6 Things You Didn't Know You Need For Van Life
We all know the obvious items that make a van livable. A bed, window reflectors, and a stove are among the first to come to mind. But what about the things you might not think of?
Here are 6 items that make van life 6 times easier.
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An electric cooler is necessary unless you want to go full-college and eat ramen and canned soup every night. Because, let's face it, no one wants to deal with melting ice. Soggy meat, with a side of dissolved egg cartons is not a delicacy we've heard of.
Get One With a DC Compressor: An electric cooler will likely be one of your more energy hungry accessories, which makes energy efficiency an important factor. Electric coolers with DC compressors are the most energy efficient and recommended for van life. Shoot for something that draws around 45 watts or less while running and has a temperature monitor that shuts the cooler off when the desired temp is reached. Some electric coolers even have a freezer function depending on the model. Expect to pay $150 on the low end and $400 for middle of the road.
Avoid Cheaper Alternatives: Cheaper versions ($150 or less) typically use a thermoelectric cooling device to achieve the cooler temps. These devices can draw around 50 to 70 watts while running and they rarely have a temperature monitor, meaning they are always running and will drain your power station in no time.
Cleaning your dishes after a meal may be the biggest daily hassle you'll deal with while living in a van. So, how do you get all the food off your plate and not waste a bunch of water? Shop towels! Just get them wet and wipe your dishes clean. It doesn’t get any easier than that. Using shop towels to clean your dishes saves you a lot of water, and their durability makes them reusable and saves the environment. Paper towels also work, but they are less durable, less absorbent, and less reusable compared to shop towels.
DC Heating Pad
Picture this: it’s cold. Really cold. You put all your clothes on and you still can’t feel your fingers after an hour. Heating pad to the rescue!
The main spec to look for when choosing a heating pad is wattage. Look for something that draws less than 50 Watts (or 4 Amps at 12V). Anything that draws more will drain your power station battery in a hurry. All you need is a small pad (around 20 x 20in) because it gives off plenty of heat and will keep you warm if you use it inside your sleeping bag or under your blanket. Be sure to get one that runs on DC power. An AC blanket would need to be run through an inverter which usually has a 10% loss in efficiency, and these tend to be excessively large anyway.
Adhesive Backed LED Light Strip
A Tip For Those With a Fabric Headliner: The best lighting is overhead lighting, which usually means you need to mount your lights to the ceiling. So you just get adhesive backed LEDs and stick ‘em up there, right? Wrong, the adhesive will fail when the temperature fluctuates. The secret here is to use a regular office stapler to staple them into your fabric headliner every foot or so. The adhesive combined with staple reinforcements works like a charm! It's easily removable, too. Just make sure to avoid stapling any metal parts on the LED strip or the "cut-line", where there's metal contactors. Nothing will be harmed, the LEDs just wont work until you remove it.
Make Sure They Have A Dimmer Switch: Don't forget to add a dimmer switch so you're not blinded by a string of full-strength LED's when you're trying to wind down for the night.
The Right Stuff: We advise against getting epoxy coated light strips because they are too fat to staple, and the extra weight will eventually cause the adhesive to fail. Be sure to get lights listed as 'warm 3000K' unless you want to feel like you're at the office.
Squeezing into your sleeping bag and sleeping like a mummy all winter is not ideal. It's nice to have a big warm blanket to wrap up in (or sprawl out under) on those cold nights. Pair this with a small heated blanket and you've got the perfect fall/winter/spring setup.
The main decision to make when buying a comforter is down vs. down alternative insulation. See the pros and cons below:
|Packs down small
|Doesn't pack down small
|Keeps you warmer
with better insulation
|Could trigger allergies
|Heavier and less breathable
and more breathable
|Less durable and
doesn't last as long
|More durable and lasts longer
care when washing
|Easy to wash
While it's possible to live in your van without any of these items, they definitely make it more convenient and enjoyable. Your van is your home, and it's the little things that really take your comfort to the next level.
These are our tips and tricks to stay warm, stay cool, and stay lit on the road. Think we left something out? Leave a comment below and let us know. We're always curious to hear about your setup!
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