Van Life Clothing Packing Checklist
Packing for van life? Learn what clothes you need with this functional and versatile van life clothing checklist.
Downsizing your closet for van life might seem overwhelming if it’s your first time planning an extended road trip. When I packed up my apartment and moved into my first Sprinter Van back in 2016, I had no idea where to start. The result was clothing overflowing out of every cabinet and a lot of excess stuff that I never wore. My van felt cluttered, and all that space could have been used for something else that brought me more joy.
Now that I’ve been doing van life on and off for the last six years, I’ve learned exactly what van life clothing I need to get by. I feel good about what I’m wearing, feel prepared for nearly any adventure, and my van doesn’t feel cluttered with clothing.
Van Life Packing Checklist
Get this free PDF that will help you pack up your van in a jiffy.
How to Downsize Your Van Wardrobe
The kind of lifestyle you’ll be living will impact the sort of clothing you need to bring. If you anticipate spending a lot of time in urban areas, you might feel inclined to be more fashionable over functional. I understand that fashion brings some people a lot of joy, but I’ll be talking less about fashion and more about functional, comfortable, packable clothing that will make your life on the road easier.
Of course, you might have a situation that requires you to have specific clothing, like if you’ll be working from the road for example, so the idea is that after reading these packing tips, you’ll be able to discern what items you need to bring, including some special pieces if that’s important to you.
A good rule of thumb to follow is if you don’t wear it a lot at home, you’ll probably never wear it on the road. You’re going to be spending a lot of time in the clothing you do bring, so it’s important that you really love it and that it’s comfortable. Otherwise, it will just end up taking up space in your van and collecting dust.
Another consideration when packing for van life is that you’ll also want to pack for the specific activities you enjoy. If you want to hike or bike a lot, bring the clothing and shoes you need to be comfortable doing that. Also keep in mind the weather and seasons you’ll be traveling in – if you are chasing powder in the winter, pack accordingly, or know when you’ll be swapping out your winter and summer gear.
Van Life Clothing Tips
For fabrics, if you plan to spend a lot of time doing outdoor activities, quick-dry, athletic-style fabrics are great because you can give them a quick rinse and hand wash them when needed, and they don’t get super stinky after one use. It’s okay, and actually expected, to wear things multiple times between washes, as this will reduce the amount of time you have to spend in the laundromat or hand washing your laundry.
Generally, easy-to-clean, machine-washable, wrinkle-free materials are best. For me, dry cleaning items are a no-go. With undergarments, you’ll also want to pay attention to fabrics. Again, quick dry means you can easily hand wash, which can help buy you a few extra days in between trips to the laundromat.
In addition to easy-to-wash fabrics, I recommend keeping things simple by sticking to solid colors and patterns that coordinate with your other pieces so you can mix and match. That way, you’ll also easily be able to layer your items as the weather gets colder so you can be prepared for all seasons.
Think multipurpose and versatile, you’ll save space and time getting ready, too.
And finally, choose pieces that aren’t bulky; your storage space will quickly seem even smaller once you start packing your stuff in. This is especially noticeable with jackets and larger sweaters.
How to Organize Your Van Life Clothing
I’ve been using packing cubes for a while, and they’re great for categorizing different types of clothing. You can keep tops in one, bottoms in another, and city-style clothes in a third. Then have another one for underwear and socks. If you’re sharing your van with a partner, color-code your packing cubes to make it even easier to distinguish whose clothes are whose.
The cube limits the amount of stuff you can squeeze in – once it’s full, that’s it, and it prevents you from having to dig through everything to find what you’re looking for. Besides the packing cubes, I do keep one small duffel bag in the garage with seasonal wear – like warmer wintery stuff – that I will swap out when the weather starts to turn.
