Van Life: Essential Gear for Living on the Road

vanlife

For three months now, I’ve been living in a van … the #vanlife they call it. He goes by Kio and he has traveled from Tennessee to Washington, down through Utah and California, and now up toward Wyoming.

When your systems are in place and you find yourself well-prepared, van life can be simple, freeing, and pleasant. But, be ill-prepared, and you may find life in a van to be a cumbersome and stressful ordeal.

To provide brief context: my van is still just an insulated shell as of this writing and I’ll be building it out over the upcoming months. Yes, I sleep on the floor and I don’t yet have any power in the vehicle. That being said, my recommendations below will be updated as I gain more experience with the lifestyle.

The following products are my top picks for van life luxury:

Coleman Classic 2-Burner Propane Stove

Because you’re no longer backpacking

coleman-double-burner-stove-van-life-essential-gearBuy Now

The beauty of living in a van is the small indulgences … like having two burners over my previous one-burner MSR WhisperLite. The Coleman double-burner offers all the power you could need with a very easy setup; it’s affordable, functional, and backed by a 3-year warranty.

BESTEK DC to AC Inverter

Power everything on the move

bestek-van-life-essential-gear

Buy Now

Not yet having solar, this device is a lifesaver. Featuring two AC outlets and two USB ports, I can charge everything I need any time I’m in motion. And with nearly 2000 5-star reviews, I’m not the only one finding this van life essential to be awesome.

Dr. Bronners

Do-it-all cleaner for your living space, your dishes, your body, and more

dr-bronners-dirtbag-soap-van-life

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Spending so much time in the wild, it’s important to be using biodegradable and environmentally sound products. Organic and vegan, Dr. Bronners does feel healthier than its alternatives and I’ve found myself using it as my only cleaner … for everything. And when you’re really feeling ambitious, just add some into a tub with water and your dirty clothes. Laundry, done.

Although it seems expensive in comparison to other soaps or detergents, this soap is very concentrated and should be diluted with water to extend its usage.

Action Wipes

Shower without taking a shower

action-wipes-dirtbag-shower-van-life

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While on the topic of cleanliness, showers on the road can be a little tricky; they’ll also typically come with a price tag. But, you can elongate your duration between bathing days with intermittent full-body wipe-downs, and I’ve found Action Wipes to work very well.

Tasty Bite Madras Lentils & Amy’s Soup

Convenient calories

Tasty Bite Madras Lentils

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Amy’s Soup

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When on the road, there are times when you’re in dire need of convenience—like when you drive for 8 hours, park at 9:30pm, and need a quick meal (my last night…).

My easiest, fastest, and still healthy meal is to simply heat up some rice (I try to always have cooked rice on hand, making a few days-worth at a time) and throw either one of these lentil packets or soups on top. Once everything is hot, you’re ready to eat. That’s all, and it tastes great.

Pro tip: they’re also reasonably tasty when cold, uncooked, and without rice, as well.

AeroPress or Melitta Pour-Over

Non-destructible coffee-making because in a van, everything breaks

AeroPress Coffee Maker

aero-press-climbing-dirtbag-coffeeBuy Now

Melitta Pour-Over Coffee Brewer

melitta-dirtbag-coffee-brewerBuy Now

Within a week I broke a French press. Last week, I watched as my friends broke their French press. I’ve also broken all my glasses. I’m not sure what it is, but things seem to have a shorter life expectancy in a van. If you’re a coffee drinker, I recommend getting a non-destructable method for your brews.

MPOWERD Luci Lantern

Solar, renewable, light

luci-light-van-life-essential-gear

Buy Now

For the last 8 months I’ve been replacing much of my headlamp use with Luci Lanterns—at only $15, one lantern can fully illuminate my van and lasts throughout the evening. I keep two of these charging on my dash while driving and I’ve never run out of light. Say goodbye to batteries!

Pro tip: I’d get the Luci Lux model for the evenings, as the clear ones can feel too bright before bed.

TheraCane

Don’t be fooled by its goofy looks

Buy Now

Time in the driver’s seat can be stiffening on your back and your legs. Add in some hard bouldering and your body is begging for a little care. The TheraCane helps you pinpoint areas of tightness and immobility; it helps you massage areas you’d otherwise not be able to touch.

This odd-looking contraption has a cult-like following and I’ve met many climbers (including myself) that swear by its benefits. Highly recommended!

GripPro Hand Trainer

A very subpar alternative to rock climbing that combats boredom on long stretches of open road

Buy Now

I’m not particularly into climbing training … I’d rather just climb than spend time on the hangboard. But, living in a van you’re bound to be doing a lot of sitting; long drives and traffic that can severely test your patience. When this happens, you may just wish you were climbing …

For times like these, I keep this handy device in my console. You could visualize your project while giving it a squeeze and it beats banging your head on the steering wheel.

Yeti Cooler

Keep food and drinks cold for 3+ days, without power

yeti-cooler-van-life-essential-gear

I don’t own a Yeti, but having spoken to many proud Yeti owners I feel this next-generation cooler deserves a spot on this list.

The price point on these is high; it’s a difficult dirtbag purchase and I was bit shocked when I first learned how much people were paying. But, the performance is unmatched: it will keep your food cold for a full 3-4 days in any conditions. This is a great option for those without power and/or a refrigerator.

Renogy Solar Panels or Goal Zero Yeti 1250 Kit

Power everything with the sun

Renogy Solar Panels

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Goal Zero Yeti 1250 Solar Kit

Buy Now

Given that I just moved into my van, I’m also still exploring the best option for solar. I’ve spoken with van dwellers on both sides of the spectrum: those who opt for the do-it-yourself value option and also those that go for the all-in-one Goal Zero packages.

If you want more bang for your buck and don’t mind the extra work, your best option is likely to design your own solar setup; this means panels, batteries, controller, etc. However, if you’re seeking convenience and don’t mind the price tag, Goal Zero makes great all-in-one options. Once I have my solar setup firmly outlined, I’ll make a follow-up post dedicated to this topic.


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  • Jake W

    I’d add a USB-powered headlamp. Having power in the vehicle, you can always keep it charged and forget about headlamp batteries. Also, good window shades. Reflectix cut to your window size works well because it both insulates the windows and provides privacy.

  • Thanks for this list! Just purchased some of the inflatable lights (what an awesome idea!) and the AC inverter.