36 Van Life Essentials for Life On The Road (2024)

Living in a Van | Van Life Gear

Bearfoot Theory / Van Life Blog / Van Life Gear

ByKristen Bor

Hitting the road? We’ve got you covered with a list of van life essentials from cooking gear to safety essentials and everything in between.

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Find this post helpful? Learn how you can support Bearfoot Theory’s work here. You can also shop for gear through the affiliate links in this blog post where we get a small commission at no cost to you. It helps keep our team running and the lights on. THANK YOU! -Kristen

Are you dreaming of hitting the open road, traveling to new places, and living a minimalist lifestyle? If so, van life may be just what you need! Living in a van is a unique and exciting way to explore the world and experience a sense of freedom and adventure.

However, before you hit the road, you’ll need to make sure you have the right gear to make your van life experience comfortable, safe, and enjoyable.

The Bearfoot Theory team has over 10 years of collective experience traveling in all types of vans and in this blog post, we’ll explore the top van life essentials to help you prepare for your journey and make the most of your time on the road. From cooking and safety gear to storage solutions and outdoor furniture, we’ve got you covered with all the must-have items for your van life adventure.

1-on-1 Van Life Coaching

Ready to get over your analysis paralysis and put your van life dreams into action?Let’s make it happen together. Book a 1-on-1 van life coaching call now and take the first step towards a life of adventure, freedom, and unforgettable experiences.

Van Kitchen Must-Haves

Camp Stove

Eureka Ignite Plus

This has been my go-to van stove for years. I love that it has an auto-ignition button (no lighter needed!), excellent simmer capabilities, and can fit two 12-inch pans. There is also a slightly smaller version available that fits two 10-inch pans.

Where to shop

Cooking Table

GCI Outdoor Slim-Fold Cook Station

I prefer to cook outside whenever possible to enjoy the outdoors, have more space, and prevent a smelly van. This table packs down flat for easy storage and has tons of counter space and hooks for your kitchen gear.

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Nesting Cook Set

Stanley Even-Heat Camp Pro Cook Set

Storing pots and pans in a van can be difficult so I love this nesting set that includes a pot, a frying pan, and a saucepan plus utensils. Plus, it’s induction friendly for those with induction stoves!

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Coffee Maker

Aeropress Go Travel Coffee Press

Leave the Keurig (too much power!) and glass French Press (too breakable!) at home and start your mornings using the Aeropress. This travel coffee press will change your mornings!

Where to shop

Read our full Aeropress Go Travel Coffee Press Review

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Water Filtration System

Clearsource RV Water Filter

It’s super important to have a water filtration system in your van if you fill up from public water sources like campgrounds and gas stations that may have old or rusty pipes. I just installed this in my third van and am happier with the peace of mind.

*Save $25 at checkout by using this link. Discount applied at checkout*

Where to shop

Small Cooler

RTIC Soft Pack Cooler

Heading out for a paddle? Lounging at the beach? It’s always nice to have a small cooler to stash snacks and drinks in outside of your van fridge and RTIC keeps everything chilled for hours.

Where to shop

See our complete kitchen essentials checklist for van life

Everyday Van Essentials

Durable blanket

Rumpl Blanket

I’ve used Rumpl blankets in my van since 2016 and they’re an absolute essential, especially if you have dogs. Dog hair doesn’t stick to these blankets (just shake em’ outside the van) and they’re fully machine washable.

Where to shop

Portable Shower

Geyser Systems w/ Heater

If you don’t have a permanent shower in your van but still want the luxury of hot showers, this is for you. Geyser Systems uses less than 1 gallon of water and has an internal hot water heater. It’s perfect for rinsing off yourself, your pets, and your gear without wasting a ton of water.

Read our full Geyser Systems Portable Shower w/ Heater Review

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Portable Power Station

EcoFlow RIVER Pro

BFT team member Courtney fully powers her lights, fan, and electronics using the River PRO, but a portable power station is also great to have as backup even if you have a more robust system. We love EcoFlow because it charges from 0-80% in less than 1 hour using an AC outlet, which is significantly faster than other brands.

