Winter isn’t over yet! That’s why whenGabrielle Gardiner approached me about sharing her article on preparing a winter emergency kit, I jumped at the chance.Below, Gabrielle tells you what you should have on hand to prepare for the worst should you get stranded in a winter wonderland.
Life on the road is liberating and exciting, but it’s not always easy. There are countless unpredictable challenges you can face, especially in the winter. Road conditions tend to be more hazardous. Frigid temperatures can interfere with the battery and mechanics of your vehicle. You need to prepare for the worst to mitigate your anxiety about potential emergencies while traveling alone in freezing temps.
Thankfully, there are steps you can take to prepare for being stranded roadside in the winter. The first thing you can do is read The Survival Mom‘s article “How to Survive a Blizzard in your Vehicle.” Secondly, it’s wise to pack an emergency kit to protect yourself, if only to put your mind at ease. When you learn survival skills and feel ready for anything, even the most inconvenient or dismal scenarios won’t seem so bad. Naturally, you should still opt out of traveling during severe winter weather conditions to avoid low visibility, icy or impassable roads, and an increased risk of accidents.
Don’t know where to begin to pack your kit? Make it easy for yourself and use a checklist so you don’t forget any essentials. Try this awesome winter car emergency checklist that you can download and print here.
Just like taking care of your mental wellbeing while living a nomadic lifestyle is important, it’s crucial to empower ourselves through preparedness. In the following sections, let’s outline some of the most important tips to keep in mind as you prepare yourself for a safe and enjoyable winter season on the road. Pack the items into a big duffel bag or storage container and leave it in your vehicle all winter long.
Food & Water Essentials
Packing a hefty supply of non-perishable snacks can be a lifesaver. Your emergency kit could include favorites like jerky, granola bars, and trail mix. When you’re stuck roadside in a pretty isolated area, the last thing you want to deal with is feeling miserably hungry. Keep in mind that whichever snacks you choose, be sure they don’t freeze easily. You won’t be happy trying to consume something that’s rock solid frozen with little chances of defrosting. Of course, water is another essential item to keep in your car kit. Again, to prevent it from freezing and being undrinkable, keep the water in a soft-sided insulated container and wrap that container in an emergency thermal blanket.
Snow Tools & Safety Items
If you don’t already have an arsenal of snow tools, you’ll want to invest in some for your kit. Buy a collapsible snow shovel so you’re always ready to dig your tires out of the snow, or in more serious circumstances, uncover your snow-engulfed car so it is visible to rescuers. Reflective triangles could help you become more visible, too. Plus, you’ll need ice scrapers to keep your windshield clear. A supply of basic tools in a toolbox could also come in handy.
When it comes to safety and staying warm, include an emergency thermal blanket as well as plenty of extra socks, gloves, and winter clothing layers in your kit. If your battery dies and you have to go without heat, you’ll be thankful you have the attire and protection to stay alive. You also can’t forget a flashlight, batteries, and matches for situations when you don’t have light or heat. Be prepared to treat your own minor injuries if necessary, and keep a first aid kit on hand as well.
One of the best ways to feel self-sufficient and empowered is to know how to jump your own vehicle. Otherwise, you have to rely on the kindness of strangers helping you out, or you’ll have to get a tow truck involved. If you’ve never jumped a car, you can learn how to do it. It’s not nearly as intimidating or complicated as it might seem. Take a look at the steps on how to do it here. Also, be sure to invest in some jumper cables before you hit the road.
Other key additions to your winter emergency kit: portable cell phone power banks, an emergency contact sheet (because no one memorizes phone numbers anymore), and kitty litter (even if you don’t have a cat.) Kitty litter might seem surprising, but it’s great for tires trying to gain traction in the snow. Or, you could also use sand, road salt, or snow mats to get unstuck.
Don’t forget to include the following in your winter emergency kit:
Snow shovel & ice scraper
Flashlight & batteries
Emergency thermal blanket
First aid kit
Living nomadically is incredible, but it can be a nerve-racking and unpredictable experience sometimes. You owe it to yourself to be prepared for anything. Hopefully, this guide to putting together a winter emergency kit can help you out this season.
Gabrielle Gardiner is a digital content creator who is passionate about developing helpful and compelling stories. She calls Manhattan home but loves escaping the big city to experience nature as often as possible.
