The 17 camper van accessories I swear by after rigging my own van and spending thousands of miles on the road

  • 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

Keetsa Plus

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. 

With some nice sheets and pillows, your van sleep just might be better than in your usual bed.

See more of the best mattresses here

An organization system

Decked Storage 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

Yeti Tundra 35

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.

See more of the best coolers here

A solid roof rack

Thule TracRac Van

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.

See the best bike roof racks here

A low-water shower system

Nemo Helio pressure shower

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.

See the best portable camp showers here

A hand-held vacuum

Dyson V7 Trigger Lifestyle

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.

See more of the best vacuums here

A safe portable heater

Webasto Air 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

LE Camp Lantern Lifestyle

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. 

See more of the best lanterns here

An audio unit

Pioneer AVIC W8400NEX Lifestyle

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

Jetboil Genesis Basecamp System Camp 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.

See more of the best camping stoves here

A versatile cooking set

Snow Peak Cook 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.

See more of the best camping cookware here

An outdoor grill

Weber Q 1200 Gas Grill Lifestyle

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.

Bug repellent

Thermacell Portable Mosquito Repeller

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.

See the best bug sprays here

A water-resistant duffel bag

Patagonia Drifter Duffle Lifestyle

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

Eilte Inverter

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

REI Co op Flexlite Air Chair Lifestyle

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.  

See more of the best camping chairs here

A first aid kit

Pelican First Aid Lifestyle

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.

See more of the best first aid kits here

Read the original article on Business Insider

I rented a camper van through Outdoorsy, the Airbnb for RVs, and it’s the perfect platform for first-time RVers

frank olito camper van
I rented this camper using Outdoorsy.

  • I booked a camper van for a weekend road trip through Outdoorsy, the Airbnb for RVs. 
  • I had trouble with my van and with customer service, but it was a largely positive experience. 
  • Although the van was expensive, Outdoorsy provided me with the necessary tools for a first-timer. 
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

When I decided to rent a camper van for a short road trip in January, I admittedly didn’t know where to start. 

Quickly, I learned there are three main sites for RV rentals: Outdoorsy, RV Share, and Cruise America. After doing some research and reading multiple RV blogs, I found most people agreed that Outdoorsy was the best of the three

Outdoorsy is a peer-to-peer rental service (much like Airbnb) that started in 2015. Over the years, the platform has expanded and today there are over 200,000 vehicles listed for rent in over 4,800 cities and 14 countries. Jen Young, CMO and co-founder of Outdoorsy, told Insider in December 2020 that the number of RV rentals made on the site skyrocketed during the pandemic. 

I, too, decided to rent a camper van during the pandemic after years of wondering if life on the road was for me. Ultimately, I booked a 2015 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van through Outdoorsy for a weekend trip from New York City to Philadelphia.

From booking to talking with customer service, here’s what planning a road trip through Outdoorsy is like.

First, Outdoorsy’s landing page prompted me to search for an area in the US and plug in my travel dates.

Outdoorsy's landing page.
Outdoorsy’s landing page.

I typed in New York City and then the dates I was looking to rent the van. I was surprised it didn’t ask me any other information, like how many people were traveling or what type of vehicle I was looking for. 

After I entered this basic information, the available vehicles were listed in a grid on the left and laid out on a map on the right.

outdoorsy review
The available vehicles.

There were two things that stood out on this page. First, Outdoorsy’s business model is largely the same as Airbnb, where people rent out their homes for travelers. Essentially, all the vehicles listed on this page are owned by people in the New York area who want to rent out their RVs when they aren’t using them. The resemblance doesn’t end there: This page is even laid out like Airbnb’s website. 

The second aspect that stood out to me was the variety of vehicles that were listed. There were over 500 options when I searched, and some were traditional RVs, towable trailers, and camper vans. 

At the top, there were filters, which helped narrow down my search significantly.

outdoorsy review
The filters.

There were six tabs at the top of the screen that helped narrow the search. In those tabs, I was able to specify that I wanted a camper van — I figured taking a larger, more traditional RV would be too difficult for a novice. I also specified that I wanted to pay less than $500 per night and wanted the camper van to be delivered to my home on the day of my departure. 

Only a few camper van owners allowed for delivery — as most renters pick up the vehicles themselves — so my options quickly became limited.

After narrowing my search, there were only two camper vans that suited my needs, so I began chatting with the owners directly.

outdoorsy review
The messages.

The first van I liked was a 2014 Dodge Sprinter that was located in Connecticut for $200 per night, while the second one was a more luxurious 2015 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and located in New Jersey for $400 per night. While their prices varied greatly, each had plenty of bright, large pictures that showed off every inch of the vehicle. 

Like Airbnb, I had to message and confirm with the owners before actually booking the camper van. The messaging system is built directly into the website, and I received a text message and an email each time an owner sent me a response. 

In my conversations with both of the owners, I confirmed the price and asked if they would be able to drop off and pick up the van on my travel dates. 

Unfortunately, one of the owners decided I was too far away, so I went with the 2015 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. 

Before booking the more luxurious van, I double-checked the list of amenities to ensure it had everything I needed.

outdoorsy review
All the features listed.

These visual icons clearly helped confirm that the van had everything I would need on my short road trip, including enough room for two people, a bathroom, and fresh water.

When double-checking the page, I became concerned about one aspect of the van: There was a 75-mile limit each day, and I would be charged for every mile that I went over. This would mean I couldn’t travel that far outside of New York City if I wanted to keep the price low. When I looked at the other vehicles on the platform, most didn’t have this requirement. I chatted with the owner again, and he explained that he put the limit on the van because he didn’t want people traveling too far.

