So you’ve got someone in your life who’s living in a van and is all about minimalism and keeping things simple. It can be hard to shop when you don’t know what’s actually useful and what’s just going to end up taking up prime real estate in the cupboards. To help navigate gift-giving through the holiday season (or anytime really), we’ve put together this list of awesome van life gift ideas that any van lifer would be happy to have.
(Parents, if you’re reading this, no, this isn’t just a not-so-subtle hint…)
The holidays are all about hanging out with friends and family, eating good food, and sometimes getting random gifts that you have no clue what you’ll ever do with. When you live in a van, you really need to evaluate the usefulness and versatility of pretty much every item that earns its place in your cupboards. Because of this scrutinous process, it can be really tricky to determine what’s actually a useful gift for a van lifer. Well, we’re here to help!
A few things to consider when evaluating a van life gift idea are:
- Size – this is an obvious one — real estate is very limited so maybe hold off on that air fryer or bean bag chair for now (although having a bean bag chair would be pretty sweet)
- Versatility – this is a huge sway factor for us whenever we’re buying something new. The more we can get out of one single item, the better (as long as it does everything well, of course)
- Sustainability – most people have limited electricity from solar or a generator or no access to power at all so power-hungry appliances or things that you’ll only use a few times probably won’t make the cut
- Quality – this is a key component of living a successful minimalist lifestyle. You only need a few good quality items to replace drawers and drawers of cheap gimmicky gadgets
So with that, let’s get on with it!
1. WOOL BLANKET
While this might seem obvious, a really good quality wool blanket might be the kind of thing that the adventurous van lifer in your life may not want to splurge on on their own. Wool keeps you super toasty while also helping to regulate your temperature because it wicks moisture and holds a pocket of air against your body. Wool is also mould and mildew resistant and is truly intended to last a really, really long time.
I’m personally a really big fan of Pendleton because they’re high quality, nicely designed, and are made in the USA. The Pendleton Yakima is a classic. There are lots of other lower cost options out there too, just be sure to look at the tag that it is 100% wool. A bonus with wool blankets compared to the more outdoors-focused down blankets is that they’re versatile and can still be used in the future on a bed or a couch and don’t look like a sleeping bag — a future-thinking van life gift idea!
2. LANTERN BATTERY PACK
Yeah, headlamps are handy but this little green lantern that we got on Amazon for like 12 bucks has been such a lifesaver for us in so many situations. It’s a flashlight-lantern-battery pack with a built-in hook and magnets so you can hang it up or even stick it to the side of the van! The battery charges by USB and always lasts a suspiciously long time when you’re just using it as a light. When you’re in a pinch, you can also charge your phone or other USB device from its internal battery — it’s not a huge battery pack but it’s great to give you a boost when you need it. They don’t sell the exact model anymore but this lantern is an even more compact version and there’s also a bigger version available if portability is less of a factor.
3. BACKROADS MAPBOOK
Remember paper maps? Everyone has been all about digital maps for quite some time now but at the end of the day, there’s nothing more reliable than a good ol’ paper map (that’s current, of course). In Canada, we have Backroads Mapbooks which are amazing spiral-bound books with in-depth maps of every inch of land that show forest roads, hiking trails, and topographic information. They also come in a waterproof fold-out format but the spiral-bound book is truly an adventure bible because it is loaded with additional information like fishing regulations, trip itineraries, and local insight into the given area. Just like people used to take pride in their encyclopedia collections, we would LOVE to have a coast-to-coast Backroads Mapbook collection.
For our American comrades, there are a few different options out there. For starters, you can opt for the classic Rand McNally Road Atlas that will cover you from Washington to Florida AND will also include helpful maps of your dear neigbours, Canada and Mexico. If the van lifer in your life is all about chasing the next adventure, you can go for National Geographic’s Road Atlas: Adventure Edition. This puppy is all about getting you to the next National Park or recreation area and also includes maps of Canada, Mexico, and Puerto Rico! Finally, if you want to help take the guesswork out of your special van lifer’s trip planning, you can pick them up a MAD Map, which highlights awesome scenic drives and road trips on a state-by-state basis. Heck — get ‘em all!
Beaver fever is a real thing and it is not fun whatsoever. Drinking out of a lake or stream might seem like the cleanest water out there, but you just never know what that water has travelled over before it got to you. With the help of a handy dandy LifeStraw, you can be sure that you’re drinking clean water that is free of waterborne bacteria and parasites — without the aid of harsh chemicals like iodine and chlorine. The best part is that there are no batteries to replace and it can filter A LOT of water before it needs to be replaced (4,000 litres or 1,000 gallons is a lot more than the recommended 8 glasses a day), making it an excellent van life gift idea for any van lifer’s toolkit. You can drink directly from the unfiltered water source with the classic LifeStraw or get one of their cool water bottles so you can continue filling up and staying hydrated all day.
