When traveling in a van, you must be strategic about what you bring and what you leave at home. Campervans’ space and weight are limited, so every item you pack must serve a purpose.
Certain items are essential in van life and having these things can either make or break a trip.
So before you hit the road and venture out into the wild, you’ll want to double-check that you’ve packed all of the following van life essentials.
We’ve divided this list of top van life essentials into the following sections:
General Must-Have Campervan Accessories
Safety and Van Repair Essentials
1. General Must-Have Campervan Accessories
General campervan accessories and van life gadgets include power, electronics, and heating/cooling items. Some of these items (like solar panels and a roof vent) can be taken into account when you’re doing the van conversion.
To block out the sun or for some extra privacy. Get some that match your van’s window dimensions.
If you plan to camp off-grid or want to be more self-sufficient, you should invest in a solar panel system with a power controller for your van. Choose a fixed, flexible, or foldable panel, depending on your power needs.
Diesel Van Heater
Diesel heaters are safer than electric ones. Depending on where you’re van camping, you may need a heater for the fall, winter, and spring months.
It’s essential to have a way to ventilate your van for proper air circulation, cooling, and cooking. Pro tip: invest in a quality roof fan you can use in the rain.
USB Car Charger
Road trips involve a lot of GPS use, which means your phone battery may die quicker. Therefore, having a fast car charger is essential for on-the-go powering.
Portable Power Station
An eco-friendly, portable power station with solar charging abilities is key for charging all your devices at a campsite or off-grid. Use it to charge phones, laptops, speakers, and other electronic devices.
It’s always wise to bring extra batteries to power headlamps, portable carbon monoxide detectors, flashlights, lanterns, etc.
All Types of Chargers
Don’t forget to bring all the necessary chargers for your devices (phones, laptops, speakers, etc.)
2. Van Life Safety and Van Repair Essentials
Whether you’re doing full-time van life or just going for a weekend adventure, you’ll want to have these safety and repair items in your van at all times.
Some of these items, like the first aid kit, you’ll want to keep in an accessible place. For others that you’ll use less frequently, or don’t intend to use at all, you can pack them deep in your van’s garage.
First Aid Kit
A first aid kit is another must-have for van life adventures. Kit sizes and included medical supplies vary. For a compact kit, get REI’s Adventure Medical Kit. The Surviveware Survival First Aid Kit is an option for a larger kit. Don’t forget to pack any necessary medications.
Roadside Assistance Emergency Kit
Breakdowns and van problems happen, and you’ll surely want to be prepared for them! A roadside emergency kit should always be a part of your van life gear.
Love to go off-roading? Flat tires happen on and off the road, so you’ll want to pack these items. Be sure to know how to use them!
Portable Jump Starter
If you’re driving an older van or camping in a remote location, you’ll want a portable jump starter.
Carrying a tool kit with you can be useful on long journeys or when you’re in remote locations. You never know when you might need tools to fix or tighten something.
Carrying a few spare bungee cords is always a good idea - you never know when you might need one to strap something down or bundle gear together.
Extra Fluids for Car
For extended trips, it’s a safe idea to carry extra oil, brake fluid, steering fluid, coolant, etc.
Carbon Monoxide Detector
You’ll need a portable carbon monoxide detector if you’re using a propane heater or camp stove. Don’t forget to pack extra batteries.
A fire extinguisher is a must, especially if you plan on doing any cooking in your van.
Snow Chains (in colder months)
Even if there’s no snow on the forecast, you should always keep your snow chains in the car during months when there’s a possibility of snow. These are important for remote areas and backroad travel.
Satellite Communication Device
Are you going off-grid or to an area with spotty cell service? Then, you’ll want to bring a satellite communication device just in case you need to reach anyone.
3. Van Life Outdoor Essentials
A large part of van life is spending time outdoors. Bring a few outdoor and camping essentials to make your time more comfortable.
Staying inside your van can get stuffy. Bring a portable campervan awning to spend time outdoors, no matter the weather.
You can use a camping lantern inside and outside the van. If you’re going to be in a remote location, get one that’s both rechargeable and battery-powered.
You’ll want to pack chairs and a table to set up outside. On most van trips, especially with larger groups, you’ll hang out, eat, and cook most of your meals outdoors. The chairs should be compact and lightweight; however, choose the most comfortable model.
Getting covered in bug bites is no fun! Bring a bottle of insect repellent for whenever you’re outdoors.
Sun protection is essential during all times of the year. Pack sunscreen that is at least SPF 30 for your outdoor adventures, which you can find at most pharmacies and grocery stores.