Van Life Shirts & Tops
Most of my shirts are made of synthetic materials that dry quickly, don’t stink, and don’t wrinkle. I choose looser fabrics to keep me cool when I’m being active and stick to colors that hide dirt. Once I find a piece I like, I usually buy it in a few different colors. Almost all of my short sleeve shirts are the Patagonia Cool Capilene Tees with different colors and designs. I know I like the way they fit and feel, so I’m never favoring one shirt over another.
Here are the shirts & tops I pack in my van:
My go-to tanks are the Patagonia Capilene Cool Daily Tanks because they’re soft and comfortable and don’t get stinky after several days of wear.
Mix and match your favorite tees. I always include a few of my Patagonia Capilene Cool short sleeve shirts because they are flattering and hold up well to van life.
For cooler days and nights, I pack 2 long-sleeve shirts like my lululemon Swiftly Tech, which is lightweight yet still warm and breathable.
Designed to be cool even in the sun, the Patagonia Capilene Hoodie protects your skin from the sun. Another great option is the REI Sahara Shade Hoodie.
Flannels are cozy and a great piece of van life clothing for hanging out under the stars or by the campfire. The REI Wallace Flannel is nice and thick and can be layered for extra cold nights.
Many of these items can be found in our What To Wear Hiking blog post – I love clothing that you can easily go from trail-to-town in.
Van Life Pants & Shorts
If you hike a lot, you’ll want to focus on functional shorts and pants that are comfortable on the trail. I try to keep the colors of my pants basic and solid – usually black. That way, they go with any color top I want. I prefer leggings, but if that’s not your style, look for something basic that you’ll enjoy wearing day after day.
Here are the pants & shorts I pack in my van:
I prefer to hike in spandex shorts and they’re also great for spending the day around the campsite in. These lululmeon Align 6″ shorts are a great length and they have pockets, which mosts spandex shorts are missing.
I also pack several pairs of non-spandex hiking shorts like The North Face Aphrodite Motion Shorts. These are great for hiking because they’re quick-drying and lightweight, but they’re also great for water sports or just hanging out around camp.
Pack at least 3 pairs of leggings for van life. Leggings are comfortable, versatile, and easy to wash. They also dry quickly. A few of my favorite leggings include:
Hot Tip: Want to find great deals on lululemon gear? Shop lululemon Like New. You’ll score deals and keep gear active longer which is better for the planet. Plus, 100% of lululemon Like New profits go towards lessening the company’s environmental impact.
For extra cold days or mornings, be sure to have a pair of warm, wind-blocking leggings like the SmartWool Merino Wind Tights. They’re designed with a cozy fleece lining and wind-proof panels to keep you nice and warm on chilly days.
Stay cozy and warm with a pair of lounge pants. I love The North Face Canyonlands Jogger Pants thanks to their soft fleece lining and relaxed fit.
For more legwear recommendations, check out our roundup of the best women’s hiking pants.
Van Life Undergarments
Undergarments take up very little room and you don’t want “no clean underwear” being the reason you have to spend the day at the laundromat. This is also why you’ll want underwear that are made of moisture-wicking, quick-dry material, so you can wash them in the sink if necessary. Comfort is key. You want to be able to sweat and move and not be constantly adjusting. For bras, I wear a sports bra every day, and I only have 1 normal bra that I wear for city outings.
Here are the undergarments I pack in my van:
I’ve found that 4 sports bras and 1 normal bra for van life is ideal. If you get sweaty on a hike, you can rinse your sports bras out or handwash them, and always have a clean and dry one to wear.
My go-to sports bras are from lululemon because they’re soft and supportive, and they have a lot of great styles to choose from.
Twelve pairs of underwear may sound like a lot, but you don’t want the hassle of having to wash your undies every few days. Pack synthetic, quick-dry underwear like these lululemon InvisiWear Boy Shorts.
Seven pairs of socks should last you a week or more on the road. Choose synthetic or wool socks that are good for hiking. and other outdoor adventures. I love Darn Tough socks because they last a long time, but when they do get holes Darn Tough will send you a pair for free!
