Van Life is inherently minimalistic, in a tiny space, you are forced to get things down to the essentials. Van life essentials are very different than the essentials when living in a home. Below we will list the items, many unique to vanlife, that we simply can’t live without on the road! Some of these are absolute necessities while others are luxury items that make our life more comfortable and enjoyable. This post contains affiliate links, we earn through qualifying purchases at no additional cost to you. Any earning go towards keeping us on the road longer and continuing to produce content like this for you.
RECOVERY GEAR / SAFETY VAN LIFE ESSENTIALS
This is a multipurpose tool that you need to have in your van. Whether it’s used for digging catholes or digging your van out of sand, you will want to have this with you. There are plenty of foldable trowels on the market but we like how sturdy this shovel is, we keep it in our external storage box so it is handy when we’re outside the van.
These are an accessory that you hope you never have to use but will be so grateful you have when you need them. We have only had to utilize them once when we took an ill advised turn on the beach. What could have been an expensive tow ended up being a moment we could be proud of our self reliance. Traction boards can help you in the snow, mud, and sand. You DO NOT need expensive Maxx Traxx, we found these traction boards and they are just as capable.
If you plan to boondock in remote locations, having a jumpstarter is a must for safety. If your battery dies with nobody around and no cell phone service, a jumpstarter can save the day. We have this jumpstarter from Noco, it is compact and able to be stored under our bed. As a bonus, it has a flashlight and USB charging port. Just the other day we helped out someone with a dead battery and it worked like a charm!
While this isn’t a necessity, an air compressor will make your life so much more enjoyable on the road, and it can help out if you are ever stuck. By airing down your tires on bumpy roads (we all know those unmaintained National Forest roads that lead to the best camp spots) you can get a smoother ride. When you are off the bumpy roads, you can hook this air compressor right up to your car battery and air your tires back up! Additionally, if you get stuck, deflating your tires can get you a larger footprint making it easier to gain surface area and get you unstuck. You can manually deflate your tires one by one but having a tire deflator kit makes the process much quicker.
Having some basic tools in your van is just a good idea. At a minimum you should have screwdrivers, wrenches, a hammer, a tape measure and pliers, you can easily find a toolkit with all of these included.
You will inevitably come to a campsite that is not level. Sleeping on unlevel surfaces is not enjoyable. Having leveling blocks along will help you get a good night sleep. Depending on the angle your van is parked at, you will want to position your leveling blocks to bring the low side up higher.
Goes without saying, this is a crucial safety piece to have in your van. We have this smaller one specifically made for cars. We keep it mounted on the wall behind our driver seat so it is easily accessible.
Carbon Monoxide Detector
Carbon Monoxide detectors are relatively cheap and are good peace of mind to have in your van.
First Aid Kit/Medications
Having a first aid kit in your van is an absolute van life essential. These first aid kits from Adventure Medic are fantastic and have a stamp of approval from this Emergency Department Nurse.
We have this spotlight and love it for safety at night. Having a bright light to illuminate a situation in the backcountry is so important. We use it for letting our dog out at night and when coming into camp after dark.
Two Way Radio
We love having these two way radios. We use them most when we are trying to back into a tight camp spot while one of us is driving and the other is spotting. They can also be used if you have to go away from camp at night as an added layer of security. As an added bonus, if you tune to the specified channel, you can get weather reports where you don’t have cell service.
RV Water Filter
Filtering your water before putting it in your water tank is so important. These RV water filters are relatively inexpensive and go right on the end of a hose as you’re filling your tank.
If you plan on camping in bear country, having bear spray is an essential safety item.
We love this outdoor knife from Morakniv. Morakniv is well known for making quality, durable and inexpensive knives.
CLEANING VAN LIFE ESSENTIALS
Doing dishes in a van is one of our least favorite tasks. Having a stinky sponge makes the experience far worse. We found these dish scrubbies and haven’t looked back. They are thinner and don’t absorb smells as much as sponges. As an added bonus, they can be thrown in the wash and reused!
