Campervan dwellers don’t need a lot, and they can certainly live a more minimalistic lifestyle than most. This being said, there are some items that people should have before they begin living in a campervan.
Here are some of the essential must-have items that all campervan dwellers should have!
1. Tire Repair Gear
A vehicle’s tires are inarguably the most important part of the vehicle. These are the only parts of the van that make contact with the road, and they dictate whether or not you’ll be able to move your campervan.
For this reason, it’s important that you have enough equipment to change or repair a tire. This equipment should include a tire iron, a jack, and an air compressor.
You may also want to include a repair kit as well so that you can patch small leaks yourself.
My favorite types of air compressors are the ones that can be set to a particular PSI. These compressors will then stop automatically once they reach the right tire pressure.
This makes refilling tires much easier, and you’ll be able to get all of your tires to the same level without a whole lot of trouble.
Also, make sure you have a full spare tire, as well. Many vehicles only include a temporary spare tire. These tires are thinner than your standard tires, and they don’t hold up very well or for very long.
In fact, you shouldn’t drive at highway speeds on them as they could blow. Get a full spare tire, and you won’t have to worry about any of these issues.
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2. Vehicle Retrieval Gear
Campervan owners go places. They take their campervans up mountains, through the woods, and onto beaches. Unfortunately, this is one of the reasons campervan owners get stuck so frequently.
If you’re considering campervan living, you’re probably thinking about all the cool places you’ll take your campervan.
You might want to take it through a desert or to your favorite ski lodge. This means it’s inevitable that you’ll get stuck one day too.
Since you know your campervan is going to get stuck, why not bring along some vehicle retrieval gear with you?
Some items to consider are plastic tracks to lay down in front of your wheels and tow straps. You can use the tracks to try to get yourself out of snow and mud, and you can use the tow straps when you have help.
For those of you going through snow-covered areas, you may want to consider buying chains as well. You can use your tracks to get yourself unstuck and then put the chains on so that you don’t get stuck again.
3. A Portable Battery Jumper
People with newer campervans won’t have to worry about leaving their headlights on. The headlights will turn on and off by themselves. In fact, people with campervans built within the last 20 years probably won’t have to worry about leaving their headlights on as an alarm will go off when the car is shut off, and the lights are left on.
However, people with significantly older campervans will have to worry about this problem. In fact, they’ll have to worry about it a lot.
Most of us take for granted that our headlights will turn off by themselves, and it’s easy to forget to turn them off when we have vehicles that don’t. Leave these lights on, and you’ll have a dead battery when you come back.
Of course, leaving the headlights on isn’t the only way to end up with a dead battery. There are a lot of ways to end up with a dead battery, and a dead battery will leave you stranded.
Get around this problem by bringing your own portable battery jumper.
These jumpers are incredibly easy to use, they don’t cost much, and they are easy to store underneath the passenger seat. I’ve used mine on many occasions and couldn’t imagine living without one.
4. Battery Powered Lighting
While we’re on the topic of batteries, I should mention that you should have your own battery-powered lighting with you in your campervan. This will take some strain off of your vehicle’s battery and will give you better control over your interior and exterior lighting.
Personally, I like to have a large flashlight, a small flashlight, a small lantern, and a headlamp. This gives me a lot of lighting options that I can use to get around the vehicle, to make repairs, and to check under the hood when it’s dark outside.
You may be tempted to go with older flashlights and lanterns with standard incandescent or fluorescent bulbs. However, it’s a good idea to stay away from these kinds of lights. Instead, go with a light that features an LED bulb.
These bulbs are less fragile than older bulbs, and they tend to last much longer than the older bulb styles. They’re also quite reasonable, so it just doesn’t make sense not to use them anymore.
5. Emergency Roadside Assistance
It’s a good idea to be able to solve as many vehicle problems as you can yourself. This being said, it doesn’t hurt to ask for help sometimes. We can’t all be mechanics, and not everything can be fixed on the side of a road. You may find that your next repair needs to take place inside of a mechanic’s shop.