For additional underwear recommendations, check out our guide to the best women’s underwear for outdoor adventures.
Van Life Outerwear
Evenings in the mountains (even in summer) can be really chilly. It’s important that you have a warm jacket and waterproof layers for rain. I personally get cold, and with the transition of seasons, I need to layer up. In order to keep my packing cubes organized, I keep bulkier, seasonal outerwear that I’m not wearing every day in a duffel bag in our van garage.
Here are the outwear pieces I pack for van life:
If you’re heading out on a van trip in the colder months (or you plan on living in your van full-time), invest in a good down puffy like the Patagonia Jackson Down Jacket.
For a lighter weight, but still warm, jacket, opt for something like the Arc’teryx Atom Insulated Hoodie. It weighs just 10.9 ounces, so it packs down small yet is still very warm.
For rainy days, you’ll want a rain jacket to keep you dry when you venture out of your van. The Outdoor Research Aspire Rain Jacket is fully waterproof and designed with strategically placed vents so you can stay cool. This jacket can also be worn as an outer shell for snow sports.
Rain pants are a great piece of van life clothing to have in case you need to go outside in a rain storm or you don’t want to get your other pants wet on a soggy hike. They’re useful in a lot of different situations. My favorite pair are the Patagonia Torrentshell Rain Pants.
A lightweight windbreaker is essential for those windy days. The Patagonia Houdini jacket is incredibly lightweight and packable but does a great job blocking cold gusts. If you prefer something more colorful, check out the Cotopaxi Teca Windbreaker.
To see more outerwear recommendations, check out our posts on the best women’s rain jackets and synthetic down jackets.
Van Life Accessories
Start with 3 hats you really like – including a baseball hat for hiking, a sun hat for keeping the sun off your face when you are at camp, and a warm beanie for nights. For people who like to spend time on the water, bring a swimsuit or two that you love and a rashguard to protect your skin. Finally, every van lifer needs a cute fanny pack. Once you go hands-free, you’ll never go back to a normal purse.
Here are the van life accessories I pack:
A simple baseball cap is perfect for pretty much any outdoor activity from hiking to standup paddleboarding. I always bring my Patagonia Trucker Hat on road trips.
When you need more protection from the sun or you want a cuter look, grab the Wallaroo Sedona Hat. This is my all-time favorite sun hat. It’s stylish, has great protection, and can be folded and stashed when not in use. Use the code BEARFOOT20 for 20% off.
When temps drop, keep your head warm with a cozy beanie. This Patagonia Everday Beanie is simple but looks great and goes with any outfit.
Pack two swimsuits. If you’re not a big water person, you can get away with one. I really like the designs and colors of Nani Swimwear.
Rashguards aren’t just for surfers. They’re great for protecting your skin from the sun when you’re swimming, paddleboard, kayaking, or just hanging out on a sandy beach. I love my Carve Designs Cruz rashguard and pack it for any summer van trip.
From hiking the trails to walking around town, the lululemon Clean Lines Belt Bag is a versatile way to carry your essentials.
For additional fanny pack recommendations, check out our roundup of the best fanny packs for hiking & travel.
Van Life Shoes
Shoes take up a surprising amount of room, so it’s important to pair them down to what you really need. To give you an idea, we have a large rectangular hamper for our shoes in our van and it’s full.
Most days, you’ll find me in sandals or my low-ankle hiking shoe. For longer hikes and backpacking trips, I also keep my heartier hiking boots in the van.
In addition, I have a pair of closed-toe water shoes that I wear when I’m doing river activities and a pair of cuter strappy sandals that I can dress up.
Because shoes take up so much room and aren’t able to be compressed down, it’s especially important to only bring what you need and will actually wear when packing for van life.
Here are the shoes I pack in my van:
For everyday wear, pack a shoe that is comfortable and versatile like the Oboz Sawtooth X Low Waterproof Hiking shoe. You can hike in them, drive, run errands, bike, etc… Read our full review of the Oboz Sawtooth here.
