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
If you’re thinking about living in a camper 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.
- ARB Portable Fridge Freezer
- Jetboil Propane Camp Stove
- Presto 6-Quart Stainless Steel Pressure Cooker
- MSR Alpine Nesting Bowl
- humangear GoBites Uno Spork
- Organic Bamboo Cutting Board
- GCI Outdoor Compact Camp Table
- Collapsible Water Container
- Hydro Flask
- JetBoil Summit Skillet
- Collapsible Pour Over Coffee Maker
- A Good Knife
- Platypus Water Filter
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. The best thing is 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.
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 propane stove for van life 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
I absolutely love my Hydro Flask for both cold and warm beverages. The 32-ounce size is the perfect fit for small spaces inside a campervan, and it's also what I like to take hiking.
The Hydro Flask keeps drinks hot and cold for hours. I can't tell you how amazing it is to take an ice cold sip of water on a hot hike! The flask is stainless steel with a BPA-free powder coating.
If you'd like another pan to add to a pressure cooker, we'd recommend this JetBoil Summit Skillet. This pan is perfect for the van lifer with limited space as it includes a nesting handle and spatula.
This lightweight non-stick pan is perfect for pancakes, eggs and grilled cheese sandwiches. Varied wall thickness ensures even heat distribution, and the nonstick coating is made with eco-conscious, PFOA-free ceramic.
Our very favorite way to make coffee while living in a van is with a pour-over. It's easy, simple to clean and makes a great cup of coffee. Others have had luck with and recommend the AeroPress, but I gave up on it after it exploded hot water and coffee grounds on me as I depressed the plunger.
This particular silicon pour-over is collapsible, making it perfect for a van that doesn't have much space.
I've owned this exact Wustof knife for 10 years and it never fails to disappoint. I use it in both my campervan and on my sailboat and its my one and only knife! It's perfect for chopping, dicing, slicing and even using as a paring knife, very carefully.
With a small space like a campervan we think it's important not to have too many of the same thing, making this knife one of our top van life essentials.
Sometimes when you're out boondocking in your campervan in remote areas, you'll need to get more water. We often go to crystal clear streams up in the mountains to refill our van's water jugs.
This Platypus Gravity Water Filter is really easy to use, and filters water faster than any other filter we've seen. The flow rate is 1.5 liters per minute, or 2 liters in less than 90 seconds.
This water filter was built for backpacking, so folds down into a small size, one of those perfect van life essentials.
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.
- Warm Sleeping Bags
- Memory Foam Mattress
- Rumpl Puffy Camping Blanket
- Hot Water Bottle
- Alaska Bear Natural Silk Sleep Mask
- Ear Plugs
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.
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.
If you're camping in really cold climates, you might like to have a hot water bottle to bring to bed with you. This multi-functional bottle is an easy-to-use heat source and comes with a cozy knit cover.
Put the hot water bottle by your chilly feet to have an extra comfortable night. This water bottle is insulated with an anti-leak design.
We know it can be hard to sleep in a camper van, especially during those summer months when sun cracks the sky really early. We own two of these silk eye masks, and absolutely love them. The silk feels great on the skin, and the headband keeps the mask secure. They come in a variety of colors and patterns so you can keep your mask separate from your partner's.
A noisy campground is a real drag when you're sleeping in a van. Sometimes, even chirping birds have woken me up way too early! That's why earplugs are essential for my van life packing list. These foam ear plugs feel great and block out all sorts of noise, even a snoring partner!
Van Life Essentials: Power
There are a few different routes you can go when adding power to your van. It all depends on just how much power you need. A van with fancy appliances like hot water heater, air conditioning or induction cooktop will need way more solar power.
You can use a portable power station like this Jackery 500 with a solar panel, or install an entire solar setup in your van.
Here are a few options when it comes to powering your van.
- BESTEK 300 Watt Pure Sine Wave Power Inverter
- Goal Zero Yeti
- Solar Panel for Goal Zero Yeti
- Flexible Solar Panels
- Solar Controller
- 1500 Watt Inverter
- Deep Cycle Battery
If you don't want to go with a crazy expensive inverter, this 300 watt pure sine wave inverter is one of those perfect van life essentials.
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. 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.
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. The Goal Zero Yeti 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.
If you're going with a Jackery 500 or any other solar generator, you'll need a way to charge it. You can use this 100-watt solar panel and either set it up on the ground or attach it to your van's roof.
Keep in mind it does take many hours to fully charge the Jackery using solar only, so plan accordingly. You can set up the solar panels during the day on the ground, or mount them to your campervan's roof.
Another item you'll need to complete a solar setup in your campervan is a solar controller. This regulates the amount of solar energy your solar panels are sending to your batteries. We use the Go Power solar controller and have had amazing success with this entire system. The LCD digital display shows solar array charge current system battery voltage and battery capacity.
We also love the handy little USB charger.
