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17 Top Van Life Packing List Items for 2024 + What to Wear & NOT to Bring

what to pack for van life
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In the past 5 years, an uproar has come about involving the wonders of van life. And for good reason! It’s thrilling, you can go pretty much anywhere at any time, and if done correctly, is cheaper than renting. It’s such a fun way to get around the country and see everything the beautiful land has to offer. Hundreds of people have jumped on the van life train and even you can do it too!

In the article below we are going to be talking about all the essentials you might need for van life. What you should wear, what you shouldn’t wear, what not to bring and more. If you are curious about how to pack for van life, you’ve come to the right place!

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What to Pack for Van Life Travel - 17 Essentials

  • 1. Packing Cubes

    In a van, there is limited space for a lot of things. It can make it hard to store away your clothes effectively and out of the way. With these packing cubes, you don’t have to worry at all! Fold up all your clothes and fit them nicely in these packing cubes that then tuck away in any drawer, backpack or suitcase.

    Packing Cubes

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  • 2. Hiking Pack

    Having a hiking pack handy is always important. It’s nice having it in a van for storage, then you can take it out and use it for any day trips or hiking excursions you may be going on.

    Hiking Pack

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  • 3. Virtual Private Network (VPN)

    Once in a while, it’s good to get out of the van and go to a coffee shop to use the WIFI or a gym to take a shower and chill out for a little bit. Protect yourself, your identity, and your phone with this virtual private network so you never have to worry about being on public wifi.

    Virtual Private Network (VPN)

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  • 4. Quick Dry Travel Towel

    Having a towel is super important because you never know when you are going to need it. Staying at a friend’s house, hoping out of the van to take a dip in a river or a creek, drying off after a rainstorm. This towel is perfect for van life because it dries so quickly, up to 10 times faster than a regular towel! Which is perfect so you don’t have wet towels laying around the van.

    Quick Dry Travel Towel

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  • 5. Portable Charger

    When living in a van, you can really only charge your phone when you are driving or maybe if you are at a coffee shop or something. This portable charger makes life so much easier since you hardly will ever have to worry about your phone dying with nowhere to charge it!

    Portable Charger

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  • 6. Neck Wallet

    It’s easy to lose important things like ID’s or credit cards, especially when they don’t have a designated place in your van. Neck wallets are such a useful tool as they will hold all your valuable cards and cash in one spot and you can wear it when you are leaving the van for easy access.

    Neck Wallet

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  • 7. LifeStraw Water Bottle

    Having water in your van is really important, especially for long camping trips. Most times, paid campsites have water fill ups, however sometimes it’s hard to trust the water. Fill up your water worry free with the LifeStraw water bottle that filters out 99.9% of bad bacteria and always have safe drinking water.

    Lifestraw Water Bottle

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  • 8. Cooling Towel

    Perfect for hot days, you’ll wish you had this cooling towel. Just dip the towel into cool water, then place it around your neck and it will keep you cool for up to an hour! It’s perfect for hot van driving days or hikes on a warm summer day.

    Cooling Towel

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  • 9. Hanging Toiletry Bag

    Toiletries when traveling in a van, always seem to get lost or end up in the strangest spots around the van. Keep everything in one organized spot with this hanging toiletry bag. It will hold everything perfectly, and you can hang it anywhere around the van for easy, out of the way access.

    Hanging Toiletry Bag

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  • 10. Travel Umbrella

    This travel umbrella is so good for so many things. You can take it to the beach, or use it while you’re enjoying a bright summer hike! And of course, it will be your rain umbrella as well. At only 1 pound and 12 inches long, this is the perfect umbrella for stashing in your van.

    Hero Umbrella

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  • 11. Camp Stove

    Never forget your campstove if you are living van life! How else would you cook your food? While some people prefer the smaller one burner camp stoves, I prefer the full 2 burner stoves because if you are going to be actually living in your van or taking longer trips, it’s way more worth it to have the space of 2 burners.

    Camp Stove

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  • 12. Travel Adapter

    Sometimes, it’s nice to get a hotel or stay in a hostel for a night and get out of the van. It’s good to have a travel adapter with you so you can be sure there will be enough space to plug in your phone or other electronics!

