How deep can 4x4 vans get you? Beginner questions...


New member

I'm a long time lurker and I think this is my first post. I have wanted an overland vehicle since I was 7 (turning 40 soon, gulp) and am getting serious about it now. My challenge is that I have no experience other than having owned a 4Runner in my 20's that i drove on Washington forest service roads. I find myself with a boot strapping problem in that I need a rig to get started exploring to know what kind of rig I want.

My goal is to be able to explore the back roads in grand staircase escalante, the white rum trail, that place in Colorado I can never remember, the rubicon trail, the white rum trail and even rough forest service roads in Washington (is gold Meyer hot springs still a thing?). Maybe even travel the world. I have a wife and two daughters. I like mountain biking, snowboarding and climbing (that's where I've spent my recreation $$$ in the past). The seven year old in me would love a rock crawler but that's not what I'm going for now.

So I'm curious- how far can a 4x4 van get me? Sports mobile, NW quadvan, UJOR or quigley? The fords seem to have the most off-road prowess but sprinters seem cool too. I'm thinking 33-35" tires and 4-6" lift kind of deal. Am I giving up much compared to a land cruiser? Also, I plan for minimal RV conversions. I just an indoor space for when the weather really sucks but prefer to cook and be outside when I'm adventuring.

Thanks in advance to anyone willing to share their thoughts!


New member
Hey Bill! Man I'm in the exact same spot. A few years ahead of you in age. Wife, 2 young girls, dog....I've gone back-and-forth between sprinter 4x4, Sportsmobile, pick up with canopy, plain old van with 4x4 conversion....not sure there is the perfect rig. Looking forward to some insight. Finally at a point in my life where I can do something financially and I feel paralyzed on what to do.

Long time lurker here too. May be my first post.



World Citizen
My advice? Don't get too caught up in what you are driving....focus on what you want to do. Also, don't get hung up on the "offloading" part of it....unless rock crawling and mud bogging are your goal (if they are, I would advise against a van).

Most vehicles, driven sanely, will get you to 99% of the places you might want to visit... I know people that have literally driven off the beat path, all over the world in a simple VW van. I have seen folks in 2wd pick-ups follow 4wd "expedition" vehicles over some fairly interesting terrain.

Skillful driving is more important that vehicle specs....




Expedition Leader
Based on your descriptions of where you want to go - a Ford van with u joint type conversion would be best. Give up on the Rubicon trail though - that's more in the rock crawling arena...

The sprinter's suspension doesn't flex enough and is a bit fragile compared to a straight axle ford 4wd conversion. Also, the sprinter is too expensive to risk damage off road.


New member
Thanks for the thoughts everyone. It seems like a Van will take me where I want to go.
I've gotten the impression that most vehicles can get up most trails, it's just a matter of the style. Similar to how most cars get to the ski area, just some have to stop and put on chains.

@EricStein - that's great. Hope to see you on the trail someday!


New member
A thought...couple operators rent Sportsmobiles out in Colorado/Utah. They'll give you back country itineraries as well. Would be a good way to see if it would fit what you want. You can find them on the Sortsmobile website.



Think about how many times you have gotten to a remote trailhead or crag and found a Honda civic or Toyota primus in and amongst what we think are far more capable vehicles. I love your idea about a 4x4 van just get out there.


I love my 4x4 SMB. But note that what you CAN go over is not the same as what you SHOULD go over.

Every vehicle, especially a camping van, is a mess of compromises. It helps to be clear about what you wanna do.

And 4x4ing breaks stuff. A lot. Both outside and inside. It's just part of it. I did more risky stuff in my van earlier on, and then I kinda tired of fixing stuff. I was once more into the challenge of getting down tough roads and such, and vans are piss poor at that. They crown on stuff, have poor turning radiuses and sight lines, and the ride is horrific. But hey, you get your house way out there, even if interior screws and pots and pans are raining down on you. Especially horrid for passengers...yikes.

Another factor is that with a van you're often the biggest, heaviest thing around. Recovery stuff is really tough with a 4 ton van. I can pull out lotsa little 4x4 with my winch no problem, but they can't help me much. Sometimes just a little oomph will do it, but if you're beached, yikes.

So I got to the point where I towed a real 4x4, or put my dirt bike on a ca. Which is what you'd do for say the Rubicon.

I love the van. But I think if I were to do it over, I'd go with suspension upgrades short of full 4x4: like sways, lift, spring/coil work, wheels and tires, brakes, maybe gear ratio. Maybe even a locker. The greatest part of the 4x4 setup, though, was the transfer case. It really helps on descents esp to have that compound low with a heavy van. That would probably get you over the "white rum trail" (heh...Utah would never have a rum as opposed to rim trail, ya know?). And if I wanted to do hairier stuff, I'd buy a hardcore 4x4, side-by-side, etc.


I loved my 2wd van. It went just about everywhere including down a sandy wash in Mohave, up a trail that a Synro couldn't, all over really. All that weight in the rear makes for great traction. The reason I went to a 4x4 truck with a camper was because the van was just to top heavy to be safe when out solo. Had to turn back a couple too many times but man I loved that van. I imagine something with 4wd and a suspension would be very capable as long as the trail is not too far off camber. IMG_0805.jpg