Boondocking in winter is significantly different from summer. But this doesn’t mean you can’t be prepared for all four seasons. Here we are going to take a look at what is needed to boondock during each season, and what makes each season special.
Boondocking in the Winter Months
Clearly this is a common season for a lot of RVers to chase the good weather and head south. Arizona and Florida are flooded with snowbirds this time of year. Assuming you don’t want to be a snowbird, there are some things you’ll need to figure out come winter.
Obviously, there are some unique challenges to winter boondocking—snow, ice, and temperatures—but this is also a great season to experience something different. The fresh blankets of snow, backcountry skiing, animal tracks, snowshoeing, and more are waiting for those who are willing to endure these cold climates.
Unique Challenges to Winter Boondocking
The cold winter temperatures can do some damage to your RV experience. Here are a few things to consider and ways to overcome these obstacles.
Freezing Water Lines & Tanks
By keeping your van at a consistent temperature—even while you are gone for extended periods of time—you’ll handle the majority of your problems. If you are in a van with a water tank underneath, you might consider a tank heater to help prevent it from freezing.
If you opted for lead-acid batteries, you might lose 20-30% efficiency during temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius). But if you opted for the lithium battery, you’ll be good without any damage down to -4 degrees Fahrenheit—even though they will charge a little slower at freezing temperatures.
Staying Warm Yourself
When temperatures fall, you’ll need to figure out how to keep yourself warm. The most common and space-efficient way to accomplish this is with a diesel heater—often called Chinese Diesel Heaters (CDH). These units are amazing and create a really warm heat—though very dry. The most common diesel heater is this Webasto Diesel Heater.
Other heating options include a variety of propane heaters like the Mr. Buddy Heaters and the propane equivalent to the Webasto Heater. The only negative to this is the need to mount or bring another form of fuel along with you—assuming you don’t have a diesel van.
Traveling During Winter Months
If you plan on staying in the colder climates—especially in mountainous terrain—you’ll need to consider your van’s ability to plow through snow. The more remote you are, the more likely you’ll need snow tires. If you plan on traveling up and over mountain passes, you might even be required to utilize snow chains.
Opportunities to Winter Boondocking
Winter boondocking certainly has its challenges, but the opportunities are great too! It is quite common to see popular ski lodge parking lots filled with vans. These vans aren’t all to bring large groups, but are often “ski bums” who love to ski and don’t want to pay for lodging. Here are some unique and fun opportunities you’ll get in winter boondocking.
- Winter sports like skiing, snowboarding, and cross-country skiing
- Game trails
Supplies and Equipment to Help Make Winter Boondocking More Enjoyable
There are items that will help make your winter boondocking experience a lot more enjoyable. Afterall, being stuck inside a small van isn’t what van life is all about. Here are a few things you might consider.
Having a way to escape the frigid temperatures is always a welcomed experience.
If you are going to brave the winter temperatures in your van, then you better have ways to enjoy the outdoors. Snowshoeing might not sound like the most exciting thing, but those same hikes you do over the summer are calling in the winter months—just without all the people.
Tire Chains for Snow and Winter Driving
As mentioned above, when you’re driving out in the boonies during the winter months—especially in the mountains—you may encounter some tricky snowy or icy roads. And it’s best to have tire chains on hand, just in case.
Boondocking in the Spring Months
When the snow begins to melt and the flowers begin to push through the ground, it is a magical time to be boondocking. Spring is often considered part of the shoulder season, and is an amazing time to get out into the wilderness—before the masses flood to the areas.
During these thawing months, you’ll get quite the mixture of cold and warm weather moments. And there is a lot to consider when boondocking in the spring… Let’s take a look!
Unique Challenges to Spring Boondocking
The difficulties of boondocking in the spring are largely due to the questionable weather patterns, which will affect what you do and where you go.
With the winter run-off mixing with spring showers, you can often expect flash floods.
As it is with the winter boondocking, you can still get those freezing temperatures during the spring. Make sure to utilize heaters to keep you warm, and a water tank heater to prevent freezing water.
Because this is shoulder season, a lot of businesses aren’t quite ready for tourists. Or some will be open, but have reduced hours. If you are looking to check out touristy things in national parks, you may miss out on some of those experiences. For instance, national parks that have shuttle services will often only have those over the summer months—or peak seasons.
Unique Opportunities to Spring Boondocking
Although there may be a few drawbacks to this season, the good far outweighs the bad. The spring shoulder season offers some bonuses you might not realize.
Even though you might experience flash floods due to the runoff and rain mix, you might also experience waterfalls at their peak. Tread lightly near the edge, and take extreme caution when jumping in those waterfall pools.
When you can get those warm days and cool evenings, it makes for some great sleeping weather. This also helps in extending your battery bank and extends the time you can be off grid before needing to reconnect.
Wildflowers Come to Life
If you have ever been in the desert after a lot of rain, you’ll realize it all comes to life. And this is true all over! Once winter breaks, the earth is waiting to put on a display of color for those willing to slow down and look.
Because this is the shoulder season of travel—since school hasn’t let out—you will enjoy more space for your own experience of the outdoors.
Supplies and Equipment to Help Make Spring Boondocking More Enjoyable
There are items that make spring boondocking a lot more enjoyable. Afterall being stuck inside all winter can make you a little stir crazy. Here are a couple of things you’ll want to have on board.
