Modern campers are great vehicles to get outdoors. They offer all the amenities of a wilderness cabin but allow you to bring the cabin with you! Getting away from the established campgrounds to get more solitude can be a challenge though.
Boondocking, otherwise known as camping away from established campgrounds, pushes the limits of what campers are capable of. Heating the inside of your camper is easy when you have an electrical hook-up at a campground, but when you’re boondocking that electrical hook-up is no longer there!
This guide will help you keep your camper nice and toasty warm, no matter where you go camping!
1. Preparing Your Camper
Benjamin Franklin famously once said “Failing to plan is planning to fail” and there is nothing truer than when thinking about how you’re going to keep your camper warm without electricity. When you are thinking about getting away from the campground electrical hook-ups, you’re going to make sure that you are 100% ready to go when you prep your camper in advance. Consider doing the following to your camper before you go out next time!
Insulate Your Camper
Campers are awesome because they are light weight, making them easy to tow wherever you go. The tradeoff is that the walls are often made out of very thin material. Something that you can do to fix this problem is to install your own insulation into the walls of your camper! This will make sure that the heat produced in your camper stays inside of it.
Here are some ideas on how to best insulate your camper:
Spray-foam is a great way to insulate your camper. You can spray it wherever you have a hollow space in your camper. It’s light weight, making this a great option to make sure that the benefits of having a lightweight camper to tow stay intact.
Something to consider with spray-foam insulation is where you plan on applying it. Due to the chemicals inside of the spray can, it is recommended that you apply the spray-foam insulation in a space that is well ventilated. Open up all the doors and windows of your camper while you apply it so that you stay safe.
Fiberglass is used in homes to help insulate them, so why not try to apply that to your camper! Fiberglass is light, which helps with keeping the total weight of your camper low, just like with spray-foam.
A benefit of using fiberglass instead of spray-foam is that it is much cheaper and can keep your camper warmer compared to spray-foam, especially in extremely cold conditions.
A potential con with using fiberglass is that it loses its effectiveness when it gets wet. That means that when you install fiberglass, you also need to be sure to waterproof the area that contains it, so that your fiberglass remains effective when you need it.
Installing fiberglass is a pretty easy process. It is recommended that you wear long sleeve shirts, pants, gloves, and a mask to make sure that you stay safe while installing fiberglass. Fiberglass has tiny particles that come off of it, which can cause skin irritation when rubbed against exposed skin. You also want to avoid inhaling any of those particles as well, as they could irritate your lungs.
Aluminum has excellent insulation properties. Aluminum is best installed around pipes and areas that you’re not able to fit spray-foam or fiberglass.
One area that most campers lose a ton of heat from are the windows. Now, you don’t want to seal these off by using fiberglass or spray-foam as it would defeat the purpose of having windows!
Aluminum coverings are great because you can easily put them up over the windows at night and take them down in the morning. A pro-tip for using aluminum to insulate your windows is to glue a small magnet to the aluminum and a small piece of magnetic metal to your window frame. This will make it so that your aluminum sheets that you’re using to keep the heat in stay in place all night as well as make for easy set up and take down. It’s almost like having insulation on demand!
2. Bringing the Right Bedding
After making sure that your camper is properly insulated, it’s important that you bring the best possible bedding to make sure that you stay warm all through the night. This is also helpful for those who might use pop-up campers, where the canvas sides aren’t able to be insulated using the products mentioned above.
Bring a Sleeping Bag
Sleeping bags are by far the easiest and most efficient bedding you can bring with you. They are great because they keep all of your heat inside of a convenient zippered bag! And if that wasn’t enough to convince you to use a sleeping bag, using sleeping bags eliminate the chore of making the bed in the morning!
There are a ton of sleeping bags on the market, so how do you pick the best one for you? When shopping for a sleeping bag, consider the fill material. Most sleeping bags are filled with either goose-down or synthetic material. Both are excellent at keeping you nice and toasty warm, so what are the pros and cons of each?
Goose-down filled bags are lightweight, puffy, and super warm! They compress down really well, making these ideal for people that might be trying to save space inside their camper.
Something to keep in mind with goose-down filled sleeping bags is that they lose their effectiveness when they get wet. Goose-down depends on being lofty in order to provide the user with warmth. When the down gets wet, it can’t loft up, making your sleeping bag pretty useless. Goose-down also tends to be a little more expensive compared to synthetic filled bags.
Synthetic filled sleeping bags are a great option if you are going to be somewhere that is particularly wet and you want to mitigate the risk of having a wet sleeping bag. Synthetic bags tend to retain their warmth when wet compared to goose-down sleeping bags. They also tend to be less expensive as well for the same amount of warmth provided.
A con to synthetic sleeping bags is that they don’t pack down as well as goose-down bags do. If you want to save space in your camper, these might not be the best choice. However, if space is not an issue, these are a great option to keep inside of your camper!
Bring a Comforter
Layering up your bedding is a great way to add onto the warming functions of your sleeping bag. Comforters are great because they are an inexpensive way to help you keep warm in your camper without electricity and they can also be used outside of the camper! Sitting at a campfire wrapped in your comforter will help you get nice and toasty warm before you crawl into bed for the night.
Comforters, like sleeping bags, come in a variety of fill material. Goose-down and synthetic are two of the most common materials that comforters come in. They work in the same ways that sleeping bag fill materials work, so choose the comforter that will best suit the conditions you are planning on experiencing.
