With the days growing shorter and the air colder, there's no denying that winter is coming.
While for many this means blanketing up on the sofa to watch some Jon Snow or binge some Netflix, for van lifers it means thinking about how to efficiently, affordably, and effectively stay warm while adventuring out on the road.
Don't worry; to put your fears at ease, winter van life doesn't have to be daunting.
All it takes to be comfortable this season is a little preparation and knowledge, allowing you to fully enjoy living in your van, even when temperatures drop below freezing.
This guide covers everything you need to know, from insulating and ventilating your vehicle for maximum warmth, carrying out essential maintenance upgrades to keep out the cold, to the necessary equipment needed for winter camping trips.
We'll also talk about how portable power stations can make all the difference while enjoying winter van life.
This is how to stay warm on the road during your winter vanlife adventures. Let's get into it!
Part 1. Know Before You Go
It's always important to prepare for any vanlife journey, no matter the season.
But specifically before you set off on your winter road trip, it's a good idea to plan ahead so you know what to expect. The more information you have, the better prepared you can be.
First, this means always taking time to plan your route.
Start by checking the seasonal forecast in the area where you plan to stay. Look for reports of snowfall and icy conditions, and always make sure you are fully aware of any potential weather conditions that could affect your route or travel plans.
It's also a smart idea to check the local laws and regulations for camping, restrictions on campfires, and where you can park overnight. This is especially important if you plan on reaching remote destinations.
Finally, also let your friends and family know where you're going before you head out.
Let them know where you're going to be, what locations you'll be in at what times, and how people can get in touch with you. This way, if you find yourself in a bad situation and were supposed to check in with a family member, help can be arranged sooner rather than later.
Best Places for Traffic & Weather Information
When it comes to planning your winter vanlife adventures, knowing where to find trustworthy information is key.
The National Weather Service in the United States provides good weather-related reports and forecasts on its website. The closest local office can also provide a more in-depth look at what's happening in your area.
For road status updates, the Via Michelin website is an excellent source of real-time information and can help you plan accordingly.
For more detailed info on winter camping rules, regulations, and safety measures, your best bet is to search the local government websites in the areas where you plan to stay or visit.
It's also worth researching if there are any alternative sources of warmth or power in the area. For example, some campgrounds may have a fire pit to use.
Stock an Emergency Kit
Any excursion into winter landscapes should be backed by a reliable emergency kit. It's one of those things that you hope you never have to use but will be glad you have it if you ever do.
Inside, you'll want to include things like:
- Food rations
- Water bottles
- Flashlights and batteries
- A first-aid kit
Make sure it's easily accessible at all times in case of an unexpected situation while traveling through remote areas, such as ones with low cell phone reception or you experience a breakdown or accident.
Part 2. How to Drive in Icy Conditions
It's all well and good preparing for the icy adventures you're planning to embark on, but no amount of blankets will make the actual winter driving easier. When the temperatures drop while you're out on the road, here are some tips to ensure you're safe and sound.
This is winter driving 101.
Icy roads reduce traction, which makes it much more challenging to stop or turn. This increases stopping distance, and the faster you go, the more chance of sliding you have. This happens with all vehicles, especially with a heavy van holding the weight of all your belongings inside.
Reduce your speed to match the road conditions.
Keep a Safe Distance
With less traction on your wheels, it takes longer to stop on icy roads.
This means keeping a safe distance from everything, including the sides of the road and other vehicles.
The recommended following distance in icy conditions is six seconds, which gives you enough time to react if the vehicle in front of you suddenly stops or skids.
Accelerate and Decelerate Slowly
Always accelerate or decelerate gradually.
Sudden movements can cause your van's wheels to spin or skid, resulting in a loss of control. This includes sudden movements on the steering wheel.
Use Winter Tires
Perhaps unsurprisingly, winter tires are designed to provide better traction on snow and ice. When heading into the Great Outdoors in snowy and icy conditions, it's usually best to get them fitted.