Roof Vent Fan
To help take advantage of fresh air and comfortable outdoor temperatures, get a roof vent fan installed. The MaxxAir Fan or a Fantastic Fan goes a long way in making your van feel perfect this time of year.
Outdoor gear that you use for winter is a little different than your spring gear. Instead of snowshoes, you might want to have some Yaktraks or Crampons for hiking through slushy snow. And get your kayaks and backpacking gear back out.
Boondocking in the Summer Months
This is when the snowbirds return north and elevation becomes your friend again. When school lets out, some of the most popular locations become overrun again. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t a ton of amazing places to explore.
A different season creates different challenges for boondocking. Let’s take a look.
Unique Challenges to Summer Boondocking
Obviously there are some unique challenges that come with summer boondocking. Here are a few things to consider and ways to overcome these obstacles.
The hot weather can do damage to your RV experience. And with the extreme temperatures, it can get tough to sleep. Having ways to cool your van off and prevent it from getting too hot is important.
A sad reality to the western United States is that forest fires have become a regular thing. Keeping an eye on the weather and being in the know is imperative this time of year. Getting stuck in the middle of a forest fire is a devastating experience. Another thing to remember in this season is that campfires aren’t always an option, depending on the wind speeds and fire restrictions.
Unique Opportunities to Summer Boondocking
This time of year is your typical season of Americana. It is what families dream of, retirees save up for, and when the young become overly adventurous. The opportunities are endless!
Jumping in cool waters
Hiking 14ers (mountains that exceed 14,000 feet above sea level)
Wild flowers along the mountain trails
Peak season amenities
The mountains becomes accessible again
Supplies and Equipment to Help Make Summer Boondocking More Enjoyable
There are items that make summer boondocking a lot more enjoyable. After all, this is the season you dreamt about. So check out the supplies below for a great summer boondocking season.
Ceiling Vent Fan
This is the season you are going to want to have at least one ceiling vent fan—the previously mentioned Fantastic Fan or Maxxair Fan. If you have room on your roof for two fans—one bringing air in, and one pushing it out—you will be very happy!
Having an air conditioner in a van conversion isn’t always a possibility, but there are some ways you can make it work—while boondocking. One unit that came out in 2022 has made it more possible than ever before. The Wave by EcoFlow is one of the best solutions for those unbearably hot summer nights.
Insulation and Sun Reflectors
Having your van insulated is great in the winter, but the summer heat is another season you’ll be glad to have great insulation. One of the more popular insulation is Havelock Wool.
Preventing the sun from beating through the windows and treating your van like an oven is important for a comfortable climate. Purchasing or making your own window covering and insulation is a must this time of year. Even if you aren’t inside your van, it helps protect your food from going bad.
iSUPs (Inflatable Standup Paddleboards)
Exploring the waterways on one of these inflatable standup paddleboards can make summer days seem unreal. They are small enough to take with you, and large enough to enjoy.
Boondocking during the Fall Months
While most people dream of summer days, many of us love fall the most. The changing of leaves in the New England States, the quaking aspens beginning to change in Colorado, and sage brush filling the air with an unforgettable aroma.
But fall also has some unique challenges, plus signs to help you know when it is time to transition.
Unique Challenges to Fall Boondocking
Fall has those warm days, cool nights, and a lot of dry weather to enjoy. But a great motto to remember is, “when the peaks have snow, it is time to go.” This will help you avoid being trapped by an early winter storm.
Shoulder Season Limitations
It is really hard to find a lot of negatives about fall boondocking, but missing out on opportunities in the season is one of them. You will often find that everything shuts down around Labor Day, which can create some frustrations if your hopes are high for certain experiences.
Limited Waterfall Experiences
Unless it is rainy—like in the northeast United States or Washington State, you might only get drips over the edge of a cliff instead of the roaring waterfalls that happen in the spring.
Unique Opportunities to Fall Boondocking
Fall boondocking is exceptional for those who love the warm days and cold nights. Here are some unique opportunities.
If you love the colors of fall leaves, this is your season. Finding amazing spots in the middle of the woods is perfect.
This is the season where the national forests slow down and Harvest Hosts locations aren’t filled with kids. If the quiet, peaceful nights are what you are looking for, this is your season.
Wide Open Spaces
When the leaves begin to fall, you’ll realize your vantage points grow dramatically. There is something special about being on an overlook and seeing for miles with nothing to block the view.
Supplies and Equipment to Help Make Fall Boondocking More Enjoyable
There are items that make fall boondocking just about perfect. After those long summer days, the cool nights are a welcomed feeling. Here are a couple of things that go a long way this time of year.
If you can build yourself a rooftop deck on your van, this is the time of year to enjoy it. Getting a little higher up, you’ll see further. Plus, it is a great place to warm up in the morning with the sun shining on your back.
Having a way to create a campfire to cook over is perfect this time of year. The sun tucks in early, but your body is still used to being up late. A fire this time of year extends your time for warmth and light, and lets you have that evening cup of decaf coffee to think about life. It is simple, but significant.
Boondocking Is a Special Thing—Regardless of the Season
Any self-sustaining, off-grid experience is sure to be remembered. The more our typical lives depend on others, the more that boondocking becomes something incredibly freeing. Each season has its pros and cons. And we would argue that you should try out each season to see which one is your favorite.