Snow dunes, icicles, winter forests - All about vanlife in the cold season
Keep the cold out: insulation is everything!
Glittering white everywhere - it's not only beautiful, but also cold. When it's double-digit below zero outside, it can quickly get uncomfortably frosty in the camper. The windows in vans, motorhomes and caravans are usually only single-glazed and therefore conduct the cold from outside almost completely into the interior of the vehicle. The driver's cab and rear doors also often serve as cold bridges, i.e. as a non-insulated connection between the interior and exterior of the vehicle. Insulating the relevant areas is therefore probably the most important step in ensuring that camping is a joy during the winter months. Fortunately, simple means are sufficient to provide effective insulation.
The cab should be separated from the rest of the van, for example, by stretching a blanket in front of it. The same can be done for the rear doors. Simple blankets can already shield you from the cold, but even more effective are insulating mats specially designed for winter camping. Such mats can also be used to cover the driver's cabin from the outside. This has the advantage that the ventilation openings located there are also closed and the insulation is therefore more efficient. In the case of windows, the insulating mats are simply attached between the pane and the roller shutter. The side with the aluminum coating must face inwards in order to keep the heat in the vehicle as effectively as possible. Cold also penetrates the bus via the floor. To counteract this, blankets, carpets or thermal mats can be used - otherwise, of course, thick socks and slippers will also help if your feet are cold. A cold bridge that is often forgotten is the guide rail of the side door. It is best to cover this overnight with a blanket or something similar, which can be easily removed in the morning when you want to go outside.
High roofs are best suited for camping in winter. With extra insulation, hardly any heat escapes outside even in double-digit subzero temperatures. A soft crumpled velour lining also ensures a cozy atmosphere inside. So you can sleep comfortably in the high roof even in frosty temperatures.
Pop-up roofs also invite you to winter camping: For the SCA 212, SCA 214 and SCA 252 roofs [internal link][check information], there is an insulation layer made of xxx that can be attached to the fabric bellows with Velcro [check] if required. Alternatively, a thermal hood can be pulled completely over the roof in winter. Heating pop-up roofs with the parking heater is no problem: The disc springs integrated in the sleeping arrangement ensure optimum ventilation and thus also supply the area in the sleeping roof with heat.
By the way: Forced ventilation is integrated in every motorhome. These vents ensure that there is enough oxygen in the room while you sleep. Without the ventilation, there is a risk of carbon dioxide poisoning, which in extreme cases can even be life-threatening! Therefore, even though forced vents are cold bridges, you should still not close them.
Heating: But with what?
Winter camping without a parking heater is not a good idea: To prevent water pipes from freezing, there should be at least a minimum of warmth in the vehicle - and of course it is also more comfortable when it is warm. When choosing a parking heater, you have the option of either gas, gasoline or diesel, or electricity.
A gas heater is the obvious solution for anyone who wants to be self-sufficient on the road. In terms of safety, however, gas heaters lag behind gasoline or diesel heaters or electric-powered heaters: in the event of a leak, there is a risk of asphyxiation, but also of explosion due to the high flammability of the gas. The safety requirements for installation are therefore significantly higher than for alternative mobile home heaters - the installation of a gas detector is absolutely necessary. A disadvantage of the gas heating with the winter camping is it besides that the bottles must be changed usually by hand - if in the middle of the night the heating fuel runs out, that means: Out from the comfortable bed and sleep-drunk outside into the cold. Another disadvantage is that there are different connection valves for gas cylinders abroad - finding a suitable one to fill up a German gas cylinder can therefore be a challenge.
Gasoline or diesel-powered auxiliary heaters have the advantage that you don't have to worry about fuel, since they tap into the camper's existing fuel tank. Using a corresponding heater is therefore convenient in two respects: in contrast to heating with gas, you don't have to change bottles manually and the required fuel is available worldwide without complications. However, due to the exhaust gases produced, gasoline or diesel heaters are not the most ecological way to fill your own motorhome with heat.
A battery is not enough to power an electric heater. However, those who stop exclusively at campgrounds will find many advantages in the electric-powered heater: it is just as convenient as gasoline and diesel heaters, but more environmentally friendly. In addition, it does not require a long start-up time, but heats almost immediately. Ideally, the heat is then distributed throughout the room as quickly as possible by a fan.
