The Best Camper Van Lighting Ideas for your Conversion

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The idea of living in a van, especially one without many windows, can seem daunting.

The notion of living in a small space with hardly any light would be enough to put most people off the idea altogether.

Choosing the best van to live in for you and your lifestyle is important. 

We chose a minibus to convert because the all round windows would give us so much natural light.

Many people buy panel vans to convert into a camper, only putting in enough windows to pass the regional conversion regulations.

But just because a camper van is small, it doesn’t mean it can’t feel big inside. 

Camper van lighting is a powerful means to improve the interior and make van life more comfortable.

We’ve all seen Instagram pictures of gorgeous sunsets viewed from a comfy bed, draped with strings of fairy lights. 

An illusion to make van life seem romantic, enchanting and desirable. Lovely for a bit of mood lighting; completely impractical if you want to see what you’re doing.

Avoid making camper van lighting an after thought.

Instead, make it an integral part of the design of your camper van conversion

This post provides loads of camper van lighting ideas, things to consider when designing your lighting set up and the best lights to buy for your camper.

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Things to consider when choosing camper van lighting

The right combination of lights in your camper will make for a practical, cosy and comfortable home on wheels.

Here’s a few things to consider when designing your lighting set up.

Purpose

campfire beside a campervan at night

Consider how you’ll use each area of the living space in your campervan and what you need the lighting for.

In the kitchen, you may need task lighting to avoid chopping off fingers while preparing dinner in the evening. 

Do you want to add ambient lighting for a bit of mood setting in the lounge and bedroom areas?

What about general purpose lights to illuminate the interior of the van? 

Perhaps you’ll spend a lot of time living beside the van and exterior lights will make evening’s more comfortable?


Power supply

Batteries laid out in a triangle formation seen from above

Whatever camper van lighting ideas you decide upon, they all need a power supply. 

Most conversions have at least a basic campervan electrical system, ideal for providing power to the lighting too.

Most RVs, motorhomes and campervans have 12v lighting solutions so they work off the campervan batteries

You could install a lighting solution to run off mains power but it needs hookup or an inverter to run, an energy hungry solution.


Efficiency

A man fitting solar panels to a Sprinter campervan conversion

Anyone living off grid in an RV or campervan knows how precious the electrical supply is. 

Even with a roof packed with camper solar panels, the battery store provides a finite amount of power so opting for the most efficient lighting solution is important.

LED bulbs offer the most energy efficient lighting solution (more on that below).

Dimmer switches help reduce power usage further.


Brightness & lumens

a person sitting on the roof of a camper van at night shining a bright torch towards the milky way

Many of us are familiar with how the brightness of more traditional light bulbs is measured.

A 100w bulb is much brighter than a 40w bulb.

When buying LED bulbs the brightness is indicated in lumens. The higher the number of lumens, the brighter the light.

For comfortable, functional camper van lighting, aim for:

  • 700-800 lumens for working areas like over a desk or in the kitchen
  • 500-600 lumens for the bathroom
  • 400 lumens for a reading light and 
  • 400-500 for the living area.

Colour temperature

camper van lighting ideas

Choosing the colour temperature of bulbs may not immediately spring to mind but it really sets the mood in your camper van. 

Colour temperature is measured in Kelvins. 

Temperatures of around 7500K appearing more blueish. Those around 5600K are more like daylight so a lot warmer. 

Warmer lighting gives a more cosy feeling so ideal for ambient, mood lighting above the bed or in the living area. 

In the kitchen and work areas, a cool light with a higher Kelvin number are more functional.

Red lighting is useful for protecting your night vision and has a place in our own campervan.

We use it if one of us is sleeping and the other isn’t and when we’re dabbling with a bit of night time photography. 


Advantages of LED lights for campervans

campervan parked by the ocean off grid living at its finest

Most campervans, RVs and motorhomes have LED lights fitted now. And there’s a few good reasons for it too:

  • LEDs are tiny for the amount of the light they produce so ideal for a low profile finish
  • With an ultra-long lifespan of between 50,000 and 60,000 hours, they’ll probably out live the camper
  • The power consumption of an LED bulb is a fraction of it’s halogen and incandescent equivalents – it’s a no brainer for van dweller
  • LED lights run much cooler than their alternatives, perfect in warm climates when living off-grid with no hookup facility to run air-conditioning units
  • Installation of LED lighting in campervans is super easy and replacing old bulbs with LEDs is too.
  • The wide variety of LED bulbs available provide fantastic campervan lighting ideas to inspire  us

Camper van lighting ideas

There’s a wide variety of camper van lighting options available for DIY conversions.

Most people give at least some thought to the camper’s interior lights during the van build but exterior lighting is often an afterthought. 

Avoid this mistake as it’s much more difficult to retro fit wired exterior lighting once the build is finished.

Don’t forget, you can mix ’n’ match to suit your overall needs. 


Wired campervan lighting

Wired camper van lighting offers a more permanent solution with durability and installation built to last.

