One thing’s for sure, we’ve had our fair share of motorhome’s over the past couple of decades. As a result, we’ve come to really learn which much have campervan essentials we need.
It’s been a real learning curve of what we really need in a van. Making that small living space just so much more comfortable. It also has to be practical and more importantly, reliable and functional.
If you’re going to be serious about life on the road, it’s so important to do the research.
We’ve had lots of experience of motorhome life. From having a motorhome hire business to also travelling in several of our own motorhome’s over the years.
Through these first hand experiences. We’ve learnt what we love in a van and also, what is not so essential for those off grid motorhome travels.
There’s not much we haven’t learnt along the way. So here’s our own true insight, into what to look for when buying a campervan.
It’s such a big purchase, with many items that we couldn’t be without. Although our essential kit list, maybe a little different to what you think!
Forget the satellite dish and alloy wheels. This is our must have campervan essentials, for a great, off grid vanlife experience!
It’s our number one priority. Think floors, ceilings, walls, also, doors! If building your own go O.T.T with it.
Remember, it’s not just the obvious either, don’t forget the beds, make sure the mattress is raised above the solid base. If not, the mattress will get damp. Sometimes very wet with condensation and that brings mould, which you don’t want.
The Froli Spring system is great, allowing air circulation under the mattress and adds spring comfort where you need it. If you don’t want to go to the expense of the Froli system, using wooden slats to place the mattress over will help air to circulate.
Whatever the budget, don’t overlook condensation issues, that you can get without a well insulated van. Our first motorhome overcab area, was soaking wet every morning. Which meant a wet mattress, bringing warped wood, as well as mould and wet bedding. Dry it out in the thick of Winter, is tricky, so you don’t want to be climbing into bed and a soggy duvet!
Insulation that is hidden is great. Internal carpet, fitted to the walls and ceiling gives additional warmth and acts as insulation, which is a great added bonus. We have pale grey on our present van and had neutral beige in the previous van. It feels warm and will really help prevent those dreaded condensation problems. As well as helping to keep out the cold spots.
If you’re building your own, its easy to fit this in the build process. Try and fix it to the interior of the habitation doors too. Be warned, there aren’t that many standard manufacturers who fit this! We had to look long and hard to find one, ruling out many vans, that came without it.
Don’t get mixed up with floor carpets by the way! This is different, we’ll talk flooring carpets, or lack of them later in this piece!!
Most windows are double glazed, however, we prefer a Seitz flush fitting window. These are a flat type finish and don’t have distortion through the glazing. Also, looking contemporary in appearance.
They are good for not accumulating ice, in sub zero climate, due to not protruding. Unfortunately, they are often only fitted to top end vans, but if you are doing a self-build then you could look at fitting these.
Double floors are really important if you want to do any kind of Alpine trips.
They will keep those water pipes warm, to help prevent freezing, also adding little storage compartments in the accessible areas.
Our first skiing trip in our British ‘Grade 3 Winterised’ van (won’t mention names at this point!). Brought frozen fresh water and waste pipes, even before we reached the Alps. They never defrosted the whole trip!
We can’t stress this one enough, the freshwater tank must be inside the van if you’re going to do any kind of harsh winter tours. Preferably, in the main habitation area, under a seat. So important, for those must have campervan essentials.
We’ve had tanks in the garage where they’ve frozen, despite having blown air heating. It’s probably best to avoid vans, that have external fresh water tanks, unless you’re content on travels in Summer only!
If you do have an external water tank, or a tank in a garage then try and add some insulation around it, to help stop any freezing. Such as a household hot water tank jacket, or silver bubble foil insulation. Although this will only delay the inevitable, if it’s icy weather.
Ensure the fresh water tank is as big as possible, if you can get a 100 Litre tank then great. We have approx 70 Litre in our Sprinter. We certainly, don’t want to be filling up every day. Also in Winter it can be really difficult in some countries to actually find water. So, the less filling up you have to do the better. Water is precious, it’s to be used wisely and obtained at every opportunity.
When it comes to the waste water tank, it’s less easy to fit inside the van, so many are fitted under the van. This is fine, except in harsh weather conditions. Where it’s recommended, to leave the waste outlet open to allow the waste water to flow directly out of the van into a bucket. Otherwise, it will probably freeze, which will leave you unable to empty waste in the van basins.
