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How to Heat a Camper Without Electricity & Stay Warm All Winter

RV living out of season brings more space, fewer people, lower costs and cooler temperatures.

So staying warm and preventing heat loss from your camper is essential to take full advantage of off-season camping.

Some of the most common heating solutions for campers, RVs and camper trailers are a heavy draw on the electrical supply.

When hooked up to shore power, such as on a campground, a reliable electrical supply means these heaters can run as required.

But what about when there is no shore power available?

Perhaps there’s a power cut or a component in your RV electrical system has failed. 

Many campgrounds charge a premium for an unlimited electrical supply and dry camping helps reduce van living costs.

Conserving electricity for off-grid living depends on alternative ways to keep warm in your RV.

Here’s how to heat a camper without electricity so you can enjoy RV living year-round.

How to heat an RV camper without electricity pin image

How to Heat a Camper Without Electricity

There are many ways to heat a camper without electricity. 

Preparing your RV for winter living will allow you to stay warm off-grid and help reduce electrical use when hooked up.

Use some or all of these to stay warm and cosy, even in the middle of winter:

  • Insulate your RV for winter living
  • Clothing, bedding & soft furnishings for cold weather camping
  • Get active & eat well
  • Portable heaters for campers
  • Alternative power sources
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How to Insulate an RV for Winter Living

Insulating an RV for winter living is the key to keeping the warmth inside and preventing as much heat loss as possible.

If converting a van, the time to think about the campervan insulation is early in the build. 

This way, you can get as much insulation behind the walls and under the flooring as possible. 

It’s difficult to retrofit insulation behind walls and under the floor, not to mention destructive.

So if you’re buying a pre-loved camper, find out how it’s insulated before you commit.

There are more insulation tricks to reduce heat loss when preparing your RV for winter living.

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Cover your Windows

RV window coverings help keep heat trapped inside

Uncovered windows lead to a considerable amount of heat loss.

We have windows all around on our Sprinter conversion because she’s a converted minibus. 

While we love the views and floods of daylight this brings, they make for a chilly home if not covered in the colder months, especially after sunset. 

Reflectix is an excellent material to make window covers from and it rolls up or lays flats  for safe and easy storage during the daytime and warmer seasons.

Insulated thermal curtains add an extra layer of protection too.

We keep our insulated curtains up year-round. 

They provide privacy and protection from the sun’s heat, helping to keep the camper cool in summer too. 

And they hide the ugly reflectix window insulation so we don’t see it!

Make sure to remove these on sunny days, even when it’s cold outside.

The sun provides free heat and the windows are a fantastic conductor so your camper will warm up throughout the day.

Check all Seals for Draughts

Making good all seals reduces draughts to help keep a camper warm

Loose seals on slide-outs, doors, hatches, roof vents and windows all lead to considerable heat loss.

The rubber seals can become rigid if not well maintained with lubricant and this can lead to draughts.

Keeping on top of the maintenance will help but also check them all before the cold nights set in, rectifying any issues as you find them.

Insulate Hatches, Roof Vents & Cupboards

Ventilation remains important though insulating hatches improves heat retention too

Have you ever noticed the cold air inside the cupboards in a camper in winter? 

That chill isn’t going to help you stay warm and insulating the back of those cupboards can help make a huge difference.

The same goes for the roof vents and external hatches. Adding a layer of bubble reflectix, styrofoam or insulation board is a cheap and easy fix.

For roof hatches, vent insulators will help keep the warmth in, still allowing ventilation.

Don’t Compromise on Ventilation

Ventilation is vital for a healthy, fresh, and dry camper. 

Without adequate ventilation, you can’t avoid condensation in the colder months.

With all your efforts to insulate the camper and fix loose seals, don’t compromise the ventilation.

Maintain a good airflow at all times, especially at night.

Protect the Underbelly with RV Skirting

How to Heat a Camper Without Electricity

If wintering in one place for an extended period, RV skirting adds an extra layer of protection against the cold.

Protect the camper’s underbelly from the cold, wind, and snow will help reduce the heat loss from the floor.

Any weatherproof material that shelters the underbelly of the camper from wind and snow will do the job.

Vinyl skirting is perhaps the most durable, and because it folds away, it’s easy to store when not in use.

But you could quite easily make a DIY RV skirt from robust tarps and creative ideas on how to attach them to the camper without damaging the bodywork.

Clothing, bedding & soft furnishings for cold weather camping

You can do lots of things to the camper’s interior to help it feel warm and cosy and minimise heat loss.

Floor Coverings & Soft Furnishings

Soft furnishing help make a camper feel warm and cost and help trap heat too

Cover your camper floor with cosy rugs to help trap the heat inside. It’s so much nicer getting out of bed in the morning than stepping onto a cold floor!

Use scatter cushions and throws on your camper furniture. They’ll make the place feel warmer and perfect for snuggling on a cold evening.

We’ve already mentioned using a thermal-lined curtain on the camper windows. If you have a large space, consider using thick, heavy curtains to partition the space. 

The extra fabric will help retain heat, and a smaller space is easier to keep warm.

Campervan Bedding for a Good Night’s Sleep

Top quality campervan bedding is a must in winter

There’s no reason not to have luxurious bedding in your camper.

If sleeping bags are your thing, then more power to you. Just make sure it’s a least a 4 seasons sleeping bag if you plan to live in the camper in cold climates.

We’ve lived in our camper full time since 2018, and we love our luxurious bedding.

Here’s the top picks we wouldn’t want to endure a winter without:

Avoid getting into a cold bed at night with a hot water bottle. Place it at the foot of your bed under the covers a few minutes before climbing in. 

