Must-Have Vanlife Gear for Your Next Camper Van Adventure
Living out of a van while traveling comes with a number of challenges, but leading a minimalist lifestyle also holds its own appeal. It can be very freeing to have less “stuff” and the ability to simply come and go whenever you please.
By necessity, consumption must stay minimal and every item in your van needs to have a real, functional purpose. Finding items that can tackle more than one job is a skill every new van lifer must master.
Whether you’re taking a week-long road trip or living the full-time van life, figuring out what type of gear to bring can be a struggle. After all, you don’t want to overpack, but you don't want to be out on the road without something you really need either.
We’ve compiled a list of must-have vanlife gear that will help you make the most of your small space.
What Do You Really Need for Vanlife?
Minimalism and van life go hand in hand, so it’s only natural to wonder what you really need to live in a camper van. You’ll be happy to know you don’t have to go out and buy a lot of specialized “vanlife” gear and equipment, but there are some things that will make transitioning to van life and living out of your van easier. You probably already know you need your everyday essentials and safety gear like a roadside kit and a portable fire extinguisher, so we’ve compiled a list of things you may not have thought about.
The items that made our list will get used on a daily basis to make life more comfortable, enjoyable, or safer. They’ll allow you to make the most of everything the freedom of life on the road has to offer.
Don’t feel like you have to go out and buy everything on the list– prioritize what’s important to you! Without further ado, here’s our list of van life essentials and campervan accessories that make life on the open road much more doable.
Vanlife Gear Must-Haves
The Pakt Coffee Kit
With the never-ending chaos of van life, the morning ritual of coffee remains constant and for many, it’s an absolute essential on every road trip. Starting each day the same can help you stay grounded, which can be challenging when you’re living life on the road.
The Pakt Coffee Kit is sleek and easy to store, stacked within itself to save space in your campervan kitchen. It also comes with a stainless steel mesh reusable filter to help reduce the amount of waste you create as you travel.
Packing Cubes Set
Packing cubes are ideal for keeping your clothes organized and saving space in your van. A set comes in assorted sizes, depending on your needs. Keep bulkier items like pants and shirts in the larger cubes, and socks and underwear in the smaller ones.
Organize by occasion, activity, or outfits – whatever makes sense for you. The big advantage is that you won’t have to rummage through a drawer or cabinet every time you need a clean pair of socks.
They also help you set limits on how much clothing to pack, which can be super helpful for any minimalist traveler. And, if you decide to stay with family, friends, or check into a hotel for a few nights, packing cubes are easy to toss into a backpack or duffel.
Garmin Dash Cam 45
The Garmin Dash Cam 45 belongs in your vanlife gear for numerous reasons, but the most important is safety. This dash cam works by constantly recording snippets and holding on to them temporarily.
If it detects an accident, the camera automatically saves the current, last, and next recording. Having the added security of a camera displayed on your dashboard could also be a potential deterrent for would-be break-ins.
One of the best things about van life is traveling to out-of-the-way places that are often far away from cell service. But, what if you have an emergency and can’t make a phone call? If you enjoy boondocking off-grid, having a backup plan, whether you break down or have a medical emergency, is a must.
The Garmin inReach can send custom text messages from almost any location to call for help. It also works as a GPS and includes helpful navigational tools for times when you can’t get a cell signal. The device is handheld and very portable, so you can take it with you wherever you go.
One of the harder things about living in a van is the lack of storage for books. A Kindle e-reader eliminates the need for physical books. In many cases, you can hook your e-reader up to your public library account and borrow books to download with wifi and read offline. This allows you to save money and access multiple books at any time without taking up physical space in your van.
Maxsa Buddy Traction Mats
Anyone who lives life on the road knows how nerve-racking it can be to think about getting stuck somewhere without cell service. Carrying a set of Buddy Traction Mats will give you peace of mind any time you camp off-grid.
If you ever get stuck, all you have to do is wedge the mats underneath the tires and drive onto them, hopefully freeing yourself from whatever you’re stuck in. They work for snow, mud, sand, and whatever else you come across on the road.
Polaroid Camera + Film
Vanlife gear doesn’t necessarily always have to be solely functional - it’s ok to set aside some space for gear that exclusively provides entertainment and joy. A Polaroid Camera and film can come in very handy for life on the road.
Polaroid pictures print instantly, allowing you to decorate your tiny home on wheels with memories of your travels. Photos are also a great parting gift to give to new friends you make along the way.
Portable Bluetooth Speaker
Turning on some music as you make your morning coffee or wind down for the evening can make your van seem so much more like home. Whether you’re camping, hiking, or just hanging out, music is a source of joy, comfort, and relaxation.
