9 Must-Have Camping Essentials for Small Campers

We’ve been on the road with our ultra-light Ford Transit Connect custom camper van since March of 2017. That’s given us enough time to get a good handle on what camping essentials we need, what we think we need, and what we definitely don’t need.

If you are headed out on an epic road trip or are simply looking for some new gear ideas for your small camper, this list is a good place to start.


Camping Essentials
Photo by vandalsgirl via Instagram

1. Rechargeable Travel Battery Pack

Being able to power our laptops, phones, fans, and travel gear on the go is key–we use this battery daily.  We went with a GoalZero Yeti 400 because it’s well made, has a lot of cool add-on features (like a solar panel), and is totally plug-and-play.  

Price: $450


Camping Essentials

2. In-Dash Cell Phone Holder

We have gone through so many cheap cell phone holders in the last couple of years, so we were relieved to finally come across this durable option. The link is for the exact one I got for our ‘15 Ford Transit Connect; you’ll also need to get the mounting bracket, which is super easy to install.

As an aside: the idea of removing your dashboard cover might be an unsettling prospect, but we found the process to be quite simple. Just pay close attention to the instructions and invite a buddy, if you can– it’s a bit of a ‘2-person job’.

Price: $30 for Mount, $40 for Holder


Camping Essentials
Photo by campovans via Instagram

3. The Skeeter Beater

Having a pest control plan is a key part of the camping experience and apart from citronella candles and bug spray, we needed something to help protect ourselves from mosquitos and ticks when sleeping in the van–two things these nets do a good job of. As a plus, the magnetic screens work really well to amp up airflow, even in non-buggy environments.

Price: $55


Camping Essentials

4. LED Van Lights

These lights look great, are crazy cheap, and last forever on a few AA batteries.  We use them every single night we camp. Just enough soft light for reading before bed or late-night work sessions.

Price: $11


Camping Essentials

5. Fire Starters

Having been a Boy Scout when I was younger, I always pride myself on being able to start a fire with only a match…or better yet, a flint and steel…or better yet, a stick and bow… Nevermind.  That said, sometimes you just gotta get the fire going right away.  A friend of mine made us a batch of these DIY starters and they work great, even in damp or rainy weather.

Price: Free!

Camping Essentials

6. Travel Towels

We brought a couple bath towels with us from our apartment when we first started on the road but found they didn’t dry well and got grungy really quickly.  So we picked up a couple of these ultra lightweight microfiber towels. The texture is definitely something to get used to, but when it comes to drying quickly, these really are the best game in town.

Price: $18.50


Camping Essentials

7. Dehumidifier

Unfortunately, air flow, or lack thereof, can be a real problem in small campers– it can get pretty damp in there, especially at night.  This rechargeable, portable dehumidifier does a great job of removing moisture in the air. In fact, we’ve slept with the windows rolled up during storms on several occasions and never had to deal with mold, mildew, or pooling.

Price: $30


Camping Essentials

8. Window Covers & Sunshade

Our Transit Connect is a passenger model, which means we have 8 windows (versus a Utility which just has 4). So far, we’ve been happy with the extra light, but we initially struggled with privacy, especially at night.  

To remedy this, we used some Reflectix to make our own simple window cutouts for the cabin of the car and picked up a Sunshade for the front windshield. This combo keeps the van quite cool during the day and serves as our de facto ‘insulation’ at night.   

Price: $65


Camping Essentials

9. Powered Fans

We got two of these 12V fans because they plug right into our battery pack while we use the other electrical outlets to power everything else.  They are basically two PC fans but they move the air around just enough so that it is very comfortable for sleep, even in up to 80-degree weather.

Price: $17


Stay tuned for even more camping essentials and, as always, if you have some of your own that you would like to recommend, feel free to add your picks in the comments section below!



  1. Jason Schwab says:

    Mike, thank you for posting your “how to” on the conversion of your transit. So many good ideas. I look forward to any new and updated vlogs.

Leave a Reply