Van Camping Ideas for Your Next Campervan Build

van camping ideas

Practical van camping ideas can be hard to come by.  Many popular van lifers have sponsors that pay for them to have all of the finest gear and the most expensive vans.  Other van lifers already have the skills of master craftsmen and the time to use those skills on their van builds.

But what about the rest of us?  What can we do to elevate our campervan builds?

Take a look at these 19 van camping ideas for your next campervan build.

1. Go Van Camping With An Empty Van

Before you start building out your van, it might be a good idea to go camping in a completely empty van.  Doing so will give you a chance to see what you really need before you buy anything.

You can even do this with the van itself.  For instance, if you’re having trouble deciding between a high-top and a low-top van, you could go ahead and rent an empty one from U-Haul.  Throw some camping equipment into the van and see what it’s like to camp in a vehicle that you can’t stand in.  If you find you don’t like it, you’ve only invested a hundred dollars into the experiment.

2. Use A Dry Toilet When Necessary

Many van lifers have trouble deciding whether or not to put a bathroom inside of their van.  Fortunately, you don’t really have to choose between having a bathroom and not having one.

Skip the full bathroom and bring a dry toilet inside instead.  You can use public toilets when possible and only use the dry toilet during emergencies.  This van life bathroom strategy cuts down on the water you need, increases the space you have, and still leaves you with a place to go to the bathroom during emergencies.

3. Shower Outside and Bath Inside

If you’re going to have a dry toilet, you might as well skip the full shower room as well.  Instead, get a shower that you can use outside.

A shower like the Innhom portable camping shower can be used with a bucket of water that you warm up on your camp stove or van life kitchen stove.  This shower provides you with a real showerhead and water pressure.  Not only this, but you can charge it through your 12-volt car socket.

Alternatively, you could go with a solar-heated shower that heats up in the sun.  These are usually powered through gravity but you can get ones that are pressurized with air.  They are great for people who want to go completely off-grid.

When outside showers aren’t possible, you can go with a quick sponge bath instead.  This can be done at your sink or inside of a water basin that stores under the bed.

4. Create Different Modules for Different Trips

A van camping idea that many people overlook is the fact that furniture in your van does not have to be permanent.  While many people love the idea of creating permanent fixtures in the van, this can lead to limitations.  For example, what if you’re going on a trip where you know you won’t have a bathroom?  Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to switch out part of your van for a bathroom module?

On the other hand, what if you knew you were going someplace where it was going to be difficult to get food?  Wouldn’t it be great if you could switch your bathroom module out with a large kitchen module?

5. Swiss Army Everything With Multi-Functional Gear

Let’s face it, van lifers don’t have much space.  But this doesn’t mean you should leave behind the gear that you need.  Instead, buy items that can serve multiple purposes.

Examples of multi-functional gear include lanterns that double as flashlights, flashlights that double as first-aid kits, and wood stoves that double as phone chargers.   Basically, anything that can be used for more than one thing will end up saving you some space.  Multiply this out by ten or twenty items and this can make a big difference.

6. Get A Premade Power Station

Many van lifers add extensive solar power systems to their rigs.  They spend a lot of time and money learning the ins and outs of solar systems so that they can add their charge controllers, inverters, and outlets to their power systems.  People who can’t do this themselves end up hiring out the work at high prices.

Fortunately, all of this can be avoided with the purchase of a premade power system.  Portable power stations made by Goal Zero, Jackery, and a whole host of other companies come with an inverter, charge controller, and outlets already built into the battery.  In most cases, you just need to plug them into your 12-volt car outlet or an AC outlet to charge them.  It’s usually easy to add solar to these systems as well.  Just plug the solar panel into the solar charging outlet and you’re up and running.

On top of all of this, you can quickly and easily take the portable power station out of your van.  This means you can use it at home during power outages and you can take it into the house to charge it.

7. Get Outlet Timers for Everything

While we’re on the subject of power consumption, we need to remember that batteries can die out quickly.  One way to help you avoid this issue is to add outlet timers to your outlets.  Add a timer to the outlet and you’ll ensure that items left on will always turn off by themselves.  This will eliminate accidental battery drains and will ensure that you’re never stranded without power.

8. Cut Down on Bateria by Using Bamboo Bedding

Bamboo is naturally resistant to bacteria growth.  It also has properties that help to wick moisture away.  These qualities make bamboo the perfect material for van life bedding.

Buy a set of bamboo sheets and blankets and you’ll sleep better in hot weather.  On top of this, you’ll block bacteria growth between washes so it’s a win-win.

9. Save Money On Water Pumps by Using Gravity

Many van lifers buy expensive and energy-intense water pumps.  These water pumps work well but they aren’t the only way to get running water.

