- For van lifers, having the right accessories is key to being comfortable on the road.
- This includes sleeping on a comfortable mattress and having a reliable way to prepare food, among many others.
- After rigging my own van and driving across the country, I’ve put together my definitive list of essentials.
I daydreamed about owning a camper van for years, to the point where I’d approach strangers in parking lots who had nice vans and spark conversations to hear about their trips. I burned countless hours on Pinterest viewing custom DIY van setups that made me self-conscious about my apartment.
I was no stranger to life on the road, having done quite a bit of car camping as a young adult in a Toyota hatchback and frequently driving from the Pacific Northwest to Los Angeles. When I became a parent in 2018, I finally pulled the trigger on purchasing a camper van as an easy way to take family trips on the weekends.
My original vision was to buy a luxurious 4X4 Mercedes Sprinter but I instead downgraded to a Ford Transit Connect, mainly due to the logistics of size and a need to street park in Brooklyn, NY.
Two years later, my partner, daughter, dog, and I have logged thousands of miles in our van. It’s not the glamourous, Pinterest-worthy van I hoped to own, but it’s unassuming and smartly organized. It’s comfortable for the whole family to sleep in, cost-effective, and reliable. In other words, it’s exactly what we need.
After countless days and nights spent on the road, I’ve gotten the necessary accessories and customizations down to a science. Sure there are still glamorous extras on my wishlist, but when it comes to starting out, just getting the basics right is the key.
If you’re thinking about jumping into van life, my biggest piece of advice when it comes to outfitting a van is that you don’t need the high price tag vehicle with every amenity already personalized into it. You can start small, simple, and inexpensive and have all you need to hit the road and be self-sufficient.
You can also opt to rent a van if you only plan on doing a couple of trips or if you want to try out the lifestyle before committing to buying. Even with a rental, you may want to bring a few extra accessories to make your trip as comfortable as possible.
And while it’s easy to get caught up in bigger accessories like mattresses and roof racks, don’t underestimate the power of little items like gear ties, bungee cords, tarps, batteries, drinking water, and trash bags. These always come in handy and often when you least expect it. Things will inevitably go wrong on the road, so the more prepared you are for the small or large fixes, the better.
Here are 17 of the best accessories for outfitting a camper van:
- A comfy mattress: The Keetsa Plus
- A good organization system: The Decked Drawer System
- A rechargeable light: Lighting Ever rechargeable LED light
- A solid roof rack for extra equipment: Thule TracRac
- A safe heater for chilly nights: Webasto air heater
- A durable cooler: The Tundra 35 Hard Cooler
- A good audio unit: Pioneer AVIC audio unit
- A high-quality stove setup: The Genesis Basecamp Stove
- A versatile cooking set: Snow Peak cook set
- A compact outdoor grill: The Weber Q1200 Gas Grill
- Repellent to keep the bugs aways: Thermacell Portable Mosquito Repeller
- Water-resistant duffel bags: Patagonia Stormfront Duffel Bag
- An inverter for electricity needs: Wagan inverter
- Foldable camp chairs: REI Flexlite Air Chairs
- A low-water shower system: The Nemo Helio
- A hand-held vacuum: The Dyson V7
- A reliable first aid kit: Pelican 1500EMS Protector Case
The Keetsa Plus is supportive without being too bulky, making it a great choice for a van mattress.
The most important part of van camping and road tripping is your sleep setup. The bed deserves the most attention.
Depending on the size and model of your van, it may not be an option to put in a proper mattress like you have at home. But if it’s possible, even at a twin size, it’s worth it. The Keetsa Plus is a high-quality mattress that’s exceptionally comfortable without being too big and bulky to comfortably fit in a van.
An organization system
A good organization and storage solution like the Decked Drawer System will inform how you live in your van and what you’re able to bring on a road trip.
A quick google search will reveal endless ideas for DIY storage designs by experienced van owners, but simple drawers provide the best storage in my opinion because they allow for easy access without having to unpack your van.
The Decked Drawer System is not only highly durable but designed for the year and model of your van. It’s an easy way to get a more custom storage option that will be the best use of space.
A durable cooler
A YETI cooler is your van’s alternative to a refrigerator, allowing you to store fresh food on the road for multiple days.
Most entry-level vans don’t have fridges. Without one, it’s mandatory to invest in a quality cooler to store perishables for multiple days. YETI products can be considered a little pricey, but I’ve found they are well worth the investment.
The Tundra 35 Hard Cooler holds enough food for a family and the 20x15x16-inch dimensions make it easy to find a logical place in a van.
A solid roof rack
The Thule TracRac system is designed to mount a range of outdoor toys and equipment on top of your van.
The main point of van camping is to get into the outdoors and experience nature. For that, it’s always helpful to bring some extra toys. Whether you have bikes, kayaks, or surfboards, you’ll be surprised at what you can bring with you that doesn’t need to fit inside the van.
Thule TracRac roof racks are easy to install and modular for adding specialty components designed for your activity of choice.
A low-water shower system
The Nemo Helio is a portable shower that allows you to rinse off anywhere you park and use minimal water.
Having the ability to shower will extend the amount of time you’re able to stay on the road comfortably. The Nemo Helio Pressure Shower compacts to take up minimal space in the van. It can be set up quickly and you can enjoy a proper shower without using a lot of water. Trust me, road-tripping across a long distance is much more enjoyable when you’re clean.
A hand-held vacuum
The Dyson V7 takes up almost no space and will keep your van cleaner than you found it.
