Sure, van life is an exciting way to travel the country and experience new things. It offers you the opportunity and freedom to reconnect with nature, pursue epic adventures, and track down a superb range of outdoor activities.
But when the colder months roll around and the snow starts to fly, van lifers experience a new set of challenges, leaving many to wonder whether it’s possible to live in a camper van in the winter.
Thankfully, this epic resource has everything you need to know about living out of a van in the winter.
Is it Possible to Live in a Van in Winter?
Living in a van in cold weather is totally possible and doable. Done correctly, it will provide you with gorgeous sights and memorable experiences. Couple that with the ability to pursue fun outdoor winter activities. Plus, you’ll love the fact that there are fewer crowds and bugs.
But to enjoy your home on wheels in the chilly months, you'll need to find safe ways to stay warm and cozy. We will cover this later in the post.
What is Van Living Like in the Winter?
Your winter experience in a campervan will mostly depend on the region you're exploring. Some places have heavy snow, or real low temperatures, while others have nicer weather. Also, not all campervans are created equal. The best campervans for winter have thicker insulation and four-wheel-drive capability.
But if you prepare adequately, you can camp in winter weather using any van, although travel will be somewhat limited in the harsher conditions.
Challenges of Living in a Van During the Winter
Of course, there are some obstacles you’ll encounter when living in a campervan in the winter. Here are some challenges you can expect to face when traveling and sleeping in a van in winter.
- Cold Temperatures - Obviously, surviving the cold and staying warm is the number one problem you’ll have to deal with.
- Less Daylight - Since the sun goes down early in the winter, you’ll be staying inside a lot more than you did in the summer.
- Fewer Places to Stay and Visit - Many parks, campgrounds, and roads are closed in the cold months and some all season long.
- High Energy Consumption - Since you'll spend more time inside your camper and run a heater throughout, the battery will drain faster. Plus, a combination of shorter days and low sun means you can’t always rely on solar panels.
- Freezing Pipes and Plumbing - If not protected, your plumbing system runs the risk of freezing and cracking.
- Unsafe Road Conditions - Ice and snow on the roads makes driving hazardous for any vehicle, so you’ll need to invest in special gear.
- Condensation - At night, you’ll be faced with the prospect of condensation throughout your van. A dry heat source will help you tackle the issue.
Fortunately, all these challenges can be solved by assembling the right essentials and following our simple and practical tips.
Winter Van Life Essentials for Safe Travels
In order to enjoy all that winter has to offer, it’s going to take a bit of preparation. Start by getting these winter van camping essentials:
- Diesel Heater - A diesel heater taps into your van's fuel tank without releasing any carbon monoxide inside the vehicle. You can also invest in an electric heater that conserves energy, but use it sparingly to avoid draining your batteries. Another alternative is a heater that attaches to propane.
- Winter Tires - You'll need tires with proper traction, so you can slow down, take curves and handle emergency maneuvers well when driving in the ice or snow.
- Tire Chains - Buy snow chains to ensure your wheels don't slip in the snow and practice putting them on and off.
- Recovery Boards - If your tires are buried in snow or sand, traction boards will get you unstuck. Plus, they'll save you a few hours of digging and using rocks to get yourself out.
- Battery Bank - A solar battery bank will allow you to have enough power even on a cloudy day.
- A Good Sleep System - Get a four-season sleeping bag and a wool blanket to stay toasty warm when the temps plummet.
- Warm Layers - Bring clothes that will keep your body warm. Pack a cozy hat, merino wool layers, a thick fleece, wool socks, and gloves.
- Emergencies Supplies - Pack road flares, tow straps, jumper cables, a shovel, rock salt, a vehicle toolset, first aid kit, and high visibility vest.
Important Van Life Winter Tips
Here are tips to help you prepare for low temperatures when adventuring and sleeping in a van in winter.
- Insulate Your Van - Insulate the van build, including the floors, before the cold season to avoid losing precious heat.
- Get Insulated Window Covers - Use insulated window covers to lock out the cold and keep the interior comfortable.
- Heat Your Holding Tanks - Use a holding tank heater to keep your tanks from freezing.
- Take Care of Pipes - If your plumbing pipes are outside, run a heat trace around them to prevent them from freezing.
- Keeping Snow and Debris Off Your Solar Panels - Keep your solar panels clean to harvest any sun on offer.
- Monitor the Forecast - Make it a habit to check the forecast often before making any driving or camping plans.
- Bring Some Entertainment - Since the weather may force you to spend a lot of time in the van, stock up on indoor entertainment like a chess set, playing cards, crafts, and books.
- Elevate Your Van Life Camping Experience With the Radiate Portable Campfire - You don’t need a pile of wood to make winter camping feel cozy. Get the Radiate Portable Campfire to make your camping trip more enjoyable. It’s lightweight and convenient, puts off a cozy glowing flame, and delivers a bit of warmth. You can even roast some marshmallows for added fun.
Best Van Life Winter Destinations
Van lifers seem to split into two camps in the colder months: snowbirds and snow chasers. If you’re looking to escape the northern state’s harsh winter climate, try these destinations.
Van Life Winter Destinations for Snow Birds
- Florida - Florida is definitely the warmest US state to be in the winter and a popular place to van camp. Whether you want to park under gorgeous palm trees, drive over an overseas highway in the Keys, visit an amusement park, or go boating, kayaking, or diving, there's no shortage of fun things to do.
- Southern California - This region has warm weather year-round, thanks to its low elevation. There are plenty of unique things to do and see. You can head to the beaches, visit a national park like Joshua Tree, or cozy up at a campground.
- Southern Texas - Warm in winter and teeming with outdoor activities, Southern Texas is a van lifer's dream destination. Try Mexican-inspired dishes, enjoy a dolphin tour, check out historic sites, hike The Big Bend National Park or spend a lazy day at one of the beaches.
Van Life Winter Destinations for Snow Lovers
If you’re a van dweller who looks forward to winter all year long, you can chase epic skiing, snowboarding, and ice climbing in one of these fabulous destinations.
- Mount Baker Ski Area, Washington - If you're a powder hound, bring your van to the base of Mount Baker and enjoy endless winter adventures from skiing, sledding to snowshoeing. This mountain receives the highest annual snowfall of any resort in the US, and there are parking lots dedicated for overnight parking.
- Silverton Mountain, Colorado - Another one for van lifers chasing fresh powder, Silverton Mountain offers some of the steepest terrain in Colorado. This magical destination has an average total snowfall of over 400 inches, and you'll find superb skiing in every direction. Overnight parking is allowed.
- Ouray Ice Park, Colorado - If you love ice climbing, grab your axes and climbing boots and head to Colorado. With around 200 routes and 17,000 vertical feet of prime climbing terrain, this park is a paradise for ice climbers.
A Winter Van Trip can be a Grand Adventure
Van life in the winter is possible, and when done right, you'll have an unforgettable experience. To have a smooth time, the trick is to prepare adequately. Assemble the right equipment, insulate your rig, stay warm, and check the weather conditions often. Happy travels!