Last Updated on October 13, 2020
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.
Not living the van life quite yet? Check out my road trip essentials + packing list post.
VAN LIFE ESSENTIALS:
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. Security & Safety Products
2. Helpful Van Life Gadgets
3. Van Life Kitchen Essentials
4. Other Valuable Must-Haves
5. Useful Storage Systems
6. Not-So-Essential Essentials
7. Van Life Packing List
8. Living in a Van Full-Time
9. Van Life Instagram & Youtube Accounts
10. More Van Life Resources
10. Final Thoughts
Alarm System & Autostart
Viper 5906V 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.
Magnetic GPS Tracker
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.
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.
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.
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.
Carbon Monoxide Detector
Kidde Battery Powered Alarm
Much like a fire extinguisher, this carbon monoxide detector could be a life-saving accessory for van life. Powered by two AA batteries, this device will beep constantly at 85 decibles if deadly carbon monoxide is present.
Hydraulic Car Jack
Pro-Lift – 4 Ton Capacity
Flat tires happen whether you’re ready or not, so you best be prepared with a car jack. This hydraulic kit will lift your camper van off the ground with ease and is rated to hold the weight of even the largest rigs. (Lug wrench and jacks stands aren’t included.)
Renogy 200W 12-Volt
Whether you’re a weekend warrior or you’re living in your van full time, a solar setup will boost your rig’s livability. Solar allows you to power your gadgets whether or not the van is running, a must-have for off-grid living.
Deep Cycle Battery
Renogy 12-Volt 200Ah
If you’re installing a solar setup in your van, you’ll need a high-quality deep cycle battery to store the energy the panels capture. Two 100-watt panels and one 200Ah battery is a great place to start for moderate energy usage.
Solar Powered Power Bank
FEELLE 24,000mAh, 2 USB
Not ready to commit to a pricy solar panel setup quite yet? Then keep all of your essential van life tech gadgets charged with this solar-powered behemoth of a power bank, which will charge an iPhone nine times over.
12-Volt Power Inverter
MaxBoost 300W Dual 110V AC Outlet
If you don’t have an inverter in your camper van, it can be tricky to charge certain accessories (laptops, etc.) while living the van life. This 12V to 110V AC device will allow you to use and charge these gadgets when you need them most.
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 needs another charge. It’s dimmable too, which helps set the mood.
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 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.
Cell Phone Car Mount
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.
12V Chargeable Jump Starter
Tacklife 2000A | 16800mAh Battery
This incredible little accessory might just be the best van life tech gadget on the list. Not only can this power bank jump your dead car battery, but it also fast charge devices, works as a flashlight, and has a built in compass.
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.
Portable Espresso Maker
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 espresso grounds, hot water, and my own two hands.
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.
Wine Bag Tote
Du Vino Wine Purse
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
My Fan-Tastic Fan 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.
USB-Rechargeable Clip-On Fan
If a Fan-Tastic Fan isn’t in the cards, or if you don’t have external power in your van, worry not. This handy fan has a built in battery that charges via USB and lasts from anywhere between 6 and 24 hours, depending on the speed.
Do-it-All Tool Set
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.
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 affordable camping toilet at the ready.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Montbell Split-Toe Aqua Gripper
Life on the road is better with a trusty pair of sandals, and the Aqua Grippers are my pair of choice. Engineered with a versatile set of features, these sandals are fully adjustable, have ultra-gripping tread, and are minimalist enough to take anywhere.
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.
12-Volt Air Compressor
Fortem Digital Tire Inflator
Whether you’re off-roading and need to control the air pressure in your tires or simply topping off a tire with a slow leak, you can do it all with a 12-volt air compressor. With this, you’ll never pay for air at a gas station again.
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.
Amazon Elements 720-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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Waterproof Playing Cards
Kovot 54-Card Deck
My girlfriend, Keri, and I are addicted to playing gin rummy when we’re van-living 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 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.
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 Mesh Pockets
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.
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 featherlight, stylish, and has a detailed world map to inspire my next adventure.
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.
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.
Roadside Emergency Kit
Fire Alarm/CO Detector
External Hard Drive
Long Sleeve Shirts
Reusable Grocery Bags
First Aid Kit
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.
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.
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.
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 van life story? Let me know by leaving feedback in the comments below!