In an emergency, you can also make do with fan heaters or radiant heaters - but of course this also only works if you are at a campsite and can connect to the power grid.
If you are more likely to be traveling in Germany, you might opt for a gas-powered parking heater. Those who stay in unpaved areas will rather appreciate the advantages of diesel or gasoline heaters. Those who mainly visit campsites will probably choose the heater with electricity. So which heating system is best depends on individual travel needs.
Ventilate, ventilate, ventilate!
It doesn't matter if it's summer or winter: Humidity is always in the van. In the midst of dry summer air and open doors and windows, however, you will hardly notice it. In winter, however, it's a different story: Whether it's the steam produced when we shower, or simply the air we exhale when we sleep - both condense on the windows and, in the worst case, can even freeze overnight. But the ice sheets themselves are not even the problem: If there is permanent moisture inside your camper, this can lead to mold in the long term - and no one wants to let this spoil their comfort in the vehicle. It is therefore important to ventilate reliably even in winter and to regularly check the surfaces behind the insulation for moisture.
So: even if it's hard to open the doors and let in a blast of cold - conscientious ventilation is essential for well-being both during and after the vacation.
Be careful with the pipes: Sewage turns to ice
Those who do not have the luxury of a heated wastewater tank must fear that it will freeze over. To prevent this, it can therefore be useful to add the antifreeze intended for the windshield wiper system or, alternatively, some methylated spirits to the tank. It is also worth considering using a simple bucket instead of the integrated waste water tank. In this, frozen wastewater is not a problem, as it can be easily loosened and removed by tapping.
Do not let doors freeze
Rubber seals are located on doors, windows and also on the pop-up roof. In winter, there is a risk of them freezing - and who wants to stand in front of the door of their camper in freezing temperatures and not be able to get in? And using force is not a good idea there either: the rubber seal is porous when frozen and tears easily. In preparation for the winter vacation, you should therefore treat all rubbers with a suitable care product. Our SCA glycerine stick, for example, is suitable for this. With the practical sponge attachment, you don't get your hands dirty when caring for the rubber seals and you can finish the job quickly.
Don't get stuck: Winter tires and starting aids
No winter vacation without winter tires. Since 2018, suitable products are marked with the Alpine symbol (let's just call it "snowflake") on the sidewall. For older winter tires, there is a transition period until September 2024, by which time they must be replaced, otherwise you could face a fine. But even regardless of this, you shouldn't be stingy with your winter tires. After all, who wants to get stuck in the snow on vacation?
By the way: If you are traveling with a caravan, it is best to equip it with suitable winter tires, even if this is not mandatory.
Of course, snow chains and starting aids for the van are also part of the equipment. In principle, you can also use boards - but more effective are professional products made of hard rubber. If you put them under the front wheels, it is easy to get out of slush, so that the vacation can continue cheerfully.
And apart from that - banal, but nevertheless important - there should be a shovel in every camper, so that you can free yourself from heavier snow masses and continue your journey.
The main thing is warm
In addition, you ensure comfortable temperatures when winter camping by paying attention to a few little things. Take a good quality sleeping bag and blankets. Invest in thermal underwear, socks and hats - if it gets too cold in the van at night, all this will help you to stay warm in bed. A lot of heat is released through the head, which is why a hat can be a real plus when sleeping. Of course, you can also use a hot water bottle.
During the day you can use a thermos flask and - to avoid puddles on the ground in the camper - a drip tray for your shoes and wet jacket. It's also a good idea to bring a spare pair of winter shoes - it can take a while to get everything dry in the van, and no one wants to go out in the cold with wet clothes.
- Install a suitable parking heater in your van.
- Treat all rubber seals with a glycerine stick.
- Insulate the driver's cabin, rear doors and floor with thermal mats or blankets or carpets.
- Insulate your windows with thermal mats: The aluminum-coated side faces inward.
- Use a bucket instead of a waste water tank or protect against icing with antifreeze or methylated spirits.
- Equip your van with high quality winter tires
- Take start-up aids with you.
- Take a snow shovel with you.
- Take a broom with you (e.g. for snow-covered windows and solar panels).
- Keep warm with thermal underwear, hat, socks and hot water bottle.
- Take along a drip tray for wet jackets and shoes - as a precaution, also get spare clothes and shoes.
- Take a fan heater or radiant heater with you, just in case.
- Ventilate regularly and do not close the forced air vents!