Essential Digital Nomad Gear For The Overland Traveler

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2020 can be called a lot of things, and most of us will be happy when it can be called “over.” But with everything this wild year has taught us, I think it’s safe to say 2021 will be the year of the Digital Nomad. 

Life as a digital nomad can be challenging, though there is no bigger challenge than getting started. That’s why we’ve written A Complete Guide to Becoming an Overland Digital Nomad

Once you’ve made the decision to join the ranks of those who work from anywhere, the next thing you’ll need is the gear to back it up. It doesn’t take long to realize the gear that made your office a convenient and conducive workspace, doesn’t transition that well into road life. 

In this article we share all the gear advice we’ve learned in our five years as overland digital nomads. We’re not gonna give you just one piece of gear in each category and pretend it’s the best, we’re gonna give you options. Because we love having options. 

Much of the gear on this list has been personally road-tested by us (unless otherwise noted). The alternate options we share are those we’ve researched or learned about from other digital nomads. And while this article does include some affiliate links, we do not post sponsored content on this site. That means any reviews or recommendations we share are 100% unbiased. 

Solar Power 

First things first. As an overland digital nomad you’ll need to power and charge all your devices. One option is to charge as you drive and whenever you have access to power, such as at coffee shops or RV parks. But this isn’t practical if you’re living a full-time nomadic life. You’re gonna need to charge your devices when you’re sitting still and disconnected from the grid. You’re gonna need solar. 

Now, a solar setup can be as simple or as complicated as you like, and this article is NOT a guide to adding solar to your rig (stay tuned for that one coming soon). Here we’ll cover the basic components and provide a few good options for each. 

Ideally solar is something you would have considered when building out your rig, but not everyone has that privilege. You can always add a simple solar setup to your rig at any time. For that, you’ll need just 4 components. Panel, charge controller, power storage and wiring. Optionally, you may need an inverter if you intend to charge via a standard 110 volt outlet. 

Our Solar Journey (Learning the Hard Way):

When Noami and I first got on the road we were total amateurs, and we knew very little about solar. Fortunately, our van already had solar installed, so it was something we wouldn’t have to worry about, or so we thought. Our rig was equipped with a 50 watt solar panel and a whopping 35 amp hour battery. It was enough to keep our fridge cool and nothing else. But we were running an inverter and charging two computers multiple times per day, not to mention all our other electronic devices. And we were flummoxed when our battery kept dying. 

After doing some research we learned that this was the bare minimum. We needed more power. So, going back to the internet led us to Renogy solar. The reviews were great and the price wasn’t bad either. So we added a 100 watt panel and 100ah AGM battery (we’ll give an overview of battery types in a bit). 

This setup worked much better, but we were still draining the battery far too often. So, we reached out to the folks at Renogy to see if they could help. Their engineers sized out a system based on our usage. Armed with this information, we made some upgrades: a 200 amp hour AGM battery and 300 watts of solar (3-100 watt panels). For two digital nomads, each charging a laptop, countless small electronics, and a fridge running 24/7, this proved to be everything we needed. In fact, it worked so well that we downsized to 2 panels. Though, we’ve since added a Jackery portable power station with a portable solar panel, but we’ll talk more about that later. 

Why We Chose Renogy:

There are a lot of solar brands out there. We chose Renogy Solar because we’ve found that they strike an excellent balance between quality products and an affordable price point. They also have excellent customer service, which is a big plus for us. If you’re new to solar, Renogy offers solar starter kits which are an excellent way to get everything you need to power your digital nomad life. 

We’ve gotten to know the folks at Renogy well throughout our solar-powered vanlife journey. So well, in fact, that we’ve partnered with them to give you 10% off your order at renogy.com. Just use code IRIETOAURORA at checkout. 

Solar Starter Kits 

A starter kit includes everything but the battery (though some actually do come with the battery). You’ll get a solar panel, charge controller, wiring and connectors. Here are our recommendations.  

