These days, more and more modern-day nomads are adopting the full-time van life. Others, intrigued by the possibility of such a footloose and fancy-free alternative, are getting their feet wet with extended road trips that may stretch out for months at a time.
Living on the open road in a relatively small space means being judicious about what items—must-haves and luxuries—you bring along with you. Compactness, durability, and maybe some creative multifunctionality are all attractive characteristics when it comes to the best van-life gear and gadgets.
In this post, we’ll run through some of those van-life essentials (and a few nice indulgences) that make 21st-century four-wheel boondocking that much more doable and enjoyable. Remember that much depends on the size and design of your rig as well as your own personal needs and wants. Keep in mind, too, that you’ll hone your van-life checklist as you experience the lifestyle—ditching or repurposing extraneous gear, for example, and pursuing some more elaborate van-conversion upgrades if you decide you’re up for full-timing it. Nobody gets it exactly right the first time, and what you deem vital or unnecessary will change as you get some van-living mileage under your belt.
From old-school motorhome equipment to the latest apps, let’s explore van-life gadgets, accessories, and equipment to get you ready for nomading it out there!
Full-time van living necessitates protecting yourself and your property on the go. Rig up an alarm system and install a safe, and consider attaching a GPS tracker to your van so that it can be tracked in the event it’s stolen.
Be sure your van’s equipped with a fire extinguisher and a carbon monoxide detector. An emergency fire blanket for dousing flames is also a wise purchase.
You also need to be prepared for campervan breakdowns. Essential automotive fluids, spare parts, and a roadside emergency kit are must-haves. A portable jumpstarter can be an absolute lifesaver when your battery’s dead out in the middle of nowhere; many such battery packs include compressors that you can use to pump up your tires.
Naturally, you need a first-aid kit on hand and be sure you check it regularly and restock or replace items as necessary. A basic disaster/emergency kit for your van is also essential. Along with backup water, travel with the means to safely treat water sources just in case: Your stove can, of course, be used to boil water to kill pathogens, but a water filter/purifier is also a good idea.
Maximizing storage in a small space is part of van-living 101. From rooftop cargo racks to hanging mesh pockets, packing boxes, and bins that can double as bed frames or tables, you’ve got plenty of efficient options.
Van-life kitchens take on many forms depending on the kind of vehicle you’ve got and the scale of your DIY van-conversion ambitions. You may decide to install a propane stove or solar-powered induction cooktop, a 12-volt fridge, coffee makers, and other appliances, but many get by with camp stoves and coolers. Along with more capacious multi-burner camping stoves, many vanlifers like to have a single-burner option for quickly whipping up some coffee or a one-pot dinner. A portable grill can be great to have along, too.
Backpacking and camp cooksets are well-suited to van life. Don’t neglect a cutting board, as good prep surfaces inside a van are at a premium. Even if you’re soloing it, have some extra dishware on hand for campground socializing and hosting. And never underestimate the convenience of the spork!
Van life can feel mighty confining if you don’t have the resources to comfortably hang outside in a variety of settings. Collapsible tables and foldable camping chairs give you the means to dine and relax out in the fresh air, whether in a developed campground, at a scenic overlook, or along some remote backroad. A retractable awning provides welcome shelter from the elements, and for evening coziness can be illuminated with built-in bulbs or strung-up fairy lights. And a hammock or two might as well be considered an essential van-life necessity.
Bring along leveling blocks to avoid off-kilter cooking and sleeping while boondocking. A portable shower makes washing off that van-life grime easy-peasy. And a portable toilet, let’s just say, can save the day when public facilities are few and far between.
A portable heater, too, can make van life more comfortable in the winter and shoulder seasons. If using a propane model, be sure you employ adequate ventilation and have that aforementioned working carbon-monoxide detector installed.
Stay powered up for van living (including, perhaps, a bit of digital nomadism) with built-out battery power banks, solar panels/power packs, power inverters, and chargers. Rechargeable or solar lanterns, headlamps, flashlights, and lighting strips rank among the most useful campervan gadgets.
Camper-van nomads have a whole bevy of apps to take advantage of these days. We can’t possibly do justice to the variety here, but it’s worth mentioning a few examples to suggest the breadth of what’s available. Route your way safely and efficiently and track down everything from water and dumping stations to campgrounds and public showers using apps such as iOverlander or RV LIFE. You can find the nearest Wi-Fi hotspots with WiFi Map and assess cell coverage where you’re going with Open Signal. Gas Buddy points you to the cheapest gas in your area, while Vanly shows you where hosts open their driveways to campervans and motorhomes. Stay abreast of weather (especially of the severe variety) with apps such as AccuWeather or Windy.
Beyond logistics, apps that identify recreational opportunities and interpret the natural world—from Gaia GPS and AllTrails to iNaturalist and SkySafari—can certainly enliven your van living.
A well-fed vanlifer is a happy vanlifer, mind you. Both for your campervan emergency kit and your everyday mobile pantry, be sure you’re well-stocked with Mountain House meals when you hit the road, full-time or otherwise!