    Power Adaptor

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  • 13. Waterproof Phone Case

    Anytime I am visiting any water destination, I am always sure to pack my phone safely in a waterproof case. I recommend this case because it’s universal and has an easy to use touch screen where you don’t have to take your phone out and risk it getting wet.

    Waterproof Phone Case

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  • 14. Travel Insurance

    Travel insurance can be so handy in so many situations. Booking a flight, to booking a hotel room, if anything happens, travel insurance has you covered! We use to compare policies from top companies to find the plan that best fits our family and travel plans.

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  • 15. First Aid Kit

    For any hiking or camping trip you always want to have a first aid kit just in case anything happens. Sometimes even the simplest of bandages could save a life!

    First Aid Kit

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  • 16. Jumper Cables

    When traveling in a van, you never ever want to be without jumper cables. They are almost like a lifeline in certain situations. Whether you might need them or someone else, they will always come in handy.

    Jumper Cables

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  • 17. Head Lamp

    When camping or van living, you will need light since you don’t have many lights around. Headlamps are the easiest ways to provide light and you can even go on night walks safely.

    Head Lamp

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What to Wear for Van Life

Since van life is your life, you can wear pretty much anything you’d like. It is important to recognize the season (or seasons) that you will be traveling in your van and what parts of the country you plan on traveling to. Having clothing fit for all types of weather should be packed just in case of anything.

Comfortable clothes such as leggings, sandals, comfortable t-shirts, and sweatshirts are great for when you are driving. For things like hiking or camping, hiking shoes are important to have along with any type of jacket that is needed for the weather.

What Should Women Wear for Van Life?- (Click to expand)

Below is a sample women’s clothing list.(All items link to for your convenience).

Women should pack clothes fit for all seasons. You will want clothes that are comfortable for driving as much of van life is just driving from one spot to the next. Having leggings, and a comfortable sweatshirt is great for driving as are shoes that are easy to take off. Remember to have clothes ready for any hiking or camping that may occur like moisture-wicking hiking pants, a quality pair of hiking shoes, and sports bras. Rain jackets and swimsuits should always be in your bags.

Just because you are living in a van doesn’t mean you can’t dress nicely! Bring along a cute summer dress and a nice jacket or two when you are ready to make town trips or stop at a restaurant.

What Should Men Wear for Van Life?- (Click to expand)

Below is a sample men’s clothing list.(All items link to for your convenience).

Athletic style clothing is the main type of clothing you will want for living van life. This type of clothing will suit you for many activities that are centered around van life. Make sure you do have a warm jacket and even a raincoat as you never know when you may need it, especially when nights can get cold in almost any place in the country.

As we mentioned for the ladies, even though you may not think that dressing nicely fits van life, it’s totally fun to dress up once in a while, leave the van for an evening, and hit the town for a fun night out.

Packing for the Seasons for Van Life


Spring can be a challenging time of year for van life. I say this because spring is a very rainy season for most parts of the country and it can be frustrating to be living in a van when everything is wet. However, if you are correctly prepared then it makes life so much easier! Traveling in the spring can be extremely beautiful and it’s so nice to get out and explore as things start to warm up without being too hot yet.

Definitely have quality, warm rain gear. You will want quality rain boots, a warm jacket, and even rain pants. For when it isn’t raining, you can wear leggings or jeans and comfortable walking shoes. I like having ones that are easy to take off and put on for getting in and out of the van.


Summer is the best time of the year in many parts of the country for things like camping, hiking, swimming, and more! Be mindful of where you’d like to travel during the summer and avoid places like Death Valley and much of the desert as it’s far too hot to explore, and the heat can be hard on vehicles. Though it’s a busy season, you can still get out there and have a great time.

Since it’s swimming season, pack your swimsuit! Sunscreen and sunglasses are a must during the bright summer months. You will definitely want breathable, loose t-shirts and shorts especially for driving when it’s warm out as well.


