Van Life Essentials: 28 Top Picks for Campervan Gear

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After living in a van for almost two years now, I’ve come up with lots of van life essentials I can’t live without.

My Chevy Astro van is super small, which means space-saving items are van life must-haves, especially because there’s two of us crammed into the van.

This van life gear list is both for essentials I personally use, and what I’ve seen work really well for others.

You are apt to forget something during your first foray living in a campervan, and I hope this list of van life essentials helps!

You can also see all the equipment I use in my van on one page on my Amazon store. Check it out my Amazon store here!

Van Life Essentials: Kitchen

We have one of the simplest van kitchens you’ll find

If you’re thinking about living in a van, you’re going to be doing tons of cooking. Some people build complete kitchens inside their vans, but we do most of our cooking outdoors with a table, pressure cooker and single-burner stove.

Here are the van life essentials we can’t live without when it comes to food and cooking.

This ARB portable refrigerator

I’m not lying when I say this portable refrigerator from ARB totally changed my life while living in my van. I no longer have to deal with food ruined by melting ice, let alone race to a store to grab new ice.

A portable refrigerator should be on your van life packing list as it allows you to go off-grid for days. This 12-volt fridge is energy efficient, too – mine only comes on for about 10 minutes per hour.

You can connect it to a portable solar generator, an inverter tied to your solar system, or a cigarette lighter.

It’s pure bliss accessing cold drinks and food after a long hike.

See my ARB fridge on Amazon

Are you interested in a cooler instead? Check out the best 5 coolers for van life.

JetBoil Half Gen Camping Stove

This powerful one-burner camping stove by JetBoil is perfect for us as we’re living in a really small minivan. We prefer a propane stove to butane because it runs perfectly at low temperatures. Our butane camping stove didn’t work below 45 degrees!

This roaring little stove pumps out a lot of BTU’s for frying and also has excellent simmer control. We often use it in conjunction with our pressure cooker to make fast meals right inside our campervan.

Keep in mind the plastic windscreen sucks – ours burnt so we threw it away. If its windy, we protect the stove with cutting boards or set it up inside the van.

See the JetBoil Half Gen on REI.

For some other camping stove ideas, check this out: The best camping stoves for van life

A stovetop pressure cooker is a van life must have

If you haven’t used a pressure cooker before, you are missing out. This is one of our top van life essentials for cooking fast and easy meals while living in a van.

We’ve made everything from chili, to chicken soup, to chili mac, to mashed potates in this handy device. We also cook steel cut oats in the mornings!

It cooks food very quickly, which means we use less propane! We love our stovetop pressure cooker so much we have one in our van and one on our sailboat.

See the pressure cooker on Amazon.

MSR Nesting Plates and Bowls

We love using backpacking bowls in our campervan because they are really easy to store! These MSR nesting bowls barely take up any space, and are made with high-quality stainless steel. 

We also have two stainless steel MSR plates in our van.

See MSR Plates and Bowls on REI.

GoBites Uno Camping Sporks

These lightweight camping sporks are great for both backpacking and as one of many van life essentials for your van kitchen. We keep two of these on hand at all times. What’s really cool is the edge of the spoon is sharp; you can use it to cut your food.

We used these while backpacking the John Muir Trail as well. They are hardy and well-made.

See the sporks on REI.

Wooden cutting boards

When cooking inside our campervan, we use wooden cutting boards on two stools both to chop our veggies and to set our hot stove. We usually use bamboo because it’s hardy and antimicrobial. 

Good cutting boards are a van life must-have! You can also choose a smaller plastic cutting board, but we like the feel and look of wood.

See the cutting boards on Amazon

GCI Outdoors Folding Camping Table

Portable camping table with coffee items and water

I honestly don’t know how we lived in a van without a portable, folding camping table. This extends our kitchen to the outdoors so we don’t have to cram ourselves inside the van at all times.

This GSI folding camping table is a van life essential. It fits neatly in our back hatch, right next to our ARB fridge!

See the table on REI.

Collapsible water jug is a van life must have

Collapsible water jug on a picnic table, perfect for living in a van full time

We use this plastic collapsible water jug all the time when we’re in our Astro van. The container folds to flat when not in use and then puffs up when full of water.

It’s easy to set on the edge of a table to wash dishes, boil water for coffee or wash your hands. This jug is BPA-free, so you don’t have to worry about nasty chemicals.

