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Collage of some of the things we consider to be summer van life essentials

Best gadgets for surviving summer in a van 2023

Vanlife has been romanticised online for quite some time. Effortlessly chic photos of scantily clad girls in their beautiful vans, on a secluded beach, have been an Instagram staple for what feels like forever. These photos have taken the internet by storm, and single-handedly made living in a van look like a little slice of paradise! And for the most part, it is! But this my friend is NOT the reality of spending summer in a van! Summer in a van is brutal, it quite frankly verges on inhumane. It’s a completely different beast when the temperature hits 30 degrees celsius! Don’t let all the #vanlife photos fool you, behind every Instagram post is an impossibly sweaty girl wondering if there is a cheap alternative to air conditioning! Nevertheless, we are here to help. In this post, we discuss what van life essentials will help you beat the heat this summer!


Image of a girl insulating a van

First and foremost, insulation. Although we realise this really needs to be addressed in the build phase – we still think this summer van life essential is worth mentioning!

One of the most hotly contested things when converting a van is whether or not to insulate it… and how thoroughly.

We insulated our van EXTREMELY thoroughly and we couldn’t be more grateful for the amount of work it’s doing. We used a combination of three types of insulation to create and maintain a reasonably well-controlled climate within our van. The insulation types we used include:

When it comes to insulating a van we firmly believe the more the merrier. To learn how we insulated our van, and how you can too, click the link below.

A complete guide to insulating a van

One thing we recommend when converting a van is to not take creative liberties by creating aesthetic nooks and crannies in a van, and to prioritise insulation, ALWAYS! Period.

Reflective Window Covers.

Image of a blackout reflective window cover in situ. Below is an exploded diagram of the window cover. Reflective window covers are one of our summer van life essentials.

Okay, at first we were sceptical about how effective window covers would be. We merely considered the sole purpose to be black-out curtains for our van. It wasn’t until we spent the night without them to “wake up with the sun” that we realised the true impact of a reflective window cover.

By utilising reflectix (insulating metallic substrate), the window covers are able to bounce the light/warmth to keep the heat out of your van. It essentially works in the same way as a thermos flask.

You can purchase window covers online. However, these can be expensive, and quite unattractive. So, why not make your own custom covers suited to your van’s exact dimensions (and aesthetic)?

To learn how to create custom window covers for your van, click the link below.

How to make custom reflective van window covers

If you want to purchase manufactured window covers, links will be provided below under the Make/Model of your vehicle.

12v Fans

Fans are the unsung hero of any van build. Whether it’s built into the roof, or simply plugged into a socket, they will make living in a van 100x more comfortable. They are one of the most important summer van life essentials!

Roof fan

Installing a roof fan during the build stage is essential if planning on living in a van in the summer. if possible, we recommend installing 2 fans, particularly one directly on top of the “bedroom” to avoid waking up in a puddle of sweat!

Without a doubt, the best 12v roof fan on the market is the Maxxair fan Deluxe. Although it is slightly more expensive than its competitors, the price is indicative of the quality of the product.

For more information regarding how to install a Maxxair Fan Deluxe, click the link below.

How to install a Maxxair Fan Deluxe on a van

an exploded view of a maxxair fan on the roof of a van.

12V USB fans

If you have completed the build phase of your van, there is nothing we recommend higher than a several 12V USB fans. These fans are an absolute godsend. We have 3 USB fans, 2 in the “bedroom”, and one for wherever it may be needed, an emergency fan, if you will.

There are several different types of fans at different price points. We recommend one that has a clip so it can be mounted anywhere. Furthermore, if this isn’t enough to combat the heat, consider checking out a neck fan. They may not cool your van down, but they will keep you at a comfortable temperature!

Fridge with freezer compartment

Image of a 12v fridge on top, and an image of the same fridge in situ below. A fridge with a freezer compartment is one of our summer van life essentials.

On a summer’s day, there is simply no greater pleasure than enjoying an ice cream or an iced beverage. It’s a surefire way to take the edge off the heat. However, this is only possible if you planned ahead during the build phase and purchased a fridge with a freezer compartment.

Sure, you could always go out to a cafe and treat yourself to an ice cream. But when summer heats up, you may find yourself spending a fortune outsourcing delicious frozen goods. Something that could have been avoided by purchasing a ‘better’ fridge!

We opted for the Dometic CRE65 fridge, which has a small freezer compartment. It’s not the biggest fridge/freezer in the world, but we would be lost without the freezer element of it! Therefore it is a staple on our list of summer van life essentials!

There are very few 12V fridges that offer a freezer compartment. Dometic has a range of different fridges in many sizes that also have a freezer.

Below are a few fridges we recommend. All have a substantial freezer compartment.

The fridge we have – Dometic CRX65

The fridge we originally wanted – Dometic CFF 70DZ

The fridge we would buy if we had an infinite budget (and space!) – Dometic RMD 10.5T

Ice cube tray with lid

Snowballing on the last point, if you have a freezer, you NEED an ice cube tray. Unfortunately, due to living in a vehicle, not just any ice cube tray will do the job.

Look for an ice cube tray with a lid. We personally love the ice cube trays with a silicone bottom, making the ice cubes easy to retrieve from the tray. No mess. No spillage. Perfect for van life.

Alternatively, you can use disposable ice cube bags, which also provide a spill-proof way of enjoying iced beverages in a van, all be it, slightly less eco-friendly!

