How to Stay Warm in Winter When You Live in a Van or Trailer (plus: alternatives for toughing out the cold weather)

Ah yes, winter in a camper.

Many people have asked how we stay warm and how we deal with our 3 season abode!

I recently received a question from a reader about what I do in the winter since living in the a camper and a van. 

How to stay warm in the winter while living in a tiny house. Whether you live in a camper, RV, or Van, staying warm in the winter is essential. Here are our best tips!



I figured some of you probably have the same question, so I’m going to talk a little bit about how we’ve lived the past few winters. If you’re thinking about living in a trailer or a van - I’ve got some good tips for you.

First off - our primary “home-base” area is the New England area - yeah, it gets COLD. As I write this it is 0 degrees! (I’m inside - I’ll tell you more about why in a minute).

First, I want to make one thing super clear:

The COMET Camper, when we’re in New England, is a 3-SEASON HOME.

IT IS NOT MEANT TO BE LIVED IN THE WINTER.

DO NOT TRY TO LIVE IN A TRAILER IN THE FREEZING COLD WINTER - it’s not safe. I personally don’t do it and I do not recommend it. 

This is a disclaimer - I don’t want any of you freezing to death in the snow in your trailer home on my account.

Of course, if you live in a warm climate you’re probably fine year-round in your trailer home (lucky you!)

Now, on to the question!

CometCamper reader Sarah asked:


"Do you spend winters in the camper? How cold does it get where you are? How did you insulate it?"


We spend about 3 seasons in the COMET, it gets too cold in the north in the winter to stay in the camper. In New England the temperature gets to be 10s and 20s. 

The main issue is that the original 1960's window's don't seal properly. This makes it very difficult to keep the trailer warm, despite insulation and heat sources. It’s not very efficient, but I’m also not willing to replace the windows with new ones (that just wouldn’t make sense). 

We did re-insulate the whole thing with Ultra Touch Denim Insulation, which helps, but it's not a year-round home.

ultratouchdeniminsulation.jpg


During the late fall, when it starts to get chilly, I usually plug into the host house I’m at (so I have more access to electrical power) and plug in a heated electric blanket at night.

Hot water bottles inside your sleeping bag also help.

I have a small space heater that radiates heat after it warms up. 

We’ve come up with a few solutions to dealing with the fact that our home isn’t suitable for year-round use.



THREE WINTERS, THREE EXPERIMENTS

My first winter after living in the COMET for the summer and fall, I rented a TINY 50 square foot closet under the stairs in a collective house/commune and lived there over the winter. Yep, just like Harry Potter. It was less than $100/month and included communal meals and utilities/basic living supplies like soap and toilet paper (bulk items, basically).

 

Renting a Tiny Closet in a Commune


In my closet room I had a little desk that folded out from the wall, a tiny window for light, and a slim bed platform with a foam mattress.

It had tons of shelves and hooks lining the little walls. It was great for the winter. I had access to a warm wood stove and a community kitchen. I had lived in that house before (under different circumstances and in a normal room), so it was a fun way to spend that winter.

I moved out in the Spring.

 

Head South for the Winter


The next winter we escaped the cold by embarking on a south-bound road trip in our Honda Element turned micro-camper.

We drove down to Louisiana, Texas, spent some time teaching workshops all over the south, just staying out of New England until the cold let up.

It was awesome! We’ve been on a few other major road trips in the Honda Element since then - living in our converted vehicle/camper for up to 6 months at a time. 

inside_honda_element_camper.jpg



House-Sitting As An Alternative

The next winter we tried something new - house sitting.

We landed a gig renovating and restoring a retro 1950’s home and lived in it throughout the winter while we worked on it. It’s a summer home so the owners were not there. It was great to have a warm home to snuggle up in when it’s this cold outside. 

We’re still living out of our backpacks with just a few belongings each - but we have a bit more room and space to move around while we’re here. The house was empty - it’s different then the "tiny but full of expertly packed items" space of the COMET or the Element, but it’s nice. We’ll talk about doing more house-sitting like this in the future during the winter if the situation is right. 

So far that’s how we’ve approached the winters - by finding some alternative accommodations during that time.

I like that the season forces us to do new things and travel and go places. We could always take the trailer somewhere warm - that’s the beauty of having a house on wheels - but it’s really expensive and stressful to tow long distances.

So instead we just hop in the Element when we want a warmer climate. 
 

 

If you are camping out in your trailer or van/vehicle, here are some tips to stay warm:

  • Have a good 0 degree sleeping bag
  • Always have a few extra wool blankets in your van or trailer/camper - these will save your life. We have 3 smaller ones in the vehicle at all times. Pile them on when it’s cold.
  • Hot water bottle inside your sleeping bag will heat you right up (we heat up the water with our JetBoil - that thing really comes in handy).
  • Wear wool/merino base layers and sweaters to sleep
  • Reflectix and foam inserts on the windows will make it 10+ degrees warmer. We have Reflectix cut-outs for all of the windows and it helps so much. In a trailer, they make foam inserts for vents and such. 

(Disclosure: some of these links are affiliate links, meaning that at no extra cost to you, if you decide to purchase something I recommend I get a small commission, which helps keep this blog up and running! Thank you!)

If you are outfitting a van for living in, you should use insulation with high R-value since you don’t have much thickness available within the walls. Usually foam will work best. 

If you have any questions about staying warm or finding accommodations in the winter, leave a comment below!

Don't freeze your butt off!