January 16, 2012

Sleeping at 6°

The average winter temperature in western Massachusetts is between ten degrees and thirty degrees. New England is cold; no surprises there, right? When I began this vehicle dwelling adventure I knew that eventually it would get cold enough that I would need to figure out how to exist in my car during the chilly months. This is so far the coldest it has been around here, cold enough to prompt a frantic early morning telephone call from my mother (when I didn’t answer she got online and started researching how many homeless people freeze to death each year).

When I woke up this morning, all snug in my bed, I poked my head out from under the covers… an immediately retreated back to the warmth like a turtle escaping danger. It was freezing! My thermometer read 6 degrees, about 18 degrees lower then it’s ever gotten, so I un-suctioned it from the window and brought it under the covers with me. I knew that I was going to be getting calls about the temperature today and I wanted to be able to assure people that I was fine. So what was the temperature under the covers? A balmy 65 degrees: perfect sleeping weather.

For those of you who go south for the winter: right on. For those of you who can’t go south, here are three things that make my home bearable on those chilly nights:
  1. Divide the car in half with curtains. The smaller the space the less it takes to heat and my body temp normally keeps the place pretty comfortable.
  2. Stock up on blankets. Sleeping bags are great if you have them, but I’ve found that a comforter and a few wool blankets do wonders.
  3. Cover your windows with some sort of insulating fabric. It gives you privacy and keeps you toasty.
Now to put things into perspective. In The Zincali: An account of the Gypsies of Spain the author discusses the Zingani, or Russian Gypsies, and their ability to resist extreme cold.
“…the vast majority… traverse the country in bands… Their power of resisting cold is truly wonderful, as it is not uncommon to find them encamped in the midst of the snow, in slight canvas tents, when the temperature is twenty-five or thirty degrees below the freezing-point.” (Borrow p 143)
Every year people climb Everest (voluntarily) and frequently deal with temps of -25, and that’s with no wind chill. Cold happens, and whether you are somehow resistant, like the gypsies, or very well prepared, like Sir Edmond Hillary, I hope you’re all staying warm this winter.


  1. Girl is that cold!! BBBRRRR glad you made it through the night. Im going to be living in a van but that doesn't mean I can't put curtains in front of the bed. Im gong to do that ...thanks for the tip.
    I like how you put the thermometer under the blankets. Have to try that.
    Have a good day. :)

  2. When I was in the Boy Scouts we would go camping in weather like this. We had no problem staying warm, it takes planning and like you said good blankets and a sleeping bag do wonders.

    Getting up to do KP the next morning none of us liked however! :)

    Stay warm!


  3. Having woken up under those conditions before, I know how hard it is to make yourself get up and out of bed. I was thinking of how it'd be nice if there was something you could turn on easily to warm up the cabin.

    Yeah, so far I've got nothing!

  4. Whatever Russian Gypsies. I could stay warm, too, in a bed with forty-two kids piled on top of me.

    You're probably burning calories like all hell, just to keep that little nest at 65. And what do you do for oxygen, with that car all sealed up tight?

  5. Wow, that's cold! It was 2 below the other day in Iowa. I didn't realize it because I was sleeping. That is a good point about dividing off half the car to reduce the size of area to heat. Our bodies do give off quite a bit of warmth. I don't blame you for not wanting to get up though!

    Hats off for being able to stay okay in the very cold temperatures. You are sturdier than me!

    I know what you mean about the frantic calls. The other morning Dad called to see if I was "okay"... (the morning it was -2 degrees) It was warmer in the van than in his house!

    That was a fascinating passage about the gypsies staying warm. Our bodies do adjust to the environment. Someone told me our blood thickens as it get colder and thins during the warm weather to accomplish this.

    I sure enjoy your posts!

    Brad a.k.a. "Van Trekker"

  6. I learned many years ago in training that to sleep with your clothes on is a mistake. The procedure is to take off all clothes and lay them beside you to allow your body heat to warm them for the next day. Otherwise, the next day will freeze you all day without the bonus of the extra heat in the morning.

  7. Don't know if this posted just now or not. Cold nights I boil water and sleep with it. I have 2 Nalgene bottles in wool sox and a hot water bottle with aits own knit sweater. Comfy warm bed and warm wash water in the morning.


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