Every camper van needs these 8 Van Life Kitchen Essentials: Cooking Appliances, Pots, Pans, a Baking Oven, Utensils, Dinnerware, and Coffee and Tea Fixings. Other necessities include trivets, a knife and sharpener, cutting board, and storage containers.
In this post, I share how I stock my van life kitchen. It’s minimalist and includes options for many outdoor activities. I use this set to cover everyday use, backpacking, camp cooking, and more!
Before we get started, I want to share a few quick tips to help you find a cookset that’s perfect for your van lifestyle.
Van Life Kitchen Essentials Tips
1. You don't need expensive equipment.
There’s no need to go full cast iron or invest in a new set of cookware at all! Much of what you already have in your kitchen is perfect for van life.
Here are a few questions to consider while going through your kitchen:
Does it fit on your camp stove?
Some have a wind barrier that limits the size of the pot/pan. You also won’t want a full dutch oven on a tiny backpacking stove to avoid a massive spill hazard.
Are you going for a certain aesthetic?
As a food photographer, having colors that compliment each other is important for my cookset.
What is your budget for new cookware?
You can make lots of tasty meals without fancy cookware. I recommend prioritizing a sharp knife and a good cutting board.
2. Follow the 80/20 rule.
How do you cook 80% of the time? In my van, tea and coffee everyday is a must! It’s most fuel and time efficient to use a small vertical pot like this one from MSR.
I also make a lot of soups in the winter, so a larger pot or dutch oven is important. I keep mine in the ‘garage’ (under the bed) and pull it out when I need it. Otherwise, almost everything is made in one large fry pan.
3. What’s the outside temperature?
I cook in warm weather a lot, and this is one of the reasons I don’t use cast iron while cooking inside the van. It takes longer to heat up and it stays warm longer.
Even if you shut off the heat early to save fuel, you overall have less control of the heat given off by your cookware. This can make for a very toasty van on a hot day!
4. Know your electrical system.
I have a simple solar electrical system that gives off 1000 watts. That means I cannot use any appliances at 1000 watts or over, otherwise I’ll blow a fuse. Get accustomed to checking wattage before purchasing appliances.
My blender is 600 watts, and my hot water boiler is 800 watts. I can only use the water boiler once at a time when full. The blender we use quickly and no more than twice.
Get to know your electrical system and obey its rules -- you’ll be very glad you did!
My Van Life Kitchen Essentials
In this section, I'm sharing a complete list of the cookware and appliances I use in my van. It’s minimalist for everyday use. It's also versatile for a variety of outdoor adventures.
This set includes “take out” (as in take only what you need) options to take backpacking and cycle touring! After all, many of us live in a van because we love the outdoors!
1. Cooking Appliances
> Coleman Stove + Propane + long lighter + carbon monoxide detector
I like using a stove that I can bring outside on hot days.
If you plan to use a propane stove indoors (we do about half the time), follow these 3 safety tips:
- Get a carbon monoxide detector and have it out while cooking.
- Vent your space. We open the maxx vent fan and crack a side window.
- Disconnect the propane after using to prevent leaks.
This is my go-to van blender. At only 600 watts, it runs well on my 1000 watt system. If you don't have 1000 watts, a Magic Bullet needs only 200 watts.
> Collapsible Mini Water Boiler
This is my favorite item in the van! It's super functional and collapsible. It requires 800 watts so I can only run it once in the morning and that's fine for my needs. It takes very little space in the cupboard and we use it at least once a day!
Sometimes we don't feel like getting the stove up and running in the morning for coffee and tea. If it's cloudy over our solar panels, we also don't want to use the electric water boiler.
In these instances, one of us will pop outside of the van and use the jetboil. It's super fast and also our go-to stove for backpacking.
My van cooking favorites:
This convenient and packable set is my go-to for all sorts of outdoor activities! While I originally bought it for cycle touring, we use it all the time in the van because of the fuel-efficient vertical design.
MSR makes kits for one, two, three, and four people with this design. There are also options for plates and a small pan to fit with this kit.
MSR makes lightweight and durable products all around and I highly recommend this as an outdoor staple.
I was hesitant to get a pot this large at first, but a dutch oven is a must-have. The large size allows for leftovers and it's perfect for veggie heavy soups and stews!
Many of the recipes I make in the van use this pot -- think one pot pastas, soups and stews. You can look at the step-by-step photos (below the recipe cards in each post) to see which pots and pans I use to make the recipe.
