So, you’re planning on living in your campervan somewhere chilly this winter? There are many ways to go about heating a van in winter so you can stay nice and cozy inside.
Living in a van in the winter can be a marvelous thing. You can stay close to your favorite ski hills, sleep next to awesome cross-country trails, and enjoy a winter wonderland.
In this post, we’ll tell you all about the best heaters for campervans and tips on keeping your van warm in winter. There are electric heaters for campervans, diesel heaters and propane heaters.
We’ll also give you tips for staying warm in a van without using a heater at all.
Personally, in our Chevy Astro van, we just use extra warm sleeping bags, hats and blankets to stay warm when camping at chilly temps.
What you decide is up to you and your budget when taking on those cold winter months in your campervan.
Use the Table of Contents to skip ahead to your favorite section!
First: Get Ready for Living in a Van in Winter
Before you run out and buy a campervan heater, it’s important to ger ready for living in a van in winter. Here are a few tips to get you ready for those freezing temperatures.
Insulate your van
The first step to heating a campervan in winter is having the proper insulation. Many vans are double-walled, which means you can stick some insulation between the inner and outer walls before completing your van build.
If you plan on staying in cold weather for long periods of time, you might want to consider heavy-duty insulation like rock wool or sheep wool insulation.
However, if you’re going to be bouncing between warm and cold climates, foam board insulation makes the most sense. This rigid foam is great for lining your van’s walls and ceiling and has a high R-value for its size.
Here are some types of insulation you should consider to keep your campervan warm:
Cover your campervan floor with a rug
Many people choose to put flooring in their campervan that turns super chilly in colder temperatures. Make sure you have a good rug or carpeting in your campervan for those chilly months.
A soft, wool rug not only keeps your feet warm when you’re walking around your van, but it also traps warm air inside and keeps cold air from seeping in through the floor.
Cover your windows
Windows let out tons of heat when you’re trying to go about heating a campervan in winter. Put up curtains to block heat from leaching out the glass. Also, you could consider using cardboard, fleece, or Reflectix to add additional window coverings. The more heat you can trap inside your campervan, the better.
Wear the right clothes in your van
The right gear can make or break a chilly night in a campervan. Make sure you stock up on wool or fleece, and always wear a hat and wool socks. When we van camp in colder temperatures, a good wool hat makes all the difference. It’s incredible how much heat you lose through your head.
Check out my favorite cold-weather sleeping gear:
Get a good sleeping bag for cold weather
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A good sleeping bag rated for cold weather is really important for living in a campervan in winter. You can crawl right inside and zip up your sleeping bag, or us it as a comforter on your bed. Either way, sleeping bags will keep you very warm in your van as they’re built to reflect and trap your body heat.
We’ve camped in temperatures below freezing and just bundled up in our sleeping bags with a wool hat and wool socks, which kept us both perfectly warm.
This is my favorite sleeping bag, rated to 21-degrees. It’s also wide enough at the hip where I can bend my legs – a huge plus!
The best electric heaters for a campervan
If you have a solar generator like the Inergy Apex, or a full-on solar system with a heavy-duty inverter, you can run an electric heater inside your campervan.
However, electric heaters take up a lot of power to run. You may not be able to keep an electric heater on all night in your campervan. If you’re able to park in a campground with full hookups, you could run a heater all night.
If you don’t have access to an electrical outlet, you may only be able to run your heater for a few hours before it drains your battery. Some van lifers say the best approach is to run it for just 20-minutes at a time to heat up your campervan.
You’ll just have to think about your own circumstances and just how much heat you need inside your campervan in winter. Look for something small that doesn’t use a lot of watts to run – it may not heat your entire van, but it will make your immediate area warmer.
This is probably the least favorite option among van lifers that I’ve read about so far.
The upside is that electric heaters for a campervan are one of the cheapest options.
Here are some of the best electric heaters for a campervan:
Lasko 100 My Heat Personal Ceramic Heater
This low-wattage space heater is perfect for a campervan as it only draws 200-watts to run. The Lasko ceramic space heater is only 6 inches tall with a 4″x4″ footprint, so it will take up minimal space inside your van.
