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Back on the Coast

Back on the Coast

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Keeping Warm, Part One

Left: It's cold outside!

Yup, the dreary days of winter. An article of the Hobo Stripper's, Mr. Buddy, reminded me that most of you probably (or will) vandwell in the frozen hinterland. You are experiencing freezing or below temperatures for a continuous four months. Brrr! I am lucky, or intelligent (I doubt that!) Where I vandwell, the average winter low temps. are around 5 degrees Celsius, or 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Pretty balmy in comparison.

But, what if I wanted to live/work at a mountain ski resort for the winter. I have actually researched and spent some considerable time thinking about extreme winter vandwelling. Once, I went winter survival camping in the mountains; I was amazed how I could be more or less comfortable in that situation. I learned a lot about staying warm with minimal protection that trip. In this article, I'm just going to talk about keeping just yourself warm, not trying to heat the interior of your van.

Left: At least, it gets cheery and bright!

Obviously, clothing is key. Modern tech. materials, such as thinsulate insulation in coats and solar fleece in tops, work great; old tech. materials, such as wool, are great for socks and toques. I utilize a layering method of clothing, using more or less layers to compensate for various temperatures or outside conditions. But, during the day I don't have a problem staying warm; I'm driving with the heat on, or I'm at work, the gym, a cafe/library, shopping or at my friends'/folks' place. I don't really use my van as a bed sitting room. It's only during the night, when I am sleeping do I feel the cold.

Because of the limited space in my van, I decided to have just a raised platform bed placed in the centre, slightly to the back. It affords me lots of storage underneath with a nice size mattress. But it also places my sleeping position in the approximate center of the 'back'. I find that when you are really close to a exterior surface, you can feel it's coldness by the close proximity and drafts. I try to distance myself from those cold surfaces, as much as possible. I also utilize insulation systems on those exterior surfaces, either by carpet on the floor, liners on the side and roof, reflectix on the windows, and so on. Trying to stop drafts in the sleeping area is very important, so I use curtains sealing off rear and side doors, and between the sleeping and driving compartments. Again, it's like you are cocooning yourself, as much as possible away from the cold outside.

My bed is raised up off the floor as much as practical, not just for storage, but for warmth as well. Cool air pools by the floor, and warmth radiates towards the ceiling, so it's good to position yourself higher when sleeping. The plywood platform and the thick 6" foam mattress insulate me from the cool air below. I use a comforter below me like a featherbed, and I use two heavy duty comforters (total 4'' of insulation or more) on top to hold my body heat close. The human body creates around 250 BTU's per hour; it's what keeps you warm when just wearing a coat outside. But, when you are sleeping, you produce less body heat by not exercising, so you need thicker layers to store it. I also sleep with a wool toque on my head, full body longjohns and wool socks.

Right: You can get sleeping bags like this rated to -15 degrees F, and lower

This is all I need, 'cuz temperatures at night rarely dip much below freezing. But, if I was experiencing even colder temperatures, I would use more insulate layers. Tara, the Hobo Stripper, uses a very thick layer(8'' or so) of down comforters on top, and she sleeps through extreme lower temperatures (-30 degrees Fahrenheit, oh, man!). That's a bit too cold for me; I would definitely be considering an auxiliary heating system under those conditions. But it demonstrates what you can do, if necessary.

I'm sure you are aware of space blankets. They are those flimsy, foil emergency sheets that work by reflecting your body heat right back at you. Cabela's, an online camping/survival outlet, markets something similar, but much more durable. It's still a thin sheet, but with one reflective layer sandwiched to a nylon tarp. You could use this as your very top layer of bedding, shiny side down, above your comforters, to further hold in heat and reflect it back at you. Unmodified, this sheet does not breath, and wouldn't let the moisture of your body's sweat escape. You could experiment by punching multiple small holes in it with a grommet hole cutter, allowing some air circulation to wick away dampness, and it would still work effectively.

Left: Reflective tarp from Cabela's

You could take this principle even a little further. Imagine a small tent-like enclosure, just above and all around you on the bed, above or just around the mattress. You could use a reflective material like reflectix or the reflective tarp mentioned before. This would create a cocoon just above you, which would trap and reflect body heat in the airspace just above you. You would have to allow for ventilation for you and moisture release, but again I think it could be very effective.

The use of various insulative layers around and on you, and using some ingenuity of design and forethought can keep you warm under many conditions. But in extreme low temperatures, I think an efficient and safe heating system, assisted by insulating your van is the way to go. I'm going to cover that in a subsequent article. The methods listed here can take care of you down to a pretty cool night; they are very economical, easy to implement/use and are effective. Keep bundled up!

Below: Sooner or later, winter begins to thaw. Yeah!!!

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