If you are in a remote camping location, bring some survival gear- you never know what situations you may encounter.
These are useful for nighttime bathroom trips or setting/packing up in the dark. If you’re looking for an eco-friendly option, rechargeable headlamps are the way to go.
A foldable shovel has multiple uses. For example, you can use it to dig your van out from the snow or a hole for a quick bathroom break when dispersed or off-grid camping.
4. Van Life Kitchen Essentials
One of the biggest perks of van life is the ability to cook wherever you are and save money by not eating out. These van life kitchen essentials will make your time in the kitchen more convenient and enjoyable. Also, check out these great tips for cooking in a van.
For a weekend van trip, you may be able to get away without a refrigerator, but if you plan on traveling for an extended amount of time, you’ll want to find a small one, at the very least, to keep some items cold.
A camp stove that you can use indoors and outdoors is key. Depending on how much cooking you will do, you can get a camp stove with one or more burners. Don’t forget to bring a propane tank (or two), and crack a window if you use it indoors.
A portable water filter is absolutely essential for remote van camping trips. You never want to run out of water, and having a water filter can save you from an extra trip to town. Filters come in all sizes and price ranges - choose one that best suits your needs!
A solid cast iron skillet for cooking over a camp stove or campfire is essential. It’s super versatile, and you can use it to prepare a range of recipes.
Bamboo cutting boards are durable and easy to clean. They are available in all different sizes.
Other Kitchen Supplies
Some other items you’ll want to add to your kitchen packing list are:
A Good, Sharp Knife - one you can use to cut all kinds of foods.
Reusable Water Bottles - get a large and durable one to take everywhere.
Tupperware - so no food goes to waste!
Can Opener - you never know when it’ll come in handy.
Utensils for Cooking and Eating - try to find a set of metal utensils that can be easily cleaned and stored.
Cups or Insulated Mugs - opt for thermoses that can hold cold and hot beverages.
Sponges and Dish Soap - choose a soap that’s biodegradable and eco-friendly.
Oil and Spices - for making simple recipes tastier.
Lighter and Matches - for starting a campfire to cook.
Dish Towels - for drying dishes and hands.
For more tips on van life cooking, check out this article.
5. Van Life Sleeping Essentials
The items you’ll need for sleeping will vary depending on the weather and your sleep setup (i.e., whether everyone will be sleeping in the van or some will camp outside). For camping, you’ll also want to pack tent gear and extra sleeping supplies.
It can get pretty chilly at night year-round, depending on where you’re traveling. Having a warm blanket on hand is always a good idea. Opt for wool or synthetic materials.
Block out that pesky morning light slipping through your van windows with a sleep mask for your eyes.
Ear plugs are helpful if you’re at a noisy campsite or in a remote area where you can hear animals rustling around in the bushes outdoors.
For those extra cold nights, you’ll want to pack a warm sleeping bag with a rating of at least 21 degrees, meaning it’s suitable for temperatures above this level. In summer, you can probably get by with only using blankets inside your van.
6. Van Life Bathroom Essentials
Depending on where you plan to camp, you’ll need to pack different types of bathroom supplies. If you’re going to be fully remote and self-sustaining, you will also need to plan for ways to shower. The list we’ve compiled is mainly for occasional trips or weekend getaways.
If you don’t have a van shower nor access to a campsite shower, body wipes or baby wipes are a great way to freshen up.
A quick-drying towel is essential for van life. Turkish towels are more lightweight and absorbent than microfiber ones; however, a microfiber towel will also suffice.
A portable toilet may not be an essential on everyone’s list, but it can be convenient if you frequently have to go during the middle of the night. And even if you plan on using the bathroom at a campsite or public facility, having one on hand for emergencies may be helpful.
Biodegradable soap is an eco-friendly must-have for washing dishes and yourself. Just don’t use it near a stream or body of water.
Other Bathroom Products
Shampoo and conditioner bars - for practicing zero-waste principles.
Shower shoes - for campsite showers.
Feminine hygiene products - always good to be prepared.
Toothbrush and toothpaste - because dental hygiene is essential.
Hand Sanitizer - for when soap isn’t readily available.
This list contains some essential items that van lifers will definitely want to get before embarking on an adventure. Use our van essentials list when packing for your next adventure; you’ll be extra prepared for any situation you may encounter.
Please note: Esplori is not affiliated with any brands in this article. This list is not exhaustive, and some items may be missing. These items are intended for part-time van use, occasional trips, or weekend getaways. If you’re going to be living in a van full-time, that’ll likely require some extra items and equipment.