How to Stay Warm in Your Van in Winter

Van life in winter months is very different from van life during the summer – especially if you’re a snow bunny who loves to escape to pristine mountain wildernesses or ski slopes! Cold weather brings all kinds of challenges: frozen fresh water tank, wet gear, and mold, to name a few.

If you’re serious about winter van life, you need to think about how you’ll stay warm. We’ve put together this article covering some of the ways van lifers approach this challenge – from straightforward heat options to more creative solutions!

Let’s dive in.

Table of Contents

Propane or Diesel Heater

Propane is undoubtedly the most popular option among most van lifers who spend significant time in their vans during winter. The Mr. Buddy propane heater is a commonly found heat source in most van life setups. It draws no power (super important in winter when solar power is low), and as long as you use it responsibly and correctly, is perfectly safe to heat your van.

When it comes to choosing between diesel and propane, there are a few things to keep in mind. Diesel heaters are said by some to be safer than propane heaters since diesel does not become explosive, although propane burns cleaner than diesel. Propane heaters are typically less expensive and quieter. Diesel heaters are a dry heat source, meaning they do not create water vapor that can condense inside your van.

Whether you choose a propane or diesel heater, make sure to install and run the unit correctly. Both heat sources produce fumes that can be dangerous if not properly ventilated. Install a CO2 detector (you should have one of these anyway if you have a propane stove) and follow all manufacturer instructions.

Proper Insulation

Insulating your van during the build process will save you a ton of headaches later on down the road. There are plenty of ways to properly insulate your van, including Havelock wool, Thinsulate, spray foam, and fiberglass insulation.

The type of insulation you choose will depend on a number of factors, including your budget and intended destinations. The best part of insulating your van is that it not only keeps you warm in the winter – it also keeps the van interior cool during the summer.

camper van insulated window covers
Photo by Two Wandering Soles

Insulated Window Covers

Believe it or not, this is one of the cheapest and most efficient ways to keep your van warm in a cold climate. Windows are a tremendous source of heat loss, as warm air inside the van is pulled toward the cold window pane and transferred out of the vehicle.

Simply covering your windows with a thick blanket or set of blackout curtains or window covers can make a huge difference in the amount of heat lost through windows. If you want to get a bit fancier, you can install thermal window coverings specifically designed to trap heat and prevent it from escaping.

Heat Tape

If you’re concerned about frozen pipes during the winter season, consider heat tape. Heat tape is a flexible, flattened cable that plugs into an outlet and runs along one side of a pipe or tightly wraps the pipe like a candy cane. When turned on, the heating elements in the cable heat up and conducts heat into the pipe.

Keep in mind that heat tape does draw power, so if your camper’s electrical system is a concern, you may want to find another way of keeping your grey tank or freshwater pipes from freezing. Sometimes simply wrapping your pipes in duct tape can do the trick!

staying warm during van life in winter


Blankets are a game-changer for winter van life! Cheap, durable, and infinitely stackable, you may be surprised to discover just how warm a pile of blankets keeps you in snowy weather.

Even if you have other heating options, you should always have plenty of blankets around during colder months. It’s typically not safe to run electric heaters or even propane or diesel heaters overnight, so in conditions of extreme cold, you’ll still need blankets.

A heated blanket or electric blanket is also a game changer for the winter season – just be careful not to leave it on overnight or leave it unattended.


Layers are always a reliable option for staying warm in a winter van. Overnight, a pair of wool socks, some long johns, and a thick hat will go a long way in keeping you toasty. Merino wool base layers are great as they are light and wick away moisture.

The best part of layering is that you can easily adjust them as conditions change – just take some off or put more on!

cooking for warmth in van during winter season

Cooking and Boiling Water

This is one of those van life tips that people don’t always think about. Your van is a small enough space that simply making a pot of tea can significantly heat up your living space. Cooking on a propane stove or in a propane oven will also heat up the space. 

Hot tea and hot chocolate aren’t just quick and easy ways to warm up your van – they’re also a morale booster and a big part of what makes winter van life fun!

Staying Dry

Nothing makes the cold more unbearable than also being wet. Drying gear before you put it away is crucial for staying warm in winter. Try to designate a specific space in your van for wet gear (well away from your sleeping and living spaces.) The bathroom (if you have one) is a good spot to hang wet jackets and pants, and wet shoes can be stowed in the footwell of the driver and passenger seats.

sliding door open view of camper van conversion
Photo by Freedom Vans

Hot Shower

If you’re lucky enough to have an indoor shower in your van, then taking a hot shower can heat up not only your body but also the inside of your van. If you don’t have a shower in your van, a gym membership will provide you with access to hot showers as long as you’re nearby.


Our personal favorite way to stay warm in winter! Get cozy with your van life buddy or your pet (as long as they’re dry, of course).

van life couple in sliding door of van
hot beverage in passenger seat of camper van

Van Life in Winter Doesn't Have to Be Cold!

There are many heating options for camper vans that don’t cost a lot or draw any power. We highly recommend insulating your van properly from the get-go using Havelock or Thinsulate, and if you plan to spend a lot of time in sub-freezing temperatures, good window insulation is also crucial.

Beyond that, it’s up to you to get creative with how you want to stay warm! Make the most of the winter season and take advantage of the opportunity to layer up, pile on the blankets, make a cup of hot tea, and snuggle with your travel buddy. 

Now go Find Your Outside™ and don’t let cold temperatures hold you back!



Recommended For You

Be the FIRST to know about van life updates!

First Name
Last Name
Email *