5. NATIONAL PARKS PASS
This is arguably one of the best gifts you could get a van lifer. Treat them to a Discovery Pass if you’re in Canada or an America the Beautiful Pass if you’re in the USA. While Canada’s Discovery Pass covers all of your day use and extended camping or backpacking trips, the America the Beautiful Pass also gives you discounts on camping at certain recreation areas. We stayed at Aguirre Springs just outside of Las Cruces, New Mexico, a while back and were able to camp for $3 a night because of our parks pass — cha-ching! This makes a great gift because knowing you have the pass definitely encourages you to check out more parks, especially the lesser-known ones that you might have otherwise passed by.
6. PACKABLE HAMMOCK
Really, who doesn’t want to relax in a hammock when you have the chance?! Instead of the typical braided rope hammocks with a wooden frame, try out one of these packable nylon hammocks that come in 1 or 2-person sizes. They’re made from super durable parachute nylon and are way stronger than they look. They’re also much more convenient compared to the old school woven ones because they pack into a small little bag and can easily be put up with the included straps, carabiners, and the help of a couple of sturdy trees.
7. CORDLESS VACUUM
There’s definitely a theme in these van life gift ideas and that’s practicality. As I mentioned above, space is so valuable in a van so every item needs to really earn its place. A broom is a staple in any van but you know you’re living large when you have a cordless vacuum. This handheld Black+Decker Dustbuster has a powerful lithium-ion battery so it will last longer and it only draws 15 watts to charge — music to the ears of those with less access to electricity. If you really want to get crazy, you can pick up a Dyson dupe for under $150 and vacuum your way into sweet, cordless heaven.
And lots of ‘em. Anyone who’s been on a multi-day camping trip or hike knows how amazing it is to know that you have another pair of dry socks with you. Wool socks are key for any outdoor adventure because they wick moisture, control temperature, and keep your tootsies nice and warm. While receiving socks for Christmas when living in the city can be a bit boring, getting good quality wool socks as a van lifer is actually a super awesome gift. An extra pair of socks is always good to have because you can always use them as gloves and for many other purposes too. These Danish Endurance socks made from merino wool would be a dream but there are also great options from brands like Carhartt and Dickies.
9. DUTCH OVEN
A cast iron dutch oven is a beautiful piece of cookware in any kitchen. Why they work so well in a van kitchen is because most vans don’t have an actual oven so the dutch oven allows you to do cool stuff like bake bread or make a hearty stew. They work great on a gas or induction stove and even better on a campfire. You don’t need to swing for a quintessential Le Creuset pot (even though they’re really pretty) and break the bank either; there are lots of other options out there that make for a great investment, like this beauty from Crock-Pot that’s less than 100 bucks.
10. AUDIBLE OR KINDLE SUBSCRIPTION
Remember what I was saying about super limited space? Yeah, books tend to take up a bit of that and are also susceptible to feeling the effects of changing weather conditions. If you’re in a van in a place that gets cold, moisture issues are inevitable and books will be the first ones to show it. So in this lovely digital age, we can now access tons of books online and read them on e-readers or iPads and only need to think about storing that one skinny < 1 cm thick item. Gifting someone a Kindle subscription is a really cool way to have access to thousands of books without having to worry about physical copies.
Further, you don’t even need to read the books anymore — you can listen to them! Listening to a podcast or audiobook is an awesome way to spend a road trip, whether it’s hearing how a murder mystery unfolds or tuning into a spicy standup special. You can gift someone an Audible subscription for the ultimate this-literally-takes-up-no-space gift of all.
11. YETI RAMBLER MUG
When you’re busy hiking up mountains and flying through the backroads, you want some nice, hot coffee ready to be sipped on at any given moment. Stainless steel tumblers have been around for a long time but lots of them leak or don’t actually maintain temperature that well. We’re not big on needing brand name everything but when it comes to travel mugs with crazy good insulation, Yeti nailed it. The Yeti Rambler Mugs are perfect for camping because they’re super durable and actually keep your drink hot. There are also tumblers that touch on that versatility thing I was talking about because you can use them for cold or hot drinks.
12. GAS CARDS
Most people who live in a van do it to travel and let’s face it, gas is expensive. For us, having a gas-guzzling older vehicle definitely holds us back from exploring every inch of road that we can find. While newer vans are certainly more efficient, knowing that your next fill up is covered is always a good feeling. A $100 gas card could be all it takes to start planning an awesome little weekend adventure.
So there you have it, some awesome van life gift ideas for the adventurous minimalists in your life. The most important aspect of all of these gifts is the thought that went into them — although some might not understand this nomadic, minimalist lifestyle, it’s really nice when others take the time to do some research and make some really thoughtful choices. Of course, the holidays aren’t all about gifts but we always enjoy being able to tell people how much something they’ve given us has come in handy or gotten us out of a tough situation. A lot of the items we have are like souvenirs of people or places and we love being surrounded by things that tell a story. With that, Happy Holidays and keep on vannin’!