Vanlife packing list: kitchen essentials, storage solutions & the best camp set-up
Imagine living in a 60sqft. space that needs to function as your kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, office, AND vehicle all at once, and you’ll immediately understand why packing is so incredibly important for vanlife. It can often feel like an impossible task to balance the need for compactness and multi-functionality with energy efficiency and robustness, but it’s ultimately the difference between having a comfortable, liveable space and “sleeping in your car”.
My partner Dan and I have spent almost a year living in our 159″ Dodge RAM Promaster van (so far!) and have dialled in our home with all of the best kitchen essentials, storage solutions, and outdoor camp equipment— we’ve figured out how to maximise our space through better organisation, cook huge meals with only a small kitchen, and feel at-home anywhere we park.
Whether you’re moving into your van full-time or preparing for a cross-country road trip in a rented camper, this vanlife packing list contains absolutely everything you need to turn your vehicle into the perfect tiny home on wheels!
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Packing tips for vanlife
There are a number of significant (and often at-odds) considerations for how you pack & stock your van, and we’re constantly inventing better ways to do things that conserve space and power without sacrificing functionality, durability, or aesthetics.
We’ve returned hundreds of dollars of items to Amazon after a single day when they just didn’t fit like we thought they would, and broken several dozen more that we didn’t foresee as problematic— but all that trial and error now means we have a van that feels far more like a home than a car, one we love hanging out in at night and that we’re proud to show people!
Here’s what we’ve learned:
- Smaller isn’t always better. Space is at a premium, so smaller items can be a great way to maximise space, BUT smaller can sometimes mean flimsy and translates to major sacrifices on functionality. For example, the smallest 3L Instant Pot is almost unusable for cooking, but our 6L makes as many as 8 meals in a single batch and leaves us with a fridge full of leftovers! It takes up more space in our bench, but we use it ALL the time and there’s no way we’d be happy with the smaller size.
- Conserve power for the things that matter most. Although it may be tempting to bring a high-wattage blender or hair dryer in the van (they’re so small, after all!), these kind of electronics guzzle power and will drain your battery quicker than you can imagine. Instead, we choose to save power for things like our Instant Pot and our very low-watt space heater (which both still use a fair bit of electricity, but are more important to us for comfortable living). It’s worth considering what you personally want to prioritise power for and then making sacrifices in other areas.
- Organisation is king. It only takes a few items out of place to make our van feel like the aftermath of a terrible hurricane, so don’t underestimate the importance of bins and baskets for every shelf, drawer, and cabinet in your van. Storage containers give things a proper place to go so the entire van feels larger, but also prevent things from jumbling or even breaking while driving.
- And on that note, movement is the enemy. The more you can do to secure items within your van (whether it be organising the contents of a drawer into dividers, tacking your candle directly onto the benchtop with Museum Putty, or securing wall hangings at half a dozen points), the less damage you’ll sustain to the interior of your van after a bumpy drive down a dirt road. Some casualties seem to be an inevitable part of the learning process, but obviously it’s always nice to arrive at camp and find everything exactly as you left it.
- Less is more. It may seem obvious, but you probably won’t be able to fit the entire contents of your apartment into a van. I’m naturally a minimalist (I moved to the US with just 2 suitcases a few months before we bought the van), but Dan had a harder time narrowing down which shoes and jackets and personal items to bring. Ultimately, we’ve both discovered just how little you need to enjoy vanlife and have already moved a bunch of stuff out of our van to free up living space and storage for items that are more important than spare bath towels or that fifth pair of pants.
1 | Kitchen essentials for vanlife
Before moving into our van, I feared how I’d be able to prepare meals in such a small space, but honestly, I’ve cooked better in this kitchen than ever before!
By organising our drawers and cabinets carefully, choosing cookwear that serves multiple purposes, and keeping clutter off the benchtop, our van kitchen feels like a restaurant-quality prep space!
About our kitchen: We have a 4.5ft x 2ft butcher block bench in our kitchen, which has a 14″ x 14″ x 4″ sink cut out of the wood and a single induction burner on the opposite end that’s approximately the same size.
