Van Life Must-Haves

by | Dec 26, 2018 | Travel Tips

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Travel Gear, Not Just Van Life Gear

Van life must-haves | Van life essentials |

Updated October 2019!

This is a list of some of our van life must-haves. The truth is though, this gear isn’t just for van life. It’s gear that will make any camping trip, extended road trip, or van life adventure a lot easier. When we moved into our van, we did tons of research on what we might need to make day to day activities that could seem a little daunting outside of a house just a little bit easier.

Tiff and I started using many of these items in our tent camping days and know they get the job done. We’ve continued to use this gear pretty much every day even after 9 months on the road. This list stacks up!

Our van is built out (thankfully not by us, because we might have died undertaking something of that magnitude), so this post doesn’t contain any helpful advice on actually building out your van. But it will give you a good idea about some items to think about before you pack it all into your home on wheels.

These are some of our van life and camping must-haves.

Van Life Must-Haves: Keeping Clean

“Where are you going to shower?”

That is easily the number one question we got when we talked about our trip. Between utilizing the bathrooms at family and friends’ homes, as well as showering at campgrounds and other public showers, we’ve managed to stay decently clean. Luckily for us and everyone else, we’ve also found a few things that keep us from becoming absolutely disgusting on the road.

Nemo Helio Portable Shower

The Helio Portable Shower from Nemo is, in a word, awesome. Not only does it heat up water using the sun, it’s super easy to use and lasts long enough to take a quick shower. It also doubles as an excellent way to do dishes (this is actually what we use it for most!) Oh, and did I mention it packs down to the size of a lunchbox?

Van life must haves nemo helio portable shower
OlimpiaFit Microfiber Towels

After washing, you’re going to need to dry off, but you’re likely not going to have a full linen closet. This microfiber towel three-pack is an excellent solution. These fast-drying, absorbent, and anti-microbial towels soak up water and don’t take up much space. These towels dry super fast and we’ve never had a problem with them getting stinky…I think that’s the best part. You should smell my regular towel.

van life must haves Olympiafit microfiber towels

Van Life Must-Haves: Organization and Storage

Moving from a three-bedroom house into a 2008 Ford Econoline means several things. The most glaring is an enormous reduction in space. Finding creative storage solutions beyond our buildout helps alleviate this to a degree. Here are a few helpful items you’ll find in our van.

Ride Beauty Seat Organizer

Anything that can hold a lot of stuff yet not take up a lot of space is super valuable to us in the van. This backseat organizer rides on the back of our passenger seat, giving us easy access from the front or from the sliding door. It holds a mish-mash of always-needed things, keeps them all within reach, and lays flat. I only wish we had a stuffed unicorn like the product photo.

van life must-haves: ride beauty seat organizer
Shacke Pak Packing Cubes
Van life must-haves: Shacke Pan packing cubes

Packing cubes are an absolute must. While we’ve pared down our wardrobes a ton, we still need to keep our clothes somewhere. Packing up our shirts, pants, and undies into these cubes lets us keep our stuff separate in the large clothes drawer under the bed.

The last thing we need is for me to grab a pair of Tiff’s pants if I wake up in the middle of the night and have to use the restroom. They won’t fit me is what I’m saying.

Van Life Must-Haves: Kitchen Gear

Food is the most important thing in Tiffany’s life. No question. So beyond making sure that we had a stove in the van, good kitchen accessories were a must. Here are a few pieces of our must-have kitchen items.

Sea to Summit 5-piece X Pot Set and Sea to Summit X Pan

Sea to Summit makes some really amazing, lightweight cookware for backpacking. Tiff and I have used them in the backcountry as well as on our car camping trips. Now we use them in the van EVERY DAY. They are durable, modular, and amazingly efficient when it comes to taking up space. Whoever designed these must be some sort of genius.

The 5-Piece X Pot Set folds completely into itself and takes up about as much room as a frisbee when compressed. The pot has an aluminum cooking surface and a lid/strainer combo, and the set comes with two mugs and two bowls.

If you add in the 8-inch X Pan, you have a lightweight, space-conscious cooking set. The Pan is a hard-anodized aluminum that will last quite possibly forever, so long as it’s oiled properly in use.

Van life must-haves: Sea to Summit 5-piece X Pot Set
Van life must-haves: Sea to Summit X Pan

Oh, and the best part is that the X Pot Set fits perfectly in the X Pan, meaning it’s like a Russian nesting doll of collapsible backpacking cookware ideal for van life. Yes, I realize that is a terrible analogy.

Yeti Rambler 14 oz. Mugs

Look. I get it. I really do. Yeti is everywhere. There seems to be some Yeti fatigue and an anti-Yeti vocal faction, especially when more affordable options are available. But I don’t care. Yeti makes great stuff, and these mugs are no exception.

