Top Tips for Safe and Fun Winter Camping

With temperatures dropping and the holidays around the corner, you may be itching for an outdoor adventure. You might also be wondering about those cold winter nights. Or perhaps about the road conditions and safety.

We want to make sure you have an epic winter adventure in only the very best of ways, so we’ve prepared these tips for winter camping. Below we cover what to pack to stay cozy and warm, discuss some pre-trip planning basics like knowing your route and being prepared to shift plans if necessary, and share some specific tips about using a camper van in the winter.

You can set that OOO message with confidence by following our top tips for safe and fun winter camping. Read on for important things to know before you go winter camping in a camper van.

Clothing

If you’ve ever spent a night shivering and shaking from cold weather, then you know the importance of having plenty of clothing layer options to stay warm. Have total temperature control, from head to toe, by packing some basic layers. 

The golden rule of winter hiking and camping is to stay dry, and for that, moisture wicking is a must. To keep warm, you’ll want to stay dry, which means wicking away the rain, snow, or sweat from your skin. Avoid cotton and cotton blends when you’re outside exploring. Cotton does not wick nor dry quickly. Instead think merino wool and poly blends for your base layers. You can keep the soft cotton flannels for when you’re back inside the camper van.

Socks and Slippers

Also bring plenty of pairs of socks. If you’re headed out to ski or hike, you might take an extra pair of dry socks with you in your daypack. And if you pack some cozy slippers for when you are inside the van, you can kick off any soggy hiking boots and leave them by the door so you don’t get the floor of the van wet and dirty.

It’s a good idea to have an extra pair of dry shoes too, so that you can be drying out your hiking boots, and still have a pair of comfy shoes to slip on for that quick trip into the mountaintop coffee shop.

Headwear

Remember that a lot of heat is lost from the feet, neck, and head, so pack appropriately. Bring a hat, and your jacket that has a hood. Throw in a scarf as well. You can always shed a layer or two when that van starts to get toasty. But keep hats and the like close by as covering your head is one of the best ways to get warm quickly.

Route Planning

The journey is the destination, after all, and first and foremost you want that journey to be a safe one. Plan your route with cold weather in mind and know the road ahead. Be sure you check the forecast and driving conditions with the Department of Transportation and the National Weather Service.

You may have your eye set on a particular outdoor destination, but be ready to shift gears if the weather in that area takes an unexpected turn. The National Park Service will be your saving grace in helping ensure you stay informed about conditions for popular destinations.

If you’re not sure about where to go when your original plan falls through, then check out GoCamp’s locations page to read a few of our staff picks for favorite places to go.

Van Features for Winter Camping

There are a few features to be on the lookout for when choosing a camper van for a winter camping trip. 

Heaters

Choosing a van with a heater is a no-brainer. And diesel or gasoline heaters, such as a Webasto heater, are the top pick for toasty toes. These types of heaters consume low levels of energy, and they are safe. By siphoning low levels of fuel from the vehicle, the heater then combusts the fuel inside a heat exchanger before a fan blows the hot air into the cab of the van. 

Portable heaters are also a great option to keep you snug as a bug in a rug.  Electric heaters are generally safer than propane or gas heaters, but will consume more energy from your van. Propane heaters run the risk of releasing odorless carbon monoxide, which is poisonous in a confined, unventilated space. Never keep a propane heater running overnight or unattended. Use these heaters with extreme caution and consistent monitoring to keep you and your fellow travelers safe and secure throughout the night.

Window Coverings

Window coverings have a big impact on regulating the temperature of your van. Whether you’re in the hot desert heat of Joshua Tree or in the chilly winds of Acadia National Park, window coverings preserve the internal temperatures of your van with zero energy from your van and very little effort on your part.

Insulated window coverings, like windows in a van, come in all shapes and sizes. Most coverings are designed with magnets on the edges that easily snap into place around each window. Once secured, the insulated window coverings keep heat or AC in while also providing privacy to your home on wheels.

4×4 and chains

If icy, snowy roads are on the agenda, then you might need a 4×4 vehicle. Four-wheel drive (4×4) vehicles offer more clearance, better traction, and a sturdier suspension. You’ll appreciate that extra oomph when you hear the snow crunch under the tires, giving you the confidence to safely navigate winter roads.

If the weather looks more extreme, then putting chains on your tires may be the best move. The chains add extra grip to your tires to lock in extra traction to navigate ice and thick snow. Installing chains on your tires is often worth the effort to get over those mountain passes safely. When you rent a winter-ready GoCamp van, the van will be prepared appropriately for your travels, so you don’t get stuck out in the cold.

Winter Considerations

So you’ve packed your best cold weather gear, picked the perfect van, you know your route, understand heater safety, and now you’re on the road to making some epic memories. Here’s a few more considerations for having a great winter trip. 

Wet Gear

Wet socks, boots, gloves, and ski skins should not be left to dry over the dashboard vents. Condensation from drying out items can make its way down through vents into critical mechanical components. This could put a quick end to your camping trip, and lead to some pretty costly repairs. So throw that damp gear into the garage, otherwise known as the space under your bed, or hang it in other areas of the van. 

Fuel Levels

Because your heater might be using fuel from your fuel tank, you’ll want to keep an eye on your gas gauge. Diesel can freeze, so if you’re in a diesel powered van, it is critical that you don’t let that tank get below one quarter full. Not only is running the van overnight with low fuel bad for the fuel pump in the van, you also run the risk of running out of fuel overnight and waking up cold and stuck. Some vans won’t start if the tank is too low, which is an adventure you definitely do not want.

Snow

Even with 4×4 vehicles, we recommend that you not park in snow if you can avoid it. As the snow melts beneath the van, the likelihood increases that your tires might sink into wet, mucky ground underneath. Not only that, but being on top of snow and ice increases your chances of freezing water lines. Park on plowed, paved surfaces if you can. 

Awnings

If your camper van has an awning, make sure it’s safely stowed for high winds, heavy rain, hail or snow. Consult with the van owner so you know how to set it up, how to take it down, and when it just should stay tucked away altogether.

Don't Let Winter Slow You Down

Whether you’re traversing the snowy terrain around Mt. Rainer or camping near a frozen lake for some ice skating, GoCamp has the perfect winter van for your winter adventure.

For a great trip, bring the right clothing, plan your route ahead of time, and be mindful of a few strategies to stay safe and warm while winter camping. Click the button below to browse GoCamp vans that would be perfect for your next winter adventure.