6 Ways to Stay Warm When Sleeping in Your Vehicle

The simplicity of living in your van becomes a little more complicated when the snow starts to fall and it’s time to pack the skis and avalanche gear into your backpack. Just like finding the perfect system of clothing layers to hike in, getting to the sweet spot for staying warm, dry, and comfortable in your van takes times and patience. So, here are six tips from two van-lifers who can finally wake up to warm feet and dry clothes.

Credit: Samantha Derrenbacher
Credit: Samantha Derrenbacher

1. Prep Your Van

As the most essential item on this list, it’s a must to insulate your van. Without adding a protective barrier to your vehicle, cold air can sneak in and hot air can drift out. Just like your down jacket, insulate with loft to your walls, floors, and ceiling. Lastly, don’t forget your windows! Material such as Reflectix—a shiny, industrial bubble wrap that acts like Columbia’s reflective Omni-Heat™—can be cut to fit any size window and is a total game-changer in colder temperatures.

2. Prep Yourself

Just like your van needs insulation, so do you. Make sure to pack an extra set of clothes, hats, and gloves to change into immediately after your adventure. That way, your body won’t have a chance to get chilly from your sweat-soaked gear.

3. Bring on the Heat

Now that your van and you are efficiently insulated, it’s time to heat up the inside! Investing in a small heater can completely change your vehicle’s interior. We went with a diesel heater that sips from the van’s tank while keeping the inside climate-controlled at the desired temperature. We always make sure to keep windows or the roof vent open, and have a small, battery-powered carbon monoxide and smoke detector inside.

4. Wet Gear? No Problem

A simple clothes line to hang your shirts, pants, jackets, and anything else you wear beats draping them over chairs, where all the damp spots may not dry. Tupperware bins are awesome for snowy hard goods, like your snowshoes, keeping water from soaking your floor. Our van rocks in that it’s long enough for skis to dry off inside, but a roof- or hitch-rack system, like Thule’s, is another great way to store larger hard goods.

The number one question we get about wet gear is how to dry out our boots. When staying in a smaller car, we used to use boot dryers that plugged into the lighter, which worked great but took time. Now, we just place them near our heater with the liners removed, and it does the trick.

5. Refueling

You know when you’re chilly and a warm drink seems to heat you from within? Anything from a Coleman cooktop to a JetBoil to boil your water will chase the shivers right out of you. Our new favorite mid-ski day lunch in the van is hot soup.

6. Choose Your Location Wisely

Waking up at the base of a mountain is always our dream, and we’ve been lucky enough to do so in the past. But, be aware that your new parking spot isn’t yours to own: It’s a temporary resting place for your home on wheels. Be conscious of others and their work, like the plow guys and lifties who might wake you up at 2 a.m.

Credit: Samantha Derrenbacher
Credit: Samantha Derrenbacher