So you’ve decided to brave the cold and go on a winter van life adventure. Sure thing, you would have everything planned out, from your van insulation to your wardrobe and heat sources. To ensure that you don’t miss on your planning, here are tips and tricks to going all out during the winter because I am telling you the cold will bother you in every way possible, and you’ll regret not preparing for the worst if it happens.
Insulate Your Van and Windows
It is essential to insulate your van during van build to prepare for summer and winter. Without the proper insulation, the small amount of heat retained inside the van would easily escape through cracks and openings, and you’ll be left shivering in your jackets.
It is important to consider several options for insulation during the van build, as they would be one of the things to keep you warm during the winter. Foam boards, reflectix, and fiberglass wrapped in bags are only some of the insulations most vanlifers use.
Insulate all corners of the van, including the floor. You can use recycled plastics, insulation boards, or a combination of the two to add more heat to your van. Windows and air vents should not be forgotten in this manner. These openings are responsible for the major heat loss in the camper.
Insulate windows and ensure they are tightly closed. For air vents, use vent covers to prevent as much heat from escaping the van. You also need to provide insulation to the roof, wheel wells, and the sides of the door, leaving no opening where heat can escape.
Create a Warm Morning Routine
And throughout your winter journey, you’ll realize those early mornings are as hard to deal with as nights. The perfectly laid-out bed and the thick layers of blankets are a pain to leave in the morning. They could be very cold too, and getting out of bed would be a real challenge you’ll face every day. Thus, a morning routine to keep you warm is recommended.
Here are some life hacks you can practice. First, prepare your outfit the night before. Have them laid out, so you can change clothes the fastest way possible. It is also easier to have them ready than crawl out of bed to search for them early in the morning.
The heater is your best buddy in the morning, so you’ll want to throw the keys in the ignition and start the heater right away. But before doing so, remember to seal any openings like window and roof vents. Once the heater starts working, you’ll eventually feel a boost of warm heat and energy throughout the van.
Look over the windows and wipe down any condensation that has settled. This moisture would easily lead to mold growth when not removed immediately. Wiping the windows would also help us have a clearer view of the day, so you can see what kind of weather you would experience throughout the day.
After these simple tasks, it’s now time for your breakfast. Sip some hot coffee or hot chocolate and munch in some oatmeal and fruits to give you proper nutrition and energy for the day.
Lastly, get moving. Go for a walk or stretch outside the van for a few minutes before heading to your destination. This short exercise would warm up your body and keep you relaxed throughout the trip.
Consider Installing Different Campervan Heating Options
The harsh winter may still overpower even the best insulation you have in your van. The cold would still bother you even under layers of jackets and blankets and may spoil your dream winter trip. Having heat sources alternatives ensure that you wouldn’t get frozen in your van as the snowfalls.
Portable van heaters are your first option for heating a van. These heaters can be used in a van or a tent or during outdoor activities such as fishing, hammocking, or just birdwatching in front of your van. They can run in a propane canister or connected to a gas tank cylinder. This option is popular among nomads with short-term camping trips.
Propane furnaces are also great heat source options but require more effort in installation. Furthermore, it requires a campervan monoxide detector and can be dangerous if not used appropriately.
A third option I recommend is electric vehicle heaters, great for big motorhomes and on-grid campers. This is a great option if you stay in a campground with hookup sites. If you want to have electric heaters in your van, you need to ensure a good electrical system in your van.
A wood-burning stove is one practical option as a heat source. It is recommended for van lifers who spend more time camping. However, a wood-burning stove is a heavy option, and you would find yourself traveling with lots of wood. The heat source cannot instantly produce heat and would take lots of effort to maintain.
Cover Metal Parts of the Van
Insulation is good for the van, but it won’t keep metal surfaces from feeling extremely cold, so it would be smart to cover all these metal parts. Since metal is greatly influenced by temperature, we cannot prevent it from getting cold during the winter or warm in the summer.
Here are some tips you could do to prevent these cold surfaces from bothering you. For the walls, you may cover them with blankets or any fabric to hide the cold surface. You can find some screws or adhesive materials to attach your blanket to these walls.
Wooden panels would be a great addition to your walls as the material does not transfer old like metals. Consider purchasing thin wood panels for your walls. The material is easy to install and would add design to your van walls.
