Van Builder Stories: Appalachian Vans

A guy holding tools

Van Builder Stories: Appalachian Vans

Buy or Sell Campers

Buy or Sell Campers

20 January 2023

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🌐 📷 @Appalachian_Vans 📍 Bucks County, Pennsylvania, USA 🚐 Building vans since: 2020

"Quality over Quantity"

Evan Tice from Appalachian Vans could be one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet on your vanlife journey. Converting vans is a passion and a lifestyle that has taken this entrepreneurial builder all over the US.

Having found fame on the ‘gram with his funny skits about the trials and tribulations of converting vans, Evan has experienced sleeping in a Walmart parking lot in a half-finished Sprinter, visited 113 National Parks in Pennsylvania, lived out of a Honda CRV, and hiked all 2,200 miles of the Appalachian Trail with nothing but a backpack. Adventure and creativity are in his blood!

Today, not only does Evan take bespoke van build commissions, but he also helps DIY builders on their own projects. He offers consultations, and pre-wired electrical kits – to make the build experience easier and more enjoyable. And that’s what it’s all about for Evan: making the van build process enjoyable and personal. ‘Quality over quantity’ is his mantra. Each of Evan’s builds is totally unique – there are no cookie cutters in his kit. Give him a follow on Instagram to see his builds as they come together.

So Evan, tell us where it all began...

Appalachian Vans started back in October 2020. Today I am full-time, building vans as a solo craftsman. I got the idea after I left my job (selling coffee) to get back on the road to travel. I found myself in Yosemite National Park where I met a gentleman with a tasteful, high-end European-style build. It was the first time I’d ever seen anything like it. It was incredible.

Two weeks later, after driving back from California to my hometown in eastern Pennsylvania, I sold the Toyota Rav 4 I was living in and bought a Sprinter with 100k miles on the clock. I decided I’d give it a shot. Fast forward 6 months, and I sold that van to a couple in Louisiana – I even personally delivered it to them and stayed the night. You can’t say no to southern hospitality!

From the start, I’ve had lingering entrepreneurial tendencies. I studied for a Bachelor’s Degree in sociology and ultimately social interaction, but I’d always experimented with multiple side hustles in my free time, too. I moved to Asheville, North Carolina to partner on a business venture selling pretzels, operated a 3-person coffee operation, and ran a resale side hustle out of my bedroom (flipping second-hand products on eBay and Facebook). And when I saw that incredible sprinter van that was attractively built out, everything fell into place. I pushed all of my chips into the center of the table and went all in on building vans.

I reached out to a tiny home-building company and they let me come on board to build with them. It wasn’t for the money – I’d make the 2-hour drive twice a week and stay in the Walmart parking lot in my part-converted Sprinter. I was gaining new skills and all the while I’d be making fun videos, highlighting the grueling life of a van builder, but I wasn’t just building vans, I was an entrepreneur, building something of my own.

What's unique about Appalachian Vans?

Unlike many other businesses, I have a few different roles in the vanlife community. While I build custom campers for clients, I also focus on helping DIY builders execute building their own vans. I do consultations, and pre-wired electrical kits to make their build experience easier and more enjoyable. I operate on quality and not quantity. I tend to tell clients, “I’m just a guy, In a shop, building things”.

Clients enjoy building with me because it’s a personal experience. I value the connections I build with each and every vanlifer I work with. Each build takes time, and I post updates showcasing builds as they come together.

Tell us about your build style and approach - what can clients expect from you?

My build style comes from simply trying to be the best. I enjoy having the luxury to take my time with every aspect of a build and I like to add small details that set each build apart from others. Learning and trying new approaches is what keeps me interested and building everything by hand allows me to grow as a skilled builder. I’m inspired by putting out new pieces that are unlike those of what others have seen. I push myself to come up with new ideas and innovate for the community as a whole. I want people to come to be because they want “ME” to build their van, not just because they want a van.

We don’t operate on spec designs or layouts. The process comes about by developing a connection with the client and the best results come when we start with what they want and I get the freedom to bring it together in my artistic way. Lighting tends to be what most people are excited about when choosing me as a builder.

What’s your favourite layout, and why?

My favorite layout is fairly basic. Fixed bed, open garage space, outdoor shower, and tons of storage. I do my best to leave as much opportunity for my buyer to further customize and decorate the van to their style and vibe. This ultimately leads me back to my approach to keeping vans basic, yet detailed and elegant, to provide a rich and clean aesthetic.

Interior van conversion with kitchen and fixed bed

What’s your favourite van base to build from, and why?

I have never built off of the Ford Transit Chassis, and I want to because I think that may be the one I’d enjoy most. But from experience, I enjoy building on a Mercedes Sprinter for the overall aesthetic of the van – clean and attractive. The most common van I build on is a Ram Promaster.

