When Paul and I bought our campervan, all we owned fitted into our carry-on backpacks. The essentials you need when living in a van full-time were not among our possessions (anymore). And as our campervan came devoid of any inventory (to speak of), we had to buy things (again). But what do you buy for/pack into your campervan, knowing that space is limited? If you are asking yourself this question, today’s article might be for you.
With space being in such short supply, you’d want to travel only with what you need. Of course, everyone is different: For some, our list is way more than they would consider essential. Others won’t take to the road without adding (at least) a few more items. Dial it up or down based on your own needs.
Paul and I were not hobby mechanics, so we did not carry all the tools that someone might carry who does a lot of the repairs themselves. Thanks to our AA membership, roadside assist is only a call away should our van break down. They would tow us to a mechanic of our choice (and we let the experts do the rest). Therefore, the only tools we carried were:
A multi-tool comes in handy when you have to fix anything inside the van (for example tighten screws that may have come loose over time). Make sure your multi-tool is made from high-carbon 420 stainless steel so that it doesn’t rust, corrode or bend out of shape. All blades should lock into place, both while not being used and in extracted mode. We used and recommend the Leatherman Wave Plus.
- READY FOR ANYTHING: A fresh upgrade to our most popular multitool; Now includes premium replaceable wire cutters for tackling jobs tough, big and small for years to come
- INSTANT TOOLKIT: Packs a quiver of 18 tools, including pliers, replaceable wire cutters, wire stripper, knives, saw, spring-action scissors, ruler, can & bottle openers, files and screwdrivers
- OUR GUARANTEE: We’re proud to stand behind every product that leaves our factory in Portland, Oregon; That’s why we offer our 25-year warranty, so you can be confident your Leatherman lasts a lifetime
- ONE-HAND OPENING: You only need one hand to open and use the compact Wave Plus, even the ones that aren't accessible from the outside
- CUT WITH CONFIDENCE: This pocket-sized classic features all-locking blades that you can trust around the home, outdoors or on the job site
Preference is to have and use the original equipment manufacturer jack, that is the jack that came with the vehicle. If you get a new bottle jack or scissor jack, make sure it is rated for the weight of your vehicle and suitable for lifting (not just stabilising). You may also want a couple of solid wooden blocks on board.
- The product is 4Ton bottle jack
- Easy and simple use kit
- The product is manufactured in china
- Steel lifting saddle engineered to hold load securely
- Extension screw adjusts to accommodate desired work height
- Durability: Made from Hardened treated Chrome Vanadium steel alloy (Cr-V)
- Telescoping handle extends to 19 inches for maximum leverage
- Compacts to 13 inches for easy storage
- 1/2" Drive Head: 17mm, 19mm(3/4"), 21mm(13/16"), 22mm(7/8") socket sizes provided.
- Easy Storage: A convenient carry bag is included for storage
If you need to replace a broken Standard Blade Fuse, always check why it blew first. And beware of the older ceramic fuses as they can oxidize. That said, a bit of rust can easily be removed by lightly sandpapering them. Always store your spare fuses in an airtight container or zipper bag.
- Protect your car and your electrical device from short circuit or overload
- Terminals are constructed from zinc for corrosion resistance and best conductivity, which makes it widely used in car, truck, SUV, camper, boat, home, general digital camera applications etc
- 10 kinds of most common fuse: 3A/5A/7.5A/10A/15A/20A/25A/30A/35A/40A, each type includes 8 pcs, different AMP in different color and AMP numbers carved on the fuse for easy recognition
- Packed in a durable plastic case to protect the fuses and provide easy transport and storage, in the case includes a chart for quick identification
- Easy installation and transparent shell for quick detection of blown fuses
WD40 is great for getting rid of squeaky sliding doors (and other things around the vehicle that need lubrication from time to time).
If you want to sleep in your van, you will need some sort of bedding. The motto here is: whatever you are comfortable with. We travelled with a mattress protector, a fitted sheet, two pillows (and pillowcases) and a duvet (and duvet cover) for most of the year (plus a woollen and an electric blanket during winter).
