Introduction: Vanlife in a Top 20 Coldest City

About: I love exploring how to do new things and perfecting old things. I like reading old books, creating interesting gadgets, and living my life freely.

We live in a van!!!!

Most people move down South if they live in a van through the winter.

If a job, circumstances, or curiosity make you want to winter in a van in the North, here are some tips and instructions to help you successfully enjoy your chilly stay.
I can’t say that it will be particularly easy, but it is truly an adventure that not many will be able to say they have tried.

(For those of my friends that did not know (don't worry, you are in the majority) HI!!!! My sister and I have been living in a van since January, and are happier for it.)

Step 1: Insulation

1) Purchase the insulation you plan to use. Before we brought it home, we had the salesman at Home Depot cut them so that they were close to the correct size already. (Just measure the height of each window and have him cut it that wide for each cut.) Depends on the store, but the first 2-4 cuts are completely free. We bought two sheets at a time and it worked. I recommend going with the 1-inch insulation.

2) The Rmax insulation is very easy to cut with a simple box cutter. Measure twice, cut once! For the type of window in our van, we had to cut each large panel into two, so that it would fold into the window

3) Try it out. Each van is different, so just figure out how you want it to fit in. Make sure it is snug enough to friction-fit in.

4) If you end up having joints, like we did, use tape to join the panels on one side to create a "hinge". We used

5) Use a spray adhesive on the side that you want the black fleece to show. This is mostly so that people only see dark when they look into the van, instead of weird lettering on the back of the Rmax insulation. Follow the instructions on the can.

6) Attach the fleece in one, smooth sweep, starting on one edge and moving to the other. if you need to redo, you may need to spray on more adhesive. Trim off any extreme excess, but a little left over will not be bad, since it will help block light.

Step 2: Find Shelter

On the coldest nights, you will want to find shelter away from the wind. This cannot be over emphasized. It makes a HUGE difference in your comfort.

We didn’t realize this until we had to get off of the street (due to a huge snowstorm that needed plowing up) and parked under a shelter. We woke up the next day actually overly warm. We couldn’t believe that the temperature was in the single digits, and that wasn't counting the wind chill!

Options include a parking garage, or parking close, or a tall retaining wall. Pretty much anything that will block the wind will work.

Step 3: Double Up the Sleeping Bags

As a cost saving measure, I purchased a larger -25 F rectangular sleeping bag (pro tip: it doesn’t feel warm if you are not man-size, even at +10 F)

I realized that I needed a warmer option. The sleeping bag was too large and was not insulated well since there was too much airspace in the bag with me. So I bought a light +10 F mummy sleeping bag and slipped it inside. This was an excellent choice and only cost me $20 to upgrade, and provided substantial warmth.

Step 4: Heat Sources

--Hand warmers are an excellent source of heat at night. They stay warm throughout the night and don’t waste energy, heating the air outside of the sleeping bag, like a full-vehicle heater would. Please do follow the instructions and not allow them to be held against your skin as you sleep. It can get hot enough to blister you. On the coldest days, I would typically throw one in the foot of the sleeping bag and one close to my waist.

--Don’t forget to feed your own internal heater. You will be dealing with colder temperatures and be burning more calories to keep warm. The higher calorie meals will be helpful. This is what winter hikers and mountain climbers do to help themselves and I found it did make a difference.

--An option that is commonly used in vanlife communities that I do not recommend as a primary heat source in areas that get substantially below freezing is the “Mr. Heater” propane heater. I did get one and had a great set up for it, but ended up only using it a handful of times because the heater would put off so much condensation that would end up freezing on the windshield. This was frustrating and more annoying than just hurrying to get dressed for work in the cold. (I do recommend that you have some decent heat source available, but don’t bank on the propane heater being used regularly.) If you choose to have a heater like the Mr. Heater in your van, you MUST purchase a carbon monoxide detector that also alerts to leaked gasses. Also, use soapy water to test for any leaks regularly. Crack a window near the heater, allowing fresh air to come in, and enjoy the heat. The heater worked ok when it was on, and every now and then it was really nice to sit down in a warm space to do whatever.

Hand Warmers


Step 5: Water

If you are interested in having water to drink in the morning, keep a water bottle in the sleeping bag with you as you sleep. This will ensure that you always have some water to drink.

Make sure that the bottle has a good lid that will not leak. Wet insulation is no insulation. Don't let the sleeping bag or your clothing get wet!

I like Dasani water because they have a good seal on their bottles.

Also, use a water bottle when you leave your job and fill it with hot water to put in your sleeping bag at night; it makes a huge difference in temperatures.

Step 6: Get Out!!

During the winter, treat your van as a mobile bedroom. It isn't really all that spectacularly comfortable to sit outside of the sleeping bag in the early morning and late evening unless you use a heater. Get out and explore. The world is your living room. Go shopping, read at the library or a book store, get coffee at your favorite coffee shop, visit friends, meet at the mall and explore, take a class or join a group that interests you.

If you have any questions about how we did it that I haven't answered, feel free to comment below.

#Vanlife Contest

Participated in the
#Vanlife Contest