Intro starter kit: RENOGY 100 WATT 12 VOLT SOLAR STARTER KIT
Premium starter kit:  RENOGY 100 WATT 12 VOLT SOLAR PREMIUM KIT

I recommend at least 100 Watts of solar for a solo digital nomad and 200 watts for a couple, however, your needs and usage will dictate how much solar you need. Renogy offers solar kits with anywhere from 100 watts all the way up to 4,800 watts. Contact the folks over at Renogy, and their engineers will design a package specific to your needs. Tell them Irie to Aurora sent you, or use code IRIETOAURORA on their website for 10% off your order. 

It’s all about flexibility:

If your rig isn’t set up to accommodate a rigid solar panel or only has space for one, consider a flexible panel. We have this flexible panel attached to the top of our cargo box with heavy duty adhesive. It also comes in a kit.  RENOGY 100 WATT SOLAR FLEXIBLE KIT

If you don’t need solar full-time, or if you’re just not ready to install a solar panel permanently on your roof, OR if you just need a little extra power while you’re sitting still, a foldable solar panel might be just the thing. Check out this 100 WATT ECLIPSE MONOCRYSTALLINE SOLAR SUITCASE. It comes complete with a charge controller, wiring, and connectors. Simply set it out in the sun and plug it in when you’re sitting still, and fold it up and store it away when not in use. It will also pair well with a portable power station. More on that later. 

Check out all of Renogy’s solar starter kit here: Solar Starter Kits

Other Starter Kit Options: 

While we recommend Renogy — we’ve put them to the test in our road life and have not been disappointed — there are many other manufacturers out there. Here are a few options for solar starter kits that we’ve researched.  

Solar Batteries

Once you’ve got your solar figured out, the final piece of the puzzle is storing the power you’ve harnessed. For that you’ll need a deep cycle battery. Deep cycle batteries are different from standard car batteries in that they’re designed to be discharged and recharged over and over again without damaging the battery. 

There are several types of batteries, and each has its advantages and disadvantages. We won’t go too deep into the details in this article, only to provide a background and some good options. 

Below are the three most common types of deep-cycle batteries.

Flooded Lead Acid: Similar to the battery used to start your car, this is the least expensive option. While functional and affordable, they are big, heavy, require regular maintenance, and tend to off-gas, which is not good for interior installation. One option we’ve experimented with before connecting with Renogy, is using two 100ah 6 volt golf cart batteries wired in series to create a 12 volt system. This is an effective means of storing power at a lower price than an AGM battery. However, this setup is very heavy and takes up a lot of space. If you can afford it, I recommend opting for one of the options listed below. 

Absorbent Glass Mat (AGM): AGM batteries are the most common for solar vehicle applications. They cost a bit more than flooded lead acid batteries, but they weigh less, take up less space, don’t off-gas, and require little to no maintenance. AGM batteries also have a longer life and perform better than flooded lead acid batteries – charging faster and holding a charge longer. AGM batteries are a great option, especially for the budget conscious nomad. Though, they are still heavy and take up quite a bit of space. And an AGM battery should never be discharged below 50% of it’s capacity. Meaning a 100AH battery will give you about 50AH of usable energy. 

Our pick: RENOGY DEEP CYCLE AGM BATTERY 12 VOLT 100AH

Lithium Iron Phosphate: This is the newest technology in solar batteries and far and above the best type in terms of performance and lifespan, as well as size and weight. Li-ion batteries are much smaller and weigh far less than AGM batteries, packing the same power capacity into a compact package. And because Li-ion batteries can be fully discharged without damaging the cells (AGM batteries should be discharged no more than 50%) you essentially get double the power capacity compared to a similarly rated AGM battery. Li-ion batteries also have a much longer lifespan than AGM or flooded lead acid. The only downside is the high price point. If you have the extra money, I highly recommend going with a Li-ion battery. 

Our pick: RENOGY 12V 100AH SMART LITHIUM IRON PHOSPHATE BATTERY

We currently have a Renogy 200AH AGM battery, the big brother to the one we recommend above. Though, we have our sights set on their biggest 170AH Li-ion Battery. Again, how much solar and storage you need is entirely dependent on your usage. 

