Food and Water

Chapter 2: Food & Water

Cooking meals while living the van life isn’t as difficult as you may think, but it’s not going to be the same as what you’re accustomed to. You won’t be forced to eat Clif Bars and nuts every day, but you will be limited in the way that you cook certain foods, and you will need to be a bit more strategic with your shopping trips. With a fridge/freezer and an electric or propane stove, you can have some healthy and delicious meals.


Raw Foods

Eating raw foods will cut out the need to cook as many meals, and is healthier in many cases. Cooked foods tend to destabilize enzymes, kill vitamins and antioxidants, and are more difficult to digest. Raw foods will include fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, extra virgin coconut or olive oil, and raw yogurt, to name a few.

To give you some extra space in your van, you can make fruit and veggie smoothies.

Tip: How to keep veggies fresh

Dense Foods

If you are really cramped for space, you may need to start eating foods that take up less space in your van or go shopping more frequently. Small or dense foods that are high in calories are typically going to be foods higher in fat. Living in nature will hopefully cause you to be more active so you can get away with eating a few more calories!

Here a list of (somewhat) healthy dense foods for a balanced diet:


  • Nuts
  • Peanut butter
  • Protein bars
  • Almond butter
  • Dark chocolate
  • Seeds
  • Avocado
  • Olive oil
  • Salad dressing
  • Condensed milk
  • Ground beef
  • Cheese
  • Dates
  • Protein powder
  • Dehydrated foods
  • Eggs


  • Pasta
  • Granola
  • Honey
  • Dried Fruits
  • Fruit Smoothies
  • Quinoa
  • Risotto
  • Cous Cous


Unfortunately, we are not chefs. Here are some websites with van life friendly recipes that we turn to for inspiration!


Coleman Propane Stove – a propane stove is affordable and great for cooking. It uses small propane canisters, but you can get an adaptor if you would like to save money using a larger tank.

Coleman Propane Stove

Cusimax Electric Countertop Burner – if you’re looking for something very affordable, this is the way to go.

Electric Countertop Burner

Petforu Portable Outdoor Camping Stove – this stove is super portable and easy to store in your van. This is great if you go on all-day hikes and need to fire up some lunch.

Portable Outdoor Camping Stove backpacking

Weber Propane Grillthese portable Weber grills are incredible. They’re a bit pricey, but worth every penny if you’re a lover of grilled food.

Weber Propane Grill

Sun Oven – the Sun Oven is affordable in the long run, environmentally friendly, and works quite well. On a great day, it can reach up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Sun Oven Solar Cooker

Portable Refrigeration

When it comes to keeping your food and drinks cold, you have two options: an electric refrigerator/freezer or a standard cooler. If you decide to go with a standard cooler, you will need to grocery shop often and keep your ice stocked. You can usually get ice for free or really cheap if you bring your own container to fill up at a gas station soda dispenser.

With a powerful electric fridge/freezer, you won’t need to worry about eating your food really quickly or going to the grocery store on a daily basis. You can travel out in the middle of nowhere for days on end and still be able to eat your favorite ice cream. Electric refrigerators can range from a few hundred bucks to over one thousand. Refrigerators such as an ARB can get pricey, but the technology and features are astounding. With an ARB fridge, you don’t need to worry about your car battery dying, because it shuts off automatically when it senses the battery getting low. It also plugs into the cigarette lighter in your van and a standard AC socket in your home as well. Not to mention the front-mounted control panel with an electric temperature setting.

Check out our article on the Best Camper Van Fridges.

Dometic CFX Portable Fridge Freezers (from 26 to 90 quart capacity) – the Dometic CFX fridges are some of the best fridges on the market. They’re incredibly efficient, long-lasting, and still pretty affordable.

Dometic CFX 50W 12v Electric Powered Portable Fridge Freezer

ARB Electric Freezer Fridge (from 37 to 82 quart capacity) – ARB also makes some really great portable fridges. They not quite as efficient as the Dometic fridges, but they’re still in the top tier. They’re known for being long-lasting an incredibly durable.