Thanks to Laura-Marie of dangerous compassions blog for asking me to write about staying at a comfortable temperature.
#1 Wear enough
clothes.When we were kids, if my
sibling or I complained about being cold, our dad would immediately look us
over to see how we were dressed. If we were wearing short pants or a
short-sleeved t-shirt, he’d send us to put on appropriate clothes before he’d
consider turning up the heat. (Dad was also fond of saying, What you gonna do when winter gets here?
meaning it wasn’t even cold yet, so we shouldn’t be complaining. As a smartass
teenager, I took to answering this question with one word: Freeze.)
Some mornings when The Man gets out of bed before I do, I
hear him in the living room complaining about how cold he is. Often when I peer
out of the bedroom, I see he’s wearing a sweatshirt (good job!) and shorts. Put some pants on, I mumble from my warm
nest under the covers.
In any case, if you’re cold, follow my father’s directive and try putting on adequate clothing. Wearing a sweater or a jacket can really help keep you comfortable when it’s cold. And for goodness sake, if you’re chilly, be sure you’re wearing pants!
#2 Wear warm socks.When I moved to the Midwest from
the Deep South, a friend who’d lived in Minneapolis for decades advised me to
invest in warm socks. Good advice! Keeping your toes warm will definitely help
keep you comfortable during a chilly day or night.
#3 Wear a hat too. You may have heard people say you lose 50% of your body heat through your head and wearing a hat keeps that heat in. The Live Science website reports
At most, according to a 2008 report in BMJ, a person loses 7 percent to 10 percent of their body heat through their head…
but I feel a lot warmer when I’m wearing a hat. Hat hair be damned! I wear a snug hat on cold days and on cold nights as well so I can conserve as much of my body heat as possible.
#4 Keep your ears
warm. Cold ears are unhappy ears, as far as I’m concerned. Ears exposed to
frigid winter air are also susceptible to frostbite, so I keep my ears covered.
I like to keep my ears warm even when I’m sleeping. If my ears get cold while
I’m asleep, I tend to bring my shoulders way up, as if I could bring them up high
enough to shield my ears from the chilly air. Having my shoulders in this
unnatural position at night can lead to a daytime ache between my shoulder
blades. I like to wear a hat I can pull down over my ears, but you can achieve
the same results by wearing earmuffs, ear pops, or a scarf wrapped around your
#5 Dress in layers.
I hate hate hate dressing warmly enough for the outside weather only to go
inside (a store, the library, the laundromat) and find the heater is turned up
too high for my comfort. Dressing in layers is the best way to deal with the
difference between the outside and inside temps. Simply putting a t-shirt or
tank top under your sweater means you can peel off a layer without exposing a
socially unacceptable amount of skin.
#6 Throw a blanket over your lap when you’re sitting around during the day. A lap blanket can help hold in your body heat and keep you cozy whether you’re reading, talking on your phone, or doing crossword puzzles. If you have access to electricity, consider using an electric blanket to keep you toasty warm while sitting still. According to the How Stuff Works article “How Much Does It Cost to Run an Electric Blanket?“
An electric blanket might consume 200 watts (depending on the setting). So if you leave it on for 10 hours, it consumes 2 kilowatt-hours. That would cost between 15 and 30 cents, depending on your location.
#7 Share body heat. Whether it’s day or night, if you have an pet or human companion, consider cuddling to maximize body heat. Invite your cat or dog to sit on your lap or your best friend or sweetheart to sit close and share a blanket with you. Personally, if I’m under a down comforter with The Man and the dog, I usually get too hot and have to throw the covers off so I can cool down.
#8 If you feel cold, eat or drink something hot to warm you up from the inside out. Drinking hot cocoa, coffee, or hot tea should warm you right up. If you are avoiding calories, sugar, or caffeine but still crave flavor, drink herbal tea or add a slice or lemon or lime to hot water. If you make a big batch of your hot beverage of choice, you can store it in an insulated bottle for sipping throughout the day or night.
Do I even have to mention the warming benefits of hot soup? You already know the benefits of hot soup, right? Actually, any hot food should help you feel warmer, but there is something special about hot soup on a cold day.
