A white Mercedes and black Ford camper van next to splitboards in the snowy backcountry of British Columbia
Educational

Vanlife: Staying Warm, Outfitting and Winterizing

How Vanlife Changes in the Winter

Whether you live and love the Sprinter, Vanagon, a truck with a camper or any of the other many creative #vanlife options: what you do when summer transitions into winter will seriously affect your ability to live comfortably inside your sweet minimalist and mobile home.  

We hope that in providing you with this guide to vanlife in the winter, we can help you avoid some of the mistakes we have made in our travels and help give you the winter vanlife we all love and enjoy!

 

Staying Warm

Wherever you may be on your travels, winter can prove to be a formidable foe to your lifestyle.  When temperatures drop and the nights get longer, many of us can retreat to our old, stagnant brick-and-mortar lives in order to keep our toes and noses warm and dry.  

Alas! We need not retreat indoors.  Staying warm while living the vanlife in winter can prove to be difficult, but our team of vanlifers here at Planetary Design have some tips and tricks for you to stay warm on the coldest of nights.

 

A man in a yellow sleeping bag lies on a sleeping pad in a snowy field with snow-capped mountains in the background

Photo courtesy of myoutdoorslife.com

Blankets and Sleeping Bags

In order to keep yourselves warm and happy during winter months, there is nothing that will help you more than a few good wool blankets.  Wool naturally insulates while simultaneously wicks out the moisture that your body generates, creating a pocket of dry warmth for you to sleep in.  Before the snow begins to fall, make sure you have a few large and heavy-duty wool blankets to wrap your chilly self up, breakfast-burrito style.

Even better than a blanket? A high quality sleeping bag rated to lower temperatures can serve the same purpose (though we would recommend using both!).

For a list of the cutting-edge sleeping bags, check out this 2018 guide by Outdoorgearlab.com.

 

A hot water bottle and two instant heat packs sit on a counter in a van ready to be used to produce warmth

Photo courtesy of Livin4wheel.com

Heating Your Bedding

Even if you have the best blankets and sleeping bag on the market, heating up your bedding with no more than your own body heat can take hours.  Once your bedding is warm, sleep follows shortly thereafter. However, there are ways to speed up that process, or even take care of it altogether.

Hot water bottles are reusable and more environmentally friendly than single-use chemically activated heat packs and stay warm for 6-8 hours.  If you put a couple hot water bottles in your bed thirty minutes before you crawl into it, you will be pleasantly surprised by how much faster you will be able to fall asleep.

 

 

Adventure Tumblers purple, blue, white, orange, black on logsWarm Liquids

By drinking plenty of warm liquid on your van adventures, you heat your body from the inside out.  Next time you opt for some tea or coffee, be sure to keep it hot for hours with our Adventure Tumbler so you can take your time sippin’ your brew of choice.

 

Winterizing Your Ride

Before the temperatures begin to drop and the days of sunlight grow shorter, there are several modifications you can make to your ride to make sure you stay safe, warm and out on the road.  With the following innovative strategies, take your winter vanlife to the next level of comfort and satisfaction.

A Mercedes Sprinter van with exposed, freshly installed insulation

Photo courtesy of Instructables.com

Insulation

Depending upon the make, year and model of your van, there are many different ways to insulate your vanlife-mobile.  All vans are manufactured a little differently, but — by using the resources listed below — you, too, can insulate your van to create a truly comfortable living quarters.

 

 A Red Vanagon with insulated windows sits on a town street during winter

Photo courtesy of Livin4wheel.com

No matter what kind of vanlife you live, three layers of insulation that always work are (install in this order):

  1. Reflective bubble wrap
  2. Fiberglass Insulation
  3. Vapor Barrier

The reflective bubble wrap (placed against the outer wall) prevents the cold from coming in, the fiberglass insulation keeps all the heat you generate inside from getting out and the vapor shield locks out any moisture from getting into the fiberglass and growing mold (very important!).

According to our research, there are countless strategies and many materials to consider when starting your van insulation project.  Your budget, time-frame, intended use and construction experience are all factors to consider before synthesizing your individual insulation plan.  Don’t forget to insulate those windows, too!

A vanlifer warms their toes next to an in-van, custom installed cast iron wood stove

Photo courtesy of Van-life.net

 

Heat Production

Keeping your living space warm during winter months can be difficult, and if done irresponsibly, dangerous.  Once you have your insulation in place, consider some of these heating options and decide which one is right for you.

  • Electric heaters come in all shapes and sizes, but all hold one thing in common: you must be connected to the grid to use them.  While some hefty battery setups can provide enough energy to use ceramic and infrared heaters or oil radiators, the required electricity can easily drain your battery and leave you without transportation.
  • Gas heaters are another legitimate heating option to consider.  While they enable you to live in your van off-grid, they can also perpetuate moisture condensation and release unhealthy fumes.  Be sure to ventilate and install a reliable CO detector if you choose this option.
  • Wood-burning stoves can be installed in vans… who knew? This heating option is particularly labor intensive, but the dry heat and smell created by burning wood is oh-so-satisfying.  Check out this installation guide by Vanvaya for inspiration.


Staying Safe

Winter weather can create hazardous conditions for your travelling, but with the right equipment, you are far less likely to ever find yourself in a dangerous situation.  By making some relatively minor mechanical winter alterations, you will be able to keep your vanlife going no matter what.

  • Winter tires are an absolute necessity.  While all-season tires claim to be exactly that, good for all seasons; a good set of winter tires perform undeniably better when the snow gets deep.
  • Snow chains are useful for icy and steep conditions, ensuring that your van can make it up that slippery hill to find you safe at the top.
  • Recovery boards: Whether you use recovery boards like the MaxTrax MKII, or something cheap and simple like a large piece of cardboard, recovery boards paired with a trusty shovel can help you get unstuck from deep snow or sand when crap hits the van.
    A wheel from a van outfitted with winter tires and snow chains riding on ice

    Photo courtesy of Faroutride.com

If you live the vanlife and have any suggestions or experiences you would like to share, or if you just feel like chatting, we’d love to hear from you. And be sure to keep up with our #vanlife adventures with the #BruTrek feed on Instagram!