Van Life: Clothing Packing Checklist



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Downsizing your closet for van life might seem overwhelming if it’s your first time on an extended road trip. When I packed up my apartment and moved into my first Sprinter Van back in 2016, I had no idea where to start. The result was clothing overflowing out of every cabinet and a lot of excess stuff that I never wore. My van felt cluttered, and all that space could have been used for something else that brought me more joy.

Now, I’ve been doing van life on and off for the last three years, and I’ve learned exactly what I need to get by and feel good about what I’m wearing. I learned that functional, basic pieces that you can layer and be worn with a lot of different stuff is key to pairing it down.

In this blog post, I share a detailed van life clothing packing list along with some of my favorite recommendations for different pieces if you’re missing something.

Start packing with these basic tips for building out a minimalist wardrobe for van life.

Van Life Clothing – Basic Tips for Minimizing your Wardrobe

Before I get into details, I should note that this blog post is for adventurous van lifers who prefer to spend their time exploring nature than in cities and people who prefer comfort and function over fashion. You don’t mind being a little dirty, and you’d like to spend as little time in the laundromat as possible. You’re also on the road for at least a few months at a time.

Packing for van life? Learn what clothes you need with this van life clothing checklist.

Here are some basic tips to start with:

  • Keep it simple with solid colors or simple patterns that can go with anything
  • Only pack wrinkle-free, machine washable clothing
  • If you have a piece you really like, bring two or an extra in another color. It will make getting dressed very easy.
  • If you don’t wear it often already at home, leave it at home.
  • White clothing is not your friend
  • Choose pieces that aren’t too bulky so you don’t waste space
  • Pay attention to materials. Athletic, quick-dry clothing will last longer between washes than cotton.
  • It’s ok to wear things multiple times
  • Make sure you plan for the change in seasons.

Organizing your Clothing

I’ve been using packing cubes for traveling for quite some time, but I didn’t think about using them to organize my clothes for van life until I saw Jess of @van.there recommend them.

packing cubes

Packing cubes serve two purposes:

  1. You can keep your clothes organized by storing different types of clothing in different packing cubes. I store athletic/hiking shirts in one, athletic/hiking pants in another, and then “city/going out” clothing in a third. Then I have socks, sports bras, and underwear in two small packing cubes.
  2. Packing cubes put a hard limit on how much you can bring. If your packing cube for shirts is full, then that’s all the shirts you get.

Below you’ll find my packing list. This meets my lifestyle needs and can keep me out of the laundromat for at least 3 weeks. You should feel free to adjust this packing list based on your personal preferences and the activities you enjoy.

Van Life Clothing: Shirts & Tops

Packing for van life? Learn what clothes you need with this functional and versatile van life clothing checklist.

Shirt: Patagonia Cool Capilene Tee

Most of my shirts are made of synthetic materials that dry quick, don’t stink, and don’t wrinkle. I choose looser fabrics to keep me cool when I’m being active and stick to colors that hide dirt. As I mentioned above, once I find a piece I like, I usually buy it in a few different colors. Almost all of my short sleeve shirts are the Patagonia Cool Capilene tees with different colors and designs. I know I like the way they fit and feel, so I’m never favoring one shirt over another.

Van Life Clothing: Pants & Shorts

Packing for van life? Learn what clothes you need with this functional and versatile van life clothing checklist.

Top: Smartwool 1/4 Zip / Bottoms: Backcountry Jogger Pants

If you hike a lot, you’ll want to focus on functional shorts and pants that are comfortable on the trail. I try to keep the colors of my pants basic and solid – usually black. That way, they go with any color top I want. I prefer leggings, but if that’s not your style, look for something basic that you’ll enjoy wearing day after day.

Van Life Undergarments

Undergarments take up very little room and you don’t want “no clean underwear” being the reason you have to spend the day at the laundromat. This is also why you’ll want underwear that are made of a wicking, quick-dry material. That way I can wash them in the sink if necessary. Comfort is key. You want to be able to sweat and move and not be constantly adjusting. Also, because I wear leggings, I only have underwear that don’t show panty lines. For bras, I wear a sports bra every day, and I only have 1 normal bra that I can wear for city outings.

 Outerwear for Van Life

Packing for van life? Learn what clothes you need with this functional and versatile van life clothing checklist.

Wearing: Arcteryx Atom LT Hooded Jacket

Evenings in the mountains (even in summer) can be really chilly. It’s important that you have a warm jacket and waterproof layers for rain. I personally get cold, and with the transition of seasons, I need to layer up. In order to keep my packing cubes organized, I keep bulkier, seasonal outerwear that I’m not wearing every day in a duffel bag in our van garage.

 Van Life Accessories

This Carve designs rashgaurd is flattering, comfortable and helps protect your skin from the sun when you're paddling.

Wearing: Carve Designs Cruz Rashgaurd

Start with 3 hats you really like – including a baseball hat for hiking, a sun hat for keeping the sun off your face when you are at camp, and a warm beanie for nights. For people who like to spend time on the water, bring a swimsuit or two that you love and a rashguard to protect your skin.  Finally, every van lifer needs a cute fanny pack. Once you go hands-free, you’ll never go back to a normal purse.

Van Life Shoes

Packing for van life? Learn what clothes you need with this functional and versatile van life clothing checklist.
Packing for van life? Learn what clothes you need with this functional and versatile van life clothing checklist.

 Wearing Left: Oboz Sawtooth II Low-B-Dry Hiking Boot / Right: Astral TR1 Junction Water Shoes

Shoes take up a surprising amount of room, so it’s important to pair them down to what you really need. Most days, you’ll find me in sandals or my low-ankle hiking shoe. For longer hikes and backpacking trips, I also keep my heartier hiking boots in the van. In addition, I have a pair of closed toe water shoes that I wear when I’m doing river activities and a pair of cuter strappy sandals that I can dress up.

“Going-Out Clothes”

Packing for van life? Learn what clothes you need with this functional and versatile van life clothing checklist.

Top: Carve Designs Dylan Gauze Shirt / Bottom: Prana Transform High Waisted Leggings 

We don’t go out all that often, and very rarely do we “dress up.” Still, I like to keep a couple of options in the van for unexpected occasions, concerts, or for going out to a nice dinner. For this, I have a couple of nicer tops, a warmer sweater for evenings, and one sundress.

I hope this blog post gives you a solid place to start with your wardrobe decisions for van life.

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