Growing up in sunny South Africa I’ve never been a big fan of the cold. In fact I think I just might be solar-powered as I start running low when confined to the indoors in the colder months. In our house I usually start dropping hints to turn the heating on early in September. So during a recent, very chilly, autumn campervan trip I was quite surprised to find I absolutely love a bit of cold weather campervanning. With a bit of planning and foresight you can have almost as much fun as during the summer. I’m not going to lie, it was still cold, but we got to enjoy the great outdoors, some fantastic scenery and had a brilliant trip.
Where to camp in the winter
For some, campervanning in the cold is not the time to be roughing it in the middle of nowhere. I fall squarely in this camp. Sorry but I want a hot shower, electricity and if at all possible a pub within walking distance. However I have been told by others that winter time is especially good to be wild camping as you’re more likely to find deserted spots, isolation and fantastic views. Well each to their own – and the beauty of a campervan is you can always do both!
It gets dark pretty early so we would usually recommend to try and get to your campsite early so you don’t have to set up in the dark, especially on the first night when you are still finding your way around.
We’ve written previously about a few websites where you can find various types of campsites, with my personal favourite being pitchup.com and search4sites (using the advanced search) – both of which lets you filter locations that are open year round.
During the summer months you can easily wing it to find somewhere to sleep and just drive around till you find a site that is open with space. In the colder months though we always recommend planning you itinerary ahead of time so you know where you are going to stay each night.
Our campervans all come equipped with a small electric oil radiator in the colder months however you need electric hook-up for these, so make sure you stay at a site that has pitches with hook-ups available. Our Nissan Elgrand campervans cope quite well with wet grassy fields, some of them are even 4-wheel drive and they all have a “snow” mode which helps with pulling away in slippery conditions. You may prefer staying on a hard-standing pitch though so keep an eye out for sites that offer these. Don’t forget to ask if campfires are allowed and if they have firepits that can be hired. Nothing beats ending the day sitting in front of the “bushveld tv” to warm your toes.
All the gear can be the right idea
As the saying goes there’s no such thing as the wrong weather, just the wrong clothing (and camping gear).
So here are a few tips to make sure you stay dry and toasty.
- Layers layers layers. Can’t stress this enough but wear plenty of layers, a good base layer (long johns) can make the world of a difference.
- Keep your feet warm and dry. Some thick socks are always a bonus and make sure you take a spare pair so you always have a back-up dry pair of socks. We like to have “indoor” and “outdoor” footwear. Even though they take up a bit of space you can’t beat a pair of wellies for outdoors. We pretty much spend the day in wellies and just leave them outside the van and then keep socks on for indoors. If you’re not putting the sun-canopy up, cover your wellies with a carrier bag to keep them dry outside.
- If you want to get ahead, get a hat. Or a beanie. And a scarf. And some gloves. Just make sure you cover any areas exposed to the air and you’ll be fine. Yes you’ll be putting it on and taking it off five times a day but the act of walking into a pub and de-robing in front of the fire is a British institution.
- Get a decent head-torch. It’s going to be dark pretty early and a head-torch comes in very handy for trips to the loo and setting up at the campsite.
- Take a good old fashioned hot water bottle. Amazing what cuddling one of these puppies can do. We’ve had somebody go wild camping with Toto in 0° weather with no heater purely relying on hot water bottles. They did take four of them per person though!
C-C-C-Cooking in the cold
Don’t, just go to the pub. That’s why I say make sure it’s walking distance!
But check out our Meals on Wheels post for some tips about cooking delicious, hearty meals in the campervan. Main thing with winter cooking is again you want to be sticking to one-pot style meals. One of our recent hirers had the great idea of cooking up a couple of meals beforehand and bringing it along in some Tupperware that was kept in the fridge. Then they simply warmed it up on the stove. Just remember to open a window slightly for ventilation during cooking.
Bedding down for the night
This is the important part, so pay attention. You don’t need to have a rubbish night sleep just because you’re camping. This is why you’re in a campervan and not slumming it in a tent. With the oil heater we supply things will soon get pretty toasty in there and as it’s silent it means you can run it overnight. With a few tips you should be every bit as cosy as at home. Yes, the bed in the campervan is narrower but it just means you need to share a bit more body heat.
- Sleep ON something warm. This is an old trick my mum taught us but if you actually lay a nice warm blanket down and then sleep on top of that blanket it prevents any cold from creeping in underneath. Trust me this is a game changer.
- Sleep IN something warm. Go ahead and put long sleeve pjs on, pop a beanie on your head and some socks for the toes. You’ll thank me when you need to get up at 2am after you’ve been lying there for 20 mins trying very hard to not think about going to the toilet.
- Sleep UNDER something warm. The bedding we can supply is a 7.5tog double duvet which is usually cosy enough, but you may want to bring your own or some additional blankets. Sleeping bags are great for the winter too but personally we prefer the home comfort of a duvet.
We would always recommend to open a window a little bit to help with condensation. If there’s just one or two of you and you’re not utilising the “upstairs” bedroom, another tip is to pop the roof down overnight, or at the very least make sure all the bed boards have been put down for some insulation.
If this sun loving South African can love campervanning in winter, you can too! What are you waiting for?!