Van Life Essentials List | What We Can’t Live Without

by Nick & Raychel
a van life van sitting by a view
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This year, we packed up our stuff and moved into a retired ambulance to live the van life full-time. Ditching the mortgage and moving into a van seems to be becoming more and more common as time goes on, and we’re so happy we chose this lifestyle. Below, we’re sharing our list of van life essentials: some unique items & buildout ideas that have allowed us to live this lifestyle with ease and freedom.

You could also find this essentials list on our YT channel 

Battery Powered Clip Lights

Although we have 3000w of solar energy, two auxiliary batteries and a 650w inverter in our van, we’re always looking at ways to save power.

We love these battery powered clip lights because we don’t have to turn our overhead lights on first thing in the morning, or if one of us stays up later than the other to read or work. They’re great because you can clip them almost anywhere in the van – so trust us when we say, they are totally worth the tiny investment. 

Wall Grid + Attachments

Originally we worked this wall panel into our build using it for purely aesthetic purposes, meanwhile we had the feeling that it would probably come in handy in the future. It turns out that we were right, and that’s why it made our van life essentials list.

Now, it has become a pleasing way to store our go-to items, like baby wipes, chargers, my journal, CBD oil, whatever! When you live in a tiny home on wheels, every little inch of storage is useful.

Hooks + Umbrella Stand

Living in a van through Canadian winters means layering up. Specifically, living in a van through a Vancouver winter means layering up and keeping dry. It was a last minute decision for us to add hooks to our build, and we even incorporated an umbrella stand. Coat racks or options are seldom talked about, so we’re happy that the light bulb went off before we drove away from the shop – the hooks have been such a godsend that we’re considering adding more.

Shoe Rack

Ditto to basically everything I mentioned just above here. Seldom talked about, hella useful. We adore our little plywood shoe rack and can’t imagine living without it – I guess that would complete the definition of a perfect “van life essentials” item.

Toilet + Emergency Pee Bottle

You heard that right. We could not make a Van Life Essentials list without including our beloved Dometic portapotty + emergency road trip urinal. There are so one too many van builds where there are absolutely no bathroom options and we cannot imagine a life without our backup options – especially this year, a time when many public bathrooms are closed. 

We considered a composting toilet given our budget, decided to settle for our portapotty, which has done the trick. In addition to that, we also bought a bottle for when we’re (Nick) is in an emergency pinch.

A Carpet

This carpet was, strangely enough, one of our first purchases when building our DIY tiny home on wheels. While cruising Amazon, we bought it without measuring the dimensions and it ended up fitting perfectly when we finished our build. Talk about serendipitous! 

Aside from it’s beauty, the main reason we love this carpet is because it keeps our feet warm in the mornings and it makes the whole van really feel like home.

Plastic Mason Jars

If you’ve seen a lot of van builds, you’ve probably seen hanging mason jars in some vandwellers’ tiny kitchens. We had the perfect amount of space to add some at the end of our build, and we’re so happy we did! It’s as simple as emptying the contents of our bulk foods/coffee/cereal into them and ditching the packaging. They are such a space saver!

Our favourite part about these ones is that they’re plastic! So if something were to ever go wrong, we know they aren’t going to smash and break our induction stove sitting right underneath them.

Baby Wipes

Most full time vanlifers mention them because most vanlifers love them. Sometimes you can’t find a shower, ‘nuff said.

French Press

Having a good cup of coffee is definitely a van life essential for us, or, you know, just an essential in general. Coffee is a MUST and using a french press in the van is just so easy.

Counter Space

Because of the structure of our retired ambulance, we have a big ol’ electrical box that pokes into the drivers side of our van. This forced us to build an L-shaped countertop, which I’m not sure we would have done otherwise. It turns out this fluke ended up being the best thing to happen to us, because we have so much counter space!

The thing is, we are even finding ways to build more. So if you’re like us and you love to cook, consider your counter space + double it in your build. That’s just our advice.

Propane Heater 

Remember when we told you that we live in Canada? Yeah. The winters get very cold. That’s why our Little Buddy heater made this list. These propane heaters work well and have an automatic safety shut off for safe use. So in addition to our wool blankets, slippers and big comfy sweaters, this heater is definitely a beloved item.

Plastic Wine Glasses

Ok, maybe drinking wine isn’t essential – but we’re going to do it anyway, and we didn’t want any glass breaking all over our tiny little off-roadin’ space. Basically, we love anything unbreakable, but these take the cake.


What about you? What are your non-negotiable van life items? Let us know in the comments!

We talked about the items in the van – let’s talk about items in our lives! Find this article here on things we find worth buying as minimalist nomads. 

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