If you enjoy car camping and sleeping in your car during the warm summer or even spring months, you might be tempted to try the colder autumn and winter months. How do other campers deal with cold temperatures whilst car camping? This post summarises user feedback from various car camping forums – what works best for seasoned campers?
I’m a member of various Facebook and other online car camping forums and to save you time, have collected the top ways other campers keep warm during winter when car camping:
How to keep warm when sleeping in your car
Hassle-free – a good sleeping bag goes a long way!
This is the most common answer (and my experience too!) – if we are talking about an average EU/UK winter with temperatures between -10 and 0 degrees Celsius, then all you need is a good quality sleeping bag. That translates into -10 to 5 degrees comfort, but you can also have a lower spec one (for higher temperatures) and just throw another thick blanket over yourself too – the car can carry it. 🙂 It’s up to you and your preference – I like to sleep in a colder environment, so have managed to sleep in 0 degrees with no windows insulation with a 12 years old sleeping bag that’s 7 degrees Celsius comfort. If you prefer to keep warm, buy a better one – always better to be hot and stick a leg out than to be cold with no other option…
I would recommend a square shape as there’s more room for your legs (no starfishing though…), compared to a mummy shape (these are warmer if sleeping in a tent, but you’ll be warmer in the car.
Some users report “sleeping in their underpants” in -15 Celsius outside with a higher-spec sleeping bag for around 230 GBP.
What helps me a lot is sleeping with anything that has a good hood – a comfy hoodie – because we tend to lose a lot of heat through our heads. Although if you have a good sleeping bag, you can hide in there like in a cocoon, including your head. I just like more room for fidgeting and a hoodie allows that. 🙂
Top it up with a sleeping bag liner
A sleeping bag liner will keep more heat around you and might be a good addition to a standard sleeping bag you already have.
Don’t want to pay for anything?
You probably have more duvets at home than you need at one time – the good thing about car camping is that it’s not you, but your car carrying all the weight, therefore you can pack a duvet, or even two, instead of a sleeping bag. Be careful though – you need a good mattress or more insulation from the bottom without a sleeping bag – a sleeping mat with an aluminium sheet should do the trick, or an inflatable sleeping mat (3cm) to create an air cushion). Gooutdoors has a good selection of both and so does Decathlon.
But remember – a sleeping bag is only as good, as the layer underneath it, because whatever part of the sleeping bag you are lying on is compressed by your weight and doesn’t actually provide the heat-keeping attributes as advertised. Therefore ensure you also have a good bed/mattress + insulation underneath you:
It will help to keep warm if your body heat is reflected back to you, at least to some extent – buy some cheap insulation aluminium sheet and stick (or just lay it down) underneath your mattress.
Or get two cheap sleeping mats with aluminium and lay them underneath the mattress, that will work too.
This is the second most often mentioned alteration campers do to keep warmer in their cars. It goes without saying, that it works best when combined with a good sleeping bag.
The best form of window insulation is a plastic sheet with aluminium on one side – you turn the side inside (facing you in the car) in winter, to keep heat in, and you can turn it the other way around in summer, to keep heat out. But bear in mind it won’t keep much heat in if it’s pressed against a metal (or any other heat conducting) surface – it will simply act as a conductor. It’s better to keep it loose, not touching the window and even then, it will only act as a radiant barrier, not as insulation like you’d expect on a house.
There are quite a few thermal window blind sets on Amazon or try the ones below:
Create a heat barrier between the sleeping area and the front of the car
This one belongs to the category “every little counts” – the idea is to make the warmer area smaller as you need less heat to keep it warm. People usually hang a blanket or any other thicker material that will slow down the airflow, just behind the front seats. Hang it from the roof all the way down to the floor. That way, even your body heat will escape a bit slower, making a (small) difference, but … every little helps when it’s -10 outside and +3 inside.
A fellow camper summarised them nicely in his video here:
Advanced – heated blanket
Some campers are using 12V heated blankets (output around 55W) to keep warm. You could set it up on a timer or use its built-in thermostat. The benefit is that the heat is close to you, so you don’t need much of it.
You might need a separate/external battery for that though – around 86Ah so that it won’t deplete below 50% reducing its lifecycle. This battery can then be charged during the day using a solar panel.
Here’s a photo showing the temperature outside and inside the car when using a heated blanket. Note that judging by this setup, I’d guess that the car is also well insulated. The result might not be as good in an uninsulated car.
Advanced – insulate the entire car
You can’t insulate the entire car properly – there are too many areas you can’t get to, compartments with electrical wiring and other parts that you need to use non-flammable insulation around and you’d need to tear apart the entire car to do that. But, you can still better insulate the most significant heat loss areas – like the roof (on top of the windows mentioned above), and the doors.
This is also done easier if you have a minivan (i.e. no rear seats, just a box at the back) as it has less tapestry and things to worry about.
Or ask a pro to do it for you – Richard Kimberley (Worcestershire)
I found Richard’s website when browsing insulation ideas and examples. If you don’t feel like doing it yourself, he’s the man to do it: more on his website BeyondTheVan.com. The last image above is his work.
Advanced – install a heater (standalone heating)
You need some serious DIY and electrical skills for this one. Instead of using the car’s built-in heating, you can install a separate heater with its own tank (or connect it to your tank, I’ve seen that too). The benefit is that it won’t drain your main battery and the heat is where you are (i.e. not coming from the front and getting lost on the way, but directly in the boot).
Aside from the level of difficulty, this also has other disadvantages:
- it works best if your car is well insulated
- the heater has its own little engine so it can be rather noisy
- additional fuel consumption
But of course, once you get over these hurdles, you’ll have a very warm car in any kind of weather.
Top standalone car heater brands
The top brands you’ll mostly find installed in vehicles are Webasto or Eberspacher car heaters. Then there are cheaper alternatives people get from Aliexpress and during my research, I also came across Vevor car heaters (China, but good rating at Trustpilot), but I don’t know the brand. Their prices are about 10% of the Webasto price. The general feedback from forums is that a heater from China works pretty well, then you have Webasto fans on the other hand who wouldn’t even look at heaters from China. iPhone vs Xiaomi kind of situation – your call.
If you’re planning a serious camping conversion that is going to be used a lot during winter, go for Webasto or Eberspacher car heaters. If you just want to test it out and/or only plan a few winter camping trips, go for Vevor car heaters or Aliexpress car heaters.