Our Van Tour + Van Life Gear Essentials List
We’re home after eight weeks on the road and I’m reminded of my pregnancy mantra: “movement is therapy”. As someone whose life feels more in balance with daily exercise, I also have a strong urge for frequent adventure. After a five month stint at home in Vermont due to COVID-19 lockdown, I was not only feeling a growing desire to introduce our new baby to my family on the west coast, I was also feeling the lure of travel. Van life is exciting: each day there’s a freedom and excitement that comes from knowing the open road awaits and the possibilities are as far and wide as the country. In what other period of life might we have a free calendar and the opportunity to explore to such an extent? If you missed the Intro to Van Life post, you can read it here.
We haven’t been home 24 hours and everyone is asking how it feels to be home. In some regards, it feels amazing. Our airbnb guests planted a flower garden, I missed cooking and our kitchen and a king size bed with high thread count sheets feels like heaven. Yet in another sense, I’d compare the feeling to a few days after a big endurance feat. There’s a little bit of a reentry period: for eight weeks we went from new place to new place, visited friends and family and gallivanted around on new adventures each day. While the luxuries of home are wonderful, there’s a bit of an adventure high to come down from and I’m already anxious to plan the next trip. Winter in the desert, anyone?
We three Kings received a lot of questions about our setup and gear that we used. The items below are what we found to be important or helpful on our excursion around the country.
Are you a seasoned van lifer? Feel free to leave your feedback and favorite gear items in the comments below. We’re still looking to learn and optimize for our next trip!
- 4 ft folding table: we opted for a Sprinter van without a kitchen. We needed the space for our daughter and if you’re planning to travel throughout temperate climates, we found setting up the kitchen outside to be ideal. Deploy the awning, setup the table and space abounds!
- Campstove: Eureka Ignite Plus: Turns out a pandemic had everyone making a run on campstoves. We nabbed one of the last available at LLBean, but it turned out to be one of the favorite items that we brought along with us. What was our staple food? Annie’s mac & cheese with tuna fish. Don’t knock it until you try it! We made some delicious salads on the road too.
- MPowered Inflatable Solar Light: collapsible and lasts 24 hours. Charge on the dashboard while driving!
- Collapsable Bins and Plastic Storage Containers: Everything we packed in terms of clothing and food essentials was stored in these bins. Check out the van tour video to see the custom slider that held them.
- 7 gallon Water jug or Water cube : We already had the 7 gallon jug at home, but I saw the collapsible water cube and I was intrigued. That said, there was never a time where we didn’t need access to fresh water. We have a 20 gallon tank for showers, but it’s not potable.
- Dometic fridge + Yeti Cooler: We bought our van with both the fridge and the cooler, but Dometic makes the best van fridges according to the instagram experts out there! There are a range of sizes available with freezer options as well. I do wish we would’ve had the freezer option for breastmilk storage. The Yeti cooler acted as an overflow to the fridge and will keep food cold for many days. The downside is the ice eventually melts and draining the ice and picking up new ice is a bit of a hassle.
- Dish basics: We picked up a couple plastic bowls and plates that were $1 each at Walmart. We brought a couple utensils from home. One frying pan. One pot. We didn’t splurge for the cooking camp sets as weight didn’t matter and we had what we needed.
- Hose to fill water tank for shower (20 gallons)
- Extension cord: for shore power
- Travel Hot Water Kettle: use for oatmeal, coffee, etc.
- Aeropress: this is our preferred way to make a quality cup of coffee on the road
- Quality camera: we couldn’t go on this trip without properly documenting and investing in a nice camera. We opted for the Canon EOS 6D Mark II DSLR and the Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Art Lens for Canon EF.
- Peak design tripod: Peak design makes incredibly quality gear and if you’re into capturing the family, this tripod is light and packable and will last forever.
- Peak Design Clutch camera hand strap: a nice camera is also super heavy so this is helpful for holding the camera steady.
- Phone mount on dashboard: It may sound obvious, but it’s worth getting a quality mount since you’ll be constantly navigating.
- Organizational Bins between seats: we used these organizers to keep small items that we needed often from rolling around like: hand sanitizer, tissues, snacks, earbuds and other accessories used while driving
- Mini tool box: hammer, electric drill, measuring tape, super glue, screwdriver, wrench
- Electronic cord organizer bags: it’s really nice to keep all charging cables, ear buds, and accessories in small bag for easy access. There were a lot of electronics to keep charged from a cycling computer, to the WHOOP band, Garmin watch, breastpump, cell phones, and more.
