Van Life Essentials: A Camper Van Packing Guide

Are you looking to upgrade your essential van life gear? If so, check out some of our most used and important items for traveling in our small camper van. These are items that we use daily and things that overall make sense for us due to space, durability, cost, and practicality. When your home is on wheels, the gear you pack can have a huge impact on your life. If it’s the right gear it can improve your efficiency with life’s tasks: sleeping, making food, etc. Likewise, if it’s a poorly designed piece of gear it can have a negative impact on your journey and possibly even create unnecessary stress. We’ve got everything from the big ticket items such as a portable power station to smaller items that we think will improve your overall experience of life on the road. Looking for a guide to what we pack to wear on our camper van trips? Head on over to our Camper Van Clothing Packing List.

Battery Jump Starter

Start a dead battery with this portable battery jump starter by NOCO. On a full charge you can get about 20 jump starts on a single charge (not that you would, hopefully, need that) and rated for gasoline engines up to 6 liters and diesel engines up to 3 liters. It’s also multifunctional and can be used as a portable power bank and LED flashlight. It will recharge smartphones, tablets, and other USB devices AND it’s easily rechargeable from any powered USB port in 3 hours at 2.1-amps. It’s the #1 best seller in jump starters. Don’t get caught in the middle of nowhere with a dead battery.

Smartphone Mount

This smartphone mount adjustable and offers a quick release button so you can get your phone out easily. It also allows for 360 degree rotation so you can twist and turn the phone to suit your needs. This carphone mount is an Amazon Choice product and at $10.99 it’s one of the most affordable camper van life essentials that you can purchase that will get your phone out of your lap and into view to make navigating easier.

Johnson and Johnson’s First Aid Kit

Johnson and Johnson’s First Aid Kit is compact and even comes in it’s own carrying case. It’s fits in the glove compartment and has 140 supplies in it to assist with burns, scrapes, itches, pain, skin rashes and even insect bites. We’ve the Neosporin and band-aids to be the things we most often reach for in this kit. The cold pack also came in handy when I fell on a trail.

Stanley Adventure Prep and Cook Set

The Stanley Adventure Prep and Cook Set is one of the best pieces of van life gear that we own. We use components of this set several time a day. With so much use we have really come to appreciate the design. The spatula and ladle fold up to fit inside the bowls and the bowls fit snugly inside the pot. The handle also collapses. The whole kit takes up very little space (6.5 x 4.4 x 6.5). In addition, the pot is made of stainless steel and the lids are BPA free and scratch resistant.

Crazy Creek Original Camp Chair

We have two of these Foldup Camp Chairs – one of them is the REI brand (same chair as the Crazy Creek but with a different logo). They’ve got just enough padding to keep us comfortable, fold up small so that they fit behind our seats and have a handle so that we can carry them anywhere we go. Though there are tons of chairs on the market, these are part of our vanlife essential gear because of how they fit in our vehicle.

Leatherman Sidekick Multi-Tool

Pliers? Check. Knife? Check. Serrated knife? Check. The Leatherman Sidekick Multi-Tool with Black Nylon Sheath also includes a Phillips head screwdriver, bottle and can opener, one inch ruler, spring-loaded wire cutters, a wire stripper and a metal file. This tool comes in handy regularly (cutting rope, opening beers, etc.) and would make the perfect gift for someone you know that’s about to hit the road.

Kelty Tru.Comfort Doublewide 20 Sleeping Bag

Like the name suggests, the Kelty Tru.Comfort 20 Degree Double Wide Sleeping Bag allows you and another person to sleep in the same bag together. It’s kept us warm on even some of the coolest nights (it’s temperature rating is 20 degrees Fahrenheit). We love that it’s hood is large enough for two pillows and that it has two thinner flaps for warmer nights when you want to kick the thick, top layer off. Is it roomy enough for two? We think so. It also pairs really nicely with the Exped mat mentioned above. If you’re going to be sleeping in your van during the fall and winter, stay warm with this bag and extend your adventures into colder weather.

GSI Outdoors Ultralight Java Drip Coffee Maker

Nothing helps beat back the chill of fall and winter like a great cup of coffee. This little device by GSI Outdoors is one of the best upgrades you can make to your van life gear. Say goodbye to the percolator or french press that takes up a ton of space. The GSI Outdoors Ultralight Java Drip attaches on most mugs, folds down super small (4.2 x 4.2) and is also super light. The mesh cleans out really easily after use. You literally just have to turn it inside out and pour water over it. There’s very little cleanup mess compared to using a french press or percolator. Grind some great beans, get a little hot water going and then sit back and enjoy your morning cup from the step of your van rather than hunting for a Starbucks. For less than $10.00, you can improve your morning camp experience by leaps and bounds. Want to know more? Check out our story on How to Make Great Camp Coffee. We’ve had these for three years now and they’re still going strong!