Mrs. Meyers Soap
After trying several different kinds of biodegradable soaps on the market, this one is hands down our favorite. We have found that some biodegradable soaps don’t cut grease as much, that is not the case with Mrs. Meyers. It does the job, smells fantastic, and isn’t terribly expensive, all wins for us!
Laundry Detergent Strips
We’ve been using these since we hit the road and they are the perfect solution for vanlife laundry. They are compact and light weight, have no liquid, and are environmentally friendly. We’ve found the Sheets brand does the best at freshening up our dirtbag clothes.
Living on the road, you will track A LOT of dirt and sand into your van. Having a mini broom to clean up will make living in a van so much more enjoyable. We like this set as the broom is pretty sturdy making it easier to pick up all the dirt and dust in your space.
In addition to having a handheld broom, we also have a handheld vacuum. While it’s not a necessity, it helps us get up that stubborn dog hair that gets everywhere! It has a motorized pet attachment that has rubber bristles specifically to pick up dog hair. The battery life is decent and lasts long enough for us to do a full vacuum a couple times. We charge it with our inverter.
APPLIANCES VAN LIFE ESSENTIALS
Having our diesel heater has made vanlife so much more enjoyable. We could have opted for a more expensive heater but we figured we could replace four of these for the cost of a Webasto. It has been a bit finicky but so far has functioned pretty well. It does give us some trouble at altitude. If you plan to cold weather camp at altitude, we recommend the Webasto heater with an altitude compensation kit.
WeBoost Cell Signal Booster
One discovery we had living on the road is that we basically live in a Faraday Cage! We have no windows in the back of our van and generally put up our window covers at night for privacy. We have found that we may have decent service at camp but once we shut the doors in the van, we will have no service! This makes it incredibly hard to do any work with the doors closed or browse on our phones at night. We recently added this cell phone booster and have noticed an immediate difference. The booster has two antennas, one outside the van and one inside the van. The booster will take the cell signal, boost it up to 32x and relay it inside the van. This means it can’t make a cell signal out of nothing but it can amplify poor service and best of all, relays signal into our van that is otherwise blocked by our tin box!
Okay so this might seem a little extra but we use this thing every morning for coffee! Since we don’t have a fixed cooktop, having a way to heat water without pulling out our stove is awesome. The kettle we have has rubber on it’s base so we are able to leave it on the counter while driving without it flying around.
Coffee on the road is an essential for us. Our drives and adventures are fueled by caffeine! We have tried many different ways of making coffee and French Press is our favorite way. We currently have a Bodum French Press which we love, however glass is not practical on the road, we have broken our beaker twice! We have vowed that next time our beaker breaks, we will upgrade to an insulated metal French Press. The durability and added function of keeping our coffee warm for longer are very appealing to us. We have our eye on this one from Stanley which has come highly recommended!
Cast Iron Pan
We love to cook in our van and this is our go to pan. It will last us forever, requires minimal upkeep, and doesn’t contain teflon. It can also be used as an oven in some cases, we have cooked biscuits, pizza, and nachos in this pan.
ACCESSORIES VAN LIFE ESSENTIALS
Installing an awning was something we wanted to incorporate into our initial build but never got around to it. While on the road we picked up this Moonshade Awning and absolutely love the simplicity of it. It requires minimal install, sets up quickly, and doesn’t take up much space in our rig. There are anchors for every kind of vehicle making it incredibly versatile. Use our code ROADSHOW for $30 off your purchase.
For the first year of living in the van, we just used our laptops to watch TV and movies. Upgrading to this projector was the move! We love how compact and portable this projector is. It’s the size of a soda can and can be moved anywhere. There is a keystone adjustor so you can cast the image from any angle and make it square, this makes it super versatile in a van. It also doubles as a bluetooth speaker!
Our favorite thing about vanlife is being so close to nature. We say we don’t live in a van, we live OUT of the van. Our outdoor chairs are one thing we absolutely could not live without in the van. Our chairs from REI, they are super easy to assemble and pack down into a compact bag.
Having window covers in your van is essential for both privacy and temperature control. You can buy premade window covers but honestly it’s so easy to make your own and then they are custom fit to your windows. All you need is Reflectix, spray adhesive, fabric, and duct tape. We used quilted fabric to add a little more insulation and finish off the look. Make a template of your window and cut out your Reflectix, cut a matching piece of fabric and use spray adhesive to adhere them together, finish the edges with a thin strip of duct tape! You can add in magnets or velcro but ours stay up just fine without.