> Sea to Summit Collapsible Pot
For quick veggie soups in the winter, we needed a slightly larger pot than the MSR. This Sea to Summit space-efficient collapsible pot is awesome! We could probably do without this size pot overall, but it's nice to have for quick meals for two.
After a few months of almost daily use, the top cracked. But we purchased it from REI so we could easily get an exchange (they have a 12 month exchange policy).
Also a must! I bought mine from target, but I linked the exact one I use on Amazon. This square pan with tall sides is perfect for stir fries, fried potatoes, and most easy meals I make.
The granitestone surface also looks great for food photography. Whether cooking at home or in a camper van, I can't recommend this pan highly enough.
This small non-stick pan is stellar for eggs or other quick fry-ups on the trail or while cycle touring. We use it most frequently in the van for quick things like fried eggs or a small serving of vegetables.
It gets less use than the others, and we still find it valuable. I recommend it most for use on a backpacking stove. I take it frequently when leaving the van behind for a few days.
4. Camping Ovens
If you love baking and baked goods -- get this! As much as I love to bake, I can't justify taking space in my van for an oven.
The Omnia oven is fantastic -- lightweight, easy to use, and if you get the silicon liners, easy to clean too.
> Outdoor cooking: a large shallow dutch oven.
I am a relatively new dutch oven chef -- with all the wildfires in the west this year, there were few campfires. However, cooler winter months offer more opportunities for camp cooking!
I chose this 5 quart shallow dutch oven for a few reasons:
- 5 quarts is a perfect size for 4-5 servings of a dish, and I like leftovers
- shallower dutch ovens are better for baking -- less air above the food means more even heating
- the top is perfect for holding charcoal (necessary for baked goods) and also flips to become a griddle
Stay tuned for more tips (and bloopers) as I figure out how to master this thing!
Update: I've now used the 5 quart shallow dutch oven several times over the fire. It's perfect for cooking soups and stews and for baking!
5. Cooking and Eating Utensils
If you've seen my previous travel cooksets, you'll know this is a must! I bought it years ago and have never needed to add or exchange anything.
The plastic ones break. Buy this one and keep it forever!
> Regular set of utensils from Ikea
These are mostly for food photography and 'fancy' dinners -- like Thanksgiving! Ikea sells them in sets for only two people, which I really appreciate for the van.
A good knife is 100% necessary -- it will save you so much time to have a real chef's knife.
Some vanlifers have Santoku's or other professional-grade knives. But I would never carry those into the backcountry or on a bicycle. This one is lightweight and therefore more versatile.
> Swiss Army Multitool with wine opener
Wine opener, small knife, scissors, toothpick, screwdriver... this Swiss Army knife covers it all!
Note that you lose the phillips head screwdriver in place of a wine opener if you buy this version. I think it's a worthwhile sacrifice 😉
> Snowpeak Titanium bowl and plate
If you want a nice bowl and plate or plan to take food photos in an outdoor setting, these are key. They are super lightweight and durable.
As listed above with the pots, this covers most of our needs on a day-by-day and meal-by-meal basis.
> Several plates and bowls from Ikea for food photography
Nothing fancy, just a few simple and affordable pieces. I have 3 small-ish bowls and two plates that you see in my photography.
7. Coffee and Tea Essentials for Van Life
These are spillproof and therefore totally essential for the bumps and spills of vanlife. I like the snapseal ones better than the button because they are smaller and easier to clean.
If you don't have a cute outdoor mug, are you really camping?
> Aeropress Travel Coffee Maker + Filters
I took a long time to cave and buy an Aeropress. Like everyone says, they are totally worth it! I like this self-contained travel version for easy clean up and portability.
8. Other Van Life Kitchen Essentials
I used to have very thin flexible ones. I appreciate that this one is thicker -- it's more durable and I can use it on uneven surfaces.
The only mixing bowl I needed for 14 months on the road.
> Air-tight Plastic Containers and reused jars for food storage
> Air-tight Dry Food Storage Jars
Food Photography Essentials
> DIY food photography backgrounds
If you'd like to know more, drop a comment below or send me a message by email ([email protected]) or through social media. Mine were made at a campsite.
> Fake plant from Ikea
I like both winter and summer as a vanlifer. Unfortunately, my live plants are not so flexible! If anyone knows a plant that can withstand a broad range of temperatures, please let me know!
> 2 Cloth napkins from Ikea
Check out my One Pot Recipes for easy meals to make with your new Van Life Kitchen Essentials!
Happy eating my friend!
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