Best Upgrade Option: 

As we said before, we love options, and there are many other manufacturers out there. We’ve heard from a lot of nomads and solar experts that BattleBorn makes some of the best solar batteries on the market. Though they cost a premium compared to Renogy, they are a top of the line option and could easily last you 10 years. 

Budget Friendly AGM Options: 

Higher Capacity AGM: 

Inverters

Most devices these days can be charged via USB, meaning you can charge straight from your 12 volt battery. However, some devices still require a standard 110 volt outlet. This is where a power inverter comes in handy. A power inverter is a device that changes direct current (DC) like what’s found in your van, to alternating current (AC) like what’s found in your house. 

But if your charger requires a standard two or three-prong outlet, you’ll need an inverter to power it. Alternately, you may be able to find 12 volt chargers for most computers and electronic devices, even if they came equipped with a standard 110 volt plug (we have some options for that below). 

If you choose to install an inverter in your rig, a minimum of 600 watts is ideal. Though, we recommend going with at least 1,000 watts in case you ever want to run a standard household appliance. We use a 1,000 Watt inverter from Renogy and it’s perfect for powering our Nutri-Bullet blender – there’s nothing like an ice cold smoothie on a hot summer day in the van. If you’re looking for an inverter and battery charger in one, Renogy has you covered there as well.

Inverter Options: 

Here are a few popular options with good reviews on Amazon. (Note, we have not personally tested any of these brands). 

Battery Charger

This is another optional accessory for your power setup. A battery charger allows you to charge when you’re connected to shore power. This can be ideal if you’re in an area without sun for a few days or if you spend a few nights in a garage or a mechanic shop (which we have more times than I can count), or if your battery is depleted for any reason and you need a quick boost. 

We have a NOCO Genuis 10-Amp Charger in our van, and it charges our 200 amp-hour battery from 50% to about 95% charge overnight. We’ve also heard great things about the Pro-Sport Chargers

Portable Power Stations 

While it is great to have full-time solar on your rig, an installed setup is not the only option. If you don’t have the budget (cost or time) to install solar, a portable power station can provide everything you need for a quick and easy setup, in a compact package. 

A portable power station is essentially a rechargeable battery-powered generator. Most come equipped with AC and DC outlets as well as USB charging ports. These do-it-all workhorses occupy minimal space in your rig, provide a viable alternative to a full-time solar setup, and give you power you can take with you away from the van. 

Our top pick: Jackery Explorer 1000 Portable Power Station

Jackery’s power stations strike the best balance of functionality, portability, and affordability of all the power stations we’ve researched. Combine it with a pair of Jackery SolarSaga 100W Solar Panels for a complete solar setup. 

We personally have the Explorer 500 model in our van as a supplement to our solar setup. We use the Jackery to charge our devices at night and power our fan and anything else when we need to preserve our battery life. We were in Idaho this past summer when smoke from the fires out west filled the sky, preventing our solar from doing its job for a few days. That’s when the Jackery really came in handy, powering our devices so we could save our main battery power for one important device – the fridge. 

We paired our Jackery with a SolarSaga 100W Panel which can fully charge the Jackery Explorer 500 on a sunny day (9.5 hours per Jackery’s website). And one great part, you can use the Jackery while it’s charging. 

We’ve experimented with using only our Jackery to charge our devices during a normal work week. On average, Noami and I each charge our MacBooks twice per day, that’s four total charges per day. We also used the Jackery to power our Fan-Tastic Endless Breeze fan for about 12 hours per day. With all of this, the Jackery Explorer 500 powered us for two full days without being recharged. When keeping the solar panel connected throughout the day (as long as it’s mostly sunny), I’ve found that we are often near 100%, meaning we’re generating more power than we’re using. (Hooray for free energy!) 

This leads me to believe that the Jackery Explorer 1000 Portable Power Station combined with a pair of Jackery SolarSaga 100W Solar Panels would be enough power for most digital nomads. All without picking up a drill. 

