Over the course of five months living in a van we learnt what gear was essential gear for vanlife, and what wasn’t, pretty quickly. Mostly you learn how even when you think you’ve sold everything you own, you’ve still got a lot of crap you really, really, don’t need (and won’t miss when it’s in a top box on the roof for five months).
There were a few things Thom bought that I thought we probably wouldn’t need. The cheap skate in me figured we’d be just fine without it. I’m glad he realised we’d need things like a solar panel even when I thought we’d be fine charging things up in cafes for 5 months. Trust me, it would’ve been such a hassle and a waste of time.
If you’re thinking of packing it all up and living the vanlife full-time then here are a few items I’d say are pretty essential gear for vanlife!
Goal Zero Yeti
This was one of the most expensive items we purchased for our van but also one of the ones we got the most use out of. I’m not sure what we would have done without it; it’s definitely a piece of essential gear for vanlife!
While there are other methods of converting your solar power into electricity that you can actually use, the Goal Zero makes the process super easy and does it all for you. It save you having to buy about three pieces of kit as you only need this.
Ours is relatively small and has two USB ports, and a couple of ‘normal’ plug sockets which meant we could keep laptops, phones, cameras and anything else charged up while we lived in our van. It also powered our Fantastic Fan!
Meet anybody living the van life and you’ll probably find that they’ve got a fantastic fan installed in their campervan.
The fans come in different models and prices, some have rain sensors so close when they detect rain, others can suck air in and push it out and some just push it out.
We bought the cheaper model (the one that just sucks the air out) which is good for keeping the van ventilated when cooking. Thom then did some DIY and added a switch and a couple of wires that means our fan now goes both ways – something we were VERY thankful for on humid nights in Florida and New Orleans.
You only seem to be able to buy this in the USA – here’s a UK equivalent!
Solar panels are a fantastic investment. We bought one super slimline solar panel that sits on our roof. You can’t see it unless you go looking for it – that’s how slim it is!
The panel connects to our Goal Zero and kept us powered throughout our journey (and now on our weekend trips too!).
For us one solar panel was enough, but if you have a fridge or a TV you might want to invest in two.
A camping stove, gas & an ignitor
Unless you’re super fancy and live in a van big enough for a built in stove top then you’ll need to get your hands on a camping stove.
We picked up a fairly cheap camping stove in Canadian Tire (about $70), like this one. It wasn’t the cheapest (the cheapest felt like it’d fall apart!), but it wasn’t the most expensive either.
One of the best ways to save money when travelling is to cook your own food. Plus, I like cooking so a camping stove was essential.
We bought one with two burners to make things a little easier and of course you’ll need some gas to make it work! Again, stock up on gas as it’s rubbish when you run out (we had to eat half cooked potatoes once when we were in the middle of nowhere with no gas!).
Instead of matches we bought this ignitor to get our camping stove going!
Mr Heater Buddy
Another way we stayed warm(ish) while in freezing temperatures was with our Mr Buddy Heater.
Technically I don’t think you’re supposed to use these inside as it can release harmful gas into your van. However, you’ll see most vanlifers use a Mr Buddy Heater come the winter season and it’s a life changer.
We’d put our on just as we got into bed to warm the van up a little and then again in the mornings. Always turn it off before you fall asleep and make sure you buy that CO2 alarm to stay safe!
There will be times (probably many times) when you aren’t going to be near a shower. You may be covered in dust from a hike, or just feeling a bit grimy. When you can’t get to a shower baby wipes are the next best thing!
You’ll want to stock up on these as you’ll get through them quicker than you think!
You’ll probably find you need a whole array of water bottles. We had a couple of 1 litre ones to have up front with us while we drove and to take out on hikes; two big 10 litre bottles one was for waste water and the other connected to our sink for washing up (they were previously full of drinking water and bought from Walmart); and a couple of 3 litre bottles which we used to fill up our smaller bottles and in cooking.
These swell bottles are my favourite and keep water cool for hours!
Hopefully you’ll never have to use a fire extinguisher in your van but it’s an essential piece of vanlife gear. It’s best to be on the safe side!
As above, it’s always better to be safe. In fact, I think it’s law to have one of these in your RV/Campervan when staying at a campsite in Canada.
A CO2 alarm like this will be alright.
Dustpan & brush
You’ll get dust, hair, food and all sorts of dirt on the floor of your van. Buy a cheap dustpan and brush to keep things looking tidy.
This one only applies if you’re living the vanlife in the USA. The America is beautiful National Parks Pass was one of our most cost-effective buys.
It cost just $80 for the year and got us both free entry in to all the National Parks, National Monuments and other sights too. We save SO much money by buying this!
We didn’t really have room, or need, for a fridge while we were travelling. Sure, it probably would’ve been easier to have a fridge but when we really needed to keep something cool we just bought some ice and stocked up cool box.
If you’re a coffee lover but don’t have room for a coffee machine in your van then consider getting a caffetiere. I didn’t use mine that much (I preferred to seek out coffee shops while on our road trip) but there were certain days I was super glad we had this in a cupboard!
Foam mattresses are not only super comfortable but, unlike spring mattresses, they can be chopped up so that you can make your own sofa bed for your van.
We bought our foam mattress for the van from Ikea and then cut it ourselves. However, you could find a cheaper alternative by just buying foam and getting it cut to the sizes you need.
This is the mattress we bought, but you can usually find a store which will cut foam to whatever sizes you desire. I imagine that’s cheaper too!
Hot water bottle
At the start of our trip we were in a super freezing cold Toronto (minus 20 degrees!). We definitely needed a hot water bottle then and if you’re going to be staying anywhere remotely cold then I suggest you buy, or take, a hot water bottle with you too. You won’t regret it!
The best duvet you can find
Go for a nice warm duvet (or sleeping bag) that you can snuggle up in. No matter how much you insulate your van the chances are some nights will be cold – especially if you’re up in the mountains or travelling over winter!
We were constantly misplacing our keys while living in the van so attaching a Tile to them saved us a lot of time (and arguing) looking for them.
Chances are you’ll be using Google Maps to navigate on your road trip while living the van life.
Buy a phone holder that attaches to your dashboard or windscreen so that you’re not illegally (and dangerously) trying to use your phone and drive.
Phone charger – 12v
Whilst we did most of our charging through our Goal Zero, sometimes we needed a little extra juice in our phones while we were driving.
Our Goal Zero was in the back of the van so we used the 12v slot up front to keep our phones powered up.
FM Transmitter/USB connector for music
Depending on how old your van is you might not have a USB slot where you can plug in your phone to play music. Elvis is from 2008 and the only way we could play our spotify playlists was to buy an FM transmitter.
An Alarm clock
It might be your phone, or maybe it’s something a little bit fancier but you’ll want something to wake you up. Firstly, if you’re stealth camping somewhere you’ll want to wake up early to avoid being spotted and asked to move. Secondly, don’t waste your day sleeping. There’s so much to get out and see!