Now that the weather is cooling down, it’s time to start considering how to heat your caravan without electricity while you’re camping off-grid.
Keeping the caravan warm when off-grid camping in the winter can mean the difference between an enjoyable trip and one you’d rather forget. When looking at how to heat a caravan without electricity, the main ways include Diesel Heaters, Gas Heaters and Combination Heaters, plus utilising sunlight, insulation and awning walls.
While Free Camping or being unplugged from power, the ability to use your reverse cycle air conditioner (or any other regular heater) just isn’t an option.
Although we enjoy amazing summers here in Australia, don’t be fooled because winter can still get cold! Especially when you head to the rural and outback areas (the nighttime temperatures can drop dramatically), or into any of the southern states.
Here we explore all the options for heating a caravan without electricity so that you can figure out which one/s will work best for your set-up and situation.
This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see our disclosures here.
How to Heat a Caravan Without Electricity
These days the humble Diesel Heater seems to be the way most people are going when it comes to heating your caravan.
The diesel-fuelled heater includes a fuel tank, exhaust and air intake, which are all mounted externally on your caravan. Inside the van (generally under the bed or dinette seat) will be the heater with an air outlet. You’ll also need a 12 volt power supply.
In the case of a diesel motorhome or RV, some people choose to tap into the vehicle’s fuel line instead of installing an additional fuel tank for the Diesel Heater.
Gone are the days where you have to spend $1,000 – $2,000+ to have an Eberspacher or Webasto supplied and fitted.
At this stage in the gamer there are plenty of people who have guinea-pigged the eBay versions and many of the reports are coming back positive.
A ‘cheap Chinese’ diesel heater will set you back anywhere from $140 – $300 (give or take) depending on supply and demand at the time. Obviously buying one in winter, when they’re hot property, may see you out of pocket a little more than if you wait till summer to make your purchase.
DIY installation is fairly simple, but beware that the instructions are notoriously unhelpful. I’ve put together a full Diesel Heater Installation guide below, as well as a video. If you do decide to go for a Chinese diesel heater off eBay, there’s also a post (linked below) on common Chinese diesel heater troubleshooting, to help you out with any issues or error codes that you may encounter.
Diesel Heater Guides:
Just like any DIY items, there will always be some lemons as well as some dodgy install stories going around. But when the $200 eBay Diesel Heater works just as well as the $3,000 one, even if you were unfortunate enough to buy a lemon product, you could still buy a whole stack of them for the same price as the Webasto.
If you’re not sold on the Chinese diesel heater idea and want to compare them against the European brands, check out the article below.
|DIESEL HEATER CONSIDERATIONS|
|Price||$140 – $3,000+|
|Design||There are only 2 moving parts in any Diesel Heater, no matter the price, so there’s really not that much that can go wrong.|
• to suit smaller van with no canvas
• may need to keep it on for longer periods & work it harder
• as it’s on high more often, it’ll naturally burn away the build-up of carbon
• to suit larger vans or campers with canvas
• can turn it on and off as needed as it’ll heat the space quicker
• will need to run on high periodically to burn away carbon build-up
Both will start heating your van within 5 minutes
|Noise||Expect it to be as loud as your rooftop Air Conditioner when you first start up the Diesel Heater. Once it gets to speed (after a few minutes), it’ll slow down and quieten down.|
TIP: Don’t mount the fuel pump against the chassis or you’ll hear the ‘ticking’ noise.
|12v Power Draw||The Diesel Heater will draw a fair bit as it’s starting up (expect 5 – 10 Ah), then drop to around 2 Ah while running and maintaining temperature.|
NOTE: The digital monitor is always on, so that’ll continuously draw a tiny amount of power.
|Fuel Consumption||• Varies greatly depending on your settings and unit size|
• Expect 120 mL – 150 mL of diesel per hour
|Extras||Not all kits will come with:|
• Exhaust muffler
• Air filter
• Remote control
• Fuel tank
(check the fine print)
|🔥 DIESEL HEATERS|
|➤ eBay||From $140 AUD|
• Chinese Diesel Heaters →
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• Brand Name Diesel Heaters →
Heating your caravan with a Gas Heater while camping off-grid is another option. The Gas Heater connects to your existing gas bottle, making it a simple option, with one less resource to have to carry.