Our sink has both cold and hot water (piped from the 45gal fresh water reservoir & 5gal hot water heater in our garage), as well as a 5L grey tank that collects under the bench. We also have a Dometic CRX-65 12v fridge/freezer under the induction plate and the remaining under-counter space is occupied by drawers that hold all of our dishes, cookwear, and cleaning supplies. Above the counter, we also have 2 cabinets (roughly 2.2ft x 1.2ft x 1.1ft each) that we use for pantry storage.
- Instant Pot | without a doubt, this is the most versatile, useful item in our entire kitchen, and despite concerns on my part that this new-fangled gadget would make everything harder (I even bought a wok initially, believing I wouldn’t like the Instant Pot!), I truthfully couldn’t live without this now and we’ve become pretty hardcore Instant Pot evangelists, telling everyone we meet about how AMAZING this thing is! We have the 6L Instant Pot and it is large enough to make up to 8 meals (ie. dinner for me and Dan on the first night & then 2-3 subsequent nights of left-overs), but the best thing about the IP is how it replaces every other piece of cookwear in our van— you can use it as a skillet to saute or heat up food, as a pot to boil water, a steamer for veggies, a rice cooker— and then there’s only a single item to be washed and cleaned. I can even cook spaghetti in this thing by throwing in all the raw meat, vegetables, sauce, and UNCOOKED pasta, and within 15min, we have a full meal. Can you tell how much we love our Instant Pot?! My only additional piece of advice would be to purchase the non-stick inner on Amazon and ditch the stainless steal it comes with, since the non-stick is WAY easier to clean.
- Skillet | although I was initially fearful that a single 10″ skillet wouldn’t be enough to recreate my favourite recipes, I’ve ended up using the Instant Pot for all of our cooking and really only use the skillet for reheating or the occasional toasting of quesadillas (& now I feel like 10″ is the perfect size!)
- Magic bullet | this tiny blender is the perfect low-wattage (and easily storable) option for making smoothies in the van, which is one of our brekky favourites
- Shatter-proof bowls & plates | we have a set of 4x large plates, 4x small plates & 2x bowls, and also like to supplement with paper bowls & plates when we don’t have sufficient water to wash dishes; this is a great set on Amazon
- Drinking cups + mugs | we have several mason jars and a few beer-can-style glasses from a brewery, and surprisingly most have remained intact even during bumpy drives due to tight storage in the kitchen drawers; we also have a ceramic mug and an insulated mug each for coffee/tea in the morning
- Ice cube tray | these small silicone ice trays fit perfectly into our Dometic fridge!
- Cutlery + knives + organiser | a few sharp knives & a basic set (4x each of forks, spoons, knives) of cutlery has been more than enough for us living in the van; we used Museum Putty to stick our wooden cultery organiser to the bottom of the drawer so it doesn’t slide while we’re driving
- Everyday kitchen tools | we keep a bottle opener, potato peeler, zoodler, scissors & other odds and bobs in our top kitchen drawer; the Dollar Store is an excellent place to find some of these tools on the cheap!
- Cutting board | choose a plastic board for easier cleaning with limited water
- Over-sink dish rack | this rollable wire rack is amazingly useful as a safe surface for hot pans after I take them off the burner and we even unfurl it every night to keep our blankets from falling into the sink (we’ve hardly used it as a drying rack, but it also does that!)
- Tupperware, ziplock bags & aluminium foil | one of the best ways to save money on the road is by cooking in the van, so we always try to make large batches of curry or pasta & refrigerate the leftovers for our next meals; we have a 5-piece set tupperware set from this company on Amazon and love them
- Pantry organisers | we searched high and low for the perfect baskets for our upper kitchen cabinets, which is where we store the majority of our food, and finally found these awesome pantry organisers from The Container Store; we also bought cheap placemats from the Dollar Store to line our cabinets and prevent the metal organisers from damaging the wood
- Benchtop storage basket | we recently added this small woven storage bin from The Container Store to our countertop and it fits perfectly behind our sink to hold random odds and ends (like spare propane for our heater, room spray, and my dry shampoo that literally doesn’t fit anywhere else)
- Spice rack | a magnetic spice rack that attaches to the wall or fridge is absolutely essential to maximise space, and this is the best magnetic spice rack out there— in 9 months on the road, we’ve never had a single jar fall off while driving (and we’ve had plenty of other casualties on bumpy Forest Service roads, so that’s saying a lot!)
