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Must-Have Van Life Essentials And Gear

  • By Kate Moore
  • on 
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What do you need for van life? We put together a packing list of must-have essentials and accessories for your camper van build.

After spending over two years living on the road we’ve got a pretty good idea of wants vs needs.

When we first left for our trip we thought we had all the essentials, but there were many things we had to buy within the first week of hitting the road! (like a can opener).

Hopefully this essentials packing list will help you avoid an extra trip to the store so you can spend a lot more time on fun adventures.

The Must-Have Van Life Packing List

all of the essentials you need for a camper van kitchen

Van Life Kitchen Essentials

Do you plan on spending a lot of time trying out new restaurants? Or cooking in your camper van? Personally, we only had two rules during our road trip:

  1. Visiting a new state only counts if you do one new activity and spend the night
  2. No chain restaurants – eat local!

During our travels, we were on a pretty tight budget, and that means we spent a LOT of time cooking!

The first mistake we made was forgetting to pack a can opener. Fortunately, we did not forget the corkscrew!

When creating your van life kitchen packing list don’t forget about cleanup. Dish soap, paper towels, and trash bags are all just as important as utensils.

If you’re cooking on a fuel-based camping stove, make sure you have a spare set of matches.

And in order to preserve electricity, consider brewing camping coffee using fuel rather than with an induction burner.

the need for a shower in a conversion van

Must-Have Bathroom Accessories

Whether your camper van has a shower or portable toilet, you’re still going to want some gear that conserves water.

Dry shampoo can keep your hair looking nice for days at a time, and wet wipes can be used in place of soap in certain situations.

Don’t forget about any essential medications that you travel with as well.

van life view out the back of a camper van conversion

Essential Van Life Comfort Accessories

New van life gadgets and gear always make the top of the packing list, but nothing is going to make your van more comfortable than proper bedding.

At a bare minimum, you should have a comfortable mattress, comforter and sheets. If you’re staying in extremely cold temperatures, consider sleeping in a zero-degree sleeping bag and don’t forget to wear a hat and wool socks.

On the other end of the spectrum, summertime bugs and insects are going to make things extremely uncomfortable.

Bug netting is a must-have accessory when camping in the woods.

Additional comfort items include front seats that swivel, and portable camping chairs that you can easily pull out once parked.

Bluetti EB55 solar powered generator in a camper van conversion

Van Life Gadgets And Gear

Even if you’re not working from the road, you’re still going to want to pack a variety of chargers and other must-have electronics.

Solar generators are a great way to charge your gear on the road even if you don’t have a full solar power set up.

As far as safety is concerned, it’s essential that you plan for a variety of whether patterns and other emergencies.

A first-aid kit is a necessity for everyone as well as a fire extinguisher and CO detector.

Don’t forget to consider your environment as well and plan to bring snow chains or traction boards on your road trip.

Our Favorite Road Trip Planning App

One essential phone app that we’ve used almost every night since we’ve hit the road is The Dyrt Road Trip Planner.

The trip planner helps us map out our route–and more importantly, find free camping sites.

All you have to do is put in your location and you can find FREE campsites nearby which are perfect for boondocking. The app has an offline mode so you can use it without phone service. It’s also a great way to meet other travelers.

living the van life in a diy camper van conversion

Van Life Outdoor Essentials

Hopefully you’ll be spending a lot more time outside of the van than in it. We regularity pulled out camping chairs and a portable table to hang around at the campsite.

Even if you have a full set of lights in your van, you’re going to want several flashlights for taking some nighttime walks in the forest.

living in a camper van conversion

Must-Have Van Life Clothing Items

One thing I packed WAY too much of before we left was clothing. This was one area that I had to pair down along the way.

Keep in mind you’re going to need to store dirty laundry as well so you should be sure to save space for that in addition to your clean items.

van camping with a dog
image via instagram @laducb

Packing List For Van Life Pets

Bringing your pet along on the road trip comes with an entirely new set of challenges.

Alongside the essentials like food and water, you should also bring veterinary paperwork, a tick collar, and plenty of poop bags.

You never know when those essentials are going to come in handy!

portable jump starter in a pickup truck

Van Life Maintenance Accessories

No matter how careful you are, the camper van is still going to need regular maintenance–especially if you want to save some money in the long run.

One things that has given us a lot of peace of mind on the road is traveling with a portable jump starter. We’ve actually killed our batteries twice by accidentally letting the van idle.

camper van in the mountains

Don’t Forget to pack these van life essentials!

While not every one of these items is imperative, we wouldn’t want to travel without the following items:

Kate is the lead content creator for and has spent over two years living in a camper van conversion. She has traveled through 48 US states and writes about van life, camping and RV living.

This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. Absolutely stellar resource (as I begin my own, early research efforts), thx.

    BTW: Under your Safety list, you specify “CO2” detector, but it really should just be “CO”.

  2. thanks for the great resource for someone just beginning this journey.

    I would add a couple of items to the safety/maintenance list. I believe everyone should carry a large flash light with extra fresh batteries, I have always found tire changes happen after dark. Do you have a good how to repair/trouble shoot a mechanical or electrical anomaly guidebook? An electronic version would be best.

    I will add a check box for my medications.

  3. Am so happy i found this, thanks so much kate.
    On my way to start living a van lifestyle i had always wanted!

  4. Hey this is really great information! Thank you so much for compiling this checklist for all of us! It’s super useful. Happy Earth day!

  5. I found myself homeless after the death of my husband at 55! I lived in my van for 6 months. The lists you have pubished is spot on! I knew nothing 6 years ago. Now today as I am faced with doing this again at 62 you gave some great information. Blessings to you for educating those considering this lifestyle.

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