- Protects Against Dust Mites, Fluids, Urine, Perspiration and Allergens (10-Year Warranty)
- Hypoallergenic Cotton Terry Surface With Membrane Back Coating (Waterproof, Noiseless and Breathable)
- Great For Those With Kids, Pets, Allergies, Asthma, Eczema Or Incontinence (OEKO-TEX Certified SH025 151792)
- Will Not Change The Feel of Your Mattress (Registered With The FDA As A Class 1 Medical Device)
- Fitted Sheet Style Design - Queen Size Mattress Protector 60" x 80" - Fits up to 18" deep
Camp spots (even at paid campsites) are not always level, and the bigger your vehicle the more tricky it is to find a fully flat (and level) spot. Whenever we arrived at a campsite, we would pull our smartphone out: the free Spirit Level™ App helps to park up as level (as possible).
Fresh Water Hose
You will need a fresh water hose that is BPA and lead-free/suitable for potable water (even just a short piece to connect your jerry can with the sink). As for its length, consider your storage space and the potential distance between tank and tap. The diameter of your hose will depend on the diameter of the inlet into your fresh water tank, so measure that first!
Fresh Water Treatment
We started with Pour n’ Go Water Tank Treatment, but found the canister was taking up way too much space. We swapped to water purifying tablets and had no issues. Each tablet treats 20 litres (so we would use 4 tablets for each refill of our 85-litre freshwater tank), but they also come in a 5-litre version if you own a smaller tank.
- One bottle of 50 Potable Aqua Germicidal Water Purification Tablets
- Makes questionable water bacteriologically suitable to drink within 35 minutes
- Emergency water purification tablets effective against Giardia lamblia when used as directed
- Water purification for camping, hiking, international travel and natural disasters
- Portable water treatment tablets used by military and emergency organizations worldwide
Grey Water Hose
Our greywater hose came with our vehicle. Make sure you get one that fits the diameter of your grey water tank outlet. Again, as for its length, consider storage space and the potential distance between tank and tap (ours was 3 meters long, and we found it to be sufficient).
- [PERFORMANCE]: powerful RV Holding tank treatment - shots is a micro-concentrated deodorant, waste Digester and detergent, packed in a 0.7oz packet
- [CONVENIENCE]: less storing space is needed - the Aqua-Kim shots easy-grip Jar contains 24 individual packets, easy to dispense
- [VERSATILITY]: great for full-time Rivers, active summer campers, or motorhomes with larger or multiple Black water Holding tanks
- [UTILITY]: Works around the clock, in all weather conditions, liquefying waste, deodorizing and cleaning the tank walls and drain lines - one packet is enough for a 40 gallon tank
Black Water Treatment
We started with Biomagic for both our grey and black water, but while it’s fine for grey water, it does bugger all for black water: our van smelled of sewerage when we drove around. Not pleasant!
So, we moved onto Thetford Aqua-KEM Original… No sewerage smell whatsoever (quite a clean and pleasant smell actually, at least for the first few days). And Paul didn’t feel like puking when he emptied the cassette.
Side note: If we had it our way (again), we’d have a composting toilet, as we’d prefer not having to use chemicals at all.
- [VERSATILITY]: Aqua-Kem is a powerful waste tank deodorant, suited for RVs and boats, working to eliminate the odors from the tanks
- [PERFORMANCE]: Formulated to prevent clogging, Aqua-Kem uses a concentrated formula to liquefy waste and break down tissue
- [CONVENIENCE]: The formula holds a powerful deodorant, efficient in every weather condition
- [SAFETY]: The 100% biodegradable waste holding tank treatment is safe even for septic tanks
- [FUNCTIONALITY]: Formulated as a 3-in-1 product, the formula holds a powerful deodorant, a waste liquefier, and detergent, eliminating odors, breaking down waste and cleaning the tank
You could go without gloves but you’d want to make sure you scrub your hands thoroughly after handling your grey water and toilet waste. Dump stations can be revolting. We are against single-use items, with these being the exception for hygiene reasons. However, we did use and recommend biodegradable disposable gloves.
Your toilet paper needs to dissolve easily, otherwise, you’ll find you have problems very quickly. RV stores sell really expensive toilet paper specifically made for RV toilets. There is no need to spend that much: 2-ply, 100% recycled toilet paper dissolves quickly too. Make sure you test your paper before you start using it in your campervan toilet: Place a sheet in a jar with room temperature water and stir. If it doesn’t start dissolving with a few stirs, don’t use it.
We used lavender essential oil diluted in water (with a teaspoon of salt) and dispensed via a spray bottle. It doesn’t smell like toilet air freshener and can thus be used in the main cabin too.