- Dish towels | we purchased 2 inexpensive dish towels from the Dollar Store and they’ve held up exceptionally well!
- Under-sink organiser | designed to be used in a bathroom, we adhered this super-handy organiser in the cabinet under our kitchen sink to hold extra sponges, plastic bags, etc
Shop these items & more from my Amazon store: kitchen essentials for vanlife
2 | Cleaning essentials for vanlife
Cleaning in a van is also slightly different than in a house, since we don’t have space for a full range of products and we also have to be very cautious about what is washed down the sink (water & biodegradable soap only!). For reference, we store a majority of our cleaning supplies under the sink in our kitchen for easy access.
- Dr Bronner’s | this biodegradable castile soap can be used as everything from dish soap to body soap and shampoo, and it works excellent in our kitchen; we dilute it with water (usually 2:1) to prevent our soap dispenser from clogging up and use it to scrub all of our dishes, clean our sink, and even mop our floor
- Paper towels | as much as we’d like to be paper-free in the van, we use paper towels A LOT, particularly for wiping out all of our dishes and cookwear before washing in the sink to prevent grease & foodscraps from collecting in our pipes
- Sponge | essential for washing dishes; we always buy a multi-pack of sponges and keep spares under the sink
- Magic eraser | nothing beats the original magic eraser for cleaning all the white cabinetry and walls in our van
- White vinegar & salt | of all the products we’ve used to clean our composting toilet, this simple solution has worked the best to cut odour and remove stains
- Small broom & dustpan | essential for keeping your kitchen floor clean (it gets dirty FAST) since it’s such a small, high-traffic area); ours is from the Dollar Store, but this is another small option on Amazon
- Cordless handheld vacuum | to supplement our sweeping efforts, we’ve also found our small cordless vacuum to be invaluable in keeping both the cab of the van and our home clean (Dan also loves to vacuum up bugs with this thing and it’s become a real passion project)
- Laundry detergent + dryer sheets | buy a regular-sized detergent bottle and dryer sheet box to avoid paying more at the laundromat; after the detergent has been used a few times, it’s usually able to fit into a large gatorade bottle, which is infinitely easier to store under the sink
Shop these items & more from my Amazon store: cleaning essentials for vanlife
3 | Bedroom essentials for vanlife
If the kitchen was my greatest concern, the bedroom was Dan’s— at 6ft tall & with some pretty significant sleep issues, our bedroom set-up had the ability to make or break vanlife for him.
Simply having a queen-size mattress assuaged the worst of our worries, but creating a comfortable, cozy space also enabled us to sleep as well in our van as we do in any house.
About our bedroom: Next to the kitchen, we have a platform bed that rises about 3.5ft off the ground. Our memory foam mattress is a standard queen (60″ x 80″), but our van is only 76″ wide including the 3.5″-deep cut-outs at the head and foot, so it feels somewhere between an RV queen and a proper queen bed when you’re really in it.
We also have a single sliding window (~ 33″ x 10″) in the cut-out at our feet and 2 windows on the rear doors, the latter of which we keep covered 100% of the time with sunshades for privacy and insulation.
- RV sheets | although our mattress is technically a queen, it’s crammed into a slightly smaller space (as explained above) and therefore we find that RV-queen sheets, which are made to be a few inches shorter than a standard queen, are absolutely perfect; these sheets from Amazon are incredibly comfortable and we love that they have elastic strips at the corners to help the fitted sheet stay on
- Blankets & duvet | we keep several blankets and a thick duvet on our bed throughout most of the year, just because we both prefer the feeling of being super snug in bed; our duvet cover is from Anthropologie and, although expensive, it hasn’t shown a single speck of dirt or sign of wear
- Pillows | since you’ll likely be using your bed for more than just sleeping (e.g. reading, researching places to go, watching Netflix, and often as additional seating when hanging out), I’d recommend a minimum of 4 pillows; we have these Sealy memory foam pillows for sleeping and this firmer set of shredded memory foam pillows are great for propping yourself up in bed and getting comfy
- Throw blanket | I can’t get properly cozy in the winter without a fuzzy blanket, which I use on our bench seat while working, outside while watching the sunset, and even as an extra layer on super cold nights
- Window covers | not limited just to the windows in our “bedroom”, we use these sunshades from the Heatshield Store on our dash, passenger windows, and rear-door windows for privacy, to block out light, and to insulate against cold or hot temps outside; a few suction cups popped off after a year of constant rolling and un-rolling (since we store the shades in the cubby space above our van’s cab when not in use), but the company replaced them all for free!
