There’s no freer feeling than waking up at sunrise, setting your slippered feet on dew-soaked grass, and waiting for your coffee to percolate on the camp stove as you soak in the early-morning rays and the quiet of the morning. I was lucky enough to start most days this way as a full-time van lifer.


For three years, I lived out of various campervans while road tripping across the U.S., Canada, and New Zealand. I even spent nearly a year circumnavigating Australia in a four-by-four with a rooftop tent attached to it. My van life journey started with a 20-year-old minivan retrofitted with a futon mattress in the back. Since then, I’ve upgraded to a spacious cargo van with an indoor kitchenette and its own solar and water systems. 


Being a long-term camper comes with plenty of challenges. Even the basics — diet, personal hygiene, and keeping warm, cool, or dry — take a ton of work. Having good gear in your arsenal can make all of the difference. From a portable ceiling fan to a self-purifying water bottle and a multipurpose microfiber towel to my favorite cup holder-sized speaker, here are the 17 things that keep me comfy, clean, and safe while I’m on the road.





Ydytop Reusable Travel Utensils Set

Amazon





It’s easy to fall into the trap of disposable plastics when you’re desperate for convenience. Personally, I can’t stand to throw anything away after a single use — not even a spoon — so I carry a pack of reusable cutlery with me everywhere that I go. These are super lightweight and made with eco-friendly bioplastic (primarily wheat straw). Plus, they’re so much more practical for camping than heavy duty metal utensils, which cause a commotion while I’m driving and weigh down my kit when I pack a picnic.



REI Co-op Multi Towel Lite

REI 





You might not be able to keep things as clean as you’d like to while camping, but you can at least keep them dry. A microfiber towel is absolutely, 100 percent essential — especially when you don’t get a sunny day to hang your towel outside on the clothesline. I like to hang mine inside my van or tent on rainy days, and it dries in a couple of hours. In addition to using them to dry yourself off post-shower, microfiber towels also come in handy for cleaning up kitchen spills, makeshift picnic blankets, wiping down van windows, and so much more. 



Victorinox Swiss Army Huntsman Pocket Knife

Amazon





A multi-tool like the classic Victorinox Swiss Army Knife serves as a can opener, corkscrew, bottle popper, screwdriver, cutting knife, scissors, and more — all in one. You don’t know that you’ll need a teeny-tiny wood saw until you do, and when that happens, this pocket-sized accessory will have you covered. Swiss Army Knives come in a wide range of sizes and with a multitude of tool variations included. This one has 15 functions and is on sale for 24 percent off at Amazon. 



Anker Soundcore Mini, Super-portable Bluetooth Speaker

Amazon





Great for listening to audiobooks on long drives and playing Spotify very quietly at the campsite, this portable little speaker is ideally compact and lasts for days on a single charge. My van is too archaic to have Bluetooth capabilities, so my favorite part about this cylindrical speaker is that it fits perfectly in my cup holder. The FM radio setting also comes in handy when you don’t have cell service to stream your go-to playlist. 



Eno DoubleNest Hammock

REI





What would camping be without a hammock to string between some trees and nap in under the shade? Just about any hammock will do, but Eno’s versions are known to be ultra-durable and packable. The nylon construction conveniently folds up into an attached pouch, perfect for cramming into extra-small nooks around the van. Just don’t forget to pack a pair of straps, as they aren’t included. 



Campsuds Outdoor Camping Soap

Amazon





Soap is a hot topic of conversation in the camping community. According to Leave No Trace, the ultimate authority on sustainable outdoor recreation, “getting any soap in a water source is not acceptable or recommended” as the chemicals can alter minerals in the water and harm wildlife — and that also goes for discarding soap directly onto the ground. Keeping this in mind, always catch soapy water and dispose of it at a designated dump station, or at least in a sink or toilet. I like to use a multipurpose soap that’s as natural and biodegradable as possible. You can use Campsuds on dishes, your skin, clothes, and even your hair in a pinch.



Jackery Portable Power Station Explorer 240

Amazon





There’s something special about disconnecting for a weekend, but when you live full-time in the outdoors, you need power to charge your phones, headphones, lights, and camera gear. I work remotely, so I need a reliable portable battery for my laptop, and Jackery Power Stations are the G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time). This one has two USB ports and a standard AC outlet that can be used at the same time. I have a Jackery solar panel to charge mine, but you can also charge it by plugging it into the wall or the lighter socket in your car. It’s a perfect entry-level power station and well worth the price (it also happens to be on double sale right now thanks to an on-site coupon). 



Teva Unisex ReEmber Slip-On Shoes

REI





Embracing discomfort is a big part of van life and camping, in general, but I draw the line at wet feet. These smart Teva camp booties are perfect for slipping into first thing in the morning, when it’s cold out and the grass is covered in dew, and lounging around. They’re made with waterproof outers and collapsible heels for quick sliding on and kicking off. Think of them as cozy sweaters for your feet. They’re even made with recycled materials.