Stainless Steel Compost Bin with a Charcoal Filter

Want to make good use of your coffee grounds and other food scraps? Then check out this Stainless Steel Compost Bin with a Charcoal Filter. It’ll not only help you become a greener van life traveler, it may just connect you to cool locals in some of the places you visit. See our post about How to Be a Greener Van Life Traveler to learn more about composting, reducing your carbon footprint, recycling, etc.

Ozark Trail 26 Quart Cooler

We’ve been using the Ozark Trails 26 Quart Cooler for over a year now and we love it. It stores a lot more food than our old Igloo cooler, comes in a great color, keeps our food cold for up to three days and is leakproof. It’s also a lot cheaper than it’s Yeti counterpart. To see a full review of our cooler, head on over to our Ozark Trails 26 Quart Cooler Review.

Stasher Reusable Food Bag

We discovered theses Stasher Reusable food bags by accident when we were in Missoula. The local grocery store had them for sale and we took a chance because they said they would not leak due to the pinch-lock seal and that it would help keep food fresh. Plus it’s made from non-toxic silicone and doesn’t have BPA’s, PVC or latex. The reason it makes our best van life gear list is because we have cut down on our use of plastic bags and our food stays fresh longer because water can’t get in once the ice melts in our cooler. And though we don’t have a dishwasher or microwave in the van it’s safe for both of those AND it can boiled in hot water.

Jackery Explorer 500 Portable Power Station

We wrote an entire review on why this portable power station is a great addition to your van life gear. In a nutshell, it’s lightweight, fairly compact, and can charge everything from your phone to your laptop. To learn more about it as well as the optional solar panel, click here.

Black Diamond Headlamps

Every good van life essential gear kit should include a headlamp or two. We use Black Diamond’s Spot headlamps. When not in use, we store them on the headrests of our seats so we always know where they are. We use them at least once a day whether it’s to use the bathroom in the middle of the night, to get the toothpaste on the toothbrush in the dark or even just for reading. They’ve got a dimmer and a red light as well as a strobe effect and the batteries only needs to be replaced once or a twice a year even with regular use.

Coleman Triton Two Burner Stove

We do a LOT of cooking when we’re on the road and the unsung hero in our best van life gear roundup is our Coleman Triton Two Burner Stove. It’s a workhorse. It’s got two burners, both of which can be adjusted for maximum control of the flame. It’s also got it’s own igniter which means you don’t have to carry a lighter around with you anymore. The regulator fits neatly inside the stove and the carrying handle makes it relatively easy to get in and out of the van. We store this stove just inside the door and next to the large bed box on the drivers side of the van.

National Geographic Adventure Edition Atlas

There have been many times in our van life adventures where we’ve needed to consult the atlas because we don’t have a cell phone signal. We’ll also regularly use it to plan out a route. Luckily, we have a good one in the National Geographic Adventure Atlas. The roads are detailed and accurate, there are campgrounds listed on the maps and there’s even special sections on some of the most loved national parks. For those of you who plan on traveling in your van to Mexico or Canada, you’re in luck because both of those countries are covered in this atlas as well.

CamelBak Pivot Roll Top Backpack

Every van life essential gear list should include at least one pack. We’re giving a nod to the CamelBak Pivot Roll Top Backpack because it’s functional, can hold a hydration bladder for hikes and it’s made with recycled plastic water bottles. To read more about it go here.

Van Life Essentials: A Camper Van Packing Guide Recap

How many of these van life essentials are you currently using? We’d love to hear your thoughts on what you think is the best van life gear. Are we missing anything? Please leave your comments below!

Need to find a holiday gift for the van life traveler in your life? Be sure to also check out Best Van Life Gear Under $50.

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Published by Erin McGrady

Erin McGrady is a filmmaker, photographer, and writer exploring Asheville and beyond. My work focuses on sharing about LGBTQ safe spaces, camper van life, and the outdoors.

10 thoughts on “Van Life Essentials: A Camper Van Packing Guide

  1. #8 thru #5 are now on my wishlist to upgrade our setup. On our last trip, we used an old Thermarest duo of my parents and I’ve been shopping for one of our own. I’m uncertain about choosing between the 3 models REI offers. I’ll definitely be checking your recommendation out. Thanks!

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