Do you take built-to-order commissions?

Absolutely! When working with a client, before anything else, I make sure we are a good match. I’ve found that what I’m building isn’t as important as who I’m building it for. I want clients to choose to work with me because they have chosen me to be their builder and not because they just want a van built. I run builds over 6-month timelines, so it’s important to me that we have a good relationship and are on the same page.

I am open to just about any ideas and designs that are out there (or not!) I start out by asking for 3 photos of vans they like and we take it from there. There is a great deal of trust involved. After nailing down the essentials, we continue to work on making decisions as we go. Having open communication with my client is vital. I take my craft seriously and nothing makes me happier than working with a client that respects the process.

Help us end the eternal debate: which is the best shower format, and why? No shower...outside shower...pop-up shower...fixed shower...

I am convinced that an outside shower is the way to go. I am personally a scrappy traveler, and while I build in luxury, I am practical at heart. An indoor shower is becoming a popular request, but for me? I can’t bring myself to sacrifice the space!

Let's cut the crap, give us your top toilet recommendation, and tell us why!

Right now, I’d have to hang my hat on the Nature’s Head composting toilet. I’ve been in the van-building world for over 2 years now and I still have yet to hear a bad thing about it.

How do you live your best vanlife?

To be honest, I don’t do much van-lifeing myself. These days I tend to car camp or backpack into a tent set up. But, I always take my finished rigs out to get a feel for them before they go to their owners and I’d have to say, my favorite part of camping with the van is showing it off, lol. This is a bit biased considering I’m the builder… But seeing campground goers’ eyes light up, and then seeing the ideas and creativity start to brew in their minds, those conversations are the best!

Lake Tahoe with forest from viewpoint
Lake Tahoe

Where’s the best vanlife destination?

I have to cheat because I haven’t yet set out for a full-on road trip in my van, but Lake Tahoe is the actual beez kneez of traveling on the road… Oh was I not supposed to blow that up? Sorry (laughing).

Are there any particular ride-or-die brands you insist on for your builds?

One thing that I will purchase and use for eternity, would be the fan insert mounting kit from “DIY VAN”. I’ve had fans leak before, and not just once. I religiously push this!

What do you think will be the next big thing for vans?

As the van world continues to grow, I’d like to believe vans become a more practical move for those in the remote working field. As the market continues to produce nicer and nicer vans focused on luxury, I see the future of owning a van to be tailored to those that can use it as a practical life choice to access a non-traditional life in which values are based in the people they meet rather than the largest ‘box’ they can find to live in.

What's one van item that you couldn't live without on your journeys? and why?

May sound crazy, but scissors. I was known for advocating scissors over a knife when I first thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail. And for whatever reason, scissors have been one of the most useful items I bring on the road with me 😂

What's your message to people just starting or thinking about getting into vanlife?

First talk with a builder (I’d love to chat anytime!) – get a general overview of what living and building a van looks like. I do my best to remind people looking to get into van life to allow the emotional wave of impulsivity to pass before jumping into it.

It’s easy to be excited when you begin to think about vanlife being a real part of your future, but this emotional thinking tends to pull you from the reason you’re getting into this life in the first place!

What are the must-ask questions for newbies?

Electrical, Electrical, Electrical. I have done many consultations with those purchasing used vans. I believe you can learn everything you need to know about a van by investigating the electrical system first! Oh, and I’m not a big fan of buses, but that’s a different conversation.

Why go pro, rather than fly solo on a conversion?

If you are truly looking to purchase a quality campervan conversion, buy from a builder. And I’m not saying they have to be overly experienced, but long story short, I cringe looking back at some aspects of the first van I built. I have a theory or thinking point to put this into perspective: Think of the percentage of people in the population that has built one van in their lives. Small right?


Now think of how many people have built two. Incredibly small right?! My point is: it is extremely rare for builders to build vans full-time. It is also extremely rare that those same builders got it totally right in their first van build. Full-time builders are in the very small minority of skilled craftsmen. They put their name on the wall and their reputation on the line. We can’t compare that to those who are simply attempting a custom van conversion for the first time.

What’s next? What are your dreams for your business?

Honestly, I just love building. I’ll go beyond vans. Off-grid tree houses, converting boats to yachts, doomsday shelters, etc. I am mostly motivated by working on those off-the-wall ideas that free-thinking, ambitious people are willing to bite the bullet and bring to life! I am open to building just about anything… I simply want people to know that I’ll entertain just about any idea that they wish to present to me!

Let's connect...

📷 @Appalachian_Vans
📍 Bucks County, Pennsylvania, USA
🚐 Building vans since: 2020

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