Best for More Power: Goal Zero Yeti 1500X Portable Power Station  

Goal Zero is a well-known name in the portable power world. And as far as power and functionality go, they may be the best in class. The reason we chose Jackery over Goal Zero is the price. The Goal Zero Yeti 1500 retails for around $2k (about $1.33 per watt hour) compared to $900 for the Jackery 1000 ($0.90 per Wh). And while Goal Zero no longer offers a 1000 Wh model, their 500X model costs about 40% more than the Jackery 500 ($700 vs $500). That being said, many nomads swear by Goal Zero, and by all accounts, they make top of the line products. They also have more product options than Jackery. 

Best for the Extremely Power-Hungry: 

If you’ve got the scratch to spend but don’t want to install anything on your rig, Goal Zero has a monster power option – no tools required. The GOAL ZERO YETI 3000X POWER STATION + BOULDER 200 BRIEFCASE SOLAR KIT pairs their biggest and baddest power station with a 200 watt solar briefcase. Enough power to make Donald Trump jealous. 

Honorable Mention: Renogy Lycan Powerbox Solar Power Generator
Best Visual Design: Eco Flow DELTA 1300 Power Station
Product we’re intrigued to learn more about: Ego Power+ Nexus 3000W Portable Power Station

All The Other Things

Laptop or tablet: 

Whatever device you use to do what you do, just make sure it can withstand some abuse. We recommend a shock-proof case for your computer, tablet, and smartphone. After all, as a digital nomad, these are your money makers. Urban Armor makes great products to protect your most important gear. 

12 volt laptop charger: 

Have you ever noticed that box attached to your laptop charger, the one that gets hot while you’re charging? It’s actually a power inverter, converting AC current from your wall outlet to DC current that charges your laptop battery. As we mentioned earlier, your vehicle already produces DC current – all you need to harness it is a 12 volt laptop charger. 

  • New Macs: This Anker USB-C Car Charger is perfect for newer MacBooks that charge via thunderbolt cable (USB-C). This is what I use to charge my 2020 MacBook Pro. 
  • Older Macs: There are few options for MacBooks with the MagSafe charger. This USB-C to Magnetic Charging Cable is the best option we’ve found on Amazon (though we have not personally tested it). If you’ve tried this and it works for you, or if you’ve found a better option, please let us know in the comments. 
  • PC: This Laptop Car Charger appears to have connections for several different PCs, though again, we have not personally tested this. If you’ve found a good DC charging option for PCs, let us know in the comments. 

Portable laptop stand, bluetooth keyboard & mouse: 

An ergonomic office setup is ideal for maximizing productivity. Optimize your work setup with a laptop stand and a bluetooth keyboard and mouse. Noami and I each use a Nexstand Portable Laptop Stand. They’re functional, sturdy, and they fold up small, taking up minimal space. Whether we’re working from inside the van or from a camp chair and table setup outside, having a portable laptop stand has kept our posture upright and minimized fatigue on long workdays. 

Highest Rated Alternative: Roost Portable Laptop Stand. Roost is the laptop stand that turned us on to laptop stands. Roost is the highest rated laptop stand on the market, with the price to boot – Roost retails for around $75 (compared to just $39 for Nexstand). However, based on the reviews and comparisons we’ve read, the Roost Laptop Stand appears to have a more robust and solid construction while weighing less and packing down smaller than the Nexstand. 

If you’re interested in the Roost laptop stand, this bundle looks incredible. (Editor’s note: it’s currently out of stock).

Smartphone with unlimited data plan: 

We use hotspots on our smartphones to get WiFi on the road (read more here). We’ve found this to be the most effective and most common means of accessing the internet when you’re mobile. So whatever phone you use, make sure it has hotspot capabilities. And opt for an unlimited data plan to ensure you don’t get throttled. 

Hotspot device: 

A great option to save your mobile data or expand your range. These little gadgets are designed for turning cell phone data into internet connection. They still require a service plan, but using one of these will save your cell phone data and give you a dedicated internet device just like the router in your home. While we have not personally tested any of these devices, we have researched them at length and spoke to many digital nomads who swear by them. 

