Camp Westfalia

Archive for Comfort

Product Review: Windshield and Dash Car Fan

This Windshield & Dash Car Fan is a compact, portable fan for keeping you or a passenger cool while driving or parked.

Specifications

4.5” Diameter Model

  • Dimensions: 6.3 x 4.7 x 4.7 inches
  • Weight: 9.1 ounces

6” Diameter Model

  • Dimensions: 6.7 x 6 x 6 inches
  • Weight: 12.6 ounces
  • Noise Level: <45db

Features

  • Integrated suction-cup mounting bracket
  • “Stepless” variable-speed switch
  • Powered by standard 12-volt DC cigarette lighter socket
  • High energy-efficient design moves a lot of air
  • Quiet, low-noise
  • Child-safe design

Most Vanagons, especially the older models, do not boast air conditioning, so things can get pretty warm in the cab during summer excursions. There are lots of things you can do to help (see “Staying Cool On Summer Road Trips”), and one of the most effective is a quality fan.

But is such a small fan up to the task?

Get the Dash Car Fan here

First Impressions

The compact Dash Car Fan easily attaches to the windshield or door glass using the integrated suction-cup mounting bracket, and can be angled or adjusted for nearly any installation.

Powered by a standard 12-volt DC cigarette lighter, the fan includes a 90” power cord, so it can circulate air in the cab or rear passenger area of your Vanagon.

I opted to cut the original power cords and connect both our fans directly into the van’s power system behind the dash.

There’s even a free-standing, dual-fan unit available.

On The Road or In Camp

This fan is great for use in the Westfalia camper van. Our current Vanagon has no air conditioning, and the fresh air dash vents rely on speed for maximum flow, so when driving slowly or stopped on hot days, things can get uncomfortable.

Available in two sizes, even the smaller 4.5”-diameter really moves some air. In fact, it works so well even on lower speeds that we rarely use it on high. It’s pretty quiet too, so it’s not annoying to use while driving.

In The Long Run

Though small and affordable, this compact fan does a great job of moving air in the Vanagon cab, whether driving or when parked.

The suction cup attachment system works very well to hold the fan in place on any window, though once or twice in very hot direct sunlight it has come loose, but with no damage.

The direction of the fan is very easily adjustable, using a ball joint on the mounting bracket.

A real life saver in hot weather, we’ve also used this fan when winter camping, to help circulate warm air from our LP heater.

All in all, the Dash Car Fan will do an admirable job of keeping you and your family cool, and the little fan moves a lot of air for its size.

Hits: compact, adaptable, affordable, quiet, adjustable speeds
Misses: occasionally detaches in very hot sunlight

Get the Dash Car Fan here

Winter Van Camping

Tips and advice for staying warm while van-camping

Photo: highsierra, Samba member

Photo: highsierra, Samba member

Most camper vans are put away during the colder months. But we’ve found winter to be a great time for a weekend getaway, with none of the crowds, bugs, or excessive heat of summer.

Off-season camping means you usually have your choice of campsites, too. In fact, we often find ourselves the only residents of the campground!

And winter can be a spectacularly beautiful time to see the great outdoors in a whole new light.

Here are some tips and advice for staying toasty during your own winter van-camping ventures.

Prepare your Van

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  • Before embarking on winter camping forays, make sure your Vanagon’s heating and ventilation system is in good working order. Check that the front and rear heater cores are flowing correctly, and are not plugged with mineral deposits, etc.. Ensure that the heater-control valves are functioning well, and the front forced-air flaps are sealing properly to prevent the entry of cold air.
  • Use a winter-grade motor oil as specified in your Owners Manual for the temperature range you plan to drive in: 10W-40 for -5 to 50F (-20 to 10C)
  • Make sure that your coolant mixture offers the correct freeze protection for ambient temperatures. Use a simple tester to ensure you have the correct blend of water and anti-freeze.
Photo: vanis13, Samba member

Photo: vanis13, Samba member

  • Check that your tires are in good condition, with adequate tread. For better traction in snow and ice, you can also deflate your tires to the lower end of your safe load range.
  • Use an antifreeze fuel additive suitable for your specific type of fuel (gasoline or diesel) to prevent fuel gelling or freezing.
  • A winter road kit can help get you out of a snowy jam: jumper cables, tire cables or chains, a small snow shovel, extra fuel, a blanket and additional winter clothing, etc..


While Driving

  • A set of cushy seat covers can help keep your bum warm on long cold drives.
  • Take occasional breaks to warm up; pause during fuel stops at convenience stores to warm up with a cuppa coffee or hot cocoa for the road.
  • When driving in especially cold weather, wear additional comfortable winter clothing if necessary: gloves, hats, heavier socks. These are easy to add or remove as needed.
  • Breakdowns are always an inconvenience, but can be especially dangerous in cold or snowy winter weather. Always keep good winter clothing close at hand, as well as some food, water, any crucial medications, etc..

