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 and wondering …. what about those cold winter nights? And what about the road conditions and safety? 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.

Know Before You Go

We want to make sure you have an epic adventure in only the very best of ways. Please read these important tips for winter camping before you head out on your adventure. We’ll talk about the importance of what to pack to stay safe and cozy, knowing your route and being prepared to shift plans if necessary, and some specific tips about using a winter-ready camper van.

Load Up On Layers

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. Having those extra layers means that you’ll be able to better regulate your body heat whether you’re cooking up brunch in the galley, or sleeping past sunrise. Here are some things to keep in mind for what to pack.

Moisture-wicking is a must. To keep warm, you’ll want to stay dry, which means wicking away the weather’s evidence (rain, snow, and sweat!) from your skin. The golden rule of winter hiking and camping is stay dry.  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 base layers, mid-layers, socks, and gloves for outdoor adventures. You can keep the soft cotton flannels for when you’re back inside the camper van.

Bring plenty of pairs of socks. If you’re headed out to ski or hike, bring an extra pair of dry socks with you in your daypack. 

Pack some cozy slippers for in the van so you can kick off those soggy hiking boots and leave ‘em by the door.

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.

Remember that a lot of heat is lost from the feet, neck, and head, so pack appropriately. Bring the beanies! Pack the puffy! Scarf it up! You can always shed a layer or two when that van starts to get toasty (trust us, it can get toasty!), but they’ll be close by for when you’re ready to step out into the winter terrain.

Pro Tip: When packing bulkier clothing items and space is a consideration, compression sacks come in super handy.

Safety First

Your bags are packed. Your coffee is in its trusty to-go mug. And you’re ready to hit the road.

But wait! Do you have your travel plan ready? IMPORTANT TIP: Have a plan AND a back up plan, especially during cold weather.

The journey is the destination, after all, and first and foremost, you want that journey to be a safe one. Have an alternate route in your back pocket, just in case, which will mean your trip will be a success, no matter what. 

Plan your route with cold weather in mind and know the road ahead. Exploring the road less traveled is one of our favorite pastimes, but it also means being prepared. Be sure you check the forecast and driving conditions with the Department of Transportation and the National Weather Service.

And know your vehicle! Some roads are best kept to sedans in the summertime, so make sure your rig is as ready for winter as you are. 

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 staff picks, visit must-see sights, and discover the different ways to get there!

Lastly, keep those heaters on! Run your heater on low (we’re talkin’ 55℉ or higher) throughout the day to keep your essential water lines from freezing and to keep the chill away. Just make sure you turn the heater off at night (you’ll be under those cozy blankets anyway!).

Carbon monoxide is a risk with portable heaters, so shut it down at night, just to be safe. If your van is a winter-ready GoCamp van, then you’ll be comfy cozy with plenty of insulation, window covers, and warm blankets.

Check with the van owner on the specifics of their van so you’ll be a pro on how to keep it a toasty and safe home away from home on your winter road trip.

Find the Perfect Winter-Ready Camper Van

There are a few features to be on the lookout for when choosing your camper van. All camper vans are not created equal, which is why we love them! The trick is to find the right van for your trip (p.s. GoCamp Counselors are happy to help!).

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 not only consume low levels of energy, but are also the safest option. 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. Pretty cool, huh?

Portable heaters are also a great option to keep you snug as a bug in a rug.  There are considerations for both electric and propane heaters. 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 poison in a confined, unventilated space. So, never ever 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 massive 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. These coverings are designed with magnets lining the outer edges of the screen to 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 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 the extra traction to navigate ice and thick snow. Installing chains on your tires is worth the effort to get over those mountain passes safely. When you rent a GoCamp van, the van owner will make sure you’re set up with the right winter traction – whether snow tires or chains – so that you’re not left out in the cold.

PLEASE READ: What NOT To Do

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. But wait, there’s more! Check out these other important tips and tricks for making sure your trip is a smashing success.

Don’t dry wet gear on the dash.

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. Yikes! 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” or space under your bed, hang it over the shower (if you have one), lay it out on thirsty towels, and if the sun comes out, let that big ol’ ball of energy do the drying out for you!

Don’t let the fuel level drop too low!

Always strive to keep your van’s tank half-full in the winter. This will mean you have the fuel you need to get you where you need to go, as well as provide you with enough to keep you warm when running the heater. Diesel can freeze, so if you’re in a diesel-powered van, it is critical that you never let that tank get below ¼, but we recommend sticking near half-full just to be safe. Not only is running the van overnight with low fuel bad for the fuel pump in the van, it also runs the risk of you waking up cold and stuck. Some vans simply won’t even start if the tank is too low, which is an adventure you definitely do not want.

Don’t park on or in snow.

Speaking of being stuck, don’t park on or in snow! Even with 4×4 vehicles, parking in snow can leave you stranded. As the snow melts beneath the van, the likelihood increases that your tires might sink into that wet, mucky ground underneath. Not only that, but the snow and ice increases your chance of freezing water lines and a drained battery. Big yikes! Park on plowed, paved surfaces. And know what’s coming, weather-wise, so you don’t wake up in 5’ snow drifts!

Take that awning down.

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.

Whether you’re traversing the snowy terrain around Mt. Rainer or parking it by the gorgeous (but chilly!) Boston Harbor, GoCamp has the perfect winter van waiting for you. Bring layers, plan ahead, and, book a winter-ready camper van, and you’ll have the essentials for a safe and super fun winter camping trip!

Don't Let Winter Slow You Down

Now you know that yes indeed, you can go camping in the winter, even when it is cold outside. And hopefully you also now know that a camper van makes winter camping all the more pleasant and achievable.

Book a winter-ready camper van today and mix up your holiday routine with a road trip. Don't forget to post photos from your adventures and use #HolidayOutside!