When I was packing up my first Sprinter Van in 2016 for my first big trip, I struggled with figuring out what type of van life gear I really needed to bring with me on the road. It’s so easy to overpack when you are living in a small space, and if you aren’t using something at least once a week, it’s not really worth the precious space that it takes up.
7 years and 3 Sprinter vans later, I’ve really got my gear and organization dialed. In this blog post, I share the best van life gear I’ve gotten from REI that I still use on the road.
Sponsored by REI Co-op
REI Co-op is our favorite outdoor gear retailer and a long-time supporter of our work here at Bearfoot Theory. We appreciate their 1-year return policy, their Member-only coupons, and the fact that REI Members receive 10% back on their purchases every year. We only recommend products we truly love and think you will love too.
Van Life Kitchen Gear
Eureka Ignite Plus 2-Burner Camp Stove
Even though I have a small induction stove in the van, I prefer to outdoors as much as possible to have more cooking space, minimize power consumption, and avoid overpowering food smells in the van.
I’ve had the Eureka Ignite Plus 2-Burner Camp Stove for several years and highly recommend it. It has awesome fine-tune temperature control, is extremely quick to set up, fits two 12″ pans, and easy to clean.
YETI Rambler Mug
An insulated vacuum mug like the YETI Rambler Mug is a must-have van life item for those early mornings on the road. It will keep your coffee hot for hours, prevent it from spilling in your dash, and save you from using disposable cups when getting your morning fix at the gas station.
AeroPress Go Travel Coffee Press
Finding the perfect coffee maker for van life can be a challenge – your traditional coffee maker is probably too bulky and a glass French Press is a recipe for disaster. That’s why I love the AeroPress Go Travel Coffee Press. It’s super compact, lightweight, and easy to use, making it the perfect addition to your van life setup.
The AeroPress Go comes with everything you need to make a delicious cup of coffee, including a scoop, stirrer, and filters, all of which fit neatly inside the press for easy storage. Plus, it’s made from durable materials, so it can withstand the wear and tear of life on the road.
Did you know you can use Dr. Bronner’s for dishes? Normal dish soap contains a lot of nasty chemicals that can harm plants and animals where you are camping.
We use Dr. Bronner’s Mild Liquid Soap for our dishes and found that it cleans just as well as Dawn. And having body soap that doubles as dish soap means you only have to carry one soap bottle in the van.
Van Life Furniture & Accessories
Helinox Sunset Chair
A solid camp chair is a must for van life, and the Helinox Sunset Chair has been our favorite for many years. I love how supportive they are and the high back allows you to really sit back and relax, which is nice compared to some of the chairs out there with lower backs.
At less than 3 ½ pounds, it’s very lightweight and packable. The other thing I love is that even when it’s put together, it’s not too bulky and we can store two of them on our bed in chair form. That means we never really need to pack them down when we are moving campsites and our chair is always ready to go.
GCI Outdoor Compact Camp Table
If you planning on doing a bunch of off-grid camping, then most of the campsites you stay at won’t have a picnic table. This GCI Outdoor Compact Camp Table is a cinch to set up, breaks down flat, and gives you a place to put some appetizers and a drink while you enjoy the sunset.
CGear Multimats Original Sand-Free Mat
The CGear Multimats Original Sand-Free Mat is an excellent option for van life due to its sand-free design, durability, versatility, and easy maintenance. It’s made from high-quality materials that resist water, UV rays, mold, and mildew while letting sand and fine dirt filter through the mat instead of piling on top. This mat is lightweight and compact compared to a traditional outdoor rug, making it easy to store in your van.
I’ve been using Rumpl Blankets since I got my first Sprinter Van back in 2015, and I’m fully convinced they are the best van life blanket out there. The two-person original puffy is very warm and is slightly larger than a queen size.
It spans the width of a Sprinter Van, so you won’t be fighting with your traveling companion for covers. They come in a bunch of vibrant colors, but even better, they are machine washable and the material is perfect for those who have a dog that sheds. The dog hair doesn’t stick and you can quickly give the blanket a good shake outside for a quick clean in between washes.
EcoFlow RIVER Pro Portable Power Station
The EcoFlow RIVER Pro is a compact portable power station that provides a reliable and efficient source of power for van lifers. With 720Wh capacity and multiple charging ports – including USB, USB-C, AC, and DC – you can power everything from your laptop to your roof fan. BFT team member Courtney uses the RIVER Pro in her van to charge all electronics and it makes a great backup power source even if you have house batteries.
The RIVER Pro is incredibly easy to use and can be charged using solar panels, a cigarette outlet while driving, or a wall outlet. What sets the EcoFlow apart from other power stations is that it can charge from 0-80% in 1 hour if plugged into a wall outlet – so in a pinch, you can easily recharge at a coffee shop in no time!
MPOWERD Luci Portable Solar String Lights
Create better camp ambiance with the MPOWERD Luci Portable Solar String Lights. We love these for stringing up at camp to have nighttime lighting, and the cord tucks into the unit making them super portable and easy to store when not in use. You can charge these string lights via the built-in solar panel or by plugging them into a USB charger.
Van Life Clothing at REI
REI Co-op Expandable Packing Cube Set
Packing cubes are an easy way to stay organized when you are living in a van. In my Sprinter Van, Ryan and I each have two of these REI Coop Expandable packing cube sets in different colors for our clothing. Pants go in one large cube, shirts in another. Underwear, bras, and socks go in the small cubes. Get the gist?