The most popular on the market is the Skyroam WiFi Hotspot. According to skyroam, this little device provides superfast 4G LTE in over 135 countries. Though, the company does not reveal which networks they operate on, making it unclear as to how they will perform in those off-the-beaten-path locations. If you’re looking for a dedicated WiFi device, Skyroam seems to be the top choice for many digital nomads. 

Other options: 
Most major cell phone carriers have their own hotspot device, which you can add to your current cell phone plan. However, one interesting technique that we’ve learned from friends is to pair a hotspot device from a different carrier to increase your chances of finding coverage in those green areas on the map. 

Cell signal booster: 

We tend to gravitate towards the free, remote campsites. The problem we run into is that these sites are often just beyond the reach of our Verizon cell coverage. That’s where a cell phone signal booster comes in handy. Our WeBoost Drive X RV is one of the best additions we’ve made to our rig. It extends our range and allows us to get farther off grid than ever before. 

An important thing to keep in mind is that a cell booster will not create something out of nothing. If you have no service, you’re pretty much out of luck. But a good booster will turn a weak signal into useful data. And you’d be surprised how often the best campsites are just outside the reach of a useful cell signal. That’s where our WeBoost allows us to post up and enjoy. 

Other options: 
SureCall Fusion2Go Max

Noise canceling headphones w/ built-in microphone: 

Our office location varies from scenic wilderness, to noisy coffee shops, to cramming into the van on a rainy day. A good pair of noise cancelling headphones is essential for helping us to concentrate in any setting. We have a pair of Sony WH1000XM3 Noise Cancelling Headphones. From our research, these are the best on the market (and I can hardly get Noami to take them off). Though, Sony just released a new version of these wonderful headphones, the WH1000XM4, and we can’t wait to try them out. 

Other options: 
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
Beats Solo Pro

Laptop bag/ backpack/ day pack: 

For those WiFi trips to the coffee shop or library, or just taking your office away from the van, you’ll want something that can safely and comfortably transport all your gear. Opt for a sturdy, versatile bag that performs well on a day hike, a work trip to a coffee shop, and a carry-on when you take to the skies. I have a FJALLRAVEN Ulvö Rolltop 23 Rucksack which I prefer over a traditional zipper bag – the roll-top adds a considerable amount of space when I need to carry extra gear, keeping me from stuffing my bag and risking damaging the zippers. Noami’s rocking a Cotopaxi 16 L Batac Pack which packs down super small when not in use, taking up hardly any space in the van. 

Option we’d like to try:
The STD. ISSUE 24-LITER BACKPACK from Urban Armor Gear is a rugged, tough backpack that can hold all your gear and then some. I can’t wait to take this one for a spin. 

Portable power bank:

Not to be confused with a portable power station, these compact devices come in a variety of sizes, many of them fit in your pocket and are perfect for charging your phone and other small devices. Others, like Goal Zero’s Sherpa 100AC, can even charge your laptop while still being light and portable enough to fit in your backpack. 

Portable Solar Charger: 

For those long trips away from your mobile office. Use one of these compact portable solar panels to charge your power bank or charge your device directly. (We have both of the panels listed below). 

Rugged Portable External hard drive: 

You never know if or when your computer will crash out on you. Don’t risk losing all your data, photos, videos, etc. Back it up! And if you’re into photography/ videography, I recommend keeping at least two hard drives on hand, one for a backup and the other for your working files (and if you’re super diligent, one to back up the backup). 

Opt for a rugged hard drive that can take a beating. The LaCie 4TB Rugged Mini is the most popular option and the one we use to backup all our devices. Though, hard drives can be pricey, so we started out with the more budget friendly Silicon Power A60 2TB. Both work great and we still use the Silicon Power for our working files. (Side note: don’t rely solely on hard drives for important files, backup everything to the cloud as well. There’s nothing worse than a hard drive failing and realizing it wasn’t properly backed up, ask me how I know).