Towing can be incredibly expensive. This is especially true if your vehicle happens to be out in the middle of nowhere.
Get a good emergency roadside assistance plan, and for just a few dollars a month, you’ll have peace of mind knowing that you’ll be able to get your vehicle towed when you need it.
When looking at roadside assistance plans, take a look at how many miles they’ll tow your vehicle for free.
People looking to use their van far from city centers may want to opt for a plan with more towing miles as you may find that when you break down, the nearest mechanic isn’t as close as you might hope.
6. A Cell Phone
I’ve known many people who have gotten into camping and campervan living just to get away from it all. They want to get away from technology, and they don’t want to be burdened by a cell phone.
However, I recommend that they bring one with them anyway. Cell phones are very important for emergency situations, especially if you’re camping off-the-grid.
If you don’t want to be bothered by a cell phone, you can always put it on silent or turn it off. If you don’t want to pay for a monthly plan, you can always get a prepaid phone with minutes that have a long expiration date.
The small amount of money and the small amount of space that you’ll use to keep a cell phone will be worth it the first time you have an emergency. After all, how can you call for emergency roadside assistance if you don’t have a phone?
Also, bring a car charger for your cell phone. Even a phone that is off will eventually die. Bring the charger and periodically charge the phone so that it will have power even if your campervan doesn’t.
7. A Vehicle Camera System
Campervans are longer and wider than most vehicles. On top of this, the windows can be difficult to see out of. In some cases, there aren’t any windows at all, which makes it even more difficult to park and drive.
Get around this issue by adding some cameras to your campervan. A standard backup camera can help you get in and out of parking spaces, and a birds-eye-view camera system can help you park, change lanes, and even drive.
These camera systems can also be set up to record the surrounding areas. They’ll do this on a loop system to save on storage, but you can always turn them off in the event that you need to save a specific piece of camera footage.
For instance, you might need the vehicle’s camera footage to prove that an accident was the other driver’s fault and not yours.
In this case, the few hundred dollars that you spend on buying the camera could save you thousands of dollars in a single insurance claim.
8. Privacy Shades
A campervan just isn’t going to give you as much privacy as a brick and mortar home does. The walls on a campervan are thin, and noise will easily travel through them. However, this doesn’t mean you have to give up your privacy completely.
Cover the windows with privacy shades, and at least you won’t have to worry about people peeking in on you. You’ll be able to sleep safely and get dressed privately, and you may even get some additional insulation from the privacy shades as well.
In fact, many people opt to put Reflectix in their windows. This insulating material helps keep the vehicle from getting too hot while providing an excellent sight barrier.
9. Vehicle Ventilation
Campervan living just isn’t possible without ventilation. Fail to ventilate your campervan properly, and you’ll end up with an enormous amount of condensation. This condensation can lead to mold and mildew, which can quickly ruin a campervan as well as everything you have in it.
Not only this, but a good ventilation system will help keep you cool in warm weather. On top of this, it will also help to remove any odors that might otherwise accumulate inside of your campervan.
The best way to ventilate your campervan is with a rooftop vent. These vents come with fans in them so that you can pull air into the van or push air out of the van. For this reason, many people will buy two vans and set them up to do both.
If you’re uncomfortable with adding a rooftop vent, consider getting screening for your windows. You can combine these with side window deflectors so that you can crack your windows without having to worry about water or bugs getting into your campervan.
10. Comfortable Bedding
You won’t enjoy living in a campervan if you’re not getting any sleep. One of the best ways to ensure that you get a good night’s sleep is by buying the right bedding. Of course, the bedding you need will depend on your particular sleeping habits.
Do you sleep on the floor at your house? If so, you may only need a thin mat to sleep on. Otherwise, consider getting a mattress that is as thick as the mattress that you normally use at home.
Some people prefer thick mattresses, and some people prefer thin, so it will be up to you to decide what makes you the most comfortable.
Also, don’t forget the sheets and blankets. Campervans can get quite cold, so you may find that you need a thicker blanket or sleeping bag than you would normally use at home or while camping in the woods.
