Van Life Essentials: Our Top 19 Picks We Love
Though traveling in our own campervan affords us some of the greatest conveniences and comforts, van life does have its inconveniences, too. So we’ve compiled a top 19 list of van life essential gear to help minimize these inconveniences and troubles, so that we can continue focusing on the positives of van life.
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Table of Contents
#1: Berkey Water Filter
Where to get potable drinking water is constantly on the minds of most van lifers.
- Buy plastic water bottles?
- Install a water filtration system?
Each idea works, but has their downside.
A Better Option
We purchased a Go Berkey, Gravity-Fed Water Filter and love it. We fill the filter up at campsites, public taps, and even rivers when we boondock.
The Go Berkey filters out 99.9% of:
These Berkey filters last for 3,000 gallons before needing to be replaced.
How long does it take you to drink 3,000 gallons of water?
Best of all, our Berkey filter conveniently packs away in a provided sack when we’re ready to hit the road.
Building a camper van? Download our free e-Books with intuitive electrical, solar, and plumbing diagrams.
#2: Instant Pot
Convenience At The Push Of A Button
It’s as simple as throwing in some diced vegetables, meat of your choice, spices, soup stock, and water. Close the lid and pressurize. Then you can lounge around and 45 minutes later, you have a perfectly cooked, delicious hot meal.
It really is as simple as that.
And the best part is that because making meals is so simple with the Instant Pot, it’s helped lower our costs by dissuading us from eating out.
#3: Diesel Heater
We used our heater almost daily during the coldest months as we drove around the highlands and national parks in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. And even at temperatures at 7F (-14C), our tiny heater kept us warm all night long.
The diesel comes with a 10L diesel tank (~2.6 gallons). And in our experience, we can get almost 40 hours of heat, on the low setting. So it’s super cost efficient.
Learn More: How To Heat Your Campervan During Winter
#4 - Air Compressor
We’ve felt much better and secure once we bought our own Viair Air Compressor mid-way through our campervan travels. The ability to service your own van and fix issues yourself shouldn’t be underestimated.
Having the air compressor with us gives us 3 major benefits:
#5 - Foldable Clip Hanger
A foldable clip hanger is an absolute campervan essential.
We’re ALWAYS hanging something in our campervan. Whether it’s wet laundry, shower towels, hand towels, socks, sponges, or yesterdays clothes to use again tomorrow, something always needs to be dried or aired out.
The problem about about living in a van is lack of available space, and threading a clothes line throughout the van gets annoying.
Maximizing Space Efficiency
But with our folding clip hanger, we can hang as much as 26 different items in the corner of our van. We also point a small USB Fan at the hanger to help with the air circulation.
And because the clip hanger folds, we can easily tuck it away into our storage bench when we don’t need it.
#6: USB Mini-Fan
We love our USB Mini Fan because it’s small and provides a number of different uses.
It keeps us cool during hot days, helps to dry our wet/damp clothes and towels, and dries the area under our sink when we experience plumbing issues.
Our fan uses just about 3w of power, meaning we can keep it on all the time without worrying that it’ll drain our batteries.
#7: Cordless Handheld Vacuum
We enter and exit our home countless times a day. And in such a small space like a campervan, we’re always tracking in dust and dirt.
Which is why we always keep our Cordless Handheld Vacuum close by our van’s entrance.
It’s awesome how quick and easy it is to suck up all the tiny sand and dirt particles.
The vacuum nose is narrow and can be extended, so it’s easy to get to those hard-to-reach areas in the back corner of our van in the toe-kick area of our kitchen counters.
We’ve made vacuuming and de-dusting our campervan a morning ritual almost every day. It’s made a huge difference in the livability of our van. And our handheld vacuum plays a huge role in that.
Read More: Essential Tools For Van Life
#8: Portable 110V Inverter
In many ways, our Bestek USB Powered Inverter is so much more useful than our much larger 2,000VA inverter. We love our Victron inverter/charger, but we actually use our Bestek Inverter more often.
At 300w, our Bestek Inverter powers basically everything we need to power on a daily basis. Our computers, camera chargers, electric toothbrushes, and cordless vacuum.
#9: Our Space Efficient Bathroom
Next in our top 10 list of essential campervan gear requires some toilet talk.
We look for actual bathrooms when we’re on the road. When we can’t find one, we use the Female Urination Device (for her) + a plastic bottle, and a Camping Trowel. We totally understand that, initially, this method seems a little gross, but over a year later, we have no regrets.
Learn More: Van Life For Women
#10: Travel With A Tarp
We love traveling with our 10’x15′ Heavy Duty Tarp because it serves multiple functions for us.
Because space is so limited in a campervan, we only want to bring what is necessary with us. So if one product can serve multiple functions, that’s a huge plus for us.
And perhaps no other product that we carry has more uses that our tarp.
Protects Our Roof
During the Coronavirus pandemic, we self-isolated in southern Mexico, during the rainiest months of the year.
While we don’t have any leak issues that we’re aware of, we firmly believe leaks are inevitable. Especially with all the holes we drilled for attach our solar panels and vent fan.
