Friday, December 27, 2013

Tips, tricks and the shortcomings of winter van living P.1

So I should preface this post with the statement that the following points are in no particular order and all can be equally valid when living in a vehicle during the colder months or might be all equally irrelevant, sometimes it's hard to say.

The van loves snow so much that sometimes it even needs to be pushed into moving. 

#1 Wine and beer do not freeze well. (This is number one because the learning experience was a rather poignant one.) I think this one is fairly self-explanatory, if you freeze them through the bottles will explode and leave you with a wine or beer slushy all over the interior of your vehicle. This will make you sad.

#2 Small scented candles are wonderful. During the winter I have found that I'm less inclined to let the van 'air' out as that's also letting out precious heat. As a result of this the smell of cooking, flatulence and dirty clothes can linger. If you're driving anyone around or spending anytime kicking it in your van/car yourself it can be nice to just sweep that eau d' you under the rug with a scented candle until you get a break in the weather for an air out session. Nice bonus is the heat gained from the candle flame, it's just the right size to warm your hands over in the morning or before climbing into bed.

#3 Water can be a bit tricky for the same reason (though not as messy) as #1. My way around water freezing solid, and thus inaccessible in water bottles or bladders is a little personalized but you may be able to extrapolate or adapt this strategy for yourselves. I will use what ever water I need at night for cooking and hot beverages and the remaining water is divided between my kettle (a standard enameled camping kettle) and my coffee percolator, so that in the morning I am able to reach over to my stove from the security and warmth of my sleeping bag and set those two to boiling, thus minimizing my time spent in the cold air and raising the level of stoke while waiting for a hot cup of coffee. Basically, just store your water in a place where, when it freezes you can easily melt it.

Remember in the winter time if you run out of water and you're in a snowy environment, in a pinch you can always melt snow, though it can be rather time consuming to get a sizable quantity of water this way but if you live in a van, chances are you have the time. Just stay away from snow that's not white...

#4 Layering. If you've spent anytime being active in the cold you understand the importance of layering. If you have not, the idea is as you get warmer you can drop layers and still maintain decent warmth and as you get cold you can add layers to trap warmth. This is true for the winter van dweller also but can be applied to more than just your clothes. I use layering in my sleeping set up as my sleeping bag is not sufficient alone on -20F nights so I have a light cotton liner (this is also for ease of washing), and several blankets and a quilt I can pile on top of my sleeping bag for the coldest nights. On warmer nights I might just sleep with my sleeping bag unzipped and as a blanket.

#5 Just to keep things complicated a super warm puffy is awesome and pretty much a requirement. Mine is one from PHD, you can check out their stuff via the link over >. This is awesome for when you first emerge from your sleeping bag, into your chilly interior or more importantly for when you venture out into the frigid world you are choosing to live in. A puffy just makes you feel all warm and fuzzy, literally and figuratively.

#6 Mess control. I'm still working on this one myself as my messes seem to ebb and flow but basically it's even easier to turn that small living environment into a pig stye during the winter than during the summer because you're wearing more layers that eventually have to be taken off and put somewhere, I, at least, am less inclined to organize in the cold because I'm hesitant to open doors and let out the warm air. Washing dishes is also less appealing because wet hands are cold hands and that sucks in the winter. This can be mitigated by washing dishes at work or friends houses where it's warm or by sucking it up and doing them in warm water and having a quick way to dry your hands, or just by not doing them and eating off dirty dishes.
                                             Argh, the dreaded mess can befall even me.

#7 Drying stuff kind of goes hand-in-hand with #6 in that when you're tromping around in the snow or whatever your clothes will get wet, whether it's from sweat or snow, and if you're like me and enjoy a winter sport or two then you know that ski or ice boots love to collect ice in all their nooks and crannies  and that it is far from the most enjoyable feeling to jam your toasty feet into a frozen liner and wait for your feet to thaw it out and then rewarm them. To avoid this, if possible put them in front of your vents when driving (this is imperfect but helps) or whenever possible bring them inside, this goes for liners as well as layers. I know that I try and wear wet layers in to work to hang and dry while I'm doing my thing.

A sample of a growing mess - note the missing boot liners.

Dampness is a huge thing in the winter van living because it is so present. This is a result as I said of bringing in the moisture from the outside as well as the condensation that occurs while sleeping, which is fairly unavoidable. I'm currently trying to experiment with silica and/or rice to absorb some of that moisture and I'll hopefully have results fairly soon to share.

I have spontaneously decided to make this a two part post as this is getting to be longer than anticipated and I am still just a little ways through my list and have not even gotten to some of the juicy stuff (besides boot liners).

So stay tuned for details on potty talk and personal hygiene, cooking, entertainment, heaters and my thoughts on planning. Until then here are a few pictures to keep the psyche high.

A day out climbing in December at the Puoux in Glenwood.

A delightful day in the backcountry with the Pearces. Looking over the Roaring Fork Valley.


  1. This is my plan:

    Even has a built in sensor so that when oxygen levels are life-threateningly low it cuts off on its own!

  2. Turns out that that heater eats up too much oxygen to work in a van, a buddy that was in his van says it sucks. Better look for an alternative option DW