We are adventurers who tend to go to places to explore off the beaten path. We go by foot, by bicycle, or, now, by 4x4 Sprinter Camper. We prefer off-grid and off pavement. We like dirt roads. Long drives out twisting canyon washes are for us. Not having the 4x4 was just not an option for us.
Getting stuck, in our prior two-wheel drive Sprinter camper, on the north rim of the Grand Canyon in a snow storm on Memorial Day weekend was the final deciding factor in our decision to get a 4x4. Also we live in snow country in Lake Tahoe. We wanted a reliable vehicle we could drive in the winter and even camp out at a ski area on an epic snow day.
What we've learned now as we enter our fourth month of living in our van and testing it out driving the back canyons of Big Bend Ranch State Park in Texas, Anza-Borrego State Park in California, and into the mountains surrounding Tucson are that we did a great job of designing the outside for off-road but we need some work on the interior.
On the exterior, we found was the van does great off-road, even with the long wheelbase. We just need to be a little more careful with the boxes on the rear. By going slow we don't compress the suspension which lessens the risk of the back end hitting the ground in those steep dips and transitions from steep up and downhills. Slow and steady wins the race. Since Sprinter vans are tall, not adding additional height (load) on the top is important. They can sway quite a bit on uneven terrain. Again, going slow is key.
The big learning curve is how you build your interior is as important as having the 4-wheel drive for having a seemless off-road van camper. Weight was an issue that we needed to be aware of. Too much weight makes it harder to haul your load up those steep desert roads.
We found out our beautiful bamboo cabinetry looks great but is impractical for off road. Our screws, glue, and latches took a beating off road. We are going to replace the bamboo cabinets by either custom building or finding metal cabinets and mounting systems that will flex and bend. Everything needs to be battened down. We do a check prior to take-off similar to a pre-flight check. Everything needs to be secured before we go off-road.
We didn't have any major failures, but it would be nice not to worry about the creaking and popping noises and possible failures as we drive gnarly roads.
So in planning figure out what your intended use is. Think about where you plan to go. Design your van for the most extreme aspect of your adventures! Consider total weight when adding features on the interior. Simple constructions are always better and think industrial.