Camping vans are all the rage on Instagram, and this rally is bringing them to Boise

You’ve likely seen the latest trend in recreational vehicles on Instagram, where they’re often draped in string lights, with their windows thrown open to a beautiful forest or mountain view.

But one Idahoan wants to show that there’s much more to “van life” — living or camping in customized vehicles that are smaller than traditional RVs — than just social media snapshots. So David Andrews organized an Idaho Camping Van Rally, an event he says will be a “show-and-tell, meet-and-greet, drink-and-eat” chance for van owners to show off their vehicles and for those without RVs to learn more before deciding to purchase one.

The rally will be held at Payette Brewing, 733 S. Pioneer St. in Boise, on Saturday, June 1, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“I like getting people together to share,” said Andrews, a real estate agent and camping van owner. “There’s a trend growing but I noticed there isn’t a lot of fabric between van owners.”

In an interview, Andrews said he expects at least 20 vans at the event, including his own Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 4x4, one of the more popular cargo vans to customize for camping.

It will cost $29 to park your rig at the rally, but it’s free to walk through the event, which will include live music, food trucks, raffles, local vendors and, of course, beer.

Courtesy of David Andrews

A growing trend

Some of the local vendors who will attend the rally said the van lifestyle has become so popular that their businesses are hustling to keep up with demand.

“I didn’t know this was even a thing until about two years ago,” said Jared Findlay, co-founder of Nampa-based Get Lost Van Co. “We were overwhelmed with the demand people have for these rigs. We’ve got a waiting list at this point ... and that’s if people can even source the vans.”

The Sprinter, which is one of the most popular camping van models, is becoming increasingly hard to find, according to Findlay and Andrews. Local dealership E. M. Motors, which will also be at Saturday’s rally, “scours the internet” to find the vehicles for customers.

Findlay calls them “mini-homes on wheels.”

“I’m seeing a lot of people, the younger people especially, are packing up their things and they’re moving into the van,” he said. “They’re no longer buying into the American dream.”

And if you’re not in a position to buy a spendy custom vehicle, either? That’s where Boise-based Wandervans comes in.

While the company offers “upfitting” kits starting at around $3,500, co-founder August Johnson said that was never the original plan for Wandervans. Its main business is in camping van rentals — in multiple sizes — for those who want the versatility of a small RV without the cost.

“The old method of tent camping doesn’t appeal to people as much, especially in Idaho with our unpredictable weather,” Johnson said. “And one big appeal for the vans ... is really the driveability and the fuel efficiency.”

Wandervans started in 2015 with a fleet of three vehicles. It has 11 vans in Boise this year and will have 20 at the Salt Lake City location it opened last year. Johnson said most of their vans are booked out about 60 days in advance.

Adventure vans

Andrews, who organized the rally, said he fell in love with camping vans for the access to adventure.

“The most common word used (around the vans) is probably ‘freedom,’” he said. “We looked for second homes ... and it never quite worked that we wanted to stay in the same place all the time. I can’t think of something more convenient than a van.”

Many of the popular camping vans are able to handle rougher terrain than full-sized RVs, meaning they’re ideal for accessing far-flung campsites and attractions. Many use solar energy to power their appliances, and customization options mean each rig can be tailor-made for your preferred adventures, Andrews said.

“Van life is people starting to reduce their footprint and their cost of living,” he said. “There’s nothing better than to detach and get out in nature.”

Andrews said he hopes his event will showcase each van’s “personality.”

“Everywhere I drive my van, I get stopped all the time,” he said. “If one van can stop people, (the rally) should get their attention really quickly.”

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Nicole Blanchard is the Idaho Statesman’s outdoors reporter. She grew up in Idaho, graduated from Idaho State University and Northwestern University and frequents the trails around Boise as much as she can.