25 Van Life Kitchen Essentials for the Ultimate Van Chef

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Deciding on what to take and what to leave behind can be one of the hardest decisions when it comes to embarking on your van life expedition. When you have spent most of your life in an apartment or house, it can be hard to whittle down your treasured possessions to just the essentials. The longer you think about it the more you really can’t part with that croquet set your grannie gave you last Christmas or that turtle neck you haven’t worn for a couple of years…but might down the road.

Deciding what should make the cut for your van life kitchen is no different, and so we have created this van life kitchen essentials list to help you make the hard decisions when it comes to that crockpot you’re considering packing.

When we are not out hiking in a new national park, reading a book on the beach, or exploring a new city, you can probably find us in our van life kitchen doing a bit of cooking. This list includes all of the van life kitchen essentials that have been key to creating the best van life cooking experiences on the road. You might not agree with everything on our list and you may have your own approach when it comes to cooking on the road, but, if you planning on doing any cooking on your trip you’re sure to find something useful here.

The Basic Van Life Kitchen Essentials

These are the van life kitchen essentials that we think you absolutely should not leave home without. The imperative implements, the useful utensils, and the critical cookware. Basically, the bits and pieces to turn you into a bonafide Gordon Ramsay on wheels!

Note: If you find this list of the top 25 van life kitchen items helpful, consider purchasing one of the recommended items using one of the links in the article to help support us and to keep the blog up and running!

12-V Compressor Fridge

Perhaps the most important addition to your van life gear is a 12-volt compressor fridge. Having the ability to keep things cold while traveling is a true game-changer when it comes to your van life kitchen. We know from experience.

We traveled through South and Central America with a 12-volt thermoelectric cooler. It was ineffective and inefficient. We found that we stressed out over keeping cool more than we should have.

We have also traveled with a cooler and ice before, and again it is more stressful than it’s worth trying to plot ice melt and food spoilage.

A 12-volt compressor fridge makes things 1000 times easier and makes living in a van full-time feel more like living at home. Not having to worry about ice melting every time you open the cooler for a beer? …Priceless!

The best brands on the market today are Dometic, Engel, and ARB. Selecting your brand of 12-volt fridge, however, is a personal choice. Things to consider when deciding which one is best for you are storage capacity, energy draw, and of course price. Beware a 12-volt fridge comes with its own challenges and considerations when it comes to wiring and power supply.

A camp stove is one of many van life kitchen essentials.
A decent van life cooker is an easy way to improve your van life cooking

Camp Stove

A camp stove perhaps is the second most important van life kitchen essential that you need unless you’re planning on chowing down on cold beans every night! If you plan to spend as much time cooking for yourself as we do, then deciding on a camp stove may be a tough decision. How many burners? How many BTUs does each burner have? How big is the camp stove, can you fit two large pans on it? These are all of the things that you should consider when deciding on a camp stove to take with you.

In the US, we absolutely loved our Camp Chef Everest Stove. In Australia, we have been enjoying our Companion brand high-heat extra-wide cooker.

Water Storage

Water storage is an obvious addition to your van life kitchen essentials list and one that should be considered during your van build. It is best to carry a minimum of 5 liters per person to last you a week, but personal preferences and space should be considered when assessing how much water you should carry with you. If you plan on showering regularly, you may need more. If you plan on being out in nature without access to a water supply for regular refills, you may also need to carry more than you would if you stuck to more traveled areas.


If your van life kitchen does not have a built-in sink, then make sure to pick up a bucket for your travels. We have traveled with a collapsible sink and a non-collapsible sink. Both have their pros and cons when it comes to storage and durability, so just choose the one that is right for your setup and space.

Van Life Cooking Equipment

Van life cooking can be enjoyable as long as you have the right cooking equipment. Here is a list of our must-have van life cooking equipment to get you started.

Quality Cast Iron Dutch Oven

A quality cast iron dutch oven doubles as two cast iron pans and provides a versatile way to cook using your stove. Stews, casseroles, soups, braises, pasta, risottos, everything tastes better in cast iron and a dutch oven gives you the possibility to a wider variety of meals on the stove.


