41 Van Life Essentials for Living in a Van Full-Time (Tips + Checklist)

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A van rests in a parking space in front of red rocks cutting into the skyline on a road trip

Van Life Essentials: Gear You Need for Living in a Van Full-Time

 

Ol’ Champ, my beloved 2005 Chevy Astro camper van, has taken me through desolate deserts, breathtaking mountain ranges, chaotic city streets, and everywhere in between. I’ve spent months living under its humble steel roof with all I could ever need, and nothing more. I know a thing or two about what’s essential when it comes to full-time van life.

That’s why I’ve put together an extensive list of safety and security items, tech gadgets, kitchen essentials, and other must-haves that can assist you in living your very best van life. These are the items that I’d never dream of leaving behind.

I’ve also included a complete van life packing list, thoughts on my experience living full-time in a van, and some of the internet’s very best resources for van travelers worldwide.

Van life takes passion and preparation, so get ready for your adventure on four wheels with the proper gear and a wide-open mind.

 

Camper Van Safety & Security Products

Van life remote gadget: essential for safety

Alarm System & Autostart
Viper 5305V LCD Car Alarm

Not only does my Viper alarm system shriek like a banshee if Ol’ Champ is disturbed, it also allows me to start my van remotely. My handy Viper smartphone app will alert me if and when the alarm on my van is triggered.

GPS tracker for tracing cars and vans

Magnetic GPS Tracker
TKSTAR Waterproof

A stolen vehicle is a van lifer’s worst nightmare. By hiding a magnetized GPS device underneath your rig, you’ll be able to track its whereabouts all over the world — a small price to pay for security and peace of mind.

Security safe box for vehicles

Compact Electronic Safe 
Amazon Basics Security Safe Box

Small enough to tuck away into a corner of your van, this safe box will keep your valuables locked down while you’re out and about. Simply bolt it to the wall of your van, set an electronic pass code, and go live your life.

Must-have van emergency kit for living out of a vehicle

Car Emergency Kit
First Secure 90-Piece

Breakdowns are bound do happen for van lifers, so prepare accordingly with an emergency kit. This handy setup includes jumper cables, tow straps, tire repair materials, an air compressor, seatbelt cutter, and more. 

RV fire extinguisher for living in a van full time

Fire Extinguisher
First Alert for RVs

Though you’ll hopefully never use it, having a fire extinguisher in your van could be a life-saving (and van saving) decision. On the off-chance that your van does catch fire, be ready with a compact, affordable, and reliable solution.

Van Life Tech Gadgets

Solar powered battery bank

Solar Powered Battery Bank
FEELLE 24,000mAh, 2 USB

Nowadays, tech gadgets are an essential part of van life, so keep them all charged with this solar-powered behemoth of a battery bank. It’s waterproof, compact, and capable of charging an iPhone nine times over.

A touch USB lantern providing essential light for van life

USB Touch Light
RTSU Stick Anywhere LED Night Light

This little USB-chargeable light comes in handy when I don’t want to run power off of my external battery. It charges fully in an hour-and-a-half and can go weeks before it need another charge. It’s dimmable too, which helps set the mood.

JBL Charge Bluetooth speaker

Waterproof Bluetooth Speaker
JBL Charge 4

The Charge 4 is one of my favorite gadgets and I’d have a hard time living van life without it. It’s waterproof, puts out great audio, has wonderful battery life, and even charges other USB-powered devices. 

4 port USB car charger

4 Port Car Charger
Amazon Basics 9.6A/48W

Do four USB charging ports seem like overkill? Not when you’re living in a van full-time. I frequently max out all four of this trusty charger’s ports and refresh all my beloved devices conveniently and in unison.

A magnetic phone mount gadget for van life

Cell Phone Car Mount
Neckteck Magnetic

I love this car mount because I don’t need to worry about twisting knobs or adjusting dials to grab my phone. A small metal circle on the back of my phone grips the powerful Neckteck magnet and secures my phone seamlessly.

Van Life Kitchen Essentials

A two-burner camping stove

Propane Camping Stove
Camp Chef Ranger II

This Camp Chef Ranger II camping stove has two powerful 17,000 BTU burners and is a wonderful stand-in for my kitchen stove back home. It’s easy to use, compact, and allows me to cook full gourmet meals whenever I’d like.

Jetboil, a van life gadget for boiling water

Compact Water Boiler
Jetboil Flash

For the times I’d like to make coffee, tea, or cook something simple, I fire up my Jetboil Flash and boil two cups of water in about 90 seconds. The flash also works great as a lightweight backpacking stove.

