Vanlife in The Winter Brings Its Own Set of Rewards and Challenges
Traveling in a van during the winter brings a host of rewards. Colder locations are usually less crowded and more peaceful than summer locations, campsites are usually wide open, and the wintery scenery is rewarding. However, winter brings with it some inclement weather we need to prepare for by having recovery gear on hand.
Icy roads, deep snow, howling winds, and even mud can ruin any trip into the backcountry or even into an empty campground. The first tool to use is your head. Don’t take any unnecessary drives or go down any unknown roads in bad weather just because you have recovery gear. Know your vehicle and its capabilities and be sure to check the weather several days in advance for your specific area.
If you plan to travel in colder, snowy conditions, carrying a few recovery items on hand in case you run into trouble will be necessary. In addition, if you don’t run into trouble, you could help someone else who is.
You may have noticed that some vans and overland vehicles are kitted out to the max with recovery items. MaxTrax boards, spiked shovels, and $5,000 winches seem to be all the rage. However, much of the time these items are just for show and never even get used.
Recovery gear does not need to be overly expensive, heavy, or take up most of your valuable roof space. Carrying a few items for a stuck vehicle and being smart about where you drive will give you the majority of the safety tools that you need. It also pays to add a little extra weight to your van while winter driving to add traction. So bring along extra food, water, and maybe a few adult beverages.
The first line of defense against snow and ice is a good set of snow or all-weather tires. This is also the case if you have a 4×4 vehicle. The four-wheel drive is really no good without decent traction from the tires. Look for tires that are rated for all types of terrain including ice, hard-packed snow, fluffy snow, and even icy rain.
On top of the tires, never travel into mountainous or icy terrain without a set of snow chains or cables. Chains will be heavier and more difficult to install, but they are stronger and won’t break as easily as a cable. No matter what you choose, store them in a location in your van that is easy to access.
Whether you are in the snow or on a tropical beach, having a shovel in your van is essential. Getting stuck in the sand is just as not fun as getting stuck in the snow. There are many different types of recovery shovels, but one of the easiest to store is a foldable or collapsible shovel. Try the Gerber E-Tool Folding Spade, a compact stainless steel shovel that folds up to the size of your hand. If you need a longer handle, the Super Shovel by Krazy Beaver has a removable handle and a wicked set of teeth on the blade for digging into tough terrain.
Having a few tow straps in your van arsenal is a given, but it might also be good to invest in a come-along. A come-along is a hand-operated ratchet lever winch. It can wind up a rope, tow strap, or cable with the use of a handle. It also has a mechanical brake to keep the rope or strap from unwinding. A come-along can be used for pulling out a stuck vehicle, or raising or lifting heavy loads. A come-along is usually used in conjunction with a tow strap and usually a nearby tree or rock, so be sure to watch a few videos on how to use one correctly.
The very popular MaxTrax boards are the go-to recovery boards for getting a vehicle out of deep snow or sand. However, they take up a lot of space, especially in smaller vans. Another option is the ingenious GoTreads. These recovery tracks fold up into a lunch box-size container and can unfold to become traction for stuck tires. Even better, they fold back up again to become leveling blocks when your van is parked.
With winter weather comes some very cold temperatures. These temps can kill a vehicle battery quickly. Having an independent, portable jumpstarter is crucial so that you don’t become stranded. An independent jumpstarter is one that does not depend on another vehicle’s battery to jumpstart a dead battery. The little devices are portable, easy to use and store, and can be charged up via 12-volt sockets in a vehicle or portable generator. They will charge up a dead battery with the flick of a switch several times. They do need to be regularly checked for a full charge and sometimes will need to be recharged themselves.
If You plan to take your van way off the beaten path and will be without cell service, being able to call for help is a must. Modern technology can give you the ability to call for help or even text your loved ones wherever you are in the world.
Devices like the ZOLEO Satellite Communicator allow you to send texts, and emails, and contact emergency services with your GPS location via satellite from anywhere. At around $200 plus a monthly subscription fee, it isn’t cheap recovery gear. But, in the event things were to go very sideways, being able to get your location and distress signal out can save the lives of you and your traveling companions.
Have Fun and Stay Safe This Winter
While it is essential to bring these items along on any trip, having them in the winter is crucial to a safe van life. If you do find yourself stuck and are unable to free yourself, be sure to have a way to contact highway recovery or your insurance company for a tow. Having a little extra insurance for winter driving will also add to your peace of mind.