People that participate in dog sports whether dog showing, obedience, tracking, or field trialing are the original van lifers. They maximize their space to allow lots of dogs to fit in a standard passenger van and still have space to sleep.
Ok, so their sleeping arrangements are often less than optimal. I have known many a people that sleep in the drivers or passenger seat, which is fine if you can recline it. But a lot of these dog people do not have the ability to recline their chair because they have so many dog crates filling their space.
The number of dogs you can fit into a standard passenger van is amazing, even bigger dogs.
But the king of the van life–at least when it comes to dog sports–is the Chevy Express. This van is huge. It comes in various colors, but standard issue white is the most popular.
We recently purchased our Chevy Express van. It is an extended passenger version so is’s super long.
Our Chevy Express van features a standard electrical outlet and a USB port. The USB port will allow you to play your phone’s music on the built in stereo system, but as a vehicle built for utility more than fashion and style, the sound system is not great.
Depending on the finish trim, it comes with a backup camera and baseboards. Ours has a baseboard running along both sides to assist in getting in and out of the vehicle. The baseboards are not illustrated in the picture below.
Chevy also sells express vans in a cargo format. The difference is insulation, finishes, rear air conditioning, windows, and of course seating. I like windows so the passenger van was a better option compared to the cargo van. There is also a third variety where there is seating for 5 paired with the cargo feature.
Transforming your passenger van into that #vanlife business is fairly easy with the Chevy Express.
Chevrolet designs their vans to easily be able to remove the seating. There are L shaped hooks that you simply slide out, then leverage the seat out of the vehicle. It’s bloody great!
The seats can be saved for later. But let’s be real. You are absolutely not going to use these seats again if you find reason to remove them. They will sit in your house taking up space. You will likely also be hesitant to remove the seatbelts.
A friend recommended we drop ours off at the dump. We did not do that. So there they sit in our garage. However, we have them set up as a seating area with an indoor/outdoor area rug in the garage like some sort of man cave.
The dogs like to jump on them. They are not the most stable so ours sit up against the wall to reduce chances that they’ll spill over on the dogs potentially causing them harm.
So the real van life. Van life for those whose parents are not funding their remodel or whose parents are not skilled at revamping a van or people without skills that want to do van life… it can be done without all the fancy flooring and finishes.
Plastic or wooden crates, bam storage.
Plastic bins are best because they can be put outside in the rain for whatever reason. You also have the option of the short ones (the kind that fit under beds) or the big ones.
A platform bed is nice and all, but have you ever slept on a cot? How about a cot with an inflatable mattress on top?
We stick to the cots. We have Alps brand cots. The short plastic bins do not fit under these. I mean, they do fit under them but when you lay on them you can feel it because the cot has nice give. We use automatic inflatable 2 inch sleeping pads to our cots for additional comfort. It makes them a bit slick for the bedding but way more comfortable.
Our Chevy Express van can fit two cots side by side with three large (36 inch) dog crates in it. We could put a 4th or 5th crate in if we really needed to but we are not (yet) that crazy into the dog world.
What? You need energy at night for that sleep apnea? Check out this great device. It is called a Jackery 500. They have other power sizes as well. It does not take up too much space, but it does not quite fit comfortably under the cot. Prices seem to be falling now too, we got ours for $500. As of this post, they are listed for $419.
The Jackery 500 will last about three nights of sleep apnea machine use before needing to be recharged. It can also charge your phone or computer.
Even better, you can purchase solar panels for it to charge during the day. We don’t have them. I hear it takes 8 hours to fully recharge it so that is deterring us from purchasing them. But if you’re a hiker, that could be useful. Leave the van with the solar panels up to charge while you’re out and about for the day. Bam! Night time energy. Love it.
Did I mention you can buy internet for your Chevy Express? It costs around $20 a month for unlimited data with AT&T. The Chevy website says there are plans as low at $5 a month, but I don’t believe it. Anyway, unlimited data sounds way better.
The joy of a passenger van conversion as opposed to a cargo van conversion is that the air conditioning and insulation are already there.
The quality of the heating and air conditioning in the Chevy Express is excellent. You have separate controls for the front and the rear of the van. Each can also has an above and below division, so you can have heat coming out of vents in the roof or vents located near your feat on the sides of the van.
Dog people love this. It keeps the dogs comfortable in extreme temperatures
Some people want the cargo van to avoid windows, but we like the ability to see outside and it is easy enough to sew or buy your own window treatments for your van.
Alternatively, you can use Reflectix insulation (available in most hardware stores) and cut it to size for the windows. This allows you to block out sources of light when you want it to be dark for sleeping.
Another good idea for your van is the space heater. Some people use propane fueled space heaters. If you do this, make sure it has some sort of carbon monoxide regulator and/or you have a CO detector. Another option is an electric space heater but this requires *surprise* electricity from a power source or a generator. The Jackery 500 is not going to do it for most space heaters because they are energy intensive appliances.
The driver and passenger seating in the Chevy express is wonderfully squishy. This does not make much of a difference when you are driving miles upon miles and hours upon hours. You will still want added seat cushioning and lumbar support.
The front end is spacious and it is easy to get into the back if you need to go through your stuff. The seats lean back and you can rest your feet on the door storage edge or front end dash.
In our Chevy Express we are traveling with three 36 inch dog crates and still have sufficient room for one of the cots to be set up for rest on those long drives.
The van life is great because you do not have to set up a tent and at dog events this is particularly nice since you cannot trust that other people will not allow their dogs to urinate on your tent or in your campsite.
While you do not need a tent, tarp poles are a must. Get yourself a standard tarp and these poles will create instant shade just outside your van door. Essential for super sunny, hot days especially when your are traveling with dogs. You cannot always rely on there being a tree, as we learned camping out in the badlands of South Dakota.
For those looking to add a little luxury, Amazon sells battery operated (or foot operated) dispenser pumps for a five gallon water tank. We have not splurged on this item yet (psst it is only $12-20 to get one).
This might be good for the humans but seems a little slow on the water draw for the family with multiple sizable dogs. The 5 gallon emergency water storage units are a good option for that need.
We have a one gallon water cube. It is nice because it is manageable, not too heavy and easy to use. It folds up when not in use.
In the heat of the summer we took a road trip on one of the hottest weekends of the year. The dogs joined us on this camping trip. We did not yet have our van so we tented in a state park campground.
The dogs hated this camping trip. Despite being hunting dogs, they were not amused by the buggy and dusty dirty environment.
We were uncomfortable because of how hot it was and because we were inexperienced in the area. We had not realized that the “swimming” hole was also serving as the public bath tub. We found this… gross. People using all sorts of toxic soaps in the water other people are trying to swim and enjoy themselves in.
Please do not be that person. Remove your lotions and potions before entering bodies of water in the great outdoors, and do not bathe with your toxic chemicals in popular areas!
Be courteous to others and the environment. Use non-toxic biodegradable cleansers. Yet even some of those are still toxic, so it might be best to do your research. Something more than nothing is always best.
And you can always use a cleansing wipe if you absolutely need that soapy clean feeling.
In conclusion, the Chevy Express van is a beast among vans. In the past they briefly made all wheel drive versions. Those are hard to come by.
Rumor has it that the new Chevy Express vans coming in 2022 or 2023 will have all wheel drive, maybe even 4 x 4 functionality. We shall see!
If you really need to up your game, you can splurge and spend the thousands of dollars to have Quigley upgrade your ride to have 4×4 capabilities.