Choosing the Best Cabinet and Drawer Latches for Vanlife

By: Scott Adamson
/ May 27, 2020
When living the #vanlife, there’s nothing better than getting off the beaten path and finding new areas to explore.

But with the inevitable bumps, turns and lane changes, the risk of having your cabinets and drawers bust open is real.

Is there anything more frustrating than listening to cereal and coffee beans spill out of your kitchen cabinets while you’re driving?

When converting a van to a camper, it’s important to consider the vibrations and shifts your vehicle is going to experience while on (or off) the road. Your stored goods will likely move around a bit and without the right hardware in place, your cabinet and drawer latches could easily fail you.

Latch Components

This may be obvious to some, but for those that have never worked with this hardware before, it’s important to understand that there are 2 elements to consider here:

  • A latch, and
  • A catch

The strength and design of the latch and the catch is what will keep your cabinets and drawers shut.

What I Use…

After living in the van for a few years, latches have been something that I’ve played around with a lot. I’ve put the following latch types to the test:

  • Magnetic Latch
  • Magnetic Baby Latch
  • Butterfly Latch
  • Marine Slam Latch

Now let’s dive into each one.

 

Magnetic Latch ⭐️⭐️⭐️

I originally used magnetic latches for all of my drawers and cabinets. I love the clean and hidden look, and for the most part, they worked fine.

However, in my experience, if you find yourself off-roading your drawers will likely pop open. It’s difficult to find magnets strong enough to stay closed and damage can be done on drawers that slam open.

Overall, I think magnetic latches are a perfectly fine option for cabinets that have a rail to prevent its contents from pushing the door open. Otherwise, they aren’t the most suitable option for life on the road.

Magnetic Baby Latches  ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

After the standard magnetic latches failed on me a bit, I tested out magnetic baby latches. You can see a demonstration of these latches in this video.

 

Baby latches have a nice clean and hidden look to them and the mechanism is pretty cool.

My only issue with these is that after a while I found it a bit annoying to use a key every time I wanted to grab something from a drawer. There’s also a chance of misplacing the key that opens your drawers, leaving you a bit stranded.

Butterfly Latches ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I installed butterfly latches on a couple drawers and cabinets that needed a more heavy-duty catch mechanism, such as the fridge drawer.

Butterfly latches are very strong and work extremely well. However, I wouldn’t recommend them for every single drawer and cabinet as it’s a bit of overkill and you want more of an automatic solution when opening and closing drawers.

Butterfly latches don’t auto-latch so you can sometimes forget to lock up a drawer after closing it.

Marine Slam Latches

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

After spending some time on the road, I ultimately ended up installing Marine Slam Latches on most of my drawers and cabinets.

Some people don’t like the look of these, but in my experience, Marine Slam Latches are the best and most reliable options for latches and I intend on using them on every van build I do. 5 out of 5!

Combination

After several years on the road, I used a combination of latches for various reasons. My latch configuration looks like this:

 

Other Common Latch Options for Vanlife

There are a few other common latch options in the vanlife community that I personally haven’t tested but are certainly worth mentioning.

Push Button Knob Latch

The push-button knob catch is a fairly popular option for vanlife. This particular latch is commonly seen in RVs and boats, both designed for a heavy amount of vibration and movement.

There are various options to this type of latch, including one that requires you to push the button then turn the knob.

They give a nice clean look to the front of your cabinets and the mechanism is pretty cool.

Keep in mind that these are installed on the front of your cabinets rather than hidden behind the door, limiting the option to remove them if you choose a different latch in future.

Double Roller Catch Latch

Double Roller Catches are commonly used in household cabinets and are therefore one of the first latch options people tend to think of when building out a van.

They are fairly cheap and easy to install, but they certainly aren’t the strongest latch option on the market. The chances of your drawers being pushed open while off-roading is high.

 

Choosing the perfect latch for your cabinets and drawers ultimately depends on:

  • The configuration of your cabinetry
  • Your type of vanlife (Will you be offroading? Will your cabinets and drawers be jam-packed?)
  • Budget

Like myself, you may find that a combination of latch types works best for you and your needs.

My final piece of advice, as it relates to this topic, would be to always install a lip or railing on your cabinets so your items aren’t pressed up against the door. This method means less strain on your cabinet latches.

Scott Adamson
Wanderful Idea Guy
Coffee drinker, adventure seeker, below average photographer.
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