The advertised freedoms of van life are often sharply contrasted by the realities of actually living life from a vehicle on the road. Small daily tasks such as your morning grooming and breakfast routines become more difficult in the tiny living spaces present in most camper van builds, especially when you are off-grid boondocking away from modern hookups and restroom facilities. Whether you are full time on the road or just like to take weekend camping trips, there are some van life essentials that will make your life much easier and road trips that much more enjoyable.
Having spent a decent amount of time living and working out of my vehicle these last few years, I've come across a number of van life accessories that gave me a little extra peace of mind and comfort on the road. Our focus today is more on comfort accessories rather than things such as first aid kits, fire extinguishers, smoke detectors, and other essentials that should be part of your build anyway. These are comfort items that will make the experience of traveling and sleeping in your vehicle more enjoyable.
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1. A Place to Put Your Trash
HOTOR Car Trash Can, $24.99, Amazon
- Easy to hang anywhere.
- Ruggedly made.
- Fills up quickly.
We know a trash can might seem at first like an odd must-have accessory. However, we chose this as the first item on our list simply because one of the things that nomad influencers on Instagram and Facebook don't tell you is how hard it is to keep a small living space in a vehicle clean. You are going to have trash from food wrappers, napkins, Kleenexes, discarded toiletries, and other assorted garbage. You need to have a place to put it all until you can dispose of it properly. Otherwise, you will have an incredibly messy vehicle. I have one of these HOTOR car trash cans, and I really like it. I hung it on the back of my passenger seat in my Ram Promaster City van conversion, and that is the perfect place for it. The can is made from durable nylon and is compact at around 10 inches high by 5.5 inches wide and 7.9 inches long. I have found it to be quite durable so far, and easy to empty. The rubber opening also keeps anything from spilling out while you are driving. The only downside is that it is quite small and needs to be emptied more often than a normal trash can.
2. A Simple Car Vacuum
ThisWorx Car Vacuum Cleaner, $44.99, Amazon
- Runs on 12-volt.
- Comes with a ton of accessories.
- Carrying case.
- Not built for deep cleaning.
This again relates to keeping your van clean on the road. Odds are you are going to be in nature and away from civilization for long periods. And you are going to track in dust and debris from the outside to the inside of your van. Trust me, I've made plenty of messes in my vehicles over the years to know this firsthand. It is nice to have a small vacuum cleaner to keep on top of the messes until you get back to civilization. This option from ThisWorx is great because it is compact and comes with a carrying case. The whole package measures about 15 inches long by 5 inches wide, so it is easy to stow in even the smallest of vans like mine. But the other big reason we picked this over other options on the market is because it can run on 12-volt power. It runs very well off a power station or battery setup without putting too much of a drain on them. ThisWorx also included a ton of accessories including hoses to get into the tiniest nooks and crannies of your setup. It's a good choice for light cleaning in larger motorhomes, too. The downside to this option is that the suction is not built for major deep cleanings. It is more of a device you run for a few minutes each day to keep things spiffy until you get back to civilization and a more-powerful vacuum.
3. An Emergency Jump Starter and Power Supply
Uncharted Zeus Portable Jump Starter, $159.00, Bass Pro Shops
- Ruggedly built.
- Built-in flashlight.
- Great for charging phones.
Things can happen while you are van camping, and the worst feeling in the world is being miles from civilization with a dead battery. That is where a portable jump-starter such as this one from Uncharted Supply Co. comes into play. We've used the high-quality, rechargeable Zeus for a few years now, and it is a dynamite little device for van lifers. This unit holds a whopping 20,000 mAhs of power, enough to jump-start a dead battery more than once. I haven't had to use this feature yet (knock on wood), but the Zeus is useful for things other than just emergencies. It has a USB port and does a dynamite job of charging up a cellphone quickly and efficiently. I've also used it charge cameras, drones, GoPros, and rechargeable GPS unit batteries. You can lessen the drain on your power station or batter setup by using this instead and recharging the Zeus through the included 12-volt charger when you drive to your next camping spot. It also has a nifty little flashlight that is surprisingly bright given how small the lens is. One can never have too many lights at their disposal. Our only knock on the unit is that the $159 price tag does seem a bit steep. But given the quality of the construction and the included carrying case, we think it is worth it. I gave one to my parents for use on trips with their travel trailer. Just in case.