Having a water container of some type is a definite van life must have, especially if you don’t have big water storage tanks.

See collapsible water jugs on Amazon.

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Van Life Essentials: Sleeping

A lot of people with larger vans will choose a different sleeping setup than what we have. Since our Chevy Astro van’s back bench seat folds down, we use that as our campervan bed, resting our feet and lower legs on two stools.

Here’s what we use in our van, and I’ll also add links to what some other van lifers like for their sleeping van life must-haves.

REI Backpacking Sleeping Bags

This warm sleeping bag is a van life essential for sleeping in my van

This super warm REI Joule sleeping bag is what I use to stay warm on chilly nights while living in a van. The Joule itself is no longer available, but there are plenty of warm backpacking sleeping bags to choose from at REI.

If you’re planning on van camping in chilly temperatures, you’ll want a bag that’s at least rated to 21-degrees. I’ve slept comfortably at temperatures around freezing in my van using just this sleeping bag and wearing a wool hat.

See sleeping bags at REI.

A memory foam mattress for platform sleeping

So many people living in a van love sleeping on a memory foam mattress. My van isn’t set up for this just yet, but it’s a definite van life must-have for my future! 

You can even cut the memory foam to fit the size of your bed platform. 

See the memory foam mattress on Amazon

Rumpl Puffy Blanket

This Rumpl Puffy blanket will keep you warm and cozy in your campervan

Nothing is better than a cozy blanket to wrap around yourself when reading a book while living in a van or sitting outside with morning coffee.

These Rumpl Puffy Blankets are light and packable, fitting into a small, waterproof stuff sack when not in use.

These awesome blanket are made with the same warm synthetic materials found in premium sleeping bags and puffy jackets, and are durable, waterproof and resistant to odors. 

While we don’t own one of these blankets yet, we’ve heard many people say its one of their top van life essentials.

See the Rumpl Puffy on Amazon.

If you’re looking for more perfect campervan mattress ideas, look no further than this post: Best Campervan Mattress: What Should You Choose For Van Camping?

Van Life Essentials: Connectivity

Woman using a computer and hotspot inside a campervan
I do a lot of work from my campervan, so internet is a major van life essential.

We all know how important it is to stay connected while living in a car. I’ve tested several devices that keep me connected when I’m on the road so I can check email and run this website!

I’d deem ways to access van life internet as my top van life must-haves as I need to run a business on the road.

Here are my favorites.

WeBoost cellular signal booster

A cellular signal booster is especially important for van lifers who will be working while on the road. We have a cell booster from WeBoost which has totally changed our lives while traveling in the campervan.

I’ve tested this booster in remote locations where I usually don’t get any signal, and immediately register several bars!

This booster also comes in handy if you’re trying to find campsites and don’t want to lose signal. Check out our review below:

See the WeBoost on Amazon

Internet via Reliable Internet Solutions

The best van life internet I’ve found is through Reliable Internet Solutions, which offers an AT&T plan with unlimited, unthrottled data. This is vital to me as a digital nomad!

I use the Netgear Nighthawk router with this plan and have worked and streamed videos from the Prescott National Forest and the Sonoran Desert National Monument.

Check out rates on Reliable Internet Solutions.

Google Fi International Phone Plan

I’m a HUGE fan of the Google Fi international phone plan, which is a pay-as-you-go service. The base rate for this phone plan is just $20 for unlimited texting and phone calls. Plus, texting remains FREE anywhere in the world! You also get billed $10 per gig of data used, no matter where you go.

You can also use your phone as a hotspot if you don’t want to buy a separate hotspot device. The only problem is that Google uses several different cell phone companies to give you service, and doesn’t have amazing coverage like Verizon.

Check out rates on Google Fi.

Van Life Essentials: Keeping Clean

Staying clean is a HUGE part of living in a van, especially when you’re living in close quarters with someone else. See our blog post about 11 ways to stay clean in your campervan for more ideas. 

Here are our top van life must haves for showering and staying clean.

A solar shower

solar shower hanging from the roof of a campervan
This is our Sea to Summit solar shower.

A solar shower should definitely be on your van life gear list. Finding van life showers can be hard when you’re living in a van full time, which is why we recommend investing in a solar shower.