We own quite a few different Yeti products, and a lot of them are in the van with us. The Rambler Mugs play many roles, and versatility is super important. Meet our hot beverage/hot soup/cold cereal/delicious cocktails drinking and eating apparatuses.

Van life must-haves: Yeti Rambler mug
Stanley Insulated Coffee Press

I am not a morning person. I’ve also had to wake up at ungodly hours (before 8 a.m., even!) while in the van. That means I need my coffee. And this Stanley coffee press is excellent. Just dump some grounds in the bottom, fill it up with hot water, push down the press, and you’re good to go. As far as remembering to clean it out, that’s a me problem.

Van Life Must-Haves: Staying Warm

The first night Tiffany and I spent in the van, we forgot our thick blanket at home. This wouldn’t have been a problem, if not for the fact that it was late November, it was around zero degrees, and we were in Gardiner, Montana, which is not a warm place that time of year. We managed to survive the test run, but it taught us to stay better prepared for cold temperatures. Here are two things we’ve never be without since then.

Mr. Heater Portable Buddy Heater

In full disclosure, we actually had this heater in the van with us the night we almost froze to death. However, we were too scared to leave it running while we tried to sleep.

We shouldn’t have been so foolhardy.

Van life must-haves: Mr. Heater Buddy portable heater

The Buddy Heater from Mr. Heater shuts off if the oxygen levels get too low. We actually tested it out later, and it works to perfection. (Yes, we probably should have tested it beforehand, but we’re dumb sometimes.) Here’s to no more freezing our butts off thanks to our own incompetence.

Rumpl Blanket

Let’s pretend you had to design the perfect blanket for living in a van for an extended period of time. What would the major parameters be? Actually, it doesn’t matter, because Rumpl has already taken all of those into consideration and built the ideal blanket for van life. Lucky us!

Van life must-haves: Rumpl blanket

Rumpl Blankets are waterproof. They’re stain- and odor-resistant. They are lightweight, durable, and keep you warm, not to mention they’re very packable and obviously easily portable. Use them inside. Use them outside. It doesn’t matter. Now, they are a bit pricey, but if you get a Rumpl, you probably won’t be getting any other blankets for quite some time.

Van Life Must-Haves: Security

Coming from someone that routinely forgot to lock the doors of our house, a discussion about security products for life in a van seems silly. Lucky for us we haven’t had to see if these products work as they are intended but that doesn’t mean we don’t still use them everyday.

People can be awful and you never know what can happen. That’s why we put our trust in these two products.

VAVA Dash Cam
Van life must-haves: VAVA dash cam

Man, do I love gadgets. Especially electronic ones. The VAVA Dash Cam, however, may be my current favorite. The quality is fantastic, you can turn the camera 360-degrees very easily, and you can transfer photos and videos to your mobile device super easily. It also features an auto-on mode that takes photos every time it feels a bump in the night.

We are somewhat exposed, sleeping in a van everywhere we go. This way, we have at least some peace of mind when it comes to knowing what goes on around the van while we’re asleep or out doing something. Plus, it records all of our driving, so we can revisit scenic views or, heaven forbid, accidents with little fuss.

Pacsafe Travelsafe GII

We have put a lot of our trust into this little guy. Our lives pretty much revolve around our computers, external hard drives, and camera equipment. So we need to protect all of that from theft as best we can.

Luckily, we haven’t had to deal with any break-ins first hand. Will this travel safe from Pacsafe be foolproof? Hardly. But will it be a good deterrent if someone tries to smash and grab while we’re out? I’d have to think so.

Van life must-haves: Pacsafe travel safe

Bonus Van Life Must Haves: Relaxation

ENO Doublenest Hammock

I’ll have to admit it, the van is pretty comfortable. But it’s also fairly cramped. We like to spread out and relax outside as often as possible.

Enter our ENO Doublenest hammock.

Think of it as our new couch, only it’s tied between two trees and we don’t have any televisions nearby.

Built for two people, but great for a quick solo nap, the Doublenest is one of our favorite pieces of camping gear.

Van Life Must Haves: Your Suggestions

What have we missed here? Are there items you may have packed for your big adventure? Or things you couldn’t live without on the road? Let us know in the comments!

You can also check out some of our latest must-have lists for information on all the gadgets and gear we use most on the road.

Van Life Must-Haves Part II (MORE Great Travel Items)

How to Make Your Van Feel Like Home

Van Life Must-Haves

We’re Tiffany and John, a couple of childfree, DIY travel enthusiasts from Montana and we just can’t get enough of life on the open road.

If you’re anything like us, then you feel the same way! We love exploring new places together and finding unique things to do everywhere we go.

Read more about our story here.

Black Diamond Equipment

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