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 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.
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.
Are you interested in a cooler instead? Check out the best 5 coolers for van life.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Collapsible water jug is a van life must have
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.
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.
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.
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.
Rumpl Puffy 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.
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
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Interested in a hot shower anytime? Check out The Best Campervan Tankless Water Heaters For Van Life.
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.
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.
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!
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 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.
Van Life Essentials: Electronics
There are a few electronic devices that make great campervan gear. Here are our top favorites!
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.
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.
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.
It’s strong enough to run my ARB 12-volt fridge!
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.
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
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.
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.