11. An Emergency Toilet
I’ve seen a lot of campervan builds that do not include a bathroom. While this type of campervan isn’t for me, I do see why many people would choose to forgo a bathroom. Full bathrooms can take up a lot of room, and some campervans just don’t have space for them.
This being said, the lack of a bathroom doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have a toilet. Emergencies can happen when you least expect them to, and it’s nice to be able to handle them in the comfort of your own van.
An emergency toilet doesn’t have to be very extravagant. A portable chemical toilet or even just a bucket with a trash bag in it could be all you need. Stow the toiletries in the bucket, and you’ll find that you aren’t even using that much space.
12. Baby Wipes
In my opinion, baby wipes should be kept in all vehicles, but they’re especially useful in campervans. This little item can be used for more than its intended purpose.
You can use it to clean up spills inside the campervan, you can use it to wash your hands, and you can even use it when showers aren’t readily available.
Another nice thing about baby wipes is that they don’t take up much space either. Keep a container of them in your glove compartment or underneath your seat, and you’ll have them whenever you need them.
13. Shower Shoes
Baby wipes can be used for showering in a pinch, but they aren’t a good long-term solution. Instead, consider bringing a pair of shower shoes with you on your journey.
A good pair of shower shoes will help keep your feet clean in the public showers that you’ll find at fitness centers, truck stops, and campgrounds.
Your shower shoes can be a cheap pair of sandals, or they can be a nice pair of hiking sandals. Personally, I prefer just to use my hiking sandals as it reduces the number of items I have to pack with me when I go camping.
14. Portable Stove
Portable stoves make great kitchens for campervans. They’re small enough to use inside and portable enough to bring outside. Even if you don’t plan on cooking in your campervan, it’s a good idea to pack a portable stove with you.
You can use your portable stove to reheat food and to boil water for coffee, tea, and anything else you might need hot water for.
In fact, sometimes it’s nice to just have hot water for washing your hands and face at night. With a portable stove, you’ll be able to do all of this with ease.
Some portable stoves options are gas stoves, alcohol stoves, wood stoves, and electric stoves. Unless you have a robust solar system, I’d stay away from electric stoves and go with one of the other three options.
Electric stoves are great, but they use a lot of energy, so you’ll need a large battery bank to be able to use them.
15. A Fire Extinguisher
If you’re going to bring a portable stove with you, you’ll want to bring a fire extinguisher as well. A good fire extinguisher could mean the difference between you having a small mess to clean up and you losing everything you have with you.
Even if you aren’t cooking, you may still want to bring a fire extinguisher with you anyway. While it’s rare, engines can catch fire, and a good fire extinguisher could give you the ability to put the fire out before your entire camper van goes up in smoke.
16. An Insulated Cup
There isn’t any point in heating up water if you can’t keep it hot. This is especially true in the winter when coffee, tea, and soup can go cold in a matter of minutes. Bring a nice insulated cup with you, and you won’t have to worry about this.
Thermos, Yeti, and a whole host of other companies make great insulated cups that can keep your drinks hot for hours on end.
In fact, I once drove over eight hours with a forgotten cup of coffee in my Thermos and found it warm when I got back to it later.
Insulated cups aren’t just good for keeping drinks warm, either. You can use them to collect ice at rest stops so that you’ll have ice to use hours later when you need it.
17. Throw-Away Kitchen Gear
Paper plates and plastic utensils aren’t very good for the environment. They aren’t very good for your wallet either. However, they are incredibly convenient, and they drastically reduce the amount of water you’ll need.
For this reason, I always pack some paper plates and plastic spoons, knives, and forks. I won’t use them if I don’t have to, but it’s nice to know I have them for when I’m short on water.
My recommendation is to get a thicker plate with a plastic coating. The cheap paper plates without the coating won’t hold liquids very well, and they’ll often bleed through.
I know this firsthand as I’ve lost salad dressing and other condiments through cheap plates in the past.