Recessed spotlights

Recessed lights lie flush with the surface where they’re fitted.

Their low profiles make for a classy look and don’t intrude on an already small space.

Most come in a variety of colour temperatures and external finish. 

It’s best to consider installing these during your conversion so you can hide the wires behind the ceiling panels and drill holes for the lights before you begin lining.

Acegoo Rv Boat Recessed Ceiling Lights

Waterproof & protected from the ingress of dust, these slimline LED ceiling lights don’t even need to be screwed into position.

The frosted glass produces a soft & diffused light so there’s no hot spots in the van.

A great choice for your van conversion and they only pull 3w of power on a 12v system.

They come in packs of 4 so work out how many packs you need before you order.

Features

  • Compatible with dimmer switches
  • 50000 hour lifespan
  • 240 lumens
  • 3 watts
  • Available in warm and cool light
  • Choice of white and silver finishes
recessed lights

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Dream Lighting RV LED Recessed Down Light

These are less bright than the Acegoo lights at 110 lumens so ideal for mood lighting above the bed or in living area.

With low 2w power consumption, these are ideal for day time use in a van with windows.

With a slick black finish, these come in packs of 6.

Features

  • Compatible with dimmer switches
  • 50000 hour lifespan
  • 110 lumens
  • 2 watts
  • Available in warm 2900-3100k
Black recessed lights

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Surface mounted puck lights

Surface mounted LED puck lights protrude a little from the surface upon which they’re mounted.

If you’ve bought a pre-loved camper and replacing the lights or want to add LED lighting under wall mounted cabinets, these are a good option.

Armacost Lighting Puck Lights

With 320 lumens, these brushed steel lights are mega bright. 

Fortunately they’re compatible with a dimmer switch so easily controlled. They can be installed as recessed lights too.

These lights aren’t designed for bulb replacements so once they fail, they need to be replaced.

Features

  • Compatible with dimmer switches
  • Dry location installation only
  • 320 lumens
  • 4 watts
  • Available in warm 2700k
Puck lights

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12v reading lamps

Surface mounted, adjustable 12v reading lamps are a useful addition to our campervan lighting set up.

With quite a long flexible arm, we can adjust their direction with ease.

From a functional perspective we really like these long armed reading lights but cosmetically, kind of prefer the short armed ones. 

12v Reading lights

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Buying tip | Make sure to choose a model with an in-built switch so you don’t need to get out of bed to switch in on and off.


LED light bar

LED light bars are basically a length of LED lights set within a long bar.

Ideal for beneath wall mounted cupboards, we don’t like the cosmetic look of these for interior lighting so would avoid installing them anywhere the light bar would be on display.

LED Light bars for motorhomes

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LED light strips

Strip lights come on reels of flexible plastic up to 5 metres long.

Again, if visible, they’re not particularly attractive. Neither do they provide much task light so they’re not much good for cooking an evening meal after dark.

We think they’re ideal for sticking below cupboards as floor lighting and adding an extra touch of ambient lighting. Some even come with a dimmer included.

Their main advantages are their flexibility, low cost and when done properly, can be cut to length.

LED Light strips

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12v LED fairy lights

If you look at Instagram, you could be fooled into thinking fairy lights are a prerequisite of van life.

Would any self respecting van dweller dare to sleep in a bed without the mandatory chain of Christmas lights draped above them?

While we’ve given them a miss and probably the number one reason we don’t have many followers on Instagram, they are quite pretty.

Joking aside, that’s about all they’re good for – looking pretty.

As an interior design feature and to add a dash of hippie-chic ambience, fairy lights are ideal. 

As a practical light source, they’re useless.

If you can’t resist, you can get classic fairy lights in coils of 5 or 10 metres with 12v USB connectors so they don’t even need to be wired in.

12v Fairy lights

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Fibre optic LED lighting

If you feel inclined to take the lighting effects to another level, and have time to drill teeny holes in your ceiling lining, how about some fibre optics?

For a sensory, starry night sky indoors, these kits provide a bunch of fibre optic strands that are drilled and secured through the ceiling panel. 

A bit like the fairy lights, these are useless as a functional light source but certainly add some ambience.

While they look pretty slick, they actually take up quite a lot of space behind the ceiling though so make sure you allow enough space in your van when considering head room. 

Fibre optic lights

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Portable lights for campers

Portable lights for van life are a great budget option for camper van lighting. 

If you’d prefer to stay away for campervan electrics, don’t want the hassle of retro fitting lighting in a campervan you’ve just bought or simply want some extra lighting for occasional use, portable lights should be on you list of campervan accessories.

Solar powered camping lights

Solar powered lights obviously need to be recharged by being in sunlight. 

It’s their greatest disadvantage and advantage too, providing a free light source without any draw on your campervan batteries.

There’s loads of solar camping lights on the market.

When choosing which model to go for, check the features for brightness and run-time to make sure it meets your needs.

Here’s a selection of durable models with decent features and a good quality build.