#9 Get active. If
the weather outside is frightful, you might be tempted to sit around indoors
all day. If you’re cold even inside, try moving around a bit if possible. Do
some stretches. Jog in place or do jumping jacks if you have room. Maybe you
can even bundle up and brave the elements for some outdoor activities. When I
lived in the Midwest, I sometimes went out walking in 16 degree weather so I
could experience a change of scenery and get some exercise. After a brisk walk,
my blood was pumping and I was warm, and as an added bonus, the indoors felt
toastier when I came in from the cold.
If you’re living nomadically and you can swing it, go to a warmer climate. Both the Sonoran and Chijuajuan deserts tend to stay warm in the winter. If you want to be even warmer, stay in Mexico until spring. (For tips on living in the desert, read my post “10 Tips for Surviving and Thriving in the Desert.”)
#12 When you go to bed at night, cover yourself with good blankets. Down blankets are super warm. I haven’t been cold at night since I scored a down comforter at a Goodwill Clearance Center. If you don’t have a down comforter (or don’t believe it’s right to use animal products), consider sleeping inside a sleeping bag. I spent quite possibly the coldest night of my vanlife on public land outside of Mt. Shasta, CA. I’d spread my sleeping bad out like a blanket, and thought I was going to freeze to death. (I didn’t really think I was in danger of death, but dang. I was uncomfortable that night.) The next evening I zipped the bag on all three sides, crawled inside, and spent a warm and comfortable night in the same spot. Sleeping in the cocoon of the sleeping bag keeps you inside a bubble of your own nice, warm body heat.
#13 Sleep with clothes on. It’s a persistent myth among some overnight outdoor enthusiasts that sleeping nude within a sleeping bag will keep a person warmer than sleeping in the bag while wearing clothes. However, this myth was busted by several hiking and backpacking websites. The Columbia blog , Section Hiker, Backpacker and Outside all say wearing clothes to bed is a good idea. As the Columbia article “Is Sleeping Naked Really Warmer?” explains,
[t]he more layers of air you can create around your body, the warmer you’ll be. So wearing clothes inside of your sleeping bag will help you stay warm.
#11 Change your clothes before bed. When you’re all snuggly warm in the garments you’ve worn all day, changing clothes may not seem appealing, especially if your living space is cold. However, even if it’s imperceivable to you, the clothes you’ve been wearing are a little damp from your sweat. The dampness of your clothes is going to make you cold while you’re sleeping, so put on clothes that are warm and dry. At the very least, change your socks.
[y]ou wear wet clothing which compromises the insulation in your sleeping bag as the heat of your body dries it. The moisture in your clothes doesn’t just disappear: it gets trapped by the sleeping bag’s insulation which degrades its effectiveness…
The best practice is to wear a dry base layer (top, bottom, socks, and hat) in your sleeping bag at night…to keep you warmer in cooler weather. These should be loose-fitting to prevent your hands or feet from getting cold due to loss of circulation and to help trap warmer air near the surface of your skin.
#14 Pee if you have to pee. We all know it’s a pain to leave a warm spot (in bed or on the couch) to go to the restroom, especially if the restroom is cold and we have to remove a significant portion of our clothing to do what has to be done. It’s even worse if we have to move in the dark and/or go outside to get to where we need to go to relieve ourselves.
I once read in a guide to winter camping (something like the Backpacker website’s article “15 Cold-Weather Camping Tips to Keep You Warm While You Sleep“) that people tend to feel colder if they try to hold their urine instead of leaving the tent (or bed) in order to pee. It would be a bad deal if the urine in your bladder froze because your body was working to keep the rest of you warm. To avoid such a situation, your body works hard (and burns calories) to keep the urine inside of you warm. Get rid of the urine, and your body can use its resources to keep the rest of your comfortable.
#15 Keep your kidneys warm. A friend once told me about keeping my kidneys warm to keep the rest of me warm when we were camping out. She maintained that if one’s kidneys get cold, all the blood passing through the kidneys gets cold too. When the cold blood flows through the body, it makes the entire body cold. Her solution was to wrap something warm (a blanket or a scarf, perhaps) around the area of her kidneys. (While researching this post, I found out a product–the Haramaki–exists especially for this purpose). My friend also recommended using a sleeping pad under a sleeping bag for added warmth. I think this tip would be especially important for people sleeping on the cold ground or the cold floor of a van.
So there you go—15
tips for staying comfortable when the weather is cold. What do you do to stay
warm in the winter? Please leave your tips in the comments section below.
