Providing future van lifers with a simple, affordable way to start traveling, Cascade Campers has developed an impressive mini-camper conversion for the Ram Promaster City. More fully equipped than a Wayfarer van and about half the price of a Contravan, Cascade's design focuses on the type of cheap, simple solutions that a DIYer might piece together themselves, laying out a living space for two with double bed, kitchen and solar-backed off-grid electrical system. If you're not confident in your own DIY skills and want to launch an open-road adventure in a sleek, stealthy and affordable mini-campervan, the Cascade kit might just be the perfect fit. In fact, it might be the only fit.
More than just an entrepreneur tapping into the #vanlife craze, Cascade Campers founder Zach Yeager has been a camper van fanatic for nearly 30 years. He got into Volkswagens at age 12, called a 1967 VW camper bus his first car, and spent time after high school exploring the world from the seat of a van. He's owned dozens of VW vans since and restored a few himself.
So why are we talking about Yeager in relation to a Ram mini-camper conversion and not a classic VW bus operation? VW hasn't actually sold new vans in the US for a decade and a half, and Yeager's love for camper vans eventually led him in search of something simpler – a newer, smaller, more reliable van option, something stout enough to double as a regular driver. He first gave the Nissan NV200 a hard look, but after a camper van trip through Iceland, he decided that an all-American mini-campervan was the way to go, and landed on the Ram Promaster City as the base.
In 2017, Yeager left the security of his corporate job to pursue full-time van conversion. After some trial and error, he put together a Promaster kit that would prove more popular than he ever anticipated. He originally thought the focus would be on building out rental vans, but demand for retail conversions proved so high, he abandoned the rental business earlier this year to focus solely on customer conversions.
At 15.6 ft (475 cm), the Promaster City (the American Fiat Doblo) is much smaller than the more popular full-size Ram Promaster (Fiat Ducato) that underpins campers like the Carado Axion and Pleasure-Way Tofino. The Cascade camper isn't quite the smallest mini-campervan we've seen, but it's definitely pint-sized, making it good for maneuvering tight streets and dirt roads, fitting into regular parking spaces and decks, and storing away comfortably in the garage between trips and adventures. At US$24,000 to start brand new, it's also an affordable entry into van life.
Squeezing functional living quarters for two into a Promaster City takes a little more finesse, strategy and compromise than doing so in larger vans, especially if you're putting everything inside and not relying on a tailgate galley, the way other Promaster City conversion shops do. From the looks of things, Cascade has done a bang-up job.
The foundation of Cascade's design is the driver-side, futon-style sofa that's mounted longitudinally. The sofa is only for use when the van is stationary, and considering the compact interior dimensions and lack of standing height, it's sure to see a lot of use at camp, serving as the centerpiece of in-van leisure time. At night, the sofa quickly drops down into a cozy 42 x 76-in (107 x 193-cm) double bed that fills out the rear load area.
Cascade probably could have attracted customers and fans with just the sofa-bed, but it pressed on to create a full conversion with functional kitchen and off-grid electricity. The compact kitchen block stands across from the sofa, filling out the rear passenger-side wall with a sink and Dometic fridge. A 19-L jerry can with quick-release water lines feeds the sink, while a loose single-burner butane stove cooks from atop the counter, cutting out the complexity and space requirements of a hard-plumbed stove.
Hardware from the solar-fed electrical system is also found in the kitchen block. That full system includes a 100-watt roof-mounted solar panel, 400-watt power inverter with electrical outlets, 75-Ah AGM battery, and four USB ports. Battery power also keeps the LED lighting on and 6-in ventilation fan spinning.
You can forget about a tall wardrobe or conga line of upper cupboards in this tiny van, but Cascade slides a row of five storage bins below the sofa, carves out cubbies and shelves on the kitchen block, strings up storage pockets on the walls, and leaves free a long, narrow space behind the sofa. The design of the sofa-bed also leaves open the central aisle during the day, providing space for larger, longer items like a bike or skis, but they'll get in the way when camping and will need to be stored elsewhere. Cascade suggests considering a hitch or roof-mounted gear rack if you want to bring along big sports gear without the hassle of storing it outside (low-footprint, stealth camping is woven into its design strategy).
Cascade finishes its kit off with wall and ceiling paneling over top 10-mm closed cell foam insulation and privacy curtains. The focus on stealth camping leaves the compact exterior simple and low-profile, with just a pair of text-free company decals on the outside. Cascade says it can leave the decals off but thinks they actually help the van fit in as an inconspicuous commercial vehicle.
The Cascade conversion is compatible with 2015+ Ram Promaster City Cargo vans (not the "Wagon" passenger models) and retails for $7,000, roughly half the price of the Contravans conversion and closer to the $4,700 Wayfarer kit that includes structural components and furniture but not kitchen equipment or electrical hardware. Buyers source their own vans, and with the Promaster City's $24,000 base price, they're looking at as little as $31,000 to get a brand-new camper van on the road – about as cheap as we've seen, and it only gets cheaper for those buying used vans.
Yeager makes it quite clear that he wants to offer an affordable, all-inclusive package without charging separately for each and every option, the way many camper van and RV companies do. So while Cascade does say it will work with customers on shaving down the bottom line by cutting back on standard equipment, it doesn't offer extras or custom packages, focusing all its efforts into creating uniform, all-in-one conversions. The kit weighs about 450 lb (204 kg).
Those wishing to get a Cascade conversion can check Cascade's calendar and contact the company for a build slot. The order process includes several steps and deposits. The customer delivers the van to Cascade's shop in Grass Valley, California, and the actual conversion takes two weeks once construction gets underway.
Source: Cascade Campers
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