Whether you’ve just bought a new van or you’re considering upgrading your old one for road trips, you’re probably wondering what essential equipment you need for a comfortable van life experience. Perhaps you have been looking for many articles about “van living essentials”. While there are many varied views on what people should want to pack in a van for full time van living, one of the harsh realities of van life is that you have very limited storage space – making it difficult to pack everything you want to carry during your trip. Consequently your only option is to invest into only those van living essentials items and equipment you will make the most use of.

Our RV Living Guide article takes you through a list of all the van living essentials equipment you will more than likely use every day while living in a van.

1. Van Life Power Generation

If you want a cool lighting setup like this in your van then you'll need a reliable and constant source of electrical power, such as from solar panels.
If you want a cool lighting setup like this in your van then you’ll need a reliable and constant source of electrical power, such as from solar panels.

When it comes to powering electronics devices in your van there are several ways to provide this energy such as using your van’s engine alternator, installing solar panels, running a portable generator or hooking up to an electrical system at a campground. The type of energy source providing equipment you’ll use will be greatly determined by the type of lifestyle and trips you intend to take as well as factors involving the locations. Your own budget matters, too.

Installing Solar Panels on Your Van

Solar panels are among the most popular pieces of power generating equipment that many van life dwellers invest into and for good reason. Solar panels are a great solution for individuals living in a van around any sunny areas. Solar panels have also become very affordable, compact and do not make any noise – these attributes make solar panels among the most sought-after pieces of equipment to purchase for having a remarkable van life experience.

Unfortunately installing solar panels and connecting them to an inverter and battery backup system can require some technical electrical engineering skills and expertise to install into your van. This means that many people who are less tech savvy may need to hire someone else to install the panels for them or purchase a van that already has solar panels equipped on it from a previous owner.

It’s also worth mentioning that solar panels, while a free source of energy once correctly installed into your van, are not always a consistent source of power. If you try to run too many devices you’ll quickly deplete your battery backups, especially if you use too much power at night during heavy overcast days. For individuals who are flexible on their daily power usage this won’t be a big issue but if you expect to run electricity intense devices such as small mini fridges or air conditioners from solar then it’s likely not going to work so smoothly for you. Van dwellers that expect to use a lot of power for this kind of energy intense equipment ought to consider installing a generator to run for powering those specific heavy energy usage devices.

Van Life Power Generators

As with RV motorhome owners, many van dwellers find generators a practical solution since they offer a consistent power supply that can provide energy to power hogging devices. If you’re planning to use equipment such as an air conditioners, electric heaters and microwaves then a power generator will provide you enough of a punch of power to run them for short periods of time. Most generators use gas or diesel to produce electricity but some can also run off solar, allowing you to power amp intense appliances for a short time while doing something like brewing coffee. Some camper vans have generators pre-installed that will run from the same fuel tank you use to power your car engine while others need to be filled directly into the power. Portal power generators are popular among homebrew DIY van life dwellers who customize utility vans into homes on wheels.

Purchasing the most ideal generator for your van life adventure depends on your power needs and budget. You should also make sure that your generator includes a combination of AC and DC options. Then make sure it produces adequate power to run your refrigerator, air conditioner, water heater and still provide power fans, lights, phones and laptops and other things you expect to use.

A good powerful and quiet generator we recommend is the Generac 7127 iQ3500-3500 Watt Portable Inverter Generator. You can power just about anything you’ll ever need to while living in a van using this generator.

You can alternatively get a generator that can charge off your solar system.

If you’ve decided to invest into a generator then it is advisable to store it outside the van, ideally on top of it or installed into the side somewhere. Firstly, generators are heavy and take up a lot of space. Secondly they are a huge risk for carbon dioxide and fumes from the fuel can make you sick. Lastly generators can get very hot which causes a potential fire hazard and they are also very noisy, too. This is why mounting them outside the van is the best idea.

