So you’ve found the perfect van and finally finished your build. Now, it’s time to load up with all the van life essentials and hit the road!
Space is the ultimate luxury in van life, especially if you live in your van full-time. Choosing the most essential items has a whole new meaning when everything you own has to fit inside a modified cargo van.
You don’t want to fill up your van with tons of junk, but you also want to make sure you have everything you need to enjoy your next road trip.
The trouble is, it’s impossible to be entirely sure about what you need until you move in and realize what you don’t have.
That’s where we step in. After spending years living in a van, learning the hard way what you can’t do without, and constantly tinkering with our packing list, we’ve found top van life essentials that turn living in a van into a fulfilling lifestyle.
Through hours of real-world trial and error, research, and campsite tours inside vans across all budgets, we came up with this list of a few things we rarely find any van dweller without.
Table of Contents
Van Life Essentials: Power Essentials
We like to say that the top van life essentials typically revolve around the idea of power, water and food. After all, van life essentials mimic actual life essentials.
So we’ll start with the power essentials that will keep your battery bank topped off so you never have to worry about running out of power as you’re out exploring!
Of course, the standard battery, solar panel and inverter components make the shortlist.
But there is more to your camper van electrical system than just these. Read on for some great van life gear that will keep you powered up in all circumstances!
Deep Cycle Batteries
All power in your van comes down to the size and quality of your battery bank. It should go without saying that you should only consider deep cycle batteries for your van living, regardless of which type you choose.
While it is great to save money on all sorts of van life gear, one thing we don’t recommend is that you skimp on your battery bank. So whether you can afford lithium or AGM is up to you.
But we’d say plan to put in as much battery capacity as you can afford and fit in such a small space as a van, especially if you plan to live off-grid with solar panels for any amount of time.
There are 2 primary types of batteries we’d recommend you consider.
Lithium Battery // Battle Born 100 Ah Lithium Battery
Lithium batteries are expected to last up to a decade, can be discharged up to 100% without corrupting the long-term health of your battery and are half the weight of the competition. This technology has shocked the battery industry and can redefine what your solar system is capable of powering.
This Battle Born battery is the industry leader in camper van power. And combined with a decent solar setup you will never want for power.
But consider this great alternative to cut costs if you want to focus on other van life accessories.
READ MORE: Check out this post on our top-recommended campervan batteries.
AGM Battery // Renogy 100 Ah AGM Battery
A lithium-ion battery can seem like the only reasonable choice with numbers like that, but quality AGM batteries aren’t obsolete just yet.
AGM batteries like this one are less than half the cost of lithium and can provide the same maximum power levels. If off-grid living is not part of your long-term plan, or you left space for a generator, you won’t need more battery power than an AGM battery offers.
Two big advantages of AGM over lithium is that they can charge in freezing temperatures and they cost significantly less.
Solar Panels // Renogy 400 W Solar Kit + 40 Amp MPPT Controller
Solar energy is the unlimited power source for van lifers. Solar panel costs, size and weight have come down while efficiency has improved. At this point in time, there is no reason you should consider living in a van without a basic solar setup.
You’ll need a heavier system to fire up an A/C unit and larger appliances. But most van dwellers can sustain themselves with as little as 400 watts of solar panels and the proper battery capacity, even without constant direct sunlight.
READ MORE: Be sure to read our review on the best campervan solar panels.
Pure Sine Power Inverter // Renogy 2000W Inverter
The last piece of the power puzzle, power inverters, take your 12v DC battery power and allow it to work on any 110V AC device (aka anything you plug into a wall.)
You can get by living in a van without one. But an overwhelming majority of van lifers add these to their power system as much out of convenience as a necessity.
Alternative living off-grid requires your ability to plug in and fill up on power, especially if you lug around computers, cameras, cell phones and tablets.
READ MORE: Don’t miss out on these other great power inverters.
12V Power Inverter // Maxboost 300 Watt
I want more power! In addition to your vehicle battery power inverter, you can turn your cigarette lighter into a portable power inverter will take that sweet, sweet 12V energy and transform it into something easily digestible for any sensitive electronics.
