Survivalist Vandweller: Dealing with Heat and Cold Part 1


I took this picture on May 15, 2011 in the Sierra National Forest. Two days before I had been in the Nevada desert with temperatures hoovering just short of 100 degrees and I drove up to my campground hosting job in the Sierras where it was 15 degrees! Even snowbirds must be ready for extreme weather!

I took this picture on May 15, 2011 in the Sierra National Forest. Two days before I had been in the Nevada desert with temperatures hoovering just short of 100 degrees and I drove up to my campground hosting job in the Sierras where it was 15 degrees! Even snowbirds must be ready for extreme weather!

Among survivalists there is something known as the Rule of Threes that says you can survive…

  • 3 minutes without air
  • 3 hours in extreme weather without shelter
  • 3 days without water
  • 3 weeks without food

Since these are the most fundamental essentials of life, they are what we are going to look at in this series. However, I don’t see any reasonably likely situation where I will run out of air besides chemical or nuclear warfare. Because those are both very unlikely and nearly impossible for me to prepare for, I’m going to skip over it and assume it won’t be a problem I will deal with. That leaves us starting with the problem of dealing with heat and cold.

Because it is a major problem for nearly every vandweller it’s perfect for this series: we can make our lives better right now and also be preparing for the future. I think it is extremely important to be prepared for heat and cold because of Global Climate Change. I know some of you have very strong feelings for or against that idea so I’m not even going to address it. I’ll just say this, no matter what you think about the idea of Climate Change, the climate in our country is changing and becoming more severe and extreme every year.  Let’s look at some examples:

  • The average summer temperatures keep going up and setting new record highs.
  • As summers get hotter, the winters are getting colder. The winter of 2013-14 has been one of the worst and coldest anyone can remember over nearly the entire east coast and much of the Midwest. Last year we had winter storm Sandy which has been described as the “perfect storm.”
  • A huge part of the country is in a severe drought with water levels dropping to record lows.
  • Other parts of the country are having record flooding and some of the country is having both, record droughts and then record flooding.
  • Last spring saw some of the worst Tornado activity anyone can remember.
  • In the southwest, last summer was the wettest and this winter was the warmest and nicest anyone can remember. But California (one the most productive agriculture areas on the planet) is in it’s worst drought since we started keeping records:

California is experiencing its worst drought since record-keeping began in the mid 19th century, and scientists say this may be just the beginning. B. Lynn Ingram, a paleoclimatologist at the University of California at Berkeley, thinks that California needs to brace itself for a megadrought—one that could last for 200 years or more.

As a paleoclimatologist, Ingram takes the long view, examining tree rings and microorganisms in ocean sediment to identify temperatures and dry periods of the past millennium. Her work suggests that droughts are nothing new to California.

 Given all these extreme weather events, there is nothing in any way kooky about a vandweller being adequately prepared for heat and cold! It’s a long topic so I’m breaking it into two posts. Today we are looking at clothing and bedding because they are always your first line of defense against the weather.

Remember, I lived in Alaska for 45 years and the last 6 years I’ve lived part of the year in the deserts of Arizona and Nevada. All my recommendations are based on that experience of products I’ve used at -70 degrees below zero and 115 degree heat.

These two items are essential whenever storms blow in: 1) a quality waterprrof-breathable rain jacket like this Outdoor Research 2) a quality umbrella like this Nike.

These two items are essential whenever storms blow in: 1) a quality waterproof-breathable rain jacket like this Outdoor Research 2) a quality umbrella like this Nike.

Be ready for STORMS: rain, snow or wind:

  • Buy a rain coat, pants and hat made from a waterproof-breathable fabric like Gore-Tex. That brand name is best but more expensive, so buy a house brand clone. In any kind of storm, it will be the first thing you reach for, so buy the best quality you can afford and get it a little large so you can add layers underneath it. Outdoor Research makes good quality products at surprisingly low prices and it’s what I own. I especially like their “Pit Zips” on their rain coats which zip open and close from mid-arm all the way down to the drawstring at the bottom of the coat. That lets you open it like a poncho. Here is a link to my coat for $63 from Outdoor Research Men’s Rampart Jacket I bought an Outdoor Research Seattle Sombrero rain hat over 30 years ago and I am still using it today. It works just like new! Highly recommended! Get it from Amazon here for $42 (after 30 years of use, I got my moneys worth from it!!!) Outdoor Research Seattle Sombrero Hat
    If you just can’t afford it you can get a cheap poncho or PVC rain suit, but they will fall apart and make you hot and sweaty when you walk in them.
  • For footwear I suggest a pair of Gore Tex type waterproof-breathable hiking boots for summer storms and Pac Boots or military surplus Bunny boots for winter. Nothing else will do! Buy them from Amazon here: Bunny Boot, Extreme Cold Weather Boots, Genuine U.S. Military Issue
  • Be sure to stock up on wool socks.
  • I strongly suggest a good quality golf umbrella. There is never a year goes by that I am not delighted I own my Nike golf umbrella, I wouldn’t be without it. It’s available here from Amazon for $26 Nike Windproof Umbrellas

