Winter #VanLife Camping Done Right

When the seasons change and the weather has you more inside than out, it’s time for a getaway. What are your options in the winter? You can rough it and sleep in a tent, which I will opt for in optimal conditions, or you can get fancy with it with van life. This latter option allows you to get outside in rain, wind or snow while having a comfortable place to go back to for protection from the elements. What constitutes van life? Sleeping in any kind of vehicle outside could be considered van life with varying options in function and glamour. Some are as basic as only having a bed to as glamorous as having a full kitchen, toilet, fridge, heat, solar panel and more. Van life allows you to enjoy all of your outdoor activities and at the end of the day come back to a comfortable, relaxing night. 

If you are like me and not lucky enough to own a sprinter van of your own, there are still options for you. I went with Cascade Adventure Vans, a local sprinter van rental company in Seattle, and took out one of their converted Mercedes sprinter vans for the weekend. Their vans offer customizable options with adding a row of seats, two full-size beds, down comforters and more. Other renting options include Outdoorsy.com where individuals list their personal vans and RVs to be rented out to the public. We chose a roomier layout with one bed allowing us space to hang out in the van when we were inside and plenty of room for skiing and climbing gear. With the van now in tow, we headed for the mountains.

The best part of van life is being able to spend time outside when it’s nice and be tucked in cozy and warm when it’s not so nice. On day one of van life adventuring we chose to hit up the local ski resort and spend the day on the slopes. Snoqualmie Pass is only 50 minutes from Seattle and has a ski resort with plenty of options for everyone. At this ski resort, there are designated spots for vans and RVs to overnight it. We found a spot in a close parking lot and called it home for the night. It was a classic wet, cold PNW day with fresh flurries descending upon us. We took a midday break in the van to stay warm and cozy, eat lunch and then went out for night skiing as well when the resort was quiet and peaceful.

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After we were done skiing, we went back to the cozy, warm van in the parking lot for a wonderful night of sleep before heading further west the next day.

The next morning we woke to search for sunshine and warmth, something often lacking in Western Washington in the winter. We went east and stopped at a state park off of the highway to make breakfast, sipped coffee and made breakfast burritos with our 6 piece mess kit. After breakfast, we continued east to go to Ancient Lakes, just across from the Columbia River. I have spent many times backpacking overnight in this area, but we decided to mix it up this time and opt for a trail run. It was sunny and 50 degrees, something not often experienced in February in Washington. Four miles and 40 some minutes later, we were back to the van with the luxuries of post-run cold beers and a charcuterie board. We decided to sleep in the trailhead parking lot and take in the views Eastern Washington on night two.

As night came closer we poured wine into our Camp Cup and built a fire with the Flatpack Grill and Firepit. The fire started easily with the Stormproof matches and provided us warmth with the receding sun. It was so relaxing to sit around a warm fire with close friends and pretend it still wasn’t the middle of winter. As the wind picked up we retreated to the heated van and slept sound protected from the outside elements. 

On the last day of our adventure van weekend, we went to an outside climbing area 30 minutes away in Vantage called The Feathers. This is one of my favorite places to climb in the shoulder season with easy access from the road. The Feathers have tall basalt rock columns that make a great balance of sport and trad climbing options. We pulled up the van in the parking lot, made breakfast and had coffee before donning our harnesses and helmets.

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We made the 5-minute approach and climbed a few routes, rusty from the first outdoor climbing since fall, but still had a blast making our way up the rock ever so slowly and taking in the views. Any day outside climbing in the sun is a good day in my books. 

The time had come to head back west and return the van we had fallen in love within such a short time. Van life is the best life. Combing the discomforts and challenges of outdoor pursuits and a cozy home-like van to come back to at the end of it all, is all the balance I need in life. Choosing to be uncomfortable for a short period of time pushing hard grades climbing feels all the more rewarding when you get to come back to the comforts of a van and ice-cold beverages waiting for you. This weekend showed me that winter van camping is not only doable but very much enjoyable as well. Any time outside in the winter is time to be grateful for.

About the Author: Sarina Clark

Sarina is a photographer, writer and lover of all things outdoors.  She is originally from the flatlands of Minnesota, now a transplant to Seattle. Sarina is inspired by far, remote mountainous places in the cascades and beyond. Sarina is an advocate for public lands, Leave No Trace, and taking care of our wild places. 

Explore Sarina’s Work: https://www.sarinaclark.com/