Although our rental vans aren’t available during the cold season, many people love winter road trips! And we understand them: the snowy landscapes appear magical and it really makes you want to go on an adventure … Besides, if you practice a seasonal sport, you can even seize the opportunity to do this activity all over the country.
But we strongly suggest you prepare and equip yourself before you leave because a night below 0 may be difficult in a van. So here are our recommendations to survive to your winter road trips.
1— Warm clothes
During winter, we play a lot with layers of clothing. At first, you might be inclined to keep your coat on all night, but it’s not something we recommend … In fact, it might do the opposite, because the humidity you will have accumulated during the day will make you shiver all night long.
You have to bet on merino wool bodysuits (forget those worn for skiing during the day; otherwise it will cause the same problem!) as well as the multiplication of layers. Wool sweaters, hoodies, jogging pants, etc., don’t skimp on quality, the quality of your sleep will depend on it!
During the day or when you’re driving, seize the opportunity to dry your damp clothes in the front of your vehicle, near the air vents. The sun and the heating of your van will go a long way in drying all your things!
Vanpacker’s tip: Put a plastic bin at the entrance of your van, you can put your wet boots or shoes there and it will prevent you from getting water everywhere. Try to hang your coat in the front of the car, you won’t get snow on your bed. The last thing you want is a wet and cold bed!
2— The insulation
If you have the option of isolating your van before you convert it, DO IT. Even if initially you don’t expect to have a winter, some parts of Canada are cool in the summer, so you’ll appreciate having a minimum of insulation. So many different options and thicknesses exist! Whether it’s insulation boards, foam, wool, hemp or even cork, or others, you’re sure to find an option that will work for you!
If you can’t completely isolate it, or if you want to keep your windows open to see the scenery, get yourself (or do it yourself if you have that talent) some thick insulating curtains! These will cut off the infiltration of cold air that could enter through the windows. Besides, don’t open your curtains for any reason when night falls, every opening, no matter how small, let cold air into your van, and you absolutely want to avoid those cold drafts. Many people also use pieces of insulation board (the ones with an aluminum side), which they cut according to the shape of the windows, to have thicker insulation in these places.
By combining the idea of panels with thick curtains, you will definitely have a better chance of staying warm in your van. But remember that moisture may be your worst enemy, so consider the next point, which will help you get rid of it.
3— Heating and ventilation
Humidity is, as mentioned in the previous line, our worst enemy during cold seasons or when traveling near the sea (both in the Maritime and in the West). As soon as our clothes or sleeping bags are slightly damp, the cold seems to spread faster, and it can even cause bad odors. Good air circulation and heating will help you avoid this problem, believe us!
For ventilation, if you can put a fan, such as a Maxxfan (the one that can pull AND push air ideally) on an auxiliary battery before winter, that would be a big plus for your road trips. You don’t want to have to open the windows before, especially during an unforeseen storm, so if you have a fan you will always have air circulation in your van. If that’s impossible, on warmer days, or without snow at least, make sure you slightly open a front window. It will help dry out all your fabrics.
To heat your van, three options are available to you;
First, there is the electric heater, but to use it you have to be able to plug in, because even if you have an auxiliary battery, it won’t be powerful enough to keep you warm all night. It’s effective, but not practical if you can’t plug your van.
There are also propane heaters, as Mr. Heater it is really what is more powerful while being independent from the car, so you can easily move it to where you need it. There exist, however, some disadvantages. For starters, you shouldn’t leave it open overnight, as it must be used with caution. You need to ventilate your van at all times, because you don’t want to poison yourself with gas. We advise you to get a gas detector, it could literally save your life, and it’s so cheap, it would be ridiculous not to do it!
The last choice is a diesel heater, as a Webasto or Espar type. In general, this is the most effective option. With that, no stress, you can sleep in your van all winter without feeling cold! Its disadvantages; this option absolutely requires an installation by a professional and certified person, you’ll need an auxiliary battery if you want to be able to use it without your engine running, and it’s quite expensive. We also recommend that you get a gas detector for this option. As with propane heaters, the fumes can be toxic if a leak occurs or if the appliance isn’t installed properly (hence the importance of having it installed by pros)!
If your plan is to only sleep 2–3 nights in your van, this might not be the best source of heat for you. However, if your plan is to spend the winter in your van, we strongly advise you to consider this type of heating, you will see, on your first night at -15 outside, you will thank us. 😉
4— Winter gear
Some winter equipment isn’t mandatory if you plan to go out for only 2 or 3 days in accessible places and with good weather. However, if you’re thinking of spending the cold season in your van, we recommend these few items of gear that will undoubtedly serve you this winter!
First, we suggest you choose a good cold-resistant sleeping bag, which will keep you warm even in -25. It will therefore be necessary to try to take a temperature rating between -18 °C to -29 °C. You could also get an electric blanket, which isn’t always the most effective, but all sources of heat are welcome on a cold day!
Then a shovel and a kit of Traction Aidshould add to your travel essentials! Believe us, if your car turns stuck in the snow, it will really help you, especially if you’re traveling alone. You can dig in the front of your wheels to slide the traction boards in and in two steps, three movements, you should be able to get out of where you got stuck. It may also be useful in the summer if a wheel of your car gets stuck in the mud.
Adding an awning to your van could prevent you from getting snow into your vehicle when it snows. A tarpaulin over the trunk of your van will also protect you from the elements when you want to cook outside. But be sure to clear the land frequently, as van awnings and hanging tarps can’t hold up as much weight, so they could break over time.
Speaking of snow clearing, a snow broom will come in handy, to clear snow off your car, your awning and solar panels if you have some.
Don’t forget it at home like Gab! 😉
5— Where to park during winter
Since most campgrounds are closed, or only open for residents, and most rest areas are closed in winter, we need to change our travel habits slightly.
Some campsites that welcome year-round residents sometimes make exceptions if you can be independent in your van. They generally won’t have showers, dump stations, water, etc. But if you plan to stay in the same area for a while, try calling a few campsites to see if they might accommodate you.
Obviously, Wal-Mart’s parking lots and truck stops are open and cleared of snow, but this is not always ideal, due to noise and light. We often keep these spaces as Plan C, or even D, when we REALLY can’t find another parking space.
Snowmobile or cross-country skiing parking lots are generally good options because they are large and plowed, so you shouldn’t get stuck in storms! The biggest advantage of these places is that there’s not a lot of lightning so you can stay quiet and sleep in the dark.
As we often say, during the cold season, half of the things you take on a road trip will help you stay warm, so you will definitely feel overloaded compared to your summer road trips. It’s normal! You prefer to have more than enough…
Now you are almost ready for your winter road trip, all you need is YOUR Vanpacker conversion kit which you can discoverright here.