Please remember that Blaize Sun is not responsible for your safety and well-being. Only you are responsible for your safety and well-being. If you are in a dangerously cold situation, move to a warmer location. Ask for help if you need to. Frostbite and hypothermia are no jokes, friends.
I’ve been using up small bits of yarn in colors that don’t fit the schemes I have in mind for infinity scarves. In a few days, I made seven hats.
Esmerelda is modeling a large white hat with a finished edge. In this photo, the finished edge is folded up. This hat features a variety of blues and is topped by a pompom. The hat costs $13, including shipping.
Sometimes I get so excited about making hats, I don’t want to do anything else. Who needs to sleep, cook, eat, clean? Not me! The most important thing in my life is making hats!
In this photo, Esmerelda is modeling a large hat with a finished edge. The edge is folded down in this view. It’s a bright hat with lots of shades of oranges and yellow. The hat is topped with a pompom and costs $13, including shipping.
In this view of the same hat, the finished edge is folded up.
Other times, I don’t even want to think about yarn, much less making a hat.
I can’t pinpoint any reasons for why I feel one way or another. Sometimes that hat benders are brief, and sometimes they last for weeks.
In any case, I’ve been making hats, and they’re all for sale. Each one costs $13, including shipping costs.
I know it’s September, and most folks won’t need a warm hat for a couple of months. But as fans of Game of Thrones are reminded, winter is coming. Now is a good time to prepare. Your head will thank you.
This large hat has a finished edge. In this photo, the edge is folded up. The main color of this hat is purple, with some yellow, but the purple variegated yarn has some green in it too, so it’s probably not for the straight-up LSU fan. The hat costs $13, including shipping.
The large hat Esmerelda is modeling in this photo has an unfinished edge. The color scheme is primarily blue, but it has some orange near the top as well. The cost of this hat is $13, including shipping. (This hat is NO LONGER AVAILABLE.)
This large hat has an unfinished edge. It is primarily yellow and orange, but there are some blues in it as well. The cost is $13, including shipping.
This large hat features a variety of colors: blue, orange, yellow, green, purple. It has an unfinished edge and costs $13, including shipping charge.
This photo shows another large hat with an unfinished edge featuring a variety of colors. The hat is mostly a light blue, but it also includes orange and yellow. The price is $13, including shipping. (This hat is NO LONGER AVAILABLE.)
When I think back to the days when I was living in a tent (with the man who was my partner then), it seems as if we lived that way for a long time. However, when I do the calculations, I realize we only lived in that tent (the cheapest two-person tent Wal-Mart had) for a few months. Oh how the imagination stretches the unpleasant! I don’t want to go back to those days (for a lot of reasons), and I hope I never have to live in a tent again.
THE SET UP AND THE BREAKDOWM OF THE TENT WAS A PAIN IN THE ASS
Even after I’d grown accustomed to setting up the tent, it was never easy. It was always difficult to thread the poles through the pockets on the roof and sides. It was always difficult to poke the ends of the poles into the pockets on the ground. Every piece of the tent puzzle had to be in the right place at the right moment to make the whole thing work.
Taking it apart was easier, but it was such a struggle to get the tent folded correctly and small enough to get it into the carrying bag.
Setting up and breaking down the tent took time and energy. Neither was a fast process, even after I knew what I was doing. At the end of a long day, setting up the tent was the last thing I wanted to do. And forget about a quick get-away in the morning.
In my van, whenever I decide to park for the night, I can crawl into bed moments after I pull the key out of the ignition. In the morning, if I’ve taken nothing out of the van, I’m ready to go as soon as I get dressed and put on my shoes.
HAVE YOU EVER TRIED TO BE STEALTH IN A TENT IN A CITY?
I’m sure some people figure out how to be stealth in a tent in a populated area, especially if there’s a park with a woodsy area or a woodsy area on the edge of town. I only pulled off staying in a tent in a city once, with the help of some street kids who shared their camping squat on some undeveloped land quite a walk from the city center.
It’s easier to be stealth in my van, especially if I get into bed as soon as I park and don’t turn on any lights. A van will blend in with other parked cars, but outside of the woods, a tent is going to stand out.
THE TENT DIDN’T OFFER MUCH POROTECTION FROM THE COLD
Yes, sleeping in the tent kept me warmer than sleeping outside without a tent but warmer is not the same as comfortable. Most of the tent sleeping I did was in late spring and early summer. If the night were cold (and some of them were), I was cold in the tent.