4. The Best Ice-Free Cooler Solution
Dometic CFX 3, $899 to $1,399.99, Amazon
- No more ice.
- Efficient running.
If you are planning more than a few days on the road, filling up a traditional ice cooler gets old fast. Which is why Dometic coolers have become one of our favorite van life gadgets. The Dometic CFX3 45 has served me well since I got it. There is something extra comforting about being able to take meats, cheeses, and other perishables in your vehicle without worrying about them going bad or needing to buy ice constantly. I have run this cooler for five straight days using the 12-volt port on a Bluetti AC200P 2,000-watt portable power station with it set at 35 degrees. The compressor on the cooler only drained the Bluetti's battery about 40 percent in that time. With the right solar setup, you can go off-grid indefinitely with one of these coolers. The Dometics can also run on a 120-volt AC input. Dometic offers a few different sizes, so you can find something for smaller setups and the larger Sprinter van setups. The downside is these coolers are not cheap; the smallest CFX3 starts at $899. They are also extremely heavy, but they are ruggedly built. Read my full review of the CFX 3 45 for more details.
5. The Best Outdoor Cooking Station
GCI Outdoor Slim-Fold Cook Station, $99.99, Amazon
- Ruggedly built.
- Folds flat.
- Needs flat, level ground.
- Requires extra storage space.
While camper van kitchens have come a long way, they often do not have the space for preparing more elaborate meals. A quality foldable table and cook station is a prime solution here if you enjoy prepping meals in the open air. We like the GCI Outdoor folding cook station for those who need a quality workspace. This cook station features a powder-coated steel frame and folds down flat, although it requires a little extra storage space. It has a heat-resistant aluminum top that is perfect for your camping stove. And there is plenty of counter space for condiments and all your other kitchen gadgets such as your coffee maker or hot water percolator. Wide Open Spaces writer Megan Plete Postol found this cook station quite functional, although she noted it does require a flat level surface to stay steady. The whole setup is a bit heavy and uses up quite a bit of storage space, so it may be best for larger van builds with room to spare.
6. The Best Portable Toilet
Alpcour Portable Toilet, $149.95, Amazon
- Portable comfort of home.
- Large waste tank.
- Easy to clean.
- Takes up a lot of storage space.
- Disposal isn't easy.
For many people, one of the best camper van accessories you can add is a portable toilet. It brings a little extra comfort of home when you can do your business without having to go in the woods or find a restroom somewhere else. This toilet features a large, 5.3-gallon waste tank and a water tank with a capacity of 3.2 gallons. That means you can go longer between trips to the dump station to empty it. We appreciate the fact that Alpcour built a spout into the tank so you can easily empty it out. There is also a carrying bag to keep it in storage until you need it. The entire setup does require some creative planning in your van build setup because it does take up a lot of space. But for $149.95, this is one of the more affordable portable toilets on the market today.
7. The Best Portable Shower Solution
Coleman H2Oasis Portable Water Heater, $286, Amazon
- Hot showers anywhere.
- Heats water in 30 seconds.
- Compact for a water heating system.
- Requires propane canisters.
If you are going to live your best van life, showers are a vital part of the equation and one of the most challenging. A cheap solar shower will give you hot water, but it is not always the most convenient solution, especially if you are camping in colder conditions. That is why we like this propane water heater from Coleman. It is compact enough for van life at 21.75 inches by 10.75 inches by 17.25 inches. It comes with a 5-gallon collapsible water container, which is more than enough for two people to take a quick shower at the end of a long day. No more feeling dirty and grimy in camp. You can run this heater off a 12-volt power source, which means it is easy to run from a vehicle's power ports. The one thing we don't like about it is that it requires those single-use propane canisters to heat the water, which is an extra expense.