Keep Your Van Well-Maintained
Check the brakes, lights, and wipers to ensure they're working correctly. Also, ensure the van's antifreeze levels are topped up to prevent the engine from freezing. There are a few things worse than heading out for an adventure only to be held back by a breakdown, especially when the temperatures have dropped.
With all these tips in mind, you're pretty much ready to rock and roll!
However, there are a few more actionable moves you can make when insulating and ventilating your van for ultimate comfort.
Part 3. Keep Warm and Cozy: Tackling Insulation for Your Van
Just like any other home, good insulation is essential for prepping your van for winter. A good setup will help keep you warm, reduce condensation, and make the most of any heat source, so it's well worth setting yourself up properly.
Types of Insulation
Before beginning the insulation process, choosing a material that works best for your needs and climate is important. Insulation types can generally be compared using R-Value ratings, which basically reflects how much heat can pass through a barrier.
The higher the R-Value, the more insulating a material is. However, you'll need to balance having a decent R-Value and a material that works for your budget.
Some of the most popular forms of good insulation include:
Fiberglass batts are a popular choice because they're incredibly lightweight and are typically available in pre-cut sizes allowing for easy installation. These batts are also incredibly cheap and have a very decent R-Value of around 4 per inch.
However, fiberglass doesn't come without its downsides.
Firstly, it's toxic. Coming into contact with your skin can cause it to itch, and you should absolutely avoid breathing it in for the same reasons. It's also incredibly absorbent, and you certainly won't want soaked fiberglass in your walls.
It degrades quickly, smells, and you risk releasing those nasty particles into the air.
Our verdict? Probably avoid (or at least be very careful).
Commonly referred to as "closed cell spray foam", this is awesome stuff with the highest insulation R-Value of 7, which means it's also very good at soundproofing, being fire resistant, and even protecting you against condensation and water vapor.
However, this solution is expensive, costing several hundreds of dollars to foam your entire van. Also, installation is tricky and usually messy, and you won't want to waste a drop of this stuff. Get it wrong, and it could be a costly venture.
Also known as "Polyisocyanurate" (but we'll stick with foam boards), this is a rigid insulation you install as sheets into the walls of your van. Sheets are available in varying thicknesses that you cut down to size.
This type of insulation provides good thermal protection with an R-value of 6 and isn't toxic. You'll also get some soundproofing benefits. At $0.12 per inch, it's also one of the most affordable options.
Last Resort: Reflective Foil Bubble Wrap
We've seen a few van lifers use reflective foil bubble wrap (with an R-value of 5) as an option for insulating vans over recent years. It makes sense due to its lightweight design and ability to reflect heat away from the interior space while still allowing air to flow through its tiny bubbles - perfect for keeping condensation at bay.
However, it's reported that conductive of electricity, which can be hugely problematic for your wiring and may even pose a fire risk.
It also doesn't really protect against cold temperatures since it's an air-based form of insulation, so it should probably be avoided for winter van adventures.
Proper Insulation Techniques You Need to Know
When installing any type of good insulation, it's important to use proper techniques so you can actually benefit from proper results.
Your process would look something like this:
- Start by completely gutting the van, taking up the floor, and removing wall panels. You can also take this opportunity to add soundproofing strips.
- Then, seal off gaps around floors, windows, and doors with caulk before putting up the panels, sheets, or batts.
- Once completed, install a vapor barrier, and tidy everything up, and you're ready to start working on your wall panels and electrics.
If you're adding ventilation fans, installing them near windows or even inside closets helps circulate fresh air throughout the living space without compromising energy efficiency levels too drastically. This is especially helpful during hot summer days.
There are many guides and videos online that can help simplify and streamline this process, including:
- Climbing Van's Insulation Guide
- Go Nomad Home's Insulation Guide
- Van Life Adventure's Super Handy Guide
- The Restoration Couple's Preparation Video
Of course, if you have a problem or a question, there's a thriving online community who are on hand to help.
Insulating and ventilating your van is an essential step in staying warm on the road. Now that you better understand how to do this, it's time to winterize your van.
