Essential gear for vanlife
We have extremely limited storage space in our van (compared to our 3000 square foot home!), so everything we decided to take with us or have picked up along the road has truly earned its spot!
Note: Some of the links below are affiliate links. Purchasing an item through the link may earn us a commission, and encourages us to put in the effort and time to do these gear reviews and other content. All the gear we’ve linked to below is stuff we put through the paces on a daily basis, and we do our best to test everything thoroughly before recommending it.
Internet / ConnectivityWeBoost 4G-X RV Cell Phone Signal Booster
One the upgrades we’ve done to the van that we were most hesitant about initially is our cell phone signal booster. An external antenna is mounted above our recovery tracks, and a cable runs inside the van to the booster which then runs to an inside antenna. We put in a switch on the underside of our cabinet so we can turn the booster on and off without having to open up our cabinet where we have it installed. There are some nuances to the setup, mainly that in especially weak signal areas your phone needs to be within a few inches of the internal antenna in order to get the benefit of the signal boost (which I think leads to a lot of the negative reviews on Amazon). It works wonders though – we’ve driven up forest roads where we’ve seen our signal drop from LTE to 3G, to 1x, to no signal, and when we set up camp and turn the booster on we’re back at LTE. We don’t have a cell hotspot so we tether to our phones, and the signal boost gives us internet when we otherwise wouldn’t have any. If you use a mobile hotspot, putting it right next to the internal antenna would have a similar effect. We couldn’t imagine not having the WeBoost – it’s allowed us to stay in touch with friends and family while traveling in remote areas.
See how we installed it here:
We do a lot of adventuring in remote places, both in the van and outside of it. We travel with our Garmin inReach Mini and take it on all our outdoor excursions. We turned on tracking so our loved ones can see where we are when we’re outside of cell service. It communicates via the Iridium satellite network so we’re able to use it anywhere. We hope we never have to use it to trigger an SOS or send a text in an emergency, but it’s nice to know we can call for help if needed! A monthly or yearly subscription is required, but there are various levels of service so it ends up being reasonable if you just plan on using it in emergencies.
Cooking GadgetsDash Mini Toaster Oven with Baking Tray & Rack
We’ve never missed having a microwave when we moved into our van, but always wished we had a toaster oven. We recently got this Dash Mini Toaster for bagels, sandwiches and more, and it will definitely be staying in the van! It only draws 550W, so it’s well within the power constraints of our inverter. It’s much smaller than other compact toasters and very easy to store.Magma Nesting 7-Piece Stainless Steel Non-Stick Induction Cookware Set
We have an induction cooktop in our van, so we wanted to get a good compact set of nonstick cookware for it. This Magma Cookset fits the bill perfectly! The cookware stacks and closes up nicely for traveling. Magma also makes a version with a Stainless Steel outer layer, but we decided to splurge for the nonstick version – it’s easier to clean, and we use less of our valuable water supply in the process!Instant Pot Ultra Mini 10-in-1 Pressure Cooker, 3 Quart
We debated on whether or not to bring an Instant Pot with us in the van but we’ve both been surprised by how much we use it. We bought the Mini (3 quart) version for its small footprint. We love how versatile it is and how quickly we can throw together a delicious meal! If you’re new to the Instant Pot world, check out a selection of the food you can make here.Nutribullet Nutrient Extractor
We primarily use our Nutribullet for making smoothies. It’s much faster than setting up a blender and it takes up less space as well. It doesn’t draw much power since it’s only on for a quick burst. Easy to clean too! There’s nothing like a fresh fruit smoothie after an exhausting day in the outdoors.Coffee Gator Pour Over Induction Kettle with Thermometer
Coffee is a very important morning ritual for us. We do pourovers in the van with paper filters for ease of cleanup and use a Melitta brewing cone. To heat up our water, we use a Coffee Gator Induction Gooseneck Kettle with a built-in thermometer. The thermometer helps us heat the water to the correct temperature, and the spout makes it easy to control the water pour. We love that the water heats up so quickly on our induction stove!OXO Good Grips Gray Silicone Drying Mat
This OXO Silicone Drying Mat serves two purposes in the van. When we’re not using the kitchen, the rack sits on top of the induction stove and adds a layer of protection should something fall on the glass top. When we’re cooking, we open our countertop extension and move the drying rack over. It’s the perfect spot to dry clean dishes. The mat fits perfectly in both spots!OXO Good Grips Silicone Small Ice Cube Tray with Lid
We have a small freezer in our van and make sure we always have ice cubes available for cocktails and cold drinks. We picked up an OXO Silicone Ice Cube Tray to replace the tray that came in our freezer. The silicone section comes out of the tray and makes it easy to pop the ice cubes out, and the tray has a lid to keep unfrozen water from spilling out when we drive.
