When Paul and I decided to buy a campervan to travel around New Zealand for a year, we had no idea what to look for. Whether you have only a few (thousand) bucks to get you started or you want to create a luxury home on wheels, in this post we go through the key components to consider when buying or fitting out a campervan.
Maximizing the use of space is key for any size vehicle, but the smaller the vehicle the more multi-functional these fixtures and fittings need to be. But let’s go through each of them in detail.
Sleeping and Seating
Consider whether you need the sleeping space during the day – for example, to work on your laptop computer in a comfortable position or to eat inside when the weather is cold and miserable. If you do, you will need to think about buying (or fitting) a campervan with a bed base and mattress that can be folded away to double as a seating area/workspace.
Mattresses can be anything from self-inflating sleeping pads to normal mattresses. If your sleeping area needs are not the standard size you can always get foam cut to size. Most importantly: Make it as comfortable as you can afford.
What about camping chairs?, you may wonder. We opted against them as they require storage space we’d rather use for more important things. We sit inside when the weather is gorgeous, but we still enjoy the scenery and fresh air with our doors and windows open. A picnic rug could be a good compromise if you want to have the option for al fresco dining without the storage issue.
- One four inch firm slab of foam 33lb conventional polyurethane
- 4" layer of Firm Superior Support Foam for spinal alignment and transitional support.
- Our firm conventional polyurethane foam features a 33lb compression.
- This firm conventional polyurethane foam slab is a supportive cushion reducing pressure points.
- 30 NIGHT SLEEP TRIAL! 3 Year Manufacturer Limited Warranty! Not For Home or Mobile Home Use.
Beyond a good night’s sleep and somewhere to sit and eat/work, you’ll need water… to make coffee/tea, brush your teeth, wash yourself/your crockery etc.
If you travel around New Zealand and want to stay outside of paid campgrounds, your vehicle needs to be self-contained. The self-containment certificate requires fresh and grey/black water tanks of 12 litres (respectively) per person.
When it comes to water tanks, consider your usage, storage space and weight:
- Our in-built fresh water tank stored 85 litres, our grey water tank nearly 100 litres. This was sufficient for the two of us for up to three days (including a quick shower daily in our wet room shower).
- A couple travelling in New Zealand, even in a basic campervan, must have at least two 25-litre jerry cans (one each for fresh and grey water). A full 25-litre jerry can is not light!
- If you don’t have space for an in-built tank and don’t want to schlepp around 25-litre jerry cans, a compromise could be a portable tank on rolls for both your fresh and your grey water.
Either way, ensure your fresh water container is BPA free/made of food-grade polyethene.
- Rigid, 7-gallon rectangular water container with molded contour grip
- Space-saving design for easy storing and stacking when empty
- New and improved screw-on vent; hideaway spigot for on-demand water dispensing
- Suitable for outdoors activities and emergency water storage
- NOTE: Prolonged exposure to direct sunlight will cause the water container to degrade and become brittle, increasing the chance of leaks. It is highly recommended to store water containers in cool shaded areas.
Power Supply and Lighting
Before you spend money on a fancy (or even basic) solar/battery system, consider whether you want to be
- fully off-grid – with a DC system only,
- able to switch between solar and mains power seamlessly – with a combined DC/AC system or
- able to plug into mains power occasionally – with separate AC and DC systems,
decide on the voltage for your DC system (most use 12 or 24V) and calculate your DC power needs. We opted for the latter, meaning we can use our AC devices when plugged into mains power at campgrounds but otherwise use DC only.
Once you know your system/power needs, you can source the equipment for your solar/battery system.
Monocrystalline panels are the most efficient ones out there, but in the end, it comes down to your power needs, roof space and budget.
- 【Durable】-Withstands high winds (2400Pa) and snow loads (5400Pa); Corrosion-resistant aluminum frame allows extended outdoor use; the panels can last for decades
- 【High Conversion Efficiency】- With high-efficiency monocrystalline solar cells, you can get higher efficiency. 25-year transferable power output warranty; 5-year material and workmanship warranty
- 【Application】 -Basic generator component for 12V/24V battery charging for on-grid, off-grid and hybrid power system for home,garden,RV,Boat and agriculture.
- Easy to wire and install,pre-drilled holes on the back of the panel allow for fast mounting and securing.
- Amazon US warehouse fast delivery，Attentive customer service, any questions, please contact us at any time through amazon, we will be the first time to propose solutions for you.