- 100% PURE - ArtNaturals Lavender Essential Oil is 100% pure, unadulterated, therapeutic grade, and GC/MS tested. Undiluted. No additives. Analysis reports are available in the images and on our website. Vegan and cruelty free.
- RELAX, SOOTHE & CALM- Soothes skin. Promotes relaxation, calmness and overall well-being. Steam-distilled from organic lavender flowers, the floral herbaceous scent of Lavender Essential Oil is most well-known for its relaxing properties. Great to diffuse before bed.
- AROMATIC- Can be used with an essential oil diffuser to provide therapeutic aromatic benefits or simply perfume your space. Replace toxic synthetic air fresheners and plug-ins with the aromas of pure botanical extracts.
- CAN BE APPLIED TOPICALLY- Safe for skin when properly diluted with a carrier oil or your favorite bath & body products. Great to use for DIY beauty recipes and therapeutic massage oils. Remember to test for sensitivities and allergies before using any new product.
- SATISFACTION GUARANTEED - ArtNaturals offers a 100% satisfaction guaranteed or your money back. Try it risk free with no questions asked and top customer service. You have nothing to lose and your health to gain.
AC Power Adapter
In New Zealand or Australia, you will need a power cord with a Residual Current Device if you want to be able to connect to mains power anywhere outside a caravan park (for example, you’re parked up in a friend’s driveway). Make sure you get a waterproof one (some are for indoor use only).
Wi-Fi Modem and Antenna
If you are a digital nomad (like us), good Internet service is crucial. The Huawei B315 Modem from Wireless Nation works well in New Zealand. For our overseas travels, we use the TP-Link M7200 mobile wireless router. If you are heading into more rural and mountainous terrain where the Wi-Fi signal may be weaker, you may want to consider getting a puck antenna. We found this did help boost the signal from the cellular tower plus it gave us a stronger signal to our smartphones when we stepped out of the vehicle.
- 4G LTE Unlocked Any GSM Standard Sim Carrier Desbloqueados GSM (Not Verizon Sprint Net10 or Any CDMA Carrier)
- 4G LTE B1/B3/B7/B8/B20/B38 (800/900/1800/2100/2600Mhz), 3G UMTS: 2100/900Mhz
- 4 LAN Port / One Telephone (RJ11) Port / Wi-Fi Protocol 802.11b/g/n
- Sim Card & Internet Service Required (Standard Sim Card Size)
- Support Speeds Up to : 150Mbps DL/50Mbps UL / 32 Wifi Users (MOVISTAR LOGO Unlocked)
- 【DURABLE & SMART】: Upgrade high quality aluminium alloy design is more durable and lightweight than other plastic models.Compact sizes with front flexible elbow,decorative hook make the lighter easy to carry.
- 【UPGRADED LONGER FLEXIBLE NECK】: The new version of arc lighter is windproof,flameless and odorless.Extended 93mm-long neck can be rotated 360°for more convenience,longer handle keeps a distance from you hand.
- 【RECHARGEABLE & ECONOMIC】: No gas required,no fluid required.With built-in 280mAh Li-ion battery,the lighter can be recharged.10 seconds auto shut-off feature ensures a long lasting life by saving energy,more safer and secure.Do not charge candle lighter via fast charger, otherwise it will broken soon.
- 【EASY AND SAFETY TO USE】: There is a child-proof switch protecting the on/off button.Just slide the child-resistant cover up and then press the button to turn the arc on,super easy to use.Since there is no spark you can use it without fear of getting burned and don't have to worry about smells.
- 【GOOD SERVICE WARRANTY】: We strive to provide the best products and a complete customer service and shopping experience. If you are not satisfied with our products, we will gladly take it back with full reimbursement or exchange within 30 days.
Some people are fine to just drink straight from their (treated) freshwater tank. When we bought our campervan, our fresh water tank had some algae growth, and our kitchen taps would spit out the occasional green bit. To filter out any remaining weird stuff, we initially thought to install an in-sink water filtration system but costs were prohibitive. Our water filter jug did the job just fine.