A Gas Heater works by drawing in air from an external intake pipe (generally through the floor) and passing through the heater’s combustion chamber. Maintaining a constant temperature with a Gas Heater is a bit more difficult as it runs by a thermostat fan that turns on and off.
The only Gas Heaters currently available in Australia are by Truma and they will set you back around $1,900.
|🔥 TRUMA GAS HEATERS|
|➤ Caravan RV Camping||From $2,038 AUD|
• Truma Gas Heaters →
Keep in mind that the colder the outside temperature is, the more gas you will go through with heating your caravan. I can tell you from experience that the cost of refilling gas bottles once you get out west is expensive! I recall paying $47 for a refill in Hughenden, Outback Queensland. But, we needed it for our cooking and the fridge, so not getting the bottle filled wasn’t even an option.
Another thing to consider is that Gas Heaters can produce a ‘wet heat,’ which equals humidity and condensation in the air. When you’re dealing with condensation, you end up dealing with mould.
|Gas Heater PROS||Gas Heater CONS|
|Uses gas that you’re probably already carrying for other purposes||The colder it is, the more gas you’ll go through|
|Simple, clean fuel||Cost of gas in the Outback is expensive ($40+ per bottle)|
|Gas infrastructure is usually already in your van for the fridge, cooking and hot water heater||Illegal to fit the gas lines yourself (must be legally signed off)|
|Regulations on where to fit it inside the caravan (can’t be installed close to opening windows, door, other gas appliance inlets/ outlets or near the enclosed annex)|
|If temperature drops under 2ºC, the butane in the gas won’t vaporise well. Hence the heater will only burn propane. Once you’re only left with butane, you can’t heat your van.|
|Harder to maintain consistent temperature|
|Can produce ‘wet heat,’ which can create condensation & mould issues|
*NOTE: Gas Heaters must be installed by a licensed Gas Fitter, plus ventilation in the caravan is imperative!
Combination Air & Hot Water Heater
Another forward-thinking option for heating your caravan without electricity is the Combination Air and Hot Water Heater.
With this unit you have three functions:
- Heat just the water
- Heat just the air in the van
- Heat the air and the water at the same time
Truma have Air Heater & Hot Water Heater combinations powered by either gas or diesel.
|🔥 TRUMA COMBI HEATERS|
|➤ Caravan RV Camping||From $2,729 AUD|
• Truma Combi Heaters →
But, these heater kits don’t come cheap. The Truma Gas Heater Combo starts at around $2,729, while the Truma Diesel Heater Combo comes in at over $3,300.
Remember, if you’re dealing with gas, you need to get a licensed Gas Fitter to install the unit, or at least install the gas lines and sign off on it.
As a Queenslander, I’m no expert in dealing with sub-zero temps in a caravan, so here are 10 things to avoid in a camper in the winter.
Generator & 240v Heater
With a generator you will be able to run electrical devices, such as the caravan reverse-cycle air conditioner or some 240 volt heaters. This depends largely on the size of your generator and how much power the heater draws – some of those buggers can be extremely power hungry!
To give you an idea, we did try out our caravan air conditioner with our 3.5 kW Kings Generator and it was plenty powerful enough to run it (you’ll need a 3 kW minimum to run air con). We did carry that generator with us as a back-up option in case the solar system died or the weather got really extreme and we needed to heat or cool the van off-grid. But, we never had to actually use it.
I wouldn’t use the generator as a first option. Plain and simple, petrol generators can be inconvenient and very noisy (unless you go for a solar generator).
Keep in mind that most parks will have a ‘Generator Off’ time for the comfort of all the campers in the campground. Even if you’re free camping where there are no specific rules for generators, as a common courtesy to the surrounding neighbours, you can’t run it all night and you certainly wouldn’t want to turn it on in the middle of the night.
Running a generator so that you can power a heater is a solution for warming up your caravan earlier on in the afternoon or night, but not a good option for really cold temperatures where you need to be maintaining warmth in the middle of the night.