As things start to get a little cooler, the crowds part and for some, that makes it the perfect time of year to go camping or get out on some nature hikes. All around the country, the leaves turn vibrant shades of reds and yellows and oranges and it makes driving so much more beautiful and fun.

Since it’s starting to get cooler, you will definitely want a warm jacket, possibly even a hat (especially for the colder nights), and some long pants. Get comfy in leggings and sweatshirts and enjoy everything falls fashion has to offer. Having a pair of moccasins is great for driving, and I would also recommend having a pair of quality close-toed hiking shoes.


Usually, when the winter comes about, many van lifers take advantage of the cooler weather and head on down to the desert! Winter time is the perfect time of year to enjoy the desert because it’s finally cool enough to explore. Desert camping in the winter is much drier than most places around the country as well.

While the desert will still be cool, it won’t be as cool. Have layers just in case, warm socks, winter jackets, etc. If you do not plan on heading to the desert then you definitely want to winterize! Make sure you have quality winter jackets, snow pants, warm boots, hats, and gloves. It is helpful if everything you have is moisture resistant or waterproof.

Dressing appropriately for the activity– (Click to expand)
Camping: For van lifers, camping is something you’ll do almost every night. Whether you are sleeping in your van, or maybe you’ve decided to get out and tent camp! If you are a full-season van lifer, then you will be doing lots of winter and fall camping, but with the proper gear is no problem at all.

Make sure you have warm clothes like hats, fleece pants, sweatshirts, and insulated jackets in case it gets cold at night. If it is cold, I’ll end up sleeping with my wool socks on too. During the summer, you may not have to worry as much about the weather, and regular shorts and a tank top should suit you just fine, though I do like having close-toed shoes just in case. Definitely make sure you have a quality bug spray with you and a tent that will last and hold up in all kinds of weather.

Hiking: Hiking is a great activity to stretch your legs, get out of the van for a bit and see the sights. There are thousands of hiking trails around the country that are all unique and fun to explore! Many trails have parking spots where you can park your van safely, even for a few days if need be.

You must first figure out if you are going for a day trip or if this is a long, multi-day hike. You will want either your hiking pack or a good backpack, preferably with a water bladder. Moisture-wicking clothes and quality hiking shoes are all great for staying comfortable while hiking. Pack sunscreen, sun hats, and bug spray for protection.

Driving: Needless to say, van life includes a lot of driving. Whether you are driving from campsite or campsite or taking a scenic drive through the states, since you’re on wheels, you’ll be going places! Sometimes these trips can be very long, so get comfortable and wear clothes that aren’t stuffy and are flexible. I like wearing leggings, loose t-shirts, sweatshirts and slip-on shoes, like moccasins. Sunglasses are also a must for driving!

Beach Trips: Beach trips are my favorite ways to enjoy time out of the van. Places like San Diego CA are super accessible and friendly to people living in their vans, where you can park near the beach and be able to enjoy the ocean all the time.

Obviously, you will want your bathing suit and a beach towel. I like having a beach blanket as well, so it’s easy to shake out and so I’m not tracking any sand into the van (that can be rather bothersome). I also recommend having a quality waterproof sandal or flip flop and a beach cover-up.

What NOT to Bring for Van Life

  • 1.DON'T Bring Lots of Books

    Of course, having a few books is totally fine and also great to have if you are traveling in your van. However, having an excess of books can become extremely cumbersome as the space for them runs out and they always end up going everywhere.

  • 2.DON'T Bring Breakable Kitchenware

    Breakable kitchenware includes things like glass or ceramic. It can be hard to find a safe place for such items, plus they take up a lot of room. Instead, bring camp kitchen sets where the items are usually plastic or metal. They are also a lot lighter and easier to fold up and put away.

  • 3.DON'T Bring Roller Suitcases

    They are clunky, take up so much space, and there are much better ways around carrying your items. If you are building out your own van, you can build specific drawers for your clothes and personal items.

  • 4.DON'T Bring Heavy Furniture

    This one goes for those planning on building their own vans out. I have seen it far too many times where people are setting up their vans and include heavy kitchenettes, heavy bed frames, heavy cabinets, etc. You must always think about the weight of your van and how much the van is able to hold. A heavier van is going to use up a lot more gas and have a harder time driving The little the better all around.

