Heating Your Campervan During The Winter
When the weather is great, we all love living and traveling in our campervans. But when the season turns frigid, van life becomes more uncomfortable and inconvenient without any sort of campervan heater. In fact, many of us stop traveling altogether during the winter months. Wouldn’t it be nice to simply push a button and heat your campervan?
It’s possible! In this article we will discuss the prevalent campervan heating solutions on the market today. We will also detail which van life heating option we went with and our thoughts on our decision.
(Spoiler alert: We LOVE our diesel heater.)
Campervan Heater Categories
Simple Propane Heaters
What Are They?
These propane heaters are simple, convenient, and heat your van quickly. They are stand alone devices and work by inserting a common 1lb (green) propane canister and simply turning on the heater.
Starting at ~$60, these propane camping heaters are affordable to most in the campervan community.
No need to drill holes or connect any wires. A stand alone product that you can store and take out when needed. Very convenient.
Simply connect your heater to a propane supply tank and you’re good to go.
A single 1lb propane tank sells for ~$6-8 but only lasts about 3-6 hours. Propane costs can quickly add up here.
In the propane combustion process, oxygen is consumed and carbon monoxide is produced and released INSIDE the vehicle. This leads to potential suffocation & carbon monoxide poisoning if the heater is operated incorrectly.
Fire deaths caused by a tipped over heater are, sadly, not unheard of.
Do We Recommend?
Unfortunately, these simple propane heaters are a NO from us. And unless budget is a serious concern, we don’t think these are the best solution for heating your campervan.
Despite the plethora of positive reasons for these simple propane heaters, the serious safety concerns related to oxygen depletion, carbon monoxide poisoning, and fire hazard is enough for us to take a pass on these types of heaters.
According to Propane101.com, almost 25% of all propane-related deaths are attributed to carbon monoxide poisoning. Yikes!
Plus, we want to preserve our propane for cooking and don’t want to constantly look for propane centers to fill up.
Electric Space Heaters
What Are They?
You see these electric space heaters everywhere in homes and offices. You plug them in to any standard 120v socket and simply turn them on. No messy fuel required, just electricity.
But getting electric heaters to work in your campervan requires a robust electrical system and a considerable investment in batteries and an inverter.
Starting at ~$20, these electric heaters have the cheapest entry price of any campervan heating solution.
Similar to simple propane heaters, there is no installation necessary. Store it away and take it out when needed.
Take the heater out, plug it in, and turn it on. Incredibly simple.
No propane or diesel required. Just electricity.
An electric heater may be cheap, but it will require a sizable inverter to power it, which will cost money.
These heaters draw anywhere from 800-1500 watts. So you will also need a sizable battery bank to power an electric heater for any substantial amount of time.
If you’re batteries are drained you can quickly find yourself stranded in the cold without heat.
Do We Recommend?
Because of their high electricity demand, we would never rely on an electric space heater as the PRIMARY heating solution for any campervan.
However, a small electric space heater, as a SECONDARY solution, makes sense if you plan to park your campervan in an area with access to shore power (i.e. RV park or driveways). With access to unlimited electricity, these electric heaters become much more practical.
Fuel Operated Heaters
What Are They?
These heaters are designed specifically for campers, boats, and any other type of mobile home.
Depending on the type, these heaters can operate on a variety of fuels, including gasoline, diesel, kerosene, and propane.
Because installation is required, it’s best to plan ahead and figure out where this heater will be installed during your van build.
Read Also : The Best Solution to Comfortable Van Life - Proper Insulation
Our diesel heater can run for 40+ hours on a 2.5 gallon tank. That’s roughly 5 hours of heat for every $1 of diesel.
Unlike the simple propane heaters above, the pollution from the combustion process remains outside the vehicle. Meaning no chance of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Many of these heaters come with convenient control systems that allow you to set your desired temperature and timer.
The original, higher-end models start at roughly $1,000 per unit. Made in China models can be purchased starting at ~$130.
Substantial installation and assembly is required. You will also need to drill multiple ~1″ holes in the floor of your vehicle. Assembly instructions will also be limited, from our experience.
Depending on the make and model, diesel and gas heaters are rated for use only up to 2,000-3,500m in elevation. (See more below)
Diesel and gasoline heaters are only rated up to a certain altitude. This is generally between 2,000m-3,500m above sea level.
This is because the higher the elevation, the less oxygen there is in the air for the heater to burn cleanly. Using the heater at extreme altitudes for extended periods of time puts the heater at risk of clogging the heating element and, ultimately, breaking the device.
Our first diesel heater was a cheap China made diesel heater that quickly malfunctioned after use above 2,000 meters.
We replaced the broken heater with the more expensive Espar D2 diesel heater (that comes with an auto-altitude adjuster up to 3,500m) and it has been working great since.
Best Overall Option
Best Budget Option
Do We Recommend?
Installation was a challenge and our heater wasn’t cheap, but we LOVE our Espar D2 diesel heater. It keeps our van interior warm and toasty in the early mornings and in the evenings.
We highly, highly recommend these fuel operated heaters as THE primary solution for heating your campervan during the winter months.
Even during the winter months, we’ve been able to comfortably live and travel in our campervan, which is the biggest reason to invest in a heater like this.
We want to make clear that the cheaper Chinese-made model that we purchased earlier worked great for our needs, but only up to about 2,000m above sea level. If you don’t think you will be spending much, if any, time at that altitude, then these cheaper heaters will absolutely meet your needs, too.
Best Van Life Heaters For Heating Your Campervan
In conclusion, based on your needs, budget, and situation, different van life heating options exist to heat your campervan during those chilly winter months.
Van life during the winter can still be fun and enjoyable!
Whichever heating solution you choose for your van, remember that the most important aspect is keeping yourself safe.
If you have a simple propane heater, remember to have proper air ventilation to allow fresh oxygen to enter your campervan.
If you have any personal experience you’d like to add with your heater, please let us know in the comments below!