Just remember, no one makes friends with a generator!
Cook Inside the Caravan
One really simple method of heating your caravan is to cook inside. I know… crazy right!?
You wouldn’t think that cooking in the van would add that much extra heat, but I can tell you that it certainly does. Think back to those hot summer days sweltering in the kitchen at home as you’re cook up a meal. Now imagine all of that precious heat being trapped inside of your caravan on a cold winter’s evening.
Cooking inside your caravan is the easiest way to stay toasty, as well as enjoying a nice hot meal to warm the insides.
*NOTE: Although you want to keep the heat in, you’ll still need to have ventilation in the caravan as well as turning on the range hood to reduce condensation in the air.
This one might seem a little obvious, but by simply choosing a site or spot in the campground that will be in the direct sunlight all day will significantly add to the heating of your caravan. Avoid parking under or near trees, that will cast a shadow over the van throughout the day.
We all know how much colder we feel while standing in the shade in winter. The same principle applies with your van. Consider how much metal your van is comprised of and how much heat that metal will retain into the night.
Now that you’ve heated your caravan a little extra, you’ll want to trap as much of that heat inside as you can by shutting the blinds and curtains before the temperature drops in the afternoon.
Awning Walls/ Screens/ Annex
To add some extra insulation to the awning side of your caravan, consider getting some walls or privacy screens for your awning. Not only do they add another layer of insulation, but they create a barrier against the wind and cold.
If you know you’ll be set up for extended periods of time in a cold climate, I’d seriously consider getting a full annex with draught skirts. This will create another warm bubble or ‘room’ to hang out in, which is protected from the cold, wind and rain.
An annex or awning walls will also stop or reduce a gust of cold air from entering the caravan every time someone opens the door.
|🕶 PRIVACY SCREENS|
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• Privacy Screens →
|➤ Caravan RV Camping||From $55 AUD|
• Privacy Screens →
Extra Awning/ Annex Tips:
- Add an extra groundsheet, matting or rubber flooring to stop so much cold coming up through the ground
- Wrap a fleecy blanket around you or over your legs while you’re outside on the camp chair
- Use a portable gas heater in the enclosed outdoor space for a toasty experience
|👣 OUTDOOR MATTING|
|➤ eBay||From $75 AUD|
• Outdoor Matting →
|➤ Caravan RV Camping||From $75 AUD|
• Outdoor Matting →
Extra Tips for Staying Warm While Camping Off-grid
Sometimes heating the van is not always possible or you want to stay warm without burning through you resources. Here are some extra tips for staying warm while Free Camping. Storing your van in cold locations also has a few different requirements, especially if you’re contending with snow. Be sure to research what you need to do when storing an RV in winter.
Taking a hot shower, then layering up will keep a lot of that comforting heat in and close to your body. If you’ve got a shower in the caravan, leave the door open so that the heat can spread out into the van. You’ll still need to have ventilation though because you don’t want to trap all of the condensation in the van.
|🚿 BATHROOM ORGANISERS|
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• Tooletries Organisers →
Staying warm while camping in the winter is all about layering! Your base layer should be underwear, leggings and a singlet, then add a long-sleeved shirt. Even better, get yourself some woollen thermals.
Next, you can add your pajamas and/ or a woolen or knitted top. Add some track pants to your bottom half if you don’t wear pajamas.
Then add a pair of socks covered by an additional pair of woollen socks or slipper socks. If you’re still cold, trap that heat in with a beanie and some gloves.
Layering for when you’re outside in winter:
- BASE LAYER (underwear) – wicks the sweat off your skin
- MIDDLE LAYER (insulates) – keeps body heat in & protects you from the cold
- OUTER LAYER (shell layer) – shields from wind & rain
The best thing about layering is that if you do warm up, you can peel off one or two layers, then add them back on when you get cold again.
Not sure on what to pack for a caravanning or camping trip? Our printable checklist below will help you out.
Caravan Packing List
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A comforting drink can be just what you need when it’s freezing cold outside. We’re looking for drinks that will sooth and warm your insides as well as your hands!