Water Tank Fill Kit
We have a 21-gallon freshwater tank under our van and, when it’s time to refill, we have a kit with everything we need to get water safely. We have a water pressure regulator we screw onto the water source to make sure high water pressure won’t damage our van’s water lines or fittings. We have a 25-foot hose we connect to the pressure regulator, and on the other end we have a Camco filter that filters the water before it enters the water tank. Finally, at the outlet of the water filter, we have a shutoff valve so the water source can be stopped at the van when the tank is full. Each image below is a link to the respective Amazon page.3M Filtrete Under Sink Water Filtration System
We have a water filtration system under our sink that filters the cold water line as it runs up to the faucet. We filter our water on the way into the freshwater tank, but we find that it starts to take on the taste of the plastic tank after a couple days (particularly in the hot summer). Check out our install video below to see what’s involved in making the upgrade! If you have a Revel, make sure to leave the “Standard Filter” option selected, as the “Advanced” and “Maximum” filters are taller and more difficult to fit under the sink. All the parts required in addition to the filtration system are listed in the video description on YouTube, but you can also click each photo below to see the part on Amazon.
Outdoor LoungingBioLite FirePit – Smokeless Wood & Charcoal Fire Pit and Grill
We love a good fire, and with our Biolite Firepit we’re able to enjoy fires while we travel in the van! Some of the camp spots we find in public land have fire rings, but many others do not so it’s nice to be able to have a fire wherever we’re safely able to enjoy it. Plus, it doubles as a grill!
We carry a hatchet for splitting firewood. It works great for its compact size! It’s light enough that we sometimes take it backpacking (along with the saw below) when we’re in an area that allows fires and harvesting of downed wood.BigBoy Folding Saw
The other half of our fire-making kit is this Folding Saw. The saw folds up for easy storage in the van. It’s pretty impressive how quickly it cuts through wood! Like the hatchet, this saw is also light enough that we’ll take it backpacking with us when we’re allowed to harvest firewood.Portable Double Hammock – Includes Nylon Tree Straps & Steel Carabiners
We have a 2-person hammock for the lazy days. It packs down nice and small so we’re able to keep it accessible in the van for a spontaneous setup. This one comes with tree straps so nothing else is needed other than a good book and a cold one!
We generally prefer listening to the sounds of nature, but sometimes we want to listen to our favorite music outside when we’re lounging in a remote spot. Our UE Boom Bluetooth Speaker has impressive sound for a small device!
Interior LightingLED String Light with 16 Color Options, USB Plug-in with Remote, 33ft
We added some cozy interior string lights around the ceiling for a bit of mood lighting when we don’t want our bright overhead lights on. We plugged the USB end into a USB port we have above our induction stove. The lights are held in place around the ceiling with clear 3M hooks which are barely visible. The string lights were a cheap and easy way of making the inside of the van more cheery or festive in the evenings! Check out the video below to see how we ran these lights in our van.
We recently added 3 motion sensor LED lights around the van. We put one behind the bench seat near the floor (facing the rear of the van) which is quite helpful when we’re trying to locate the bathroom at night! We placed the second one next to the step at the sliding door to illuminate the entrance/exit to the living area. The third light is under the cabinet by the sliding door and helps illuminate the kitchen area. The lights only turn on at night, so the batteries last for a long time.OxyLED Dimmable LED Light, AAA Battery Operated
One of the areas we wish had better built-in lighting is the area under the bed. It’s particularly dark when we’re trying to get an early start on a ski touring day and getting ready at the van before sunrise. These OxyLED Light Bars stick to the underside of the bed and give off just enough light that we can see everything in our gear garage well. We have one stuck to the front of the bed and one stuck to the rear so that we can turn on a light from either inside the van or from the outside.EBL 40Min Smart USB Individual AA AAA Battery Charger
The two lights linked above use AAA batteries. We have many other gadgets in the van that run AA and AAA batteries, so we decided it was easiest to pick up some rechargeable AA and AAA batteries along with a good battery charger that charges individual batteries (some chargers require 4 at a time). We also wanted to find a charger that could charge from USB so we wouldn’t have to turn on our inverter. This EBL USB Individual Battery Charger fit the bill and has been working well for us!
