A Van Lifer’s Guide to Winter Adventures

Van life in the winter can be daunting for some, but we’re here to tell you that anyone can live and even enjoy life on the road in below freezing temps. It’s about how you “dress” your van for the cold, but also about how you think about winter. In the colder months of the year, it’s easy to opt for a hotel, or leave your van at home when you take a trip to the mountains, but this doesn’t have to be the case. With the right set-up, gear, winterization processes, and attitude, you’ll be well on your way to successful winter adventures in your van!

It can get chilly in the wintertime, and snow is not out of the question depending on where you go. If you like winter activities such as skiing or snowboarding, then learning how to properly use your van in the winter is imperative! There are many ways to keep you and your van warm, safe, and comfortable in the winter months. From insulation and heaters, to driving down south, there are solutions for everyone. Let’s dive into the tips and tricks we recommend for winter travels!

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Starting off with a strong foundation

Insulation plays a crucial role in maintaining a comfortable temperature in your van across various weather conditions, especially in the cold. When selecting insulation material, consider factors like affordability, installation process, and the type of weather your van will face. Options include synthetic material, Havelock wool, and foam boards.

At Outside Van, we utilize full 3M Thinsulate insulation. While it may not be the most budget-friendly choice, we prefer it for its non-toxic composition and effective sound-dampening properties. This material excels at controlling temperature and moisture levels, particularly in below-freezing temperatures. We complement our insulation with a core sound-deadening package for maximum comfort while on the road or sleeping in busy campsites.

Van lifers have an abundance of heating options, and you should consider your unique build when deciding. Common heaters include portable propane heaters, fixed propane heaters, electric space heaters, and diesel or gasoline heaters. At Outside Van, our preference is a fixed diesel heater, known for its efficiency. This method involves siphoning a small amount of diesel from the van’s fuel tank, offering a long-term solution without concerns about condensation or propane leaks. Among our top choices is a concealed installation diesel furnace with a forced air heating system that warms both air and water in our van builds. This heater operates on a combination of auxiliary power and diesel fuel.

Winterization

It is important to have water when you’re on the road, but it’s even more important to be prepared in every season so you don’t risk bursting your water pipes! Winterization is the process of removing standing water from pipes so that if and when freezing temperatures are encountered, the expansion of the standing water doesnt damage your water system. We install our permanent water tanks inside the garage of our builds which helps prevent damage caused from freezing water, but if you have plumbing that is exposed to the elements, or if you are storing your van for the winter in an area that is not temperature controlled, winterizing your van is a necessary process to be comfortable with.

You can ensure your pipes don’t freeze or burst when the temperature drops in a couple of ways. The basic process of winterization in most van plumbing is to blow out the entire system with an air compressor or an integrated drainage pump like a Floë pump. We currently use Floe in our Model van Approach. During the winterization process, it is important to take into account how your water system is built. If it has extra components like an in-line water filter which is also susceptible to freezing if not properly cleared.

If long-term winterization is not an option, and you need water access when you’re in the cold, you can maintain a temperature inside the van that prevents the pipes and tanks from freezing. Although it’s not a solution on its own, it can help to insulate pipes with heat tape, cell spray foam, or something similar.

Storing Your Van

If you won’t be traveling in your van during the winter season, store your van properly, whether at an RV storage site or in your driveway. If you plan to store your van for the winter, you will want to do a full winterization process, especially in sub-zero temperatures. For an extra safety measure, add RV non-toxic antifreeze to your pipes. Properly completing the winterization process assures you that your van will be in good condition when spring rolls around!

Special gear to help with snowy and icy conditions

Dedicated snow tires or chains provide an extra measure of safety when driving in below freezing, icy, and snowy conditions. Snow tires and chains are designed to enhance traction on slippery roads, providing increased safety. Without them, especially in adverse road conditions, the risk of accidents rises, potentially leading to more extensive damage to your adventure vehicle.

At OSV, we prefer enhancing our builds with oversized snow-rated tires like the BFG KO2 All-Terrain tire. Snow-rated tires eliminate the necessity for chaining up, but if you are using stock tires, investing in chains is essential. When adding chains to oversized tires, you may encounter clearance issues that you’ll need to address. Your choice of chains depends on your vehicle. For example, with 4WD or AWD, the decision to chain up two tires or all four is yours to make. Conduct thorough research to determine the most suitable option for your needs.

If you have a love for off-roading, winter sports, or just driving in the snow, consider purchasing field recovery gear. When your AWD or 4WD falls short, MAXTRAX recovery boards are a great option for getting you out of tricky situations. MAXTRAX or similar boards will help bail you out when you get stuck in snow and bring you peace of mind on epic overlanding adventures.

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Winter alternatives for van lifers

If you feel like it, drive south to avoid the below freezing temperatures entirely. Driving south (if you’re in the states) to places like Texas, Florida, South Carolina, and Arizona relieves you of any worry you might have around van life in the cold, and it’s also a great opportunity to visit parts of the country that are too hot in the summer!

Embracing winter as a van lifer is not only possible but rewarding with the right prep. From efficient insulation to effective heating, you can create a cozy haven for winter adventures. Specialized gear like snow tires and recovery boards ensures safety on icy roads. Winterization processes safeguard essentials, from water tanks to pipes. Whether driving south for warmth or storing your van, take the steps for a seamless transition into spring. Gear up, stay warm, and let the winter van life adventures begin!

For ultimate winter adventure van inspiration, check out our demo van:

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