Part 4. Winterizing Your Van: Essential Maintenance and Upgrades
Even with your van insulated and ready to rock, it's still important to ensure the rest of your van is in good working order before heading out on your winter adventure. Here are some of the essential maintenance tasks and upgrades that will help keep your van running smoothly:
Prepare Your Water Systems
Water freezes, and since your van has many water systems, these risk freezing too. The best way to combat this is to add some good insulation to your water tanks and pipes using relevant insulation methods. You risk the pipes and fixtures freezing and bursting if you don't.
Such systems will include:
- Fresh water tank
- Gray water tank
- Hot water heater
- Other plumbing fixtures like sinks or showers.
You'll also want to add antifreeze to specific systems to add an extra layer of insulation for pipes and other components exposed to cold air or snowfall. Use non-toxic antifreeze specifically designed for RV applications when adding this liquid protection for a safe experience.
While insulating is essential for heating your van, there's no point if you're just going to lose it all through holes in the sides. To prevent this, upgrade your windows and seal any drafts where heat can escape.
You could also consider changing out old windows with newer, more insulated ones, such as double pane glass or polycarbonate panels with thermal breaks between them.
Finally, using caulk or foam sealant to fill in gaps around doors and windows will help keep interior warmth trapped inside while preventing cold air from entering through cracks around window frames.
For those looking to upgrade their van specifically for winter living, there are several options available.
- Installing a heating system such as propane can help keep the interior warm and comfortable. (More on this in a moment.)
- Upgrading battery capacity is also beneficial for longer trips away from shore power.
- Installing skid plates underneath vehicles can protect against icy roads and other hazards encountered during cold weather conditions.
With these modifications, you'll enjoy off-grid living in comfort even during the year's colder months.
Preparing Your Van for Winter
Once everything has been checked off above, it's time to start the winterizing process.
This involves steps such as:
- Flushing out cooling systems and radiators
- Filling up fuel tanks
- Changing oil types
- Disconnecting batteries
- Storing items safely away from extreme temperatures
Following manufacturer instructions closely here is key to ensuring proper maintenance practices are being followed throughout the entire process, ensuring the longevity of both vehicle components themselves but also overall safety for you while you're driving around!
There's a ton of info online that can help, including:
- Free on Tour's Winter Guide
- DIY Campervan's Guide
- Explorist's Guide
At the end of the day, having a reliable and safe van is essential for fun and exciting vanlife adventures, whatever the time of year, so make sure to do the necessary maintenance and upgrades.
Now that your vehicle is ready let's look at what equipment you need for successful winter adventures on the road.
Part 5. Essential Equipment for Surviving Winter in Your Van
At this point, the van is prepped, so it's time to move on to the equipment with our quick-fire (no pun intended) guide. There's perhaps nothing more important than choosing the right gear to keep you warm.
- are a popular choice due to their affordability and portability, but they can be dangerous if not used properly.
- provide more consistent warmth than propane but require more maintenance and fuel storage space.
- are an efficient option that doesn't require any fuel storage or ventilation, however, they may not be powerful enough in extremely cold temperatures.
- offer the best of both worlds with low-maintenance operation and no need for ventilation; however, they tend to be pricier than other heating options.
Winter Bedding and Clothing
- Down sleeping bags are lightweight yet incredibly warm; however, synthetic materials will keep you warm even if wet from condensation or snowfall inside your van.
- Wool blankets provide extra insulation on top of your sleeping bag while adding a cozy touch to your interior decorating scheme.
- : Additionally, wool clothing such as sweaters and long johns will help keep you warm in extreme temperatures without sacrificing mobility or comfort as bulky winter coats do.
Proper cooking gear is a must for winter vanlife adventures, since well-cooked food is one of the best ways to warm you through.
Look for items that can be used in multiple ways, such as cast iron skillets that double as baking dishes, or Dutch ovens, serving as both cooking pots and baking pans.
Also, utensils-wise, metal spoons won't break down easily in freezing temperatures like plastic ones. Stainless steel is best.
Insulated mugs are also a great go-to as they'll keep hot drinks warm longer, while reusable straws make sipping hot beverages easier without burning yourself on piping hot liquids.
