Author: Carey deVictoria-Michel

Let’s not forget the reason that #vanlife came about in the first place: to live more of our lives outdoors enjoying the wild. In this post, we will talk about what van design features to consider for mountain biking, skiing, surfing, or climbing. Each recreation takes place in different places and climates, and have different needs for gear or storage. Also, you might consider features that will help feel relaxed after recreating. 

There are a few van design features for outdoor sports that Freedom Vans would recommend for van lifers. No matter whether you are out in your van to bike or surf, there are features that will likely make life better. Such as;

Features of the model of the van:

    • High Roof.
    • Suggested 170” or 170” extended length van. 
    • Fewer windows if you would like to better control the temperature in the van. 
    • Read our blog posts with ordering recommendations for Ford Transits and Mercedes Sprinters ideal for van conversions.

Design features for the conversion build:

    • A ‘garage’ to store gear. At Freedom Vans, we call the space under the bed in the van the garage. This space is designed to store bikes, backpacks, skis, snowboards, surfboards, climbing gear, etc. Take a look at the photo gallery below to see a variety of garage designs. A few suggestions for the garage space is to use paint and materials in darker shades, because lighter colors will easily show marks, scuffs, and dirt. 
    • A shower, either indoor or outdoor. Most all outdoor sports can lead to either getting dirty, sweaty, and/or stinky. It might be fun at first to live the “all natural” lifestyle, but after a few days of getting mud everywhere, a nice shower will probably feel amazing. You can design a shower system inside your van, or a shower hose that you can access from the back. Check out our blog post on shower designs to review different shower set-ups.
    • Plan on having a dialed system for cooking meals and for storing food. If you are going to be staying active in the mountains or in the wild, then you are going to get hungry.

Let’s talk about what features for you van design might be best for mountain biking, skiing, surfing, and rock climbing.

Mountain Bikers

Freedom Vans was founded in a large part to accommodate a mountain biking lifestyle. The garage space that is essential to many of our designs was made with bikes in mind. The best features for mountain bikers living in a van, especially in regards to this garage space, are; 

  • A washdown hose and/or an outdoor shower. Consider including a water pump or a  water tank for a pressure hose. If you are setting up an outdoor shower, then consider including a water heater. Mountain biking is muddy, and the back of the van is the most practical space to wash off your bike and gear.
  •  Another fairly simple feature, is to design the space where you store your bike with the appropriate height. Essentially, design it high enough to store large bikes, as you might have a tall friend throw their bike in your van. 
  • The pull out drawer. You will see in the photos in this post that most garage spaces have large pull out drawers with the weight rating to hold your bike. These make it easy to load up your bike and store it in an efficient way. 
  • Consider bike mounts in the garage. You might want to attach a bike mount to the back door so you can work on bike fixes. Also, it’s definitely possible to incorporate an air compressor in your garage. 


Camper vans can also make for the best mountain home when hitting the slopes. There are a few features to consider in your van design if you are on the road to ski or snowboard. Let’s see;

  • Of course, at Freedom Vans, we suggest a garage space that is a good size and layout for storing skis or snowboards. Try using a durable and waterproof flooring that will handle that melting snow well. 
  • Probably obvious, but consider how you will heat your space. A major part of controlling the temperature in your van is having solid insulation. There are a few types of heaters you can use, and they mostly depend on what the power source is. Check out our blog on how to stay warm in your van for more tips.
  • Plan some kind of set-up to dry your wet gear and clothes overnight. Many will use an indoor bathroom if they have one. The garage space could be a good space if there’s warm air circulating back there. You can also plan hooks placed in spots that drip over a waterproof surface. Or, simply find a way to dry gear in the cab space.  
  • If you have windows in your van, consider finding or making insulated window covers to help control the temps. 



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The surf van differs in that the van is probably staying in warmer temps. This might mean making sure that air stays cool in the van and that you might want to take advantage of an outdoor shower set-up. A few tips we have are based on previously built vans. 

  • Freedom Vans built a fun van called ‘Elroy’ for a couple of surfers last year. The garage was built on dimensions for surf boards. A very large drawer was built in to easily store wetsuits. The paint on the interior is all blue stain to fit the ocean vibes.  The garage of this build exemplifies great storage for surf gear. 
  • Also, take a look at ‘Baja’, a van conversion designed for two surfers who have travelled all over to surf since it was built in 2017.
  • Vans used for water sports might have a roof rack to easily store boards or boats. Consider installing a ladder to access the roof and gear too. 
  • Solar panels would likely be an effective way of producing power in your van, since you are likely travelling to sunny areas. 

Rock Climbers

Some of the original van lifers were rock climbers travelling to climb in Yosemite, Red Rocks, or the North Cascades. Living in a van is very ideal for rock climbers. The mobility and simplicity make for a perfect match for the recreation. Freedom Vans has built a few conversions for rock climbers in the past, and there are a few features we would suggest.

  • In ‘Chongo’, the owners added a hangboard. These are used to exercise and build strength in your arms, hands and fingers. It was mounted above the sliding door, which you can see on the project page.
  • The storage needed for climbing gear likely takes up less space  than other sports. Drawers are probably the most practical type of storage space. With a few larger drawers, you can keep your gear protected and organized. 
  • If you are an intensive climber, then you might consider designing the living space of your van to have enough room to throw out a yoga mat for stretching. The hallway in your van could likely be designed with the right length and width to practice yoga after a big day of climbing. 

Van Life is Built for Outdoor Recreation

Overall, we live in vans so that we can spend time in the outdoors. When you are planning your van adventures, keep in mind what features you think would best accommodate your activities. Especially, in terms of gear storage. At Freedom Vans, another reason why the garage space is so nice is that this is where your gear and dirt goes so that you can have a living space that stays a bit cleaner and cozier to relax in. Check out the photo gallery for more creative design ideas. What is most important though, is that you are out there having fun! Soak up every second of that good van living.

Freedom Vans Floor Plans

Freedom Vans has floor plans of previous builds available for purchase on our online shop. These floor plans are available as a downloadable PDF and have links to products used in van conversions, general dimensions, and schematics for the electrical and plumbing. They could come in handy as inspiration and direction for those building there camper vans as D.I.Y. projects.