The Winter Vanlife Survival Guide — Always the Adventure

Van life in the winter doesn’t just pose issues of comfort, but ones of safety.  Winter roads can be treacherous and in a vehicle as big and heavy as a camper van, it doesn’t take much for things to go very wrong.

Here are a few questions you should ask yourself:

Can your camper van handle snow?

If intending on making vanlife in winter a regular thing, you want to make sure your vehicle can handle it.  Most modern cargo vans can (as long as they’re equipped with a good set of tire chains, but older vans like Westys might struggle on snowy roads).

Now the classic van debate: 4WD or not? You’ve no doubt thought extensively about this while choosing the base for your camper van, and there’s not really a right answer.

Obviously, 4WD is ideal, but it’s also very cost exclusive considering you’re pretty much talking a minimum $10k more if buying new.

A close second is front-wheel drive (FWD), which is what our Promaster has. This means the drivetrain is in the front, which pairs well with the fact that most of our weight is in the rear.  This weighs down the non-drive-train wheels so we fishtail pretty minimally. Even on bad roads, we’ve never encountered much sliding.

Can you handle driving in the snow?

Whether you’re pursuing full-time winter van living or just a short winter van camping trip, knowing how to handle your van in inclement weather is crucial.  Even if the forecast is good, you just never know what might blow in.

If you grew up in a snowy climate and as familiar with white roads and dirt ones, you’re probably well aware of your limitations on snowy and icy roads.  If winter driving is somewhat new to you (or even if you just aren’t comfortable with it), do your reading on safety tips for driving in the snow.

Here are a few of our own driving in the snow safety tips to get you started:

  • Plan ahead and check road conditions maps. These are usually available on each state’s department of transportation website. AM radio stations often broadcast sudden changes and alerts.

  • Drive as slow as you need to feel comfortable and in control. If you like driving fast, slow it down a little bit and resist the urge to pass as sudden lane changes can cause you to lose control)

  • Accelerate and brake slowly.  If your brakes lock up, you’ll slide, so pump them rather than applying static pressure.

  • Don’t tailgate.  In fact, increase your following distance to five to six seconds. The guy in front of you might lose control.

  • Pull over if necessary.  Maybe the visibility is getting too bad or maybe someone is tailgating you and making you nervous.  Just pull over at the next safe opportunity and let them around.

  • Watch for advisory signs.

  • Chains! If it looks at all hairy, stop and chain up.

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