I recommend you also cover the wheel wells using fabric, wood, or any insulating material to reduce its freezing feel. Wheel wells tend to store a great amount of colds as they are more exposed to the outside. Never forget this part.
Always Carry Your Safety Equipment
It is harder to make rounds during the winter than in any season. Hence, emergency supplies in dire situations are important and should be included in your packing list. These safety equipment include a first aid kit, high visibility vest and gloves, road flares, towing straps, and jumper cables.
You’ll also need to secure your vehicle toolset, a snow shovel, and tire chains before gearing towards your trip. Practice putting up the chains if you have never tried before, as it would come in handy when the snow starts.
You’ll have a lot of snow moving to do this winter, so be ready with your gears. A snow shovel would come in handy to dig yourself out of the snow after waking up and finding your van buried in snow. You can also use this to dig out spaces for parking or camping.
You’d be glad you practiced and would not be doing it for the first time, as it is much needed for your and your vehicle’s safety. Tire chains provide more traction to a vehicle, allowing the tires to bite deeper into snow and ice and preventing your wheels from spinning uncontrollably.
Safety should be our top priority, so make sure you have all the cold medicines you need and have enough supplies of medicines you regularly take. The snow would be a great hindrance to getting your hands on them if you run out of supply.
Know the Avalanche Risk in Places You Park or Camp
Traveling in the winter is totally different than during the summer. Most things you do under the sun may not be suitable or, worse, dangerous in the winter. Hence, being realistic about your targeted outside activities is essential to secure safety.
Camping, especially in highlands and mountains, could be dangerous, considering the avalanche risk. Some routes may also be closed when blocked by extreme snow, so checking them first before going would be helpful.
Parking spaces should also be planned carefully. Choose a parking area with less chance of snow rushing over you. It would be better to park in a flat space to lessen the chance of meeting an avalanche while you are sleeping or doing stuff inside your van.
Remember that small or big avalanches are still a threat. You don’t want to be buried in snow before finishing your winter trip. So always be smart in choosing your parking spaces, as it may make or break your winter trip.
Check Out the Weather and Road Conditions
Winter seasons don’t mean we’d be stuck in one place for a long time; that’s not what vans are for. However, during the snowy time, it is best to check the road conditions and current weather updates before moving, as you don’t want to be stuck in the snow and spoil your trip.
Checking the weather forecast is a must before taking on your driving and camping plans. Since the season is pretty unpredictable, you must expect that the weather in a region may change drastically from what is forecasted. In this sense, you might want to check live broadcasts often to ensure that you are heading to a safe place.
Look into local sources for the current road conditions. You may consult the websites of the Department of Transportation, which is present in each state, to be updated on the most current news about road conditions.
If there is a big storm coming, you may expect highways in some regions to be closed for days to clear the snow and damage. Hence, it is still best to check out for the road conditions even when the sky is clear. Many state transportation departments also provide phone numbers you can call for live updates.
Sleep Under Warm Layers
Temperatures could drop to -25 degrees or lower on some nights during the winter, so preparing layers to warm you is one of the never forgotten hacks in winter vanlife. Aside from wearing layers of clothing, the sleeping bag, comforter, and blanket combo would ensure that you’ll come alive, warm, and not frozen the next morning.
Choose a low-temperature sleeping bag. It promotes a warm environment, and you can place them on top or underneath you to add warmth to your sleep.
You’ll also need a comfortable mattress. It should be raised off the floor, about 12 to 15 inches or more, as cold air often sits around the bottom of the van. If the mattress is directly in contact with the floor, no blankets or sleeping bags could prevent you from getting cold.
Memory foam is the perfect option when choosing the material for your mattress and pillows. Memory foam notably holds heat very well and helps maintain your body heat. Sheets and pillowcases with high thread counts have a heating effect, so you might want to get those too.
Layer Your Clothing to Feel Extra Warm
Prepare a set of comfortable wardrobes to keep you warm in and out of the van. Wear wool socks to keep your feet extra warm and insulated. For the hands, use gloves with touchscreen fingertips to still use your smartphone or tablet.
