Live in Your Truck in the Winter: 7 Tips for Cold-Weather Car Camping

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I’m enjoying my fourth winter in the back of a Tacoma. Here’s how I stay warm winter camping in the truck during the coldest months.

My bedroom, if I’m allowed to call it that, is a luxurious 60 cubic feet. At 6 feet long, 4 wide, and 2½ high, it’s just enough to sit up and graze my head on the ceiling. Access is crawl-in, crawl-out only. Some nights, I bump my head as I’m rushing to bed. It’s a blunt reminder that most people stop sleeping in forts around age 10, a few decades younger than I currently am.

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Sure, on the lonely days I dream of a normal bedroom with a desk, dresser, and king bed with a soft comforter. Someday I’ll surely succumb to these vices, but for now, while living on the road and chasing snow, my relatively small bedroom is a huge advantage for warmth. Less air means it’s much easier to heat up and keep warm. This didn’t happen by design, but it’s something I’ve come to appreciate greatly.

As I’ve fumbled my way through living as a dirtbag out of a Tacoma, I’ve picked up a slew of tricks to stay comfortable in almost any weather. Below are seven tips for staying warm in winter.

1. Dress to impress, from base layers to parka.

Warm clothing lying on truck tailgate

Patagonia’s new Capilene Air base layers are comfortable, warm, and take weeks of use to smell bad. Pair with thick wool socks from Stance, which are some of the most durable I’ve ever used. Layer with a fleece or similar midlayer, and throw on a burly Grade VII Parka when you’re cooking dinner on the tailgate. It may sound like overkill, but I use the Mountain Hardwear Zero Mitts to keep my paws warm, which is helpful for folks like me with poor circulation.

2. Insulate everything, from truck camper to sleeping bag.

Author's Tacoma with LEER truck topper

This starts with the vehicle buildout. I chose a LEER cap truck topper with an insulated roof, carpeted headliner, and solid fiberglass side windows. Then, I added two layers of Reflectix to the top, keeping more heat in.

Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer sleeping bag

I sleep on a 4-inch layer of foam. One of the most important pieces of gear is a good sleeping bag — or two. I sleep inside a Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer, inside a NEMO Jazz Duo. It’s like layering, but with sleeping bags. And it works awfully well.

3. A dog is man’s best friend.

Black dog in Ruffwear jacket

I travel mostly solo with my pup, Bea. She has a thick coat (thankfully) and loves to chase skis tracks and run trails. She also creates a lot of body heat. On the cold nights, I bundle her up in a Ruffwear Powder Hound Jacket and wrap her in the double sleeping bag with me. I’ve never used a propane or electric heater because space is small, so having Bea along helps keep the truck bed a bit warmer.

4. Separate wet and dry items.

For those well-prepared, winter is a big playground. This is fun for a day or two — until everything you own is wet. To avoid this, I’m meticulous about where I keep wet skis and gear. I rely heavily on the Thule Snowpack ski carrier and Thule Motion XT, which keep snow-covered packs, tents, and skis away from everything else.

5. Invest in 4WD and AT tires.

Closeup of author's muddy Falken Wildpeak A/T3W tires

If you’re going to suffer through a cold winter, you might as well have some fun with it. To get to the far-out places, a truck with four-wheel drive and good all terrain tires is quite helpful. There are some obvious downsides, but I think the trade-off is more than worth it. I’ve used Falken Wildpeak A/T3W tires for years now and swear by them. My Tacoma has a 3-inch lift that enables me to drive through the deeper snow. On top of the added access, this also makes winter driving a lot safer.

6. Your worst enemy at night is humidity, not cold.

Author's dehumidifier inside his Tacoma

If you’re not dry, you’re likely not super warm. Some of the coldest nights I’ve suffered through were ones in which I was wet and unable to get dry again. The cold seeps to your bones. To avoid this damp torture, I meticulously dry stuff out in the cab while the truck is running. For sleeping, I installed a marine fan in the truck cap roof and employ a pair of passive dehumidifiers that work exceptionally well.

7. Stock up on hot drinks, hot water.

Becoming a connoisseur of teas and coffee is a right of passage for cold-weather car campers. I have insulated bottles stashed in many corners of the truck so they’re readily accessible. Staying hydrated also helps you circulate more blood around your body, keeping you warmer. The final tip with staying hydrated is don’t ever hold your pee. Your body exerts a lot of energy keeping that area warm, thus wasting energy it could be using on your extremities. When nature calls, you should answer.

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