Water will find a way into the van if the rains are long and persistent enough.
To protect our van from the elements, we spread the tarp across our roof’s van. We did this to prevent leaks and to protect against bird droppings, sap-filled twigs, and acidic pine needles.
Protecting our van’s room is one way we hope to prolong our campervan’s lifespan.
Learn More: Proper Campervan Maintenance
An Added Bonus
As an added bonus, the tarp muffles the sound of rain droplets as they collide with the van roof. Instead of the metallic ‘pinging’ sound, we get a more muffled blotch sound, which we feel makes it easier to sleep at night.
Our tarp also completely covers the top of our sliding door, when it’s open. And because of this, we’re able to leave our sliding door open even when it rains.
Door Mat At The Beach
While we’re not exactly huge beach aficionados, we do enjoy a few days, once in a while, parked along the coast. We all need at least a little sun!
Before our tarp, we would always track sand into our campervan. We were always going in and our of our vehicle, it was almost impossible to keep the van’s interior free from sand.
Now, when we’re at the beach we fold our tarp to 1/4 of the size and it provides a convenient door mat that we place outside, under our sliding door.
On the mat we can wipe our sandy & salty feet before entering our campervan.
Campervan life is also about all the new people you meet along the way. And sometimes you want to get together for a communal picnic on the grass.
If a picnic, or any other outdoor activity is in the works, we take out our tarp and spread it out.
Though the tarp can get a little hot under direct sunlight…
Building a camper van? Download our free e-Books with intuitive electrical, solar, and plumbing diagrams.
#11: Preserve Your Battery's Lifespan, Bring A Power Strip
When we’re parked at a camp site with shore power, we bypass our batteries by plugging our shore power extension cord directly into our Power Strip.
Preserve Your House Batteries
We use Lithium Batteries to provide us electricity while we’re on the road. But keeping lithium batteries fully charged at 100% for prolonged periods is actually detrimental. Doing so deteriorates the overall health and longevity of lithium batteries.
Unlike traditional lead-acid batteries, lithium batteries don’t like to be stressed at 100% charge all the time.
So when we find ourselves at a campsite with shore power, we run our charging cord from the shore power socket and bring the female end into our van where we hook it up to a Power Strip.
When we use our computers, cook with our Instant Pot and blender, and charge our USB devices, everything gets powered using the power strip.
Only our ceiling lights, fridge, and vent fan, those that are hardwired into our campervan’s electrical system, are powered directly from our batteries.
Preserving Our Battery's Total Charge Cycles
As a result, our most demanding electrical products are powered directly from shower power, bypassing our batteries. This way, we lengthen the lifespan of our batteries by reducing our battery’s total charge cycles and, in our case with lithium batteries, we can keep our batteries hovering around their sweet spot at 40-60% by only occasionally charging them with shore power.
#12: Vacuum Seal Bags For Bedding Storage
We Love Our Bed Configuration
For space efficiency reasons, we decided against constructing a fixed, permanent bed in our van. Instead, we opted for a U-bench configuration that can transform into a full bed in the evenings.
One of the major downsides of our bed configuration choice, is having to store our bedding during the day.
Seriously, where in a van does one store two pillows, sheets, a down blanket, and a fleece blanket?
That’s a lot of bulk and van storage space is quite limited.
To be honest, it looks a little funny if you watch us put away our bed every morning, but it really works! And as a result, we’re able to store our bedding in some pretty tight places under our benches.
Vacuum sealed bags also work great for seasonal clothing or other items that you seldomly wear.
Packability is everything when in a van, and these bags really help us store more things in less space.
#13: Easy Access To Items By Van Entrance
We purchased this really useful pair of Gold Wire Boards on Amazon and love how they have added extra storage space to our van.
We keep one of the boards right by our sliding door and place our most frequently used items in the wire basket.
Things like mosquito spray, toilet paper, tooth paste, sandals and slippers, hand cream and a head lamp.
Since we added this feature to our campervan, we’re able to quickly grab our most used outdoor items and go without fumbling around a drawer or upper cabinet.
Read More: 7 Must Have Items For A Photogenic Campervan
#14: Compact Silverware Tray
In a van, space is at a premium.
When we initially set off to travel, we had a normal silverware tray. But the tray took up the entire width of our drawer and we ended up just throwing our larger items (i.e. knives, measuring cups, etc) on top of the silverware tray.
But then we purchased the Joseph Joseph Cutlery Tray and it’s been a game changer in kitchen organization.
We love this silverware tray because it’s narrower but can still fit up to five different cutlery types.
But because of it’s narrower design, the tray frees up the rest of the drawer for us to put our knives, measuring cups, spatula, cork screw, and more.
It really is an organizational dream.
#15: Ultra Packable Camping Seats
Next up in our list of campervan gear upgrades involves our seats.
We love lounging around inside our van. But with the Trekology Camping Chair, it’s been really convenient to spend more time outside in the sun.
We love these camping seats because they’re ultra-packable. In just a few minutes, the chair can pack into a bag smaller than the length of my forearm.
And when you live in a van, packability is crucial.