Have clothing appropriate for the weather, either heat or cold:

Here you can see my face being abused by the sun.

Here you can see my face being abused by the sun.

Here, you can see my face shaded by my Sloggers hat. I love this hat and best of all it only costs $15 from Amazon.

Here, you can see my face shaded by my Sloggers hat. I love this hat and best of all it only costs $15 from Amazon.

For HEAT you want:

  • Lightweight, long sleeved shirts with long sleeves and light colors. You want to protect your skin from direct contact with the sun and light colors so it doesn’t absorb heat. I’m a huge fan of Columbia long-sleeve fishing shirts. When you are on the water all day fishing you MUST have a shirt that protects you from the sun and that vents and breathes well. Find that here:Columbia Men’s Long Sleeve Shirt,
  • We all think of shorts which is great indoors but if you are out in the direct sun you need to protect your skin. Jeans are the worst type of pants in heat so you want a very lightweight, loose fabric and also in a light color.
  • A hat with a wide brim. It’s critical (in some situations it might be life and death) to protect your neck as well so it must have a wide brim or a fabric that drapes down and protects it. This is a link to the hat I’m wearing in the photos. It costs $15 from Highly recommended: Sloggers Unisex Nylon Sun Hat, Tan

For COLD you want:

  • Wear a coat with a hood. Nothing will make you feel warmer than keeping your neck and head covered. A hood is your first and best choice because it holds in the heat rising from your torso warming both your head and neck, so try to find at least one layer of coats with a hood.
  • Wear a hat and mittens. Keeping your extremities warm is critical!! So the first thing you do is put on a hat and gloves. Mittens are warmer when it is really cold.
  • Don’t wear any cotton clothing: cotton kills in the cold! Cotton absorbs and holds moisture and moisture makes you feel colder than you already do. You can last for hours in 32 degree weather if your clothes are dry, but get them wet and you will be dead in a few minutes. Having damp clothes next to your skin (because they are wet with sweat) will make you feel very cold.
  • Wear multiple layers of synthetic clothing. The reason it must be synthetic is because unlike cotton, the individual strings of fabric will NOT absorb water, it just lies on the surface of the fabric. Because of that they wick moisture and pass it through which means they dry very quickly. You want three layers that cover your arms, torso and legs: 1) A base layer next to your skin that is fairly thin and fits close to your skin. It will collect the moisture and pass it on to the next layer keeping your skin dry. 2) A second layer of slightly heavier and looser synthetic fabric (like fleece). It will provide warmth and wick the moisture away from the base layer. 3) Ideally you will have a third layer of slightly heavier and looser synthetic clothing, but that is starting to get pretty bulky so it is optional, you could skip it and go to the outer layer. In Alaska, Helly Hansen is probably the most popular brand because it is very high quality at a moderate price. Here is the base layer I wear. Get it in white and you can wear it in the summer to protect you from the heat. Helly Hansen Men’s Dry Stripe Crew Top
  • An outer layer of coat and pants with durable fabric and warm lining, both for your torso and legs. 1) Down is warmest and lightest but it is also very expensive and worthless once it gets wet. 2) For those reasons I recommend a quality down alternative. It will cost much less and keep you somewhat warm even if damp and it will dry much faster. 3) Fleece is not as warm or as light but it will wick away moisture and dry much faster. It will also keep you a little bit warm even when wet. A good fleece as a third layer and an outer down alternative layer for extreme cold is ideal. 4) Wool is heavy and dries slowly once wet. But, it will give you the most warmth while it is wet so in some places like the Pacific Northwest where you get a lot of rain it may be the very best choice. In Alaska, Carhart owns the market. Here is their down coat that you can bet your life on: Carhartt Men’s Down Snorkel Parka
These Bunny Boots are military surplus but there is nothing that keeps your feet as warm. The white models are a little better, but harder to find and more expensive.