  • 5.DON'T Bring Glass

    Would you want glass tumbling all over the place and breaking inside your living quarters? Probably not. Glass is also heavy, a pain to carry around, and there are better options like plastic, cans or metal.

  • 6.DON'T Bring Expensive Jewelry

    Bringing expensive jewelry is a risk because you never know what could happen. If there ever is a chance that someone breaks into your van, it has the potential to get stolen or damaged.

What NOT to Wear for Van Life – (Click to expand)
The great part about van life is that you can treat it like your own home, a tiny apartment on wheels. There is space for outfits of all kinds and you can literally go anywhere and do whatever you’d like! There really is no saying what you don’t have to wear, as you can and should bring clothes for all occasions and types of weather.

If you are only planning to live in your van during the summer, pack a lighter and leave winter gear at home to save space.

FAQs about Van Life

  • 1. Where can you park to sleep while living in your van?

    Where can you park to sleep while living in your van?

    There are so many places you can find to sleep while you are in your van. Places like KOAs welcome any van travelers for a small fee, and campgrounds around the country are always available. You can camp for free for up to 2 weeks in most national parks. You can even go on and look for any free camping around you. Plus, if you are in a pinch Walmarts and Cracker Barrels allow you to spend the night in the parking lot if need be.

  • 2. Best places to go traveling in a van?

    The best part of van life is the freedom! There isn’t really one place that is the best place to go traveling in a van, since there are so many amazing things to see. I recommend hitting some of the beautiful national parks like the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Joshua Tree, and even places like Big Sur are all so fun to drive around and visit in a van, plus they are camping and van life-friendly.

  • 3. Best vans for van life?

    Best vans for van life?

    When picking the right van for van traveling and living, you want to keep some things in mind. Consider how you are going to build out your van, how much space you want for the bed or for storage or for a kitchen area etc. Some vans are taller than others or shorter. Some vans are built for speed while others are built for stability. Overall, these are the top 5 best vans for van life.

    • Mercedes Sprinter – This van is voted by most people the best van for van life. They are sturdy and reliable, easy to fix, and easy to convert into a comfortable living space.
    • Ford Transit – Another top favorite for van lifers, this van is a little bit more affordable and super easy to fix/find parts for if need be. They also are known for having strong durable engines.
    • Ford Econoline – Ford Econolines have been made for years and are super reliable van. Coming in so many shapes and styles, all with great storage capacity, everyone loves this van.
    • Ram Promaster – Ram Promaster is excellent for those with a lot of gear as the tow load in this van is amazing. You can get this van in different lengths, and they are also great for height and space.
    • GMC Savana – This one is probably the best on the wallet. They are cheaper than a lot of other vans but known for being really easy to drive and use. They also have great towing capacities.
  • 4. Do dogs like van life?

    I have found that so many dogs love living in vans! Dogs get so much freedom with people living van life. You do want to make sure your dog has the proper ID tags, and shots before venturing out. You also will want to be sure that your dog is comfortable alone in the van when you need to run out and leave for a moment. Never leave your dog in a hot car unless you have cool air and water for them!

  • 5. Is it possible to rent a converted van?

    Is it possible to rent a converted van?

    It’s absolutely possible and super easy to rent converted vans! If you want to experience van life for maybe just a weekend or a couple of weeks, there are many companies out there that can help you with that. Check online and see if there is one in your area. If you’re considering doing van life full time, then renting a converted van beforehand is an excellent way to see if this lifestyle is for you.

  • 6. Why do people like living in vans?

    Everyone is different and prefers different lifestyles, but for some, the freedom of being able to drive anywhere at any time and the adventure that comes along with van life is the right life for them. While it’s not always easy, it can be dirty, it can be cramped and tiring, and there are a lot of bonuses to living in a van. Some also find it much cheaper to live a van life than it would be to rent an apartment or buy a house. What you lose in space, you make up for with some extra cash.