Outfitting your van can be one of the most exciting, yet infuriating, parts of vandwelling.
You absolutely can head out with a minimum amount of stuff and still make it, but some items seriously improve comfort, enjoyment, and fun.
When I started out in my van I didn’t have half the stuff I listed out below, but over time I added and upgraded as my adventures evolved.
If I was starting out in vanlife today I would absolutely bring these with me.
Below are a list of my top 20 accessories I found very useful in my travels and highly recommend anyone living in their campervan have. I also included some must-have safety and security items that I think you should prioritize.
In A Rush? If I Had To List My Top 3 Must-Haves, These Take The Cake
- Extends your time out in the wild
- Great way to protect yourself against questionable sources of water
- Lets you enjoy your music anywhere
- Excellent way to add your own flair to a secluded campsite or add spice to a gathering
- Essential if you get stuck somewhere
- Fold-down to a very packable size
Van Life Kitchen, Hygiene, and Grooming
It’s a lot easier for guys to go to the bathroom outdoors than it is for ladies. One great piece of kit my wife picked up and swore by was the GoGirl.
It’s a female urination device that allows women to quickly and easily relieve themselves outdoors or on the road. It’s straightforward to use, even easier to clean, and very comfortable.
2. Good Chef Knife and Cutting Board
If you plan to do any cooking in your van, a decent chef knife and a usable cutting board are essential. With a basic set of pots and a spoon, you can cook up many delicious recipes or just prep some tasty vegetables as a snack.
One of my favorite meals while out in the van were grilled chicken wraps. Without a decent knife and cutting board I would have been
I recommend you spend a few dollars more than the basic knife at your local grocery store. For just five to ten dollars more, you can get a lot more knife for your money.
3. AeroPress Coffee and Espresso Maker
I’ll level with you. I’m a big fan of hot drinks. I like to start my day and finish my afternoon snack with a piping hot cup of espresso and almond milk. It beats truck stop coffee by a mile and really hits the spot after a long day of hiking or rafting.
You can’t exactly carry around a barista-grade espresso maker in a van, though, which is why I highly recommend the AeroPress.
It’s a compact, lightweight, and surprisingly easy-to-use coffee and espresso maker that allows you to put together some delicious drinks anywhere you find yourself, whether that be inside your van or miles away on a hike.
4. Water Filter/Purifier
A quality water filter or purifier is a must if you’re heading out on adventures in your van. Even if you don’t plan to use it camping or hiking, having one means you can grab water from almost any stream, lake, or creek as needed.
Several times on my trip, I stayed at a campsite longer than I initially planned and nearly ran out of water. Having a high-quality water filter, like the Hydroblu Versa Flow allowed me to do that without a thought.
If you’re traveling internationally, you should trade up to a water purifier. I highly recommend the Grayl Geopress.
It offers next-level purification and gives you drinkable water anywhere in the world. Check out my full review on it here.
5. Collapsible Camp Table
A good camp table is worth its weight in gold while you’re living the vanlife. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve popped mine up while at a campsite for cooking, working, or just sitting around.
It’s a great way to expand the usable space of your van while parked and allows you to put up a real ‘porch’ feel when you’ve got your door space fully deployed.
6. Refillable Spray Bottles
Doing dishes doesn’t have to be a massive hassle in the van. I used a pair of refillable spray bottles, one full of soapy water and the other with rinsing water, to do virtually all the dishes in my van.
It allowed me to conserve water while also getting my dishes squeaky clean. While glass bottles look sharp, I recommend you go with plastic to prevent any breakage.
Recreation, Fitness, and Relaxation
7. Bicycle – Hybrid Bike
Having a bike allows you to branch out from your van without having to pack up camp. Unless you’re looking to hit some seriously hardcore mountain biking, I recommend a hybrid bike.
They’re rugged enough to handle riding around a campground and on less than perfect roads, yet a lot more comfortable if you’re trying to ride around town.
8. Rear Bike Rack
I was pretty specific here in that I don’t usually recommend roof-mounted bike racks. They’re great for maximizing usable space, but they do tend to add a lot of extra height to your van.
A tow hitch-mounted rear bike rack lets you carry several bikes at a time without the hassle of getting them up and down from your roof. If you’re trying to be a little stealthier, it doesn’t hurt either.
9. Portable Blanket – Matador Pocket Blanket
One of my favorite things to do in my van was to hit up some stunning hikes. Having a pint-sized water-resistant blanket in my bag made it easy to sit back and enjoy the scenery or have an impromptu picnic.
Matador is my personal favorite, but there are tons of less expensive generics you can pick up as well that get the job done. I went with them because I’ve used their travel products before and found them to be seriously high quality in both build and materials.
10. Bluetooth Speaker – Tribit StormBox
One of the most enjoyable things to do while deep in the backcountry with your van is to put some of your favorite tunes on. Sure, you can play through your speakers if you’re driving, but once you’re parked you’ll need more than just your phone can provide.