A vacuum is an easy item to overlook, but vans get dirty. No matter where you drive, you get in and out of your vehicle so many times and are constantly tracking in dust, sand, and dirt.
Having a chargeable, handheld vacuum like the Dyson V7 Trigger allows you to keep your space clean and comfortable, and will keep you out of the truck stop car wash hubs.
A safe portable heater
Installing a Webasto air heater to run off your van’s fuel source will allow you to van camp year-round.
Depending on the climate and time of year where you’re headed, heat may be an issue. If your van’s not insulated and you’re in a cold region, heating can be tricky.
A reliable heating option is an air heater that runs off your van’s fuel source. A Webasto Air Top heater can quickly heat the inside of a van and you don’t have to leave it running all night. It also avoids the less safe alternative of using an electric or butane heater inside the cab while you sleep. However, it’s best to have a Webasto professionally installed before you use it.
Note that this item is sold through a third-party seller on Amazon. You can also find a local place to buy this heater and have it installed through the Webasto website.
A rechargeable light
Lighting Ever rechargeable LED lights can be used for all your after-dark activities — both inside and outside of your van.
Good lighting is essential for the hours spent in the van cooking, reading, and organizing after dark and when you’re not driving. LE camp lighting is easy on the eyes, energy-efficient, and compatible with your smartphone.
The LED Camp Lantern is a great unit to have because you can use it inside the van or take it with you outdoors. And the Portable Nightlight can be set up in the van and easily operated via Bluetooth.
An audio unit
When you spend days on end behind the steering wheel, the Pioneer AVIC audio unit will solve all your sound and navigation concerns.
If your van is older and doesn’t already have a modern navigation and audio unit, you definitely want to add one. Traveling by van involves a lot of hours behind the wheel and some easy listening will make the time far more enjoyable.
Whether your preference is music, podcasts, audiobooks, or local radio, you need decent sound. For me, Apple Car Play is a must, so you can easily flip from map navigation to whatever you’re listening to and receive notifications. The Pioneer AVIC-W8400NEX does it all and can be installed in almost any van.
A quality stove
The Genesis Basecamp Stove by Jetboil provides the fastest way to cook a quality camp meal anywhere you park.
The Genesis Basecamp Stove has been a game-changer on my trips. This portable camp stove is easy to use and can cook your food extremely fast. It’s compact and easy to keep stored in a van, where you can also take it with you on day hikes or mini-adventures.
I’ve even pulled over at highway road stops countless times to quickly make lunch and coffee out of the rear door of the van with this stove.
A versatile cooking set
Design and quality are the selling points for this Snow Peak cook set that allows you to expand your camping culinary skills.
When it comes to camp cooking, having a van is a big step up from tent camping. You can widen your range of cookware items and set up stations to cook inside and outside of the van, depending on where you’re parked. But size, weight, and durability are still important.
This cook set from Snow Peak is well-designed, of great quality, and compact enough to easily store in your van. The set includes two stacking pots and frypans with foldable handles — enough to tackle almost any type of meal.
An outdoor grill
The Weber Q1200 Gas Grill is a compact accessory that will up your meal standards for outdoor cooking.
If you want to get serious about your camp meals and up your game, add a grill to your van inventory. The Weber Q1200 Gas Grill is small and functions with 14-oz gas canisters. It will grill your food to perfection in minutes and is a breeze to clean up after.
Nobody wants their van full of bugs, so use a Thermacell Portable Mosquito Repeller to clear your entire campground.
Bugs are a reality almost anywhere you camp. A van may shield you a bit better than a tent, but mosquitos and other small pests can still be an issue. The Thermacell Portable Mosquito Repeller covers a 15-foot radius and has no scent or spray.
Leave it on the ground under your van at night and you’ll be bug-free.
A water-resistant duffel bag
A Patagonia Stormfront Duffel Bag is a great option for packing gear on outdoor adventures or storing wet items in your van.
It’s almost a guarantee that van camping involves getting wet. Whether coming in from the beach with wet gear or getting caught out in the rain on a hike, you’ll want a designated area to stuff wet items (or dirty laundry) that’s out of the way.
Patagonia Stormfront duffel bags work for both efficient storage and daily use if you’re packing gear up in the outdoors. The material is durable and heavily water-resistant, providing the right protection when you need it.
An electrical outlet
Easily turn your van’s electrical source into wall outlets and USB ports with a Wagan inverter.
Adding power and electricity outlets to your van can seem complicated, but having a good inverter is a simple solution to the power access you need while van camping.
The Wagan Elite 700W Pro inverter is a small and sleek unit that converts your van’s 12V power into 120V wall outlets and USB ports, allowing you to keep all your devices charged.
Foldable camp chairs
After spending hours sitting in your van, sometimes you just want to sit outside. REI Flexlite Air Chairs are an easy answer.
After hours or days logging miles in a van, you need to spend time outside your van when you reach your destination. This can be as basic as setting up a chair five feet away from your van in a campsite.
REI Flexlite Air Chairs compact into a small volume for easy storage and can be set up in seconds wherever you park.
A first aid kit
First aid is important, so gather all the materials you need and organize them efficiently in a Pelican 1500EMS Protector Case.
Safety first, right? Having a good first-aid kit in your van is critical. The Pelican 1500EMS Protector Case is durable and weatherproof so it will keep all your emergency supplies safe under almost any conditions.
You can also customize the medical supplies you want to keep accessible and store the case in your van without concern of it being squished or damaged.