We use a 1500 watt inverter to go with our Go Power solar panel and battery setup. This inverter may be a little too high-powered for our needs, but we love that its flat and compact. This is a pure sine wave inverter, making it perfect for charging devices like computers which can be damaged with a modified sine wave.
Building out your very own solar system in your van will also require deep cycle batteries to hold all that energy you gather from the sun. Battle Born Lithium Ion batteries are popular among van lifers as they have longevity, unlimited mounting capabilities and are cost-effective. These weigh ⅓ the amount of lead-acid batteries, keeping your van build lighter.
Van Life Essentials: Connectivity
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.
- Reliable Internet Services
- weBoost Drive
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, make this one of the best van life accessories out there.
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.
A cellular signal booster is especially important for van lifers who need an internet connection 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.
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.
- Solar Shower
- Sea to Summit Wilderness Wipes
- Living Proof Day Dry Shampoo
- Ivation Portable Outdoor Shower
- Dr. Bronner's Pure-Castile Soap
- Brondell GoSpa Travel Bidet
- Turkish Towels
- Shampoo Bar
- Insect Repellent
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.
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, these baby wipes 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.
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!
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!)
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.
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.
We are trying to get away from using so many plastic items, which is why I started using shampoo bars. I just love the Ethique shampoo bars and conditioners, which are also mild enough to use on the body and for shaving. These bars have a wonderful scent, are vegan, 100% compostable and are equivalent to 3 bottles of shampoo! One bar lasts us months, with two people using it
You're most likely going to get mosquito bites when living the van life, especially during the summer months. We love this Buzz Away mosquito repellant as its DEET-free and made with essential oils. This bug spray keeps both mosquitos and ticks at bay, has no harsh chemicals, artificial preservatives or toxins.
Van Life Essentials: Electronics
There are a few electronic devices that make great campervan gear. Here are our top favorites!
- Portable Bluetooth Speaker
- Apple iPad
- Kindle Paperwhite
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.
My iPad is an absolute van life essential I can't live without. Since storage space is at a premium in a campervan, I've found teh iPad to be an all-purpose tool the size of one magazine.
I use my iPad to download Netflix shows and documentaries we can watch in remote places when we have no internet. I also use my iPad to store all my cookbooks as I have no room in a van for any type of book.
The iPad also comes in handy finding free campsites using sites like iOverlander, Free Roam and The Dyrt Pro Membership (click here for a FREE 90-Day Trial!)
Plus, I download magazines from my library and read them on my iPad! This is really a multi-use device.
I take my Kindle Paperwhite everywhere I go, from my van to my sailboat. This newest version of the Kindle is waterproof, making it great for living a life outdoors. I typically download books using my library, so all the books I read and store on my Kindle are free!
Tip: Turn on airplane mode to keep library books even longer!
Outdoor Camping Gear for Van Life
Here’s some gear to make your campsite cozy and comfortable!
- Moonlence Folding Camp Chairs
- Fairy Lights
- Outdoor Camping Mat
This camp chair by Moonlence folds down to just about one foot long and six inches wide, a great option for little space. It's really comfortable and yet another way we expand our campervan's living room.
This compact camping 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 necessity.
If you want a little more luxury when camping, you may want to consider an outdoor camping mat. These camping mats make a campsite cozy, and prevent you from tracking so much dirt and sand into your campervan. Use it as a doormat or underneath your chairs when you're out boondocking. Most outdoor camping mats are UV coated to prevent fading, and breathable so they won't damage grass.
Campervan Gear for Safety
Living the van life means you’ll often be heading down remote roads in search of that perfect boondocking spot. But what if your vehicle breaks down? What if you get a flat tire? Here’s some of the top safety gear you should add to your van life packing list.
- Magnetic Spare Car Key Holder
- Roadside Assistance Emergency Kit
- Portable Air Compressor
- Tire Puncture Repair Kit
- Fix-A-Flat Aerosol Tire Inflator
- Wasp Spray
- Fire Extinguisher
- 12-Volt Jump Starter Box
I'd be embarrasssed to admit how many times I've locked my keys inside my Chevy Astro van! This has resulted in way too many phone calls to AAA Roadside Assistance. Hence, a magnetic stash case for an extra pair of keys became a major campervan essential for me, which I've used tons of times already.
You just place the magnetic key holder somewhere on the undercarriage of your vehicle so you're never locked out again!
A Roadside Emergency Kit is a campervan essential if you're planning on doing a lot of off-roading, boondocking, and camping far from other people. This roadside emergency kit contains jumper cables, a safety hammer, seatbelt cutter, tow rope, LED flashlight, reflective warning triangle, elastic rope and tie rope, rain coat and snow shovel.
We love going down bumpy dirt roads to find out-of-the-way boondocking spots, which means we've gotten several flat tires. Having a portable air compressor on hand has been a lifesaver for us! An air compressor also helps inflate and deflate tires before attempting rough dirt roads. This particular air compressor works well in SUVs, trucks, vans and RVs. It plugs right into your cigarette lighter, making filling tires a breeze.