Whatever ice cube tray you deem most suitable, there is no doubt that it will take the edge off living in a van in summer – that’s why we deem it to be one of our summer van life essentials!

Install an Awning

An awning is often seen as a luxurious, non-commodity. Or perhaps it’s on your wish list of things to add on to the van… eventually.

That was how we felt until we learn the sheer value of having a shady spot to sit during the day.

However, buying an awning doesn’t have to be a big, daunting purchase. There are plenty of awnings that don’t break the bank. Here are a few of our favourite awnings on the market.

BunduAwn (left), Wild Earth Deluxe (right)
The ultimate summer van life essentials.
BunduAwn (left), Wild Earth Deluxe (right)

For an unlimited budget – BunduAwn.

This amazing awning wraps around 3 sides of your van. It is also self-supported so it doesn’t require additional legs to prop it up. All in all, we truly believe this is the ultimate awning. Unfortunately, it’s not cheap, with prices starting at £1080. This price is for a 2.45m awning, the next size up is 2.95m at £1225. Neither of these sizes would be suitable for anything much bigger than a Land Rover, or small truck and therefore if you want this owning on a larger vehicle, you will need to purchase a custom size. This starts at £1375. 

For a bargain hunter – Wild Earth Deluxe Sun Canopy

This awning is certainly nothing fancy but serves its purpose extremely well. One of the great things about this awning is that it folds up extremely small, and it doesn’t require you to permanently fix it to your van. It is slightly smaller than other awnings, measuring 2.4m x 3m. It is A LOT cheaper than the majority of its competitors coming in at a mere £110.

Makeshift awning

If you are like us, and quite frankly can’t justify spending money on a glorified piece of tarpaulin, you can create a makeshift awning. This can be achieved by simply slinging a non-fitted sheet over the back doors when open and securing it in position with magnets. It’s not perfect, but it does the job until your budget allows for a fancier alternative.

Furthermore, if you spend the majority of your time wild camping, there is often very little opportunity to utilise an awning – especially if you are trying to be stealthy.

Although we don’t have an awning yet, if we were to purchase one in the future it would (without a doubt) be the BunduAwn.

Fly Screen

Prior to spending summer in a van, we thought that our only concern would be the temperature. This couldn’t be further from the truth! Bugs are everywhere in Europe, nobody is safe from being nibbled on. Therefore, a bug net is essential. Not necessarily throughout the day, but in the evening you simply won’t be able to sit with your doors open without inviting an array of insects into your van.

Much like most things van-related, bug nets can be expensive. Especially if you are looking to purchase one from Fiamma or Dometic that are specifically designed to fit your campervan. However, there are cheaper alternatives online. Failing that, you could always make your own and save yourself a chunk of change!

Discover a couple of the best fly nets around – The Dometic FlyTech FT200 – arguable the best fly screen on the market -and a standard domestic bug screen (not fitted to a camper van). Each of these has pros and cons, but ultimately they are to reflect 2 different build budgets. Personally, we can’t justify the price of the Dometic FlyTech FT200 screen, as we believe that amount of money could be put to better use… but whatever floats your boat.

Cooling Towel

This nifty little bit of kit is the perfect item to combat the heat quickly. It works through evaporative cooling. It directs the heat away from the body and leaves you feeling a much more comfortable temperature.

Simply wet the towel and shake off any excess water and you are ready to go!

Although this may sound a little gimmicky, we have found these towels to be a godsent in an extremely warm van! And best yet, they come in an array of fun colours.

Insulated cup

An insulated cup is the unsung hero of living in a van in summer. This bad boy will keep your drink cold for hours on end, even on the hottest days! This means that you are not going through the ice every 10 minutes. A surprisingly important thing to consider when you only have a tiny freezer!

We recommend an insulated cup with a straw, however, we do also see the appeal of a more traditional insulated water bottle.

Air Conditioning/ Portable air cooler.

Okay, we know, air conditioning is expensive and uses an excessive amount of power. However, there are several alternatives to a traditional bulky air conditioning unit – many of which are extremely budget friendly

We think that the perfect solution is an evaporative air cooler. These come in a variety of shapes and sizes, many of which are 12v. Evaporative coolers are perfect for cooling a small space, and have been proven to cool a room by as much as 15 degrees! They work by utilising a fan to pull hot air into the unit, sending it through a series of pads that helps evaporate the liquid into a gas which then blows out cooler than it was when it entered the unit.

An evaporative cooler is portable, quiet, and small enough to store in even the smallest of vans. So, if you are not willing to pay a premium for an AC unit – this is the perfect solution.

Living in a van, and travelling the world in Summer may sound like a dream come true. And although we do realise what a privilege it is to live in a van, living in a metal box when the temperature hits 40 degrees feels a lot less glamourous than we anticipated. For that reason we have curated this list of summer van life essentials, so you don’t go into summer as naive as we were. We want to make living in a van as easy and pleasant as possible – we suffered so you don’t have to!

Let us know of any other tips, hacks, or accessories that you have utilised to make summer a bit more bearable in a van. We are a work in progress and would love to hear your input.

If you are looking for more van life hacks click here. Or why not check out our road trip itineraries, and much more here!

If you liked this post – pin it… pretty please xoxo

Planning to #vanlife over summer? Here are our summer van life essentials we always keep in our van that make life easier and more fun on the road and help combat the extreme heat.


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