This electric heater for a campervan is designed to heat a tiny space, so great for a small rig. Plus, it’s affordable!
Brightown Personal Ceramic Heater
The Brightown personal ceramic heater needs double the watts of the Lasko personal ceramic heater, but is still one of the best electric heaters for a campervan.
Some say it is a little loud, but it does provide a lot of heat for a small space.
Vornado MVH Vortex Heater with 3 Heat Settings
This little Vornado space heater heats small to medium-sized spaces and has three different settings. The lowest setting still draws 750-watts, so you won’t be able to run this heater for very long unless you’re connected to shore power.
This heater has a cool touch exterior and tip-over protection, which is really important if you’re heating a campervan.
The best propane heaters for a campervan
Propane is a really popular choice for folks living in a van in winter. They cost more than an electric heater but are cheaper to run overall.
The first main issue with propane heaters in a campervan is that they do emit a lot of moisture, which increases the potential for mold and condensation inside your van.
The other issue is that they must be properly vented so you don’t inhale carbon monoxide. You’ll need to have windows cracked and you should buy a carbon monoxide detector if you plan on using propane inside a vehicle.
These heaters can work as an overnight van heater, with proper ventilation and the right carbon monoxide alarm.
Here are our top picks for the best propane heaters for a campervan in winter:
Mr. Buddy Propane Heater
The Mr. Buddy heater gets top marks in the van life community. This small heater is powerful, pumping out up to 9,000 BTUs for spaces up to 225 square feet.
I did read on some van life forums that the heater stops working about 7,000 feet, but others say they’ve gotten it to work at altitudes up to 10,000.
Mr. Buddy Heater has an auto shut-off feature if tipped over or if it detects low oxygen levels, making it one of the best propane heaters for a campervan.
Suburban Furnace with Outside Venting
Some van lifers highly recommend the Suburban furnace as the best propane heater for a campervan. This forced air furnace adds zero humidity inside your van as it’s vented directly outdoors.
One reviewer on Amazon said this only draws 37-watts when in use. The main drag is you have to build a system for this furnace to vent outside your van.
Camco Olympian Propane Heater
A third option for heating your campervan in winter with propane is the Camco Olympian Wave heater. This propane heater is adjustable from 1600-3000 BTUs. It can be mounted on the wall or used as a portable unit.
One major benefit of a wave heater is its silent operation – no fan or blower noises. This propane heater for a campervan is rated for 100 square feet.
Some reviewers say it has lasted them for years and years of chilly camping.
The best diesel heaters for a campervan
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A diesel heater is the most popular choice amongst van lifers who are living in a van in winter. Diesel heaters are way more expensive initially than other types of heater, but provide the dryest and most energy-efficient heat.
As one van lifer put it: “Fuel/ cost efficiency versus propane is not even close. The fuel costs to run a diesel heater all night is literally pennies.”
So while you might be spending money upfront for a campervan diesel heater, you’ll make it all up in the long run.
Diesel heaters can either run off your vehicle’s diesel fuel tank, or come with a small separate tank for fuel. This all depends on your rig. You’ll also need a power supply to run the diesel heater – many of them hook up to your vehicle’s leisure batteries. They don’t take much power to run.
The main downside of a diesel heater is it takes some know-how for installation, or you can take to a shop to help you out.
If you plan on spending a lot of time in high altitudes, you may need a high altitude kit to make sure your diesel heater runs.
Here are our top picks for the best diesel heater for living in a van in winter:
WeBasto Diesel or Gas Heater
The WeBasto diesel or gas heater gets high marks in the van life forums. Plus, the WeBasto can make hot water as well as hot air, making your campervan extra cozy in winter.
Some complain the WeBasto heater clicks a lot when running, which can be annoying.
Otherwise, it makes an awesome dry heat – perfect for cozy winter nights and drying your soggy outdoor clothes.
The one I found on Amazon is a diesel heater, but van lifers say they have found gas version of the heater as well. Another place to look is on eBay.
Espar Diesel Heater
The Espar Diesel heater, or Eberspächer, is a lot like the WeBasto. Both of these heaters are manufactured in Germany, and create hot, dry air.
