Autumn and winter campervan travels

Sometimes you remember why camping is so lovely. It’s usually on a hot summer’s day by the sea. Sometimes, though, it’s in the middle of nowhere, in a blizzard.

For the last few years, two of the Campfire team have spent Christmas and New Year in their campervan. Here’s why they’ve fallen in love with winter camping, and what they’ve learned about staying cosy.


Campsites are either shut or full

We don’t really like most campsites. It’s great to have hook-up, toilets and showers, of course, but it’s very difficult to find a site that doesn’t feel like a car park.

Wake up by the side of an icy loch

That’s where having a tent or a bivvy hammock gives you more choice about getting properly into nature.

If you have a campervan or small motorhome, though, then wild camping is the answer. And in Scotland, not only is that (mostly) allowed, it’s also easy.

We never meant to wild camp at New Year, but every site we contacted was either full, shut or bristling with statics and caravans in regimented rows. Further south in England, there seemed to be more choice, but we drew a blank for Scotland. There are some recommendations in the article on autumn and winter campsites, but remember to book well ahead (over the festive season at least).

Happily, it doesn’t matter….read on.

Wild camping is VERY do-able

No sites? No bother. You can wild camp almost anywhere.

Just us! A gorgeous wild camping spot in the Trossachs

In England, you’ll have to do that by being a bit canny – have a look at our article on wild camping spot apps. The best app/online search we’ve found is Park4night, by the way. You can also use Britstops pubs, farmshops and the like.

This map gives you lots of choice for campsites and wild camping spots. You’ll need a permit in season.

In Scotland, you can take your pick! We chose the Trossachs National Park, steering well clear of Loch Lomond because of the disgusting amount of litter at every stop. Many others, though, turn a blind eye to the mess and find themselves a great stopover in a pub or marina car park near the loch.

We wanted properly wild, though. Head off on forest roads and you can soon find a remote spot with a stunning view. We found ourselves not far from beautiful Loch Katrine and Loch Drunkie with mountains, forest, streams and utter quiet (apart from the handsome ravens who came to call each morning).

Thanks to Michael Chandler for sharing his wild camping photos. So…it’s even possible in a tent.

Hats that never come off. No need to was your hair!!

The big questions…toilets, and washing

Everyone wants to know what to do about washing and going to the loo!

  • We take a SeatoSummit Packtap with 10 litres of water for washing, toothbrushing and cooking.
  • We also have all-natural and biodegradable Aqua Wipes for quick bodywashes.
  • For toilet options, have a look at our loo recommendations. When you’re somewhere private, though, it’s easy to nip for a wee in the woods. Ah, the joy of a cold breeze on your bum!

Don’t stint on things to keep you warm

We had no heating in our campervan. We usually use an oil-free radiator or a fan heater on hook-up (have a look at our heater choices in our guide to campervan heating).

Warm socks, insulated slippers and a great view.

The Vaude Navajo sleeping bag – very versatile because you can use it as a blanket too. See the feature on sleeping bags for more.

This time, though, no electricity for us! So we needed to plan ahead.

  • We took hot water bottles, lots of layers of clothes, and our Vaude Navajo sleeping bags that double as blankets and wraparounds.
  • You could also try one of the 12V heated seat pads. Don’t stint on blankets. The silky faux fur ones are great for cosiness, but cotton ones are more environmentally friendly.
  • Keep your hat on if it gets really cold, and warm socks plus a good pair of insulated slippers make all the difference.
  • Cooking inside (with ventilation to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning!) adds extra warmth. We also fill up thermos flasks with hot water whenever we can to reduce the time needed to boil a kettle for tea or a hot water bottle.

If you do have hook-up, this is the answer

On this trip, because we were totally on our own and noise wasn’t an issue, we started the engine to warm the inside and recharge our batteries every couple of hours.

We now know why the original buyers of our campervan changed their mind for one with a parking heater, but – even so – we were never cold and even threw off the duvet at one point.

Have a look at our campervan heater article for lots more suggestions. And if you want to know a bit more about our van, read Ditchin’ the Kitchen.

Old-fashioned heatstoneware hot water bottle

Great tip from reader Dave Harding. These vintage stoneware hot water bottles (provided you check for leaks) are a brilliant way to keep warm. And no plastic!

Cook ahead

When you can nip in and out of the van and barbecue or cook outside, preparing a meal is fun. In the middle of winter, though, it needs to be easy.

Warming tagine on the little Bivouac stove (window open for ventilation!)

We made a huge pot of tagine before we left home (vegetables, saffron, ginger, prunes, preserved lemon and olives), and ate it with fresh bread one day and with rice the next.

Firepot freeze-dried meals (for the two nights after pole-lathing when we were too exhausted to cook). All-natural and plenty in the pouch.

We also took along some decent readymeals that only needed hot water (have a look at our recommendations for tasty cheats). We made up boxes of nuts and fruit, took plenty of snacks, crackers, dips and tins of soup.

Treat yourself to a pub dinner now and then!

Make your own entertainment

Ideally, you’ll have bright blue skies overhead while you walk or cycle during the day. Chances are, though, you’ll have sleet, drizzle or gales!

Be adaptable – grab those sunny hours and get outside to stretch your legs, but prepare for a lot of time inside.

We managed one long sunny walk and one evening of full moon watching before the sleet and snow kept us cooped up. Rather than feeling trapped, we gave in to the relaxation of reading, playing games, having a snooze and, when there was signal, catching up on all those Facebook groups.

And never underestimate how many hours you can while away watching the changing weather, the play of light on a snowy mountain-top or your travelling companion trying to start a new year’s exercise resolution in zero space.

What have we forgotten? Do share your own tips for winter camping. There’s a comment box below.

What on earth is this?

Maybe this Casart shelter is just what we need. It’ll withstand -34C of frost! It looks very interesting and maybe with a comfortable, insulated campbed inside….what do you think?

Designed for ice-fishing, but it’d be interesting to try it out for camping.

Camping gear must-haves – our 60 best finds

When we find a new piece of camping or outdoor equipment that we love and that really works, it’s here. Everything you see – from barbecues to mosquito repellent – has been tried and tested by a member of the Campfire team and is now one of their actual camping essentials …
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One Comment

  1. Try a Baavet duvet. They are made of wool and fantastic things, warm and cosy, not cold then hot then throw it off!

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