A van in the middle of a valley with drawn on people and stars

How Dave & Matt Vans Are Bringing #VanLife to the People

The company's unique business model has upended traditional camper van costs

First, the strobe lights started shining through the windows. Then the EDM began blasting. My partner and I looked at each other, realizing the quiet camp next to us was a group of ravers bumping loud music and doing who knows what for who knows how long. We’re on some Bureau of Land Management land somewhere in rural Colorado, but we could be next to a club in any city in the U.S.

It’s just a part of van life, we thought.

For years, I’ve been van-curious. So when I had the opportunity to test one over this past July 4th weekend, I jumped at the chance. But what intrigued me most about this particular van and experience was it actually seemed attainable. When thinking about van life, the upfront cost is the elephant in the room. Even used vans can go for $35,000 to $100,000. Most new vans are in the $110,000 to $200,000. Those costs can price a lot of people out of the romanticized #vanlife experience.

Gypsum, Colorado-based Dave & Matt Vans launched in 2019 with one fundamental goal—to make van life more attainable and accessible by building out RAM ProMaster vans with the ethos of including everything you need and nothing you don’t. The result is a new base model van for just about $75,000. Still expensive, yes, but much more affordable than other new models.

Illustrated facts about the converted vans over a picture of a bed in a van

Photo: Courtesy of Dave & Matt Vans; Illustration: TripSavvy / Julie Bang

Seeking a Vehicle to Fit a Lifestyle

Matt Felser and Dave Ramsay met at Williams College, a small liberal arts college in northwest Massachusetts, where they were both on the golf team. Post-graduation, they took wildly different paths, with Ramsay moving to New York City to work at a hedge fund and Felser moving to Lake Tahoe, California, to "pursue his life-long dream of becoming a ski bum."

After two years in California's High Sierra, Felser took a middle school Spanish teaching job at Vail Mountain School in Colorado. His love and passion for all things outdoors flourished during his time in the Vail Valley as he started leading outdoor education programs and backpacking and backcountry ski trips with students.

At the time, Felser said, he drove a Honda Element.

"I loved that thing because I could roll my mountain bike right up into the back of it. I could chuck my skis in there, get it real muddy and hose it out," Felser said. "So it was really utilitarian. It could get me from A to B easily, and in a pinch, I could sleep inside of it."

But around 2018, Felser started thinking bigger. Felser researched camping trailers, pop-tops, and conversion vans. He had friends who had done some recent builds. "I was looking for a vehicle that fit my lifestyle," Felser recalled. "Camper vans were the ones that really checked all the boxes."

His research also uncovered a harsh truth. He'd likely have to pay north of $100,000 to purchase a camper van. "Or I could do it myself," Felser remembered thinking. "And since I was on a teacher's budget, I really didn't have much of a choice, so I decided to take a leap and do it myself."

Felser found a used RAM ProMaster in Lubbock, Texas, and quickly bought it. With the help of hundreds of hours of YouTube videos and some handy friends, after four months, Felser built what was essentially the first version of a Dave & Matt van. He put 13,000 miles on it the first summer he had it.

From One Van Sold on Craigslist to 200 Converted a Year

All the while, Felser and Ramsay kept in touch mainly through annual organized golf trips with former Williams College golf team members. Ramsay quit his hedge fund job around 2016 to move full-time into a Class B RV to work from and travel the country. Ramsay soon learned about Outdoorsy, an online marketplace to rent RVs, trailers, and camper vans. He purchased a few more RVs to rent through the market, making enough to cover his newfound lifestyle.

The reconnected duo soon bonded over their common lifestyles and passion for finding an affordable camper van option, which they saw as a significant gap in the market. So in 2018, they listed Felser’s original build on Craigslist for $39,500. “We had 24 inquiries in 24 hours on our $5 Craigslist marketing budget,” Felser said, laughing.

That was the green light they needed. Later that year, Felser and Ramsay began buying all the RAM ProMasters they could find around the country. On Jan. 1, 2019, they officially launched and started hiring a few people to build one van a month for the entire year. They ended up buying and converting 40. “We sold one and bought two. Then sold two and bought four. Then sold four and bought eight,” Felser said.

And then the pandemic happened, and camping and van life went bonkers. The goal for 2020 was to convert and sell 100 vehicles. They did 120. In 2021, they built 180, and this year, Felser said, they’re on pace to hit 200.

Living space inside a converted van

Courtesy of Dave & Matt Vans

A Housing Crisis Solution?

The vans are sweet. Dave & Matt Vans currently offers three styles—the LV3 (base cost is $79,495), LV5 (base cost is $84,995), and LV7 (base cost is $84,995). All models come with standard features like a lofted bed, an all-electric kitchenette with a sink and faucet that can double as a shower head, lots of storage areas, zoned lighting, and a three-layer flooring system.

Add-ons include extra storage benches, boosted power and an additional solar panel on top, a cooling and heating system, and a hideaway cassette or composting toilet. After three days and nights of driving around and camping in Colorado's Rocky Mountains, we found it the perfect minimalist living for two people.

The rapid growth has been exciting and reaffirming Felser and Ramsay's original mission of simplifying and minimalizing RV and van life. "It's much easier to put a bunch of stuff in a van," Ramsay pointed out. "That's where the RV industry has really thrived. They put everything and more into all of their vehicles. And a lot of that stuff is superfluous, it's unnecessary, it eventually breaks."

Ramsay and Felser believe they're making a product that's reliable, efficient, and sustainable and built for the user and their lifestyle instead of the other way around. But they also view their vans as an alternative lifestyle and living arrangement for traveling nurses, computer programmers, graduate students, and others that don't necessarily need a home.

Whether you live in it full-time, part-time, or just have that option, to live in your vehicle is powerful in this day and age

"Whether you live in it full-time, part-time, or just have that option, to live in your vehicle is powerful in this day and age," Felser maintained. "We now call it our life hack. It's hard to get ahead right now because of the housing market, because of the income disparity, and van life is starting to bridge that gap for some people, and that's powerful to see."

Customers can purchase RV financing through Bank of the West, which Felser says gets the cost down to about $540 a month for the loan. "If that's your car payment, or especially if it's your rent, we're proud to be able to offer that accessibility to people," Felser said. Dave & Matt Vans also offers rental options to test their vans and van life.

But at the end of the day, Felser and Ramsay maintain their mission is to not only make van life more accessible but also to play a role in solving societal issues. Over the summer, the company proposed a partnership with local businesses in Eagle, Colorado, where Felser lives, to allow employees and potential employees to park vans in their parking lots. Matt & Dave Vans already allow employees to park in their parking lot—something Felser excited told me when I picked up the van from him to test last July. "They're never late for work because they're literally living in the parking lot," he said proudly.

The pilot program could help provide a safe place for Eagle-based employees and residents to park vans and live in the community. And Dave & Matt Vans plans to be there, offering support and options along the way.

"For someone who is a very good teacher but not handy at all, I should not have to build my own van," Felser said. "But that was the only option in 2018. And as a business, we're really excited to fill that gap and make this more accessible to more people."