Sleeping on the cold ground seemed to suck the heat out of me. Someone once told me that if one’s kidneys get cold, one’s blood gets cold, and then one has cold blood circulating throughout one’s body. Cold ground = cold kidneys = cold body. I suppose a good sleeping bag or an air mattress would have helped, but I had neither.
Unless the temperature dips into the 20s, I stay warm in my van. I have plenty of blankets and a propane heater I can turn on if I need to. A van is better insulated than a cheap Wal-Mart tent, so it stays warmer. My bed is raised, so I’m not losing my heat to the van’s cold metal floor.
THE TENT DIDN’T OFFER MUCH PROTECTION FROM THE RAIN EITHER
The Southeast in the springtime can see a lot of rain. The spring I was living in the tent saw a lot of rain. The tent was wet a lot. The seams started to leak. Water seeped in at the bottom edges. All of the stuff in the tent had to be piled in the middle to try to keep it dry. (Did I mention my partner and I had no motor vehicle, so there was nowhere to store our stuff other than the tent?) Sleeping bags and blankets got wet. There was nowhere to put our wet clothes to dry. It was a miserable time.
Fortunately, my van doesn’t leak. (I paused my writing to knock on wood.) The rain can come down (and down and down and down), and I stay dry. My stuff stays dry too. I can drape wet clothes around the van, and they’ll dry out eventually. My van is good protection from the elements.
THE GROUND TENDS TO BE BUMPY AND NOT REALLY FLAT
Outside of a campground (and sometimes in one too), it can be really difficult to find a clear, flat piece of earth on which to pitch a tent. If you’ve ever slept in a tent on an incline, you know it’s not really sleeping, as you’re fighting all night to hold your position and not end up pressed against the wall of the tent at the bottom of the slope. It’s also not easy to find a piece of ground that’s not littered with (sometimes seemingly invisible) rocks and sticks. You may not see rocks and sticks, but you’ll certainly feel them as soon as you lie down. If you’re in an area with a lot of trees, it may be impossible to get away from roots. Again, an air mattress or a good sleeping pad might help make sleeping on the ground more comfortable, but that’s a lot of stuff to haul around, especially if you’re carrying everything you own on your back.
In my van, I carry my comfy bed with me. I sleep on top of two layers of memory foam. This bed is more comfortable than several of the “real” beds I’ve slept on in houses. I never sleep on top of lumps and bumps. Sometimes, however, if I’m not careful about where I park, I do end up on an incline and wake up in the night in a scrunched-up woman heap with my head off the pillow and my feet pressed against the wall. Even when I wake up and realize I’ve made this sort of poor parking decision, it’s still better than sleeping on the cold, hard ground.
THERE WAS NEVER ENOUGH ROOM IN THE TENT
Two person tent + two people + two people’s stuff = never enough room
Neither of us could stand up in the tent. I often felt claustrophobic. It was not comfortable to have a friend hang out in the tent with us.
While I wouldn’t say my van is spacious, it is roomer than the tent. My van has a high top, so I can stand up. If I needed to, I could get two or three other people in the van with me for a short period of time. One person could probably spend a night on the van’s floor. There’s room for me to set up my stove so I can cook in the van if I need to, and there’s room to operate my Mr. Buddy heater safely.
THE TENT OFFERED ONLY MINIMAL PRIVACY
Sure, the tent kept people from seeing us naked, but that’s about it. Unless we whispered, anyone nearby could hear what we were saying. I suspect everyone probably knew when my partner and I were having sex too. If my partner and I were both in the tent, we had no privacy from each other.
Once I pull the curtains in my van, I feel I have a high degree of privacy. Oh sure, if this van’s a rockin’ is a real phenomenon, but at least no one’s going to hear every moan and sigh. If I were traveling with someone in my van, one of us could sit in the bed or in one of the front seats with the front or back curtain pulled while the other was in the main part of the van, and we wouldn’t have to look at each other.
THE TENT OFFERED LITTLE SECURITY
Are there tents that lock? I’ve never seen one. Anyone could unzip the tent flap, reach in, and grab whatever they wanted. I guess in campgrounds folks stash their valuables in their locked cars, but when one is carrying everything one owns, there is no place to lock anything away.
