van life essentials

After 3+ years of living and traveling on the road (and one year of full-time solo van life), I’ve developed a nice flow in my van thanks to the following 27 essential van life items that have helped make my van life experience much safer, more efficient, comfortable, and enjoyable.

If you’re interested in other gear that I use and is pictured above for hiking, backpacking, dog travel gear, and camera gear, check out all my gear here.

You might also like my complete guide to finding free campsites.

Portable Power Station

I power my van with an all-in-one lithium power station that is a battery, inverter, control panel, charge control and electrical outlet. It’s lightweight, portable and compact, unlike most traditional camper power setups. I originally had the Yeti 1400, but upgraded to the much bigger Goal Zero Yeti 3000 Lithium Power Station with my van remodel and I have zero complaints! I sometimes supplement my main Goal Zero battery with a Jackery Portable Power Station Explorer 500 and I like this one because it’s small enough to bring inside a coffee shop or library and charge via a public outlet.

Note: Lithium batteries in general are more expensive because they have a longer lifespan and are lighter and more compact than lead acid batteries.


Solar Panels

Solar panels mounted to the roof of your van or even portable ones that you set out when you are camping, will allow you to travel further off-the beaten path by powering all of your devices off-the-grid and will just make van life so much more convenient. I personally have two 160 watt solar panels (320 Watts of solar) mounted on the roof of my van and a portable/foldable 100 Watt Jackery Solar Panel that I place outside the van if I ever need an extra boost.


Fan/Vent

Having a fan/vent to cool down or just for safely venting when cooking inside your van is essential. I originally had a fantastic fan, but was really disappointed with it, and upgraded to my current Maxxair 5100K Ventillation Fan which has 10 speeds, intake and exhaust options, a built in rain shield, and you can leave it open when driving.


Composting Toilet

Composting toilets are a sustainable and relatively low maintenance bathroom solution. I love my Nature’s Head Composting Toilet! This self-contained and waterless toilet has separate compartments for liquid and solid waste, so they never combine to create sewage or nasty smells. I usually have to dump my liquid waste once a week and my solid composted waste every 2 months. If you want to see the process of dumping, cleaning or creating the compost, check out my Hygiene Routine On The Road Video.


Dometic Top-Loading Fridge/Freezer

I have a 38L Dometic CFX 40 12V Fridge and I absolutely love it! I highly recommend getting a top-loading refrigerator, because if you ever run out of power, it can act as an ice chest. This portable compressor fridge freezer in particular is extremely energy efficient and gives you the convenient option of controlling and monitoring the cooling temperature by WiFi through an app.


Wifi Hotspot

I personally have the Skyroam Solis Lite, which is a power bank and wifi hotspot for up to 10 devices. It is basically a virtual sim that can be used to connect to 4G LTE in over 130 countries, and it automatically finds the best network for you! It allows you to stay powered-on all day long with 18+ hours of WiFi battery life and keeps your data secure by avoiding risky public WiFi. It’s also compact, lightweight and hassle free. The best part is there are no contracts. You can get unlimited WiFi by the day or month, or buy data by the GB. I use the unlimited USA data subscription for $49/month.


GPS Satellite Navigation & Communication Tool

Having some form of satellite GPS tracker and SOS tool if traveling solo is essential in my opinion, especially if you plan to travel to places without cell service. When I was originally traveling as a solo female, I used the SPOT 3 Satellite GPS Messenger, which was very handy and more affordable but offered limited services compared to other satellite devices. Now my partner and I have the Garmin In Reach Explorer+ which is a GPS tracker, navigation tool, 2-way satellite messenger and SOS device all in one. It allows you to check the weather, send text messages, view maps, allow someone to track your journey, and has a button for getting help in an emergency (all these features are accesible “offline”).


Portable Car Jump Starter

Having a car jump starter or battery boost kit can help you avoid a hefty bill for roadside assistance and potentially save you if you are out of cell range and your car won’t start. I have the NOCO Boost Plus 1000 Amp 12-Volt UltraSafe Portable Lithium Jump Starter which comes with heavy duty jumper cables for up to 6-Liter gasoline and 3-liter diesel engines. It’s also extremely small and lightweight but packs a lot of punch and battery storage. I have only had to use this once, but I was glad I had it!


Folding Table

A portable and compact table is an essential for me, and allows me to extend my dining space outside the van. I love and highly recommend my bamboo folding table with aluminum legs. It’s super lightweight and high quality, and comes with two different height options.


Camp Chair

Camp chairs compliment a portable table and allow you to enjoy your morning coffee or your meals outside your van. I am a big fan of my compact and steel framed Ozark chair which also comes with a cupholder. Camp chairs are also nice for sitting around a fire and making camp circles with fellow vanlifers.


Solar Lantern

I have a few inflatable solar lanterns, and I love them for just getting around a campsite at night, for a cozy ambiance inside my van, and they are also great for backpacking trips! My favorites are LuminAID’s solar lantern phone chargers. They are compact, great for charging devices, hanging anywhere for extra light and the company LuminAID is woman owned and they have a wonderful Give Light program that provides solar lights to families in need.