This energy-efficient power inverter will even allow you to charge your laptop with your car battery.
Car Chargers // Audro 4 Port USB Charger
Maybe you’re not bringing along a laptop, but there is no such thing as too many ways to power your devices when you’re far from power lines.
You can turn your cigarette lighter into four USB ports to make sure your cell phone, tablet or any other USB-charged devices stay juiced.
Portable Power Bank // Shenmz Portable Charger
A portable power bank or portable charger is a great way to have backup power close at hand, particularly if you go for long hikes or other outdoor excursions.
Small and lightweight, a portable power bank like this is capable of charging your phone multiple times. They’re also great to use at night if you don’t want to drain your house battery.
Charge them during the day while driving or on solar and rest easy with a great source of backup power for your smaller electronic devices.
Portable Power Station // Jackery Portable Power Station Explorer 240
A portable power station is quite a bit larger than a portable power bank, but it packs a bigger punch too.
One like this will allow you to charge multiple smaller devices as well as larger electronic devices such as laptops, electric coolers and even a pressure cooker! They recharge quickly and don’t take up all the space of a generator or extra batteries.
Van Life Kitchen Essentials
Other van lifers may enjoy going out to eat everywhere they travel. But we enjoy a good home cooked meal in a beautiful place. So having the best van life kitchen essentials is important to us and we think it will benefit you as well!
In addition to some of the standard things like paper towels, cooking utensils and a can opener, don’t forget to add these top-rated kitchen essentials to your van life packing list!
A proper wok can do everything from cooking popcorn to reheating last night’s leftovers with minimal mess. Look for Woks with robust steel coating and a flat bottom for versatile additions to your mobile kitchen.
The flat bottoms help these woks cook dinner on less traditional surfaces, while the raised edges allow you to put a lid on your frying pan.
Garlic Press // OXO Good Grips Garlic Press
Maybe it’s just me, but I find myself chopping garlic at least four nights a week. Your mobile kitchen likely isn’t very gourmet, but this little tool saves the whole team from the worst job in the kitchen; mincing garlic.
Cooler/Portable Fridge // Pelican 50 qt Elite Cooler
When you are first getting started in van life, or if you only head out on short road trips from time to time, having a portable cooler is a great way to keep your food chilled without having to invest in purchasing and installing a campervan fridge.
While there are minor inconveniences to a cooler, you can reasonably expect a high-tech cooler like this to hold onto the ice for 4-5 days.
READ MORE: Check out this post on the best campervan fridge options!
Miniature Fridge // Smad 3-Way Caravan Fridge
However, if the inconvenience and expense of going into town for ice bags every four to five days adds up and it comes time to upgrade, this miniature 3-way fridge is a great option. It runs on propane, 12V, and 120V.
12V fridges are becoming more and more popular, but you’ll need to make sure your battery bank can handle the strain before you commit.
Coffee Maker // GSI Outdoor Glacier Percolator
Most van lifers enjoy the smell of fresh coffee brewing to warm up a fall morning. There are lots of choices when it comes to camper van coffee makers. Some folks just bring along a classic 11oV power-hungry coffee machine like this one.
But I much prefer these 6 cup percolators that work on any camping or RV stove. They let me cook my coffee inside and outside. No matter where you brew it, they make a great cup of joe (or other hot drinks) with minimal energy requirements.
READ MORE: Don’t miss out on our campervan coffee maker roundup post!
Kitchen Sink Cutting Board // Lipper International Bamboo Cutting Board
Living in a van full time is about making the most of a small space. Slipping a cutting board over your sink opens up an extra section of the counter-top area, and you can slide the dirty dishes straight to the wash!
This cutting board, in particular, can double as a serving tray and prep table as well for both indoor and outdoor cooking. A cutting board may not be the first van life essential that comes to mind. But its versatility comes in handy while taking up very little space.
Van Life Safety Essentials
Safety is often overlooked when it comes to van life. So we want to be certain to steer you in the right direction when it comes to remaining safe on the road.