Tents offer even less security for my physical self. Is a tent going to stop a bear? No. Is a tent going to stop a murder or a rapist? No. (Not that I dwell on murderers or rapists, but the thought occurs to me.)
I feel very secure in my van. I can lock the doors when I leave and when I’m inside. As my dad says, a lock is to keep an honest man (or woman, Dad) honest. If someone with tools and know-how wanted to break into my van, it would probably be fairly easy. But I do feel like my stuff and I are safe when the doors are locked. (I paused to knock wood again.) While a bear might be able to peel off a door, at least a person with bad intentions is not going to be able to rip open the van’s metal roof.
Of course, I realize a different tent would have solved some of the problems I’ve outlined. A bigger tent could have helped with my space and privacy issues. A three-season tent would have kept me warmer. A better-made tent might not have leaked. A tent with a better design may have gone up and down more easily. But I don’t know how to solve stealth and security issues with a tent.
In any case, I’m so, so grateful for my van. It keeps me safe, dry, warm, and comfortable. (I’m knocking wood again.) I wouldn’t trade it for a six-person, three-season, easy-up, well-made tent with a lock and a top-of-the-line air mattress.
My #1 way of staying warm while living in my van is to go somewhere warmer when the weather gets colder. For example, in 2014, I left Northern New Mexico at the end of October and went to Southern New Mexico, where I stayed for November and December. In January 2015, I went to Arizona and stayed in various places in that state until I went to the California mountains at the end of April.
People often ask me if I stay warm enough in the van at night. Staying warm at night is not a problem. My bed is raised about two feet, so my body heat isn’t lost to the floor, and I have storage space. I sleep on two layers of memory foam, which is notorious for making people hot. I wear long underwear and socks to sleep when I need to, as well as a hat if it’s particularly cold. I have plenty of blankets, including two sleeping bags and a knitted (crocheted?) blanket stored flat under the memory foam and on hand for any really cold situation.
My bed lies across the back of the van, up against the back doors. On the side opposite the back doors, I have a curtain (a sheet I paid $1 for at a thrift store strung on a bungee cord) that I can pull for privacy. I found out early on that the curtain holds in quite a bit of my body heat. In hot weather, I often have to leave the curtain open at night so I don’t get warmly uncomfortable. When it’s cold out, I’m glad the curtain holds in the warmth.
Once I’m in bed, I’m warm. Sometimes I even get too warm and have to push the covers down for a while so I can cool off in the chilly air.
The problem in cold weather is getting out of the bed, either to get dressed and get out of the van or to move around inside the van (to tidy up or to cook, for example). Sometimes it’s too cold inside even to sit up in bed to read or write.
While I was in Southern New Mexico, temperatures were getting down in the low 30s at night. I researched how other rubber tramps stay warm in their vehicles.
One idea I found on a couple of websites was burning a candle. Candles (supposedly) raise interior temperature in a vehicle by 10 degrees. Of course, one must be careful with the open flame. (I have a lot of fabric in my van—curtains, rugs, blankets, clothing strewn about—so I have to be particularly careful not to catch everything I own on fire.) One must also be careful not to let the candle use up all the oxygen in one’s enclosed space, which can lead to death. This means one must leave a window open at least a crack when using a candle inside a vehicle.
I wondered if leaving the window open—even just a crack—negated any heat produced by a lit candle. However, I was willing to give it a try, so I walked down to one of the locally owned gift shops and bought a small (overpriced, artificially scented) candle. I tried burning the candle a couple of mornings. I (thankfully) did not catch anything on fire, but I didn’t notice feeling any warmer when the candle was burning. I decided the candle experiment was a failure.
At the time, I was staying in an RV park with electrical hookups. I considered going to Stuff-Mart and buying a small electric heater. (I think they run $15-$20.) I decided not to do that because I very seldom stay in my van in places with electrical hookups. Even a small heater would take up precious storage space when not in use, and I wouldn’t use it enough to justify having it.
The last week I was in Southern New Mexico (the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve), the temperature dropped to 28 degrees. I was lucky because I had gotten a house and pet sitting job. I stayed in a lovely warm house with a nice cat and a nice dog, and I didn’t have to think about heating the van.
During my internet research, I’d read a bit about portable propane heaters. Several van dwellers I read about swore by them. I didn’t rush out to buy one because #1 they’re a little pricey and #2 burning propane in the van causes the same concerns as burning candles.