Sweatpants and sweatshirts with an additional jacket layer are my favorite winter wardrobe combo. Do not be conscious of wearing these layers and waking up with sweat the next morning. It is better to stay protected than waking up in the middle of the night and finding some more clothing to keep you warm.
You may also wear robes, scarves, earmuffs, and indoor boots to make the winter season more bearable. A reliable pair of wool slippers would save your feet from freezing in the cold when going around the van.
Prepare Some Indoor Activities
Indoor activities and entertainment would be your best mate during the winter seasons when the sun goes down earlier than usual, and you have some spare hours before the lights are off. You can take this time doing worthy activities rather than consuming it scrolling through social media.
Read the books that have been piled for a long time in your drawer, those you meant to read during the summer but haven’t had the time to do so. Develop a new hobby or switch up your nighttime routine. You could also enhance or create other recipes if you plan to camp during the day to maximize the time in the morning for other tasks.
If you have your family with you, now is the perfect time to sit over a chess game and do some bonding. You could also play cards or watch a movie while having your dinner and waiting to settle for the night, basically anything worth your time before falling asleep.
Secure Your Ten Essentials
When doing an outdoor activity, carrying the classic ten essentials, a collection of items allowing you to handle or prevent any emergencies, is a must. You might think you would never need these as you travel with a van, but having them ready in a bag for any emergency, would be beneficial, especially during the winter.
The classic ten essentials include navigation gears like maps and compass, flashlights, sun protection, appropriate clothing (extra layers), food and water supplies, a first aid kit, knife, fire starters, and a tent. These things would help you survive if ever you got stuck in a place and help is hard to find.
Winterize Your Plumbing System
The plumbing system is one important part of the van that needs to be taken care of whatever season you are traveling. However, your pipes would be in danger of freezing if placed outside of the van. Hence, you won’t be able to use them well, another hassle in the already challenging winter vanlife.
If your van’s plumbing is inside, you just need to protect the pipes and prevent them from reaching the freezing temperature, which is highly possible as you have your heater and other heating sources to keep you and your pipes warm.
When you have the pipes running outside your van, you need to wrap them with heat tape and pipe insulation to prevent freezing.
Another option you might consider if you plan to park the van in sub-freezing temps, which means you’ll not be using the plumbing system, is to drain all its contents completely. This includes the tanks, pipes, and water heater.
You can add a non-toxic antifreeze substance to the pipes if you find it necessary to keep the pipes in good condition during the winter. Ensure to empty the grey and black water tanks to prevent waste from hardening in the pipes, a gross outcome of your winter getaway.
Invest in Winter Tires
Your regular tires would not be safe enough to use during the cold seasons. You’ll need all-terrain and snow-rated tires to combat the snow. These tires have deeper tread depths than the regular ones. These deeper treads are used to improve traction in the snow and lessen snow buildup.
Note that tires labeled as all-season may not actually be rated for snow or winter trip. The best way to know is to stop by a mechanic and have them check it before traveling. If the tires are not suitable for the season, you may need to upgrade them to make sure that you’ll not be stuck in a pile of snow on the road.
Furthermore, the winter tires you used during the last season may not be as good after months. The tires may deteriorate faster than you think with miles of travel, so getting new ones is your best option.
Keep Your Van Dry and Clean
When surrounded by snow and cold weather, moisture would not be prevented from entering your camper. The moisture will then be a breeding ground for mold. You’ll be surprised to find these molds on the windowsill or underneath the mattress, and if not removed immediately, they may destroy your van.
Fortunately, molds are easy to remove. You just have to bring a bottle of apple cider vinegar and wipe them onto surfaces to kill the spores and clean the area off mold and dirt. However, these molds may easily come back if the surface is still present with moisture.
To counter this, you can open a small crack in your roof vents to let warm air into the van. The airflow would remove the moisture and let the van breathe for a moment. You also want to wash the bedsheets and lift the mattress often to look for moisture sources and eliminate them immediately.
Winter van life is a matter of preparation and sticking to your routine to make the best of it. With these tips and tricks, your van life will be a little lighter, and you’ll be assured that every piece is correctly in place. I assure you that you’ll survive the cold and want to be smarter in the next winter season. Remember that van life is what you make out of all the uncomfortable situations and challenges from it.