We’ve compiled a list of our top 9 van life essentials. 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. If you’re headed out on a road trip or considering van life, check out these essential pieces of gear. Also, be sure to check out our post on the best van life gear under $50.
9. Coleman Triton Series 2-Burner Stove
Some vans have a built-in stove. Ours does not. We would love that feature but we simply don’t have the space. We use the Coleman Triton 2-Burner Propane Stove and it works great. It’s runs off of the small green 16.4 oz propane bottles which you can find almost anywhere: Wal-Mart, REI, local outdoor shops – we’ve even seen them in grocery stores. We get about an hour’s worth of heat from one canister when we run it on high – more when we cook at lower settings. The stove is durable, easy to set-up, quick to cool down after cooking and big enough to fit a 10 inch pot and 12 in pan on it at the same time. Pro tip: This stove doesn’t come with an igniter so bring your own lighter or matches.
8. Stanley Adventure Prep and Cook Set
The STA01715-BRK Prep & Cook Set Stainless is a fairly recent addition to our kit but it’s become invaluable. We really 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 and the whole thing takes up very little space (6.5 x 4.4 x 6.5). It also doesn’t rattle around when we drive which is a huge upgrade from our pieced together kit from before. In addition, the pot is made of stainless steel and the lids are BPA free and scratch resistant.
7. Crazy Creek Original Camp Chair
We have two of these Crazy Creek 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 essentials because of how they fit in our vehicle.
6. 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.
5. Exped SIM Comfort Duo 7.5 Mat
Living in our van means sleeping in our van. We’ve experimented with numerous setups as far as cushioning goes and have finally found a mat that works for us. With dimensions that are 197cm x 125 cm, the Exped SIM Comfort Duo Self Inflating Air Mattress – 7.5 is the perfect size for our Wayfarer Van. It sits right on top of our plywood, fold-out bed and unlike previous systems we’ve tried, it doesn’t shift around during the night. In the morning, it quickly deflates and folds in half for easy storage. To read more about this please visit the post about it.
4. 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 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.
3. Reusable Water Container and Bottles
We used to have a Reliance Products Desert Patrol 3 Gallon Rigid Water Container. It did a great job, survived lots of bumps and drops, didn’t leak and was easy to carry and refill. It served us for years until we backed up into it in California. We have been using a cheap 2 gallon jug ever since as well as a Nalgene BPA Free Tritan Wide Mouth Water Bottle. We’ll probably go back to getting a larger jug at some point. It’s a constant push-pull between using a small jug which is good for space reasons and then having to find water and refill more frequently.
2. GSI Outdoors Ultralight Java Drip Coffee Maker
If you like coffee, this little device is one of the best upgrades you can make to your van life kit. 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.
We’re currently using a beat-up Igloo cooler without a handle that I got from my parents garage several years ago but we’ve had our eye on the YETI Tundra 35 Cooler for quite some time. The YETI holds up to 20 cans, plenty of ice, won’t leak, is designed to work with dry ice for 3 times the cooling power of regular ice, and also has a dry rack to keep food from getting soggy. Plus it just flat out looks good. Keeping our food cool is one of the biggest challenges we face since we don’t have a refrigerator in our rig. Though our Igloo is still doing the job we’re hoping to upgrade soon since we’re about to head into summer and the challenges of keeping food will increase.
Your need for this one depends on the kind of travel you’re doing. If you’re trying to unplug for a weekend getaway, this is probably the last thing you want to pack. If you’re working from the road like we are, this is indispensable. I fried the battery on my old phone because I used it as a hotspot for extended periods of time. When my phone no longer held a charge and I was forced to get a new one, I bit the bullet and got a the Jetpack MiFi 6620L. We no longer have to constantly hunt for free wifi and allows us the freedom and flexibility to work in beautiful places.
How many of these essentials for van life are you currently using? We’d love to hear your thoughts on your favorite pieces of van life gear. Please leave your comments below!
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