- Blackout curtain | we have a curtain rod and thick blackout/noise-deadening curtains that separate the cab from our living space, and in our opinion, this is one of the most essential items for bedroom comfort. We really like being able to pass between the cab and “our house” freely, but the curtain makes it feel as if we’re entirely closed off from the front of the vehicle, which is awesome for privacy, and it’s not uncommon for the front of the cab to be as much as 20-degrees cooler or hotter than the rest of the van (that’s how well these things insulate!)
- Mini blackout curtain | just recently, we installed blackout curtain valances (typically 12-18″ decorative drapery used above full-length curtains for aesthetics) to cover the small sliding window at the foot of our bed for additional privacy; these are awesome because they are already the perfect size and can be hung on a tension-rod (an awesome no-drill curtain rod solution for small windows)
- Bluetooth speaker | no home is complete without a kick-ass stereo system and this tiny Marshall Stockwell II speaker easily outperforms larger speakers; I’ve been a die-hard Marshall fan for the last decade, so I was pretty excited to get a smaller version of the speaker I already owned for our van!
- Extra-long USB cables| depending on your van set-up, you may want to invest in an extra-long USB cable to reach from the charging point to the far corners of the bed; these Charge Cord cables for iPhone & Android are incredibly robust and also super cute
- Zero Breeze AC unit | with the aid of an electrician, we installed a ZeroBreeze Mark II AC unit in our garage by drilling circular holes into the floor of our van for the intake air & heat exhaust and then piping the cold output through a side panel towards the top of the bed. This is the smallest, most energy-efficient AC unit available and costs a fraction of a rooftop AC unit (which also compromises your stealth factor for urban camping), and coupled with our MaxxAir fan above the bed and the window at our feet, we are cool even in the hottest, most humid weather!
Shop these items & more from my Amazon store: bedroom essentials & clothing storage for vanlife
4 | Clothing organisation & closet essentials for vanlife
Whether you have a closet, cabinets, or even just a few shelves for your clothing storage, baskets and bins are absolutely essential for keeping things neat and organised. We’ve also come up with some pretty crafty solutions for storing things like bulky jackets and nice hats!
About our closet: To the right of our kitchen, we have a closet with 2 large shelves (11″ tall) & 2 small shelves (7″ tall) that we use for our clothes. Above this, there’s a large shelf (1ft tall) that holds our hygiene kits, first aid supplies, and towels, and at the very base of the closet is our toilet.
- Small clothing storage bins | we have several of these beautiful fabric storage baskets from The Container Store (4x small for me, 2x medium for Dan), and I use my bins for underwear/socks; bras/swimsuits; tank-tops; and t-shirts
- Large clothing storage bins | we each have 1 large plastic bin approximately 16″ x 23″ x 11″, which I use to store my shorts/skirts/dresses/pants & jumpers/jackets; we already owned these bins, but here’s something similar from Amazon!
- Jacket & hat hooks | I bought 4 cheap metal S-hooks and capped them with plastic tubing from the hardware store, which we hang on the end of our curtain rod as jacket hooks for our bulkier outerwear (down jackets, etc) and for hats; here are similar s-hooks from Amazon that already have plastic caps (which help protect your jackets from being punctured)
- Hanging shoe rack | we nailed 2 of these hanging shoe racks from Amazon onto one of our van’s rear doors and it works amazingly well for storing all of our shoes (our mountaineering boots & hiking boots are stored just in front of our storage bins since they’re too heavy/large for the rack, but everything else fits perfectly)
- Laundry sack | we use a large sleeping bag sack for our laundry (durable, very large & inexpensive!) and store it under our bench seat, fully sealed, to prevent odour from stinky hiking clothes
Shop these items & more from my Amazon store: bedroom essentials & clothing storage for vanlife
5 | Bathroom & shower essentials for vanlife
Almost as important as a functional kitchen and comfortable bedroom is a well-organised space for getting ready in the morning/cleaning up in the evening! Wherever your van’s “bathroom” may be, here are all the essentials to consider.
