If you’re new to renting camper vans and living life on the road, it may feel a little overwhelming as you get to know the ins and outs of #vanlife. Especially the vanlife terms.
But never fear — renting with GoCamp is fun, easy, and accessible for campers of all experience levels! While we do all the heavy lifting for you, familiarizing yourself with common van lingo is important for understanding the key parts, pieces, and functions of your camper van. It’s also critical for finding the right type of campsites and amenities during your trip.
Plus, it’s easier to connect with other folks in the vanlife community when you know what they’re talking about!
Guide to Vanlife Vocabulary
From knowing the ins and outs of your van to how to responsibly get rid of waste and more, don’t hit the road in a camper van rental without learning these essential vanlife terms.
The VW Westfalia camper van is often referred to as the vanlife term “Westy.” It was first introduced in the 1950s and has maintained its popularity within van culture for decades.
The Westy camper is designed with loads of storage, kitchen amenities, and a couch that converts into a bed. While there’s plenty of room to kick back and relax, no space is wasted. It’s the perfect campmobile for life on the road!
Like the name suggests, this refers to the roof of the camper van that can pop up when you want it to. There are different designs of pop tops — some pop at an angle, some pop straight up, and some where only a portion of the roof pops up.
The next time you rent a pop-top camper, take advantage and enjoy the fresh air the open-top can bring in during the evenings.
And while all camper vans in GoCamp’s fleet are meticulously taken care of, make sure you know how to properly seal a pop-top roof (and don’t forget to close it up before a storm!).
The only real challenge that comes with the high-top roof is you’ll need to pay attention to height limits when entering parking garages. It can also reduce gas efficiency and potentially be more difficult to load gear on the roof.
The height of this style of camper shouldn’t keep you from your dream outdoor destinations. High-top camper vans can also be lower maintenance than pop tops, are well-insulated, and can provide more protection from the elements and animals!
Whenever you hear a camper van owner talk about the chassis of their vehicle, they’re referring to its frame or support structure. This is the part of the van that bears all the stresses (holds the engine, supports passengers and luggage) and is crucial to on-road performance and safety.
As a renter, it’s important to understand how the chassis will impact your travels — whether it’s durable for more difficult roads or severe weather, and how much weight it can withstand. If you’re traveling with a handful of people or have lots of gear to store, you’ll likely want a van that has a larger chassis.
When you rent with GoCamp, our team will help answer any questions about your camper van’s chassis to choose the model that best fits the needs of your trip.
The wheelbase of a camper van is the horizontal distance between the centers of its front and rear wheels. This can give you a good idea of how much interior space there is in the van.
Short wheelbase camper vans have a typical wheelbase of 18’ to 19’, while long wheelbase vans range from 20’ to 22’.
Shore power is commonly used when referring to ships and boats plugging into the AC electrical grid or main supply. It’s also used when RV owners and vanlifers need to charge up their rigs.
Using shore power is especially handy when you’re wanting to run anything electrical in your camper van — the AC, kitchen appliances, lights, etc. This helps preserve fuel and keeps your batteries charged up for when you’re ready to hit the road again.
For some folks living the van life, boondocking — also known as dispersed camping — is the ideal setup. This means being fully off the grid, with little to no amenities (no electric hookups, water, dump tanks, and sometimes WiFi).
If you’re a van lifer who enjoys the road less traveled and wants to avoid paying campsite fees, boondocking can be the way to go. Just be sure your camper van is fully stocked with everything you need!
Bonus: If you ever hear a fellow camper use the term “dry camping,” that basically means boondocking — the only difference is that folks who are dry camping might go to both developed and primitive campsites, but not use any hookups.
Simply put, an inverter converts DC (direct current) power into AC (alternating current) power. AC power can’t be stored but DC power can — in other words, the inverter takes the power stored in your camper’s batteries and makes it usable for things like appliances, USB outlets, and fans.
Living in a van for any period of time usually requires a solid inverter, especially if you’re looking to go boondocking or dry camping or otherwise aren’t plugging into a campground’s shore power.
The next time you wash the dishes, pay attention to the color of the leftover water. It’ll likely be some shade of gray. That’s where gray water gets its name!
Gray water refers to all the water used in your camper van, except for the toilet. So any shower water, dishwater, or laundry water that hasn’t been contaminated with waste.
Campgrounds will often have dedicated areas where you can dump gray water. If you’re boondocking, you’re typically allowed to dump your gray water on the ground — just double-check the rules before and make sure there isn’t any solid waste in the water.
Black water is the bathroom (human) wastewater that must be kept in its own tank and disposed of properly.
When renting a camper van, expect to empty the tank before leaving a campground. Use designated dump stations at the parks and campgrounds.
But what about when you’re boondocking? While gray water can often be dumped on the ground when you’re free camping, that’s not an option with black water. As you hit the road, find an interstate rest stop or truck stop where you can dump your waste.
An outfitter is a person, shop, or company that specializes in the design and construction of camper vans. These can be folks who create custom conversion campers or design larger-scale productions.
You can filter your search results on GoCamp by builder, or outfitter. As an example, you could rent a camper van converted by builders such as Boho Vans, Outside Vans, or VanLife Customs, among many others.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is a federal agency that manages over 240 million acres of land in the United States, and offers lots of opportunities for camping.
Most BLM land is free to camp on with no need for reservations. This includes National Parks, developed recreation areas, and open lands. Wilderness areas are often also open to camping but can come with some restrictions.
What to Pack For Your Next Camper Van Trip
Now that you’ve got the most important camper van terms down, it’s time to perfect your camping list! GoCamp takes all the hassle out of the planning process for you — and that includes packing your van life essentials. Learn more about what we include with every camper rental and what you should pack for your next trip!