In the end, I decided to proceed with the booking anyway because this camper van was a perfect match for my needs. 

Once the owner confirmed the price and dates, the booking process was simple and fast.

outdoorsy review
The Mercedes Benz page.

The camper van cost $400 per night plus $200 for delivery and pick up. An additional $180 was added to the bill for insurance, which included up to $1 million in property damage protection and a $2,000 deductible. 

In the end, the grand total for a three-night rental came to $1,700. I was also notified that Outdoorsy would take a $3,500 security hold that would be refunded when the van was returned. 

I was surprised by how expensive the camper van was for just a short weekend road trip. For $1,700, I could fly to Europe and back again. According to Outdoorsy, the price of a rental on the site can vary greatly depending on the type, style, and size of the vehicle, but in 2020, the average price for a rental was $161 per night.

While the van I rented was priced a bit higher than most of the other vehicles on Outdoorsy, it was more luxurious, so I was paying for the high-end features. 

Leading up to the arrival of my van, I turned to Outdoorsy for some much-needed guidance.

outdoorsy review
RV travel tips.

Since I had never traveled in an RV or a camper van before, I knew I had a lot to learn. Luckily, Outdoorsy provided teaching tools that were built into the site. On the camper van’s page, there was a section titled “RV Travel Tips,” which had detailed videos explaining delivery, propane tanks, and WiFi. 

Additionally, I was having trouble finding an open campground that was located within driving distance from New York City in the middle of the winter. I turned to Outdoorsy again, which had a section on its website that lists campgrounds near certain points of interest across the US.

When the camper van finally arrived outside my apartment in Brooklyn, we instantly ran into some issues.

camper van frank olito
The camper van in Brooklyn.

During the walk-through of the van with the owner, he discovered a leak from the bathroom that was pouring into the living space at the back of the van. After investigating further, he decided he needed to cancel my booking and bring the van back to his shop. 

The co-founder of Outdoorsy, Jen Young, told me that vehicles listed on Outdoorsy must be inspected every 90 days, but these issues do arise. 

Although it was very frustrating to have my trip canceled just seconds before it was to begin, the owner assured me I could rent the van the following weekend. 

The problem was that Outdoorsy was not aware of the new booking we agreed to. Nervous that I was going to be charged for a trip that never happened, I jumped on a call with customer service. 

The customer service rep I spoke to gave me conflicting information when compared with what the owner was told to do. I decided to reach out to customer service again via email. Unfortunately, every time I received an email back from them, it was from a different person who was more confused than the last. 

Ultimately, we were successfully able to rebook the camper van for the following weekend, but customer service did not offer any discounts for my troubles, which was frustrating. 

Young said Outdoorsy is working on a new product feature that will clear up the confusion among the customer support team in the future. 

“On the customer support front, we also learned a lot this past year after our busiest year on record, and we’re hard at work to address the areas we know we need to improve on in order to provide both our owners and renters with the best support possible,” Young said.

The following weekend, I was finally able to take the camper van out on the road – with Outdoorsy by my side the whole way.

Frank Olito camper van
The interior of the camper van.

When the owner dropped the van off the second time, he walked me through a quick tutorial of all the van’s systems. As a first-timer, I didn’t understand some of what he was saying, but I hoped for the best. During my journey, I did run into some issues with the heater and electricity, but I contacted the owner directly via his phone number instead of Outdoorsy. 

Owners should upload a manual of their vehicles to the Outdoorsy site so that renters can access it throughout their stay when issues arise. 

Outdoorsy did, however, send a text message early in my trip, explaining that I had free roadside assistance in case of “an unexpected emergency.” The text message included the phone number I would need if such a situation arose. Thankfully, it didn’t.

I also downloaded the Outdoorsy app just in case I needed it during the trip.

Outdoorsy review
The live chat function on the app.

I downloaded the app so that I could access my messages quickly. I also wanted the app because Outdoorsy has a 24/7 live chat function. Since I was a new RVer, I wanted to make sure I had every support system at my disposal. 

Although I ran into problems along my journey, I didn’t end up using the app at all, but it was reassuring to know it was there as an option. 

When I returned to Brooklyn, the owner came to pick up the vehicle in another easy process.

camper van frank olito
The camper van back in Brooklyn.

When the owner arrived, he inspected every inch of the vehicle to ensure I didn’t break or hit anything while traveling. Even though I went over the 75-mile-per-day limit, he decided to not charge me because of electricity and heater issues I had experienced.

After I signed a few papers, my first experience with Outdoorsy came to a close. 

I received an email to write a review of my journey a couple of days later.

outdoorsy review
The review screen.

Just like most reviews, Outdoorsy asked me to rate my experience on a five-star scale, to describe my overall experience, and to upload any photos from my trip.

According to the platform’s site, over 5,000 people have rated their experience with Outdoorsy a 4.87, which is 92% of customers.

Although there were a few mishaps along the way, in my experience, Outdoorsy is the perfect platform for first-time RVers.

Frank Olito camper van
The camper van and me.

From the beginning, it was clear that Outdoorsy’s main mission is to help acclimate new RVers to the world of road tripping. That fact is evident in their easy booking process and in the tools they provide both on their site and on their app. 

I believe the growing number of people who feel inspired to get out on the road for the first time because of the pandemic will feel reassured and confident getting behind one of these rigs thanks to Outdoorsy. I know I did. 

Even though I had trouble with my van, customer service was a bit confusing, and there are a few features that the company should improve upon, I always felt like I had a support system to help along the way — whether that be the owner himself or the support service via Outdoorsy. 

If I take another road trip in the future, I would probably use the platform again — but I’d choose a less expensive vehicle.  

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