We have met too many people who overlooked simple items like smoke or CO alarms and then found themselves fortunate to be alive after a later incident. And have you ever tried to change your own tire without the proper tools?
Some of these items should be common sense. But we listed them anyway because we don’t want you to overlook the simplicity of safety in your camper van.
Handheld Satellite Communicator // Garmin inReach Mini
Some of the best nights in your van will be far away from the nearest cell tower. While being away from it all is a fantastic experience, you do not want to get stuck in the woods with no way to send for backup.
You’ll always be in reach of help with this straightforward communicator that can send texts and send out SOS signals across almost 100% of the globe. An emergency beacon is a piece of van life gear that you hope never to use, but it only takes one application to make a handy GPS locator worth the money.
READ MORE: Check out our review post on all of the best handheld GPS options!
Portable Air Compressor // Viair 300 P Portable Compressor
A flat tire doesn’t have to be a part of the van life. Preventative maintenance is the key to extending your van’s mechanical life across the board, and this handy tool will keep you on top of your tires.
You can nip any warning lights in the bud or keep a slow leak at bay while you find a permanent solution.
Portable Battery Jumper // Dewalt Digital Portable Power Station Jump Starter
You could double the power of your portable air compressor by finding a complete kit that combines a portable battery jumper with an air compressor. Jump starter kits with air compressors can kickstart a dead battery, charge electronic devices, and inflate a flat tire or two.
First Aid Kit // SHBC Compact First Aid Kit
Hopefully, you’ll never have to use this van life essential, but before you find yourself 50 miles away from the nearest place to stop the bleeding, make sure you have a complete first aid kit at the ready. Remember to restock any items you may use along the way.
Axe // Cold Steel All-Purpose Axe
An axe is arguably the least essential item on our van life essentials list until it’s time to scavenge for firewood. A proper axe or saw will give you a great workout while you get everything ready for marshmallow roasting.
Don’t sit around the woods staring at downed trees dreaming about what could have been. Get chopping!
Shovel // SOG Folding Survival Shovel
Sometimes having the right van life essentials helps other people as much as it helps you. Carrying a heavy-duty shovel may seem like a burden, but if you find yourself (or fellow van-dwelling friends) stuck in the sand or mud then you will appreciate being able to dig yourself out.
Also, if it comes time to do your business (or your dog’s business) in the woods you can properly bury your waste (and toilet paper). And, of course, this van life essential can be used to put out hot coals after enjoying a night around the campfire.
Key Lock // FCS Keylock Lock Box
Everybody knows you put your keys underneath one of your tires. If you’re heading somewhere your keys can’t follow, you can keep everything safe in this convenient lock box that you can lock to your RV exterior.
It’s only a matter of when, not if, having a safe place to store your keys without locking them inside the car will in handy.
Fire Extinguisher // First Alert Fire Extinguisher
Not only is it illegal to drive a camper van without a fire extinguisher in the back, but it’s also downright dangerous. A faulty fuel line or freak accident can start a blaze in a hurry.
If you don’t have something on hand to put out an engine fire, you can kiss your belongings goodbye. Keep these van life necessities close to your propane stove and hope you’ll never have to pull the pin on the fire extinguisher.
Carbon Monoxide Detector // First Alert CO 250
Safety comes first, second, and third when your house hits the highway. There are all sorts of fumes in a moving vehicle that is also a kitchen. Hooking up this battery-powered carbon monoxide detector will prevent a slow leak from becoming deadly.
You should also have an LP alarm if you have and use any propane appliances inside your camper van. Models like this combine CO and LP into one alarm to save the extra cost and space of two separate alarms.
Roadside Emergency Kit // First Secure Car Emergency Safety Kit
Depending on where you’re accident happened, it could be a while before help arrives. An emergency kit pays for itself on the worst days of your trip.
These kits combine an air compressor, first aid kit, towing tools and warning equipment to help out in a worst-case scenario.
Van Life Camping Essentials
Van life is all about enjoying the great outdoors. And while your camper van will take you to some pretty remarkable places, part of the joy of van life is finding the perfect camping spot.
