The gear you need to have in your caravan before you hit the road in the essential gear guide for first-time caravanners.
Buying a brand-new caravan, or one that is new to you can be one of the most exciting events in your life. And once you’ve brought it home, there will be a mad rush to take it away for that first caravanning holiday. Before you head off, there is a fair bit of gear you’re going to need to take with you to ensure your first and subsequent caravanning adventures are as comfortable and trouble-free as possible.
Here is our list of basic but essential caravanning gear that you should stock up on before you tow your pride and joy out of the driveway.
Most of the appliances in your caravan will require electricity, either 240-volt mains or 12-volt. Either way, connection to a 240-volt mains outlet is essential. Caravan parks almost always have a 15-amp power outlet at your site. Problem is, it may not always in a close or convenient location. You will need at least one 20-metre, 15-amp extension cord and we would recommend you carry and addition cord as a spare. This way, if the power outlet is more than 20 metres away, you have an extension. What’s more, if you manage to damage one cord, you’ll have a spare. While we’re on the subject of 240-volt power, there may be times when you will need to connect to a standard 10-amp powerpoint. For this, you will need a device that protects the 15-amp caravan from overloading the 10-amp connection. An Ampfibian or similar product is the only safe and legal way to do this.
Caravans have all the modern conveniences of home including a shower, washbasin and, most certainly, a kitchen sink. You are likely to have a hot water system as well. These will require the caravan to be connected to a water mains tap, again, conveniently provided near your site at the caravan park. You will need at least one 15-20m hose with sufficient fittings to connect it to the tap and to the water inlet of your van. Again, we would recommend having an additional hose both as an extension and a spare. Remember to have a joiner connection. Do not use a normal garden hose as this will taint the taste and odour of the water. Ensure you only purchase hose suitable for drinking water. While it’s not an absolutely necessity, an inline water filter/purifier may be useful if your destination relies on bore water.
All the wastewater from your sinks and showers needs to go somewhere and, chances are, your caravan will have a greywater outlet. Now, unless you want a great puddle of smelly water near your van or worse on your neighbour’s site, you’ll need a greywater diversion hose. There are a few types available but we’ve found the lightweight hose sold for household greywater diversion to be the best. Just make sure you have the right plumbing connections to attach the hose to the greywater outlet. You can read more about greywater by clicking here.
Once you’ve arrived and parked your van on your site, you will need to secure it. Most caravans are equipped with a rudimentary handbrake, but you should not rely on these exclusively. A set of simple wheel chocks placed against at least one wheel, preferable two, will ensure your caravan doesn’t roll off the site. You may also find the site is not completely level so include a set of levelling ramps in your kit. A selection of small wooden blocks will also be useful.
Not every caravan park site will have a nice clean concrete slab outside your van. Most will be grass, gravel or just dirt. In these conditions, walking in and out of the van will bring a considerable amount of dirt inside and, if you’re a clean freak, it will drive you nuts. A good quality ground mat will be invaluable. You should also consider purchasing a good quality doormat as well. We’ve been very impressed with Muk Mats we reviewed recently.
The awning is a constant source of frustration for many novice caravanners but it needn’t be if you remember to take a few extra items with you. Importantly, for a roll-out awning, make sure you have the special hook tool that allows you to reach the strap to pull out the awning otherwise you’ll be searching for a ladder to reach it. Once the awning is out, it’s a good idea to secure it with a couple of guy ropes and tent pegs so remember to pack them as well. A rope suspended from one arm of the awning to the other makes an excellent makeshift clothesline. If you have a wind-out awning, make sure you have been equipped with the winding handle, and don’t put it down in long grass ‘somewhere’. Double top tip: make sure you have the winder for your stabiliser legs also.
If your caravan is equipped with a toilet, or even if you intend to carry a portable toilet, you will need to empty the contents at some point and, trust me when we tell you, left untreated that waste can be extremely unpleasant. Special chemicals are required and there is a considerable variety available. Whichever ones you chose, ensure you follow the directions carefully. Many caravan parks rely on septic tanks for sewage and using the incorrect or improper dose of chemicals can destroy the vital bacteria they rely on. If you want to know more about the mysteries of the toilet cassette, check out our guide by clicking here.
You may have noticed that your caravan is a fair bit wider and taller than your tow vehicle. This means it will be quite difficult to see down alongside the van with your car’s standard mirrors. For this reason, you must fit extension mirrors to your tow vehicle. These will allow you can to see any passing traffic approaching you from behind and it will ensure you do not attract any unwanted attention from the local constabulary. There are many styles to chose from. Our guide will help you decide which is best for you.
Watching caravanners backing into their site is a bit of a sport. Let’s be honest, it is quite entertaining watching the driver getting all frustrated as his or her guide stands in every place except where they can be seen, flapping their arms in a vain attempt to give directions and screeching stop when things get out of control. Take a tip from those who have been there before and get yourself a good set of handheld UHF radios and use them to communicate with each other when reversing onto your site. They are a marriage saver.
It doesn’t matter how old or new your van is, how well made it is or how carefully you take care of it, there will inevitably be small maintenance tasks you’ll need to perform from time to time. Screws can come loose, wires can break, and hoses can burst. You can save yourself a lot of trouble if you’re able to make minor repairs yourself. To do that you’ll need a basic toolkit. All you need is a set of screwdrivers, a hammer, a basic socket set, a large shifting spanner, a plumber’s wrench and a good multi-meter and you should be able to deal with most odd jobs. Electrical contact cleaner and WD-40 are also essential gear for keeping your trailer plugs in good, working order.
Having all the tools in the world is not much use unless you have the spare parts to replace should things break or wear out. Again, you don’t need to have a whole caravan parts store in the back of the car but having a handful of bits and pieces will mean you can deal with most repairs. Items like extra hose fittings, electrical fuses, assorted John Guest fittings, cable or zip ties, hose clamps, electrical and duct tape will all come in handy.
If your caravan is anything like ours, you’ll likely have a small collection of keys for all the hatches, doors and water tank caps. The last thing you need is to lose any of these keys and not have a replacement at hand. We maintain two sets of keys for our van. One set is kept in the van and the other is kept in the tow vehicle. We also each carry a key for the main entry door in case one of us misplaces one. Nothing worse than not being able to get into your locked van.
Even the most basic of caravans will have a number of appliances and fixtures that you will need to know how to use. Do yourself a favour and go through the manuals for your van and ensure you have one for each item. The hot water system, air conditioner, toilet, washing machine, awning, a stereo system, you name it, you should have a manual for it. It also saves you asking embarrassingly basic questions on Facebook and facing a barrage of know-it-alls telling you to read the manual. You can also download a caravan owners’ manual written by the Caravan Industry Association of Australia. Obviously, it is very general in nature but it contains a surprisingly comprehensive amount of information that is applicable to all caravans regardless of age or type. If your caravan manufacturer is RVMAP accredited, you should have been supplied a hard copy of this manual. If not, you can always download an electronic copy from the CIAA website by clicking here.
It’s the great tradition of caravanners to get together in the late afternoon with platters of nibbles, a bottle of wine and share our amazing stories of their travels. As a newcomer to the scene, don’t be surprised to receive an invitation to happy hour from a complete stranger. It’s just what we do. So make sure you have a packet of water crackers, some cheese and your favourite dip ready to go. If you see me at a happy hour, I love a nice rose.
This is, by all means, not a complete list of the gear you will need or want to take with you on your caravanning holidays. As you do more trips and talk to other caravanners, you’ll soon find out what additional gear you need and what gear ends up being dead weight because you’ll find, in time, you never use it.