If you’re genuinely looking for some winter van build inspiration, search ‘winter van build’ on YouTube or Google and you’re probably going to be a bit disappointed.
It felt like summer 2017 all over again when we discovered that Google had a black spot in the motorhome skiing department. There’s a generous amount of ‘living in a van in winter’ stuff and the odd credible winter van conversion video but certainly nothing that James or I found particularly helpful or inspiring.
The aim of this Winterized Winter Van Build series is to walk you through your own winter van build, warts and all, showing you where you can scrimp, save and splash, dependent on your budget, skills and time. We’ve researched our conversion to death, and James has even donated his beloved VW T5 plumber’s-mate as the test-bed for things that have the potential to go horribly wrong.
This is us, as complete newbies, screwing things up, just for you. We’re good like that!
If you’re up for building your own snow-mobile and you fancy the freedom of mountain hopping, you can find the blog sign up at the bottom of this page and more details about how to follow our winter van build on YouTube.
Why is there nothing on the internet about winter van builds?
If you’ve found something you rate on the subject – please comment below with the url or source – watching other people’s successful and failed van builds is by far the best way to avoid costly mistakes and pinch great ideas.
Fundamentally, we think that YouTube has a conscience and nukes any winter van builds that get posted, on the off chance that some deluded #vanlifer who fancies themselves a budding snowmad might turn ‘Have-a-go-Henry’ and perish in their wholly unequipped 1984 Berlingo! Your dreamcatcher won’t save you from -26 degrees at 2000m above sea level.
Our conclusion as to why there isn’t a whole lot on the internet relating specifically to winter van builds is because a) the snowmad thing is still pretty niche and b) it’s a massive pain in the arse to do a winter van build. It’s not something you can chuck together in a weekend and short-cuts are only going to cut-short your ski trip. Trust us on that one.
Another reason for this gaping void of intel on a proper winter van build is that people are happy to modify their fair-weather vans – completely understandable – if you’re only clocking a few sub-zero weeks a year, a full winter van build is a huge and unnecessary expense.
However, our motivation is different. We will be touring the entire winter and we’re damned if it’s going to be one dominated by failing parts, changing our plans, and being relegated to the lowlands looking for a Bricomarché!
We’re also a bit beyond the ski-bum slumming it age where living on canned tartiflette and risking carbon monoxide poisoning from an onboard log burner is our thing. Only the second bit of that is true. One of the best things about motorhome skiing is tartiflette in a can.
We’re done with water freezing and having endured 70 consecutive days with a frozen water system in 2017/18, we’re very over that. No summer van needs to be spec’d for minus temperature water.
We might consider ourselves minimalists, but we’re minimalists with power hungry habits like smart phones and YouTube and wifi and GoPros and if I had my way, a nutribulllet and a hair drier. So we’re done with a 100amp hour battery, no inverter and no solar power. And a ‘solar shower’ is at best a dog wash for us.
Build for winter, and summer will be a doddle
Winter van builds are about two things – insulation and space. What that means is that if you spec your van build specifically for winter touring, it’s going to be the best summer campervan on the road – why? Because insulation, is insulation. It’s all about temperature regulation – keeping whatever’s outside out and whatever’s inside, in in the most energy efficient way possible.
Space – in all honesty, a winter specific van build is going to be cosy if it’s any use – why? Because you need a loo at the very least and you need somewhere secure to store what is really pricy kit. A bunch of surf vans and fair weather campers do not have a WC that we would consider useable – you can’t very well turf your van-mate out in a blizzard because you’re busting for the toilet and opening the windows to ventilate….. you do the maths. And we’re just a bit too middle class and prudish for peeing into a Volvic bottle or getting togged up to pee in a hedge in the middle of the night. We’re over that.
Space for kit – winter and summer adventure gear is toe to toe when it comes to expensive, knickable and akward so what’s good for one, if considered at the design phase, will likely work for the other.
If you want to read through our opener to this phase of our winter van life, check out our first blog of the series Full winter van conversion starts here where you’ll find our five non-negotiable starting points for this van build. These are personal to everyone but where we bagan looking at actual vans, we realised that there are a few things we assumed would be on everyone’s winter van build.
Standing Room Only
We are almost dwarves. That doesn’t change the fact that we rate standing up as a pretty important thing for winter van life. If you’re in a T5 for a two week road trip, hell yes, we get that, but we’re planning to be away for 5 months which makes standing room a phase two non-negotiable.
We need at least double what we had last tour. What solution we end up with will principally be governed by budget but a 4 pronged attack is our ambition.
With the imminent closure of one of our favourite aires and a consuming green-eyed monster when passing stealth campers in various resorts, we want to go incognito.
This isn’t because we’re those idiots that park wherever they like, taking the piss out of local residents, deposit grey water everywhere and generally give #vanlife a bad name. It’s because we want to travel as unobtrusively as possible and maximise the options we have for park-ups between mountain aires. Having spoken to a number or tourist offices throughout the Alps, we also know that a number of the no overnight parking rules are not really designed for us. They’re designed to prevent people who don’t operate within the spirit of a tolerated park up. They’re designed to stop 7 tonne camper trucks taking up huge parking areas and endangered ski lift parking being dominated coachbuilt motorhomes with deckchairs and awnings parking up for weeks at a time.
From a security perspective – despite our onboard alarm service, we prefer the stealth appearance of our planned build.
As small as possible
Once we’ve laid out those requirements our final demand of ourselves is that we fit all this into as small a space as possible. There are several reasons for this, none of which really require explanation:
- Fuel economy
- Tolls, trains and ferries
- Switch backs
- Small resort access
- Parking options
- General ease of use
What, how and why we chose our base vehicle is the subject of the next blog – but suffice to say, it’s been emotional!
If you want to keep tabs on our winter van conversion subscribe to the blog and you’ll get a blow by blow account. If you subscribe to the Winterized YouTube Channel (please also click the notification bell – that really helps us!) you’ll also get a complete series of ‘How To’ videos which, if you’re considering a winter van build yourself, will save you a heap of effort, research and probably screw-ups!
If you’ve got any questions please get in touch – if you’ve got any advice PLEASE GET IN TOUCH!