There are loads of different recipe ideas online, just pick one or a few that you want to try and give them a go!
Hot Drink Ideas:
- Hot Chocolate
- White Hot Chocolate
- Peppermint Hot Chocolate
- Warm Vanilla Milk
- Earl Grey or English Breakfast Tea
- Herbal Tea (chamomile, green, peppermint etc.)
- Hot Mocha or Cappuccino
- Hot Coffee
- Chai Latte
- Caramel Apple Cider
|☕️ TRAVEL MUGS|
|➤ Adventure Awaits||From $12.95 AUD|
• Retro Caravan Mugs →
• Stainless Steel Insulated Mugs →
Alcoholic Drinks that’ll keep you warm:
- Irish Coffee
- Baileys & Toasted Marshmallows
- Hot Toddy
- Warm Pumpkin Spice Rum
- Mulled Wine
- Spiked Peppermint Hot Chocolate
Here are some tips for putting together a super warm bed!
- Thermal blanket under the mattress will help if cold comes up from underneath the bed
- Sheepskin mattress topper underneath your fitted sheet to dramatically increase the amount of body warmth that you can snuggle up with
- Put a blanket or quilt under your fitted sheet as a mattress pad – it’ll trap your body heat in the bed
- Invest in flannel sheets
- Invest in good quality, thick woollen blankets
- Put knitted/ crochet blankets in between your top sheet and the quilt – the air pockets will trap in warmth
- Wrap a blanket around you before getting into bed to trap in body heat
- When you get up to go to the toilet, resist the urge to throw back the blankets – that’ll let all the heat out. Just slide out without disturbing the bedding so much
12-volt Electric Blanket
These days you can grab yourself a 12-volt Electric Blanket, which plugs into a cigarette socket power source. The fleecy blankets are designed to automatically cut out after 45 minutes as a safety measure and to prevent your battery from draining.
They’ll generally have three different heat settings (power draw measurements are approximate):
- Low (1.9A draw)
- Medium (2.85A draw)
- High (3.8A draw)
|⚡️ 12v ELECTRIC BLANKET|
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• 12v Electric Blanket →
Hot Water Bottles
There is something so comforting about a pre-warmed bed. Get the kettle boiling and make up one (or two) hot water bottles for everyone and slip them into their beds. If you get cold feet, I highly recommend having one at the foot at the bed and one to cuddle up to or put across your back where the cold tends to creep in.
Hot Water Bottle Tips:
- Fill no more than two thirds capacity with hot water
- Don’t use hot tap water – it won’t be hot enough and it contains minerals & impurities that are expelled during boiling
- Use boiled water from a kettle or pot that has cooled for a few minutes
- Make sure the hot water bottle temperature is warm and comfortable, not scalding
- Use a bottle cover if it’s too hot for you
- Always use a cover (or a bit of cooler water) for children, the elderly & people with sensitive skin or lack of sensation
- If you don’t have a cover, use a little less hot water, then top off with cooler water
- Keep an eye on the bottle and stopper screw for cracks and leaks
- Hot water bottle against an area isn’t recommended for more than 20 minutes
- Check the use by date on your hot water bottle – it should be printed on it
- Not to be used on children under 3 years old
|🔥 HOT WATER BOTTLES|
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• Hot Water Bottles →
If you have a bed partner, you can snuggle up close to each other and pull the blankets in close around you. If you don’t have enough blankets, sleeping naked will share your body heat with other, rather than trapping it within your clothing.
Alternatively, you can each sleep wrapped up in your own blankets, which stops all of that heat escaping between the two bodies. Plus, you won’t have to worry about them pulling the blanket off you in the middle of the night when they roll over!
Another thing I often noticed is how much warmer the van would be when we all hung out inside the caravan of a night time in winter. Our body heat was heating the caravan and keeping it much warmer than if we’d been out all night either around the campfire, visiting people or doing things in town.
Also, if you camp with pets, why not let them in the bed with you? It’s all extra body heat.
Having cozy textiles in the caravan (cushions, rugs, a throw on the bed) all create a comforting ambience. Along with that, textiles can increase the warmth factor and help to keep that precious heat in.