A 30 quart cooler bag

Portable Cooler Bag
YETI Hopper TWO

While many van lifers dream of purchasing a 12-volt refrigerator/freezer, the Yeti Hopper TWO cooler bag is a more practical and portable option. It keeps contents cold for days, and is mobile enough for day trip adventures.

Nespresso coffee maker: a van life kitchen essential

Portable Espresso Maker
WACACO Nanospresso

When the fatigue of van life hits, I turn to my Nanospresso for an instant boost of caffeine. With it, all I need to create restaurant-quality espresso are coffee grounds, hot water, and my own two hands.

A green double walled vacuum-sealed thermos

Insulated Thermos
Hydroflask 32 oz

The Hydroflask’s double wall insulation keeps hot drinks hot and cold drinks cold for crazy-long amounts of time. It works wonders during long stretches of driving and extended trips into the outside world. 

A black tote bag for carrying wine

Wine Bag Tote
Baggy Winecoat

Your other van life essentials travel comfortably, so why shouldn’t your wine? Just remove the bag from inside a box of wine, insert it into its stylish wine coat, and have on-demand access to wine whenever you want. 

Cast iron pan for camper van cooking

Cast Iron Pot
Utopia Kitchen 12.5 Inch

My sturdy cast iron pot is quite the versatile tool. It cooks food evenly on my powerful camping stove and is rugged enough to prepare dinner over a campfire. It’s built for the constant abuses of van life.

A wooden cutting board

Cutting Board
Utopia Kitchen XL

I’ve made the mistake of van living without a surface to prepare food, and cooking meals became damn near impossible. I won’t make that mistake again, however, as a large and sturdy cutting board is now a staple of my rig.

A tableware setup providing all the essentials for life in a van

Tableware Set
Stansport 24-Piece Enamel

This tableware set may not be the prettiest, but that’s not the point. Made of enamel-coated steel, this compact, lightweight, and durable set can endure the harsh rigors of life on the go, day in and day out.

A folding aluminum camping table and chairs

Folding Table & Chairs
REDCAMP 3/4/6 Foot

What good are all of your van life kitchen essentials if you can’t sit down and enjoy them? This compact aluminum table creates instant space inside or outside of your van and serves as a desk, dining table, or game space. 

Other Valuable Essentials

A fan ventilation system for camper vans and RVs

Ventilation System
Fan-Tastic Vent

My Fan-Tastic vent does wonders for keeping fresh air circulating throughout my van and regulating the temperature inside. With its handy remote, you can change fan speeds, reverse direction, and turn the fan on and off.

Tools for car repairs when living in a van full-time

Do-it-All Tool Set
DEKOPRO 196-Piece

Attempting van life without a reliable tool set would be silly. Whether a broken bed frame needs fixed or you’ve got to get under the hood for more serious repairs, a proper set of tools will give you the freedom to fix it all.

A camping toilet

Portable Toilet
Best Choice

While a portable toilet isn’t the sexiest van life essential, it’s certainly one of the most practical. So, when nature calls, be prepared to answer with a portable, lightweight, and odor-free camping toilet at the ready. 

Red propane heater for living in cars, vans, RVs, boats, and other vehicles full-time

Propane Heater
Mr. Heater 4,000-9,000-BTU

Van life has taken me to some chilly destinations. Luckily, I have the propane-powered Mr. Heater at my disposal to instantly warm up my space. Life Saving Tip: Always use proper ventilation and never sleep with your heater on.

A silvery water filter housing

Gravity-Fed Water Filter
Big Berkey 2.25 Gallon

The Big Berkey filter can purify even the gnarliest of water you throw at it. Whether it’s taking on water from a pond, gas station, or babbling brook, the Berkey’s gravity-fed carbon filters will safely remove harmful contaminants. 

Foldable black camping chair

Camping Chairs
Moon Lence Ultralight

Whether I’m relaxing in the mountains or enjoying the sunset over a beach, standing around while doing so isn’t really an option. That’s why I carry a couple of these lightweight, comortable, and convenient camping chairs.

Laundry wash bag that's essential for cleaning clothes during van life

Portable Laundry System
Scrubba Wash Bag

Gone are the days of visiting seedy, overpriced laundromats in the middle of nowhere. Just fill the Scrubba Wash Bag with water, drop in your clothes and some soap, scrub the bag with your hands, rinse, and hang to dry. It’s that easy.