Power Banks and Cigarette Lighter Converters

Some additional power equipment worth taking along your van life adventure are portable power banks and cigarette lighter chargers. The last thing anyone would want to experience is a phone on low battery. Phones come in handy when it comes to directions and taking photos to capture these magical moments but for many of us these days they also power our internet hotspots so we can work in our vans while living a digital nomadic life. No true vagabond should be without ample power to ensure they can work on the internet. Avoid missing out on any bit of van life by buying some of these must-have van life items in your campervan.

You'll never want to run out of electrical power while living your best #vanlife
You’ll never want to run out of electrical power while living your best #vanlife

2. Laptop Mounts for Vans

Many van life dwellers find it convenient to install a laptop mount into their van, giving them easy access to their computers. The mounts can be set near the driver or passenger seat, or even placed in the back of the van as part of a setup using the bed as a kind of desk.

3. Van Life Heating Options

The idea of living in a van in cold seasons isn’t very appealing to most people but don’t panic, as there are remarkable heating solutions available to get you through the chilly nights and cold seasons. The question becomes pinpointing the best heating option for your campervan and to discover this requires you to consider a number of options that will be right for you.

First, assess the size of your camper van. The best heating source should efficiently heat your space. Remember that heating a large space with a small system will not get the temperature to the required level but this will not be a major issue inside of a van. Similarly heating a small space with a large heating system is a waste of energy and resources so you don’t need too big of a system.

Different heating units use varied fuel sources to generate heat. Selecting heating systems that operate on electricity or fuel (gas / diesel) is recommended since they are easily available. Here are a few heating systems options we recommend to invest in.

Portable Heaters for Van Life

These heating units can be connected to a gas cylinder or run from a propane canister. When purchasing a portable van heater, select one that comes with a low oxygen sensor to shut off whenever oxygen levels go down. Also, it is important to ensure that the van is well ventilated.

As a vital van living essential, you’ve got to make sure that the system is portable and easy to use. A system that comes with a low, medium and high-level heat control is an excellent choice to ensure steady temperatures.

Propane Furnaces for Van Living

These heating units work much like home furnaces. While installation can require a bit of effort it is a remarkable option for your camper van. Nonetheless these systems require you to install a gas detector in your van to protect yourself from accidents; otherwise you could have a leak that will cause major problems, possibly even death. Be careful.

Installing a Mr. Heater Buddy unit into your van and connecting it to larger propane tanks using the optional connector hose kit is the most affordable way to do this install.

Electric Van Heaters

Well, if you are planning to spend some time hooked up to Shore Power, you can never go wrong with an electrical heater. To reap the benefits of clean, dry electrical heat, invest in a quality campervan electrical system, and enjoy a reliable performance.

An Excellent Cold Weather Sleeping Bag

I personally used a Coleman classic style cold weather sleeping bag when I did my full time camper van living. I really think it’s one of the best.

4. Kitchen Equipment for Your Campervan

A reliable kitchen makes living in a van more comfortable. However, stocking your campervan with the right accessories can be a dainty task. Don’t worry, here’s a guide to a few van living essentials to add into your campervan cooking collection.

Cookware for Van Life

Investing in quality non-stick cookware allows you to save on water and are quick and easy to clean. Of course, no one wants to spend a lot of time doing dishes. Ultra-backpacking pots are a remarkable choice for van dwellers who backpack a lot. Alternatively, you can purchase cast iron cookware because they are incredibly diverse, easy to clean, and allows you to cook right over the fire.

Plastic Plates and Bowls for Van Life

While it’s nice to eat on ceramic or glass dishware, it is prone to breaking at some point. On the contrary, enamel dishware is noisy when you hit bumps or drive on a rough road. Solution? Plastic cups, bowls, and plates. They are quiet, light, and very durable – making them the best dining ware options for your campervan.

