Packing List Essentials

Chapter 9: Van Life Packing List Essentials

Packing just the essentials for van life is really your only option. Van dwelling or even car living allows for very little space, making it a huge challenge to successfully pack everything you think you need. Here is a good rule of thumb: Don’t bring anything that you’re not going to use on a weekly basis unless it’s an “in case of emergency” item.

We created a packing list PDF so you can check off items as you’re going through the packing process.

Kitchen Essentials (for 2 people)

  • 2 plates
  • 2 bowls
  • 2 cups
  • 2 travel mugs
  • 2 sporks
  • 2 knives
  • 1 large knife
  • 1 large cooking spoon
  • 1 scissors
  • 1 sauce pan
  • 2 cutting boards
  • 1 pasta strainer
  • 2 metal mixing bowls
  • Bottle opener
  • Tongs
  • Spatula
  • Plastic wrap
  • Aluminum foil
  • Tupperware
  • Biodegradable dish soap
  • Dish strainer
  • Sponges – when a sponge starts to get a little funky, instead of throwing it away, put it in the microwave for 1 minute to kill the bacteria on it.
  • Box of baking soda
  • Salt and pepper shakers – and other seasonings and spices
  • Portable freezer/refrigerator
  • Propane or electric stove

Tip: bringing few dishes/cooking supplies will force you to wash things immediately, so you don’t accumulate dirty dishes.


  • Portable heater
  • Portable AC unit
  • Small fan
  • Small tool kit
  • Axe – for chopping wood, or fighting burglars, bears, etc.
  • Small shovel
  • Swiss army knife
  • Bear spray
  • Sunscreen
  • Mosquito spray
  • First aid kit
  • A strong rope – You don’t need a rope until you need a rope!
  • Fire starters
  • Windshield ice scraper and brush
  • Bungee cords
  • Jumper cables
  • Small fire extinguisher
  • Small trash can
  • Garbage bags
  • Hand towels
  • Large bath towels
  • Pillow, sheets and blankets
  • Vacuum-insulated water bottle
  • Large water jug container
  • Small broom
  • Folding chairs
  • Earplugs – if you have loud neighbors, or if passengers want to sleep while others are driving
  • Backpack
  • Your typical toiletries – no need to go into detail on this. You know what you need.
  • Wipes – for your body, hands, countertops, etc.
  • Plastic storage bins
  • Lighter/matches
  • Tissues
  • Toilet paper
  • Umbrella/poncho
  • Passport
  • Birth certificate
  • Social security card
  • Paper cash and quarters
  • Your van’s driving manual and car title
  • Spare tire
  • Car jack
  • 12V tire pump

Clothing / Wardrobe (for 1 person)

  • 7 T-shirts
  • 1 long sleeve thermal shirt
  • 2 sweaters/hoodies
  • Semi-formal clothing – Bring an outfit nice enough for attending a wedding but casual enough for other occasions like a date night.
  • Jacket with multiple shells – It’s great to have layers that can be added or removed so it can be worn as a raincoat or winter coat.
  • 1 pair of jeans
  • 1 pair of athletic/sweatpants
  • 7 pairs of socks
  • 7 pairs of underwear
  • 2 pairs of shorts
  • 1 bathing suit
  • Hiking shoes
  • Flip flops/sandals
  • Comfy driving shoes
  • Sunglasses
  • Baseball hat and a hat that will cover your neck

Clothing Tips

  • Only bring 1 to 2 weeks worth of clothing
  • During summer months, only bring one or two sweatshirts and pairs of pants. When it gets to the colder months, you can swap out your summer clothes for winter clothes and vice versa. You can keep your extra clothing in a self-storage facility, or a friend’s place if they’re kind enough to allow it.
  • Only bring items that will match with all outfits
  • Don’t bring clothing that will only serve one purpose
  • You will be wearing the same outfits over and over, so make sure they are durable and comfortable
  • Consider wearing clothing made out of merino wool. Merino wool doesn’t absorb odor like other fabrics, allowing you to wear the clothing for a much longer duration.

Laundry Things

  • Laundry detergent
  • Clothesline
  • Clothes pins


  • Posters
  • Art
  • Stickers
  • Plants
  • Map
  • Pictures
  • Lights – Christmas style lights or lamps
  • Curtains or tinted windows
  • Rug


  • Laptop with charger
  • External Hard Drive for backing up photos and such
  • Phones with chargers – If you’re traveling with other people, we recommend going with different service providers because your provider will have service in certain places where others don’t, and vice versa. This will come in handy when you need to contact someone or access the internet.
  • USB car charger
  • Cameras and gear
  • Batteries
  • Thumb drive
  • Headlamp or flashlight
  • GPS
  • Extension cord
  • Headphones
  • GoPro


  • Podcasts and music – download on WiFi before you hit the road so you’re not using all your cell data
  • Books – audiobooks
  • Travel journal/notebooks
  • Pens, pencils
  • Playing cards

Visit our Storage chapter to see how you can maximize the space in your van.

Most of the items on our packing list are essential, although it will certainly vary depending on your needs. If you take a look at most of our other chapters, you may find additional necessities to bring in your van.

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