You’ve probably seen them around national parks and beaches: converted camper vans decked out with windows, roof decks, ladders, and more. Van camping is a thing that’s here to stay! As more and more people choose van camping as a way to explore some of the world’s most beautiful places, there’s an increasing demand for van camping accessories and gear. In partnership with REI (our favorite place to find new and used camping gear), we created this guide to the best van camping essentials so you can make sure you have everything you need before you hit the road.
Writer’s note: As a full-time van lifer, I’ve experienced the challenges and benefits of van camping. I’ve hand-selected these items that I use almost every day in my van so that you can have a fun and safe experience on the road. Whether you’re simply renting a van for a trip or are planning to convert your own campervan, I’ve got you covered with my curated list of recommendations for must-have van camping accessories and essentials!
Must-Have Campervan Essentials for Any Trip
One of the biggest perks of a camper van is having space to cook your meals on the road. However, in order to do that, you’ll need a few important van camping accessories, including a portable stove. Most portable stoves run on either butane or propane gas canisters, which means they don’t require electricity to use.
For van camping, we like the single-burner Eureka SPRK+ Butane Camp Stove for our van camping adventures. It’s affordable, lightweight, and heats up quickly with a standard butane canister. If you need two burners, opt for the Eureka Ignite 2-Burner Propane Camp Stove instead.
In order to cook anything on your stove, you’ll also need some portable camping pots and/or pans. Unlike traditional pots and pans, most of these are made of lightweight materials and have folding handles for easier storage. I use the MSR 1.6L Alpine Stowaway Pot for most of the cooking I do in the van – it’s large enough for a decent amount of food but small enough to store easily in my small cabinets.
Another one of the most necessary van camping accessories for meals on the road is a set of plates, cups, and silverware. We love the Sea to Summit Delta Camp Set because it comes with everything you need: a cup, a plate, a bowl, and silverware. The camp set is lightweight and easy to transport, and doubles as a great mess kit for backpacking or hiking as well.
While it’s great to have a couple of plastic cups around for meals, insulated drinkware is a much better investment for when you’re on the road or the trails. Cups don’t make a whole lot of sense while you’re driving because they can move around and spill everywhere, so we’d recommend something insulated like a Hydro Flask water bottle or a YETI Rambler Tumbler. Not only will they prevent spills, but they’ll also keep drinks cold (or warm) for several hours!
Sometimes you’ll need to get water from sketchy sources like spigots and waterways, and when you do it’s important to use a water filter before you drink it. A good water filter can help prevent sickness from parasites or bacteria and ensures you always have potable water at your disposal! This is extra important in a campervan because you’ll constantly need to be filling up water on the road.
Anything could happen while you’re on the road and in the wild, so a first aid kit is an absolutely necessary part of any campervan essentials list. Most first aid kits come with. afew different types of bandages, gauze, antibiotics and antiseptic wipes, tape, and a few other helpful items. The more robust your kit, the more prepared you’ll be for any emergency that happens on the road, so we’d recommend looking through each kit and seeing what comes with it before making a decision.
Whether you’re planning on swimming, showering, or simply heading to the waterfront, quick dry towels can come in handy as van camping accessories. These thin, microfiber towels are super compact and easy to transport, and they dry super quickly without odors. There are lots of brands that make these in different sizes and colors, so choose one (or a few) based on your camping needs.
Most camper vans don’t come with bathroom facilities, and even if they do, they’re pretty gross to empty and clean. Generally, I try to go outside as often as possible when I’m camping. When you go #2 in the wilderness, you’re supposed to dig a hole, do your business, and bury it. We like this folding spade shovel because it’s compact and easy to throw into the back of your van and set up when you need it!
Note: Your poop shovel is NOT supposed to touch anything but dirt. Use appropriately if you don’t want to be doing unnecessary cleanup!
No matter where you’re planning on going camping, having adequate bug repellent for your outdoor activities is a must. Not only will you avoid annoying, itchy bites, but also mosquito-borne and tick-borne illnesses like Malaria and Lyme Disease. While a DEET body spray is always the best thing to use for maximum protection, we’d also recommend spraying your clothes with Permethrin spray for extra guard against hungry insects.
