Reading a recent forum post in which a tyro tower asked what additional equipment was required to fully equip a caravan set me thinking. I’ve already listed some of the items that we purchased (here) but thought perhaps it would help to expand a little on the basic necessities, those items that fall into the must have category, as it may be of help to others about to start caravanning.
Caravaners have been known to joke about the shed that they have filled with useless or discarded purchases, such jokes are often rather hollow and self-depreciating, so take care not to fill your shed, or at least not to the extent that I have.
I suppose the first item on a list such as this should be consideration of your car. Is it suitable for the purpose and does it have a suitable tow-bar and electric socket fitted that matches the plug on your caravan? There is a very useful website into which you can enter the details of both your car and caravan to help you decide if they are a good towing match, TowCar.info
Now may also be an appropriate moment to read my notes on insurance. Have you told your car insurance company that you have fitted a tow bar and intend towing a caravan? They may not be interested, but it is as well to find that out now rather than when you want to make a claim. Caravan insurance is quite cheap, and in my view worth having given the value of your caravan even though it isn’t mandatory.
This is also a good place to ask if you have you got the correct licence, and recommend that you attend one of the excellent towing courses available. I did, before I collected our first ‘van and consider it money well spent, but then I’m very good at spending money!
Back to the kit. When buying a caravan, new or used, you may be offered a “starter kit” by your dealer comprising some of the bits I’m about to describe. These are usually good value and therefore generally worth having unless you have the time to search the second-hand market.
One aspect worthy of constant consideration and repetition is that of weight, for operating a caravan is akin to being on a permanent diet; forget it for just one moment and your weight increases insidiously. Constant vigilance is called for, so join the Caravan Weight Watchers.
The group of accessories considered here are those items strictly necessary to the operation of your mobile home, other optional accessories must be your choice.
So, in no particular order:
Battery: This is not always essential depending on your caravan and its intended use, which is possibly why they are rarely supplied with a new caravan. However, most people in the UK opt for one, and your dealer will certainly be keen to sell you one.
You will not need a battery if (a) you intend only staying on sites with a mains electricity supply, normally referred to as an electric hook-up. (b) you don’t intend to have a motor-mover fitted, and (c) your caravan maker say you don’t need one. Check your caravan’s manual on this last point. If you decide that you must have a battery then take the weight into account and not just the price. If you fall into (a) or (b) then a small battery will probably suffice. Further battery advice can be found here.
Hook-up lead: This is the electricity cable you will use to connect your caravan to an on-site electricity supply, one should come with your caravan as standard equipment. In the UK we use leads fitted with a 16 amp blue euro plug and socket. The socket connects to your caravan, while the plug goes into the external site socket that will be found adjacent to your pitch. When used correctly these leads are waterproof. The cable should be a 3 core 2.5mm in size and 25m in length, normally coloured orange for visibility. In use they should be fully uncoiled to discourage overheating. I have a plastic drum to wind the cable onto when it’s not in use to keep it tidy and manageable.
Steps: Another essential that doesn’t come with a caravan and is something you will need unless you have either very long legs or a low caravan. It should be strong and stable, for it will get a lot of use. We have a two-step aluminium unit that suits us, it replaces a rather poor plastic example that now resides in my shed. I also brought a set of pads that fit on the bottom of the legs, these help stop them sinking into soft ground, but if you only plan to stay on hard surfaced pitches you won’t need such an accessory.
Gas Bottle: You will have to obtain one or two of these to suit your proposed life style. Normally one cylinder of around 6kg gas capacity is a good starting point. Try and hire a light-weight cylinder if available. If you feel that your gas usage is going to be high then consider buying a refillable cylinder such as a Safefill, it will save money in the long run, and take some of the financial grief out of buying a refill.
Water Container: You will need a method of bringing portable water to your caravan. On site this is generally achieved by carrying a container from a tap to your caravan and using a flexible pumped hose to connect to your van. The hose with a built-in pump should be supplied with your caravan but, perversely the container will not. We use an Aquaroll, which is a popular design that comes with an aluminium handle that allows it to be easily pulled along. Some sites offer a “fully serviced pitch” which will have a dedicated water tap for you to connect to, for these you will need a water hose and float valve to connect to your Aquaroll similar to that illustrated here.
Waste: (grey) water container. What goes in must come out! In our case it comes out into a Wastemaster, a wheeled, tried and tested waste water tank. In addition to this type of tank short lengths of flexible hose and possibly a “Y” connector will be required to connect the drain outlets on your caravan to this waste tank.
Watering Can: I find one helpful when filling the toilet flush tank, ours is a cheap plastic version that holds about 4 litres.