Some reviewers say it is tricky to install and pricey, but worth it in the long run. The Espar and WeBasto diesel heaters are popular amongst truck drivers, so you may be able to find one in a truck salvage yard if you’re lucky.
Chinese Diesel Heaters
A Chinese diesel heater is a hot topic in van life forums. They are way cheaper than their German counterparts, and you can usually find them for sale on eBay.
Van lifers say to get the 2kw Chinese diesel heater.
If you want to learn more about the positives and negatives of Chinese diesel heaters, I’d recommend joining this Facebook group dedicated to Chinese diesel heaters.
Check out this review for more info:
The best wood stove for living in a van in winter
If you’re not worried about being stealth in your campervan, you might want to consider a wood stove. I mean, who doesn’t want the sound of a crackling wood fire, and the scent of camp wafting through your rig?
A wood stove in a campervan requires quite a bit of installation, as you’ll need a chimney pipe out the roof of your van.
We have just one top pick for the best wood stove for a campervan, as its small enough to fit inside any van. Other wood stoves on the market are larger and meant more for campers, RVs, or skoolie conversions.
Here is our top picks for the best wood stove for a campervan:
Cubic Mini Wood Stove
Many van lifers swear by this adorable Cubic Mini Wood Stove. I mean, who wouldn’t live the tiniest wood stove?
Wood stoves create nice, dry heat.
The main downside is that you always have to find wood. If you’re going off-grid or boondocking, you’ll have to store that wood somehow. One reviewer said the stove isn’t very efficient and you have to constantly feed it wood.
Other people say you can find wood anywhere and the stove works well. So, it most likely depends on where you’ll be using the wood stove.
Other ways to stay warm in a van in winter:
Put a hot water bottle in your campervan bed
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My grandma used to tell me she’d sleep with a hot brick in her bed during cold Kansas winters, and this tried-and-true method can also be used in your campervan in winter. Heat up some water, stick it in a bottle, and put that under the blankets toward the foot of your bed.
You can also add a second hot water bottle and keep it close to your upper body at night.
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Warm your body with hot tea, soup or broth
Staying warm from the inside out is essential for surviving winter in your campervan. Stock up on teas, broths and soups so you can put something warm in your belly during those cold evenings. Keep an insulated mug like this Yeti rambler on hand to give the hot liquid more longevity.
Invest in a 12-volt electric blanket for campervan heating
Many van lifers swear by a 12-volt electric blanket they can pull over themselves when the going gets tough on those cold winter nights. But don’t keep that blanket plugged into your cigarette lighter all night or you’ll deplete your van’s battery.
If you need to use the 12-volt blanket all night, you might want to invest in another power source like a portable solar generator or a booster pack to keep the blanket toasty.
A 12-volt electric blanket for campervan heating can also run off a solar system and inverter.
Check out these popular 12-volt electric blankets:
If all else fails – move to a warmer climate!
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There’s a reason why you see so many van lifers driving south for the winter to spend the chilly months in a place like Baja, Mexico. They don’t want to bother heating their vans!
If you live a mobile lifestyle, moving south for the winter prevents you from needing to buy cold-weather gear for your van. If you don’t want to venture into Mexico, try California, Arizona or Florida.
Conclusion on heating a van in winter
There are so many options when it comes to living in a van in winter. If you only need a little bit of heat, consider an electric heater.
If you’re hunkering down in a really cold climate, a propane or diesel heater is best. A wood stove by Cubic Mini is also a poplar choice amongst van lifers.
Or if you don’t want to mess with a heater at all, try a warm sleeping bag, warm clothes and even a nice 12-volt electric blanket.
What do you use to stay warm in a van?
Other van life posts you’ll love:
- 30+ ways to make money from a campervan
- How to do an awesome campervan conversion
- 7 campervan bed ideas to kickstart your conversion
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Kristin Hanes is a journalist and writer who lives on a sailboat and in a Chevy Astro van in San Francisco. She worked in radio news for 15 years before a massive layoff in 2016. Kristin has written articles about alternative living published in Good Housekeeping, Business Insider, Marie Claire, SF Gate and The Bold Italic, among others.