Pack Layers, Layers & More Layers

Wooly hats prevent losing too much body heat

The right clothes for living in a van in the winter will go a long way to help your comfort levels and keep warm.

Think big, baggy, wooly & comfy; fleece-lined socks and slippers; oversized jumpers you can tuck your knees into; scarves & hot mugs of tea!

At bedtime, merino wool is our go to material of choice. 

A set of merino wool base layers and a hat under the covers of our feather and down quilt and alpaca wool blankets, and we’re as snug as bugs in a rug!

Get Active & Eat Well

Keeping active when living in a van in winter makes a big difference

Staying active will help you keep warm, reducing the amount of heating needed in the camper.

Whether you shovel snow, go for a brisk walk, hike or ski, keeping physically active will also help your health.

Make sure you wear the appropriate clothes to keep you warm and dry. 

Avoid condensation by drying off wet gear as much as possible before bringing it inside.

Eating well will also help you maintain your body temperature. Think about hearty casseroles and one-pot meals using a pressure cooker to minimise water vapour.

Camping coffee makers are ideal for brewing your favourite morning beverage and don’t use any electricity either.

And if you have a campervan oven, keep the door open when you’ve finished cooking to help warm up the camper.

Portable Heaters for RVs and Campers

Many portable heaters run off electricity, but some on the market use alternative power sources.

Gas and propane portable space heaters are a popular choice.

Small but powerful, they’re ideal for boondocking as they don’t have any demand on your onboard battery bank.

Reliable in cold temperatures, they can serve as an ideal backup if your primary heating system fails.

If you don’t need a permanent heating solution, these are a fair, low cost and convenient option.

It’s essential to keep the van well ventilated and install a carbon monoxide detector and smoke alarm for safety reasons.

Many models come with safety features such as auto-shut off if it tips over, reducing the inherent fire hazard.

Here’s a selection of portable space heaters most popular with many RV owners:

At a Glance | Our Top Picks of Portable Heaters for RVs

– Adjustable from 4,000 to 9,000 BTU
– Auto shut-off if tipped over

– Adjustable from 1600 to 3000 BTU
– Can be wall-mounted or used as a portable unit

Wood Stoves

Wood burning stoves in a camper - cosy but be careful

Floor mounted wood-burning stoves offer a low carbon option to heating a camper without any electricity.

And because they’re super cool looking, ideal for Insta-worthy photos, we’d be amiss not to mention them.

The idea is simple, but we think the reality is probably somewhat more complicated, depending on where you travel.

We accept they are super romantic, cosy looking, and you can get free fuel in the right places.

But we’d never in a million years install a wood stove inside our van. 

We just don’t feel they offer a safe and permanent enough heating solution for our van lifestyle. 

Nor could we cope with the anxiety it would inevitably result in for us. Neither do we have the storage space for the wood.

We would invest in a portable wood stove for use outdoors. They fold away into relatively small size and are fantastic for camping weekends.

With care and following the manufacturer’s instructions, you can even use them in tents.

Alternative Power Sources

How to Heat a Camper Without Electricity

More permanent campervan heating options that don’t rely on mains electricity are available too.

A well-sized camper solar system allows you to charge deep cycle leisure batteries. 

These, in turn, provide power to run electrical devices, including heaters.

Even in the middle of winter, solar panels will harvest the sun’s energy to charge the batteries.

Electric heaters are extremely heavy on batteries, so not a viable option for full-time off-grid living. 

The most popular alternative is a diesel heater.

We have a diesel heater fitted in our camper. 

It takes a small amount of power from the batteries to get going, but the main fuel source is from the vehicle’s diesel tank. 

We love our diesel heater and think it’s the best way to heat a camper in winter without mains electricity. 

If your camper doesn’t run on diesel, the top-end diesel heater manufacturers also have petrol versions. 

Check out our buyer’s guide for the best diesel heaters for campers here.

At a Glance | Our Top Picks of Diesel Heaters for Campers

– High-end product
– Multi control
– Sound muffler
– Ideal for small-medium campervans

– High-end product
– Multi-control
– Sound Muffler
– Ideal for large campers & high altitude

– High-end product
– Digital controller
– Ideal for small-medium campers

– High-end product
– Digital controller
– Ideal for large campers

– Low cost, budget-friendly
– Excellent Facebook Group for support
– Ideal for small-medium campers

– Low cost, budget-friendly
– Excellent Facebook Group for support
– Ideal for large campers

Permanently installed propane furnaces are another popular alternative heat source.

Because they have vents taking any fumes outside the van, there’s less likelihood of carbon monoxide leaks into the camper.

They, too, need an electrical supply to get started. Because the draw is so small, the right size of leisure batteries can easily run them.

The vented propane heaters are much more expensive than the portable versions.

Unless you’re an RV owner with professional propane handling skills, you may need to get them professionally installed. 

But the result is a cosy, warm camper that’ll see you right all through winter.

At a Glance | Our Top Picks of Propane Heaters for RVs

– High-end product
– Digital Thermostat
– Rated for use with 30Mb butane and 30/37Mb propane

– High-end product
– 16,000 BTUs
– Space-saving design

– High-end product
– 35,000 BTUs
– Quiet operation

In Conclusion

How to Heat a Camper Without Electricity

Now you know how to generate heat without electricity in your camper, check out more of our tips for living in a camper in winter.

Hopefully, you’ll be encouraged to spend some time boondocking or dry camping this winter.

Boondocking or dry camping in winter is entirely possible with the right preparation.

If you still don’t fancy it, head south for the warmer temperature or winterize your RV for winter storage.

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