A van ladder can be a useful addition to your van conversion. I use mine frequently in the winter to clear snow off the solar panels. A ladder could also be used for accessing a roof rack, cleaning the roof, performing solar panel maintenance, or for accessing a roof-mounted sun desk. In this guide, we will look at the installation of backdoor van ladders, side ladders, prime design ladders, and portable ladders.
In the Roaming Home 2023 study, we found that 20% of van converters had a ladder.
I'm Shane, I've been teaching people to convert campervans for years; I'm the author of Roaming Home; The Comprehensive Guide for Converting Your Van Into a Campervan,writer of The Van Conversion Newsletter, instructor of The Van Conversion Course over at Udemy. And full-time vanlifer for 4 years!
Now let's jump in and have a look at how to install a van ladder!
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Portable van ladder
Before we hop into 'real' van ladders, I want to bring your attention to the portable / collapsible van ladder. It is a far simpler solution that is simply stowed away when not in use. Definitely worth considering.
The first van ladder installation we will look at is the backdoor ladder. A backdoor ladder is a permanent installation that requires drilling bolts through the van’s exterior.
Step #1: Mark the pilot holes
Place the van ladder against the back door and mark the four drill points with a pencil.
Step #2: Drill the pilot holes
Drill the pilot holes into each of the four marks.
Step #3: Apply metal paint to the exposed metal to prevent rust
Ensure you clean all the metal shavings (swarf) before applying the metal paint.
Step #4: Attach the van ladder to the door
There should be foam and a metal backing plate that came with your new ladder.
The foam is for shock absorption and for preventing any scratching to the metal of the van. It also adds a waterproof seal to the van.
The metal backing plate is so that the weight of the van ladder is more evenly distributed, rather than solely hanging on the door.
In terms of layers, it should look like this:
So go ahead and put the van ladder up against the door and tighten your bolt right through all those layers.
Tip: Before securing down the bolts, I applied some mastic tape to the outside of the pilot holes to give a watertight seal.
A side ladder (like this one from Flatline Vanco) is a popular alternative to the back door van ladder. It gives a really rugged, overland-y look!
Installing a side ladder can actually be easier than a back ladder because they are mounted directly onto your van’s roof rails. Roof rails are a very useful van conversion addition, they can also be used to mount rigid solar panels or a roof rack.
Once the roof rail is installed, the side ladder literally just slides into place.
How to install a roof rail on a van
Installing a roof rail on a van is pretty easy. First remove the rubber plugs running down the length of the roof.
Heat up the plugs with a heat gun, then pry them out with a flat head screwdriver.
Next add a small piece of mastic/butyl tape over each hole to help create a watertight seal.
Finally, bolt down the roof rail to the roof. The washer and nut are tightened from the inside of the van.
Prime Design ladder
A company called Prime Design makes a back door ladder that requires no screws at all, it just uses pressure clips on the top and bottom! It has become increasingly popular among van converters.
I hope you found this guide to installing a van ladder useful! You are well on your way to a beautiful self-build campervan!
Don't forget to subscribe to The Van Conversion Newsletter for everything you need to get started with your own van conversion (I'll send you a free wiring diagram when you join).
If you're looking for some guidance with your van conversion, you might be interested in Roaming Home; The Comprehensive Guide for Converting Your Van Into a Campervan. In the 380-page book (or ebook), you'll learn directly from me how to convert a van into your dream home - no prior experience needed!
Until next time,