As a reminder, goose-down is great for packability, but not so great for wet conditions. Synthetic material is better in wet conditions and much more inexpensive compared to goose-down, but they don’t compress as well as goose-down.
If you aren’t a fan of using a sleeping bag or you want to experience camping in your camper as if you are sleeping at home in your own bed, bringing sheets to keep you warm is a great idea. Be careful not to bring just any sheets, however. The best sheets to bring with you to maximize warmth at night are made out of flannel.
Flannel sheets are the warmest sheets you can bring. There’s no wonder why lumberjacks where flannel shirts when logging in the north country! Layer your sheets up with several blankets and a comforter to make sure that you maximize your warmth during the night when you don’t have electricity to heat your camper.
3. Portable Heating Solutions
You’ve made your camper heat efficient by insulating its thin walls. You’ve also brought the best bedding for the conditions as well as your comfort. Now it’s time to consider bringing along a portable heater to make your camper as warm as possible without electricity!
One of the best things that has happened to winter campers in the last 50 years has been the invention of portable propane heaters. Propane has long been used as a fuel to create light around camp or to provide the heat for grilling food. But now you can use propane to help you heat your camper!
One of the best companies to buy a small propane heater is Mr. Heater. Mr. Heater has been producing propane heaters since 1984, so you know that they are a reputable company. Their series of Mr. Buddy heaters are great for heating small spaces, like the inside of a camper!
What’s better is that the Mr. Buddy series of heaters comes in several different sizes, so you’re able to keep your camper warm regardless of the size or material it’s made out of.
One thing to keep in mind though is that you want to be sure not to leave these on for too long in an unventilated space as they emit potentially harmful carbon monoxide. So please, please, please only use these when you are awake to turn them off.
A pro-tip here is to use your propane heater to pre-heat your camper before going to bed. Turn it on for about 20 to 30 minutes before bed and then shut it off. That should be enough to last the night. If it doesn’t and you need to reheat your camper, it’s ok to turn it on for 20 to 30 minutes to get your camper back at a comfortable temperature but be sure to turn it off before going back to sleep.
Hot Water Bottles
One of the best ways to pre-heat your sleeping area before going to bed is with a hot water bottle. This trick works well whether you’re camping in a camper or tent and has been used for ages.
Fill up a pot or a kettle with water and boil it up. Dump the water into a water bottle and wrap the bottle up in a shirt or towel. The wrapping will help your hot water bottle stay warm for longer as the wrapping acts like insulation for the hot water, it also will protect your bedding from accidentally getting wet.
Keep in mind that the style of water bottle you use is very important when making a hot water bottle. Avoid using disposable water bottles as they tend to not fair too well when filled with hot liquid. Their thin plastic often melts when heated with high temperature water.
If a plastic water bottle is what you have available, try to use something that is hard like a Nalgene bottle or something similar. While these aren’t bomb proof and do carry a risk of malfunctioning, they are much sturdier than a disposable water bottle.
The absolute best thing for making a hot water bottle is to bring an actual hot water bottle with you. These are easy to buy at any pharmacy, grocery store, or big box store like Walmart if you are out camping already. If you haven’t gone on your trip yet, you can easily order these from Amazon.
Shake activated hand warmers are a great thing to take with you to bed. They are inexpensive, don’t emit any harmful gasses when used, and they don’t run the risk of getting your bedding wet!
The biggest drawback to these is that they tend to keep a small part of your body warm, so in order to keep warm, you’ll need to take a lot of these with you.
If you want to limit how much waste you are using, Zippo makes reusable hand warmers. They work very similarly to a Zippo lighter in that you fill the hand warmer with lighter fluid. When you’re ready to use it, you light the fluid, and you have a long lasting, reusable hand warmer.
The biggest thing to keep in mind with these is that you don’t want to rest them on exposed skin as they have the potential to burn skin. Wrap your Zippo hand warmer up in a fire-resistant material to ensure you are using your hand warmer safely.
4. Optimizing Your Camper for Maximum Heat
So far, we have talked about a lot of gear that you can bring with you that will help you heat your camper without electricity. However, if you are on a budget, you forgot to bring a piece of gear mentioned above, or you are in a pinch because of the catastrophic failure of one of the above-mentioned pieces of gear, consider the following tips to heating your camper with the tools it has on board.
Open Your Oven
A great way to heat your camper in a pinch without electricity is to use your oven. Start your oven and open it to get warm air circulating throughout your camper. You’ll be surprised with how quickly it’s able to warm up your camper!
Cover the Windows
Assuming you didn’t bring the aluminum coverings mentioned earlier, using anything else you have available to cover up your windows at night will go a long way in making sure you keep the warm air inside. Blankets, shirts, even newspaper and cardboard can be used to insulate your windows from the cold.
Cover the Cracks in the Door
In the same way that you want to cover up your windows, cover up your door cracks so that warm air can’t escape. Put blankets, towels, or anything else you have on hand in the cracks of the doors so that you keep all the warm air in with you!
Camping without electricity might be intimidating for some, because it means having to get creative with how you heat your camper. However, you don’t need to be constantly tethered to an electrical source if you follow these tips.
Start with making sure your camper is properly insulated before you go out.
Then bring the best possible bedding that you can afford to make sure that you stay warm through the night.
Afterwards, think about bringing a portable heat source to keep your camper nice and toasty warm throughout the night.
And if all else fails, cover up your windows and doors to keep warm air from escaping through the night.
Following these easy tips will make sure you stay nice and warm, no matter where you camp!