10 Boondocking Essentials for Van Life

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We can’t get enough of boondocking, or finding free campsites, in our Chevy Astro van.

We’ve boondocked all over California, Arizona and Nevada, and love the solitude and beauty that comes with camping far from other people.

However, to take your rig off-grid, you’ll need some boondocking essentials. It’s important to have enough water, food and power, and a way to stay clean and comfortaboe.

Over our months of boondocking, I’ve come up with the top boondocking gear we use in our campervan, and can’t imagine camping without.

If you’re wondering what you need for boondocking, look no further!

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Not sure what boondocking is? Check out our Ultimate Guide to RV Boondocking here.

1) An Outdoor Camping Stove

Since we don’t have a campervan kitchen set up inside our minivan camper, we use a portable camping stove for all our cooking needs.

The JetBoil Half Gen is a single-burner van life camping stove that’s perfect as boondocking gear.

It has great BTU power and simmer control, and can withstand wind well enough. My top complaint is that the windscreen was made of plastic, which quickly caught on fire.

Needless to say, we threw that out, and if it’s too windy outdoors we cook right inside our van.

JetBoil Half Gen Camp Stove

JetBoil Half Gen Camping Stove is a Boondocking Essential

2) A Folding Camping Table

When you’re out boondocking in your campervan, you’ll most likely be spending a lot of time outdoors.

Woman using a small folding table as essential boondocking gear outside a campervan
We spend a lot of time cooking outdoors when boondocking

We used to cook on the ground until we discovered the GCI Portable Camping Table, which folds down into the size of a flat briefcase.

It’s so fun being able to cook outdoors on our table, and we also use it to make coffee and set our food and drinks.

A small camping table is a boondocking essential for a campervan.

GCI Folding Table

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3) Folding Camping Chairs

Since you’ll be spending so much time enjoying the great outdoors when boondocking in your campervan, folding camping chairs are a boondocking essential.

We love the Moonlence folding chairs because they pack down to a really small size! When traveling in such a small van, we need as many space saving items as we can get.

Both of us find these camping chairs really comfortable, and they can support hundreds of pounds! Amazing for such a small size.

Moonlence Camp Chairs

4) Plenty of Water Jugs

If you’re traveling in a campervan and you don’t have a water tank, you’ll have to bring all your own water when boondocking.

Campervan boondocking with four water jugs out front
You can see all our water jugs in front of our van!

We started with just a collapsible 5-gallon water jug, but we now also have three hard-sided water jugs from WalMart. We can refill them at some WalMart stores, or we grab water from campgrounds.

You’ll definitely need tons of water if you’re going to the desert! Plan accordingly so you don’t run out.

5-Gallon Collapsible Water Jug

5) Cellular phone signal booster

If you’re boondocking in a place with weak phone signal, you may want to consider purchasing a cell phone signal booster like the WeBoost.

Amber Baldwin of Story Chasing, who travels full-time in her RV, said a cell phone signal booster is essential for her to work on the road.

She often stays in remote areas where she can barely get email on her phone, but with a We Boost device, she can upload YouTube videos and stream movies.

We’ve also used the WeBoost and enjoy it, but we tend to boondock in places I can get reception for my van life wifi.

WeBoost Signal Booster

An awning can also be a great add for boondocking! This is currently on our wish list. Check out the best campervan awnings for van life.

6) Solar Shower for taking a fresh spray off outdoors

solar shower hanging from the roof of a campervan
We love our Sea to Summit Pocket Shower!

Finding a van life shower that actually works for us has been quite the challenge. It seems like so many solar showers break or rip with just a few months of use.

We were really excited to try the Sea to Summit Pocket shower from REI, which we so far love! It heats water quickly, and is great to use as a handwashing station hanging from our side mirror.

The shower carries enough water for both of us to take showers, including washing our hair!

Sea to Summit Pocket Shower

7) Water Filter

Sometimes when we’re boondocking in our campervan we like to grab fresh water from streams.

To do this we use our Platypus Gravity water filter. The filter works really well and we only have to wait minutes to get a jug full of fresh, cold stream water.

You can also carry a  LifeStraw as an emergency way to filter water.

If you happen to run out of water when boondocking, the LifeStraw is a great backup to have in case you HAVE to get some water from a source that may not be the cleanest.

It’s a personal filter that you can keep and carry with you that helps to filter out over 99% of the bacteria that may be lurking.

Platypus Water Filter

8) A Way to Get Power

campervan with two flexible solar panels are a boondocking essential

We use two 50-watt flexible solar panels from Go Power, two-deep cycle batteries and a 1500-watt inverter.

You can either install an entire solar system in your van or use something simple like a Jackery 500, which is a battery and inverter in one.

Barely need to charge anything at all? Then you can get away with a simple Pure Sine Wave Inverter which plugs into your cigarette lighter. Use it to charge laptops and cameras when your car is running.

9) A small propane heater

An indoor safe propane heater is a great way to stay warm while boondocking. These Mr. Buddy heaters are small and simple to use, and can heat spaces up to 300 square feet.

This small heater shuts off automatically if tipped over, or if it detects low oxygen levels.

You can also use this heater outside your van if you’re sitting on camp chairs enjoying the stars.

10. Portable Fridge

We absolutely can’t live without our 37-quart ARB fridge when boondocking in our campervan.

The fridge keeps our food cold on the hottest days, and we can store 5-7 days of food at a time!

Our ARB fridge is connected to two 50-watt solar panels and two deep cycle batteries.

If you don’t want to fork over the money for a fridge, be sure to check out the top 5 coolers for van life.

37 Quart ARB Fridge

Are you ready to start boondocking right now?

Boondocking Guides Ebooks

If you’re planning on boondocking in your RV or campervan, finding campsites is your next goal. It isn’t always easy, either, considering you have to browse apps and websites to find sites. 

Another option is to pick up an RV boondocking guide, written by RVer Marianne Edwards. Marianne has been traveling in her RV and boondocking for 18 years and has personally scouted all the campsites she recommends.

Check out Marianne’s Boondocking Guides here.

In these awesome boondocking guides, Marianne even tells you where dump stations are near the campsites and gives suggested itineraries. The books give details on the elevation, view, cell phone service and how to get there. Plus, they won’t cost you more than a single night in a campsite.

So far, Marianne has written six boondocking guides, which are all updated on a regular basis. I’ve purchased the guide to Southwest Utah and California’s Sierra Nevada and can’t wait to start using them. 

Here are the boondocking guides you can get:

  • RV Boondocking in Arizona
  • California Boondocking: The Sierra Nevada Mountains and Coast
  • California Boondocking: The Desert and Eastern Sierra
  • RV Boondocking in Southern Utah
  • RV Boondocking in Southern Texas
  • RV Boondocking in New Mexico

Head here to check out the Frugal Shunpiker’s Boondocking Guides.

Marianne offers an amazing 60-day guarantee, and you’ll also get a free 23-page ebook about boondocking to go along with your purchase. I just think these guides are treasure troves of information and I can’t recommend them enough if you want to try RV boondocking.

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15 thoughts on “10 Boondocking Essentials for Van Life”

  1. HI!! Where did you take the title photo with the cacti?? I’ll be head to NM in the spring and would really love some recommendations for spots to camp!!!

    • Hey Justin! That is a stock photo so I don’t know where it was taken, sadly. I have also never been to New Mexico before! You may want to check out the boondocking guides I mentioned in this post – one of them has campsites all over New Mexico. Have fun!


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