Winter is just around the corner! While some may be getting ready to pack up their van for the season, others (like us) are getting ready for winter van life. Nothing compares to opening your van door to find a winter wonderland outside, a day of skiing on fresh white powder, or packing in around a toasty bonfire with the whole family.
There are indeed certain challenges that come with winter van life. However, with adequate preparation, planning, and patience, you can have a great experience.
Before embracing the winter van life, it’s essential to get your van “winterized” and ready for cold temperatures or snow. Continue reading to get tips on preparing and staying warm in a van during the winter months.
The following section includes tips on how to stay warm in a van and covers everything from sleeping hacks and insulation to heating.
Insulate - Walls and Windows
Insulation is an absolute must. You’ll need it to prevent heat transfer from the heater to the cold metal walls. We want the heat to stay inside the van!
Here at Esplori, our interior kits have Thinsulate insulation which is breathable, lightweight, contains recycled material, and provides greater warmth.
Next, you’ll need to cover your windows. While windows are great for views, they can release a ton of heat. Insulated window covers for the windshield, cab windows, and all other windows make a huge difference in maintaining interior temperatures, and keeping some of that heat inside.
Invest in a Good Heater (and test it before use!)
Investing in an effective heater is another necessity. In addition to needing it to stay warm, it’s all essential for keeping the pipes from freezing. We recommend using a diesel heater. It’s more efficient, safer, and easier to use than a space heater.
Once you select your preferred diesel heater, you’ll want to test it before you venture into freezing cold temperatures.
Get Quality Sleeping Gear
If you have a good heater, then you can set your bed up as you would at home with a comforter and blankets. However, we would always recommend additional blankets or sleeping bags in case the heater stops working or you run out of fuel. A few items you may want to pack for extra cold nights include:
Sleeping bags - get one with a 0-30 degree temperature rating
Hot water bottles - fill it up before bed with hot water and snuggle with it at night
Wool socks - our extremities often get cold when sleeping
Beanies - to keep your head warm
Wool blanket - to be extra warm and cozy
Prepping for a Winter Trip
Prep Your Tires and Snow Chains
If you’re planning to head to a snowy area, you may want to invest in snow or winter tires for the safety of you, your vehicle, and other drivers. Some places even require them for travel, so check the local regulations at each of your winter destinations.
Another necessity is snow chains. Snow chains provide traction in snowy or icy conditions. Even if you don’t plan on driving in snow or have snow tires, always pack them. You would hate to wake up to find a winter wonderland outside and be caught without your chains.
It’s also important to practice putting on the snow chains beforehand, so you know exactly what you’re doing in a snowy situation.
Stock Up on Supplies
Weather can change fast, especially in the Pacific Northwest mountain area, so having extra supplies is essential. Be prepared to get stuck somewhere for an additional day or two until a snow plow comes: pack extra food, fresh water, and weather-appropriate clothing and footwear (including snow gear!). Additionally, make sure your fuel tank is full before heading into remote areas and always try to locate the closest gas station.
Check Road Conditions
Before taking off on a winter road trip, check the road conditions for your route and destination. Since the weather can be unpredictable, you’ll want to check often. Save yourself from dangerous, icy conditions by re-planning your routes and destinations based on the forecast. Van life is all about improvising!
Bring Safety Equipment
You never know when an emergency may occur, so pack safety equipment like a first aid kit, flares, jumper cables, towing straps, vehicle tool set, visibility vest, gloves, and a shovel. It would help if you also packed flashlights, batteries, a knife, and supplies for making a fire.
Bring safety equipment any time you travel in your van, but it will come in handy if you’re caught in a snowstorm on the side of a highway.
Water Supply Maintenance
Fill Up Your Water Supply Often
And get it wherever you can. As previously mentioned, you’ll always want to keep an extra stock of supplies. It can be harder to find water in the winter, so take advantage of it when you find a place to fill up! Campsites may let you pay to fill your water tanks as a backup option.
Next, you’ll have to find the perfect balance when filling your water tank. If a full tank freezes, it could break. On the other hand, if your tank is only a quarter full, it will freeze quicker. We recommend keeping your tank around three-quarters of the way full as it will take longer to freeze than an emptier tank and won’t cause damage.
To avoid frozen water tanks altogether, exterior tanks need to be heated and interior tanks need to be kept above freezing (32°F). Filling tanks, as previously mentioned, helps, but the damage usually occurs in the water pump. Therefore, in addition to monitoring tank levels, you should also monitor the temperatures of your water tanks.
Move your Tanks Inside
Building on the previous section, if you plan to travel frequently in the winter, consider bringing your water tanks inside to prevent them from freezing. You can also keep a backup water supply inside if outdoor tanks freeze.
Use a Portable Water System
Esplori highly recommends using a portable water system. Our vans typically use them as they’re easy to remove or empty if your van will be in freezing temperatures without the heater running. Additionally, portable systems are advantageous if you plan to store your van for extended periods or not use it during periods in the winter.
Clear Snow Off Solar Panels
Keeping your solar panels clear in the winter is essential for getting electricity. Be careful not to damage them, though. Carry a snow broom or brush, instead of a shovel, to clear your panels, and use a ladder to reach the top.
Charge On The Go
Being solely reliant on solar power during the winter is not ideal because sunlight can be scarce. Just as many campsites turn off the water supply during the winter, some also turn off the electricity. With that in mind, consider installing a system for charging your batteries while driving.
Get an Extra Long Charging Cable
If you find a site to hook up to, you’ll want to have an extra long cable to ensure you reach any outlets or charging stations. Unfortunately, parking can be scarce in the winter, with giant snow mounds taking up spaces, so you never know how close you’ll be able to get to the power socket.
Other General Tips
Choose Safe Parking Spots
Assess the avalanche risk in the area that you’re thinking about parking and park in a place you’ll be able to get out of in the event of a snow emergency. It’s probably not a good idea to go far off the road when conditions are snowy or when there’s a high chance of snow.
Use Your Door Mats
Put your door mats behind or in front of the wheels (depending which way you want to go) and slide them as far under as possible to help your van gain traction if you get stuck in snow or ice. Pro tip: this also works for sandy conditions.
Bring Extra Indoor Activities
Plan to spend more time in your van than you would during summer. In winter, it gets darker sooner, so you’ll be inside a lot earlier. Bring board games, books, movies, etc., to keep the kids (and yourself) entertained!
Keep your Living Space Dry
There’s nothing worse than cold, wet socks, towels, or clothes in the wintertime. Try to knock off as much snow from your gear as you can before getting in the van. Also, don’t forget to pack extra towels for drying off wet gear. You can keep all shoes on a towel and store wet equipment in the van garage (if you have one), or let them dry on a towel inside.
Winter van life can be lots of fun once you get the hang of it. The first few times may be rough since you’ll have to figure out what works best for you and your van. However, with the tips provided in this article, and patience, we’re confident you’ll have a blast!
If you’re not a fan of the cold weather or you decide winter van life isn’t for you, that’s okay too. There are plenty of warmer destinations you can head to instead!