- SYSTEM COMPATIBILITY: Designed for use in mid-sized systems. Max battery current: up to 40A (depending on model; see model comparison chart). Max. PV open circuit voltage (Voc) 120V (without damage to unit)
- UNIQUE FEATURES: Load and automatic PV-based lighting control. Charges all battery types including Lithium Ion; has Lithium “fold back” circuitry for safe charging under low temperature conditions. Ideal for use in cloud-connected, networked systems through communications protocols—“speaks” Modbus, and SNMP (with optional EMC-1)
- TRAKSTAR MPPT TECHNOLOGY MAXIMIZES ENERGY HARVEST AND LOWERS OVERALL SYSTEM COST: 98% Peak Efficiency. Excellent performance at sunrise and low or variable solar insulation levels. Decreases the number of solar modules needed based on the extra energy harvest
- EXTENSIVE PROTECTION AND DIAGNOSTICS BUILT-IN: Built-in extensive electronic protection against surge, short-circuit, over-current, reverse polarity conditions. Advanced self-diagnostics warns against installation or user errors. Custom programmability, with or without a PC. Data logging- up to 256 days worth
- LOWEST HARDWARE FAILURE RATE IN THE INDUSTRY, BACKED BY A FIVE-YEAR WARRANTY: Most Morningstar products ever built are still in use, some for over 25 years, thanks to smarter digital design, superior internal engineering, and over-spec components. Design eliminates cooling fans which can fail, suck in dirt, shorten component life, waste precious solar electricity. Industrial-strength build quality inside and out, right to the controller’s high-impact, rugged durable polycarbonate exterior case.
12-volt charging sockets are great but you may also want to consider USB sockets for those devices that charge via a USB cable. In our Ford Transit campervan in 2018, we installed one single 12-volt charging socket for the Modem and a separate 2 socket USB socket for our Microsoft Surface Pro computers. For the Truck Camper build in 2021, we will be installing several power outlets that support the Cigarette Lighter Socket, 18W / 3A USB-A port, and a 45W 15V3A USB-C port for power delivery to our Microsoft Surface Pro computers.
- 【Upgraded Touch Switch Design】- This 12v rv usb outlet designed with one touch control switch, battery power saving and more safety for normal use.
- 【4.8A Marine USB Outlet】- The 12v usb outlet with two USB charging ports output: 5V/2.4A&2.4A (total 4.8A), 40% faster than conventional USB charging ports. Note: Not support Quick Charge.
- 【LED Indicator Light】- With Blue LED indicator, the bright light on the 12v dual outlet socket will help you to find it easily in the dark. IP65 waterproof grade allows the charger socket power outlet to do a good job under bad weather.
- 【Easy to Connect & Install】- The terminal on the back of the marine usb charger port signed with “+” and “-” for positive and negative poles. Built-in 10A fuse with pre-wire, easy to install and provide overload, over-current and short circuit protection.
- 【Wide Compatibility】- Universal usb charger socket fit for most 12-24V Car Motorcycle ATV UTV RV Vehicles Marine Boat. ▶▶▶ 30 DAYS MONEY BACK GUARANTEE & 12-MONTH WARRANTY and easy-to-reach support for all your questions.
Your house batteries need to be able to handle continuous (dis)charging, so heavy-duty deep cycle batteries are what you need. Select your battery capacity based on your solar output and keep in mind that two 6V batteries in series are as good as (some even say better than) one 12V battery. For our Ford Transit Campervan in 2018, we went with 2 Synergy AC6-225 (6V245Ah) AGM Batteries, however for our new Truck Camper in 2021, we are opting for the ePOWER B-TEC 12V 300Ah Lithium Battery. A lot more expensive, but well worth the money.
- 12v 200ah with 2 Year Warranty
- L= 20.55in W= 9.9.37 H = 8.58
- Sealed – Maintenance Free-Spill Proof
- Absorptive Glass Mat System (AGM System)
Almost as important as your batteries, the battery monitor shows you how much charge your battery system gets, whether you draw more than you produce (and if you may need a top-up charge from mains power).
LED lights use very little power and are known for their longevity.
- 【High Quality Material and Reliable Performance】 this CE and RoHs approved double dome light has a life expectancy of more than 60,000 hours, lasts longer than standard bulb. It is also heat-resistant and anti-corrosive.
- 【Easy Installation】 It has 2 two wires without polarity and comes with nuts and screws to hold it in place directly, suitable for smooth surface mounting.
- 【Convenient ON/OFF Switches Design】 built-in 3-way switch that enables you to use one side or both sides of the light independently; it adds great functionality to any area for lighting and it is widely used as perfect replacement light for Car/RV/Trailer/Camper/Motorhomes/Marine Boats.
- 【Lower Power Consumption & High Energy Efficiency】 It comes with two T10 Wedge panels with altogether 48 pcs 5050SMD LED Bulbs. It only draws 6 Watts and provides total 2 X 300 lumens of brightness.