About our bathroom & shower: Although we don’t have a designated bathroom space in our van like some of the larger models can accommodate, we do have a Nature’s Head Composting Toilet that slides out from under the base of our closet (this is piped to the outside of our van with a low-energy fan constantly running to prevent smell). It is quite honestly the best composting toilet ever (we use 1.5 bricks of this coconut coir to 2.5L of water every 3 weeks) and worth every single cent to have a clean place to pee in the middle of a sub-zero night camped in the mountains.
We also have a hot-water shower out the back of our van; the showerhead clips into our door and we can swivel this around to wash without getting the contents of our garage wet.
- Nature’s Head Composting Toilet | we have nothing but love for this AMAZING composting toilet, which we use for all bathroom situations (need to empty liquids every 1-3 days & solids every 3 weeks, directly into the trash or into a hole in the ground since it’s entirely composted!). If $1000 seems pricey for a toilet, just know it’s genuinely the best of its kind, their customer service is excellent, and you’ll be happy every single day that you have this.
- Coconut coir | for your composting toilet to break down solid waste, you’ll need to fill the base with peat moss or coconut coir (and some water); we’ve tried several brands and proportions, and finally determined that THIS is the absolute best coconut coir for our toilet at the exact ratio of 1.5 bricks to 2.5L of water
- Wipes & TP | stay extra hygienic in the van with flushable wipes (although, I definitely wouldn’t recommend putting these in your composting toilet)
- Hygiene kits | we each store all of our personal hygiene items like toothpaste, lotion, contacts & vitamins in a small 6qt plastic bin and we love how easy it is to transport from the van into various campground showers or hot spring bathrooms for our intermittent deep-clean; plus, our exact bins are only $1.50 at Target!
- Small mirror | our mirror from Urban Outfitters is no longer available, but this is a similarly sized mirror on Amazon that can be hung from Command strips so you have a small mirror for getting ready in the morning
- Microfibre towels | we each have a microfibre towel for showering out the back of the van or in campground bathrooms
- Hand towels | when weather/time/water conservation doesn’t allow us to shower out the back of the van & we aren’t near an indoor shower, we use thick handtowels to “sponge bathe” inside the van; we each have one of these for our face/body, as well as one of these smaller towels to use on dirty areas like our feet
- Bamboo shower mat | when showering out the back of our van, we stand on this bamboo shower mat to keep our feet clean
- Dr Bronner’s soap | we use the same biodegradable Dr Bronner’s soap from the kitchen as a body wash when showering outside our van, since this is environmentally-friendly (in biologically sensitive areas with lots of plants and wildlife, though, we don’t use soap at all and just wash with hot water out the back of the van); you can get a massive container of this stuff and store it in the back to refill both your personal soap bottle and the soap dispenser in the kitchen
- Shampoo bar | when I do have the luxury of showering indoors (and can use non-biodegradable products), I love these Lush shampoo bars and have been using them for years on all my travels; not only are they packaging-free and super compact (very van-friendly!), they also last FOREVER and leave my hair super soft!
- Dry shampoo | keep your hair fresh between showers (while still conserving water!)
Shop these items & more from my Amazon store: bathroom & shower essentials for vanlife
6 | Functional décor for vanlife
Putting up decorative touches around the van is a major part of making the space feel like home, but it’s also a lot more challenging than styling a traditional home, since you’ll need to account for all the shaking and bumping that happens on rougher roads (which are everywhere, you’d be surprised!).
Here are some awesome solutions we’ve found for decorating your van & then adhering all those decorations firmly to the wall/counter to prevent damage in transit.
- Museum Putty | originally used by art museums to protect fragile pieces during earthquakes or even from the wayward elbow of a tourist, Museum Putty is amazing for sticking candles, vases, baskets, organisers, literally anything to your kitchen counter or even in your drawers to prevent movement while driving; we’ve had several glass items tacked onto the bench since we moved in and they haven’t budged so much as a single centimetre all year!