- Pendleton Towel: for beach or shower. We have an external flash heated shower in the back of the van.
Van life for Cyclists:
- 4 bikes with 2 extra wheelsets: 2 Cannondale SuperX (cyclocross/gravel bike) with a choice of slick tires or knobbies, making them “road” bikes or gravel bikes, respectively. Also we each brought our Cannondale Scalpels for shredding the gnar.
- Bike lights, front and rear, in case you’re caught riding early or late
- InGamba SCION gear bag: I packed 8 weeks of riding clothing strictly in this bag. It’s really helpful to have it separated from everything else and easily accessible.
- Mini high capacity pump instead of floor pump
- Mini tool box: allen tool, T25, extra sealant, Dynaplugs, 3 spare tires, tubes, CO2s, electric drill, electric tape, hammer, screwdriver, etc.
- Bootdryer: this was a nice-to-have luxury for when cycling shoes get wet!
- Whoop wristband + App: We love the ability to monitor our daily strain, our health statistics via our heart rate and HRV (heart rate variability), sleep and how it all correlates to our recovery. Check out Ted’s story from on the road and what he discovered from his data. Free band if you use our link!
- Sunnies: variety of lenses for varying conditions. We like the Matador and the CP-1X for riding, Phantom Aviators, Hunter, and Rory for off the bike hanging out.
Van Life Apps:
Our general consensus about the apps out there was that while we were ready to fully rely on them, they were not as user friendly nor reliable as we had hoped. We tried winging it in the evening last minute to find a spot and ended up driving around to a third spot after the first two failed. I would advise planning in advance with a baby (sleep is too precious to be disturbed by someone knocking on your window).
We primarily camped on public land (BLM, free) but we also stayed at some campsites and I came to appreciate paying $25-$50 for amenities like a public bathroom, dumpster for garbage, picnic tables and a maintained camp spot.
- Allstays: Over 37,000 Campgrounds: Independent, KOA, National/State Forest, State Parks, Public Lands, Army Corps, National Park, Military, County and City Parks, casinos and more. We found this app to be a bit overwhelming and a bit hard to navigate, but there is a lot there so it’s worth having.
- Hipcamp: Fun concept where anyone can host their land or property to park or camp–the challenge is finding enough options in locations that aren’t as popular or last minute finds is also tough. Still worth checking out!
- Google reviews for campsites: We found campsites to be challenging and COVID-19 likely exacerbated the issue. Despite calling in advance to check on space, we would often get an answering machine and never received a call back. It made it a gamble to drive out to a site with the risk that it would already be full.
- iOverlander: there’s some reliable info here. One night we found a church parking lot to park in outside Missoula thanks to a few contributors who had vetted the spot.
- Harvest Hosts: This is a network of wineries, breweries and distilleries that rent out their space overnight for RVs. Seems like a cool option although you must have a proper RV with a bathroom and inside cooking, so our setup did not qualify. Membership fee required.
Van Life with Baby:
- Bumbo Seat with tray: There may be differing opinions on the Bumbo, but it worked well for us and was compact and an easy way to feed Hazel at the campsite or anywhere we were visiting.
- Halo Dreamnest Bassinet/Playpen: We bought a smaller travel bassinet but Hazel was already quite mobile and was rolling over and didn’t have enough room, so we ended up taking what is essentially a pack and play. It worked out well. I’d advise a black out cover–which I only learned after the fact!
- Portable Sound Machine: We needed to get in and out of the van during Hazel’s nap time and after putting her to sleep and this was helpful in muting some of the noises involved.
- Osprey Hiking Pack: we opted to bring only a hiking pack and not a stroller. There were a few times I would’ve liked to have the stroller around, but to save space and if I could only choose one, I’d pick the pack. This pack also fits a hydration bladder and has a sun shield–I utilized both on a 2.5 hour hike in Durango!
- Infant Life Jacket: if you’re van tripping in the summer you don’t want to miss out on a swimming opportunity. We took boat rides, visited lakes, pools and rivers and it was always nice to have the life jacket in hand.