Camper van essentials for successful vanlife packing
No van life essentials list would be complete without the must-have items for your trip.
But before we get to that, I want to share with you my most essential campervan gear packing hacks.
Following these guidelines has helped me develop a more mindful approach to packing, and hopefully they will help you get the most out of your campervan adventure as well!
Table of Contents
Don’t wait until the last minute to pack camper van essentials
The enemy of a relaxing campervan vacation is procrastination. Although it feels good at the time, procrastination is not a great strategy heading into a trip.
In order to maximize fun and minimize last minute panic, I always plan my trip and pack my van ahead of time. It might be painful to give up some “me time”, but smooth sailing down the road makes the sacrifice totally worth it!
Find your ideal balance
Don’t be the campervan owner that crams all of his or her worldly possessions inside for a 1-week road trip. I have found it’s important to find an ideal balance between minimalism and enough. So, how do I decide what’s “enough” for camper van essentials?
- Comfort – I don’t skimp on the mattress, sleeping bag or other bedding, pillow, or anything else I need to ensure my quality of sleep.
- Safety – Although tempting, I don’t leave behind safety essentials such as a first aid kit, warm clothing, or heating.
- Space – Crowding my already limited space with clutter will not end well for anyone, so I try to bring miniature versions of products.
- Essentials – I make sure to bring enough of the important stuff to avoid spending valuable time shopping, compromising, or improvising.
Pack your pleasure
What makes your bad days a little better? One way I stay sane on my campervan journey is by bringing one or two indulgences to get me through the rainy or, God forbid, broken down days.
I suggest something you don’t need to be connected for, because there isn’t always cell service or wifi on the road. Some of my favorites are
- A deck of cards
- Puzzle workbooks
- Coloring books, sketch books, art supplies or other art materials
- Mad Libs are still classic fun for 2 or more travelers
- Whatever brings you joy and excitement in life, find a way to bring it along
I confess I don’t like to exercise. I still get out and get active, but more days than not it’s a mental battle. So it comes as no surprise I try to use my campervan trips as an excuse to take a vacation from exercise.
However, I know staying active during the journey is one of the most important factors in having a fun trip: Movement keeps me mentally sharp and alert during long periods of driving the road.
Instead of stopping for extra coffee or, worse, a sugary snack, I pull over to do a few stretches, squats or jumping jacks to get the blood flowing before hitting the next stretch of road.
And after I’m all set up at camp, as much as I’d like to plop into a folding chair for days on end, I make sure to enjoy my favorite athletic activities.
Therefore, it is important to make space to carry your bicycle, yoga mat, climbing gear, hiking shoes, or any other gear you need to stay active!
When I used to go on road trips in the car, I fell into the habit of buying something every time I stopped for gas or the bathroom. On one extended weekend trip, I bought every single meal on the road. Not only was I kicking myself for wasting money, I had also done a great disservice to my energy levels, digestive system and overall health.
Now that I know eating healthy is a key aspect of having a good time on the journey, I make sure to plan my meals ahead of time.
The quality equipment advantage
Deciding whether to buy disposable versus long-lasting equipment for your campervan adventures can be difficult. I have found the best answer lies in how often I will use the items: When it comes to critical campervan gear, it’s better to dole out the cash initially for higher quality equipment.
Some campervan gear that I splurge on
- Heat: Being continuously cold makes a campervan trip unbearable, so don’t skimp on a safe, cost effective heating method.
- Compressor fridge: It is tempting to buy an ice cooler or thermoelectric cooler, but a good compressor fridge will last long enough to pay for itself.
- Coffee maker, hot water boiler: Whether you enjoy a cup of java or tea, splurging on your comfort beverage is completely necessary.
- Quality bedding: High quality, comfortable, easy to clean sheets, mattress pads and sleeping bags are vital. And few things will improve your rest like a quality pillow.
- Campervan Portable toilet: There are times you can’t get to a public restroom, so it’s important to bite the bullet and get yourself a well-designed portable campervan toilet.
- Power: 110 volt, “grid quality” power will expand your world of Vanlife appliances, tools and more. Our article on campervan power inverters will bring you up to speed on the best gear to power up your Vanlife!
Should you bring it or buy it on the road?
Since space in a campervan is limited, choosing which items to bring versus which items to buy can be tricky. Some items I buy on the road or at my destination include:
- Non-essentials such as alcohol or basic medicinals that are easy to acquire. Different for everyone and worth thinking about for your trip
- Fresh meat and veggies that aren’t road snacks
- Food as storage allows
- Items for unexpected weather (rain gear) or a change of destination (swimwear)
One last word about the campervan essentials list…
Some forethought, planning, and investment can be the difference between a smooth, epic adventure and a stressful, harried experience.
I hope my hard-won knowledge can help you develop a mindset that’s the most cost effective and leads to the most fun for your campervan journeys.
And now, onto the packing list!
The complete* campervan essentials list of campervan gear and supplies
*Always growing and being improved. Please comment below to add your suggestions, which we take very seriously.
Campervan Essentials for Safety
- Carbon Monoxide alarm
- Fire extinguishers, Fire alarm
- Road Flares and flags
- Vital personal medicinals: Epi pens, asthma inhalers, heart medicine, diabetes gear and medication
- First aid kit
- Personal protection gear: Pepper spray, Snake bite kit, Taser… We wrote about Vanlife personal safety, here.