Whether you find yourself well off the beaten path or gathered among other van lifers you’re going to want a few options for how to make the most of your campsite.
This part of your van life essentials packing list will combine both luxuries and necessities to make your stay in the wild memorable and comfortable.
Camping Lantern // Coleman 1000 Lumens LED Lantern
Camping lanterns do wonders for illuminating a campsite at night. And while you can find them with all sorts of bells and whistles, we find that simple is best.
Whether you’re trying to cook or eat after the sun goes down or find yourself on a little after-hours excursion through the woods, a good camping lantern will go a long way to keeping you safe and comfortable at night.
Headlamp // Petzl Tikka Outdoor Headlamp 300 Lumens
There are loads of quality different camping lantern styles, but none is more versatile and practical than a hands-free headlamp.
Stop relying on your cell phone flashlight and free up your hands for cleaning up so you can get out of the dark faster. Headlamps are small and affordable and should be a part of any van life packing list.
READ MORE: Get more headlamp ideas in our post on the best headlamp options!
Camping Stove // Coleman Gas 2-Burner Camping Stove
Just because your van has a kitchen inside it doesn’t mean you should never try cooking outdoors. This Coleman Camping Stove is one of the most practical van life gadgets on our list.
Anytime the weather is nice, you can quickly and easily set up Coleman’s iconic camping stove on a camping table and start cooking bacon.
READ MORE: Check out these other great camping stove options for van life.
Hammock // ENO DoubleNest Lightweight Camping Hammock
The weightless spaciousness of a good camping hammock is the best remedy for a few hours behind the wheel. Bring a book and a few cold drinks, and you’ll spend the afternoon hanging out.
Van living is at its finest when you are able to get to a place where you can relax in your hammock in the trees or by the beach.
READ MORE: Don’t miss out on these great camping hammocks.
Rain Gear // Columbia Watertight Li Jacket
Make sure you factor all types of weather into your van life packing list. Wet clothes can take days to dry, and vans have very little space to hang.
Boots, waterproof pants, and a quality hooded jacket are essential protections. Of course, you can also save the extra cost by purchasing a simple Pancho.
READ MORE: Other great rain gear can be found in our review post here.
Polarized Sunglasses // Knockaround Premium Sport Polarized Sunglasses
Anybody who has headed west has felt the glare of the 6 o’clock sunset across the highway. You can be practically blinded without a layer of protection, especially when you’re staring into the bright sun across a full day of driving.
Cheap glasses make the problem worse. Polarisation is the bare minimum protection for sunglasses, as far as I’m concerned.
Camping Chairs // Sportneer Camping Chairs
There is no sense in driving all the way out into the woods or that ideal secluded beach spot to sit inside all day. Living in a van is actually more about living OUT of the van.
Pair a few camping chairs with an ultra-portable camping table to bring your living room into the woods without taking up too much space.
READ MORE: Here is our roundup post on other great camping chairs!
Camping Table // GCI Outdoor Compact Table
Having a portable, lightweight folding table is a great way to enjoy the great outdoors. Very few mornings pass when we’re not enjoying a hot cup of coffee and a good book while resting one or the other on this table. This is van living at its finest!
Other Van Life Essentials to Consider
There are a lot of van life essentials that could arguably fill their own camper van. Packing too much is always a risk as you will find yourself constantly shifting things around inside your camper van, perhaps even regretting purchase decisions that you’ve made to check all the boxes in your packing list.
So some of these ideas may seem like luxury items if your van is already packed to the brim. Still, we think it’s worth considering the value they will bring to the quality of your time on the road, especially if you live in your van full-time.
Roof Vent Fan // Fantastic Vent Roof Vent Fan
There’s a reason the easiest way to tell if someone is living in a van is to look for the air vent. There’s no such thing as a camper van without a fan. The right fan keeps temperatures down and helps your road trip breathe.
Depending on the day, your fan will prevent the sun from cooking your RV’s interior, aerate meals while cooking in the van kitchen, and provide soothing white noise and fresh air for falling asleep on muggy, humid nights.