These Bunny Boots are military surplus but there is nothing that keeps your feet as warm. The white models are a little better, but harder to find and more expensive.

Sleeping in heat and cold:

  • I think your best choice is have many layers of blankets so that you can add or remove them as the temperature goes up and down. However, for extreme cold you will want a quality mummy bag with down alternative fill. I recommend:
  • A quality cotton sheet set next to your skin for summer heat.
  • Light fleece sheet set next to your skin for cooler temperatures or to add to the cotton sheet as it cools off in fall.
  • Two or three progressively heavier fleece blankets so that you can add or remove them one at a time as it gets hotter or colder. If you go to bed and it’s hot you can just throw one off and as it cools off overnight put one back on.
  • A medium weight quilt for the top layer.
  • A quality down alternative comforter for serious cold
  • A quality down alternative mummy sleeping bag for extreme cold.  It should be rated to zero degrees because hopefully you will never be anywhere colder than that and if you are you can cover it with the down comforter and drastically increase its warmth.
Wearing a hat is very important in the cold, but it isn't nearly as good as having a coat with a hood and wearing a hat underneath it.

Wearing a hat is very important in the cold, but it isn’t nearly as good as having a coat with a hood and wearing a hat underneath it.

Here is a shopping list for clothing and bedding. As you do your shopping you’ll have to decide if you want to pay premium prices for premium brand names. Normally I don’t, I try to find a balance of not the most expensive and not the least expensive. But a few times I think it’s worth it to pay the higher price. You’ll have to decide for yourself. For bedding it’s hard to beat department stores like Kohls, Target and Wal-Mart where you can see the product before you buy. Out door gear is best from if you know what you want or from specialty stores if you don’t.

(0% of the time I wear my Sloggers hat, but if the wind is blowing dust I wear this sun hat instead. It's designed so you can wear it sideways and wrap your face with it.

90% of the time I wear my Sloggers hat, but if the wind is blowing dust I wear this sun hat instead. It’s designed so you can wear it sideways and wrap your face with it.

Shopping list for STORMS:

  • Waterproof-breathable rain coat
  • Waterproof-breathable pants
  • Waterproof-breathable hat
  • Waterproof-breathable boots (this is the only time the Gore Tex brand is worth the extra expense).
  • Golf Umbrella

Shopping list for HEAT:

  • Wide-brimmed hat that protects your face and neck
  • Cotton, long sleeved, light colored shirts
  • Cotton or synthetic pants that are light colored and loose fitting, no jeans!! Shorts for inside, long pants for exposure to the sun.

Shopping list for COLD:

  • Quality hat, mittens, scarves and gloves
  • Bunny Boots
  • Synthetic base and middle layer for wicking and warmth
  • Outer layer with down, down alternative, wool or fleece. Preferably with a hood

Shopping list for SLEEPING:

  • Quality cotton sheet set for summer
  • Light Fleece sheet set for winter
  • 2-3 fleece blankets (progressively heavier and warmer) to add/remove as layers
  • Medium weight quilt
  • Down alternative comforter
  • Quality down alternative mummy sleeping bag
One thing I really like about the Sloggers hat is it folds up so nicely to store it

One thing I really like about the Sloggers  is it folds up nicely for storage. Another great thing about the Slogger hat is it tottaly covers my neck from the sun.

Another great thing about the Slogger hat is it totally covers my neck from the sun.


I've been a full-time VanDweller for 12 years and I love it. I hope to never live in a house again!

43 comments on “Survivalist Vandweller: Dealing with Heat and Cold Part 1
  1. Avatar Curtis says:

    Great information Bob, thank you.:)

  2. Avatar Bill from NC says:

    Great info Bob! I am a huge fan of down comforters! Slept many a nite in the horse trailer living quarters with no insulation or heat and it was in tge 30s and was very comfortable with my down comforter!
    Bill from NC recently posted…Cowboy invention, makin do, shower gray water solution??????My Profile

    • Bob Bob says:

      Bill, we think alike Bill! We have had such a warm winter I’ve only had to use mine twice. It almost makes me wish it were colder so I could use it! Almost!! There will always be a down comforter in my rig.

