11 Vanlife Must Haves (A Helpful Illustrated Guide)

Top 11 Van Life Essentials

If you’ve been researching stealth van life, no doubt you’ve come across tons of articles talking about how great living in a Van or RV can be and how many adventures you’ll have. Talking to actual people, on the other hand, can make it seem a lot less glamorous.

But, how do you shower in a van?

You actually WANT to be homeless?

You must eat nothing but beef jerky and dry cereal!

The truth is, living in a van can be just as luxurious as living in a house, but without that luxurious “empty bank account” feeling. In the two years, we have been on stealth living on the road, we have been able to splurge on some really great van life essentials that have made our lives so much easier.

Here’s a list of our Top 11 Vanlife Must Haves!

*This post may contain affiliate links. Please read this disclosure for more information

#1 CampChef Camping Stove/Oven Combo-Van Life Kitchen Essentials

Since I’m an actual, real-life chef, this oven is a big deal to me.

When we first purchased the van, there was a built-in camp stove that we used for a couple of months until one day it just died. The guy that built it into the van, didn’t do the best job, and the knobs completely broke off after a month.

camp cooking
Heat stuff from all sides, not just the bottom!

To replace that, we decided to go with a fold up Coleman Camp Stove. It’s super easy to use and does the trick for making that morning cup of coffee, or a quick bowl of soup. But sometimes I need more than that!

Sometimes I will wake up with an elaborate plan in my head to make the best Eggplant Parmesan lasagna on the planet. And when that urge strikes, I am compelled to bust out the big guns with my CampChef oven. To be fair, I usually only use this when we are out in the woods. While it’s incredibly versatile, it can also make your van really hot, so we like to use it with the door open.

It’s also portable and can be used outside! It’s perfect for tailgating and van movie nights under the stars.

#2 Goal Zero Yeti Solar Power Station

This bad boy is expensive and heavy, but it has come in handy so many times while stealth van camping! As I’ve mentioned before in my Cheap DIY Van Conversions post, we use a deep cycle RV battery and an inverter for most of our daily power needs.

Occasionally, it will fail. Not because there’s anything wrong with the setup, but because sometimes the fuses on our inverter jiggle around and don’t make contact.

goal zero yeti solar
This one’s powered by the sun, Man!

Since the charging of that battery depends on driving, we usually don’t find out about the fuse issue until we have already driven for a couple of hours to reach our location. It’s frustrating and doesn’t happen that often, but when it does, it’s a bummer.

The other issue is that sometimes you want to boondock for a week or so and just not drive anywhere. Say you want to visit a friend that has land somewhere and you have no reason to move, that’s where the Goal Zero Solar Power Station comes in.

It has the power of a generator, but it’s completely silent. It makes week long camping expeditions on BLM land so much nicer when you don’t have a big noisy generator whirring while you play Nintendo inside your van.

**Pro tip here on the price** I included an Amazon link above for you to see what I’m talking about, but when I purchased it, I purchased it through REI. Not only could I pick it up the same day in person, but I am also an REI member so I was able to get %10 back at the end of the year. On a big purchase like this, it’s totally worth it to have the membership!

#3 Alpicool 12 Volt Car Refrigerator

I have to admit, this is a very new acquisition in our van, but so far it has exceeded my expectations. I did a ton of research over the past few months about which 12-volt refrigerator to get, and for the price, the Alpicool 12 Volt Fridge can’t be beat.

plate of bacon
Well, Hello Beautiful

For a while, I was looking into the Dometic Fridge/Freezer model, but at almost $600 bucks, I think I would rather eat out every day.

The reason we finally decided to get a fridge for the van is that I am on the Keto diet. I eat a ton of protein and fatty foods which require refrigeration. Having a fridge in your van is a van life cooking essential.

Just because I can eat an entire pound of bacon in one sitting doesn’t mean I should.

The great thing about the price point on this model is that it includes an actual condenser to keep things cold. Most models at this price use a thermoelectric unit to keep your food cold. Basically, it’ll only cool 20-30 degrees below what the current air temperature is.

It’s great if you’re traveling in the cold, but the second the temperature climbs over 80, your food is no longer in the temperature safe zone. Food safety is a big deal to me since I’m not a big fan of violent food poisoning.