Portable hand vacuum

Hand Vacuum
Black & Decker Dustbuster

When you’re spending your life in a van, dust and dirt accumulate at an astronomical pace. That’s why a portable vacuum like the Black + Decker Dustbuster is an absolute must-have for van lifers who need to keep tidy.

A red first-aid kit: a must have for van living

First-Aid Kit
Survivorware

While nobody ever expects or believes they’ll get injured on the road, it’s best to be prepared for the worst-case-scenario. Pack a lightweight and portable first aid kit to stay on top of any injuries as you go.

Hand wipes for living in a camper van

Wet Wipes
Amazon Elements 480-Count

My rustic style of van life (no running water) can get a bit grimy at times, so I’m always sure to have a large pack of wet wipes at the ready. A quick freshen-up with a few of these handy wipes can do wonders for morale.

Inflatable camping shower

Camping Shower
Nemo Helio

When wet wipes simply aren’t enough, I turn to my Nemo Helio shower for a more thorough cleanse. I simply fill its tank with water, inflate it with its foot pump, and use the nozzle for a delightful high-pressure shower.

Yellow ear plugs

Earplugs
Howard Leight By Honeywell

I would sleep terribly in my van without earplugs, and that’s not an option. These super comfortable Howard Leights block out the external noise surrounding my van during the night hours so I can fall asleep (and stay asleep) effortlessly.

Not-So-Essential Essentials

Inflatable yellow 2-person kayak

Inflatable 2-Person Raft
Intex Explorer K2

No, this inflatable raft is not essential for van life, but it will open up a whole new world of possibilities. With it, you can float lakes, creeks, and lazy rivers at a moment’s notice – a whole new dimension of freedom.

Green frisbee with a tribal design

Frisbee
Innova Big Kahuna

I can’t tell you how many times my Big Kahuna has brightened up an uneventful afternoon on the road. Getting out of the van to toss this frisbee around is therapeutic and a great excuse to stretch out my restless legs.

A green, red, and blue hammock for full-time van living

Hammock
ENO DoubleNest

There are few things in life more relaxing than swaying in a hammock as a lazy breeze rolls by. The ENO DoubleNest is my go-to van life relaxation vessel because it’s sturdy, dreamy, and comfortably fits two people.

Two black waterproof playing cards

Waterproof Playing Cards
Solar Matrix Black Diamond

My girlfriend, Keri, and I are addicted to playing gin rummy when we’re van-lifing, and often play for hours at a time. A set of thick, durable, waterproof cards allow us to shuffle and deal for as long as we’d like, without fail. 

Cornhole party game setup for camper van living

Cornhole Toss Game Set
GoSports Portable PVC

Cornhole is an all-time great camping game, and thus essential for your van life entertainment needs. This particular set is lightweight, portable, and will pack down into a convenient carrying case.

Helpful Storage Systems

Black storage boxes for holding camper van essentials

Rooftop Cargo
Yakima Skybox

I have two of these sturdy Yakimas atop my Astro and they triple the meager storage space I have within my van. I store my raft, stove, tools, table, fishing poles, skis, and more within these lockable, durable beasts.

Hanging storage mesh bags for van life gadgets

Hanging Mesh Pockets
Kimbora

These mesh pockets are meant for hanging on the back of a closet door, but work wonderfully when installed inside of a van. They create easy-to-reach access to all of van life’s smaller gadgets, tools, and odds and ends.

A laundry bag with a map of the world

Travel-Sized Laundry Bag
Kikkerland World Map

When wine stains or man musk force my clothes out of duty, they are relegated to my laundry bag until further notice. This bag is feather light, stylish, and has a detailed world map to inspire my next adventure. 

Three packing cubes: must-haves for van living and traveling

Packing Cubes
Travelwise 3-Piece

Organization is key for van dwellers and utilizing packing cubes ensures that all clothing has an accessible home. The Travelwise bags are durable, breathable, and washable and have convenient carrying handles.

Van Life Packing Checklist

A white camper van pulled into a snowy parking spot with mountains and light posts in the background

Van Life Packing Checklist

 

Any van lifer will tell you that living a life on the road requires moving a lot of stuff into a very small space. Feel free to use my extensive packing checklist as you get ready for your next big vanventure.