  3. Avatar openspaceman says:


    I had a hat similar to your slogger when I worked the docks on Lake Mead…oh my! what a life saver @ 120 degrees…my hands aged quite a bit because of them being wet all the time from handling the boat lines and the sun cooking them.

    *Great info…all this foul weather gear does take up some space but it’s a necessity…I’ll make sure and use your Amazon link when I’m ready to purchase. Thanks for the details on brands… you’ve made it a lot easier.

    • Bob Bob says:

      openspaceman, we’ve only got the one noggin so we gotta take good care of it! I wish I took better care of mine when I was younger!!

      The thing is with all this gear there are a dozen good brands that will get the job done. I’ve owned w-b rain coats from LL Bean, Columbia and North Face and they all worked great, you can’t go wrong with any of them. But I like the Outdoor Research over-sized Pit Zips so much I’ll always own one of them.

  4. Avatar Calvin R says:

    Thanks for all the good experience. My experience is in less extreme temperatures, but what I have matches yours. I will add my endorsement especially to the hooded jacket or coat. Keeping the wind off one’s body can easily be life or death in cold weather.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Calvin, yeah, a windbreaker or w-b rain jacket is generally the first thing I reach for in all but real serious cold. You’re right, a hood is a critical part of the equation.

  5. Avatar jonthebru says:

    Bob, you almost had me convinced to get a van to camp and live in the last post because you can go farther from the beaten track… then you posted the title picture on this post! A nice little class C with a little furnace and stove and comfy bed feels good. I really appreciate what you are doing. This is a really good post about the variety of clothing needed to survive what ever is thrown at you. I agree with it all. Storage for winter clothing during summer can be done with cases that make them pillows like a duffel bag but nicer fabric. I searched for and bought a light wool hoodie a year or so ago, it comes in handy even here in Hawaii during Winter! Modern fabrics have changed everything, weight, comfort, and even quality clothing is reasonably priced if purchased carefully.
    Good work!

    • Bob Bob says:

      jonthebru, I’m really surprised you can see the Class C in that picture, it’s hidden by my truck. Yes, there is a lot to be said for class Cs.

  6. Avatar Irv Oslin says:

    Great post and plenty of good advice.
    I’ve been preaching the virtues of wool for years.
    One thing you might want to reconsider is recommending synthetic layering wear for cold weather. Merino wool is superior in many respects. It keeps you warm, even when wet and doesn’t hold body odor like synthetics. Last year, I invested in a few merino wool T-shirts, which can be worn in even in hot weather. I use those for travel. They can be hand-washed and dried overnight.
    Merino is pricey, but worth the investment, especially Ibex brand. I also like Smartwool and Icebreaker brands.
    Irv Oslin recently posted…A Life in the Day – Coming of Age With the BeatlesMy Profile

    • Bob Bob says:

      Irv, wool has everything in it’s favor except it dries slowly. It’s a little faster than cotton but many time slower than synthetics. When you are outside working at minus temperature your clothes must stay dry or you’re going to be very cold and you always sweat soaking your clothes. My base layers will always be synthetic.

      • Avatar Irv Oslin says:

        The answer to the drying dilemma is to have extra merino wool while some is drying. Thinner merino dries pretty quickly.
        Irv Oslin recently posted…A Life in the Day – Coming of Age With the BeatlesMy Profile

        • Bob Bob says:

          Irv, I’m sure that’s true but thin nylons don’t ever get really wet to need to dry. The fabric can’t absorb moisture, it’s just around it so it barely gets wet and dries very quickly. In extreme temperatures that is the difference between comfort and misery.

          I’m not trying to change your mind, Merino wool is great stuff. I’m just telling you why I’m not going to change mine either.

  7. Avatar Calvin R says:

    Bob, I’m having trouble reading your titles at the top of the page. I get the post by email, so it’s more important to me that I have trouble finding the direct link to comments.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Calvin I need a lot more information, I’m not sure what you are saying. Give me more details.

      • Avatar Calvin R says:

        For about a week, the title and link to the comments have been coming up placed over the background color of the blog, leaving orange titles on an orange background. The link was just hard to see against that color. But when I came to the blog to answer your comment, that had changed. Now those things show up in the same format as the comments and the posting itself. No more problem.

  8. Avatar Dawn on Camano Island says:

    Thank you for this great information, Bob! My husband was a surveyor for nearly 40 years so he’s all geared up for just about any kind of weather. Me, on the other hand, not so much!