All you have to do is set the solar shower in a sunny place in your campsite, and the water gets really warm. We also set the shower on our van hood to warm it up on a sunny day.

We’ve used this all over the place, and nothing feels better than a warm shower after a sweaty hike in the backcountry.

See the Sea to Summit Solar Shower

Interested in a hot shower anytime? Check out The Best Campervan Tankless Water Heaters For Van Life.

Biodegradable wipes

Wilderness wipes are definitely one of a few van life essentials for staying clean

If you don’t have enough heat for a solar shower, biodegradable wipes come in a close second. These Wilderness Wipes from REI are amazing for helping you feel clean and refreshed. Plus, they are 100% compostable!

These wipes are pH balanced for human skin, and are even compostable after use. The wipes contain aloe vera and Vitamin E. The perfect “shower” for those days when finding water isn’t convenient.

See the Wilderness Wipes on REI.

Dry Shampoo

Pair some good dry shampoo for a day when you aren’t able to wash off using water when living in a van. In fact, I’ve found that dry shampoo is sometimes even better for my hair than regular shampoo.

This dry shampoo from Living Proof is my favorite so far. 

Portable Outdoor Shower

This portable outdoor shower is really cool because all you have to do is stick it in a bucket of hot water and you have a shower! No waiting hours for sun to warm a solar shower with this van life essential.

This shower’s rechargeable pump plugs into your car’s cigarette lighter – each charge lasts for one hour of blissful showering.

We haven’t tried this shower yet, but it looks like a cool piece of van life gear!

See the outdoor shower on Amazon.

Turkish Towels

I used to think microfiber towels were a van life essential but I’ve totally changed my mind after using these Turkish towels.

The towels are lightweight and way more absorbent than microfiber.

On a recent van camping trip, my partner Tom reached for my Turkish towel way more than his microfiber, so I ended up ordering him one off Amazon! I think this is a van life must have you should definitely add to your list.

You can also use a Turkish towel for picnicking or sitting on the beach.

See the Turkish towels on Amazon.

Dr. Bonner’s Soap

We are obsessed with using Dr. Bonner’s soap while living in a van and on a sailboat. Dr. Bronner’s Liquid Pure-Castile Soap offers organic and vegan ingredients for a rich, emollient lather and a moisturizing after feel.

We use it both for washing dishes and ourselves! It can be used for pretty much anything, and is biodegradable. A great soap! (Just don’t use it near a stream!)

See Dr. Bonner’s on Amazon.

A portable handheld bidet

This travel bidet is one of the best things we’ve bought for our campervan, sailboat and backpacking! It helps you feel clean when you’re out camping without a shower for a few days. 

We also think it’s great that you don’t have to use as much toilet paper when using this van life essential.

It’s also really easy to store.

See the bidet on Amazon.

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Van Life Essentials: Electronics

There are a few electronic devices that make great campervan gear. Here are our top favorites!

A Bluetooth portable speaker 

I can’t tell you how often we use our Bluetooth portable speaker. It’s great for our sailboat and for our Chevy Astro campervan combined!

A Bluetooth portable speaker is small enough to store but packs a big punch for music. Who wants to listen to music from a smartphone speaker?

We use the Sony XB-20 with Extra Bass and it’s been more than enough to play our favorite hits.

See the speaker on Amazon.

Pure Sine Wave Inverter

This handy pure sine wave DC to AC power inverter can be plugged into your cigarette lighter and is powerful to charge things like laptops and tablets. You can also plug this into a portable solar generator.

The inverter also comes with a couple of USB plugs for your phone. It could be a life-saver if you’re out in the woods and want to watch a movie or do some work on your computer.

We use our pure sine wave inverter all the time, from charging my laptop, to keeping our 12-volt fridge cold.

See the Pure Sine Wave Inverter on Amazon

Jackery Portable Power Station

If your van isn’t set up for an elaborate solar system, you might want to consider a simple portable power station as a good piece of van life gear. Jackery’s Explorer 500 is a great piece of van life gear. 

You can charge this portable power station with solar panels, a wall outlet or your car’s cigarette lighter.

Check out our review of the Jackery Explorer 500 here.

It’s strong enough to run my ARB 12-volt fridge!

See the Jackery on Amazon.