Packing cubes mean each time you need to grab a new pair of socks, you aren’t digging through a huge messy duffel bag or drawer. Another big advantage is when you are packing up your van for the first time, the packing cubes help you set limits for the amount of clothes you are going to bring. I like that they have handles so if you are staying with family and friends, you can easily carry them into the house.
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Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket
Having a packable, lightweight, yet warm jacket is a must for van life. I’ve worn Patagonia’s Nano Puff jacket for years and love how versatile it is for hiking, lounging at camp, and everyday wear. It packs down super small so it doesn’t take up a ton of room in your van, either.
Selk’Bag Wearable Sleeping Bag
The Selk’bag wearable sleeping bag is a must-have for van life because it provides both warmth and mobility, allowing you to stay comfortable and cozy while also being able to move around freely. It’s perfect for those chilly nights around the campfire and it packs down small enough to easily stash away when you don’t need it.
Van Life Bathroom & Hygiene Staples
Cleanwaste Go Anywhere Portable Toilet
If you’re the kind of van lifer that like to set up shop for a few days in one location, this Cleanwaste Go Anywhere Portable Toilet is an alternative solution for going #2. It’s a foldable toilet that you can set up behind a bush, and it uses a simple wag-bag system to collect waste. Once you’re back on the road, you can simply throw the bags into the trash, rather than having to look for a dump to drain your portable toilet.
By carrying out your waste, you can lower your impact on high-use areas. The wag bags are kind of expensive, so it’s not an everyday solution….but we carry this in our van just in case.
REI Co-op Quick Dry Multi Towels
No matter what else you pack in your van, quick-dry towels are a must-have piece of van life gear. We have 5 or 6 of them stashed throughout the van in different sizes. We use them to dry dishes, our dog, our bodies, and to stash in our day packs for lake hikes.
They don’t get a funky musty smell like regular towels, and if you need to clean them, you can rinse them with a little Dr. Bronner’s soap and they are as good as new. They also fold really small, so they don’t take up a bunch of room like a bulky beach towel.
No Rinse Bathing Wipes
No shower, no problem. I had an indoor shower in my first Sprinter Van, but I found I rarely used it…so I scrapped the indoor shower in my second and third vans.
At least once a week, we find ourselves at a campground with hot showers and swimming in lakes and rivers in between keeps the dirt at bay, but these No Rinse Bathing Wipes are also a good van life staple to have around for in-between showers. They are gentle on your skin while wiping away the dirt and grime, making you feel just fresh enough when you’ve gone a few days without a shower.
Geyser Systems Portable Shower w/ Heater
If you don’t have a permanent shower set up in your van but want the luxury of hot water waters, look no further than Geyser Systems Portable Shower w/ Heater. BFT team member Courtney has used the Geyser for over a year and loves how versatile and easy to use it is.
It can be used for a variety of purposes, from washing dishes to rinsing off gear to bathing yourself or your pets. And with an internal hot water heater, you don’t need to worry about cold showers!
Other Van Life Favorites at REI
Garmin InReach Mini 2
One of the best parts of van life is putting your cell phone away and going to areas far away from service. The only issue with that is what if you have an emergency – whether that be a mechanical breakdown or a medical emergency – and your cell phone doesn’t work?
My partner Ryan is a Type 1 Diabetic, so being prepared when we are in the van or hiking is always something that is on my mind. One of our most important pieces of van life gear is a Garmin inReach Mini 2. It allows us to send custom text messages no matter where we are or to call for medical help if we are in a serious situation. It also has a GPS and some helpful navigation tools for when your navigation apps on your phone won’t load.
Adventure Medical Kits Mountain Series Hiker Medical Kit
Along with the Garmin InReach, having a basic first aid kit in your van is important. The Adventure Medical Kits Mountain Series Hiker Medical Kit is a good place to start with basic meds, blister treatments, and wound dressings. It also comes with a pocket guide for basic wilderness first aid.
While this kit probably won’t save your life, it could get you through a pinch until you drive your van back to civilization. In addition, it’s always a good idea to supplement your store-bought first aid kit with anything that you might need for your personal medical needs.
America The Beautiful Annual Park Pass
An America the Beautiful National Park Pass allows you to access to over 2,000 federal recreation sites, including national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, and more, making it an excellent advantage for van lifers who love to explore and spend time in nature.
Additionally, the pass can save you a lot of money in entrance and camping fees, which can add up quickly if you’re visiting multiple parks. The pass is valid for one year, so if you plan to visit 3 or more Parks, this pass is the best deal.
Gerber E-Tool Folding Spade
Tools for Leaving No Trace when you go to the bathroom are essential pieces of van life gear. I’ve not had a permanent toilet installed in my last 2 vans, so this begs the question, where do you go #2?
In order to make sure you are following Leave No Trace when pooping outside, you need to dig a cathole using a trowel (a shovel) and pack out any used toilet paper. I like the Gerber E-Tool Folding Spade because it can double as a shovel for digging yourself out if you get stuck or putting out campfires. Since it folds down, it’s easy to store in your van.
National Geographic Road Atlas Adventure Edition
Google Maps tells you the quickest way to your destination, but if you’re looking to take the scenic route, it’s nice to have a paper atlas in your van. This National Geographic Road Atlas shows side roads, public lands, camping, and other sites of interest to van lifers and is another nice tool to have when you are out of cell service.
What are your favorite van life gear must-haves? Or what questions do you have about van gear? Leave a comment below and let us know!