  9. Avatar Dawn on Camano Island says:

    Almost forgot–we love sleeping with wool blankets on the bed during the winter. We don’t sweat with them with them like we did with fleece.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Dawn, I also am a big fan of wool! When I grew up in Anchorage we always had genuine Army and Navy military surplus wool blankets and loved, loved, loved them! I recently bought a “genuine” surplus army blanket and it immediately started to pill up. It was crap! But, no doubt wool is very, very warm. I had a Pendelton wool blanket that was a work of art and incredibly warm. But they are very heavy! If you like the feeling of weight on you they are perfect, if not they aren’t so good.

  10. Avatar tom says:

    I’ve been around long enough to realize if I have a thought, chances are I’m one of the last to have that thought so if this has been said already, sorry about that.

    For those reading, even if you don’t believe in peak oil, or believe in climate change, it seems to me, all that Bob talks about in this series is still great stuff to have in the case of nature or man-made deserter. Thanks Bob.

  11. You didn’t need to take all those selfies, Bob. I could have come over and shot them for you. 😉

    My down comforter has served me very well this winter, even on sub-freezing nights. Wearing a knit cap to bed helped, too.
    Al Christensen recently posted…Migration season?My Profile

  12. Avatar Myddy says:

    Glad you posted this Bob. I am a south-eastern van dweller and never prepared for cold weather as I was not expecting it. I got hit with eight inches of snow twice this last two weeks. It was bad. I’m getting ready to winterize my van now. Lesson learned.
    Myddy recently posted…Stop destroying your hair!My Profile

  13. Avatar CAE says:

    I hate the cold. It hurts and can easily kill you. The heat is annoying, but very manageable.
    Good advice. Please keep it up.

  14. Avatar jim says:

    Great post as always mr bob very good info you and homer have a good week

  15. Avatar Bill from NC says:

    Bob my girlfriend bought me a hat as a present. It looks loke a cloth cowboy hat. The material weave is supposed to open in hot weather so your head is cool and the weave closes in cold weather to keep you warm. I joke with her that it was made from reverse engineered Area 51 technology! LOL
    Bill from NC recently posted…Horseback trailriding, fine eating and Yes We Dance!!!!!My Profile

  16. Avatar Mike Dail says:

    We’re just preparing for on the road living. Your site is very helpful. Thanks

  17. Avatar Peter says:

    Just an added thought about the ‘Three Minutes Without Air”, though it’s not equipment related. More exactly, it’s three minutes without oxygen to the brain – a reason you should think about and make some preparation for injury treatment. I’d recommend for everyone getting (and/or refreshing) training classes in CPR (for trying to deal with breathing stoppage and/or heart pumping stoppage) and basic first aid, especially dealing with stoppage for heavy bleeding (the transport system for the oxygen to the brain. (Heavy direct pressure to a deep wound for a measured twenty minutes is likely to stop anything but massive arterial bleeding, and is worth trying if nothing else is possible. Then you can bandage from a well-stocked first aid kit to maintain until help is available. But MOST first aid kits don’t have very much in the way of bandaging material for heavy bleeding – get or build a good supply yourself!) Just my opinion….


  18. Avatar Jim says:

    Thanks for this piece Bob. I don’t think most of us spend enough time planning for extreme weather. How do you feel about wool for sleeping blankets while in camp?

  19. Avatar Simon says:

    Great article. I plan on vandwelling in a conversion van in Las Vegas so I can save a years worth of rent to pay off most my debt instead. I’ve been really worried about how hot interiors get in the summer here. So I’m assuming you spend most of your day outside the van then pretty much only get in after the sun goes down? Crank up the AC for a bit before bed? I suppose it would force me to start waking up at sunrise instead of sleeping in (I work an evening job.). Also I’ll be going to school on the GI bill at UNLV so GI bill pay will be my income at the time.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Simon, I’m a snowbird so I’ve never been extreme heat like you will have at Las Vegas. I gotta be honest with you and say I don’t know how people endure that kind of heat.

      One thing you might do that works prety often is to run an add on craigslist and look for a driveway to rent. Tell them you are a student at UNLV and are living in your van to save money. Offer them $100 month to park in their driveway and extra to be able to use an extension cord and run a windo air conditioner. The odds are pretty good you will find somebody.

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