MPOWERD Luci Lux Pro Inflatable Solar Lantern

Super lightweight and waterproof, the inflatable design of this solar lantern means it doesn’t take up much storage space when not in use.

It has a couple of USBs too so you can charge it from your van as well as solar if necessary.

The biggest downside of this model is the amount of time it takes to charge by solar though. 

solar lantern

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BioLite SunLight Portable Solar Light

This compact camping light has a 360° kickstand so you can hang the light or stand it on the ground.

It’s also got an in-built sundial to help you position it for the fastest charge! Clever, eh?

It charges in 5-7 hours or 2 hours with USB, so much faster than the MPowered Luci.

On full power the BioLite SunLite offers a 100-lumen light, has a red light mode and a multi-coloured party mode. 

We’re not sure why we don’t have one!

Solar lantern

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Hand crank lanterns

These are another campervan lighting solution involving free energy. 

And these don’t rely on having a good supply of sunshine either. Simply wind them up and let them shine.

Some double as flashlights and can be charged by USB as well as by hand too.

Fabulous idea and mighty practical for camping weekends or in emergency black outs.

Hand crank camping lantern

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Rechargeable battery operated LED lights

For a quick and easy way to add lighting to a campervan, battery operated lights, recharged by USB provide a good solution.

They fit in position with self adhesive mounting tape although some can be screwed into position for a less temporary installation. 

If you want to fit these in your camper, we recommend using something more robust than self adhesive tape to help them survive in a moving campervan.

Battery operated light bars, wands or puck lights are plentiful but make sure to buy a good quality brand or risk a short lifespan.

Our top lighting gadget for campervans though is this little BioLite Base Lantern.

Not much bigger than a side plate, it even doubles as a small power bank for charging small device.

And it makes it onto our list of top 10 gadgets for campervans and RVs too!

BioLite Base Lantern

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So not a solution for long term camper van lighting but definitely on our list of van life essentials.

A hands-free light source, they’re ideal for walking around outside after dark or in case of emergencies.

Head torch

Buying from US | UK

We keep a couple on the gear stick, one in the tool box and another in the glove box.

They’re relatively inexpensive too.

We recommend buying a well known brand for some of the longest battery lifespans.


Camper outdoor lighting

Exterior lighting for RVs, campers and motorhomes is essential for late nights outdoors.

There’s a lot of LED outdoor light options to brighten up your patio, making late night outdoor living more practical.

Here’s a few RV outdoor lighting ideas to get you started.

Camper awning lights

Jazz up your outdoor campervan patio by installing campervan awning lights.

They make evening meals, socialising with friends or just chilling alone more practical and makes for a cosier setting too. 

The motion sensor lights are especially useful when mounted over entry doors to light the way home at night or as work lights.

For outdoor installation, they need to be screwed or bolted to the van’s panel. 

Route the wires from behind the light and into the interior, to a switched power supply.

Given that you need access to the interior panel to fit them, try to install these early in your camper van conversion.

At the very least, install the wiring and create and plug the external hole ready for installation later.

LED Awning lights

Buying from US | UK

Water and electrics are always a bad mix so if you have a shower room in your campervan, you’re going to need to install a waterproof interior lighting solution. 

An RV awning light makes a perfect shower room lighting solution because most of them are waterproof. It’s what we’ve installed in our indoor bathroom.


LED driving light bars

Now before we talk anymore about these light bars, we have to give our penny’s worth on the need for them.

The risk profile of overlanders and those living in a van full time is quite different from weekend campers and RV vacationers.

For us, as overlanders living in a van, we avoid driving at night. 

Driving in unfamiliar places in the dark increases the chances of hitting a pot-hole, wild animals and even getting lost.

In some countries we’ve travelled to, we can’t even rely on the local road users to switch their driving lights on. 

So we always find somewhere to park or camp for the night well before sunset.

Therefore for us, these light bars are completely unnecessary. 

You can read loads more tips and advice in our hugely popular post on vehicle modifications for camper van conversions.

Light bars are fitted to the roof of the vehicle above the windscreen and can provide a blinding 500w or 50,000 lumens of light.

They need to either be fitted to a roof rack or secured to the van with holding brackets screwed into the roof. 

They can causes extra wind noise when driving. 

Because of their energy consumption, they need to be wired up to the engine electrical supply rather than the 12v system.

The wires need to be routed from the outside into the interior. This often means drillings a lager hole into the body and the use of sealants and grommets to prevent water ingress.

Cosmetically, they add to the beefed up look. 

Driving light bars

Buying from US | UK

If you do night time driving, especially where there’s no street lighting, they certainly provide considerable illumination.

However, don’t let all that extra illumination lull you into a false sense of security. Take your time and be safe.


Conclusion

With a well thought out plan, you can take a few of these campervan lighting ideas and design a functional, cosy and energy efficient lighting set up for your van life.

What campervan lights have you installed in your DIY build and does it work for you? Let us know!

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