- 【Lifetime Customer Service】 We take full responsibility for our product and customer dissatisfaction. if there is any quality problem of our light or you are not happy with your purchase in our store, please kindly contact us and we are always ready to help.
Some devices we normally use with AC actually operate on DC (for example, laptops). You don’t need an inverter if you only use those devices. Just get a charging cable that plugs into a 12V charging socket.
If you want to use an AC only device (for example, an induction cooktop, toaster, blender, hair dryer or electric heater) with your solar system, you require an inverter and AC power outlets. We opted against an inverter as our heater alone would have depleted our battery bank in no time.
- 2000 watts continuous power, 4000 watts peak power, KR2000 modified sine wave power inverter converts 12V DC to 120V AC power, connect DC battery cables directly to your 12V battery and you have power on the go
- Perfect for an Emergency, Hurricane, Storm or Outage - Our version of an all-inclusive! wired remote control, ANL inline fuse kit and 3 Ft battery cables included
- We have your back. This inverter has all the protections that you will need. Overload, over voltage, under voltage, high temperature and short circuit. All of this is displayed on the LCD screen as well as input voltage, output wattage and battery level
- Don’t just take our word for this inverter’s rating, this item has been tested, validated and approved by METLAB for both its safety and performance. MET Approved under UL std 458 and CSA std C22.2
- You can’t go wrong with Krieger! We believe in our product and quality and we offer the warranty that proves it – “3 Years parts and labor warranty”
12-volt Battery Charger
A battery charger comes in handy if you are stationary in crappy weather for several days (and you have the opportunity to plug into mains power to charge your house batteries). We opted for a separate 12-volt 7-stage battery charger as an inbuilt one was too expensive. We only used it twice in the entire year that we were in the van.
We bought an ex-rental, so our van was already fitted out, which made it difficult to change the solar/battery set-up as a non-expert. If you fit out your van yourself, DIY is the way to go (even as a complete novice, as it’s not rocket science). It saves you heaps of money, and you can easily fix any issues / alter the system down the track.
Refrigeration and Cooking
Unless you buy your food fresh daily or travel in the depth of winter, you will have to look at some form of cooling/refrigeration. Our campervan had an old three-way fridge (operating on LPG/Propane, 12V or 240V), but we replaced that one pretty early on with a 12V compressor fridge. Those ain’t cheap by any means but the three-way fridge drew too much power in its 12V setting and LPG just didn’t cool the items reliably (sometimes our food was frozen, sometimes not cool enough).
When it comes to cooking, consider whether you will cook mostly inside your vehicle or outdoors – and thus whether a portable or fixed stove is more suitable. Apart from an induction cooktop (which draws way too much power in our opinion), you’ll probably end up with some form of a fuel-using stove:
In New Zealand, LPG stoves need to be installed by a professional gas fitter, and LPG bottles need to be in an airtight compartment separate to the main cabin. Other countries are more relaxed / rely on carbon-dioxide monitors.
These include Butane stoves (cheap to buy but not very environmentally friendly, given one cartridge only lasts for a few days) and stoves running on Methylated Spirits/Denatured Alcohol or Biofuel.
(Water) Heating and Cooling
It seems most recreational vehicles in North America have an air-conditioning unit installed. Our campervan didn’t, and even in the height of summer in New Zealand, we never needed it: our side window and ceiling skylight had insect screens, and both of them being open overnight, always created a nice breeze. Air cons (like electric heaters) use a lot of power, so consider the climate of the places you plan to visit because it’s not just the cost of the unit but also the cost of additional solar capacity or the need to stay in campsites for mains power you need to factor in.
Equally important as any heating or cooling devices are good insulation and window coverings (the latter also for privacy).
Toilet and Shower
Having an accessible toilet on board is one of the requirements to be considered self-contained in New Zealand. Toilet options range from (inbuilt or portable) cassette toilets to composting toilets. Even a simple bucket (with lid) may be okay for some van dwellers/countries (though not for self-contained vehicles in New Zealand).
Just after we purchased our campervan, the existing 20-year-old toilet failed, so we had to get a new toilet system. To match the existing wet room size, we went with the Thetford C402C Toilet at a total installed cost of NZD838.36.
A solar-heated shower is an inexpensive option during the warmer months: Open your back door/s and affix a shower curtain – voilà, you have an outdoor shower (just make sure you use environmentally friendly soap/shampoo). When buying a solar shower, look for quality material, a sturdy design (including a reinforced handle), an easy on/off shower nozzle, and go for black over any other colour as it will heat up faster.
Not keen on outdoor showers? Why not install a wet room in your vehicle (if you have space) or stay at campsites with bathrooms?
Feature photo courtesy of Nick Karvounis on Unsplash