A better strategy for getting running water in a van is to just use gravity.  Run your water system above your faucets and gravity will take the water down on its own.

10. Go With Two Ventilation Systems

Most van lifers are well-informed enough to know that they’ll need some sort of ventilation system in their van.  Ventilation helps with heating and cooling and also cuts down on mold and mildew inside of the van.

The problem many van lifers have is that they only buy one vent fan.  This means that they can either pull air out of the van or push air into the van.  Get two fans and you can do both.  This will dramatically increase the efficiency of your ventilation system and keep you cool on those warm summer nights.

11. Keep Stuff From Moving With Gel Pads

People who live in campervans are constantly taking things out and putting things away.  This is partially due to the fact that space is limited but it’s also partially due to the fact that things that are left out will move around once the van starts moving.

One way to cut down on the number of times you have to put things away is to buy gel pads.  Gel pads can be placed under your items to keep them from moving while you drive.  This means you’ll be able to leave them permanently.

12. Consider Collapsible Kitchen Items

Even the largest campervan kitchens don’t offer up a lot of space.  This doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice though.  Instead of leaving things behind, buy collapsible kitchen items.  Pots and cups that fold into themselves, pans that nest into each other, and collapsible food storage containers provide you with the same utility that traditional kitchen items do without taking up as much space.

13. Cook Outside and Make Life Easy

Another way to make your kitchen better is to just take it outside.  Indoor kitchens take up a lot of valuable space inside small vans.  They also increase moisture levels and trap food smells inside.

The easiest way to get around this is to just use portable kitchens that can be moved outside.  Portable stoves, outdoor camp ovens, and folding tables and sinks can all be used to create fully functioning outdoor kitchens.

14. Take Advantage of Silicone Sponges

A foul-smelling kitchen sponge can be the bane of van-life existence.  Eliminate this problem by purchasing a few good silicone sponges.

Silicone sponges are great for washing dishes and scrubbing down tables.  These sponges don’t hold odors and they clean off well.  They also last a long time so you’ll end up saving money with them in the long run.

15. Use Microfiber Towels

A wet towel can take a long time to dry out in a van.  This is especially true for people traveling in humid areas like Florida or anywhere in the northeastern part of the United States.

Not only is a wet towel useless for drying off but it also increases the moisture levels in your van.  Get around this issue by switching to quick-drying microfiber towels.  While these towels don’t feel as nice on your skin, they dry out quickly and can be used over and over again.

16. Find Human-Powered Alternatives

Your campervan doesn’t have to be a technological marvel.  Electric coffee makers and electric coffee grinders can be replaced with manual coffee grinders and pour-over coffee filters.

Water pumps can be replaced with foot pumps.  Hand-cranked radios, flashlights, and lanterns can replace battery chargers.  Search for a human-powered alternative and you’ll probably find it.  This will reduce your carbon footprint and will cut down on the amount of electricity you need to run your campervan.

17. Consider a Dual Purpose Bed

Many van lifers choose to go with a fixed bed at the rear of their camper.  This offers up nice storage space under the bed and provides the camper with a comfortable bed to sleep in each night.  The drawback to this is that it also takes up a lot of space and kills your chances of having a nice sitting area inside your campervan.

Consider switching to a murphy bed or foldout bed and you’ll recapture some space.  You can set up a folding dinette at the rear to create a nice office space, dining space, and sitting space with a view.

18. Install a Camera System

One of the situations van lifers fear the most is the dreaded knock.  Van lifers often find themselves sleeping in places where sleeping in a vehicle isn’t legal.  These van lifers may have authorities knock on their doors to get them to come out and talk about it.  Sometimes a person who isn’t really an authority might decide to knock on a van lifer’s door.  Anyone could be lurking out there and this can leave van lifers feeling vulnerable.

Get around this issue by installing some small cameras around your van.  Backup cameras are cheap and they’ll show you exactly what is going on outside of your van.

19. Get Some Bear Spray

While we’re on the subject of safety, we might as well talk about self-defense.  Firearms and knives might be effective but they aren’t always legal and they aren’t always safe to have around.  If you’re traveling from state to state or country to country, you’re much better off carrying bear spray with you.  While some places do have restrictions on bear spray, most don’t.  This means you can keep a canister of bear spray near your bed and sleep more soundly because of it.

The bear spray in your van doesn’t necessarily have to be restricted to the van either.  This bear spray can later be used for your hiking trips so it’s a nice item to have.

Your Ideas

Do you have any van camping ideas you’d like to share?  If so, email me at [email protected].


Christopher Schopf

Christopher Schopf like to write about hiking, camping, snowshoeing, kayaking, and anything else that gets him outside.

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