As a vanlifer, I love campervan essentials that have multiple uses. CampSuds is one such item. It’s a simple soap that can be used for washing anything: dishes, laundry, hands, and even as body wash or shampoo! This formula is eco-friendly and biodegradable, meaning that it won’t harm local plants or animals and won’t pollute the environment if you use it while camping. We’d recommend getting the 4 oz bottle for a better value because you will definitely use it eventually!
Showering on the road can seem a bit more difficult than showering while staying in hotels, but with a camping shower, it’s easy. The Nemo Helio Shower offers a complete shower system – just fill the bag with clean water, let it sit in the sun to heat up, then wash up. We love these and consider them campervan essentials because they’re portable and can hang easily from the back door of a campervan, perfect for grabbing a shower wherever!
An REI membership is a great way to make sure you’re maximizing all of your purchases at REI when buying van camping accessories at home and on the road!
REI membership gets you some great perks, like:
- Dibs on exclusive sales and discounts
- Access to REI’s Used Gear trade in program
- Annual dividends of 10% from every full price purchase (with some exclusions)
We’ve been loyal REI members since 2014 and have enjoyed using our benefits to get our favorite outdoor gear. Plus, lifetime membership is only $20…a steal if you ask us!
Helpful Van Camping Accessories
Forget complicated coffee setups with disposable cups! Our favorite vanlife coffee brewing kit is the AeroPress Coffee Kit. Light, portable, and sustainable, this coffee maker creates strong coffee on the go with ease. A favorite for camping, we love that the filters that come with the AeroPress are compostable/biodegradable, and that this system is super easy to clean after use. If you want to avoid the use of paper filters, there are several reusable mesh AeroPress filters you can buy as well.
When you’re parked at an epic campsite and you’re ready to relax for the day, a sturdy set of camp chairs are some of the best van camping accessories to have on hand. You’ll want to buy chairs that fit your activity level and your habits – some chairs are built for hikers and backpackers (like this Helinox Chair Zero), while others are heavier and better for more sedentary camping experiences. The good news is that any of these options will work for van camping!
In addition to camping chairs, a solid camping table is a great gear item to take with you on any van camping adventure. Vans don’t usually have a ton of indoor space for dining (unless it’s a dinette style), so having an outdoor dining setup i a great way to enjoy your meal and chill time outdoors. Again, there are lots of options for backpacking vs. normal camping, but anything will work in a van!
Another favorite van camping gear item is a compact picnic blanket for days when you want to lay out on the ground. Not only are these great spots to set up your chairs and table, but they’re also fantastic for trips to the beach, the park, or anywhere that’s dirty or sandy. The CGear Multimats Sandlite Sand-Free Mat is our favorite – even though it’s a little pricey, it repels sand and dirt so you can easily stash it back in the van without tracking in anything.
While you can subsist on produce and non-perishables on the road, it’s great when you have a cooler to keep things like meat, cheese, and beverages cold. It’s definitely one of the campervan accessories that’s most useful when you’re planning to grill or need affordable refrigeration capabilities. We like YETI coolers because they’re super well-built and keep things cold for a long time!
The last thing you want in a van’s small, enclosed space is wet clothes. Luckily, a portable clothesline is one of the simplest and most useful campervan essentials to wash and dry your clothes on the go – on the beach, in the car, or at home! We like this portable clothesline because it’s got built-in clips to secure your clothing and is made of elastic to expand as needed.
Sometimes, when camping, you need to be outdoors are in the early morning and late in the night. In these cases, it’s critical to bring a lighting source so you can see your way around. Needless to say, a head lamp is one of the best van camping accessories because it’s truly an essential item for those late night bathroom runs or stargazing excursions. Our favorite head lamp is the Black Diamond Spot – it’s lightweight, durable, and isn’t too expensive.
One of the coolest ways to ensure you always have power on the road is by harvesting solar energy. Goal Zero Portable Solar Panels are a big investment, but they make off-grid travel and living possible with solar energy. We like Goal Zero products because they are portable, integrate seamlessly, and require little technical knowledge to get set up. Note that you will need to connect the solar panels to a Goal Zero battery pack, like the Goal Zero Sherpa power bank, in order to use the solar energy from your panels!
This post was sponsored by REI and written by the Urban Outdoors team. We love being long-time REI members because we earn valuable dividends on each purchase that put money back in our pockets to get more exciting outdoor gear in the future! While we did partner with REI to create this content, all of the opinions and recommendations within this article are 100% our own.