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 essential.
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, installing enough windows to pass the regional conversion regulations.
But just because a campervan is small, it doesn’t mean it can’t feel big inside.
Campervan 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. It’s lovely for a bit of mood lighting and utterly impractical if you want to see what you’re doing.
Avoid making campervan lighting an afterthought.
Instead, make it an integral part of the design of your campervan conversion.
This post provides loads of campervan lighting ideas, things to consider when designing your lighting set up, and the best lights to buy for your camper.
- Things to consider when choosing campervan lighting
- Advantages of LED lights for campervans
- Campervan lighting ideas
- Wired campervan lighting
- Portable lights for campers
- Camper outdoor lighting
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Things to consider when choosing campervan lighting
The right combination of lights in your camper will make for a practical, cosy, and comfortable home on wheels.
Here are a few things to consider when designing your lighting set up.
Consider how you’ll use each area of the living space in your campervan and what you need to light.
You may need task lighting in the kitchen 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 evenings more comfortable?
Whatever campervan 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.
Most RVs, motorhomes, and campervans have 12v lighting solutions, so they work off the campervan batteries.
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
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.
Lumens indicate a bulb’s brightness. The higher the number of lumens, the brighter the light.
For comfortable, functional campervan 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.
Choosing the bulbs’ colour temperature may not immediately spring to mind, but it helps set the ambiance.
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, cool light with a higher Kelvin number is more functional.
Red lighting is useful for protecting your night vision and has a place in our 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
Most campervans, RVs, and motorhomes have LED lights fitted now. And there are 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 outlive the camper
- The power consumption of an LED bulb is a fraction of its 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.
Campervan lighting ideas
There are a wide variety of campervan 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 challenging to retrofit wired exterior lighting once you’ve finished the build.
Don’t forget you can mix ’n’ match to suit your overall needs.
Wired campervan lighting
Wired campervan lighting offers a more permanent solution with durability and installation built to last.
Recessed lights lie flush with the surface.
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, you don’t even need to screw these slimline LED ceiling lights into position.
The frosted glass produces a soft & diffused light, so there are no hot spots in the van.
An excellent 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 boxes you need before you order.
- Compatible with dimmer switches
- 50,000-hour lifespan
- 240 lumens
- 3 watts
- Available in warm and cool light
- Choice of white and silver finishes
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 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.
- Compatible with dimmer switches
- 50,000-hour lifespan
- 110 lumens
- 2 watts
- Available in warm 2900-3100k
Surface-mounted puck lights
Surface-mounted LED puck lights protrude a little from the surface.
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 and come with a recessed fitting option.
Fortunately, they’re compatible with a dimmer switch so easily controlled.
You can’t replace their bulbs, so once they fail, they need to be replaced.
- Compatible with dimmer switches
- Dry location installation only
- 320 lumens
- 4 watts
- Available in warm 2700k
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.
We like these long-armed reading lights but, cosmetically, prefer the short-armed ones.
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 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 we would avoid installing them anywhere the light bar would display.
LED light strips
Strip lights come on reels of flexible plastic up to 5 metres long.
Again, if visible, they’re not particularly attractive. LED strips don’t provide much task light, so they’re not good enough to cook 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 you can cut them to length.
12v LED fairy lights
Don’t let Instagram fool you 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 suitable for – looking pretty.
As an interior design feature and to add a dash of hippie-chic ambiance, 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 you don’t need to wire them in.
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 drilled and secured through the ceiling panel.
These are useless as a functional light source but certainly, add some ambiance.
While they look pretty slick, they take up quite a lot of space behind the ceiling. Make sure you allow enough room in your van when considering the headroom.
Portable lights for campers
Portable lights for van life are a great budget option for campervan lighting.
A convenient solution, portable lights should be on your list of campervan accessories.
Solar-powered camping lights
Solar-powered lights need sunlight to recharge.
It’s their most significant disadvantage and advantage, too, providing a free light source without any draw on your campervan batteries.
There are 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, this solar lantern’s inflatable design 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.
BioLite SunLight Portable Solar Light
This compact camping light has a 360° kickstand, so you can hang it 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.
The BioLite SunLite offers a 100-lumen light on full power, has a red light mode, and a multi-coloured party mode.
We’re not sure why we don’t have one!
Hand crank lanterns
These are another campervan lighting solution involving free energy.
And these don’t rely on having an adequate supply of sunshine either. Simply wind up the lanterns and let them shine.
Some double as flashlights and can be charged by USB as well as by hand too.
They are a fabulous idea and mighty practical for camping weekends or in emergency blackouts.
Rechargeable battery-operated LED lights
For a quick and easy way to add lighting to a campervan, battery-operated lights, recharged by USB provide an excellent solution.
They fit in position with self-adhesive mounting tape or screwed in place for a permanent installation.
We recommend using something more robust than self-adhesive tape to help them survive in a moving campervan.
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 devices.
Flashlights & headlamps
So not a solution for long term campervan 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.
We keep a couple on the gear stick, one in the toolbox 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 are many LED outdoor light options to brighten up your patio, making late-night outdoor living more practical.
Here are 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 make for a cosier setting too.
The motion sensor lights are handy 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 campervan conversion.
At the very least, install the wiring and create and plug the external hole ready for installation later.
Water and electrics never mix well. 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
Before we talk about these light bars, we have to give our penny’s worth on the need for them.
The risk profile of overlanders and full-time van dweller is quite different from weekend campers and RVers.
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 on their driving lights.
So we always find somewhere to park or camp for the night well before sunset.
Therefore for us, these light bars are entirely unnecessary.
You can read loads more tips and advice in our hugely popular post on vehicle modifications for campervan conversions.
Light bars are fitted to the vehicle’s roof 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 using holding brackets screwed into the roof.
They can cause extra wind noise when driving.
They need to be wired to the engine’s electrical supply rather than the 12v system because of their energy consumption.
The wires need to be routed from the outside into the interior and often means drilling a larger hole into the body, using sealants and grommets to prevent water ingress.
Cosmetically, they add to the beefed-up look.
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.
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 in the comments below!
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Angela Devaney, a former IT project management professional, embarked on an adventurous journey of full-time travel, which included touring West Africa in a converted overland truck and converting an ex-military 4×4 Sprinter van into a camper for a five-year South American expedition. She now utilizes her hands-on experience to create practical RV living and van life advice as a full-time digital media producer, reaching over a million users annually through her YouTube channel, blog, and newsletter. Angela also lends her expertise as the editor-in-chief of the Campervan Electrics Handbook.