Planning a campervan conversion project is an exciting process, and it’s only natural to get a little carried away thinking about all the cool things you could put in your own DIY campervan.
However, there’s actually very few essentials that you need in a camper. In this guide we’ll show you the bare essentials you’ll need in a DIY camper conversion.
Protection from the elements:
Your van will obviously be the shell that protects you from rain and wind, but to stay warm, you’ll likely need to insulate your van. How much and what type of insulation will depend on your location and climate.
For insulation in my van, I opted for Reflectix style bubble insulation, as well as 25mm rigid foam boards.
I covered the entire van with Reflectix first (which acts as the initial layer of insulation, as well as a vapour barrier protecting the metal body against moisture). Then I added 25mm rigid foam board, followed by an air gap and another layer of Reflectix.
There are a variety of ways you could heat your van, and which one you choose largely depends on your preferred choice of fuel as well as your budget.
Electric heaters aren’t very efficient, and you’ll need a lot of battery power to run an electric heater in a van, but it can been done.
Food and water storage:
You can get away with only using dry and tinned food, but it’s likely that you’ll have certain foods in your van that needs to stay cool. A 3 way fridge is ideal, but you could also get away with a cooler filled with ice.
For water storage, you could get a fresh water tank, like the Fiamma 70L water tank [Amazon UK] I have in my van, or simply a few plastic jerry cans.
It is important to carry enough water, as this is your most valuable resource. If you’re planning on travelling off the beaten track, a water filtration/ treatment solution should also be considered.
Fuel = time, Water = Distance. – Chris Scott: Overlanders Handbook
How much and what type of food and water storage you choose, will depend on your indented use of your DIY camper. If you regularly travel through towns or cities, you can get away with only a cooler and some bottles of water, enough to get you to the next town.
If like me, you intend on spending days (or even weeks) somewhere remote, you’ll need something more substantial.
Packing up camp in a beautiful spot to drive for miles in search of water isn’t fun, especially on a Sunday when all the shops are closed in the only town in a 40 mile radius.
There are a number of ways in which you can prepare food. You could use LPG/ Propane for a built in cooker, Butane for camping style cookers, Diesel for diesel cookers (like the Webasto X100 [Ebay]) or plain old charcoal or wood for BBQ’s.
(note that some of these aren’t safe to use in a confined space, so keep this in mind).
I recommend a minimum of 2 ways to prepare food that aren’t reliant on good weather.
Electricity is an essential part of van living. At the very least, you’ll need some form of lighting in your van, but it’s quite likely that you’ll also need electricity to charge your electronic devices, run your refrigerator etc.
Your energy solution could be as simple as a split charging system to charge your leisure battery while driving, or a fully solar powered off grid camper.
I chose to go with solar. I have Photonic Universe small off-grid solar power system [Amazon UK] which has a 200W solar panel, 2x100Ah leisure batteries, 20A MPPT solar charge controller and a 1000W inverter.
This works perfectly for me in the summer, but struggled a little through the winter, so I decided to add a split charging system as well.
A good night’s rest is essential to your wellbeing, concentration and overall health, so your sleeping arrangements needs to be considered from the outset. The amount of people travelling and the space available in your chosen van will dictate your sleeping setup.
A comfortable mattress would certainly be great after a long day of driving, hiking or exploring, but you could just as comfortably sleep on an airbed or some camping mats.
I initially opted for an airbed, which is light and surprisingly comfortable, however after it got a puncture, I ditched the airbed and slept on camping mats and an extra duvet. It took a little getting used to, but it’s actually not as bad as it sounds. A good foam mattress is still on my wishlist however.
Sanitation & hygiene:
You won’t have all the comforts of home like daily warm showers and endless supply of running water, but at a minimum, you’ll need a way to wash yourself, and toilet of sorts (unless you’re comfortable doing your business in the wild).
For a shower, you could use a solar camp shower [Amazon UK] [Amazon US], where you heat the water using the sun, or a powered 12V shower [Amazon UK] [Amazon US], which is essentially a 12V pump with a shower head that runs off your van’s batteries. I have both; I use the camp shower to warm up the water, and the 12V shower to shower with decent pressure.
A portable toilet [Amazon UK] [Amazon US] is extremely useful in a van, even if you only use it for #1’s. Composting toilets or cassette toilets are also great options. I built my toilet inside a seat, so it’s totally hidden from view.
Safety and security
Since your vehicle will be your home on wheels, you’ll need to consider safety and security just like you would in a home. Your personal safety, and the security of your van and belongings should be taken seriously.
Fitting a GPS tracker [Amazon UK] [Amazon US] to your van could alert you by text message if your van is broken into or stolen, and fitting deadlocks on your doors would make it more difficult for thieves to get in.
Locking your valuables in a hidden safe (bolted to the vehicle’s body), or taking them with you when you leave will also help prevent them from getting stolen. A secret storage compartment somewhere in your van could also be used for important documents and other small valuables.
A fire extinguisher is also essential, and most insurers insist that you have one in the living area of your van. Additionally, a fire blanket nearby your cooking area is also a good idea.
Ventilation is also essential for your safety, especially if you have gas appliances in your van. You could simply open a window, or fit a roof vent.
These essentials will enable you to comfortably live in your DIY camper and have all your basic needs met. You’ll be protected from the elements, able to create and retain heat, store food and water, prepare food, have power, sleep comfortably, keep clean, deal with nature’s calls and be safe and secure in your vehicle.
From here, you can start thinking about additional features, storage and other comforts to your DIY camper.