Rugs & Carpets
Modern day caravans come fairly well insulated in the walls and roof, but quite often the floors are not. It’s amazing how much cold will rise up through the cold, hard floors.
Having rugs on the floor will cut heat loss, which will go a long way in holding the heat in and the cold out.
If you want to take it a step further, you can cover the floor in removable carpet. Measure up your floor space, head to the carpet section at Bunnings and get some pieces to cut to size. Carpet tiles are another great option.
Once the weather warms up, you can easily remove the carpet and roll it up for next winter. Double-sided tape, velcro or non-slip matting are all helpful in keeping your temporary floor coverings in place.
|🌱 GRASS DOOR MATS|
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• Grass Door & Step Mats →
Curtains & Blinds
Heating the caravan by pulling all of your blinds and curtains closed before the temperature drops in the afternoon traps in any heat from the day, which will make a huge difference. Thick curtains that cover the entire window are what you want, not sheers that will allow the heat to escape and cold to creep in.
Some caravans on the market these days (I know Jayco are one) provide roller blinds as well as curtains. Use both if you’ve got them!
Solar window shields or thermal window coverings are great for additional insulation in not only your windows, but the roof hatches that leak out some of that precious heat as it rises. I’m not talking about the air vents here, which are usually above the entry door or on a wall. Air vest must always be left uncovered.
If you want to keep the warmth in as you’re heating the caravan, then insulation is key!
As Australia doesn’t seem to have an industry standard on the topic of caravan insulation, like some other countries do, you may have to take matters into your own hands. Particularly if you’ve got an older model van.
Floors – You can add insulated panels under the floor between the cross members. Make sure to seal all edges to keep it water-tight.
Windows – Consider adding a darker tint to the windows or replace them with double-glazed windows.
Expandas & Campers – Anywhere you’ve got canvas is a sure-fire way for heat to escape. Throw an extra cover or tarp (may need to peg it down) over the outside of your expanda/ pop out sections, focussing on the canvas areas.
Pop Tops – You can drop the roof down, effectively ‘packing away’ the less insulated section. This method isn’t recommended if you’re likely to go sleep walking in the middle of the night and forget that the roof has been lowered!
Seal Cracks & Openings
You don’t want to put all of this energy into heating your caravan just to have half of that heat leak right out through broken seals, cracks and openings.
Check to make sure your caravan doesn’t have any areas where draughts can be a problem. Also check that all seals are in good condition with no cracks. A draught-snake across the bottom of your door might be a good addition if you feel that there is any kind of draught there.
If you’ve got a tube of silicone or No More Gaps, I recommend going and resealing around all of your window screens. Over time, they lose their seal and the cold can creep in. Another place to check is around the door seals.
DO NOT use your gas stove inside the van as a way of heating your caravan! Carbon monoxide is a silent killer, and yes, I do personally know of some people who died from carbon monoxide poisoning in their sleep in a van. It can and does happen.
Check out this short podcast about a couple who didn’t realise they were suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning until a little later on, as it can have a delayed effect.
They’d turned the gas cooker on in the van that morning to heat it up a bit as they were packing up for a travel day. Once they were on the road and making their way to the next camp, the man fell asleep at the wheel. The woman woke him up, who then overcorrected the vehicle, which jackknifed the van.
The couple are lucky to be alive and have shared their story in the hopes of educating others from their mistake.
|💨 CARBON MONOXIDE DETECTOR|
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• Carbon Monoxide Detectors →
ALWAYS have a Carbon Monoxide Alarm fitted inside your van to the ceiling and make sure the battery is working. It’ll beep to let you know when it’s going flat. Don’t procrastinate or just take the battery out to stop the annoying noise – replace it ASAP.
The final point when it comes to heating your caravan is to make sure that the space is always well ventilated – even in those cold, winter months. As tempting as it is to cover up the standard air vent (usually found above the entry door), it’s there for a reason and that is the safety of you and your family.
Hopefully you’ve now got some good ideas on how to heat a caravan without electricity and stay warm while camping this winter.