight at all and if it caused any problems?

    • Sonja

      Hi Mitch,

      Yes, the camper is pretty light but with the Tundra, airbags were definitely a requirement (running only about 40 psi). We tried helper springs but they didn’t provide enough support.

      We were a couple hundred over GVWR. Probably weighed in at 7,500 lbs wet. No real problems, however.

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