Bluetooth speaker: 

Because tunes are great for work or play. There are many great Bluetooth speakers on the market. We’ve been rocking our Ultimate Ears MegaBoom for about 6 years now and it’s still kicking. UE has many different sizes, all are waterproof, rugged as hell, and perfect for travel. Get yourself a good bluetooth speaker and you won’t be disappointed, and neither will you friends. 

Other options:
Sonos Move
JBL Xtreme 2

E-reader:

Space is premium in vanlife, so an e-reader is a wonderful alternative to regular books. And I’ve found that having an e-reader at my fingertips inspires me to read more, which is a great way to unwind, stimulate creativity, and improve your overall quality of life. I’ve heard that the most successful people in the world read upwards of 30 books per year. So get yourself an e-reader and keep your mind sharp. 

When it comes to e-readers, Amazon has cornered the market. Noami went with the top of the line Kindle Oasis, which hardly leaves her side. I’m perfectly content with my Kindle Paperwhite. Both are waterproof, and small and light enough to take with you anywhere, perfect for nomadic life. 

Other options: 
Kobo Libra H2O
Kobo Clara HD

Mobile phone projector:

Even with an unlimited plan, hotspot data still gets throttled after a certain point. And streaming Netflix can burn through that data quickly. A mobile phone projector can turn your van into a cinema without burning through your precious hotspot data. 

Full transparency: we do not have a mobile phone projector. But it’s one upgrade we’ve been longing to make. Here are the options we’re considering. 

Camera: 

I’d be remiss if I failed to mention one of the most popular and essential pieces of digital nomad gear, the camera. Whether you’re an aspiring photographer, blogger, influencer, hobbyist, or just like to record and share memories, you’re gonna need a camera. For many, a smartphone is all you need to capture quality pictures and videos, and share memories and posts on social. For others, however, a good DSLR camera can be a great way to learn a new skill and even turn a hobby into a profession. 

Noami is the photographer in our family (all the photos you see on this site and on @irietoaurora are her work). But when we first moved into our van and hit the road, she was photographing and editing directly on her iPhone. Her first DSLR was an affordable Canon Rebel SL1, which allowed her to hone her skills and master her tool. Eventually (when we could afford it) she upgraded to a Canon 5D Mark IV, the workhorse camera for many professional photographers. So if you’re an aspiring photographer, start with equipment that fits within your budget, and grow and upgrade as you can. 

Journal: 

Journaling is a great way to organize your thoughts, schedule your days/weeks, and establish a healthy routine – which is often difficult when you live a life of travel. Noami and I use Best Self Co. Self Journals. The Best Self journal has been a game changer for our routine and has helped keep us grounded and on-task in our digital nomadic life. The Self Journal is a 13-week goal planner, designed to help you optimize your day, tackle your goals, and live a more fulfilled life.

Refillable notebook:

Noami and I pride ourselves on being eco-conscious and environmentally friendly. Yet, we were burning through disposable notebooks one after another. Until I saw a friend packing a sleek leather-bound notebook which he said had been his daily companion for nearly 10 years. Amazing! 

We opted for these two refillable leather-bound notebooks. Aside from being cost efficient and environmentally friendly, it’s so much more badass than your old high school composition book. 

Conclusion

So, there you have it. By no means do you need everything on this list to succeed as a digital nomad. But we’ve found that the more we upgrade our gear and focus on the things that make us more productive, the more we enjoy our nomadic life. 

And while the gear we share in this article can be purchased new (we get a small commission on some items if you click and purchase from our links), purchasing new is not the only option. Noami and I always recommend buying used whenever possible. Not only does this save you money, it contributes to a circular economy by keeping used items out of the landfill and reducing the need for the production of new. 

So check Craigslist, Ebay, your local thrift stores, Facebook marketplace and get some good secondhand gear to get you started. And when you’re ready to buy new, we hope you’ll come back here and click through our recommendations. 

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Further Down The Rabbit Hole

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