This Portable Bluetooth Speaker from JBL is waterproof and durable, so it can stand up to rain, dirt, and damage from outdoor elements. It automatically connects to your smartphone and has an amazing sound quality for such a small device. As a bonus, it’s also a great addition to movie night!
Quick Dry Towel
A quick-dry towel is an essential piece of vanlife gear. In fact, you’ll probably want to have several of them in different sizes. They come in handy for drying dishes, showering yourself or the dog, sitting on the beach, drying up spills, and so much more.
The great thing about quick dry towels is that you clean them with Dr. Bronner’s and they never get a musty smell like regular towels do. They’re also perfect for van life because they fold very small and won’t take up too much space in your campervan.
Dr. Bronner’s Liquid Castile Soap
Speaking of Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap, it’s another must-have for van life. It can be used to wash everything from laundry and dishes to yourself or even the dog.
Best of all, it’s biodegradable and free of harmful chemicals that can harm local plants and animals when you’re camping. It cleans just as well as traditional soap, and it saves a lot of space since you only need to carry one bottle for all your washing needs.
Hot Water Bottle
If your van doesn’t have internal heat, a hot water bottle is an absolute must. You can use a hot water bottle to warm up by boiling water on the stove. Heating the water can help to warm up your van and the water bottle keeps it warm for quite a while.
Try tucking the water bottle into your bed before you crawl in to get it nice and cozy, or stick it under your sweater for lasting warmth on chilly nights.
What is a Rumpl Blanket, you ask? Possibly the best van life blanket there is! A two-person original puffy blanket is just a little bit bigger than a queen-size, and it’s surprisingly warm. This blanket will span the width of your, so you won’t be fighting with your partner over the covers.
Rumpl Blankets come in a variety of colors and they’re machine washable. Best of all, dog hair doesn’t stick to them, so they're perfect for vanlifers who have pets. You can just take them outside for a good shake to get rid of loose dirt and pet hair.
Adventure Medical Kits Travel First Aid Kit
Having basic first aid gear in your van at all times is essential. The Travel First Aid Kit from Adventure Medical is a great option because it covers the most common issues you’re likely to experience on the road, from blisters and minor wounds to basic meds.
A wilderness and travel medicine guide is also included. Although this kit isn’t extensive enough to cover major medical emergencies, it will get you by in a pinch until you can find help. And you can always supplement it with additional items based on your personal medical requirements.
There’s no question that GPS and cell phone apps are ideal for finding the quickest route to your destination. But what if you want to find a scenic route, your batteries are dead, or you just can’t seem to get a signal.
Having a paper road atlas in your van is a great idea. The National Geographic Road Atlas is a van life favorite because it shows side roads as well as camping sites, public lands, and other locations that can be super helpful for life on the road.
String Lights and a Camping Lantern
Nothing sets the mood at your campsite like a camping lantern and some string lights hanging from your picnic table or a nearby tree. Of course, they help you see what you’re doing after dark, which is also nice.
If you’re on the lookout for some campsite lighting, check out the BioLite BaseLantern. It’s extremely lightweight and compact. It lights up on both sides, providing plenty of light throughout your entire camp. Even better, it powers chains of LED string lights for added ambiance.
Tips for Living in a Van
The best thing you can do before you dive into van life is rent a van conversion and experience life on the road firsthand. It’s a great way to find out if this lifestyle is for you, and it will help you get an idea of what you really need for living in a van and what you can do without.
If you invest in the right equipment upfront, such as an energy-efficient refrigerator and a stove that runs on fuel instead of electricity, you won’t need a huge, expensive solar system. A power station with a single solar panel can often keep your small electronics charged when you’re boondocking.
And finally, don’t be afraid to take advantage of paid campsites sometimes. Boondocking is amazing, but it doesn’t provide much opportunity to see the sights or experience the local culture. And driving back and forth trying to find free camping can get expensive quickly.
It’s also worth noting that campgrounds are a great place to take advantage of wifi, charge all your van life gadgets, grab a hot shower, and fill up your fresh water tanks. Living van life doesn’t mean you have to rough it all the time.
Living in a van full-time is much different from going on a road trip. Choosing the right vanlife gear will make your life so much easier, and it could mean the difference between staying on the road long-term or giving up after a few months.
But even with the best gear for van life, there will still be highs and lows. Some days you’ll have an epic view at a beautiful site. But other days will likely be filled with boring tasks like emptying your portable toilet or filling your fresh water tanks, not to mention the occasional flat tire or breakdown.
Extended travel in a van is full of ups and downs, but there’s no question it’s an epic adventure! Just be sure to go into it with realistic expectations and the gear you need to be comfortable, safe, and happy on the road.