The compressor on this unit means it’s just like a regular house refrigerator, only a fraction of the size so it’s perfect for Van, RV, Skoolie, or Tiny House Life.

#4 Thule Rooftop Storage

In addition to cooking and playing Nintendo, the boyfriend and I also like to go fishing, crabbing, and clamming. We will sometimes wake up on days we have off together and decide to go on an excursion to the coast for an adventure, and that’s where this Thule Rooftop Storage unit comes in handy.

thule top mount vehicle storage bin
Thule-For all your stinky storage needs!

Instead of having to run downtown and dig through our self-storage space, we are able to just start driving. Everything we need for those types of adventures is already on the roof waiting to go.

I’m not sure if you know this, but it’s really easy to catch crabs with disgusting foods like rotting chicken and cat food. Those big metal crab traps have fun little storage boxes to put that stuff in, and because of that, I never, ever want it in my living space.

Nothing says “romance” like a van full of decomposing chicken.

In addition to the adventure storage, it’s great for just random storage in general. We have this Pop Up Canopy Tent that we use when we go camping to save us from the constant downpour that happens in the Pacific Northwest between the months of September and June.

rain canopy shelter
Keep that firewood dry!

We use it at least twice a month, and having it tucked out of the way makes our living space so much less cluttered.

#5 WonderWash Portable Washing Machine

Have you ever gone to a laundromat and been creeped out? And I don’t mean by the other patrons, but I mean by the actual look of the machines themselves? Sometimes they are just downright filthy and I have to wonder if they are doing more harm than good when it comes to the cleanliness of my clothes.

wonder wash portable washing machine
I like to replace the lyrics to Oasis’s hit “Wonderwall” with “Wonderwash”

We do have a laundromat in our neighborhood that, in addition to having a sanitizer cycle that cleans the machine its self, also serves beer. But when we’re on the road, this WonderWash Portable Washing Machine is way more convenient than trying to track down yelp reviews for every laundromat in the country.

I also think it does a better job of cleaning my clothes.

It works by a manual hand crank (don’t worry, it’s super easy) which means it weighs almost nothing. You will easily be able to make room for this in your van. Just hang your clothes up to dry when you’re done and that’s it! Laundry is done in under 10 minutes, and you didn’t even have to put up with sitting in a creepy room with strangers watching Dr. Oz reruns to do it.

#6 Garmin GPS Device

There are few things more terrifying than finding yourself in a really bad part of an unfamiliar town at night. I’ve followed the Google Maps directions on my phone straight into the depths of Hell more times than I care to admit.

gps unit
Use coupon code SPARKY to get the downloadable content that lets you avoid people with bleeding eyes.

After a particularly terrifying incident with a guy whose eyes were bleeding in Chicago, I decided to upgrade to a reliable GPS for my van. To be fair, the guy didn’t attack me or anything. Quite the opposite, he gave me a very sunny smile, but he had blood running from his eyes. I wasn’t prepared for that type of situation and the next day I got my GPS.

In addition to navigation in big cities, it’s also great for when you lose cell reception and can’t access Google Maps. Some of the best campsites are in the absolute middle of nowhere and it pays to have something that will tell you where you are at all times.

If you read my post Where Can I Sleep in My Van Legally, you know that I am a huge fan of the website Freecampsites.net. One of the great things about that site is that it offers you an exact Latitude and Longitude number. Since sometimes the free campsite is very close to a pay campsite, the exact numbers can help you not get in trouble. This GPS easily lets you input exactly where you need to go.

It also helps navigate you away from traffic which is a big deal if you’re driving a bigger RV or a van that’s a little taller than you’re used to. So yeah, it’s a win all around.

#7 12 Volt Fan

This 12 Volt Van Fan is more necessity than anything else on this list, and at $20 bucks, you should probably just buy it for your stealth van immediately.

For starters, vans and RVs can create a terrible case of swamp ass. If your van is insulated properly, it’ll help a little, but for the most part, as soon as it warms up outside it will start to get unbearable inside. No matter how much you crack those windows, the air inside will stagnate overnight and there’s a good chance you could end up miserable.

Cracking on van wall from condensation
Actual picture of the damage condensation can do.

Having a fan keeps that air moving which will definitely help. You could also create a knock-off swamp cooler setup pretty easily with a Styrofoam cooler, a block of ice, and this fan. I’m not saying it’ll feel like an air conditioner, but it will feel less like an oven. If you live in a warm climate, you’ll thank me.

