As technology advances and jobs become mobile, it has never been easier to pack up your life, jump into a camper van and hit the road.
Despite this new era of work-life balance, being on the go for days or weeks at a time isn’t without its challenges. As a newcomer to the lifestyle, it can be daunting to learn what you need to stay safe, comfortable and productive in your new home.
But as veterans of #vanlife know, space is a precious commodity, and everything you carry has to serve a specific purpose. To help determine what should make the cut, we’ve compiled a list of essential gear capable of making life on the road easier and safer.
Our recommendation: Viper LED 2-Way Security + Remote Start System ($235)
Physical safety should always be top of mind, but when you’re traveling and living in the same space, the concept takes on an entirely new meaning. Viper’s 5806V 2-way Security System with Remote Start helps prevent unauthorized entry to your vehicle while also offering the ability to start it just by pushing a button.
Its companion remote works up to 1 mile away and holds a charge for six months. The security system senses exterior motion and break-ins, meaning you can sleep inside your van without worrying about tripping the alarm. Each $235 package comes with two remotes and can be used on up to two vehicles.
In the event someone does make it into your van, a safe provides much-needed security for valuables like laptops, cameras and personal documents. Most people breaking into vehicles are looking for a quick smash-and-grab, so it’s important to make it harder to get in or to find anything of value.
Our recommendation: Rosewill Induction Cooker ($55)
Relying on fast food for every meal isn’t an ideal, or healthy, way of road life. With the right equipment, preparing meals on the go doesn’t take much effort and affords a wider variety of options. We recommend a portable cooktop like Rosewill’s Induction Cooker. At just $55, it’s inexpensive and allows you to enjoy home-cooked meals no matter where your van takes you.
Featuring five preprogrammed settings such as Soup, Stir Fry, Warm Milk, Hot Pot and Fry, it lets you heat or prepare food with minimal operation. It also has a four-digit LED screen displaying temperature and cook times, both of which are adjustable while cooking.
Our recommendation: Craftsman 230-Piece Mechanics Tool Set ($117)
When things break, and they will, you won’t always be able to head into a shop for repairs. What’s the point of van life if you can’t enjoy some time off-grid, anyway? The solution is to work on the van yourself, and the Craftsman 230-Piece Mechanics Tool Set is the best way to approach it.
Each of its 230 pieces are made of durable alloy steel, so the set should last several years. It includes ratchets, screwdrivers and wrenches, as well as 116 different sockets and 40 separate bits. The entire set is even small enough to fit under a seat.
It’s also important you know what you’re doing before attempting a repair or fix. Consult your van’s owner’s manual or reference forums and how-tos online (if possible) before getting to work.
Our recommendation: Goal Zero Yeti 400 Power Station with Boulder 50 Solar Panel ($575)
It’s important to check the life of your van’s battery before hitting the road, but even the strongest battery can handle only so much. And you won’t always be able to easily use your jumper cables.
Instead, invest in a small power station setup like Goal Zero’s Yeti 400 kit that comes with a 50-watt solar panel. At $575, the kit is a steep initial investment, but the money saved on replaced batteries and electricity will quickly pay for the kit.
The solar panel comes with its own kickstand to allow it to sit upright on the ground when the van isn’t in motion. It can also be secured to the van while it’s moving, but it does need to be plugged into the power station at the same time to transfer the charge.
With a 396-watt-hour capacity, the Yeti 400 is capable of charging a laptop five times and a smartphone more than 30. It could even power a small appliance like a microwave or portable coffeemaker. It features two USB ports, two AC ports and a 12V output. Its built-in LED displays how much battery is left.
Our recommendation: Lasko Ceramic Portable Space Heater ($23)
Many van lifers live out of their vehicles year-round, meaning they’ll spend several months chasing warmth – whether that means driving to warmer locales or bundling up in blankets.
Either option is fine, but adding a portable space heater is an effective way to warm your van while still allowing you to move around in it. Lasko’s Ceramic Portable Space Heater is easy on the wallet at just $23 – and it’s easy on storage, as it doesn’t take up much room.
It features 11 temperature settings and three quiet settings: low heat, high heat and fan. Its built-in handle and light weight (3.5 pounds) make it easy to transport. The ceramic exterior stays cool to the touch during operation, and it features overheat protection.
Cooler: Orca Liddup 35 ($300)
Capable of keeping ice frozen up to 10 days, Orca’s Liddup 35 is an ideal way to keep perishable food fresh and cold drinks on hand. Its LED lights illuminate the interior of the cooler, allowing for use in the dark.
Coffee Maker: Oxx Coffeeboxx ($200)
A rugged and portable Keurig knockoff, the Oxx Coffeeboxx is compatible with K-Cups and can be operated via a portable power station. It weighs just 12 pounds and is small enough to easily stow in a cabinet or under a seat.
Lights: BioLite SolarHome 620 ($150)
Though designed for stationary off-grid homes, BioLite’s SolarHome 620 is a great option for outfitting your van with solar-powered lighting. The kit comes with a 6-watt solar panel, three overhead lights (one of which is sensor-activated), wall-mounted light switches and a control box for operation.
Compost Toilet: Reliance Luggable Loo ($20)
You won’t always be near a public bathroom, so packing along a portable toilet is vital. Reliance’s Luggable Loo is a bucket-style toilet that features a snap-on lid and a five-gallon capacity. It’s also compatible with the brand’s Double Doodie Bags, which allow for easy disposal of waste.
Camp Chair: REI Co-op Flexlite Chair ($80)
A van has its own built-in seating, but sometimes you want to get out and enjoy the great outdoors, and REI Co-op’s Flexlite Chair is an inexpensive and comfortable way to do it. The chair requires just a couple of minutes to set up and packs down into a small, easily stowable bag.