For their size, these tiny chairs are also quite comfortable! We lounge in them, enjoy our campfires in them, and even do work on our laptops while sitting in them.
What’s also nice is that the legs are adjustable to different lengths. So if you’re a taller person, you can extend the legs a few additional inches for added comfort.
#16: Battery Monitor
I love keeping track of the current status of our electrical system. Perhaps it’s just a guy thing. 😃
So our BMV-712 Battery Monitor from Victron has quickly become one of my favorite gadgets in the van. It’s Bluetooth enabled, so with just a few taps on my phone in the Victron App, I’m able to get a detailed, numeric overview of the electrical input, output, and state-of-charge (SOC) of our batteries.
Protects Your Battery's Lifespan
Keeping on top of our battery’s SOC is also crucial to maximizing the life of our batteries. All batteries have a level of discharge that users should ideally not surpass. If you’re running the more common AGM or Lead-Acid batteries, you should not be discharging your batteries past 40%.
Doing so can lead your batteries to a premature death.
At just over $200, I’ll admit that our battery monitor isn’t the cheapest item in our van. And it’s certainly more of a luxury product than a necessity. But I would argue that by being on top of our battery’s charge percentage we’re able to maximize the useful life of our battery and in the long run, this will more than make up for the cost of the battery monitor.
Worth The Investment
We’re not exaggerating here. We have come across multiple vanlifers who have had to purchase new batteries because their prior (and still relatively new) batteries had clonked out on them.
The fact is, the vast majority of us living in our vans use considerably more electricity that we think we do. And our solar panels do not replenish our batteries as fast as we think they do. So spending considerable large amounts of time below the ‘safe discharge’ level is happening more often than we think.
A quick look on Amazon shows the cheapest AGM battery at around $174.
So if the Victron Battery Monitor can prevent you from buying a single new house battery, then you’ve almost made up for it’s cost.
With our battery monitor, we are able to stay on top of our battery’s SOC and understand if and when we are approaching unsafe discharge levels.
Finally, and I can’t over-exaggerate here. The Bluetooth & App capability of the Victron battery monitor is SUPERB. I use the app all the time to check our electrical status. We don’t even mount the physical interface anywhere in our van. I simply stow it away under our bench. Saves space and no blinking lights at night.
To me, the Bluetooth capability is worth the extra cost over some of the cheaper models out there. But I understand we all work within our own budgets.
The Good Budget Alternative
The Pros: It works! The physical interface allows you to stay on top of your battery’s state of charge. Very affordable.
The Cons: No Bluetooth capability. Poor quality mounting bracket. Questionable support. Poorly written information brochure.
The Better Budget-ish Alternative
The Pros: Better device user interface. Recognized USA product support.
The Cons: Still no Bluetooth feature. Questionable build quality.
#17: Solar Shower
Next in our list of campervan gear upgrades involves hygiene!
In hot, humid weather, this Advanced Elements Solar Shower is a godsend.
When we first converted the van, we installed a 10 gallon water tank in the bank with a shower out the back. It’s a great system, but because it’s unheated water, we barely used it. Only 6-7 times in our first 7 months.
That’s a lot of valuable space, and weight, for something used so infrequently.
But with our solar shower, we’re able to roll it up and pack it away when we’re not using it. Incredibly space efficient.
And when we place to use it, we simply fill it up from any water source and leave it out on our dashboard.
Several hours later, we taking literally hot showers. And with this 3 gallon bag, this is enough water for two people.
The Smaller Footprint Alternative
The Pros: Great quality, just like our 3-gallon version
The Cons: Smaller, so less usable water for showering.
The Larger Budget Alternative
The Pros: Even larger than our 3-gallon shower.
The Cons: Not the name brand item, suspect quality.
#18: Bedside Reading Lights
When we installed our 12v Reading Lights in the back of our van, it was more of an after thought. Eric just wanted to install them to learn how to install something like this.
But now that we’re on the road, our two reading lights are invaluable and provide more uses than simple for ‘reading’.
We love turning these little lights on in the evening for ambient lighting. And because the heads are adjustable, it’s easy to keep the direct glare out of our eyes.
We use this ambient lighting when we watch movies on our laptops, winding down our night with a cup of tea, or when we’re on our bed reading.
These lights also come with a blue nightlight feature. So when one of us has to wake up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, the nightlight minimizes the inconvenience of the other sleeping person.
Finally, the lights come with a USB outlet on the side, which is great because it allows you to charge your devices by your side while you’re sleeping.
For us, our small Reading Lights were a surprisingly useful addition to our campervan.
#19: Baby Wipes
Hey, what would vanlife be without baby wipes? Clean your dishes, clean your counter tops, wash your hands, wash your van, and wash your bodies!
They’re cheap at Walmart, literally pennies per piece, and you’ll be super happy when you need them and actually have them on hand.
Read More: Van Life Do’s & Don’ts
We hope you enjoyed reading our list of essential campervan gear.
We personally travel with all the above recommended items and stand by them when we say they’ve made our vanlife experience much easier.
If you have any recommendations or questions, please don’t hesitate to Contact Us.
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