18. A First-Aid Kit
A good first-aid kit is a prerequisite for any vehicle. Get a first aid kit that features anything you might need in an emergency. Gauze, elastic bandages, antibiotic ointments, and bandaids should all be a part of your kit. You may also want to include an antihistamine as well as a pain reliever.
Other items to consider are gloves, tweezers, and suture kits. However, if you’re going to pack a suture kit, you should learn how to use it. The suture kit won’t do you any good if you don’t know how to use it when you need it.
You can make your own first-aid kit by buying all of the necessary items separately, or you could buy a pre-made kit. The key is to know what is in the kit and how to use it. Neither of these options is very expensive, and these small items won’t take up much space in your campervan.
19. Storage Containers
Campervans generally don’t have a lot of space. I’ve seen many campervans become disorganized messes within the first hour of camping. Avoid this by organizing all of your items into storage containers. A combination of soft bags and plastic containers works best.
Use the soft bags to store soft items that won’t break like clothing and bedding. This will make molding the bag into the van a lot easier.
Then, place your breakable items into the plastic bins so that they’ll be protected. This will help keep your items safe and organized and will make setting up and breaking down camp much easier.
20. Rope or Netting
Another issue that many campervan owners have is loose gear. Storage bins and bags can get loose, and they can end up flying around the back of the vehicle. Not only does this create a mess, but it also creates an unsafe environment.
Some rope and some netting can easily solve this problem. Get a thin net or make one of your own with some thin rope or twine and use it to help secure gear when it’s stowed.
This will keep gear from shifting during regular traffic, and it may help stop gear from hitting you during an accident.
21. A Cooler or Fridge
Short camping trips might not call for cold food or cold storage. This being said, if you’re living in a campervan full-time, you’re going to want to get a fridge or cooler. Dry food will get old over time, and without a cooler or fridge, you just won’t be able to save any leftovers or takeout.
Choose a cooler if you’re short on cash and know that you’ll have easy access to ice. A marine cooler can be had for less than $50.00, and it will keep ice for up to 5 days.
For those of you who have a steady supply of electricity or propane, you may want to choose a fridge instead. A two-way fridge will work off of both electricity and propane, and it will keep your food at a consistent temperature. It will also work long after the ice has melted in your cooler, so it’s better for long-term storage.
22. An Extension Cord
Traditional campervan owners will want to make sure they bring their 30-amp or 50-amp plug. This will ensure that you can hook up to shore power at campgrounds. On top of this, you should also consider bringing an extension cord.
An extension cord can be hooked up anywhere, and it can be used by people who do not have a traditional campervan electrical system.
Get a 20-amp cord that is rated for the outdoors. A 20-amp cord may provide you with more power than a 15-amp cord, and an outdoor cord will be safer than an indoor extension cord.
The cord should be orange or another bright color so that you can easily see it while walking around your campervan.
23. A Good Camera
People who live in campervans get to go to cool places, and they get to do fun things. Bring a camera so that years from now, you’ll remember all of the cool places and things that you did during your time with the van.
Newer cell phone cameras can take great photos that you can easily share online. They’re convenient to use and don’t take up a lot of space.
However, if you really want to take high-quality photos and videos, you may want to consider getting a DSLR, an action camera, or a 360 camera.
These cameras will all take great photos and videos, and they’ll even maintain their high quality when you enlarge them for computer screens or print them out on paper.
Learn to use these cameras properly, and you may even be able to sell some of the photos you take along the way.
What you put in your campervan is going to depend largely on your own particular wants and needs. However, everyone can use the items listed in this article, and it’s a great place to start.
Get the items we discussed in this article and add any other items you feel will make you happy.
Just remember that your space will be limited, and sometimes less is more, and you’ll be sure to make the right choices.
Morten is the founder of GoDownsize. He has filmed and interviewed people living in tiny houses and RVs since 2011. He grew up on the coast where his dad took him boating from a young age. He has completely rebuilt two RVs in which he travels with his family for months at the time. Read more about Morten here.