A shallow rimmed bucket that fits under the van, like a horse feed bucket will do the trick. Of course, you can always have a heating element in the waste tank, which will help stop freezing.
We’ve had frozen waste pipes and it can take ages to defrost. So take precautions before it freezes.
Alde heating is great, if you can get a van manufacturer that fits it, or a great alternative to look into, if your building your own.
It’s a silent, wet system, similar to household radiator heating. It’s powerful enough to heat the biggest of vans too and won’t wake you up at night when the thermostat kicks in. Unfortunately, it’s usually only fitted in the top end brands. We don’t know the reason, other than costing.
Alde systems run off electric and gas, which is possibly the only downside if you really want to be off grid for some time. For those who want sites and don’t mind filling up the gas bottles then Alde is a great option. It also heats the hot water super effectively.
Truma Blown air systems are the most common form of heating and hot water. They come in a Truma 4 and 6 with electric and gas, or just gas and also have controls to heat the hot water.
They basically, do what they say on the tin. We’ve had lots of these especially in hire vans. However, don’t forget that Gas runs out quickly if you’re using it in Winter. Every few days, depending on the size of your gas bottle. The electric side, is not that powerful. Especially if you’re on a site in Europe, where you may only have 6 or 10 amp supplies, compared to 16 amp in the UK.
This is fine for casual camper travels, but we wouldn’t use it for the long term vanlife. Also, most people forget, that the blown air side of the heating, actually uses the battery power. So when off grid, the van’s batteries must be big enough to power the blown air side of the heating system. If not, then the actual heating will fail to operate. A red light will be showing a fault usually, at times when you don’t want to be feeling the chill!
Diesel Blown Air heating systems and hot water are just great for the serious vanlifer’s out there.
No more bothering with filling up gas tanks and changing gas bottles. Hopefully less problematic red light faults, that show all too often, on some other systems.
They are super powerful too and the heat is instant. All that’s needed is diesel in the van diesel tank. A really good habitation battery is preferred and you’re completely self-sufficient.
We have a Truma 6 diesel and electric system in our own van. This has the option to run off both, depending if electric is available. We have also had Eberspacher diesel systems. These are all fuss free, making diesel the way to go.
Remember that Gas must be Propane not Butane if buying gas bottles. Simply as it doesn’t freeze in winter.
Also if you’re travelling in Europe with gas bottles, you’ll need different connectors to the UK. If there’s a chance of running out whilst over there, you’ll need to take them with you. Or, at least remember you’ll need to buy them over there, before changing the gas bottles. They also have different actual gas bottles to the UK.
If you have a fitted Gas tank on the van, you’ll probably need the adaptor for each country to re-fill the tank.
Now you can see why Diesel heating and hot water is so appealing in our list of Must Have Campervan Essentials!
This is such a super big important factor, due to keeping the habitation part of the van full of life. The last thing we want, is to be having to charge up at a campsite every 2 or 3 days. Just because we’re loosing batter power, or lost it all together!
One thing is certain. In order to keep powered up, you will need to invest in Solar panels on the roof. These trickle charge the habitation batteries which, as a result, keep fully charged for longer.
If you have the correct systems in place, there is no reason why you can’t keep charged for weeks at a time. We have minimum 4 weeks without EHU power during summer months.
Another of our Must Have Campervan Essentials. A compressor fridge is a great way to save on electric and gas connections. These operate off the 12V system. They are super efficient and really cool, literally. Although they look small, they seem to fit an awful lot of things into the space!
This is so important to us, but maybe not to all of you out there. We have a big invertor in our own van. Powerful enough to use a household hairdryer and GHD hair straighteners each day, so important for life on the road!
Check your own needs with a supplier, who will suggest the best size invertor for you.
Besides being one of our Must Have Campervan Essentials. The invertor converts the 12V battery power to 240V power. So you can use certain household appliances off the battery, without the need to connect to an electric supply.
Down to the nitty gritty of the toilet here, but it’s important so must be mentioned!
Firstly, most van toilets use chemicals to dissolve waste matter and deter smells. These are often a blue liquid colour or sachet, that are placed in the toilet waste section.
To be environmentally friendly and hygienic, they must be emptied in the designated facilities provided. For example, a campsite emptying facility or dump station, e.g Aire de services in France. This is particularly important, to avoid contamination in septic tanks etc.
It can sometimes be difficult to find an emptying facility, especially in Winter. So we used to keep a spare cassette tank in the van which we’d swap when one got full.