- The BPA-free Everyday water pitcher with filter holds 10 cups of water, enough to fill 3 24-ounce reusable water bottles
- Get great-tasting water without the waste; by switching to Brita, you can save money and replace 1,800 single-use plastic water bottles a year
- This space efficient Brita pitcher fits perfectly on refrigerator shelves, features an easy-fill locking lid and is easy to pour; Height 10.47\"; Width 5.59\"; Length/Depth 10.94\"; Weight 2.29 pounds
- Brita is the number 1 water filter, reducing chlorine (taste & odor), Mercury, Copper, Zinc and Cadmium; always get cleaner, filtered water with an electronic indicator that makes filter reminders effortless
- Compatible with Longlast and Standard water filters; for the freshest tasting water, replace your Longlast filter after 120 gallons or approximately every 6 months or Standard filter after 40 gallons or approximately every 2 months; 16.9 ounce water; Based on IRI data; vs tap
If you have a gas stove we recommend to go with a hot water kettle for gas stoves, rather than buying or bringing an electric kettle. An electric kettle (like anything that heats with electricity) uses up a lot of your battery capacity (and you’d need an inverter and AC power outlet to operate it).
Pots and Pans
We didn’t want our pots and pans take up valuable cupboard space when stored away, so we spent a bit more money and got a cookware set for RVs. The pots and pan stack into each other and have removable handles… perfect for small spaces.
If you only have a few items of crockery that are used all the time you want to make sure they last. Look for plates, bowls, mugs and tumblers made from bamboo, tempered glass or enamel.
Consider your storage space and the number of servings you need. We found one medium-sized bowl was sufficient for the two of us.
Some people prefer to have a separate board/mat just for poultry. We used our cutting board for everything and didn’t have any issues.
Ours came in a set of three, but we found two (or even just one) was enough.
Cheese and Vegetable Grater
You do need those every now and then, at least if you love salads and pasta as much as we do. We went for the smallest grater we could find.
Scissors are a must in any household, no matter how small your vehicle.
You can live without a can opener if you don’t use cans at all.
We had two micro-fiber ones (that we washed and reused).
We use our inbuilt sink, but some people like to do their dishes outdoors, so we mention it here for completeness. When we needed a bucket of water we just filled our rubbish bin with water (minus the rubbish, of course) and used that.
Washing Up Liquid, Multi-Purpose Cleaner and Hand Wash
Look for those that are safe to use with grey water/septic tanks. They are not only better for the environment but for your skin too.
Kitchen Towel Roll Holder
Our kitchen towel roll holder sat super handy above the sink. It doubled as a rubber band holder.
Two or three are sufficient (if you wash them once a week).
(Tea/Hand) Towel Holder
You can never have enough drying space in a van. We had two wall-mounted ones on the outside of our wet room door / opposite our kitchen sink.
Clothes Line and Pegs
We only had four pegs (for our two (tea/hand) towel holders). Our clothesline was pegless (great to use inside the van and outdoors).
Dustpan and Brush
We had one initially but found it wasn’t strong enough. We dropped it off at a charity store, and from then on, used coin-operated vacuums at petrol stations whenever the van needed a good clean.
Storage and Organisation
Storage is key in a campervan. But even the biggest storage space is pretty useless if you don’t maximize its use. So here are some helpful items that allow you to store everything away nicely: out of sight out of mind.
Hose Coiling Bags
These are great to store your fresh and grey water hoses away and avoid contamination. Make sure you mark which bag is for which hose if you get two of these.
Measure your space/s before you get any storage boxes and look for square boxes to maximize the use of space. Consider storage solutions for food, cleaning products/utilities, clothing (if you don’t have shelves), and dirty washing and recycling. Great are wooden crates (if you have space) or sturdy cardboard boxes (available at most supermarkets in New Zealand at check-out).
Placed into a cupboard with the opening facing you, these are great space savers to stack food wraps, bin liners etc on top of each other. If they are wide enough you could even use them to stack jars or cans.
Storage for Leftovers
We just reused empty jars (from honey, jam, peanut butter or pasta sauce etc) as our fridge was tiny.
The basic rubber band. You don’t realise you need them until you don’t have them.
LPG/Carbon Dioxide Detector
We didn’t have an LPG/Carbon Dioxide detector as it’s not mandatory in New Zealand (yet), and our LPG bottle was in an airtight compartment separate to the main cabin (which is a requirement in New Zealand). That said, if you were to purchase a multi-gas alarm, ensure it meets these requirements:
- Provides reliable sensitivity to dangerous gas (LPG detection: 2100 parts per million for 10 seconds, Carbon monoxide detection: 400ppm for 4-15min, 150ppm for 10-50min, 70ppm for 60-240 min)
- System of warnings and alarms needs to be easy to understand
- Uses an AGM house battery as the primary power source
We travelled with a fire blanket only for space reasons, but you might want to consider getting a fire extinguisher if your rig is newer/larger. After all, keeping a fire extinguisher in your campervan can stop a small fire from becoming unmanageable.