Having Counter Space and Tables in Your Van

Flat cutting boards are a principle component of any great kitchen, and a campervan isn’t an exception. Investing in counter space is important since you’ll often use the place to chop your vegetables or even assemble meals. You can opt for portable boards or fixed counter spaces. Either way, make sure your campervan has one.

A good collapsible table that folds up against a wall is useful for a custom van build.

Camp Ovens or Stoves for Your Van Life

Your van might already have a stove built into it but in case it does not, if you are planning to live in your camper van for a long time then you might consider carrying along a portable camp stove. Most individuals prefer purchasing a small gas or electric stove for cooking inside their van. Of course there is a wide array of stoves in the market to choose from – you can be sure to find an ideal one for your van.

A camp stove will make cooking inside your camper van much easier and help keep your food budget manageable.
A camp stove will make cooking inside your camper van much easier and help keep your food budget manageable.

You can use a propane stove, or an electric one.

One item I have found to be very useful is the RoadPro Camp Oven. It is shaped like a lunchbox but is a powerful cooking unit for making all kinds of things from stews to even baking bread. You do need to purchase aluminum tray liners for it but you can find ones at Dollar Stores often. There are some knockoff RoadPro models out there but I don’t recommend them as they tend to be junk.

An electric hotplate is also a good idea but make sure you have a powerful enough inverter that can do over 1000W in order to run one.

You can also purchase the classic Coleman propane camping stove. Many RVers have used this model, and years ago I used one, too. In fact my camper van had one built into a cabinet as its main stove.

Collapsible Cookware for Van Campers

Collapsible cookware are among the best products to maximize space inside your camper van. They are ideal for all individuals living in a van or even a full sized RV for that matter. You should also make sure to carry along kettles, colanders, trash cans, measuring cups and Tupperware.

Portable DC Freezers for Van Camping Food Refrigeration

There are many options available for van life camping, which can be powered by a DC solar system. However there are only a few options for running a freezer using such a system. One company that has built a great off-grid freezer that runs on DC is ARB with their portable freezer. This is used by many truck drivers and van lifers.

A cheaper model is manufactured and sold by the company Whynter. This portable DC compressor refrigerator also has a freezer unit but it has less storage space.

If you don’t need a freezer but do want a good reliable fridge with a lot of space, I recommend the Costway portable refrigerator. This also runs on DC so can be powered by your solar system or alternatively, your car batteries.

5. Camper Van Shower Equipment

Showers and washrooms are part of van living essentials that most people don’t factor in. Showering is perhaps the most challenging issue van dwellers face, but it shouldn’t be. With a few adjustments you can stay clean all along your adventure. Of course, van life does not offer the luxury of long, hot showers. Nevertheless the tradeoff is worthwhile.

Firstly you should consider whether you really need a shower? I lived in a camper van for many months without needing a shower, as I purchased a Planet Fitness Black Card membership that allowed me to access all Planet Fitness locations in the United States and Canada. While urban stealth camping in my camper van conversion I would workout at the gym and shower in the mornings, and then do this again at night. This saved a great deal of hassle, as trying to find locations to dump your tank is annoying.

You’ll also discover all state and federal park camp sites have showers at them, many of which are free. The same goes for private RV parks, too.

But you may desire to do boondocking out in the woods or something with your van so here is some advice on van showering equipment.

You should invest into quality pump showers or a battery-powered portable shower to enjoy showering with hot water. Alternatively you can opt to purchase a nice solar shower bag. If you don’t mind spending more cash to get ideal showering equipment, consider buying a portable outdoor tankless water heater for your campervan.

The Essential Takeaways for Van Life Dwellers

Planning to live in a van is a huge life change but it’s something you can successfully manage with a little bit of planning. With the above guide you’re sure to not forget some van living essential items you’ll need to bring along for your awe-inspiring van life adventure.


Carey has been living full time as an RVer for several years, traveling extensively around the United States and some parts of Canada. As a digital nomad he lives like a vagabond while managing his companies remotely with a laptop and internet hotspot.