Security & Safety

Fire Extinguisher

Roadside Emergency Kit

GPS Tracker

Fire Alarm/CO Detector

Pepper Spray

Electronics

Cell Phone

Car Charger

Charging Cables

Battery Bank

Lantern/Light

Head Lamp

Bluetooth Speaker

Computer

External Hard Drive

WiFi Strengthener

Camera

Camera Lenses

Headphones

Extra Batteries

Kitchen

Cups

Mugs

Plates

Bowls

Silverware

Knife

Cutting Board

Scissors

Spatula

Bottle Opener

Strainer

Tongs

Pot

Pan

Stove

Water Boiler

Coffee Maker

Thermos

Spices

Cooking Oil

Sponges

Cooler/Refrigerator

Fuel

Food

Drinks

Coffee/Tea

Ice

Clothing

T-Shirts

Long Sleeve Shirts

Button-Up Shirts

Tank Tops

Sweater

Sweatshirt

Rain Jacket

Light Jacket

Winter Jacket

Pants

Jeans

Belt

 Shorts

Athletic Shorts

Skirts/Dresses

Bathing Suit

Underwear

Long Underwear

Socks

Skirts/Dresses

Shoes

Sandals

Hiking Boots

Baseball Hat

Winter Hat

Gloves

Sunglasses

Wallet

T-Shirts

Long Sleeve Shirts

Button-Up Shirts

Tank Tops

Sweater

Sweatshirt

Rain Jacket

Light Jacket

Winter Jacket

Pants

Jeans

Belt

 Shorts

Athletic Shorts

Skirts/Dresses

Bathing Suit

Underwear

Long Underwear

Socks

Skirts/Dresses

Shoes

Sandals

Hiking Boots

Baseball Hat

Winter Hat

Gloves

Sunglasses

Wallet

Laundry

Soap/Laundry Detergent

Laundry Bag

Wash Bag

Clothing Line

Safety Pins

Toiletries

Toiletries Bag

Soap

Hair-Styling Product

Toothbrush

Toothpaste

Deodorant

Bug Spray

Dental Floss

Glasses

Contacts

Contact Solution/Case

Ear Cleaner/Swabs

Ear Plugs

Razor

Nail Clippers

Tweezers

Advil/Aspirin

Sleep Aid

Multivitamins

Medication

Hair Dryer

Makeup

Entertainment

Frisbee

Playing Cards

Hammock

Sporting Equipment

Backpacking Equipment

Games

Books

Journal/Pen

Bedding

Sheets

Blankets

Comforter

Pillows

Pillow Cases

Mattress Pad

Bags

Backpack

Daypack

Packing Cubes

Purse

Wine Bag

Reusable Grocery Bags

Miscellaneous

Folding Table

Camping Chairs

Camping Shower

Tool Set

Toilet

Heater

Water Filter

Water Storage

Vacuum

First Aid Kit

Wet Wipes

Tissues

Toilet Paper

Garbage Bags

 Towels

Hand Towels

Lighter/Matches

Umbrella

Axe/Hatchet

Shovel

Windshield Scraper

Documents

Passport

ID Cards

Medical Insurance

Itinerary

Car Registration

Car Insurance

Living in a Van Full-Time

Noel against a white camper van while living full-time with Crater Lake, Oregon in the background

Can you handle living in a van full-time?

 

To save money, I lived in Ol’ Champ full-time for my last three months in Denver before I quit my job and began to travel the world. My reasoning: By doing so, I would be pocketing about an extra $1000 a month.

Moving out of my apartment and into my van forced me to thin out my possessions and keep only what was necessary. The fewer belongings I had weighing me down, the happier I began to feel. All the extra money I was saving was expanding my sense of freedom and lifting an invisible weight off my shoulders.

My life instantly became more mobile. If I wanted to go on a hike, I’d park at the trailhead the night before. On nights I wanted to drink beer with friends, I didn’t have to worry about buying a taxi home. When I had a craving for empanadas first thing in the morning, I’d park a block away from the restaurant and go to sleep.

Having my home and everything I needed with me created a sneaky sense of freedom. No more rent checks or landlords. Roommates were a thing of the past. Packing for trips? No need. My cost of living after moving into a van full-time had plummeted. This was a lifestyle I could get used to, and I’ve embraced it ever since.

Van life, what a concept.

I’ve since moved to China with my girlfriend, so I don’t live in Ol’ Champ full-time anymore, but when I’m back home in the US, I never hesitate to fire up the engine and hit the road with a complete sense of freedom.