For longer hikes or backpacking trips, you want a high-ankle hiking boot to support your ankles. I love my Oboz Bridger B-Dry hiking boots because they’re super comfortable (no break-in period!) and very supportive while still feeling lightweight.
While leather sandals look nice, they’re not very practical for everyday van life. Instead, choose a synthetic material sandal like these Birkenstock Arizona EVA Sandals. You can get them wet and they really comfortable.
If you enjoy water sports or plan on doing hikes with stream or river crossings, you’ll want to pack a good water shoe like the Astral TR1 Mesh shoe. It’s lightweight and designed with grippy rubber soles so you can get traction on wet, rocky surfaces.
When you want to go out to a nice restaurant to spend some time in the city, be sure to have a ‘nice’ pair of sandals you can slip on. These Birkenstock Mayari Sandals are made with synthetic uppers and a comfortable cork footbed.
It’s nice to have a closed-toed boot open for walking around town as well. I recently got these Blundstone Vegan Chelsea boots and absolutely love them. They’re comfortable, look great, and 100% vegan.
To get more shoe recommendations, check out our roundup of the best women’s hiking shoes.
We don’t go out all that often, and very rarely do we “dress up.” Still, I like to keep a couple of options in the van for unexpected occasions, concerts, or for going out to a nice dinner. For this, I have a couple of nicer tops, a warmer sweater for evenings, and one sundress.
I try to buy these items from sustainable outdoor brands to minimize my impact and buy long-lasting clothing.
Here are the “going out” clothes I pack in my van:
It’s hard to find a great pair of good-fitting jeans, but these Kuhl Kontour Flex jeans are a great choice for outdoor-loving women. They’re stretchy, high-waisted, and comfortable!
For warmer weather, pack a pair of nice shorts that you can wear in town or out to dinner. I love these prAna Halle Shorts, which are quick-drying and comfortable.
I pack two nice tops for when we eat out at restaurants, go to a show, or anytime I want to dress up and look nice. Kuhl makes some great tops that are designed for outdoor women but are still flattering and look great.
Pack a sweater to throw on when the temps drop. The REI Wallace Sweater comes in several great color choices.
I don’t wear dresses too often but I like to have one available in the van if I want to dress up a bit. This Kuhl Skyla dress is soft and breathable and perfect for summer night van potlucks.
Still figuring out your van set-up and daily van life? Check out these helpful van life 101 posts:
Are we missing anything from our van life clothing packing list? Let us know in the comments, and be sure to sign up for our weekly van life newsletter!
Hi Kristen! Great post on van lifers. This does make them unique, but its good to be known differently than others at times.Keep it up.
This is such a great resource! My husband and I were just discussing if we could to an extended van trip like this. We have friends who bought and converted a mini bus and are traveling the US right now! We also had a friend who lived in a van full time for two years. I don’t know if I’m that committed haha, but I love the thought of a long trip! Pinning!!
Oooh this is amazing and so helpful! Thank you!
Wow! Thx! Have TT but I’m so bad About clothes. Going part time traveling the country inJan with husband. This will help me NOW to start weeding out. Really liked the comment if u don’t wear it much at home u won’t at all on the road.
Thanks so much for reading, Ann! Great call on slowly starting to prep now. Enjoy your travels 🙂
No merino wool on the list? I reckon it’d have to be the ultimate van life clothing option as you don’t have to wash it regularly.
Yes thanks for pointing that out! We do tend to wear merino wool base layers when it’s cooler out, like merino wool leggings under our pants and long sleeve merino wool tops. We’ll consider adding in a couple of options 🙂
Love this list! I’m embarking on a minimalist lifestyle with the intention of transitioning into living out of a van/vehicle! This list was just what I was looking for to determine how much of my clothes to get rid of! Thank you! 🙂
Glad you found it helpful, thanks for reading!