Drinking Water Container. For those that don’t wish to drink from the caravan’s system as we do.
Chemicals: There are three types that I carry. (1) Toilet tabs, one of which is dropped into the toilet cassette tank after it is emptied. This chemical can also be bought in liquid form, which can be cheaper but is also bulky and heavier. (2) Pink fluid, a small amount is put into the toilet flush tank when it is refilled, for no other purpose, as far as I can tell than to keep my wife happy as she says it smells nice. (3) Puriclean to clean and purify our stored water containers and water system at the start of each tour. There are other makes and versions of these products, as well a wide variation in prices, so shop around.
Bedding: I have listed this under essentials because I assume that you will want to sleep in your van at some point. The choice is yours, anything from silk sheets to sleeping bags will do. We use Duvalays but they are quite expensive and don’t appeal to everyone. Remember when selecting your bedding that modern caravans are efficiently insulated and generally have a central heating system, we have never been cold in our van, even in winter.
Toiletries: I’ve included this heading only as a memorandum. Some caravaners never use their ‘vans ablution facilities, preferring to use those available on most sites, whilst we are at the opposite end, and prefer to make full use of ours, so rarely visit site facilities, therefore toilet paper and shower soap are near the top of our list.
Kitchen Things: Your life style will affect your selection of items under this heading. We almost always prepare our meals in our caravan and therefore have a full compliment of utensils, your use of your van will no doubt differ, you may take all your meals at Claridge’s for all I know! I suggest you consider weight and bounceability when choosing what items to buy; also remember that you will have a restricted electricity supply, so high wattage electrical items are best left at home.
Tools: I carry a small tool box with essential items for general maintenance in it. Actually that’s a lie, it’s too big, overloaded and bloated with junk! But I tell myself that’s OK because I carry it in our car and the junk is sometimes useful. I must make time to clear it out because it really is too heavy.
Spanner: for your gas bottle connection. Just to confuse everyone the gas bottle hose has a left-handed thread, but this doesn’t mean that you have to have a left-handed spanner.
Spare Wheel: Caravan’s get punctures occasionally so they normally come equipped with a spare wheel. Perversely they don’t always come with a wheel jack, so if yours is similarly unequipped you need to either learn the art of caravan levitation, buy a suitable jack (more weight), or follow my lead and take out membership of a breakdown rescue service that looks after caravaners. My excuse is that I can’t even lift a spare wheel let alone change one. I use the Mayday service accessible through the CMC. One other point here, if you intend to fiddle with spare wheels and nuts then you will need a torque wrench fitted with the correct socket spanner to allow you to get the wheel on and off – yet more weight.
I also recommend the use wheel nut indicators, see blog.
Spirit Level: When you pitch up with your caravan it’s much nicer to live in if it is set-up level. In any case the fridge needs to be reasonably level to work, as does the sink to allow the water to go down the plug hole; and you won’t have to cling to the side of you bed to stay in it. There are many technical things to aid levelling, including very expensive (and heavy) accessories that will do it for you automatically. For cheapskates like me a normal short tradesman’s spirit level will do very nicely, cheap as chips and no battery to go flat.
Corner Steady Handle: You should have received one of these with your van, they work but are a bit laborious. The energy challenged among us keep one as a back-up and use a small battery powered electric drill and extended spanner for this tedious job; I know, more weight, but it can travel in your car. Don’t forget the charger!
Security Devices:I use a simple wheel clamp and tow hitch lock in order to comply with the requirements of my insurance company. I wrote about them here.
Towing Mirrors: Not essential if you have a very wide car and an extremely narrow caravan but few of us have so you will almost certainly need a pair in order to admire the traffic stuck behind you. I bought a pair from Milenco that clamp onto my cars mirrors.
Cleaning Kit: This may range from a dustpan and brush to a full valeting kit, it’s your choice. We carry a Dyson battery powered vacuum cleaner that we now consider essential.
Club Membership: Not strictly necessary, but recommended, at least to start with. We are members of both the Caravan and Motorhome Club and the Caravan and Camping Club. This may seem extravagant but we do use the facilities from both as well as using their sites when touring, especially their affiliated CS and CL sites.
Levelling Wedge: You will need one of these if your pitch slopes from side to side to chock up the low wheel. The problem with buying one is that they are sold in pairs! Some of us make do with a home made version constructed from wood. I got around the problem by leaving one of the pair in my shed. If you pitch on a gravel pitch sometimes it is possible to scrape a depression for the “high” wheel to settle into.
So that’s the caravan essentials dealt with, quite a list.
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