- Command strips & hooks | we used Command hooks in our kitchen to hang the dish towel and trash & recycling bags (in the cabinet under our sink); above our bed to hang fairy lights; to mount our mirror to the closet; and tons of things in between; these are absolutely invaluable and we like to keep several sizes on hand for emergency repairs (grab this variety pack from Amazon)
- Fairy lights | after testing no fewer than 3 brands of cheap fairy lights from Amazon, we agree these USB-powered, remote-control, multi-coloured fairy lights are the absolute best; we used these clear Command hooks to string them around our bed
- Hanging planters | we have 2 small hanging planters above the spice rack in our kitchen and a large plant holder of the same shape on the opposite wall; the best way to attach these safely for plants is to use a metal hook at the top and a flat bracket for the horizontal metal bar in the middle, but make sure to choose hardy succulents or cacti that can withstand the constant shaking on bumpy roads (our Queen Victoria Agave is the only remaining member of our plant family after both succulents were rattled beyond recovery on Utah’s dirt roads)
- Instax Mini Link printer | we used this little Instax printer from Fujifilm to decorate the perimeter of our bed with polaroids of our travels
- Entrance mat | to minimise dirt being tracked into your van, it helps to have a durable mat at the door; we absolutely love our desert rug from Society6, but there are literally thousands of designs offered for the same rug (by different local artists) from this cool online art store
Shop these items & more from my Amazon store: functional decor ideas for vanlife
7 | Garage & outdoor camp essentials for vanlife
Most vans feature additional storage space accessible from the back doors (under the bed), which is commonly used like a garage to store gear from bikes to backpacks, as well as outdoor camp equipment like chairs and tables. Although your exact storage needs will likely vary, here are a few key items to invest in!
About our garage: The entire space under our platform bed (roughly 6.5ft wide, 5ft deep & 3.5ft tall) constitutes our garage, and this is where our 45gal fresh water tank, 3x Li-ion batteries, solar inverter & DC to DC charger are housed.
Even with all this equipment, we have a massive amount of storage space remaining, which we use to store 4x Rubbermaid bins with all of our hiking & climbing gear and overflow for van consumables (e.g. large bottles of soap that we use to refill our smaller bottles, spare toilet paper, etc), as well as our folding chairs, table, outdoor rug & more.
- Roughneck storage bins | we use 4 of these heavy-duty 31Gal Roughneck storage bins from Rubbermaid in our garage, as mentioned above (they are massively overpriced on Amazon, so be sure to get them from Target); we actually broke the handle on one of these bins because it was so heavy and Rubbermaid customer service replaced it for free as part of their warranty program
- Tarp | it’s smart to keep a tarp handy in the back of the van for a range of uses, including something clean to set our storage bins on when you’re organising or searching for something in the garage
- Leveling blocks | Dan is obsessed with leveling our van in any campsite, so we use this pack of 10 plastic leveling blocks to get our van perfectly situated; these are super sturdy, but even if you do manage to break one, there’s a warranty program through the manufacturer that will replace it for free!
- Water hose + filter | we use a 40ft hose with this RV water filter to fill our fresh water tank; in a pinch, this inexpensive Water Bandit also adapts our hose to fit smaller spigots so we can refill anywhere
- Outdoor plastic rug | we LOVE our outdoor rug from Mad Mats, which is made out of recycled plastic and can just be hosed off or dunked in the river to clean; originally, we purchased the 4×6′, but returned it for the larger 5×8′ rug and are very pleased we did
- Camp chairs | the GCI Kickback Rocker (available from Amazon or REI) is by far the best camp chair I’ve ever owned and it folds even smaller than some standard camp chairs
- Roll-top camp table | we love our roll-top camp table from REI (and this similar option from Coleman), since it packs to the size of a chair yet offers a sturdy enough space to use as a dinner table or desk outside
- Awning | rather than spend $800 on a Promaster awning, Dan assembled a simple DIY awning for under $100; to make something similar, you’ll need to purchase paracord, a tarp, and telescoping poles (these are the exact items we ordered from Amazon to build our awning)
Shop these items & more from my Amazon store: garage & outdoor camp essentials for vanlife
8 | Maintenance & safety items for vanlife
No vanlife packing list would be complete without maintenance and safety items, some of which we use regularly and others that we hope never to need (but are prepared for, just in case).