If you don’t want the hassle of the chemicals and being restricted to emptying at a designated place. Then the SOG system is designed to overcome this.
We have the SOG in our own van. We don’t need chemicals and if it’s completely full and we’re really stuck with finding a dump station, yes it really can happen! Then, we can go back to nature and dig a hole to empty the contents. Or, dispose down any normal public toilet, as it is just natural contents in the cassette (we won’t go in to details).
You think you can do without one. Actually, if you’re at all bothered about what you look and smell like. Then the shower is just vital to keep site free, for any length of time.
It can be simple, such as buying an off the peg, black rubber solar shower, if you really are stuck for space. However, that’s completely weather dependent. If the temperature drops and the idea of an outdoor shower sends you into a panic. Then you will need a proper fitted shower section fitted in the van.
Ideally, a separate shower cubicle works best. If space is limited, then a combined shower/toilet space can work really well. It does the job perfectly.
The main priority is to make sure the shower cubicle is entirely waterproof. So that you don’t get warping walls and mould! It’s surprising how many manufacturers, build their factory vans without a waterproof shower cubicle!
I’ve no idea why they want to do this. The last thing you want is water getting into the van walls, if you’re building your own van, it’s easy to get this right using the correct materials.
Showering in a van is not like showering in a house. The boiler will only heat up the amount that it holds. Once the hot water is gone, it’s gone! You’ll have to wait another 30+ minutes for it to heat up again.
We turn the taps off between soaping down, and are super quick to avoid running out of hot water. No, we’re not fans of cold showers!
If you have a garage area, it’s a really good idea to have an extra shower connection fitted in there. On really hot days in Europe. It’s great to hose off in the fresh air. Without getting over heated in the confines of the van shower room.
This one is obvious but believe us, there are some vans out there where there is so much wasted space.
If there’s a wall without cupboards, then ask yourself why? You’ll probably find it’s down to costing, for example, we eliminated vans that didn’t have wrap around ceiling cupboards around the bed area. Also for us, large deep drawers in the kitchen area are really important.
A fixed bed model has the bed made. Otherwise, there will be all that bedding, pillows etc to stow each day. They have to be stored somewhere. A fixed bed is just fantastic all round. No making up a bed every night and it usually provides loads of storage space, for all the clutter underneath.
A transverse bed model is best for this, as it allows a really good ‘garage’ type area, accessible from outside. Ideal for wet, dirty or bulky items, that you don’t want in with the living area.
Don’t forget to think about the outdoor gear. Tables, chairs, tool kit, spares, beach gear, ski kit. That’s without any other individual hobbies that you may have.
We’ve had an oven in the past, but for us this was just a waste of storage space. We rarely used it, also, they are so slow cooking!
It’s important to keep within the weight allowances of the individual vans’ payload. Before buying or building, check the payload and stick to this. An upgraded chassis is always a really good idea if it’s available on the van. The larger the payload the better. Using a public weighbridge is useful, to check the van’s legal, once it’s loaded.
Unless you really don’t really mind, about the cleanliness side of living or touring, long term in a van. Having all interiors as easy clean and fuss free as possible is a good idea.
Surfaces that can be wiped over quickly and easily. Simple door furniture and colours that you know you can live with. Flooring that is more industrial in type, that can withstand all weather eventualities is helpful.
There are always extreme’s, when you’re half in the van soaking wet in a downpour, trying to get those boots off! Before stamping in a muddy footprint!
If you’re building your own, why bother with carpets or curtains?
If buying and the van has removable carpets, we roll these up before using and put them into storage. We have washable rugs to put on the floor to make it cosy. But, when that sudden dust storm catches you out and floods the van with red sand, then it’s an easy fix!
Now we don’t want to sound posh here but for us, leather seating is a big plus. Maybe, we’re too super fussy about cleaning! Leather is just great for wiping down and keeping clean on the road. You can always make it more homely, with washable throws and blankets.
Fly Screens, my goodness when you need these you are so grateful for them. Most vans have them on windows, but not always on the habitation doors. If you can pay extra to have them fitted, then it’s worth it. Otherwise, you can try and adapt a mosquito net, to keep the annoying midges out.
If we were writing this just a few years ago, we wouldn’t need to mention this next point. However, we now think, that all vans should come with USB charging points ,rather than just a power point. Nearly all gadgets now use a USB charger, so it makes sense to include these in the van.