Necessary Gear Needed For Free Camping - Native Campervans

Necessary Gear Needed For Free Camping

Gear Free Camping

Dispersed camping, also known as free camping, is simple enough but still requires one to have the basic necessities and gear to be adequately prepared. If you plan to go more than a couple of times a year, you’ll want to invest in quality gear.

There’s a whole section of the internet dedicated to Overlanding and dispersed camping gear, and it can be pretty overwhelming. However, we’ve broken down the bare essentials needed to have a killer time while freedom camping in a camper van.

Necessary Gear Needed for Free Camping

  1. Bring Water
  2. Pack Food Accordingly
  3. Adequate Shelter
  4. Recovery Gear
  5. First Aid
  6. Light Source
  7. Warm Clothing
  8. Offline Maps


When free-camping, you won’t have any amenities, so make sure you either have enough water for the entire trip or have a water-purifying source. A water purifying source like a Sawyer Filter, Lifestraw, or even water purifying tablets is a great thing to have regardless. Additionally, bringing a 5-7 gallon jug of water, we recommend Reliance Products, is always a safe bet.

Pack Food Accordingly

Unless your plans include a catch and cook, you’ll want food, obviously. Pack more than you need, just in case. Having an extra day’s worth of food may seem silly when you’re just on an overnight near the road, but it’s always good to prepare for the “what if’s.”

See our article 10 Mikes to Avoid on Your Next Roadtrip for recommendations on food storage.

Adequate Shelter

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For many disperse campers, shelter is the vehicle you came in. However, if you’re 6’4 driving a Subaru Crosstrek, you’ll likely want other accommodations. Depending on the weather, if you aren’t sleeping in your car, a rooftop tent, ground tent, hammock, or tarp can all be great options. Whether the weather is perfect or miserable, a campervan is a perfect shelter, especially for more than one person.

Always pack gear for 10 degrees colder than the posted weather report. Frequently dispersed campsite temperatures aren’t representative of what’s shown on the nearest location on your weather app. Even if you’re camping in your car, it’s better to be too warm than too cold. Tailor your sleep system to your individual needs.

Recovery Gear

This may just be a shovel for emergencies for first-timers doing an easy drive. If you’re more serious about it, maybe you want traction boards and a winch. Whatever you choose should match the trails you plan to drive and the vehicle you’re piloting. If you plan to be out of cell service, some sort of satellite phone like a Garmin inReach may be a good idea. If nothing else, bring a spare tire and a tire patch kit.

First Aid

Bring a basic first-aid kit and learn how to use it. You’re better off with a small first aid kit you know how to use than a 200-piece kit you fumble through. You don’t need to be Dr. House; you just need to be comfortable with all the basics. A small multi-tool may be helpful to pack with your first aid kit. It doesn’t have to be anything crazy; most campers can get away with a mini Swiss army knife.

Light Source


Yes, your campfire will give you light if you have one. However, you likely won’t have it burning all night. At a minimum, have a headlamp. A light bar that you can magnetize to your car is a great choice, especially if you’ll be cooking after dark.

Warm Clothing

Layers are your friend when camping. A packable jacket that you can toss in the back seat is a great backup layer for warmer weather. If it’s going to be colder, dress appropriately and err on the side of being too warm. You can always take off layers as needed.

As a backup, an extra change of clothes, especially socks, is helpful. It may sound unnecessary for many campers to have a mylar blanket or emergency bivy, but they take up next to no space and don’t cost that much. You’ll likely never need them, but you never want to be without them.

Offline Maps

Cell service is unpredictable; even if says the campsite gets cell service, it’s never guaranteed. You don’t want to be stuck driving around looking for cell service instead of enjoying your trip. Download your maps offline so you won’t have to worry about whether you have cell service or not.

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How do I get started?

Well, the answer to that really depends on what you have around your house. If you’re already set up with most of the gear listed and you have a car you can sleep in (or a tent for better weather), you’ll be ready to do some free camping.

If you don’t have the gear necessary, it can require a hefty bill to acquire everything needed. Yes, you could skimp on a few things, but it’s less than ideal at best (and potentially unsafe). If you don’t want to buy tons of gear before free camping for the first time, try renting a campervan!

Campervan Rental Options

With three sizes, there’s definitely something to fit your needs and budget! All campervans come with 100 included miles per night, basic insurance, and all cooking and bedding essentials.

The Smalls – Seats 2, Sleeps 2

Best for: those who pack light and go far

You may have heard the Rudyard Kipling excerpt “He travels the fastest who travels alone.” If you like to set out on the open road and figure out where you’re going on the fly, The Smalls is the van for you. With room to sleep two, you aren’t required to travel alone (and you can go as slowly as you’d like). If you’ve got a long road trip planned, pulling into dispersed camping spots along the way will prevent established campsites from eating away at your budget. Regardless of whether you’re solo or with someone else, at 28 mpg on the highway, you’ll be able to cover miles economically.

This is likely the best pick for the first-time campervan renter in general. As the name suggests, this is the smallest option and drives more like an SUV than a full-sized campervan. If you’re someone who loves to cook or hang out in their van for extended periods of time, size up to the next campervan.

The Squad – Seats 4, Sleeps 4

Best for: the social butterfly

What’s a campervan road trip without friends? If you love the solitude of free camping but want the company of friends, The Squad is your compromise. Not a great cook? Take a friend who is (or try your hand at it anyway). With a unique built-in kitchen, there are few creature comforts you’ll be missing.

This is the best pick for families or professionals on the go. With an optional rooftop tent, you can see the stars while dispersed camping. When you need to buckle down and get some work done, the interior table becomes your mobile office. For parents on the go, The Squad has car seat capabilities. At 25 MPG on the highway, this isn’t too far behind The Smalls in terms of economy. If you plan to spend lots of time in the van, size up to the next model with a high roof.

The Biggie – Seats 2, Sleeps 2

Best for: the full-timer

You’ve seen these beautiful pictures on your Instagram feeds of campervan rear doors open to the sunset. You’ve seen the shots of vans completely alone in deserts that look like other worlds. If you want to try your hand at full-time van life without committing to buying a van, take The Biggie for a spin.

This is the best pick if you want all the creature comforts of van life. This is the high-roof version of the Ram ProMaster, so you’ll have more headroom than The Squad. Want to visit unique and exciting dispersed camp spots every day? The Biggie has room for you, your stuff, your van life dreams, and then some!

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