Is living in a van full-time something that interests you? Try it out. All you need is a minimalist mindset, a sense of adventure, and an itch to move about the world with no strings attached.

Inspiring Van Life Instagram & Youtube Accounts

Van life has become an unstoppable global movement, and more and more people are opting for full-time van living every day. Social media platforms like Instagram and YouTube have played a huge part in its quick-spreading popularity. Here are a few of the most inspiring, entertaining, and helpful van life YouTube and Instagram accounts on the web today.

Van Life Instagram Accounts

slownsteadylivin – Matt and Steph are traveling Europe in their 1996 Iveco van and share stunning photography of their open-ended honeymoon.

sweetvanlife – Ben and his lovely blue camper van, Poppy, always seem to be exploring warm, calm, and relaxing locations in France. 

vandogtraveller – Mike Hudson wants to inspire the world to “1. Quit Job 2. Build Camper Van 3. Travel” through his excellent photography and helpful tips.

advanturing – Nick and Micah explore the Americas while living full time in their beast of a 4×4 AWD Sportsmobile Sprinter Van. 

basillynch – Basil is a wave-chasing photographer who travels around in his beefy 2000 Ford-F250 camper truck as he prepares to travel the Pan-American highway in 2020.

Van Life Youtube Channels

Let’s Be Us – Cris, Sara, and their dog, Kramer, travel full time and work on the road from their gorgeous self-converted Sprinter van.

Kombi Life – Ben, Leah, and their dog, Alaska, travel the world in their 1973 Volkswagen Kombi Adventurewagen, seeking out inspiring stories of alternative living. 

FLORB – While this channel explores the ins-and-outs of van life, it doesn’t stop there. FLORB focuses on all types of alternative living spaces.

Ronny Dahl – Based in Australia, Ronny Dahl romps around his home country in his rig and releases off-roading, four-wheeling, adventuring, and camping videos every week.

We’re the Russos – Joe and Kait are living full-time in their camper van and share their best tips, advice, stories, and adventures with the world. 

Other Helpful Van Life Resources

Need a little extra van life motivation? Here are a few more of my favorite resources:

reddit.com/r/vandwellers – A colorful, humorous, helpful, and honest subreddit discussing the ups, downs, and everything in between in the van life community. 

The Vanual– A top-to-bottom guide analyzing van life compatibility, picking out a vehicle, gathering materials, and constructing a custom build on a rig of your own.

VanDweller Community Forums – An extensive online forum for van and RV dwellers alike. Browse through years of old posts for helpful tips, building advice, stories, reviews, and more.

Final Thoughts

Noel types on a keyboard inside his converted Chevy Astro Van

Immerse yourself in van life

 

Though I’m no longer living in my van full-time, my thousands of miles spent cruising the open roads with Ol’ Champ have taught me immensely. Life on four wheels is liberating and free, and possessions take on a whole new meaning when your living space is 24 square feet and can be moved at the drop of a hat.

And though van life is rooted deeply in minimalism, the things you choose to bring along are essential for the journey ahead. The depth and quality of your setup can make or break your time on the road. You don’t need a lot of gear, you just need the right gear.

People worldwide are beginning to realize that we’re just a bunch of nomads at heart. Being bound down by walls and cement goes against the thirst for exploration that’s in our blood.

So, whether you’re living in a van full-time yourself, or simply perusing the possibility, I challenge you to delve a little bit deeper into the movement. Life gets a little more interesting when your future is decided with the turn of a key and a foot on the gas pedal.

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What are your thoughts on living in a van full-time? Are there any ‘must-have’ van life essentials that didn’t make my list? What’s your most memorable road trip story? Let me know by leaving feedback in the comments below!

4 Comments

      1. Inspiring insight into an alternative lifestyle. I will be doing the same sooner or later, and I see it as you’ve written it, “far more advantages than disadvantages”. I live in Spain, so I’ll be able to traverse Europe, no bad thing. I do like that Toyota Hiace I’ve seen just about everywhere, all over South East Asia, so could be an older model of one of those, we’ll see what happens. Thanks for your thoughts, enthusiasm and the links ..
        Kind Regards
        Cris ..

        1. Cris, my recommendation would be to wait patiently for something with solid gas mileage and a good report from a mechanic, as fuel and repairs will be your biggest expenses along the way. Once you can find the right van, do the build yourself to save more money. I paid a premium for mine since it was already converted.

          OR, you could just hitchhike everywhere and rely on your charm to find you a nice comfortable basement or two 😉

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