Where to shop

Emergency Toilet

Cleanwaste Go Anywhere Foldable Toilet

Public lands are getting restricted due to trash and human waste being left behind. If you don’t have a permanent toilet system in your van, we strongly encourage you to travel with an emergency toilet when going #2 outdoors just isn’t possible, like crowded dispersed campsites or sensitive desert landscapes.

Where to shop

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Van Gear For Your Outdoor Living Space

Camp Chair

Helinox Sunset Chair

I’ve tried a lot of camp chairs over the years and I keep coming back to this one. I love the supportive high back and that it’s relatively lightweight at 3lbs 4oz. It’s packable and can be easily stored in the van.

Outdoor Mat

CGEAR Sand-Free Mat

Having an outdoor mat is essential for keeping dirt, dust, and sand out of your van (or at least creating a buffer 😉). We love this one because it’s more packable than a traditional rug and it filters out fine sand and dirt.

*Get 15% off with the code BEARFOOT15 when you order direct from CGEAR*

Where to shop

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Outdoor Table

REI Co-op Camp Roll Table

If you want a multi-purpose table, this is a great option that rolls up to the size of a large camp chair. It has adjustable legs so you can easily cook, eat, or play games on it.

Where to shop


MoonShade Portable Awning

Having an awning is essential if you’re traveling in hot, sunny places. We love our MoonShade because it’s portable and can be set up on your side or back doors, plus it packs down small. We even tested it in windy conditions and the MoonShade holds up!

*Save 10% by using the code BEARFOOTTHEORYat checkout*

Where to shop

String Lights

MPOWERD Luci Solar String Lights

Create some camp ambiance with these MPOWERD string lights! These are a great way to brighten up camp and best of all, they’re charged by the sun (or a USB). We especially love having string lights at camp when burn bans mean no campfires.

Portable Fire Pit


Want to have a safe campfire, even during burn bans out West? We travel with this small propane fire box that’s relatively compact and packs into itself for easy cleanup and it’s been perfect for Leave No Trace safe campfires year round.

*Use the code BEARFOOT at checkout to get 10% off*

Where to shop

Van Life Clothing Essentials

Hiking Boots

Oboz Sypes Low Waterproof Hiking Shoes

I love these hiking boots because they’re lightweight, breathable, perform well in all kinds of terrain, and can double as town shoes without looking too much like hiking boots.

Where to shop

Read our full Oboz Sypes Hiking Boot Review


Teva Universal Trail Sandals

These are a great choice for van life because they are versatile and durable enough to handle various outdoor activities, including hiking and water sports. Their comfortable design and adjustable straps also make them easy to slip on and off.

Where to shop

Read our full Teva Trail Sandals Review

Packing Cubes

REI Co-op Packing Cube Set

Packing cubes are essential for staying organized in the van. Instead of having to pull out a bunch of clothes looking for a specific item, you can just grab the cube you need. I have one for tops, one for bottoms, one for undies… you get the idea.

Where to shop

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Sun Hat

Wallaroo Sedona Hat

Having a hat is great for sun protection when hiking and spending time outdoors, but let’s be real – we also love that wearing a hat can hide how long it’s been since we last washed our hair. I’ve worn the Sedona hat for years and it’s held up well on all my adventures.

*Get 20% off Wallaroohats with code BEARFOOT20*

Where to shop

Cozy Layers

Selk’Bag Wearable Sleeping Bag

We got Selk’Bags last summer and are totally hooked. If you’re someone who runs cold, this is a van life essential for those chilly nights at camp. It even has pockets to store your phone and keys!

Where to shop

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Outdoor Slippers

REI Co-op Camp Dreamer Booties

Outdoor slippers are also a game changer for comfort in the van – these feel like sleeping bags for your feet! I love slipping these on to walk our dogs at night or during chilly mornings and the rubber sole keeps them protected.

Where to shop

See our full van life clothing packing list

Van Life Organizational Gear

Starlink Case

Radius Outfitters Starlink Storage Case

If you have a Starlink or are planning to get one, we highly recommend this case. It’s lightweight, compact, and has a foam insert that keeps everything protected and in place.

Where to shop

Seat Back Organizer

Overland Gear Guy Seat Back Organizer

This is great for storing little things you want easy access to. It also has a secret laptop compartment which is good for security and provides a safe storage spot.