From boiling water to cooking up pasta and rice dishes, a decent saucepan with a lid is an essential component to the van life kitchen.

Cooking overlooking the Atacama Desert
Sharp knives are van life kitchen essentials when cooking on the road.

Sharp Knives

Having at least one high-quality sharp knife in your van life kitchen is going to be a little luxury worth its weight in gold. There is nothing more frustrating than prepping a meal with a blunt knife.

Cooking Utensils

This one seems obvious, but we find that we always leave home without at least one of these basic kitchen cooking utensils that we need/would like to have. A shortlist of our go-to’s for our van life kitchen essentials are:

  • Spatula
  • Wooden spoon x 2
  • Serving Spoon
  • Slotted Spoon
  • Tongs
  • Whisk
  • Peeler
  • Can opener
  • Scissors

Silicon Measuring Cup

Unless you want to be forever guesstimating quantities you need for your van life recipes, we recommend grabbing a silicon measuring cup.

Sturdy Cutting Boards

Sturdy cutting boards are a must. We use our cutting boards not only for the obvious but also as additional platters and plates when serving up a large feed or when enjoying a cheese platter with our wine.

We have our own long-running argument over whether plastic or wood is the way to go, but either way a couple of sturdy reliable cutting boards are essential!

Collapsible Colander

While you can probably get by without one, a colander will make your life a bit easier for cooking pasta, potatoes, and more. We carry around a collapsible colander for ease of storage and we use it regularly.

A zester and a lemon. A zester has a range of applications, doesn't take up much space is one of our favorite van life kitchen essentials
A zester has a range of applications, doesn’t take up much space, and is one of our favorite van life kitchen essentials. Photo credit: Didriks.


A zester simply elevates your cooking experience and this is why it deserves a spot on the van life kitchen essentials list. We use our zester for ginger, garlic, limes, lemons, and cheese.

Van Life Dining Essentials

Having the right cooking essentials is only half the battle. The other half? Making sure you have the necessary tools to get the delicious food into your bellies. Here are the things to make sure you pack before hitting the road to ensure you can enjoy all of your van life cooking.

Enamel Plates, Bowls and Cups

Can’t take fine china in the van but don’t want to eat off plastic plates either? Enamelware is the solution and has been the solution for camping gear for while. Enamel tends to hold up better and can withstand the bumps of the road without becoming damaged. Plus, enamel plates just class up the joint a little.

Enamel bowls are a must on any van life kitchen essentials list!

Eating Utensils

Unless you’re planning on eating with your hands, a set of utensils is a must! We carry three of everything just in case we have a visitor (rare) or we lose an item along the way. Our van life kitchen essentials eating utensils include:

  • Knifes
  • Forks
  • Spoons
  • Teaspoon
  • Steak knives

Vanlife Kitchen Essentials for Food Storage

Staying organized and keeping things fresh in a van is key. Here are our favorite vanlife kitchen essentials for food storage.

Food Storage Containers

Once you have faced your first mouse in the van (and while I pray it doesn’t happen to you, it will) you will thank me for adding food storage containers to your van life kitchen essentials list. After our first mouse encounter, we scrambled to find enough milk jugs in the car and empty containers to mouse-proof our supplies while we tried to catch the little bugger (which, in a hilarious 3-day romp à la MouseHunt, turned out to be a family of mice).

Making sure your food is kept in airtight containers will not only keep the pests out but will also make sure that your food is kept fresh for longer.

Collapsible Tupperware

Our routine is to make meals that will result in enough leftovers for at least another meal or two, so making sure that we have reliable tupperware is important to us. We absolutely love our collapsible tupperware and recommend every van life kitchen includes these clever containers. We have a range of four different sizes from 250 ml to 1 liter and use them all regularly.

Beeswax Paper

Probably not the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about a van life kitchen essential list, but beeswax paper is a great addition. Beeswax paper helps keep your vegetables fresher which is vital when living in extreme climates that your vegetables will face being kept in a vehicle all of the time. It can also be used to wrap sandwiches or other perishable foods.

