What do you take

The beauty of a camper van is that you can just pack a few clothes and a toothbrush and then you’re off on your travels.  The van is your bed on wheels, already kitted out so that you can take off at just a moment’s notice.

Sounds idyllic doesn’t it ?  Well yes it can be – but it also requires some forward planning to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything essential.  I’m sharing this handy checklist of what we take, where we keep it and how we use it – which hopefully you’ll find useful too.

However first of all, let me take you on a short diversion …

When we used to go away tent camping (we camped for many years before we bought our camper van, and even got a tent as a wedding present), it gradually become more and more of a hassle.  Over the years we got bogged down with so much “stuff” – the extras such as lilos, camp kitchens and rechargeable lanterns that add to the comfort but also made it such a chore.  Later on, kids’ paraphernalia then just added to the list: outdoor toys, scooters, fishing nets and so on.  It used to take us 3 hours to get our “stuff” out of the loft and garage and into the car (and roofbox) – packed to the gunnels – before we’d even set off.  It got to the point that we simply could face going away for anything less than three nights, and when weekend camping trips got too much we realised that something had to change.

Of course you can quite legitimately argue that we should have stripped things back to basics and only took what we genuinely needed.  But by that point we had learned to appreciate the creature comforts and a camper van then became a much more attractive option.  However, ‘getting back to basics’ is also an important lesson for campervanners as well as tent campers:

  • Pack efficiently:  Camper vans are not large vehicles and so space is at a premium, in spite of the fact that they’re so ingeniously designed to make the most of every nook and cranny.  You need to have a space for everything and know how to get to it quickly;
  • Go lightly:  The more stuff you take, the longer it takes to set up camp – simple as that.  Physically and psychologically it will weigh and wear you down, so don’t take more than you think you’ll need;
  • Plan for multiple uses:  Lightweight backpackers and cycle tourers know a thing or two about managing their packing space as efficiently as possible.  They try to make sure that as many objects as possible have multiple uses, such as a collapsible bucket that can be used for washing up, washing clothes, a rubbish bin and so on (see below).

So my advice would be to think carefully about what you really need, leave what you won’t use and make sure you buy things which are as compact and multi-purposed as possible.

VW California interior

VW California interior

So, what’s in my camper van ?

Our kit broadly falls into the following categories:

  • bedding
  • personal effects
  • camping equipment
  • cooking equipment
  • food
  • books, electronic items and games.

It goes without saying that almost everything except bedding, personal effects and books etc. is permanently stored in the van.

Bedding

  • Duvalays (our ‘best buy’ – used in preference to sleeping bags or sheets/duvets)
  • pillows
  • duvet / blanket (taken when it’s cold)

Personal effects

  • clothes (each member of the family has their own small bag/rucsac, or in my daughter’s case … a small suitcase)
  • a bag of everyone’s shoes and walking boots (one of the large blue Ikea bags)
  • coats
  • swimming things (summer)
  • hats and gloves (winter/spring)
  • wash kits
  • towels
  • first aid kit
  • sun tan lotion & aftersun (yes, even in Scotland …)
  • Skin so soft (for the Scottish midges …)

Camping equipment

  • Vanorak (waterproof roof cover for insulation, rain cover)
  • driveaway awning (only taken if we’re going away for a week and it’s likely to be wet or hot)
  • small 2-man tent (in case we want the tent option, or we have guests)
  • chairs for the kids
  • bucket BBQ, charcoal and firelighters
  • cheap single gas burner (from Go Outdoors – to cook smelly food outside)
  • multipurpose waterproof bucket (Ortlieb – see photo below)
  • sun tent (for sunny weather on the Continent – never used in Scotland !)
  • solar lights (for sitting outside on a balmy evening – abroad only)
  • wind break (for on site – only taken for a longer trip)
  • hook up cable
  • clothes line and pegs
  • small brush and shovel
  • scented candles (to keep away insects)
  • hose to refill the water tank
  • tools / gaffer tape
  • levelling ramps