ARB electric Freezer Fridge

ORCA Cooler 58-Quart – this ORCA Cooler is one of the top-rated coolers, and for a good reason. It’s expensive, but its integrated insulation keeps your food fresh for up to 10 days.

ORCA Cooler 58-Quart

Coleman Cooler 48-Quart – this Coleman cooler is very affordable and still pretty effective, keeping ice frozen for up to 3 days.

Coleman Cooler 48-Quart


Where to get water

  • Grocery/Dollar stores – Our friends @travelingtuttles often get their water at water-filling stations outside of grocery stores. Some grocery and dollar stores have vending machines that let you fill up your jugs for very cheap.
  • Campgrounds – Our friends @runksy often use campgrounds and motorhome stops to refill their water tanks.
  • Gas Stations – many gas stations will have water access.
  • Parks – Many city, state, and national parks will have areas to fill up.
  • Rivers and Lakes – If you have a quality water filter, this is a good option.
  • Rest stops – In some states, public rest stops will have water taps for you to use.
  • Friends/Family – If you have friends or family nearby, you can ask to use their hose to fill up.
  • Private residents – If you’re desperate, you can ask strangers if they will allow you to use their hose to fill up. You may need to fork over a few bucks with this strategy. Be careful in some areas of the country, as trespassing can get you in some trouble!

Tip: Bring your own hose because most places will not provide one. When using a hose from an outside tap to fill water tanks for drinking water make sure you use the white, food grade hoses that can be bought from any store with RV supplies. Don’t use regular (normally green) garden hoses as they can leak lead over time, potentially making the water toxic.

Tip:  If you’re traveling to a country with unsafe drinking water, be sure to have it purified. Our friends @vantacruz_ and @d_bus_life have traveled through Mexico and found purification stores or “agua purificada.” It is an extremely cheap and simple process. You simply bring the container you want filled and they do it for you on the spot with filtered water. A 25 liter container usually costs around 10-15 pesos to fill (less than 1 dollar). Some purification stores also can connect your hose to fill your bigger fixed tanks.

Water Essentials

CamelBak Chute 40oz Vacuum-Insulated Stainless Water Bottle – the double wall vacuum insulation will keep your beverages cold for 24 hours and hot for 6 hours, no matter what the weather conditions.

CamelBak Chute 40oz Vacuum-Insulated Stainless Water Bottle

Potable Aqua Water Tablets – these tablets will turn funky water into drinkable water. However, these should only be used in emergency situations.

Potable Aqua Water Tablets

LifeStraw Purification Water Bottle – LifeStraw water bottles remove 99.99% of bacteria to make water safe to drink. The carbon filter reduces odor, chlorine and leaves zero aftertaste.

LifeStraw water bottle

5 Gallon Seat Top Beverage Jug with Spigot – Having a 5-gallon jug or large cooler is a necessity for storing water, unless you plan on using plastic water bottles. Using a large container of water is also great for making your own van shower. We talk about van life showing in our Hygiene Chapter.

5 Gallon Seat Top Beverage Jug with spigot

Tip: You can also set up your own sink and faucet with running water. We talk about this in our Kitchen and Bed chapter.


Those long drives would be brutal without your favorite drink. Here is a couple of our favorite off the grid coffee makers to help you get to your next destination.

Portable Coffee and Espresso Maker for 1 Person – The AeroPress is both a coffee and espresso maker. It’s super small and easy to carry, which makes it great for van life.

Portable coffee and espresso maker

Coleman Propane Coffee Maker for 2+ People – This Coleman coffee maker works incredibly well and can serve up to 10 cups to keep you caffeinated!

Propane Coffee maker



Previous Chapter

Introduction: How to live in a van

Next Chapter

Van heating and cooling thermometer

Share the love

Join our Community

Join our community to stay up to date with everything going on in the world of van life.
Don’t worry… we don’t like spam either!

Join our Community