Cold Weather Camping In A Camper Van

Cold weather camping doesn't necessarily mean winter van camping. Low temperatures can surprise you any time of the year, so it's a good idea to be prepared at all times.

Trekking in the mountains or enjoying yourself somewhere by the sea, remember that even in the middle of the summer heat the weather can change in a matter of hours, so a warm set of clothes at least is always a "must -to-have" item on board your camper.

Most camper van conversions come equipped with auxiliary heating units, which can be powered either by propane gas or diesel fuel (or petrol heaters if you happen to have a gasoline powered camper). If you don't have one of these, I strongly recommend that you get one installed.

Why? Because in those annoying cold and rainy days, you'll feel so much better once you crank up the heater. Apart from keeping you nice and warm, they'll dry the air and keep the moisture out which is another important factor in cold weather camping. You don't want everything inside your van wet and sticky, do you?

Cold weather camping in a camper van. Dolomite mountains, Italy

Remember though, that any kind of a heater needs regular maintenance and periodical check ups according to manufacturer specifications. A once a month half hour test run will do the trick most of the time. It will save you the surprise of a non functional heating system when you most need it, take my word for it!

Cold Weather Camping In Warmer Months

One of the spots I often drive to is a Croatian camping site by the Adriatic coast which is opened all year round. If we spot a couple of sunny and winter-warm days on the weather forecast, off we go. The change of scenery, the fresh air and a lot of paths to walk on is pure magic for us. And the whole camping site is completely immersed in nature. It's one of those small things that make this life worthwhile.

Enjoying the winter sunshine in front of our camper van.

To completely enjoy this winter/spring/autumn(fall) weekends we always prepare ourselves. It's all really simple actually once you get the hang of it.

As I said before, warm and comfortable clothing with a pair or two  sporty shoes is a must. Don't forget a warm hat and a warm pair of socks and gloves. Together with my  diesel heater unit and maybe even an outside grill, this is just about all we need to get away from it all from time to time.

During the day time, we keep ourselves busy walking around and exploring what the nature has to offer. A hot meal on a camping grill is almost a must in between all those activities. After that we gather up some wood for a small camping fire, just because my wife and I can enjoy a glass of wine or two out in the open.

With our Eber heater on and our camper van nice and warm, we can then finally cuddle up in our camper bed under a warm blanket and watch a movie on my laptop or read a book with a warm cup of tea to go with.

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In the world of camping a camper van can be your comfortable home away from home for an endless list of other activities if you consider cold weather camping. Adventure sports, photographers, journalists or just you running far away from the rat race world. Just about anything out of the ordinary life comes to mind here.

And with all the comfort camper vans have to offer, the weather outside really doesn't matter at all.

Winter Cold Weather Camping

For an even more authentic cold weather camping experience we often drive our Volkswagen pop top camper van to more extreme winter adventures. We both love cross-country skiing, so we often take a short skiing trip to the Italian Dolomite alpine range for a couple of days or so. Well, we never froze to death, otherwise I wouldn't be writing these pages would I?

And the temperatures are always below the freezing point...

cold weather campin

The nights are freezing!

cold weather camping

Preparing to hit the slopes

Our pop top let's us hop from one ski slope to another in the winter. We always carry a Porta Potti (portable toilet) with us for our basic needs, neatly located in the van and the Eberspacher heater keeps us warm at night.

To keep the opened roof warm, I simply bought a large piece of inexpensive external, 7-ply insulation foil for campers, cut it to size, sewed the border strip around it and Velcro-strips on the back to zip it all together.

Being wrapped up around the pop top canvas, it does make cold weather camping a lot more pleasant at night...

Water, Gas And Electrical Power

Three things to keep in mind in sub zero temperatures.

The water and gas will freeze and the auxiliary battery will produce 20/30% lower power output then stated on the factory label.

cold weather campin

One thing you have to be careful in below zero temperatures is the water. Some camper vans have the water tanks well protected from the cold. But the waste water tank is usually always located on the bottom of the van, therefore any water inside of it will freeze of course. Keep the drain pipe open and put a bucket underneath, an old trick that camper van folks use all the time.

If you use gas for cooking and/or heating, only propane will not freeze. Butane and propane mixtures freeze easy, so avoid them in below freezing temperatures.

The batteries work just like our bodies. When they get cold, they need more energy to perform a certain task.

Charge up your auxiliary batteries at least once a month, specially in cold temperatures. It will keep them from draining out.

And unless you're on a hook up, calculate your amps carefully. Use this rough guide to help you out with your numbers...

All you need to do, is use this simple formula: Wats ÷ Volts = Ah (amps)!

Just for example, lets presume you run the following appliances;

  • Small lamp..................................8 W...............x2 h = 16 Wh
  • TV set........................................40 W...............x2 h = 80 Wh
  • Water pump...............................30 W.............x0,2h = 10 Wh
  • Halogen lamps........................2x20 W...............x2 h = 80 Wh
  • Radio.........................................15 W...............x2 h = 30 Wh
  • TOTAL.....................................................................=216 Wh

The total sum is 216 Wh/per day. Divide this number with 12 V (volts) and you will get Ah (amps) numbers.

So...216 Wh ÷ 12 V = 18 Ah. There you have it. The average daily power consumption using the above numbers is 18 Ah/per day, which means that a 100 Ah auxiliary battery will provide enough power for about four to five days without being charged.

The two largest power consumers are compressor coolers and diesel heaters such as Webasto or Eberspacher (Espar to the North American public). They are all very effective and full of modern technology, but they need a lot of power juice to run.

I guess that for any kind of cold weather camping, you have to be an active and adventurous person that has camping and outdoors and the love of nature in the blood. And that's exactly the type of person camper van conversions are made for.

Once you get it all together and actually begin to enjoy cold weather camping, you just might start asking yourself a question that I ask myself a lot over and over.

Why did I rush right in the middle of the summer heat so often before?


Your Cold Weather Van Camping Stories

Cold weather camping can be a wonderful experience if prepare yourself for lower temperatures. If you enjoy any kind of activities all year around with your camper van, I'd love to hear from you! And camping enthusiasts from around the world always enjoy reading about something they haven't done before.


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