Van Life Essentials: Random Campervan Gear We Love

A collapsible camping chair

This camping chair by Moonlence folds down to just about one foot long and six inches wide. It’s really comfortable and yet another way we expand our campervan’s living room.

This compact chair can hold up to 242 pounds, and you won’t even notice it when its store in your campervan. The chair weighs only two pounds, which is amazing!

We’ve used this for sitting around a campfire and on the beach. I won’t go anywhere with this van life essential.

A propane heater for cold nights 

Sometimes, it can get chilly inside your camper van as the temperature outside dips. If you don’t want to stay huddled beneath your sleeping bag or blankets all evening, try out a tiny van heater.

 A propane heater like the Mr. Buddy heater is popular among van lifers as it doesn’t use up any battery power.

However, these heaters create carbon monoxide in your campervan, so it’s important to leave a window cracked and have a carbon monoxide detector.

A roof vent is an essential piece of campervan gear

You’ll want to make sure your campervan is well-ventilated, so a roof vent is a must. There are a few roof vents on the market that you can DIY install right into the roof of your campervan. These pull nasty smells out of your van and also draw into fresh air from the outside. To read more about roof vents head here: The best roof vents for a campervan.

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A sunshade for your front windows

I just bought this piece of campervan gear and loving it! This windshield sunshade by Econour fits perfectly on my Chevy Astro van.

I love that its one single piece that folds down into a small bag for storage. The inside of this sunshade is black and the outside silver, keeping the inside of your van nice and cool

SEE ON AMAZON

 

Want to rent a campervan before you buy?

If you haven’t started living in a van full-time, renting a campervan is a great way to rest a variety of vans. 

We’ve partnered with Outdoorsy to offer you $40 off any rental with the coupon code wayward40.

Click below to see campervans! These are all rented out by owners who love their vans.

 

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41 thoughts on “Van Life Essentials: 28 Top Picks for Campervan Gear”

    • My 50 dollar Coleman 5 day holds ice for (at least) 6 days. We camped for Thanksgiving and still had ice 6 days later. Very similar performance in Oregon when I headed up for the eclipse out near John Day Fossil Beds and then drove through Oregon and the lava beds near 395 on the way home. I didn’t endurance test that trip since we were out in the middle of nowhere – once an ice restock was available, we took it.

      The most important cooler thing I’ve done is save a few of the big widemouth plastic jars that nuts come in from Costco. Once they’re empty, fill them with water (not all the way to the top!) and freeze them. Instant, non-pooling block ice. I have a half-dozen; they occupy the bottom of the cooler, giving me a level platform to put food on.

      On the road, once they’ve finished melting, the containers can be refilled with party ice – and you still won’t be fishing your food out of sludge.

      Reply
      • Great idea, I’ve always used milk jugs but wide mouths and flat tops sounds way better. Now all I need us a Costco membership.

        Reply
    • hahah that would be HILARIOUS. I totally remember that van. Apparently, when my Dad first moved to Portland in 1980 he lived in a blue van. Original van life 🙂

      Reply
  1. I would definitely want some kind of porta-potty; there are some fold-up varieties that take very little space.

    Reply
    • Interesting idea……I personally wouldn’t use a potty in my van but I know a lot of people like them!

      Reply
      • Why wouldn’t u use a potty in a van? I been living in a van for years and always use one, I put plastic bags in it and just throw them away… Stop being a snob..

        Reply
        • LOL I didn’t know preferring to go to the bathroom outside was snobby! I’d take a bush over the inside of my van any day. Just personal preference.

          Reply
  2. I want to do this because I can not afford to rent anymore and hope to save a little money to move up to something a little better. I am 53 now and hope that I have a comfortable van life by the time I retire. Just the little things…
    I am considering starting with my ford freestyle.
    Happy Van life….

    Reply
  3. Hi Kristin! I follow you on Insta and am stoked to see your rad and extensive vanlife blog! I love the BPA-free collapsable water jug suggestion– finding collapsable items has been essential in fitting everything into my van home– bowls, to-go containers, cups– if it collapses, I’m in! Thanks & I look forward to future articles!

    Reply
  4. USA is a beautiful country, trust me, but paying mortgage and high rent, makes life miserable.
    Boonducking is the solution.
    The only problem is how and where to find safe spots for sleeping and using a decent toilet/disposable units. How is done this anyway?

    Reply

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