Living off-grid in a van can be an incredibly freeing experience. It allows you to travel wherever and whenever you want—without worrying about finding a place to stay or being tied down to one location. Off-grid living also means being self-sufficient, which means you must have all the essentials for sustenance and comfort. 

For first-time builders, we recommend starting with these eight must-have items:

  • Quality Insulation
  • Proper Ventilation
  • Inventive Storage Solutions
  • Solar Panel Kits & Electrical System
  • Rain Harvesting Equipment
  • Security Cameras or Dash Cams
  • Secure Storage for Firearms
  • Propane Heater & Induction Stove

Van builds can be as simple or complex as you want them to be— it all depends on your needs and preferences. But regardless of how big or small your build is, these items are essential for all first-time van builders! This article will review all eight must-have items you should include in your first van build and give you some simple suggestions. By the time you’re done reading this, you’ll know exactly what you need to do to get your van build started off on the right foot.

1. Quality Insulation

It’s worth repeating – You need quality insulation in your van builds! Not only will it keep you comfortable in extreme temperatures, but it will also help regulate the temperature inside your van, which means your air conditioning and heating won’t have to work as hard (and use up more power) to maintain a comfortable temperature. 

Insulation is one of the first things to check off the list in your van build, and there are a few different ways you can do it. The most popular method is to use spray foam insulation, which can be easily applied to any surface. Spray foam insulation is great because it’s easy to apply and can fill in all those hard-to-reach spaces that other types of insulation might miss. 

Other popular options to use are Thinsulate or Reflectix insulation, which come in rolls and are easy to cut and install. These are also both very effective at blocking out both hot and cold temperatures. 

However, Thinsulate and Reflextix are typically more expensive than spray foam insulation, so keep that in mind when making your decision. Good insulation is crucial for keeping your van warm in the winter, and if you’re like us at Ski Bum/Van Life, you’ll definitely encounter your fair share of tough terrain and frigid temperatures!

2. Proper Ventilation

Proper ventilation is also important for regulating the temperature in your van. Make sure you have some sort of ventilation system in place to keep the air flowing. This can be as simple as opening a window or door when you’re parked or installing a more complex system like an RV fan. Proper ventilation can: 

  • To maintain your van’s interior temperature
  • Help eliminate moisture buildup, which can cause condensation. 
  • Combat any unpleasant scents and pollutants that may be present.

Another option is to install a manual roof vent or fan-assisted roof vent, which will automatically help circulate the air in your van. Manual roof vents are inexpensive and easy to install, but they do require you to open and close them manually. 

Fan-assisted roof vents are a bit more expensive, but they’re completely automatic—just make sure you buy one that’s the right size for your van!

3. Inventive (and Convenient!) Storage Solutions

Minimalist, off-grid living requires some serious organization and inventive thinking when it comes to storage. If you’re tight on space, there are a few things you can do to make the most of the storage space you have. Some of the most practical and convenient storage solutions for your van are: 

  • Blackout curtains, bug curtains, bungee cords, cargo nets,  and other hanging solutions to keep your things in place while you’re driving. 
  • Baskets and under-bed storage for all your smaller items.
  • Storage bins for your Flybird Fitness gear
  • Under-seat storage compartments for things like emergency gear, first-aid kits, and tools.
  • A roof rack or cargo box for larger items that won’t fit

One option is hanging organizers for items like clothes, towels, and cleaning supplies. This frees up floor and counter space for other things, like a kitchen or bathroom. You can also use stackable containers to maximize space and keep things organized. 

And if you’re really short on space, consider using walls and ceilings! There are all sorts of creative ways to utilize every inch of your van build.

Ski and outdoor gear storage is a must for any winter-loving van lifer. If you want to keep your gear organized and out of the way, consider using a ski and snowboard rack. These racks can be mounted on the ceiling or walls of your van and can hold all sorts of gear, from skis and snowboards to kayaks and SUPs.

4. Solar Panel Kits & Electrical System

If you want to be able to live off the grid, you’ll need to invest in a good solar panel kit. This will allow you to generate your own electricity so that you can run all of your appliances and devices without having to hook up to a power source.

A good electrical system is essential for any van build. Not only will it allow you to power all of your appliances and devices, but it will also help you stay safe while on the road. A quality electrical system will include: 

  • A good set of batteries (lithium-ion batteries are the best for van builds)
  • An inverter to convert DC power to AC power
  • Solar panels and a charge controller
  • Wiring and circuit breakers

Solar panel kits usually contain everything you need to get started, including solar panels, a charge controller, batteries, and wiring. These can be expensive, but they’re worth the investment if you want to be able to live off the grid.

5. Rain Harvesting Equipment

If you’re living off the grid, then you’ll need to have some sort of rain harvesting system in place. This will allow you to collect and store rainwater so that you can use it for things like washing and cooking.

There are a few different types of rain harvesting systems, but the most common one is a gravity-fed system. This type of system uses gravity to pull the water from a catchment area (usually a roof) and into a storage tank. These systems can be simple or complex, depending on your needs.

The Tank Depot offers a wide variety of rainwater tanks, from small to large. They also offer a variety of accessories, like pumps and filters, to help you get the most out of your rainwater harvesting system.

6. Security Cameras or Dash Cams

If you’re living in your van, then you’ll need to be extra vigilant about security. That’s why we recommend installing some sort of security camera or dash cam. This will help you keep an eye on your belongings and deter would-be thieves.

Rexing is a popular dash cam brand that offers a wide variety of cameras, from basic to high-end. Their V1P Dual Channel Dash Cam model is a great option for van lifers, as it offers high-quality video recording. Rexing also offers a wide variety of security, wildlife, and smart home cameras, so you can choose the one that best suits your needs.

7. Secure Storage for Firearms

If you plan on keeping firearms in your van for self-defense or hunting, then you’ll need to have a secure place to store them. This could be a gun safe or a lockable cabinet. There are a few things to consider when choosing a gun safe, such as: 

  • The size of the safe (you’ll need one that’s big enough to store all of your firearms)
  • The type of lock (electronic or combination locks are usually best)
  • The weight of the safe

SecureIt Gun Storage offers a wide variety of gun safes and cabinets to fit your van. Depending on the space you have, you can choose a small safe that holds a few firearms or a larger one that holds up to ten or more guns, ammunition, and gear.

8. Propane Heater & Stove

A propane heater is a must-have for any van build. This will allow you to stay warm in the winter months without having to use electricity. There are a few different types of propane heaters, but the most popular one for van builds is the Mr. Heater Little Buddy

This heater is small and portable, making it perfect for van life. It’s also easy to use and doesn’t require any electricity, so you can save your power for other things.

A propane stove is another must-have for van life. This will allow you to cook your meals without having to use electricity. There are a few different types of propane stoves, but the most popular one for van builds is the Coleman Classic Propane Stove. This stove is easy to use and doesn’t require any electricity, making it perfect for van life.

If you’re looking for a more versatile option, then an induction stove is the way to go. These stoves use inductive heating for cooking food, which is much more efficient than traditional methods like gas or electric stoves.


Whether you’re just starting your first build, are upgrading your current setup, or are a seasoned veteran, these essentials will help you get the most out of your van build. 

Whether you’re living off-grid during winter conditions to take advantage of local skiing or are hitting the road for a cross-country adventure, make sure you have these must-haves to stay comfortable and safe. By having these items, you’ll be prepared for anything that life on the road throws your way.