For the summer months you cannot beat bamboo sheets. We went a while before we broke down and bought these and can attest, they are definitely worth it. For the best cooling effect, make sure you get 100% bamboo sheets.
In addition to our outdoor chairs, we love relaxing in our hammocks. We get so excited when a campsite has a good pair of trees for hammocking. There’s nothing like an afternoon nap out in nature!
Having a puffy blanket is a game-changer. We started out life on the road with a fleece blanket and comforter, they took up so much space behind our bed and honestly still didn’t do the job to keep us warm. When we hit the road full time, we upgraded to a puffy blanket and have been so happy we did! It is incredibly warm and comfortable. We could have used our sleeping bags but we love that our puffy blanket works like a comforter so we can snuggle together.
We love listening to music when we’re hanging out at camp. We debated installing permanent speakers in the back of the van but in retrospect, we’re glad we didn’t. We love spending time outside at camp so the versatility of a bluetooth speaker with a clip has been awesome.
We love all the options we have for lights. These lights are super soft and great for laying in bed at night. They have a dimmer, a remote, and several different modes. They can be powered off of USB or their battery pack.
Baskets are the secret to our organization in the van. We use baskets everywhere, for our clothes storage, pantry storage, deep storage under the bed. Having things in baskets makes it easier to pull things out and look at them and keep things in place when we’re driving.
Cell Phone Mount
Having a cell phone mount is so nice while you’re driving. This one clips into your vent and holds on to your phone well. It’s perfect to pop your phone in and use navigation.
Having a swivel seat makes vanlife so much more enjoyable. By flipping around our passenger seat, we have an additional seating area and we are able to spread out more in the van. Finding a safe and reliable swivel seat can be a task, we have found this one has worked great for our Chevy Express.
HYGIENE VAN LIFE ESSENTIALS
Having a quick drying and compact towel is a so important when living in a van. We originally travelled with regular bath towels but they took forever to dry, started smelling funky quickly, and took up a lot of space. We have been so happy with our Packlight Towels. They come with a bag that they can be rolled up into and have a snap that they can be hung from.
Showers can be hard to come by when living in a van. Between hiking and every day life, our hair can get pretty grimey. Dry shampoo will keep your hair looking fresh in between washes. Batiste is our favorite brand out there!
In addition to dry shampoo, body wipes are an essential for keeping fresh in between showers. We use baby wipes when we just need a quick wipedown. When we need a more in depth clean, we give ourselves a “bed bath.” These wipes, while pricier, are so worth it. Just one wipe is enough to clean your whole body and stretch out your time in between showers.
Shampoo Bars are perfect for vanlife, they don’t take up much space and most are biodegradable. It can take time to find a shampoo bar that works for your hair type. We love this sampler from Ethique as it allows you to try out different shampoo and conditioner bars to find what works for your hair. We also love Lush Shampoo and Conditioner Bars.
PET VAN LIFE ESSENTIALS
Spill Proof Bowl
Our first month on the road, we struggled with having to dump out our dogs water all the time or forgetting and having it spill all over when driving. We found this bowl and have been so happy with it. It is rubber so it doesn’t slide around and the lip prevents water from splashing over the top even when we’re driving!
Light Up Collar
Our dog loves to roam around camp at night and having this collar gives us peace of mind to know where she is. It is pretty bright and easy to snap on.
Pet Shampoo Bar
We love this shampoo bar from Ethique to wash our dog. Dogs can get absolutely filthy on the road so having a compact shampoo to wash them up is awesome. This shampoo bar is biodegradable and leaves our dogs coat feeling awesome.
Summers in the van can get pretty warm. Our pup loves this mat to stay cool. The gel inside the mat keeps it 5 to 10 degrees cooler than air temperature.
We hope these items have given you a good idea of the things we couldn’t live without in our van. Be sure to subscribe below to get notified of new posts. Now get out there and Create Your Own Roadshow!