60+ Van Life Essentials: The Perfect Packing List for Life on the Road

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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

Woman cooking outside a camper van with a Jet Boil stove, one of the best van life essentials
We have one of the simplest van kitchens you’ll find

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.

  1. ARB Portable Fridge Freezer
  2. ARB Portable Fridge Freezer

    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.

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  3. Jetboil Propane Camp Stove
  4. Jetboil Propane Camp 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 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.

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  5. Presto 6-Quart Stainless Steel Pressure Cooker
  6. Presto 6-Quart Stainless Steel Pressure Cooker

    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.

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  7. MSR Alpine Nesting Bowl
  8. MSR Alpine Nesting Bowl

    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.

    Buy on REI.com Learn More
  9. humangear GoBites Uno Spork
  10. humangear GoBites Uno Spork

    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.

    Buy on REI.com Learn More
  11. Organic Bamboo Cutting Board
  12. Organic Bamboo Cutting Board

    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.

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  13. GCI Outdoor Compact Camp Table
  14. GCI Outdoor Compact Camp Table

    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!

    Buy on REI.com Learn More
  15. Collapsible Water Container
  16. Collapsible Water Container

    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.

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  17. Hydro Flask
  18. Hydro Flask

    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. 

    Buy on REI.com Learn More
  19. JetBoil Summit Skillet
  20. JetBoil Summit Skillet

    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. 

    Buy on REI.com Learn More
  21. Collapsible Pour Over Coffee Maker
  22. Collapsible Pour Over Coffee Maker

    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.

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  23. A Good Knife
  24. A Good Knife

    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. 

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  25. Platypus Water Filter
  26. Platypus Water Filter

    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.

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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.

  1. Warm Sleeping Bags
  2. Warm Sleeping Bags

    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. 

    Buy on REI.com Learn More
  3. Memory Foam Mattress
  4. Memory Foam Mattress

    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. 

    Buy on Amazon.com Learn More
  5. Rumpl Puffy Camping Blanket
  6. Rumpl Puffy Camping Blanket

    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.

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  7. Hot Water Bottle
  8. Hot Water Bottle

    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. 

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  9. Alaska Bear Natural Silk Sleep Mask
  10. Alaska Bear Natural Silk Sleep Mask

    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.

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  11. Ear Plugs
  12. Ear Plugs

    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!

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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.

  1. BESTEK 300 Watt Pure Sine Wave Power Inverter
  2. BESTEK 300 Watt Pure Sine Wave Power Inverter

    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.

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  3. Goal Zero Yeti
  4. Goal Zero Yeti

    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.

    Buy on Amazon.com Learn More
  5. Solar Panel for Goal Zero Yeti
  6. Solar Panel for Goal Zero Yeti

    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.

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  7. Flexible Solar Panels
  8. Flexible Solar Panels

    We have two Go Power flexible solar panels mounted on the roof of our Chevy Astro van, and just love our setup. We only have 100-watts of power, which is perfect to power our ARB fridge, our Fantastic Fan and our electronics like cameras and computers

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  9. Solar Controller
  10. Solar Controller

    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.

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  11. 1500 Watt Inverter
  12. 1500 Watt Inverter

    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. 

    Buy on Amazon.com Learn More
  13. Deep Cycle Battery
  14. Deep Cycle Battery

    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. 

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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.

  1. Reliable Internet Services
  2. Reliable Internet Services

    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.

    Buy on Reliable Internet Solutions Learn More
  3. weBoost Drive
  4. weBoost Drive

    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.

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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 hanging from the roof of a campervan
This is our Sea to Summit solar shower.
  1. Solar Shower
  2. 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.

    Buy on REI.com Learn More
  3. Sea to Summit Wilderness Wipes
  4. Sea to Summit Wilderness Wipes

    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.

    Buy on REI.com Learn More
  5. Living Proof Day Dry Shampoo
  6. Living Proof Day 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. 

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  7. Ivation Portable Outdoor Shower
  8. Ivation 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!

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  9. Dr. Bronner's Pure-Castile Soap
  10. Dr. Bronner's Pure-Castile 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!)

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  11. Brondell GoSpa Travel Bidet
  12. Brondell GoSpa Travel 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. 

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  13. Turkish Towels
  14. 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.