READ MORE: Check out the other great options for campervan roof vents!
Space Heater // Mr Buddy Heater
Unfortunately, you can’t just blow away cold air. Mr Buddy’s propane heater has run away with the industry, creating one of the game’s quietest, most efficient, and hot heaters. Hook it up to a 20 lbs propane tank for hours of warmth anywhere below 7000 feet.
READ MORE: Here are some other options for great campervan heating ideas.
Mosquito Net // Elctman Magnetic Screen Door
Mosquitoes love hot nights. If your RV is getting a bit stuffy, you don’t have to decide between fresh air and fresh bites. I’ve been to the mountains high and the valley low, but I’ve never found a bug-free paradise.
With a bit of needlework, you can convert a magnetic screen to fit through any open space, allowing a fresh breeze while staying protected.
Portable Solar Shower // RISEPRO 10 Gallon Solar Shower Bag
More than just staying clean, a hot shower is the perfect ending to a fall hike, and a cold shower is the best way to cool off on a hot day. There’s nothing better than a splash in the ice-cold water of a mountain river or creek.
But putting the river into a solar shower bag or investing in a propane-powered hot shower is the first step towards feeling comfortable in changing weather. A solar shower is a quick and affordable solution you should consider. at the bare minimum for keeping up with your hygiene.
READ MORE: Don’t miss our post on other great van life shower options.
Laundry Washing // Scrubba Wash Bag
You no longer need to search out expensive laundromats during your road trip. A more practical and cost-effective alternative is to wash your own clothes as you go.
With the Scrubba you drop your dirty clothes and a little soap into the bag and fill it with water. Then move the bag around, rinse and hang your clothes out to dry. Don’t forget a good elastic clothesline for the drying part of the chore.
READ MORE: Check out our Scrubba Review to learn more about why we would never consider traveling without it!
Sleep mask + earplugs // Silk Satin Sleeping Mask
A van life adventure leads you towards sleeping in some pretty “interesting” locations. Whether you prefer quiet residential streets, businesses with ample parking, or truck stops and rest areas, you’ll still have to deal with street lights and traffic noise while you drift off.
We all imagine falling asleep next to tranquil waters, and we’ll get there eventually, but one of the top full-time van life essentials is sleeping amongst many unglamorous backdrops. A cheap pair of earplugs and a sleep mask will block out the world and let you sleep in after a long night of driving, no matter where you’re parked.
Cell Phone Booster // WeBoost Drive Reach RV Cell Phone Signal Booster
Camper van life can take you to some pretty remote parts of the world to enjoy spectacular scenery and outdoor activities. But in many of these places, you’ve got next to no chance to pick up a signal in the backcountry without these powerful signal boosters that amplify faraway cell signals across all networks.
They are just as good for convenience as they are for safety in the event you need to make an emergency phone call.
Baby Wipes // Eco by Naty Unscented Baby Wipes
Nobody wants to travel without a shower, but we all have to make hard decisions when deciding what van life accessories we can actually fit into our van.
If you’re looking at the calendar and seeing days before your next shower, compostable baby wipes will have to do. It’s not pretty, but it’s miles better than nothing. Even if you’re not looking for creative showering ideas, baby wipes come in handy across every meal and cleaning shift.
Insect Repellent // AMRITA Aromatherapy Organic Insect Repellant
You can never be too prepared. I chose the van life to spend more time outside, but mosquitos always ruin the picnic. A few spritzes will go a long way, and the right natural repellants will send the pests packing while leaving a relaxing lemongrass eucalyptus aroma around camp.
I’m not proud to admit this tip but, if you’re in a pickle, the lemongrass scent also doubles as a satisfying deodorant.
Bungee Cords // 24 Piece Bungee Cord Set
It takes about five minutes of driving down a forest service road for me to find out which cabinets and drawers need help staying shut. I’ll start my trip with a full box of Bungee cords and find a use for another one once a week.
A bungee cord is like a bandaid for a carpentry problem, from setting up clotheslines to holding down the fort.