- Tire inflator | we travelled through the entire American West without ever using this tire inflator, but know from speaking to other vanlifers that it’s essential for sandy beach camping (and can often be the difference between getting stuck on a rough road/puncturing a tire and making it out the other side); we have it in our van primarily for Baja, but if you intend to push your van on back roads and camp on the beach regularly, this Slime tire inflator is considered to be the best (it’s what we own, but have yet to use)
- Shovel | if you do get stuck in sand (which happened to us in Utah!), you’ll absolutely want a shovel to dig out the tires; we have a collapsible shovel just like this that takes up minimal room in the garage of our van
- Tire patch kit | these kits (we own this one from Slime) are incredibly inexpensive and worthwhile to have on-hand in case of a flat tire in a remote area
- Tire jack | most vans come with a tire jack and everything you need to change a flat tire, but it’s worth confirming that yours is strong enough to lift the van WITH a heavy conversion and all your personal items (for reference, the tire jack in the 2019 Promaster is stored under the passenger seat)
- Tow strap | the time we did get stuck in Utah, a friendly local had to winch us out of the sand using a tow strap; we bought 2 of these 10,000lb tow straps to make sure that any rescue effort wouldn’t be impeded by a tow strap that broke under the weight of our van
- Jump starter power bank | this is one of the items that we hope never to use but keep within the van in case of emergency (since our DC to DC charger can drain our van battery if accidentally left on when we aren’t driving). Essentially, this allows us to jump start our own van from a small power bank without any other cars or cables; we bought ours from Costco when we first moved into the van, but this is the exact same power bank from Amazon
- DIY windscreen repair kit | repair small cracks in your windscreen using the Rain-X repair kit as soon as they happen to avoid further damage
- Tool kit | we have a toolkit just like this one that lays flat and stores easily in the cubby space above the cab of our van, stocked with a hammer, screwdrivers, various pliers, a wrench, exacto-knife, measuring tape, etc; this is crucial for DIY repairs on the road!
- DIY supplies | to attend to vanlife’s many small calamities, we also keep a small plastic container in the van with super glue, spare Command hooks, rubberbands, wire, velcro, needle & thread, Museum Putty (the BEST way to stick things onto your benchtop), and all variety of tape… this stuff has gotten us out of a pinch more than once!
- First-aid kit | there’s absolutely no substitute for a well-stocked first aid kit, especially when you’re spending time off the grid in remote areas! Individual needs will vary, but we keep ours stocked with bandaids & antiseptic; gauze & bandages; KT tape (great for everything from ankle sprains to blisters); and a variety of medications (expectorant, anti-histamines, cold medicine, NSAIDs, gas relief, pain-killers). If you don’t have a first aid kit and want to buy one ready to go, we also own this Adventure Medical Kit from REI and it’s an excellent place to start!
- Garmin In-Reach Mini | I always recommend this PLB (emergency beacon) to hikers and mountaineers, as it’s accounted for both my dad and stepmum being rescued after serious injury in the backcountry, but it’s equally valuable for vanlife, where you’re routinely out of service, in the middle of no where, by yourself. For everything from texting friends letting them know you’ll be late meeting up (we’ve done this quite a few times!) to actually calling for help if you’re injured/broken down a remote area (think about the travellers who recently died in Death Valley after their car broke down in extreme heat), a PLB is 100% essential. The device itself is a few hundred dollars and then you’ll need to have an active subscription to use it (we pay $10/month for the cheapest plan, which we can toggle on and off as needed)– but it works all over the world and, when SOS is activated, Garmin will patch you through to the relevant local authority (Coast Guard, SAR, police, sheriff, ranger, etc) for help. Considering it could literally save your life, the cost is more than worth it (P.S. I like the Mini better, since it’s smaller and cheaper, but it’s more challenging to actually type on, so make sure you download the Garmin Earthmate app that allows you to type on your phone and transmit the message via Bluetooth).
- Mouse traps | as much as it pains me to say this, you’ll need to have mousetraps available in the van for certain areas & campsites; we’ve had about 12 mice in our van over the course of the year, never when we expect to, and we’re incredibly paranoid about them getting into our engine or insulation— both of which would result in catastrophic levels of damage to a van. It’s sad, but it’s not worth ripping up your entire build when a family of mice moves into your wall and chews through your wiring.
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9 | Travel essentials for vanlife
⚠️ This section is a work in progress, so check back soon for more posts on all my favourite travel essentials & hiking gear, as well as location-specific vanlife packing lists to make sure you’re prepared in every country!
- Baja packing list COMING SOON
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