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  15. Shampoo Bar
  16. Shampoo Bar

    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

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  17. Insect Repellent
  18. Insect Repellent

    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. 

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Van Life Essentials: Electronics

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

  1. Portable Bluetooth Speaker
  2. Portable Bluetooth 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.

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  3. Apple iPad
  4. Apple iPad

    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.

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  5. Kindle Paperwhite
  6. Kindle Paperwhite

    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!

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Outdoor Camping Gear for Van Life

Here’s some gear to make your campsite cozy and comfortable!

  1. Moonlence Folding Camp Chairs
  2. Moonlence Folding Camp Chairs

    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.

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  3. Fairy Lights
  4. Fairy Lights

    We think fairy lights add a wonderful twinkle to your campsite or the interior of your camper van. These MPOWERED Luci string lights charge with the sun's rays, and last up to 20 hours on a single charge. Enjoy an 18' cord and 20 little lights. Perfect for van dwelling!

    Buy on REI.com Learn More
  5. Outdoor Camping Mat
  6. Outdoor Camping Mat

    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. 

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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.

  1. Magnetic Spare Car Key Holder
  2. Magnetic Spare Car Key Holder

    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!

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  3. Roadside Assistance Emergency Kit
  4. Roadside Assistance Emergency Kit

    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. 

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  5. Portable Air Compressor
  6. Portable Air Compressor

    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.

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  7. Tire Puncture Repair Kit
  8. Tire Puncture Repair Kit

    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.

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  9. Fix-A-Flat Aerosol Tire Inflator
  10. Fix-A-Flat Aerosol Tire Inflator

    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.

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  11. Wasp Spray
  12. Wasp Spray

    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. 

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  13. Fire Extinguisher
  14. Fire Extinguisher

    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!

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  15. 12-Volt Jump Starter Box
  16. 12-Volt Jump Starter Box

    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.

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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!

  1. Mr. Buddy Heater
  2. Mr. Buddy Heater

    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.

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  3. Fan-Tastic Vent 1200 Series
  4. Fan-Tastic Vent 1200 Series

    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. 

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  5. Windshield Sun Shade
  6. Windshield Sun Shade

    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.

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  7. Packing Cubes
  8. Packing Cubes

    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. 

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  9. Storage Ottoman
  10. Storage Ottoman

    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. 

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  11. Head Lamps
  12. Head Lamps

    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.

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  13. Sun Clothes
  14. Sun Clothes

    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. 

    Buy on REI.com Learn More
  15. Smart Wool Base Layers
  16. Smart Wool Base Layers

    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!

    Buy on REI.com Learn More

Van Life Camping Apps and Guides

There are definitely some apps and books that are essential to our van life adventures. Check these out!

  1. Boondocking Guides for Free Campsites!
  2. Boondocking Guides for Free Campsites!

    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.

    Buy on FrugalRVTravel.com Learn More
  3. Want to try The Dyrt for FREE?
  4. Want to try The Dyrt for FREE?

    Grab a 90-Day Free Trial of The Dyrt Pro just in time for summer. Here are some perks:

    • Trip planner for detailed routing, stops and campgrounds
    • Map layers for finding free dispersed campsites
    • Offline campground databases
    • Campground discounts!

    It's like the Yelp for campground reviews, and we love using it to find both free and paid camping!

    Get Your FREE 90-Day Trial Learn More

44 thoughts on “60+ Van Life Essentials: The Perfect Packing List for Life on the Road”

    • 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.

      • 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.

    • 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 🙂

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

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

      • 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..

        • 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.

        • Some people don’t want to sleep with “an odor”. If you’re okay with that fine. Don’t be so judgmental.

  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….

  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!

  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?

    • First, get your windows tinted as dark as is legal. You can sleep anywhere, shopping centers, residential neighborhoods, etc. No one will see in and it will look just like a parked car. The toilet is a very personal decision. Some need the porta potty. I don’t have the space for one. I will buy one of those units that has 3 legs that fold out, and a bag repository, but I don’t have one currently. They fold up small when not in use. Some use a 5 gallon bucket with a toilet seat. It all depends on your sensibilities. Personally, I would only use one inside the van if were raining cats and dogs in the middle of the night. Who wants to sleep with “an odor”? Being an older man, I have a pee jar for use during the night. Or sleep in a 24 hour Walmart/grocery store parking lot and run inside if you need to.


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