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Tips for Van Camping in Winter

Just because summer is over it doesn’t mean camping season is over. We have tips for van camping in winter so you have a great time.

Van camping in winter can be just as fun as van camping in the summer.

As much as we hate to think about it, winter is (always) just around the corner, and it often signals an end to camping season. It doesn’t have to, though. With these tips for van camping in winter, you can extend your van camping season by a few months and maybe even go year-round!

In addition to these tips that are specific to camping in your van, you also need to make sure your van is road-worthy and winter-worthy.

That means getting a full check-up before hitting the road and getting snow tires or chains if needed.

There are tons of resources out there for winter driving, so don’t forget about that half of the winter van camping equation!

A camper van in a snowy scene.

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We have a whole post on bedding for different types of camping, but obviously, the type of bedding you choose will be the most important factor in your enjoyment of winter camping in your van.

Ideally, you’ll want to have sleeping bags rated to the lowest outside temperature that you plan to experience. (This can vary based on which additional steps you choose to take from our tips below.)

If you are using an air mattress, then flannel sheets and a nice down comforter will do the trick. (IKEA has great down comforters that are inexpensive!)

However, I recommend adding an insulating layer below the air mattress to trap some heat in, otherwise, your air mattress will have cold air in it and won’t keep you as warm. You can avoid this problem by purchasing a specific mattress for van camping as we did. 

Bonus Tip: throw the clothes you plan to wear in the morning down at the bottom of your sleeping bag. The extra insulation will keep your feet warm, but more importantly, you won’t have to put on cold clothes in the morning. There’s almost nothing worse than leaving your cozy cocoon in the morning to put on cold socks and clothes!

Heat Sources

In addition to your own body heat, adding external heat sources can really help keep you warm while van camping on a cold winter night. Some of our favorite camping heat sources are as follows:

  • Hot Water: chances are, you have a Nalgene bottle (right now this one is buy one, get one free from REI) or two lying around. Before bed, use your stove to heat up some water to *almost boiling* and then put it in the Nalgene and tuck that into your sleeping bag to warm you up. You can also buy an old fashioned hot water bottle made of rubber or plastic.  
  • Hand/Foot Warmers: single-use air-activated heat packs should be part of any camping setup and First Aid Kit. They work great and can provide warmth for up to ten hours. You can buy these in bulk and they can be reactivated with more air, so when you get up in the middle of the night for your nature call, you can shake them out and re-warm them before you go back to bed.  
  • Space Heaters: you should be very careful using space heaters in an enclosed space and ensure that you aren’t creating a carbon monoxide or fire hazard, but they do make space heaters specific for camping that can warm the air around you in the van. 

Van Insulation

You can add an extra bit of insulation to your van by covering the windows at night so the heat doesn’t escape. Insulation panels work great and can be custom-made or store-bought.

If you are building out a van to be your primary camping vehicle or residence, then you can prep for winter by fully insulating the walls, ceiling, and floor of your van during the buildout. 

Site Selection

Now, let’s look outside the van and see how we can make winter camping better. Choosing the right camping site can make a huge difference in your comfort level.

Consider exposure and wind when you choose where to park your van. High on a bluff over one of the Great Lakes is going to be cold and windy, so a more sheltered site is best.

If you can catch the morning light of sunrise on your windows, this can help to warm up the van in the morning so you’re not scraping frost off the inside of the windows!

Or, you can just choose a van camping site in the Florida Keys and not worry about any of the other tips here!

Campground Tips

Something you might forget to consider when camping in the winter is the campsite services.

A lot of campgrounds will remain open in the winter but with little or no services. Water lines may be shut off and bathrooms closed, so you may need to bring water and some way to use the bathroom during your trip. The same goes for electric hookups and trash removal. You may need to be entirely self-sufficient even if you are camping at a full-service campsite in the winter. 

Bonus tip: don’t forget about the shorter days and lack of daylight that might keep you in your van for much longer than you would be in the summertime. With less than 12 hours of daylight in the winter, your activity levels change, and lying prone for that long can take a toll on your body. Make sure you have a plan in place for how to spend the dark hours before bedtime, whether it’s comfy chairs in your van for reading or activities planned outside the van. 

These are our tips for van camping, which I’m sure we’ll add more to every time we head out next winter. Do you have any tips to share with us for comfortable van camping in the winter? We would love to hear from other van campers on the best tips and tricks for staying warm in the cold winter months. 

Have you van camped in the winter? What would you share? 

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