Part 6. Power Up for Winter: Portable Power Stations
And finally, with everything set up and your van life adventures ready to go underway, it's time to think about how you'll power everything. With colder temperatures, you need reliable power sources to keep your electronics running and stay warm.
There are lots of potentials, including:
- Gas generators
- Solar panels
- RV park outlets
But by far, the most effective for cold weather is using your own portable power station, an ideal solution for providing you with reliable, off-grid energy wherever you go, whatever the weather.
Benefits of Portable Power Stations on the Road
Portable power stations have become an essential accessory for people who love to hit the road on weekends and go on camping or van life adventures.
Take the Anker PowerHouse range.
These compact and lightweight devices are designed to provide a reliable source of electricity to keep electronic devices, van heaters, cooking appliances, and all your other essential items powered while on the road.
Particularly for van life campervans, they include the following benefits:
Reliable Power Source
There is perhaps no power source more reliable on the road than a portable power station. One of the key advantages of Anker power stations is that they use LFP batteries, which are designed to last for over 10 years of everyday use.
With a massive battery capacity that can rival even traditional van electrical systems, you've got access to all the power you need wherever you are. No gas refills. No fighting over outlet spots in the RV camping site. Just pure power when you need it.
Easy to Use
Portable power stations are renowned for being incredibly easy to use and requiring minimal setup. They can be charged from a wall socket when available, from your van's DC outlet, or from a connected solar panel, making them ideal for use on the road.
Additionally, these stations are relatively lightweight, so there's no risk of weighing you down, and they come with plenty of standard AC outlets and USB ports so all your devices, including van heaters, can connect up in seconds.
Safe to Use
Unlike gas generators, portable power stations are safe to use inside your campervan. Gas generators produce harmful fumes and require proper ventilation to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
Alternatively, portable power stations run on batteries and are emission-free.
While gas generators may seem cheaper initially, the cost of fuel and maintenance can quickly add up over time. Portable power stations, on the other hand, can be recharged using free and sustainable solar energy, making them a cost-effective solution in the long run.
Portable power stations are far more eco-friendly than other options because they're powered by rechargeable batteries and produce no emissions.
Features to Consider
Of course, the battery capacity is the most crucial consideration. Without a large battery, you'll run out of juice quickly and be left in the dark. Battery capacity is measured in watt-hours (Wh), which determines how long you can power your devices before needing to recharge the power station.
You may not need the largest battery available, though. Take stock of everything in your van that needs power, and match that total output with a battery size that is appropriate for your use.
Number of Ports
You need ports or outlets so you can plug all your devices in at the same time. For modern appliances, you typically need both AC outlets and USB ports, as well as at least one Car Outlet port for 12V devices.
Size and Portability
Make sure you choose a power station that's small and lightweight enough to easily transport in your van but also has enough capacity to power your devices.
Look for a reliable option that can withstand the wear and tear of camping trips. Dependable power stations should have durable casing and high-quality internal components. Also, check customer reviews to ensure that the power station has a good track record of performance and reliability.
Top Portable Power Choices for Winter Van Life
Anker PowerHouse 521: Compact Power On-the-Go
Anker PowerHouse 555: A Step Up in Versatility
Anker PowerHouse 757: Proficient Power for Vans
Anker Solar Panel 625: Renewable Energy Anywhere
Anker Solar Generator 767: Ultimate Off-Grid Power
Part 7. The Journey Ahead
And so the adventure begins.
Venturing out into the winter wonderlands of this world can feel a little daunting, but with your van set up for success and your mind and body prepared for the cold, you'll be ready to hit the snowy road and create some of your best memories.
And remember, no matter how far off the grid you venture or what weather conditions you'll encounter along the way, Anker PowerHouse will keep you charged and connected for every mile of your journey.
So what are you waiting for?
Get ready for some amazing adventures this winter season! We'd love for you to share your own winter stories on the road, so tag @ankerpowerofficial and show us how you do #WinterVanLife.
See you on the road!
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