The second reason you need this is because if you use a propane-fueled Mr. Buddy Heater like we do, you will want a way to keep the air flowing so you can keep the condensation out. We did not know about the effect propane had on condensation until it was way too late, and we are now looking at having to redo our interior.

Don’t be dumb like us, get this fan asap for both summer and winter. You’ll be glad you did!

#8 Goal Zero Torch 250

If you’ve ever been in bear country in the middle of the night and hear noises, you know how important having a flashlight on hand is. You’ll want to know right away if the noise you’re hearing outside your van is a gang of ninja raccoons or if it’s a grizzly hell-bent on your demise.

This Goal Zero Torch is solar powered, so no draw on any of your systems, but it’ll also power your small USB devices no problem.

Another reason why we purchased this bad boy, is because you can hand crank it if you don’t have any sun. Since we live in Oregon, sunshine is never guaranteed, so it helps to have a light source we can power in several different ways.

#9 A Solid Multitool

I think one of the keys to be able to live the #vanlife successfully is to know how to fix things. Not all things, I’m not saying you have to be MacGuyver, but having a little bit of knowledge goes a long way. For all the big things that could fail, like fuel pumps, there are a million other little things that could break. Having a good Multitool on hand will be a lifesaver in these instances.

Not just for Boy Scouts anymore!

For example, checking my inverter fuses. I should do it more often than I actually do, but since they are in a weird position I put it off. Now that I have a multitool, I’m able to grab them easily with pliers.

Rearview mirror lose?….BAM! screwdriver to the rescue!

Need to cut the itchy tag off your shirt?…BOOM! scissors to help you out!

Beer refusing to open and slicing the skin off of your hand?…BLAMMO! a bottle opener to save the day!

#10 Water Filter

dirty water and clean water
Take THAT, Nestle!

Ok, ok, so I bought this Survivor Filter PRO more for my upcoming international travel than for my current van life, but I still find it very helpful.

Fact is, even in the United States, you can’t always count on your water being clean. I’m not talking about drinking out of puddles, I’m talking about city water sources. The amount of bad stuff that is within the acceptable range in some of these facilities is deplorable.

I don’t mean to get all “Doomsday Prepper” but I think it’s a good idea to have something close by that will provide you with a source of clean drinking water. So sue me if I am one of those crazies that think having access to clean water is a fundamental human right.

You never know what’s going to happen in the world, better to be safe than sorry.

#11 Games!

Maybe I should have listed this one before I made my very important statement about clean drinking water…but damn it! Games are important too!

Once you start living in a van, life has a way of slowing down. You don’t come home to a house that needs cleaning, you have fewer bills to pay, you actually have time to enjoy the little things.

At first it can seem a little daunting, and you’ll feel out of place, but eventually, you will allow yourself to have fun again. Having a set of portable travel games is a great way to pass the time and keep your brain sharp. Whether it’s cards, dice or pocket Jenga, give yourself a little bit of time each day to unwind and enjoy the ride we’re all on.

van under the stars
My boyfriend takes some amazing photos…

You only get to live once, why waste it indoors paying tons of money on rent when you can go out and have fun?


*This post may contain affiliate links. Please read this disclosure for more information


Items you NEED for van living

21 thoughts on “11 Vanlife Must Haves (A Helpful Illustrated Guide)”

  1. This is such great info. We aren’t doing the van life however, we have talked about living minimally and doing a camper. Also, we often do jeep trips for off-roading and live out of the jeep. -Kristen

  2. I love the practical advice and tips you have put together for those who are living the vanlife. It sounds very exciting and I would love to try my hand at it for a few months to begin with

  3. I’ve always been tempted by the VanLife lifestyle and you provide great info (not just the polished and beautiful side of it we see on IG and Pinterest) to jump right into it with the proper equipment. Thanks for sharing!

  4. The first time I got a GPS it was gifted to me as a joke because i always got lost. Turned out to be the best gift I ever received. 🙂

  5. So many useful things in this list! I always wanted to live the Vanlife (at least for a few months), hopefully this will happen soon and I can make the best of your awesome list!

  6. You make me dream! I’m going to travel by my own with a campervan next year, this is such useful information, I subscribed, to be up to date…

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