The Divine Miss M had a Mr. Heater brand Portable Buddy heater, which was a popular choice among folks at the RTR. (I don’t know why exactly, maybe I heard someone else refer to the heaters this way, but I call this type of heater Mr. Buddy.) Miss M loved hers, said it got her station wagon plenty warm, but did stress the absolute necessity of leaving a window open a crack when using the heater inside. She assured me that the heater produced enough heat to overcome the cold let in through the partially open window.
I stored the info in my brain file for future reference. I wasn’t in the market for a heater, although on some chilly mornings in the Arizona desert, I would have welcomed a few minutes of concentrated warmth.
At one of the very last group gatherings at the RTR, during announcements, a man said he had a brand new Mr. Buddy heater for sale. He said he’d just bought it from Amazon.com for $69 ($20 less than normal price, I was told) but had found a heater he liked better at the Big Tent. He wanted to sell the heater for $69, plus another $20 or $30 for the supplies to hook it up to a large propane tank. When I went to talk to the guy selling the heater and told him I was interested in the heater but not the accessories because I didn’t have a large propane tank, there was a grumpy old man already looking at the items. The old man snapped at me that I needed a larger propane tank because it was cheaper to buy propane that way. Rather than snap back at the old coot elder, I just told the guy with the items for sale that the old guy could buy it since he was there first.
Before I could get back to my van, the seller had come after me to say the old guy didn’t want the heater and I could have it for the $69 he’d spend on it. I bought it.
I tried it out a couple of times before I left the RTR (thanks to the bottle of propane Miss M gave me to use with it). It worked great, warmed the van quickly. It was just enough heat to get me motivated to get out of bed and get dressed. I told Miss M that Mr. Buddy was my new boyfriend!
Then I went back to the City and didn’t stay in my van for upwards of three months. Mr. Buddy was packed in a plastic storage tub, and I didn’t think much about him. Until…
It’s cold in the California mountains, even in May. Seems like the temperature starts dropping around 4:30 in the afternoon (16:30, military time) and doesn’t warm up again until the next day around noon. Sleeping is fine. Actually, I sleep better when it’s chilly and I can snuggle under piles of blankets, so sleeping is excellent. It’s the between times that are trying.
I get up early to do a check of the campground, sweep the restrooms, make sure there’s enough toilet paper. I decided I needed the warm motivation only Mr. Buddy can provide, so I’d already planned to unpack him when I heard the high the next day was expected to be only 41 degrees, and there was a possibility of snow. I pulled Mr. Buddy and his propane bottle out of the plastic crate and fired him up before I crawled into bed. In about ten minutes, the van was toasty.
When I got up in the morning to pee, I fired him up again until I warmed up. Oh yes, Mr. Buddy and I are sure to have a long and happy relationship.
I took this photo of my boyfriend, Mr. Buddy, in my van. The propane bottle fits right in on the side.
Safety Precautions I Follow with Mr. Buddy
#1 I open at least one window at least a crack before igniting Mr. Buddy’s flame.
#2 Because there is an actual flame, I make sure no fabric is near Mr. Buddy’s front.
#3 I never leave him unattended. I DO NOT exit the van or go to sleep while Mr. Buddy is on.
#4 When I turn off Mr. Buddy, I unscrew and remove the propane bottle. Some people don’t do this, but I take this precaution so I know no propane is leaking.
While writing this post, I remembered another idea for getting/staying warm. I learned this one years ago from a New Englander in New Orleans. Drinking or eating something hot is a good way to warm up from the inside. However, when I’m cold first thing in the morning, I don’t necessarily want to crawl out of my warm bed to heat water for tea.
For my birthday, my host family gave me a Stanley thermos. It keeps water hot for a long time. I used it while working the essay scoring job so I’d have hot water for my lunch. I’d heat the water in the morning, put it in the thermos, and the water would still be hot enough at lunchtime to prepare noodle soup (ramen noodles and the like). One day I didn’t use the water for lunch, and the next morning (24 hours later) when I opened the bottle, the water was still very warm.
So this is my idea: Before I go to bed, I’ll boil water and put it in my Stanley bottle. I’ll put it next to my bed, along with my mug and a teabag. When I wake up in the morning, I’ll pour myself a cup of hot tea before I even get out of bed. Sounds lovely.
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