Where to shop

Overland Gear Guy

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Rear Door Rack

Flarespace nVader Rack

I have a different rack on my rear doors, but I’d get this one next time due to its versatility. It has endless mounting options for a spare tire, shovel, skis, bikes, traction boards, and more so you don’t have to store that dirty gear underneath your bed. The nVader Rack fits all 2019-current model year Sprinter Vans.

Where to shop

See all our van organization and storage solution tips

Must-Have Recovery & Safety Gear

Recovery boards

Max Trax

Some dispersed camping roads are sandy or become muddy after rain so having a way to self-recover if you get stuck is important. These are our #1 must-have recovery accessories!

Where to shop

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Battery Jump Starter

Hulkman Jump Starter

Having a battery jump starter is essential for van life because it allows you to easily jump-start your vehicle without having to rely on external assistance, which is important if you plan to camp in remote areas.

Where to shop

Portable Air Compressor

Viair Air Compressor

With the miles we put on our vans, tire pressure is something to monitor closely. Airing down your tires before driving on soft surfaces (like sand) helps you avoid getting stuck, however, you need a way to air back up your tires when you get back to pavement.

Where to shop

Satellite Communication Device

Garmin InReach Mini 2

Having a two-way satellite communication device for van life gives ultimate peace of mind, especially if you camp often in places without service. A few years ago, our Sprinter battery died in winter when we were camped somewhere without service, and I was able to message my Dad with our location so he could reach out to AAA for us.

Where to shop

Folding Shovel

Gerber E-Tool Folding Spade

Having a shovel is a multi-functional van life essential. From digging catholes to use the bathroom to digging yourself out if you’re stuck to putting our campfires, a shovel is a must. We love this one because it folds down for easier storage.

Where to shop

Carbon Monoxide Detector

Kidde Carbon Monoxide Detector

Living and sleeping in a small space where you may have a heater, fridge, or stove that uses propane means you need to install a carbon monoxide detector to avoid a potentially dangerous situation. We love this one because it has a digital display that updates every 15 seconds for the most accurate reading.

Where to shop

Essential Van Life Memberships

Campsite Finder

The Dyrt Pro

The Dyrt is a really useful app for finding campsites (both paid and free) and their Pro membership also gives you access to offline maps, map overlays for NFS/BLM land, discounts on campgrounds, and more.

*Use our link to get 30 days FREE of The Dyrt Pro (Note: Use the code BEARFOOT if signing up on mobile.)*

Where to sign up

Read our full review of The Dyrt Pro

Campsite Finder

Harvest Hosts

Stay at more than 2,300 unique properties such as wineries, farms, breweries, museums, and more with a Harvest Hosts membership. You can also add on Boondockers Welcome which adds access to 3000+ private properties across the US as well.

*Get 15% off membership with our referral link*

Where to sign up

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Hiking Trail Finder


This is our favorite app for finding local trails while traveling. The free version provides basic functions like searching for nearby trails and getting directions to the trailheads, but the Pro version has a lot of extra features (like offline maps), which are especially helpful when camping off-grid.

*Get 30% off AllTrails+ with our referral link*

Where to sign up

Annual Park Pass

America The Beautiful National Park Pass

Lots of van lifers hit the road to explore America’s National Parks. Save money on entrance fees by buying an annual pass which allows you unlimited entry for 12 months from your purchase date.

Where to shop


  • Van Life 101: How to Guide for Living in a Van
  • Van Life Clothing Packing List
  • Must Have Apps for Van Life

Are we missing any van life essentials from our list? Let us know in the comments!

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Kristen Bor

With two decades of hiking and seven years of van life under her belt, Kristen has dedicated her life to helping people experience the positive effects of nature. As a pioneer in the outdoor blogging space, she founded Bearfoot Theory in 2014 and has since authored more than 350 blog posts about outdoor travel, hiking, camping, and van life. Her work has been featured in National Geographic, Outside Magazine, and Backpacker, and when she’s not on the road, she lives in Park City, Utah with her partner Ryan, their son, and two adventure pups.

36 Van Life Essentials for Life On The Road (2024)
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