Interior Gadgets / ImprovementsNekteck Stick-On Flat Magnetic Phone Mount (2 Pack)
Our van has 2 USB ports above the bed that we use for charging our phones at night. For awhile we were using long cables and putting our phones under our pillows, but we’d usually inadvertently unplug them in our sleep. We already use magnetic vent mounts for our phones and each have a magnet in our phone case, so we bought stick-on magnet mounts so we can mount our phones next to the USB ports while they charge. We swapped out our 6-ft USB cables for shorter 1-ft cables so that we don’t have any spare cable dangling between the phones and the magnetic mounts.Anker Roav A1 Dash Cam, 1080p Wide Angle Lens with Nighthawk Vision
Call us paranoid, but we installed a dash cam in the van in case we get into a crash. After experiencing a hit-and-run in another one of our vehicles, we appreciate having video footage to make an insurance claim much easier. We bought an Anker Roav A1 Dash Cam along with a Sandisk 64GB Endurance MicroSD Card that runs whenever we’re driving. The video automatically loops so we don’t have to clear out the memory card when it fills up. The install is super clean with the power cable running into the headliner and out of sight so we barely notice it’s there. Hopefully we’ll never have to use the video but it’s comforting to know that it’s there!3-Way Cigarette Lighter Splitter + 2 USB with Remote Touch Sensor Switch
We have two of these 3-Way Cigarette Lighter Power Splitters in the van, one in the front and one in the back. The front splitter plugs into the “always on” cigarette lighter port at the base of the center console, and the 3-port power box is tucked away above the passenger footwell behind the glove box. We have the dash cam, phone chargers, and timelapse camera all plugged in here. The power box has a remote that allows you to turn on each port individually which comes in handy for turning on and off the dash cam – sometimes we’ll choose to leave it on if we’re parked on a busy city street. The remote is mounted on the dash by the steering wheel, so the wires are mostly hidden and out of the way.
The rear splitter powers our two ski boot dryers as well as the USB chargers for our bike lights. The remote is mounted to the wall of the van just above the bed and allows us to easily turn on and off the boot dryers as they’re needed – in the winter we’ll shut them off before bed to save electricity and then turn them back on when we wake up to get a bit of warmth in the boots before a day of skiing! Our van originally had 2 USB ports by the rear door, so we replaced the USB ports with a cigarette lighter socket so we could plug in the rear 3-way splitter. The swap was easy – remove the two screws holding the USB faceplate, pull off the 12V wires from the back, replace the USB center with the cigarette lighter socket center, and reconnect everything.
We added an Indoor / Outdoor Thermometer so we can see both the temperature inside and outside when we wake up (from the comfort of the van!). We have the display mounted to the side of the cabinet above the kitchen. I ziptied the external temperature sensor to the inside of the driver’s front battery bracket under the van so it’s shielded from the elements, including sunlight which might make the temperature readings inaccurate.RAM Twist-Lock Suction Cup Mount
We try to reduce our screen time as much as possible when we’re on the road, but sometimes we can’t resist watching a TV show or a movie on our tablet. Our van has RAM Mounts tracks around the interior, which we use to mount the tablet. Our tablet mount consists of three parts: a twist-lock suction cup (strong enough to stick onto the back of our tablet) which connects to an adjustable arm, which is mounted to a 1″ ball base that locks onto the RAM Mount track. It’s convenient to be able to move the mount around the van!
BeddingPendleton Chief Joseph Wool Blanket, Aqua, Queen Size
We have a cozy Pendleton Wool Blanket on our bed which keeps us warm at night and adds some color to the van. It’s a bit of an investment but we think it’s worthwhile given that it’ll likely last longer than we will!
We decided to upgrade the comfort of our bed with a memory foam eggshell topper. We ordered a large size so that we could cut to fit and still have enough leftover to make a topper for our bench seat bed. Now our guests will be able to sleep in comfort too! Our bed was comfortable enough for a good night’s sleep, but we’ve taken it to another level with the topper.
PowerPortable RV Surge Protector EMS-PT30X
This is our first adventure van, so we didn’t know what measures we should be taking to protect the onboard systems. After some research, we decided to get a 30A Energy Monitoring System (EMS) to use when we plug in the van anywhere. It protects the van’s electronics from surges, open ground, and other potential problems from an unknown power source.
We have a short 30A power cord in the van, but a few times we haven’t been able to reach a power outlet in a friend’s driveway or at a campground. We picked up a 50-ft 30A Extension Cord to be able to reach faraway power outlets.
The final bit in our “plug-in power” kit is a 30A to 15A adapter. This allows us to plug in to a standard power outlet (a 30A plug is incompatible with a standard home outlet). Just be wary of the circuit you’re plugged in to. If you turn on all the high-draw items in your van, you’ll likely trip a breaker if you’re on a 15A or 20A circuit.