One of my favorite experiences in my van so far was driving out to a secluded overlook in Bryce Canyon National Park and spending an afternoon enjoying the stunning views while the Struts played in the background.
A compact, rugged, and preferably water-resistant Bluetooth speaker gives you a lot of performance for a small price. I like the Tribit StormBox because of its durable design, proven water resistance (let’s just say mine has gotten caught in more than a few sudden showers), and overall excellent sound quality.
It’s not a 7.1 sound system, but it can rock out if you need it to.
11. Hammock – Kammok Roo (Image attribution https://www.instagram.com/p/COHaISrAmQx/)
It’s almost a cliche at this point, but you really should bring a lightweight hammock with you.
They’re an incredibly comfortable way to spend your time, catch a quick nap, or while away some hours with a good book.
I’m a fan of the Kammok Roo for its excellent quality and overall durability, but there are plenty of lower-cost options out there.
Van Life Gadgets and Productivity Gear
12. Portable Power Bank – Anker PowerCore Essential
A quality portable power bank is one of the must-have accessories for anyone looking to live the vanlife. It’s a multipurpose item that can help extend the life of your onboard batteries, charge up your phone while away from your van, and even power other accessory items such as twinkle lights or small speakers.
The PowerCore is my battery of choice, though there are honestly infinite options out there now. I used mine by charging it up through the dash while driving between campsites, thereby saving myself from having to draw from my solar bank to charge up my phone and tablet.
13. WaterProof Power Strip and Extension Cord
If you spend any time at paid campsites, a good power strip and extension cord are must-have items. Most have some kind of power pedestal or at least plug you can use, but they’re rarely somewhere that’s actually convenient or even useful.
A suitable extension cord lets you save your solar bank and operate things like your laptop, phones, tablets, etc, without even having to turn on your inverter.
14. Lap Desks
It’s hard to overstate how helpful a lap desk can be in a van. I use mine to work with my laptop, write out postcards, and as a portable table for eating on. I use one on folding legs, but you can also go with a classic lap rested one.
Both take up very little space and offer a portable, useful work surface.
15. Propane Heater – Mr. Heater Buddy
For those planning to hit up any snowy areas in your van (which I highly recommend), a quality heater is an excellent comfort-enhancing tool. They’re compact, fuel-efficient, and provide a shocking amount of heat for their size.
The Mr. Heater Buddy is widely regarded as the best out there, with an intuitive set of controls and must-have built-in safety features. These include a tip sensor, an oxygen level monitor, and a pilot light sensor that automatically shut down if it detects issues.
16. Smoke/Carbon Monoxide Detector
This one’s an absolute non-negotiable item. You wouldn’t live in a home without working smoke detectors, and you definitely shouldn’t live in a van without one.
This is especially true if you plan to use any kind of propane heater, gas stove, or similar emitting item. Don’t skimp on this one.
Carbon monoxide has no scent and is lethal at the right concentrations. Sometimes just running your van while parked can be enough to build levels up to unacceptable levels.
17. Fire Extinguisher
Same as with a smoke detector, a fire extinguisher is essential. Buy the best one you can afford and regularly confirm that it’s in working order.
It’s one of those items you hope you’ll never need but will be extremely glad you have if you do need it.
18. Tools and Emergency Kit
Tools can be everything from a few wrenches and a hammer up to a decent-sized mechanic’s tool set. I recommend you carry tools up to your level of mechanical comfort.
You never know what will happen out on the road. Having a good set of tools plus a basic emergency kit can be a real lifesaver.
At a minimum, you should have everything you need to change your tire and do some basic work on your power system.
19. Tire Traction Pads
I’ll level with you here: You’re going to get your van stuck somewhere. Whether it’s a sudden rainstorm that turns your campground into a muddy quagmire or fresh snow on the ground, there’s going to be a moment where you try to drive and your tires just spin.
Having a set of traction pads is the difference between hours of hard work or even the dreaded wait for a tow and getting on your way. I recommend folding pads as they take up a lot less space.
20. Flashlight/Headlamp – Fenix PD25 / Headlamp
Preferably both to be honest. Many places where you’ll end up parking won’t be particularly bright. Having a good flashlight is a real lifesaver.
The Fenix PD25 is a bit pricey, but it more than makes up for it in capability and the internal rechargeable battery that helps save money on batteries.
I also recommend a headlamp because it gives you the gift of light while keeping your hands free. I can’t tell you how many late-night trips I took from my van to a nearby bathroom that would have been seriously dark without a good headlight.
It’s also a great way to conserve your internal batteries while reading or otherwise moving around inside your van at night.
No, you don’t need a ton of gear to enjoy vandwelling, but it can be helpful to grab the basics.
Picking up some or most of these can help make your experience a little easier and more enjoyable, depending on your interests.
At the very least, I highly recommend you add basic safety and wellness gear to your van.
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