Other Must-Have Vanlife Kitchen Essentials

There are always other kitchen items that really don’t fit into a category but ones that you absolutely must-have. Ours include a Bialetti Moka pot for coffee, wine and bottle opener, absorbent dish rags, and the handiest of all, a fire extinguisher.

Bialetti Moka Pot

A Moka Pot, van life essentials for coffee fanatics
A Moka Pot, van life essentials for coffee fanatics

Bialetti Moka Pot

Probably one of the most important additions to our van life kitchen essential list is the Bialetti Moka Pot. We literally do not go anywhere without ours and teared up a bit that time someone stole our Bialetti Moka Pot in Ecuador.

The Bialetti Moka Pot makes a mean morning brew and comes in a variety of sizes. Choose from smaller easy-to-store pots to the jitter-inducing 12-cup pot. If you are a coffee fan(atic) like us, make sure your van life kitchen essentials list includes one of these!

If you don’t love strong coffee, the Aeropress travel coffee maker is also a great option for life on the road!

Bottle Opener/Wine Opener

One (if not two) bottle and wine openers should be included in your van life kitchen essentials. If you lose one, you definitely want to have a spare!

Dishtowels and Sponges

An easy item to forget is a quality dishtowel and dishcloth. Making sure you don’t skimp on these van life essentials is important if you plan to be cooking and by extension washing and drying a lot on the road. We use a washable dishcloth for the washing up and a quality absorbent, dark-colored dish towel for drying.

close up photo of fire
Carrying a fire extinguisher is essential if you are cooking in your van

Fire Extinguisher

While not something you necessarily consider for your house kitchen, when your stove is so close to your bed, your car, and all your worldly possession having a fire extinguisher in your van is imperative. We have used our extinguisher once to put out a fellow camper’s fully ablaze kitchen and cannot stress enough how important packing one of these is!

Optional Van Life Kitchen Essentials

This is a list of things that we have in our van life kitchen, while they are not exactly essentials they sure are nice to have. We love to cook (and eat) and these few option van life kitchen essentials allow us to hone our culinary skills even on the road.

Van life routine of morning coffee
Taking time to grind your own beans for coffee might not be essential but it’s a nice weekend ritual

Manual Coffee Grinder

Not a van life kitchen essential, but a manual coffee grinder will elevate your van life kitchen experience for weekend brunches. We only pull ours out on the weekend and enjoy some freshly ground coffee as a treat from our everyday van life experience.

Knife Sharpener

You may think that you do not have enough space for a knife sharpener, but if you can fit it in it, keeping your knives nice and sharp is an easy van life cooking hack.

Wine Glasses

Sure, you COULD drink your wine from the same mug you use for water, coffee, and everything else in between, but how elegant is that?

Packing away a couple of stainless steel or plastic wine glasses makes it feel less like a camping trip and more like a real home.

whole spices are a great addition to any van life kitchen
Whole spices and a grinder are a great addition to any van life kitchen.
Photo credit: lorises

Spice grinder

Definitely an optional van life kitchen essential, but one that we absolutely love. Freshly ground spices are always better than their pre-packaged ground counterparts. If you are looking to spice up your van life cooking, then definitely grab one of these manual spice grinders before heading out!


We hope this van life kitchen essentials list will help you get ready to embark on the adventure of a lifetime! We absolutely love to cook (and to eat) and our van life kitchen is an important part of our everyday life. If you think we have forgotten a van life kitchen essential, let us know in the comments below!



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  1. I thought this was Van Life, not take everything you own & use in your regular home life. Spice grinder? Two wine openers? Fancy, heavy & breakable dishes? Nah, this article did nothing to help us learn “have less, live better.”

    1. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. Sorry it doesn’t float your boat. I think this is the first time we have ever been accused of living too bougie! Nevertheless, we love cooking and eating and this handful of creature comforts has made the last four years living from the van and now from the boat all the more enjoyable. Of course, your packing list should reflect you so tread your own path, these are just ideas from our lives, I don’t expect them to apply to everyone. But, when it does come time to plan your packing list, make sure you include a couple of items that make you happy not just the practical stuff! Enjoy your travels!