Gritin Rechargeable Clip-On Book Light

Amazon





Nothing is cozier than wrapping up in a sleeping bag and diving into a good story before falling asleep under the stars. The less electronically tethered you are, the better when you’re working with limited or no power — and that means reading books on paper instead of a Kindle. It gets dark out there when you’re away from the urban glow, so you’ll need an old-school book light for this bedtime ritual. One that charges quickly with a USB cable is preferable, which is why I recommend Amazon’s most popular version. It has more than 25,000 five-star ratings, comes in a range of colors, offers multiple light settings, and won’t cost you more than $20. 



Craftend Collapsible 10-Liter Bucket

Amazon





I use a collapsible bucket for washing dishes and clothes (again, making sure to dump the water into my van’s gray water tank or the campground’s designated dishwashing sink), gathering firewood and kindling, and, yes, even sometimes bathing. You never know when you’ll need a bucket, and this 10-liter one is sturdy, reliable, and easy to carry with its top handle. 



Tidewe Two-Piece Rain Suit

Amazon





I see you scoffing at this rain suit. I get it. But trust me when I say that you’ll want full-body protection when the clouds break and you’re stuck outside frantically covering things around the campsite. Without waterproof clothes, you’d have to crawl into your tent or van in sopping-wet clothes, inevitably spreading around wetness that’s near impossible to clean up. It’s easiest to gear up in the rain and strip this waterproof shell off at the door. This suit is up for the rainfall with its high-density polyester, non-woven fabric, and seamed seals, which work together to keep water out. But, the suit is still breathable enough to let sweat escape should it need to. Thoughtful design features also protect you from the rain and wind, and when the suit isn’t in use, it can be conveniently stored in a carrying pouch. 



Kipida 5-Gallon Solar Shower

Amazon





The question that I get asked most frequently about traveling in a van is, “Where do you shower?” Personally, I bathe wherever and whenever I get the opportunity, which is almost daily. When I’m not at a campground or near a truck stop with public showers, you will find me out in the wild, standing under this bag in my swimsuit. Truthfully, solar showers sound a little more sophisticated than what they actually are. Most are simply black bags with a hose and shower head attached. The color and material are meant to absorb heat, but some work better than others. I like this one from Kipida, which has a temperature gauge on it and a handy pouch to hold soap and other shower accessories to make it feel like home.  



Noco Boost Plus GB40 1000A Car Battery Jump Starter

Amazon





I have, many times, been stranded roadside with a dead van battery with no choice but to flag down a stranger for a jump. It’s not the safest method, especially as a woman traveling solo, so my family gifted me one of these portable jump starters. Now I can do the job myself. Its powerful, 1000-amp lithium battery can perform up to 20 jump starts in a single charge, according to the brand, and its 4.6-inch by 8.2-inch by 4.2-inch frame is small enough that it won’t take up valuable storage space. 



G Good Gain Waterproof Picnic Blanket

Amazon





Not everything about van life is as glamorous as Instagram makes it out to be, but I won’t lie — the daily picnics are pretty charming. You can easily romanticize mealtime by having breakfast or lunch alfresco. A special blanket with waterproof backing like this one from G Good is best for keeping everything, including your own backside, dry and clean. You can use it not just for picnicking, but also for beach lounging, outdoor concerts, camping, and more. 



BioLite Headlamp 200

Amazon





Wearing a headlamp is so much more practical than holding a flashlight or your phone when you’re out after dark. Believe me, you’ll use it more than you imagine you will. When mine isn’t on my head, it’s usually strapped to the ceiling over my bed or in the cup holder of my van — a.k.a. always within reach so it’s ready to go when I need it. If you’re outdoorsy, a headlamp will come in handy when you’re hiking, camping, and exploring past sunset. 



Coleman CPX 6 Lighted Tent Fan With Stand

REI





Another luxury, this portable Coleman fan has kept me cool while camping at the Grand Canyon at the peak of summer and in the sticky humidity of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s a lifesaver for anyone who’s used to sleeping with the fan on. It requires D batteries, so you can bet that I keep plenty of those on hand, and can be hung from the ceiling or set on a surface with its fold-out stand. It even has a light in the center of it, so it really is just like a real ceiling fan — which is a functional way to add a homey touch to your van. 



Grayl 24-Ounce GeoPress Water Filter and Purifier Bottle

Amazon





A water purification system is a must, even if you use it only in an emergency. You can pack a LifeStraw or a Sawyer filter, but I’m drawn to the convenience of having a purifier and water bottle all in one. According to the brand, the Grayl GeoPress Water Filter purifies “viruses, protozoa, bacteria, particulates, chemicals, and heavy metals” for peace of mind. You can use it to filter freshwater from a stream or to make sure that the “allegedly” potable water from your campsite is actually safe to drink.


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