Nano Sponge

Nano sponges are a great way to save money and space, since they don’t require dish soap to clean. Their proprietary Nanolon fiber helps reduce toxic cleaning petrochemicals and has two sides, one for scrubbing and for absorbing and wiping away. I have one for cleaning my dishes and one for cleaning my bathroom area.


MicroFiber Towel

I am obsessed with microfiber towels for every occasion (cleaning, camping, gyms, travel) but they are especially handy when living in a van! They are smaller than traditional towels, very absorbent, and quick drying which makes them perfect for van life.


Magnetic Cabinet & Drawer Latches

When you live in a van, you quickly learn that you need a solution for keeping your cabinets and drawers closed when driving, and these heavy duty magnetic latches are the perfect solution. I installed these on all my cabinet doors and drawers in my van after all my plastic latches started to break. These are very strong and have done a great job of keeping everything closed and safely stored in its place while I drive.


Outdoor Mat

This large outdoor camping mat is made from recycled materials and is great for lounging around your campsite, the beach, yoga, and dogs. I love my Green Elephant camping mat that easily fits two camp chairs, my folding table and a dog bed so everyone can lounge comfortably outside the van.


Memory Foam Mattress

My BioFusion memory foam mattress is possibly my favorite van life item. I got the 5 inch version, and cut it into pieces with a bread knife to make my couch that turns into my bed, and it has provided me with some of the best sleep of my life!


InLine Water Filter

My Clear2o Water filter has provided me with so much peace of mind when drinking tap water in my van. It connects directly to the hose that I use to fill up my water tank, and filters out contaminants down to 1 micron! It also reduces bad taste, odors, chlorine, and sediment from your drinking water.


Leveling Blocks

When you’re dispersed camping it’s often difficult to find a flat spot to park, and some form of leveler will help make your spot much more comfortable! I am a big fan of stackable leveling blocks and I usually put them underneath one or two of my tires to make sure that my van is always flat no matter how sloped my campsite is. I have recently decided to switch out my Camco levelers for some GoTreads, which act as leveling blocks and a traction device when you’re stuck in sand, mud or snow. They are a little pricey, but Amazon offers some cheaper versions with great reviews. Bottomline: Levelers that double as traction mats when you’re vehicle is stuck will save you space in your van!


Adjustable Broom

When you are living in a small, mobile space, keeping it clean becomes pretty important. A clean and tidy van helps me stay happy and productive, and my compact, telescoping, and adjustable broom makes it easy to keep my floors clean when I or my dog drags in dirt from hikes or just the campsite.


Tow Strap

Having a tow strap is an essential for every vanlifer, because you never know when you’re going to get stuck! I have used my Rhino USA Tow Strap on a few occasions, and I was so grateful that I had it on hand. It’s extremely durable and comes with a storage bag. I have the 2″ wide by 20′ long strap.


Bear Spray

Bear spray is a great safety necessity for hiking in the wilderness to protect against bears and other potential predators, but it’s also a handy weapon to have on hand in the van for intruders.


Hydro Flask Bottle

My Hydro Flask bottle with the sports cap is perfect for driving in the van, because it fits in my cupholder, allows me to quickly drink water while driving and keeps my beverages cool all day long.


Portable Personal Blender

I love drinking smoothies, and they are a quick and easy way to get my nutrients while living in a van with a small kitchen and as someone who doesn’t like to cook. My portable blender with a built-in travel cup has helped to make smoothies in a van so easy with its energy-efficient 175-watt motor.


Carbon Monoxide Detector/Alarm

Having smoke, fire, natural gas and carbon monoxide detectors are important in any home, but sometimes people forget these in a van. I personally have multiple detectors in my van, but I think having a Carbon Monoxide Alarm is essential! I also have a propane detector, since my propane tank for my stove is inside my van.


First Aid Kit

Having a first aid kit in every car is smart, but I think having one in a camper is essential. Mine has come in handy many times. I recommend having a smaller one for hikes as well. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.


Fruit & Veggie Hammock

You’ve probably seen this in a lot of vans on Instagram, and I personally love my under cabinet produce hammock. It helps me save space in my pantry section of my cabinets, and keeps my fruits and veggies from bruising while being squished together in my fridge.


Ambiance Lighting

I have four different lighting options in my van, which allows me to have options for lighting whether I’m trying to be stealth, cook, or set a mood. My favorite is my copper wire fairy lights because I’m a big fan of warm lights and they create a great ambiance. I also have a light up globe, puck lights, and LED dimmable strip lights.


3-in-1 Breakfast Station

Last but not least, this 3-in-1 breakfast station (with a 4 cup coffee maker, toaster oven and griddle) was my most asked about item in my original budget van build. I really loved it, and sometimes wish I incorporated it into my remodel, but I was really trying to limit the amount of electrical appliances I included in my new van build. That being said, I ran this thing off of my Yeti 1400 power station with no problem.


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About Author

Anna is an optimist with pessimistic tendencies who enjoys making a short story long, her coffee black, and watching Friends re-runs. These days you can catch her in her natural habitats wandering through forest roads in her van, hiking to a waterfall or glacial lake, and learning about off-grid living the hard way. You can also find her on YouTube as Anna French.

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