Glossary of Vanlife Terms
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. Vanlife terms in particular can be confusing.
Not to worry. Renting a camper van 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 a “Westy.” It was first introduced in the 1950s and has maintained its popularity within van culture for decades.
The Westy is compact, nimble, and drives more like a car than an RV. It’s designed with loads of storage, kitchen amenities, a pop top with bed, and a back bench seat that converts into a second bed. There’s plenty of room to kick back and relax. No space is wasted.
For an analog adventure, be sure to check out the Westy options GoCamp has to offer when you’re ready to rent your next camper van.
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 with others 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.
When you rent a van with a pop top the owner will show you how to open and close it properly.
A camper van with a high top allows you to stand up at all times. The high top usually also allows for extra storage. If you travel with a family or animals, this can be super useful.
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.
High-top camper vans can also be lower maintenance than pop tops and are typically well insulated.
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. It holds the engine, supports passengers and luggage, and is crucial to performance and safety.
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, or plugging your van into the electrical outlet in the campground, is especially handy when you want to run anything electrical in your camper van, like the AC, kitchen appliances, or lights. When you use the shore power to power things you aren’t draining the battery, which is important if you were going to do something like boondocking.
For some camper van enthusiasts, boondocking—also known as dispersed camping—is the ideal setup. This means being fully off the grid, with little to no amenities and no electric hookups, water, or dump tanks.
If you enjoy the road less traveled and want to avoid paying campsite fees, boondocking could be perfect for you. Just be sure your camper van is fully stocked with everything you need before you head off into the middle of nowhere.
Simply put, an inverter converts DC (direct current) power into AC (alternating current) power. AC power can’t be stored but DC power can. 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 go boondocking and 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. Double check the rules before you dump your gray water and make sure there isn’t any solid waste in the water.
Black water is the human wastewater that must be kept in its own tank and disposed of properly.
If you rented a camper van with a toilet, expect to empty the black water tank before leaving any campgrounds. 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 boondocking, 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. GoCamp is proud to be the only peer-to-peer camper van rental company that offers the option to search vans by builder. Head to the Try Before You Buy page for more information.
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.
With GoCamp camper van rentals, everything you need is included: bedding, dishware and cookware, camp chairs and more. Rent one of our fully outfitted camper vans and you’ll get to spend less time on the boring packing and more time on the fun stuff, like planning your adventure. Learn more about what we include with every camper rental by clicking the button below.