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Noob question -- how cold is winter in a van?

I just returned from a camping trip in southern Arizona. One morning when I got up, it was 36 degrees. That got me thinking...

I find vanlife intriguing, but I wonder how cold it is in winter even when you head south to escape the snow. Is the inside of a van ever warm enough to sit comfortably and use a laptop for hours? Or is it about huddling near a heater in the evening until it's time to crawl into a down bag?

10 Replies

Hi @U-solo - This is such a great question! 

I lived in a van a few years back and can say there are a ton of variables that impact how warm or cold the space is. That being said, it is definitely possible to be comfortable in a van in the winter for hours at a time — there just needs to be a little bit of prep work first!

Insulation is a key factor. While the idea of big windows to be able to see the beautiful views from inside your van are enticing, the reality is that windows have a very poor insulation value. Many folks, myself included, use Reflectix in their windows, though there are seemingly endless possibilities. In addition to keeping the heat in, blocking windows is also really nice for privacy. Making sure doors, vents, and windows have a good seal is another good step to keep drafts out in the colder months.

Once your space is sealed up, there are lots of options for heat sources to look into. Paying attention to safety features is important here, so if you are interested in making one of these setups yourself, we suggest connecting with someone who has first hand experience and can guide you through the decision-making process. 

Thanks for bringing this question to the community! 

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

I had a camper van some years ago, commercially built with a space heater, which was rarely used, heating the coffee pot usually making the temps comfortable.  While it was useful in my work situation, there were also a lot of associated hassles, and I gladly gave it up.....

I see you experienced the pronounced diurnal temp swings n the SW desert.  I have seen it frequently in the low 20s in Tucson, the frosty beginning to a very pleasant winter day




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When you mention safety, I assume you're referring to carbon monoxide and fire danger. Correct?


@U-solo — Yep! Those are the big ones to look out for with heating. There are a lot of heaters that come with shut-offs, warnings, etc, but you'll want to be certain of the systems and know their limits before using them. 

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

Hi @U-solo , I happen to live in a van, down by the river!...(just kidding, old SNL skit)

I don't know, but it seems that without heating or ventilation or AC, it would be subject to great temperature swings...I know, doesn't help much 🙂

and now, something completely different, off topic, and redundant



REI Member Since 1979

Depends on the weather/time of year/location and how well the van is perpared for those conditions.  An uninsulated commercial van is a metal box that cooks in the heat and freezes in the cold. When parked it will protect you from the wind and precipitation but not heat and cold.  Good van build outs usually start with insulation and add things to deal with condensation...usually at least a roof fan although you can crack a window and use a personal fan in a pinch.  Magnetic window screens can help with bugs.  Full "rv" style van buildouts include a furnace and AC. 

Note: Most US RVs are not equipped for winter conditions due to exposed water management systems (white, grey, black). This need not be the case for a van build but something to be aware of if you buy a fitted van RV.


I would recommend you do a search on YouTube, there's literal thousands of videos of people who live full-time in vans, from expensive RV to home conversions of commercial vans, even folks living in converted SUVs and crossovers. 

I've watched some. Need to watch more. 🙂


Check out this girl's FB page. She converted a 15yo Land Rover Defender and has been traveling all over Europe and North Africa. Until the recent lockdown (2 weeks ago) in the UK, she was scheduled to have the Defender put on a cargo ship and she was going to drive it from the southern tip of South America all the way to Alaska.