Tire puncture plugs have saved us on more than one occasion when we've gotten a flat tire in our Chevy Astro van. One time we were on a remote road in the Mojave Desert and popped TWO TIRES at once. Tom had to use 4-5 tire plugs and our air compressor to get us back to our campsite, then on the road to a tire repair shop. We highly recommend having tire puncture plugs as part of your list of van life essentials.
Fix a Flat is another item you should add to your van life packing list. You never know when you're going to unexpectedly blow a tire or run over a nail. Fix A Flat fills the inside of your tire with a foam that plugs holes and rips until you're able to make it to a tire repair shop. We've also used this when blowing tires in our Chevy Astro. We have truck tires now, and you might know why.
If you're worried about personal safety when out and about in your campervan, you may want to carry around a can of wasp spray. This is used often among sailors worried about pirate attacks, as wasp spray has a powerful 20-foot jet spray. We don't recommend using this on a person unless you are feeling extremely threatened and can't drive away for any reason. But just having this on hand might give you some peace of mind.
We'd definitely recommend having a fire extinguisher in your campervan so you quickly douse out flames should trouble emerge. One of our van life friends actually had an engine fire when she was driving down the highway. A fire extinguisher ensures engines fires or any other fires don't completely destroy your van. A definitely campervan essential for safety!
You never know when you might accidentally leave your headlights on all day while you're out for an awesome hike. A drained battery is no fun, especially when all you want to do is head back to your campsite. We recommend having a 12-volt jump starter to give your dead battery a lift.
More Van Life Essentials We Love
Some van life essentials don’t neatly fit into a single category. Here are more items you might want to add to your campervan packing list!
- Mr. Buddy Heater
- Fan-Tastic Vent 1200 Series
- Windshield Sun Shade
- Packing Cubes
- Storage Ottoman
- Head Lamps
- Sun Clothes
- Smart Wool Base Layers
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.
We can't live without our Fantastic Fan. This amazing device goes into the roof of your campervan to draw cool air in and pump warm air out. Perfect for hot summer evenings. We love the setting where we pull air into the campervan, and it rushes through the side windows right next to our face. A great ventilation device and absolutely necessary campervan gear.
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.
Fitting things into the small space of a campervan can be tricky, which is why compression packing cubes are an absolute must when it comes to van life essentials. We like using a variety of sizes to better fit stuff in drawers and cabinets. You can also use packing cubes for towels, shoes, gear and other loose items.
We use two storage ottomans in our Chevy Astro van to extend our bed and as a place to put up our feet. What's great about these ottomans is they double as storage, and they are where we store our clothes! Each of us gets one ottoman. This will only work in certain campervan builds, but is a great storage option for a small space.
It's definitely worth investing in good headlamps when you're living in a van full-time. Both of us wear these around everywhere after dark. This Black Diamond headlamp has a variety of bream strengths, and both spot and flood modes. These lightweight and compact headlamps are perfect for both van life and backpacking.
We definitely look dorky when out hiking when living out of our van, but we don't care! It's important to cover up to prevent UV exposure and overheating. We both wear sunshirts like these ones from REI. We both also own comfortable hiking pants and wear sun hats every day.
Another thing we both own and consider a campervan essential are smart wool base layers. This lightweight merino wool keeps you warm in the cold, and ventilated when it starts to heat up. We also love that merino wool doesn't trap odors, and dries very quickly. We both own merino wool sweaters and long johns. I also love my merino wool T-shirt!
Van Life Camping Apps and Guides
There are definitely some apps and books that are essential to our van life adventures. Check these out!
- Boondocking Guides for Free Campsites!
- Want to try The Dyrt for FREE?
- Trip planner for detailed routing, stops and campgrounds
- Map layers for finding free dispersed campsites
- Offline campground databases
- Campground discounts!
We love these six boondocking guides, where you can learn about where exactly to find free campsites. The writer, Marianna Edwards, is an RVer herself and details GPS coordinates of each site, and whether it has phone signal, water, bathrooms and what size rig it fits. Although boondocking can be quite cost-effective, it does have a bit of a learning curve. Since travelers can't hook up to water or electricity, they have to get a little creative when using appliances or amenities.
Plus, boondocking isn't allowed anywhere, so RVers have to know which spots are safe and which ones could lead to a ticket or fine. These travel guides showcase the best locations and offer tips and tricks on how to make the most of each stop.
Grab a 90-Day Free Trial of The Dyrt Pro just in time for summer. Here are some perks:
It's like the Yelp for campground reviews, and we love using it to find both free and paid camping!
Kristin Hanes is a journalist who founded The Wayward Home as a place to learn about alternative living. She currently lives on a sailboat and in a Chevy Astro van, and has written articles about alternative living published in Good Housekeeping, Business Insider, Marie Claire and SF Gate. Read more about Kristin here.