Cooking equipment

  • cutlery
  • bread knife, veg knife, corkscrew, sporks, tin opener
  • ‘nest’ of stainless steel pans (£2 from a charity shop)
  • griddle (for frying/heating)
  • cafetiere (can’t live without real coffee !)
  • whistling kettle
  • mains kettle (when on hook-up to save gas)
  • old oven glove (wrapped around the cafetiere to protect it when travelling)
  • collapsible colander
  • mugs
  • melamine cups, plates & bowls (all Cath Kidston)
  • plastic chopping boards (£2 for 3 from Ikea)
  • tea towel
  • J cloth, scrubby cloth and washing up liquid (all in a bag)
  • rolls of foil, cling film, kitchen towels, ziploc bags

Food [NB  We tend to buy as we go but make sure we take the basics from home in a plastic box]

  • olive oil
  • assorted spices (in a single ‘shaker’ with separate compartments, bought from a camping shop)
  • filter coffee
  • tea bags
  • sweet chilli sauce
  • garlic
  • parmesan
  • stock cubes
  • soy sauce
  • dried chillies
  • milk
  • wine
  • nutella
  • pasta
  • assorted tins eg chopped tomatoes, sweetcorn, baked beans
  • diluting juice

Books, electronic items and games

  • maps
  • guide books
  • books
  • kids’ toys
  • iPods/iPad and chargers
  • camera
  • DVDs (our headrest mounted DVD players are a permanent feature)
  • notebooks and pens
  • torch
  • games (eg Monopoly, Scrabble, cards)
  • passports, tickets and money
Back seat organisers

Back seat organisers

Ortlieb multifunctional waterproof bucket

Ortlieb multifunctional waterproof bucket

Compact gear - collapsible waterproof bucket, colander and griddle pan

Compact gear – collapsible waterproof bucket, colander and griddle pan

Where do we keep everything ?

We’ve experimented quite a bit with finding the best places to pack our stuff within our VW California.  Currently, this is where we tend to put things:

Right hand kitchen cupboard:

  • cooking equipment (pans, plates, mugs, etc)

Left hand kitchen cupboard:

  • box of food on top shelf
  • camping equipment below (eg collapsible bucket, solar lights, small brush and shovel)

Wardrobe:

  • clothes bags x 2
  • spare duvet or blanket (winter)
  • towels

Bench seat drawer:

  • clothes bags x 2
  • camera

Top cupboard:

  • games
  • guidebooks

Rear cupboards:

  • wash kits
  • swimming things (summer)
  • hats & gloves (winter)
  • sun tan lotion / aftersun (all in one bag)

Boot (above shelf):

  • Duvalays x 4
  • pillows x 4
  • coats (on top)

Boot (below shelf):

  • I have a 64 litre plastic ‘camping box’ of odds and ends – see photo below (this contains eg 2-man tent, hook up cable, clothes line & pegs, water hose, tools, gaffer tape, crab line, BBQ tongs, number plate sign to reserve our pitch if we don’t have the driveaway awning with us etc.)
  • driveaway awning (only for longer trips – takes up too much space and frankly unnecessary for us for weekends away)
  • kids’ chairs
  • BBQ
  • levelling ramps
  • bag of shoes and walking boots

Back seat organisers* (one on the back of each front seat) and pocket in the back of the front seat:

  • maps
  • kids’ toys
  • iPods / iPad
  • spotty table cloth
  • notebooks and pens
  • torch
  • books

* purely functional rather than aesthetic (!), £5 each from Asda.

Front door pockets & glove compartment:

  • first aid kit
  • iPod chargers
  • valuables (passports etc)
Box of camping equipment

Box of camping equipment

64l camping box stored in the boot

64l camping box stored in the boot

42 Comments on “What do you take in your camper van ?

  1. Excellent post! It’s amazing how much stuff a family requires. We got our bus for the same reason as you, to cut out the 3 hr prep before we head out for a night or two. We camp a lot more now! I remember heading out as a solo man with just a blanket, stove, a few pots and pans, and a load of spare parts. I don’t have room the the latter anymore. Speaking of which, I don’t see spare parts on your list! lol

  2. Thanks ! Now that I reflect on this post it does seem like a lot of kit – but remember that most of it is already stored in the van and so packing isn’t the chore it used to be with a tent. (And there’s no need to take a tent, table, lilos, cooker, gas, coolbox etc with a camper). It’s really only the bedding, clothes/shoes and books etc. we need to pull together before a trip away.

    It’s also worth pointing out that our gear list here is pretty much the same for a either a weekend or a fortnight away – I just wouldn’t bother with the hassle of a driveaway awning, windbreak etc for a weekend trip.

