Blog: Caravanners have the right to stay warm!

Michael Browning — 28 May 2011

I'VE GOT A problem with those smug campers and caravanners who believe the only "real" way is the hard way.

You know, the types who believe that ensuites are for softies, and that baring your bum to sub-zero temperatures at 2am is what serious travel is all about.


The same bigots will be quick to howl down my belief that RV heating is essential for enjoyable winter caravanning, particularly in inland Australia.

My wife and I reached this conclusion the hard way some years ago when we camped at Ormiston Gorge in central Australia’s West MacDonnell Ranges in mid-winter July.

The sun set at 5pm and the temperature dropped to -4°C overnight. With no open fires allowed because a "local environmental burn" by park rangers had got out of control, we had little option but to go to bed early and freeze. You can only keep the cooktop burners going for so long!

Since then we’ve moved far right — into the "Why shouldn’t life be easy?" corner — and this very much applies to caravan heating. Campfires are great winter warmers, but in our increasingly sanitised world they’re either seen as environmentally reckless, or banned altogether in national parks.


To overcome the Great Cold Outdoors we use a portable Coleman Catalytic heater, which we very decadently place under the table to toast our feet as we sip wine and listen to remote radio stations on those starry, frosty nights. Priced at $50-$85, depending on the model, they’re great for extending life outside.

These heaters, with their environmentally insensitive replacement gas canisters, are not meant to be used in enclosed spaces. When we head inside the van, we position it in the open doorway so any fumes can escape harmlessly.

If you’re on a powered site then you won’t need to worry. You can just turn on the 240V fan heater, switch on the electric blanket and life is bliss. But if you avoid regular caravan parks as we usually do, and especially if you’re out in the breeze, such as in the canvas-topped bed of an Expanda, you're going to be climatically challenged in mid-winter.


Simple, low-cost solutions here include fitting a space blanket or other heat-retaining membrane under your mattress. A lot of cold air seeps through the plywood base of those pull-out beds.

For a more environmentally sustainable option, a warm pre-bed foot bath, thick woolly socks and a couple of hot water bottles work a treat. You then use the water for your morning tea, your ablutions or dishes the next day.

I’ve just discovered another warm bed solution, from the clever people at Kimberley in Balina, manufacturers of Kimberley Kamper Trailers and hi-tech Kimberley Karavans. These guys also make eco-camper products and the one that caught my attention is their Membrane Heater. It sits underneath a queen-size mattress and runs off a 12V supply via a cigarette lighter socket or a merit plug. It's worth $370 and weighs 1.1kg.

They also have a remote controlled diesel air heater that is claimed to be both quiet and safe for use inside a caravan. But at $1,895, I think we’ll stick to our portable Coleman and crank the door open.

A few here to get you started. And if you still think that stamping your feet on the ground for circulation and freezing your bum off is real caravanning, well then good luck to you!

WORDS Michael Browning


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Michael Browning