Fairy Lights // YoTelim LED Fairy Lights With Remote
Maybe fancy modern RVs have wonderful mood lighting built in. But you can easily install a cheap set of warm fairy lights in a way that sets a friendly atmosphere inside your RV.
A simple set of battery-powered string lights consciously strung across your ceiling can provide van lifers with a whole new mood, and you line them up so you can hit the switch from the bed.
Sun Shade // Coveted Shade Extra Jumbo Car Windshield Sunshade
If you can’t find a place to park in the shade, your camper van will heat up in a hurry. Bring the cover to all corners of the parking lot with an affordable windshield cover. I didn’t expect such a simple product to make a real difference, but by golly, they work.
You can find a sunshade custom-built to your specific body model that will wrap around the exterior and side windows for even more protection. Every inch of blocked sun goes a long way!
Portable Toilet // Camping Brothers Outdoor Portable Toilet
Hopefully, your rig has a permanent potty solution. But not every camper van comes with a black water tank. That doesn’t mean you should head out without an emergency bathroom.
A camping toilet will be the only thing standing between you and digging a hole or searching for a public bathroom every time nature calls. Small, portable toilet containers may not be deluxe, but they’ll always be ready for duty. And don’t forget the toilet paper!
READ MORE: Check out this post for the best campervan toilet options.
What’s the only thing better than a hot cup of coffee in the morning? A fresh, cold beverage after a long day in the sun. Get yourself a thermos that can do both and you’ll never be far from the perfect refreshment.
Toolbox // LETTON 60-piece Power Tool Combo Kit
When you live in a house routinely exposed to 65 mph winds, there’s always something you could be fixing. Whether you’ve got a loose cabinet, a leaky pipe, or a more severe problem, pack a tool kit full of the essentials and take a closer look.
Your tools may not fix everything, but you should have enough to tighten loose bolts or make the temporary fix that gets you to the nearest Home Depot.
The Bare Minimum Van Life Essentials Packing List
If you’ve made it this far you may be asking yourself, do they really care ALL of those things in a camper van full time on the road?
The honest answer is, yes…and no. We have owned versions of virtually every item in this van life essentials list at some point or another in our many years on the road.
A shovel, for instance, just became a new “luxury” item for us. We found ourselves surrounded by poop in one campsite after another – human, dog, coyote and otherwise.
Thus enters the shovel. If other campers aren’t going to bury their poo, we will just so we can enjoy a great campsite.
Do you need a shovel? Maybe. Maybe not. But at the very least we want to provide a quick checklist of the things that you should have as part of your van life essentials packing list, whether you live in your van full time or just head out on the occasional road trip.
|AGM or Lithium Battery||First Aid Kit||Utensils (cooking/eating)||Camp Chair(s)|
|Power Inverter||Roadside Emergency Kit||Cookware (pots/pans)||Portable Table|
|Toilet (indoor/outdoor)||Tool Set||Water Kettle||Leveling Blocks|
|Shower (indoor/outdoor)||Jack (4+ ton bottle jack)||Stove (indoor/outdoor)||Headlamp/Lantern|
|Fresh Water Storage||Fire Extinguisher||Cups, bowls, plates||Shovel|
|Waste Water Storage||CO Alarm||Cutting Board||Axe/Knife|
|Heater||LP Alarm||Can Opener||Grill/Stove|
|Fan / AC Ventilation||Multitool||Bottle Opener||Bungee Cords|
|Bedding/Linens||Air Compressor||Coffee Maker||Portable Power Station|
|Water Heater||Battery Jumper/Cables||Fridge/Cooler|
|Drivers License||Passport||Vehicle Registration||Vehicle Insurance|
|Vehicle Maintenance Log||Vehicle Owners Manual||Health Insurance|
There is no perfect packing list for van life. The longer you live out of your van the more you will come to know what you do or do not need for safety, comfort and convenience.
Of course, the list could go on and on and it will vary by individual van lifer preferences. But we hope that we have at least given you some ideas to consider for van life essentials that you may not have considered before.
Let us know your thoughts!
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