    Spare parts ?? That’s what a 3-year warranty and VW European-wide breakdown cover are for !

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  4. Great, comprehensive post! I have just got my mercedes sprinter back from the garage, finally fixed and now looking forward to kitting it out – your advice will be heeded, thanks 🙂

    • Hi Mike,

      Thanks for stopping by and good luck in kitting out your van. Up until now I’ve relied on lists of camping stuff to take when we go away but this post was slightly better organised !

      I like your music, by the way, having had a look at your website. Soothing and relaxing … definitely inspired by nature.

      • Thanks very much I’m glad you like it. Hope you have a great summer of camping 🙂

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  6. Please make a post about the “driveaway awning”. Which manufactor? How does it work? How much space do at take when packed? (etc).

    If you allready have done so, please point me in the right direction…

    • Hi Henrik,

      Thanks for your suggestion. I haven’t done a post on driveaway awnings yet but I’ll look into this and write something soon – probably once I’ve returned from holidays.

      There are quite a lot available in various styles and I find that people have various uses for them. However I’ll try to provide some reasonably objective views. So thanks for the suggestion and watch this space !

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  8. Thank u for your fantastic insight
    We are hiring a 1971 vw campervan in a few weeks and looking forward to it
    Never been in one before so had no idea what is involved
    Most stuff will be provided but still helps
    Thanks

  9. Great informative site. I’ve just bought an Autosleeper symbol ES – bit bigger than yr camper but have already spent 10 days wild camping in Scotland – wonderful. I take large microfibre towels which are thin and easy to dry, machine washable floor mats (great for muddy boots), foot towel for wet/dirty campsite shower floors, dual shower gel for hair/body and ALWAYS Avon SSS for keeping midgies away.

    Have you or anyone else tried the new Duvalay topper with integrated sleeping bag?

    • Hi Jane,

      Thanks for stopping by. I agree with your other suggestions – especially microfibre towels (or the ultra small/light pack towels you can get from backpacking shops) and Avon Skin So Soft (for midges).

      Yes, we have Duvalays – the best accessory we’ve bought for our camper van. I’d thoroughly recommend them as a luxurious step up from sleeping bags and much less faff than sheets etc.

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  12. Hi there, great post! I’m getting my T5 in a couple of weeks and like you I enjoy Kayaking, just wondering what rack system you have on the roof?

    • Hi John,

      Mine’s an inflatable for occasional use but I think others use the Karitek system. It would be worth doing some more research to see what other options there are too.

  13. Thanks for posting this! We collect our campervan tomorrow before heading off to Folk East for the weekend for it’s first outing. Very helpful list, thanks. It’s been some years since we camped.

    • Glad to hear it ! I hope you have a great weekend, the music’s good and the sun shines. Thanks for the feedback.

  14. Nice post and very nice website! Which thickness are your duvalays? There are three different ones and I am not sure which one to get. Recently ordered a Cali and looking forward to visit Scotland next summer. Thanks! Chris

    • Thanks Chris ! Ours are 4cm mattresses with 4.5 tog (summer weight) duvets. They’re a good compromise between luxury and size – we fit four side by side on the rear shelf of the California. 5cm would be very comfortable (but bulkier) but we find 4cm more than adequate – the kids often have their best nights’ sleep in the van. And I see Duvalay have a 25% sale on at the moment so even better !

  15. Great post. It’s so useful to read what other take in their vans. I was amazed how much kit we needed for a 2 week holiday. We pretty much live in our awning so, after spending over an hour unloading all the kit after the trip, the awning and all the furniture etc go in a large lockable box which sits on a tow bar mounted frame. It makes unpacking when we get home much easier and reduces the risk of forgetting anything.

    • Thanks Andy. I’m amazed how much stuff we still seem to have to take away with us as a family. Still, it’s so much less hassle than taking a tent away !

      • Its the security and comfort that most appeals to me, the awning is a useful space for during the day but no tent will ever better sleeping on a ‘proper’ bed.

  16. Love your blog, we are new to camper vans and and wish to use duvets our question is what do people put down on / over the seats to protect them when sleeping? Thanks Ian & Meg

    • Hi there,

      The seats definitely need something to hide the bumps and humps. Most people use a memory foam topper which provides comfort and warmth. Comfortz and Duvalay both sell them, among other suppliers. These will then either fold up or can be rolled to be stored during the day. The thicker they are, the comfier (I think ours are 2″). Hope this helps!

