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Van Road Trip Capsule Wardrobe: How to Pack Light This Summer


Whether you’re going on a month-long road trip this summer or living in your van full time, you’ll benefit from a smart strategy for your wardrobe. Maybe you’ve suffered the consequences of a hastily packed suitcase in the past, ending up with too many redundant items that somehow still don’t work well as outfits on your travels. Save yourself precious time and space down the road by putting some concerted effort into choosing your wardrobe in advance.

Minimalism is a big part of the van life philosophy, partly because of the limited living space. A capsule wardrobe is one way to approach this van life ethos when it comes to clothing. Read on for our guide to choosing the right clothes for any van life adventure.


Photography: @leisuretravelvans


A capsule wardrobe is a minimalist concept that refers to downsizing your closet and reframing your perspective on clothes. Instead of having many items that you hardly ever wear, a capsule wardrobe encourages you to choose pieces consciously that will work with many different outfits as well as be versatile for different settings.

A capsule wardrobe can be a fun challenge to set for yourself that will reward you with more space in the van, less time spent picking out outfits and washing clothes, and even a boost in creativity as you remix different items. Below, we’ll teach you how to create your own capsule wardrobe for a specific trip or your life in general.


First, decide on the amount of space you have in the van for clothing, accessories, and shoes. These areas can include closets, under-bed storage, shoe racks, etc. Taking stock of the available space will give you a much-needed idea of how much you can pack. Most importantly, stick to the parameters you set for yourself! Having a predetermined amount of space will prevent last-minute indecisive overpacking.


Ideally, our wardrobes should reflect our lives. Unfortunately, it is easy for that balance to get out of whack. For example, you might have tons of nice clothes for going out that you only wear a few times a month. Or, you might be holding onto attire for hobbies you don’t enjoy anymore. To make sure the proportions of the different types of clothes in your closet match the proportions of the activities in your life, ask yourself: what are the main activities you do or will be doing on the trip? Will the activities be dressy or casual? Indoor or outdoor? What climate will you be working with? Do you have hobbies that require particular gear? Write a list of ways you’ll spend your time, including running errands, going to nice restaurants and museums, socializing, working out, and anything else you do. Next, write down the frequency of each activity. As you craft your capsule wardrobe, keep these proportions in mind.



One of the biggest misconceptions about capsule wardrobes is that they are all neutral, boring clothes. In actuality, you can still have fun with your sense of style. The limited number of items can even spur creativity as you are forced to remix things in completely new ways. While it is true that versatile basics will be the foundation of a good capsule wardrobe, you don’t have to stick with all neutral colors and simple silhouettes. Try to work in a few eye-popping items in your favorite colors. Or, play with the silhouettes of either your tops or bottoms. Don’t shy away from patterns like stripes or florals which can pack a stylistic punch while still coordinating almost anything.


Since you will already have fewer items in your wardrobe, you don’t have to feel bad about splurging on nicer-quality clothing. Look for good construction, durable and performance materials, and timeless styles over trendier pieces that are expensive solely because of their name brand. Because you will have fewer garments overall, each item will need to stand the test of time, including many wears and washes.


For the most functional wardrobe, you’ll want to choose things that don’t need to be ironed. Materials like jeans, leather, and many synthetic fabrics like Tencel and Spandex won’t wrinkle and will look great even after being rolled up in your drawers or storage. Avoid any garments that need to be dry cleaned or washed with special settings. Also, steer clear of clothing items that look or feel dirty easily as you won’t be able to wear them as much between laundry days. Pro tip: consider packing a set of lightweight undershirts that don’t take up much space in a drawer and can be worn under other tops to avoid having to wash the tops as often.



Now that you know—at least generally—what you’re looking for, it is time to start crafting your capsule wardrobe. Narrow down your options by checking which items work with each other. Ideally, every top you pack should work with every bottom you pack in the same category (e.g. city clothes or outdoor clothes). For example, if you have seven tops and four bottoms that all work together, you can create 28 different outfits. You can check if the outfits will work by laying them out on the bed or floor and mixing and matching different tops and bottoms. Throughout this process, try on outfits to make sure you like how they actually look on your body. Also, consider layers and choose one jacket that will work with everything else you wear.


Rely on small pieces to supplement your capsule wardrobe without taking up a lot of space. Statement accessories like scarves or collapsible fabric bags can add color and character to simple looks. You can also transform an outfit from day to night, and from casual to dressy, with your choice of accessories like jewelry and shoes. However, shoes can quickly take up more space than you bargained for, so be sure to edit your choices down as much as possible. For example, you might bring one pair of athletic footwear for hiking or exercising, a casual and comfortable pair of sneakers or sandals for exploring cities, and—if you must—one fancier pair of shoes. On the other hand, make sure you have plenty of underwear and socks since they don’t take up much space and will prevent you from having to do laundry as often.


Whether you are trying to narrow down your closet for good or simply looking to pack light for a trip, you will make better decisions if you give yourself plenty of time to develop your capsule wardrobe. Separate your closet into two sections, clothes you are considering adding to your capsule wardrobe, and those you are not. You can start with a very small selection on the “yes” side, then add anything else you realize you need as you go about your daily life. That way, you can feel confident that your capsule wardrobe has had a bit of a test run before you leave home or take the plunge and donate the “no” items to your local thrift store.


Photography: @storytelleroverland 


Returning full-circle to our first tip, you’ll need to revisit the closet and storage space in your van as you pack. Make sure there is a specific place for each item you want to bring with you. Hanging storage pouches can transform unused wall space in the back of your closet into safe havens for all of your accessories. For more advice on camper van storage and organization, check out our tips. Lastly, consider outfitting your van with a clothesline you can set up outside for small items you wash by hand.

Van life offers the freedom to vacation or live full-time exactly how you want to. You can explore everything from glittering cities to remote nature, and stay at each location for however long you want. Creating a capsule wardrobe with the tips above will ensure that your wardrobe is as functional and flexible as your van is.

Have you tried out a capsule wardrobe before? How did you like it? Let us know in the comments! To join the van life revolution today, visit Rec Van.