16 Van Life Essentials

man on van roof with solar panels
  • 1-100 hours
  • Beginner
  • 0-160,000

The van life offers freedom to move across the country unencumbered, be on your own schedule, and save money. Whether you’re a weekend warrior or a full-time van life inhabitant, you’ll need to plan for the essentials.

1. Solar Setup

Living in a van often means providing for needs without plugging into the power grid. While you can rely on batteries or a generator, a solar setup is the best way to collect free energy and passively recharge your batteries to power systems and devices inside the van.

Your solar setup will include photovoltaic panels, batteries, and an inverter. There's a range of systems to consider, from a portable plug-in system to more expansive panels mounted to the roof of the van. Either way, plan for where you will locate your batteries where they are out of the way yet accessible.

2. Power Bank

Let’s face it—there will be times you don’t have power, like when a system is down, or you get a dead battery. Make sure you have stored power for use when this happens. Plus, a continuously charged power bank is a portable option for charging small devices even when you’re outside the van.

3. Car Lighter Charger

If your vehicle has a built-in lighter, get an inexpensive charger/adapter. These plugs tap directly into the power inside the lighter and provide a way to charge phones, laptops, and other USB-capable devices.

car charger converter with USB plugs

4. Solar or Battery-Powered Lights

Although you can always fall back on a flashlight as an option, you’ll want reliable and convenient lighting throughout and outside the van. Solar lights are a passive outdoor option, while battery-powered lights are perfect for inside the van. Neither type of light will drain precious power reserves.

two people in back of a van with string of lights and doors open to mountains

5. Safety and Emergency

Van life can take you to remote places if you want it to, so be prepared for all situations. Even if you’re not headed for the mountains, make sure to have a comprehensive first aid kit, a fire extinguisher, and a CO detector. You’ll also need to have a backup of prescription medications. In case of breakdowns, carry a compact jump-start system and an emergency roadside kit.

6. Tools

Just because your home is smaller than a traditional one doesn’t mean you get out of home maintenance. The van life requires constant upkeep and tweaks here and there. Arm yourself with a basic toolset of wrenches, a hammer, screwdrivers, etc. Include mechanical necessities like a spare oil filter, fuses, bulbs, and of course, a spare tire along with a jack and lug wrench. Also bring an ax or hatchet, a ladder or step stool, and a shovel.

7. Kitchen Supplies

Living in a small space is all about efficiency and minimalism. Select a few high-quality items rather than bringing the entire kitchen from home. If not built-in, you’ll need a cookstove of some sort. Then add cookware, dishware, eating and cooking utensils, a strainer, cheese grater, and drinkware. You may also want a ceramic drip or French press coffee maker, tea kettle or JetBoil, cutting board, and serving bowls.

Refrigeration is also important. You may have a propane unit on board. If not, plan to maintain a cooler.

8. Outdoor Seating and Dining

Life in a van is cramped. Take full advantage of the outdoor space with a portable table and chairs, as well as a hammock.

9. Toilet

Some may not consider it essential, but unless you plan to rely completely on outdoor options, you’ll want a bucket system or compostable toilet. Remember the toilet paper too.

10. Heaters and Fans

When you’re running on batteries, every system needs to be considered. Focus your heaters and fans around propane options or solar power.

van bed with pictures, windows, and blankets

11. Water Filter

If you don’t have a central system for creating potable water, you’ll need a portable filter.

12. Cleaning Supplies

Your house is small, but you can’t completely avoid housework. Designate space for rags, cleaners, garbage cans and liners, and a broom/dustpan or small vacuum.

13. Personal Hygiene

Stay healthy by observing basic personal hygiene. Include a mirror, portable shower, body wipes, soap, shampoo, and toothbrush.

14. Bedding and Linens

You can go primitive or luxurious, but either way, you’ll need sleeping bags, sheets, pillows, blankets, and towels for the kitchen and bath.

van life space with blankets next to beach

15. Storage

Organization is a challenge in such a small space, so take an inventory of what you must take and sort it into locking totes or cabinets. Use a door-hanging shoe rack or include a rooftop cargo carrier if needed.

16. WiFi

Although you may be looking to get away from it all, you may also be working and living on the road full time or just wanting to keep in touch with family and friends. Plan to use a hot spot when you’re away from WiFi networks.