  17. So glad I found your page. It’s given us a lot of useful tips. We too are new to camper vans and have a T5 which we are hoping to start converting early next year; so excited 😉
    We have already started to get little things together but our next big thing will be our duvalays. Nice to read in a November post that duvalay have sales on – think I may just wait….
    It’s good to learn from others what kind of things to take, mainly so we don’t take too much stuff. We’ve been advised to do our conversion in stages so the roof and roof bed, heating, electrics and carpet lining are going to be first – this gives us time to test the van and work out exactly what we want/need before taking the plunge with the interior. We are considering putting our units on the passenger side like your California as we have a twin slider but also having the facility to use both doors…. Going back up the page now to read your post on awnings…. 🙂

  18. Loving your blog, with renewed excitement this time as I’m swapping my T4 for T5 Cali. I have a question about the duvalays:
    As you carry 4, I assume you are using them top and bottom. How do you go on getting them up into the top bed (through the hatch and then rolled out)?
    Also, are you using the single duvalays? The website is showing them as 66cm wide. How do they fit along side each other when deployed, both top and bottom.
    Finally, can I just check you are just using the duvalays only….that you don’t need the duvalay AND a mattress topper?

    • Hi Peter,

      I think you’ve made a good choice in going for Duvalays – we find them really comfortable.

      We have four single ones (66cm). Widthwise, they’re perfect for the roof bed and lie side by side without touching the sides of the roof. However, since the wardrobe makes the downstairs bed a little narrower, the Duvalays curl up the sides perhaps just 5cm each side. You might find this inconvenient if you’re planning on using the downstairs bed all of the time (in which case, phone Raskelf and see if they’ll make a Duvalay with a cut-out; I know they used to do this). However, when we’re away as a family we tend to swap around sleeping upstairs/downstairs, while keeping our ‘own’ Duvalays, so we’re quite happy with the width and don’t find this an issue.

      You don’t need a separate topper since Duvalays have a memory foam base and duvet on top, stitched on three sides. We bought the 4cm memory foam depth which we find very comfortable. I know they take a little squeezing in to get four side by side (lying down) on the rear parcel shelf in the Cali and so if you choose to go for the 5cm thickness you may need to have two sitting vertically and two lying down on the parcel shelf.

      Finally, while we have single Duvalays you can also choose to make them up as a double bed. You lay them side by side with the open side facing the middle, then wrap the duvets over each others. This effectively gives you a double bed with a double thickness duvet.

  19. We are just waiting on delivery of our new T5 which will then go for conversion.
    I’m aiming at making it a very close copy of the Westfalia/California as I’ve found this to be the most efficient plan … especially for tall people
    Thanks for your list. It’s very well organized.
    After 17 years off the road I’d forgotten many of the most obvious things on the list.

  20. I have
    Just bought a small motorhome today and can’t wait to get started , Didn’t take into consideration all the items needed for a weekend away . brilliant blog !

  21. Great list thanks. Can I ask have you experienced any problems with the standard netting in the roof letting in the midge?

    • Thanks. Yes I’m afraid the netting in the Cali’s roof isn’t midge-proof. I just keep the windows zipped up if there are midges about and I haven’t been bothered by any coming through the ventilation windows right at the top. Some other owners I know have made homemade midge netting for the roof windows and sliding door by buying finer mesh netting and sewing it on top of the standard window netting.

  22. I love your list I’m a listmaker I have 10 yes that’s not a miss print 10 kids I love them dearly inc my stroppy teenagers too x if lists weren made we’d forget lots xx
    happy camping vicki cambridge

    • Wow! You’ll need to be super organised with 10. I’d need a list of them tattooed to my arm so I could check them all off every time I went out !

  23. Very useful article. We are looking at hiring one for the weekend with a view to buy so your post has really helped. With a little toddler I am trying not to pack too much but it’s hard!

    Thank you

    • That’s a good age to take kids along – they’re fairly malleable, easy to please and don’t take up a lot of space (although toys and other accessories often do!). When our kids were younger we found camping holidays great (as long as the weather wasn’t too wet); kids make their own friends easily, giving you some time to relax. Thanks for taking time to comment.

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