Van life: Summer vs. Winter

by Sam Odario

Van life can be super exciting and freeing: you can go practically wherever you like whenever you like and there are very few things that can prevent you from living your dream. However, while some mild seasons like spring and fall can be perfect for spending time inside a van, summer and winter are a little tricky. Extreme temperatures, lack of lighting control and feelings of claustrophobia can take their toll on those who adopt van life unprepared. So, in order to have a 5-star van stay all year round, take a look at these tips to avoid beginner mistakes. 

Van Life in Winter

For really cold winters with snow and low temperatures and spending lots of time in your van you will first need a good van that has good insulation. But warmer winters and shorter winter trips are doable in almost any van. Here are three thing that should be at the top of the list for winter van life.

Get good tires 

While “all seasons” tire exist on the market, don’t let them fool you. If you want to stay safe on the road, both on the icy and hot road, you need appropriate tires. In terms of traction, winter and summer tires are a lot different and they can make the difference between staying on the road and slipping off. For added winter safety, you should keep snow chains at hand (they might also save your ass in mud). Chains for vans are different than regular car chains so make sure you get the right ones.

Invest in a good heating 

If you’re planning to live life on the road, you will want to stay as comfortable as possible in the winter and the only way to do so is with proper heating. During winter, Webasto heating will be a true lifesaver since it feeds directly from the tank and you don’t have to monitor anything. Also, it produces a little more heat than Propex. All in all, you should never let your van freeze, since you can lose all your plumbing, food and even your household products. Heating also comes in handy in spring and fall and is great if you need to dry your wetsuits or something similar. For a longer overview of van winter heating options check our van life guide.

Pack plenty of clothing

No matter if you’re trying to stay cool or warm, you’ll need layers. Layers are key to comfort and can make a difference between freezing/boiling and staying warm/dry. To maximize the usability of your closet, opt for layers that can be easily combined and are multi-purpose. Also, don’t hesitate to invest in some performance clothing. It’s very important to have a few heat holders like thermal socks that will prevent frozen feet even after a prolonged period of sitting in a cold van. Best pairs are made with materials that trap heat which is what keeps your feet nice and toasty. Look for other performance gear, both for cold and hot weather, and you’ll notice the improvement in your comfort levels. A good sleeping bag that will keep you super warm during the night will also make your van life in winter much easier. You will wake up warmed up and ready for the day.

Photo: Jordan Irving

Van Life in Summer

Van life in summer is a whole different game. We usually spend lots of time outside so the only real problem van getting really hot is during the night. Again, an insulated van will help, putting car window shades over all the windows will prevent direct sunlight reaching inside of the van and considerably lower the temperature inside the van. What else is different when it comes to using your van in summer?

Stay cool

While you want to close your van from the sun during the day, during the night you want air flow. The best way to stay cool in the summer is to boost your ventilation. Provide good airflow by keeping doors and windows open, but you might also want to invest in a roof vent fan. If that’s too big of an investment, you can opt for a battery-powered fan or an electric fan to keep the air flowing. In case you’re staying in a very hot climate, the idea of getting a generator to run a small AC might not be super crazy. Once you spent a few sleepless nights bathed in sweat, you’ll love your air conditioner more than your entire life! 

Pick the right time to cook

If you’re planning to cook in your van, it’s important to know that your stove will make the inside of the van that much hotter. While this might not be a huge deal in the winter (it will even make your stay more pleasant), you really don’t need extra heat in the summer. Plan your meals accordingly and avoid heavy recipes for lunch. Having a nice salad, sandwich or a ready meal will get you through the day, so you can cook in the evening when temperatures get a little more pleasant. 

Get deep-cycle batteries 

All the appliances and fixtures in your van are known for drawing a lot of power, especially in winter and summer. In winter lights and heating fans will run around the clock and in the summer fans and freezer (if you have one) will also be working in overdrive. To keep up with the power demand do a power audit to find out how much power do you need on average each day and then invest in one or two deep-cycle batteries to keep you supplied (check our van life beginner guide for tips on van batteries). 

Van life can truly be a wonderful experience for everyone as long as they know how to handle all seasons. With these tips, though, you’ll be ready all-year-round and won’t even think about going back to your regular boring life! 

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