8. The Best Portable Power Station for the Money
Goal Zero Yeti 500x, $549, Goal Zero
- All-in one power solution.
- Lots of ports to charge a variety of devices.
- Multiple ways to charge the station.
- A larger station may be needed for electric coolers.
- Accessories are pricey.
I have owned the Goal Zero Yeti 500x for over a year now, and it never ceases to amaze me the uses I find for it, and not just for van life either. I have used this power station extensively to work remotely and paired with Goal Zero's Boulder 100-watt solar panel, and I completed an eight-hour work day on my laptop while simultaneously keeping my Dometic running the entire time. One of the days I did this was in Northern Michigan with good sun, and I only drained 2 percent of the battery's capacity. I have found this unit to be extremely rugged and compact. It measures only about 12 inches by 14 inches by 9 inches. It weighs just under 13 pounds, but it is easy to handle thanks to the folding carry handle. I like the handle on the Goal Zero units much more than the fixed handles you will find on Jackery or other brands. When you are camping in a van, every inch of space saved counts. If you do not want to worry about solar charge controllers, inverters, and other components of a full electrical system, this is a great alternative. It is also highly affordable at $549. Goal Zero recently dropped the price on these significantly. My biggest gripe with the Goal Zero stuff is that their branded solar panels are expensive. Fortunately, the Yeti 500x is compatible with cheaper options on the market. You can read more of my thoughts on this device in my full review.
9. The Best Van Life Chair
Moon Lence Backpacking Chair, $29, Amazon
- Incredibly compact for smaller vans.
- Harder to assemble.
- Some may not find it comfortable.
Everyone needs a quality camping chair for when you find that perfect spot near a mountain lake or stream to bask in nature's glory. The problem is that many camper van conversions are hard-pressed for storage space. Larger traditional chairs just will not cut it. That is why we like chairs such as this folder from Moon Lence. The entire package breaks down and folds into a pouch that is only 4.7 inches wide by 13.4 inches long. That makes it small enough to stuff under a seat or under your van's bed quite easily until you need it. For $30, this is a great option for anyone using a smaller van such as the Ram Promaster City that I use. The downside is that the chair itself is smaller, and harder to assemble than most camp chairs. The comfort also seems to be up in the air. I found my chair built in this same style to be quite comfortable, but my dad did not. Your mileage may vary. The only way to find out is to test it yourself.
10. The Best Folding Camping Grill
UCO Flatpack Grill and Firepit, $49.99, Amazon
- Incredibly slim and light.
- Fun to cook with.
- Difficult to clean.
This last item is also a space-saving consideration because we know many van lifers like to grill in the outdoors. That is part of the appeal of van life. The stainless steel UCO Flatpack grill and fire pit solves the problem of where to stow a grill, and does so in a big way. It folds down to just 1.5 inches thick, making it easy to store under a seat, in a cupboard, or in a cargo carrier. Because it is elevated and keeps the fire contained above ground, you can sometimes use it for a campfire in places with burn bans. I've had my flatpack for about two years now, and it has become one of the first things I pack every time I go camping. It cooks some incredibly tasty burgers! It does get messy and is hard to clean, which is the one thing I don't like about it. The retail price for the medium size is $49.99, but I don't think I've ever seen this thing not on sale for $35 to $40. There always seems to be a bargain available for some reason, and I don't know the reason for that. But from both a cost and space-savings perspective, the UCO is almost a no-brainer for completing any van life setup.
For more outdoor content from Travis Smola, be sure to follow him on Twitter and Instagram. For original videos, check out his Geocaching and Outdoors with Travis YouTube channels.
READ MORE: THE BEST LIGHTWEIGHT CAMPING COOKWARE FOR BACKPACKING OR VAN LIFE
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