Systems MonitoringQUICKLYNKS Bluetooth 12V Battery Monitor
This is a great cheap and easy way of monitoring your house battery system. We installed this bluetooth 12V battery monitor on our passenger-side house battery, and through our phone we’re able to see the current battery state as well as a graph with change of voltage over time. As an example, we can look at the graph to see how much running the stove for dinner affects the battery levels. The monitor stores up to 35 days of data between phone syncs, so we don’t lose any of the historical battery data if we’re away from the van for awhile. We’ve found it helpful in figuring how much to expect the batteries to drop overnight while running various appliances such as the refrigerator and furnace.Wireless Bluetooth Thermometer and Hygrometer (iOS and Android)
We generally haven’t had issues with our water freezing in the winter as long as our furnace is running, but we still like to take precautions when traveling in freezing weather. We picked up a few of these bluetooth temperature sensors and stuck them in various places around the van. We’ve settled on placing one next to the thermostat and one on top of our water tank by the water pickup. Through the phone app, we’re able to set temperature alarms that are triggered if the sensor goes outside of a set temperature range. We have the water pickup sensor set to 35 degrees so we’re alerted if it dips near freezing temperature, and we have the thermostat sensor set to 50 (which is just colder than what we keep the van at night) to alert us if the furnace isn’t turning on when it should. We liked the setup so much that we ordered another sensor for the refrigerator so we could be alerted if it isn’t keeping our food cold enough!Camco Refrigerator-Freezer Thermometer
We already have the bluetooth temperature sensor mentioned above in the fridge to alert us if it gets too warm, but we decided an old-fashioned analog thermometer would be nice to have too so we could check the temperature without having to pull out our phone. This Camco refrigerator thermometer does the trick.
Wheels / TiresStaun Automatic Tire Deflators (Heavy Duty 15-55 PSI)
We love our van, but unfortunately it’s a well-known fact that a big van is no fun to drive on a washboard road, at least on its stock suspension with the tires fully inflated. We were blown away by how much of a difference it makes to let 30-40% of the air out of our tires when we leave the pavement for long stretches of rough road! In order to make it a little more convenient to air down, we got a set of Staun Heavy Duty Automatic Tire Deflators. After a one-time calibration, they automatically release tire pressure and stop at a set PSI when they’re screwed onto the valve stems. We’ve found that by the time we’ve walked around the van removing the valve stem caps and screwing on the deflators, the first tire is already done deflating. After removing the deflators and putting the caps back on, the tires are deflated to the set amounts and we’re ready to hit the road again!VIAIR 300P Portable Air Compressor
Once we return to pavement after driving off-road, we have a VIAIR 300p portable air compressor to make quick work of getting the tires back up to the proper pressures for pavement. The air compressor gets its power directly from the battery since it draws more power than a small compressor, so all we have to do is pop the hood and connect the alligator clamps directly to the battery posts (for a Sprinter, we have a positive post that goes to the chassis battery and a ground post that can be used for the black clamp).
We still think that the VIAIR 300p is a great compressor and will be enough for most people, but in May 2020 while on COVID-19 lockdown we decided to tackle the project of installing an onboard air setup in the van. You can read more about it here! https://www.gnrwgn.com/onboard-air
Rescue / RecoveryWARN VR EVO 12-S Winch with Synthetic Rope
We have a Warn VR-12S winch tucked in inside our Backwoods Adventure Mods bumper, and it’s already come in handy multiple times. In our opinion, a winch is one of the best “insurance” investments we’ve made. We want to be able to have the best shot of getting ourselves out of a sticky situation should we get stuck. The VR EVO 12-S linked above is the next generation version of our VR-12S.WARN Medium-Duty Epic Accessory Recovery Kit
With a winch, you’ll need a recovery kit. At a minimum, you’ll want to pick up shackles and a tree strap. We chose to get a kit because it included a recovery strap to rescue other cars as well as a snatch block, which doubles the pulling power of our winch as well as allows us to change the pull direction of our winch line.X-BULL Recovery Traction Tracks
When we get the van stuck (which unfortunately happens more than I’d like to admit!), our recovery tracks have gotten us out of a bind every time. Stick them in front of your drive wheels and slowly pull forward. The tires climb onto the tracks and get you moving again. I fabricated the roof mount for our tracks, but you can buy a premade mounting system so the tracks are easily accessible outside your van.
Exterior LightingRIGID D-SERIES PRO DOT/SAE YELLOW FOG LIGHT (set of 2)
All of our exterior lighting is mounted in our Backwoods Adventure Mods bumper. We have our fog light switch wired to the outside set of lights, which are Rigid SAE Yellow Fogs. Yellow LEDs are a great option for fogs since the light reflects less off snow and dust than white LEDs.
The inner set of light pods are Rigid Radiance Amber Pods, which we have wired to a switch on the dash. The backlighting is tied into our fog light wiring, and the main white LEDs can be turned on via the dash switch when we leave the pavement.
We ordered our Backwoods bumper with a bull bar, which has mounts for a 20″ light bar. We have a 20″ Rigid E-Series Spot/Flood Combo LED Light Bar, which has the impressive feature of being able to turn night into day! We have the light bar wired to a dedicated switch on the dash next to our light pods.
And there you have it – our favorite gear for van living! Did we miss anything you think should be in every van dweller’s van? Do you have any questions about any of the modifications? Leave a comment below!
Make sure to check out our YouTube channel for install guides and other van content – more coming soon!