- Rated for Class B and Class C fires. The most common cause of campervan fires involves gas or electrical causes. This does make selecting the right extinguisher more difficult so you may need to compromise a little.
- Able to be strapped down, but easily accessible.
- First Alert DHOME1 fire extinguisher is UL rated 1-a: 10-b: C and features durable all-metal construction with a commercial-grade metal valve and trigger; the designer Pewter Color matches modern home designs
- Multipurpose fire extinguisher fights wood, paper, trash, plastics, gasoline, Oil, and electrical-equipment fires
- Uses monoammonium Phosphate extinguishing agent; rechargeable by certified professionals after use
- Metal pull pin with a safety seal to help prevent accidental discharge and tampering; corrosion-resistant, easy-to-read, color-coded metal gauge; waterproof label with easy instructions
- U. S. Coast guard–approved for marine use
- ✔【Essential Preparedness Kit】: Contains 85 essential first aid supplies for treating common cuts, scrapes, minor aches and injuries, will prepare you for any potential emergency at home, in the office or on the go
- ✔【Safety Medical Kit】: Safety approved, 85 pieces of comprehensive first aid treatment products are manufactured in modern safety approved facilities, exceeding safety standards for adults and kids in all kinds of emergencies
- ✔【Organization Survival Pouch】: Clear mesh lining and two-way full open zippers in water-resistant EVA pouch, I Go 1st aid kit provides you an organization and quick access to first aid supplies in an emergency
- ✔【Portable Safety Kit】: Size 6" x 4.3"x 2.4", weighing only 0.56 pounds, small and lightweight, I GO safety kit is in proper size for fitting nicely into your pocket, backpack, boat, vehicle compartment or desk drawer
- ✔【General Purpose Medkit】: Each medkit comes with an aluminum carabiner, which allows you to hang the kit in various places for immediate retrieval in outdoor activities like camping, hiking, backpacking, boating, cycling, fishing and sports
If you use expensive equipment like cameras or laptop computers to earn a living on the road, you might want to consider installing a personal safe. A small personal safe bolted securely to your campervan can help protect your valuable laptop computer, camera, jewellry, important documents and other items against theft or fire. Measure your valuable items first to make sure they all fit into the safe (and through the smaller door opening). What to consider when purchasing a personal safe for your campervan:
- Easy to secure using screw holes through the base or back wall of the safe
- Easy to operate – using a key and preferable a numeric touch pad system
- Fire resistent – based on their rated duration, which will usually be an hour or so for personal safes
- 0.5-cubic-foot security safe with electronic lock and 2 emergency override keys
- Steel construction with carpeted floor to protect against scratches and damage; Safe is not fireproof or waterproof
- 2 live-door bolts and pry-resistant concealed hinges; adjustable/removable interior shelf
- Reprogrammable digital access; uses four AA batteries (not included)
- Four bolts included to mount safe to wall, floor, or shelf
Steering Wheel Lock
While we had a personal safe in our campervan, someone could still drive off with our valuables. While they are not totally break-safe, steering wheel locks make it a real hassle for thieves to steal your campervan. What you need to consider when purchasing a steering wheel lock for your campervan:
- Visability – ensure it is brightly coloured and can be easily seen when locked in place
- Simple to use – after all you want to be encouraged to use it every time
- Sturdy in design
- Solid steel hooks
- Available with two keys that can’t be recut – if you need more, you would need to contact the supplier
- Guarantee payable against your comprehensive insurance deductible/excess if vehicle is stolen
- The twin hook design is tougher for thieves to defeat
- Universal fit that works on cars, vans, and SUVs. Max opening (inside of hooks) 365mm/ 14.4 inches
- New and improved lock housing for added strength
- The Club's patented self-locking feature locks with one pull
- Cro-moly steel construction resists sawing, prying, hammering, and freon attacks
Thermal Insulation Kit
We considered getting a thermal insulation kit for our campervan but found our thick curtains actually kept us quite warm in winter, and the condensation inside wasn’t too bad. A thermal blind would double the insulation value of the windows, reducing the heating costs by preventing warm air from escaping outside and preventing the cold air from entering inside.
Feature photo courtesy of Tyler Lillico on Unsplash