- Whistle for raising attention in a emergency
- Wind up radio
- Snow Chains
Campervan Kitchen essentials
- Camping stove, BBQ grill, fuel, fire wood, camp oven,
- Refrigeration: 12 volt Fridge/Freezer, Cooler, Ice, thermos
- Coffee maker: filters, grinder, french press…
- Tea pot, cozy, strainer…
- Plates and Utensils: Plates, bowls, cups, mugs, knives, forks and spoons
- Kitchen tools: Can opener, bottle opener/cork screw, spatula, tongs, cutting board, grinders, skewers, serving spoons/forks, colander
- Knives: Chefs, pairing, cleaver, steak, fillet, oyster…
- Cookware: Pots, pans, lids, dutch oven, griddle, sandwich grill, mixing bowls
- Fire: Matches, lighter, firewood, charcoal and lighter fluid
- Clean up: Dish soap (preferably biodegradable), sponge, scrubber, dish towel, wet wipes…
- Paper or cloth napkins
- Storage: Tupperware, aluminum foil, plastic wrap, wax paper, zip lock bags
- Garbage bags: I like to save 3 or 4 plastic grocery bags from shopping and keep one or two larger garbage bags (Hefty…) on hand just in case.
- Recycling storage bin/bags
- Campervan Trash, Recycling & Compost Bins
- Water bottle, water purifier, bladder for hydration pack
Essentials for Campervan Food
- Condiments: Salt, pepper, mayo, mustard, ketchup, vinegar, hot sauce, soy sauce…
- Spices and herbs
- Cooking Oil: Olive oil, butter, peanut oil, coconut oil…
- Drinks: Water, soda, wine/alcohol, coffee, tea
- Dairy: Milk, cream, cheese, canned/boxed milk, non-dairy creamer…
- Canned food: Stew, soup, chili, stock
- Dried food: Rice, pasta, instant potatoes, soups, milk, baking soda
- Vegetables: Fresh, canned….
- Meat: Canned tuna, smoked fish, Jerky, cured sausage/ham, fresh, frozen
Camper Van Heating Essentials
- Heaters, spare parts
- Fuel: Propane refill, canisters, liquid gas, wood/pellets
- Electric blankets
Power and lighting Campervan Essentials
- Inverter, spare inline fuses, extension cords, adapters
- Power station, charging cables
- House batteries
- Generator, fuel, extension cords, adapters, spare parts, instruction manual
- Solar panels, charge controller
- Shore power cables, connectors, adapters
- Spare fuses
- LED light strips
- Spare bulbs
- Camping lanterns, fuel, mantles, batteries…
- Flashlight, LED head lamp, extra batteries, key chain light
- Candles, holders, matches
Clothing & footwear Essentials for Vanlife
I like to hit a restaurant or even a club if I’m passing through a larger town, so I often pack a basic blue blazer and pair of decent shoes.
- Underwear: Bras, briefs, long…
- Pants, jeans, shorts, tech/hiking, leggings
- Shirts, t-shirts, sweatshirts, sweaters, button up short and long sleeve
- Hats, baseball cap, wool beanie, rain hat
- Bathing suit and other swim gear
- Pajamas, sweats, long johns or other sleepwear
- Rain gear: raincoat, waterproof pants,
- Jackets: Cold weather, windbreaker, light hiking, blazer
- Shoes: Sturdy hiking shoes or boots, sandals (I LOVE my Chacos), flip flops for the shower
- Socks: Wool, workout, hiking, biking, dress…
Campervan Toiletry Essentials
- Portable toilet: bags, compost related consumables,
- Toilet paper. Plenty of toilet paper. Keep some in your personal bag, jacket pocket…
- Towels and washcloths
- Soap, shampoo, hand sanitizer,
- Toothbrush, paste, floss, powder, brush charger and spare tips…
- Comb, hairbrush
- Medications, prescriptions, NSAIDS, ointments
- Eye glasses, reading glasses… Contact lenses, solution
Essential Campervan Bedding
Please see our post about campervan bedding, here.
- Pillows, cases, cushions
- Sleeping bags
- Sheets and blankets
- Mattresses, toppers, covers, air pump
- Mosquito netting
Campervan Tools & Spare Parts
- Essential tools specific to your vans make and model including metric or standard wrenches, Torx and Allen tools
- Essential spare parts: if your van has crucial parts that tend to fail unexpectedly, carry spares, especially if hard to find
- Motor oil
- Mechanics gloves, disposable coveralls
- Various emergency repair materials: Electrical wire, hose clamps, electrical and duct tape, JB Weld, zip ties, super glue, bailing wire, screws, bolts, nuts, washers,
- Jumper cables
- Jumper battery booster
- Spare tire, tire plug kit, can of inflate-a-flat
- 12 volt tire inflator
- Vehicle jacks
- Folding shovel
- Spare bulbs for vehicle lights
Essential Vanlife Campsite Gear
- Insect repellent, citronella candles
- Camera, batteries, memory card, film
- Folding camp chairs
- Folding Camp Table
- Sunglasses: I keep a pair in the front of the van and never take them out. A second pair goes with me to hike…
- Pocket knife
- Quarters for campground showers, laundromat
- Cell phone, charger, charge cable
- Maps, Road Atlas: When Google Maps won’t connect, it’s important to have an alternative for finding that next town
- Pepper spray aka bear spray. Multi-purpose personal protection against predators
- Campervan jacks for leveling the van once you’ve parked at the campsite
Campervan Entertainment Essentials
- Activity equipment: Frisbee, fishing gear, biking gear etc.
- Cards, games…
- Radio – Solar powered or wind up are great campervan gear for both entertainment and safety
- Reading material
- Guide books
- DVDs – if you have a portable DVD player
- Bicycles, tubes, tools, locks, parts…
- Helmet, pads for knees, wrists, elbows…
- Motorcycle or Scooter
- Roller blades
Thanks for reading!
Did we miss anything? Please comment below and we’ll seriously consider adding it to our list.
What are your Vanlife essentials?
What must-have items do you make room for no matter what? Please comment below.
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