While Camped

  • Photo: mpabegg, Samba Member

    Photo: mpabegg, Samba Member

    Choose a campsite that offers good protection from winter winds. Pine forests generally offer more wind protection than leafless deciduous trees.

  • A site with eastern exposure will allow the morning sun to help warm your van. If at all possible, avoid raising your Westfalia popup roof, to conserve heat, but if you must, orient the rear of your Vanagon into the prevailing wind to reduce your heat loss.
  • Perhaps the single best way to stay warm while camped is some sort of a space heater. Of course, there are several types available: electric (110-volt), small portable LP (liquid propane) heaters intended for camping, and permanently installed RV furnaces fueled by LP or diesel.
  • Be sure to utilize a small battery-operated household carbon-monoxide detector whenever using a fueled space heater, to prevent CO poisoning.
  • If 110-volt AC campsite shore power is available, an electric blanket can be a great way to stay toasty while sleeping or lounging in your camper.
  • If you have one installed, use an engine block heater to help with starting on especially cold mornings; be sure you carry an extension cord and choose a campsite with a power source.
  • As when driving, warm winter clothing can help take the chill off when camped. Common synthetic outdoors gear (pullovers, caps, gloves, socks, etc.) is all you’ll need.
  • Add a thermal-fleece liner to your three-season sleeping bag for additional winter warmth.

camper-van-window-insulation-set

  • Put some hot water in an uninsulated camping water bottle and stow it at the bottom your sleeping bag, to keep your feet warm through the cold night.
  • The shorter daylight hours of winter mean more time spent lounging in your van, so bring plenty of games, books, and digital entertainment.
  • In the morning, bring your daytime clothing inside your sleeping bag with you to warm it up for several minutes, to avoid putting on icy clothes.
  • Add a set of thermal covers to your van’s windows to help retain heat. This series of infrared photos provides some valuable insights into areas of heat loss in a Vanagon Westfalia, and offers some tips on insulating your own camper.
  • If you ever need to remove your van’s interior panels or cabinets for other work, take the opportunity to add more insulation wherever you can.


Following these tips will keep Jack Frost from nipping at your nose while winter camping in your van, and help you enjoy a safe and unique camping experience.

Have any tips for your fellow winter van-campers? Leave a suggestion or question below, and use the social links to share with friends!

Product Review: Mr. Heater “Little Buddy” Propane Heater

A safe, portable propane camping heater for use in camper vans, RVs, and other small spaces

Specifications

  • Indoor-safe portable propane heater for rooms up to 95 square feet
  • Continuous odor-free heat for up to 5-1/2 hours; 45-degree heating angle
  • Simple on/off buttons; uses 1-pound disposable propane cylinder (not included)
  • Low-oxygen sensor and accidental tip-over switch with auto shut-off for safety
  • Built-in piezo ignition

Assembled Dimensions, including propane cylinder: 18” H x 9” DIA (46cm H x 23cm DIA)
Weight, without propane cylinder: 5.85 lbs. (2.65 Kg)

The Mr. Heater “Little Buddy” is an easy, portable propane heater that works well in the small space of the Westfalia or other camper vans. Its safety shutoff features helps keep you and your family safe.

Depending on where you live and camp, it’s always just about this time of year that your camping season comes to a close. And if you’re like me, it’s always just a little bit too soon.

Maybe you enjoy the cooler weather of the shoulder seasons, with no stiflingly hot days, no bugs, and no crowds. Or perhaps you simply haven’t yet got the camping jones out of your system for the year …

In any case, even the most pleasantly cool days of autumn or early winter can come with cold nights. If your campsite has 120V AC shore power you can employ a small electric space heater to keep warm. If not, a small portable propane heater like the Mr. Heater “Little Buddy” can be just the ticket when Jack Frost nips at your nose.

Get the Mr. Heater “Little Buddy” Propane Heater here

NOTE: To meet varying regional safety regulations, Mr. Heater also offers a version of this heater suitable for Massachusetts & Canada.

First Impressions

little-buddy-heater-controlsThe “Little Buddy” is a relatively compact and portable heater fueled by common disposable 1-lb. liquid propane (LP) cylinders. It consists of the upper head unit, a propane cylinder (not included), and a base to stabilize the entire unit upright on the floor of your camper or RV.

The heater’s head unit includes an integrated carry handle plus two large control buttons: ON and OFF.

On The Road or In Camp

To assemble the Mr. Heater “Little Buddy” simply thread a propane cylinder into the bottom of the head unit and set the whole thing firmly into the base. NOTE: Some brands of propane cylinders have a thin plastic ‘foot’ glued to the bottom of the tank; you may need to remove this in order to fit the tank into the heater’s base.

little-buddy-heater-burnerOnce assembled, the “Little Buddy” is easily lit be simply pressing and holding the red ON button to light the pilot flame and then the main burner. The honeycomb burner matrix soon turns orange as it heats up, and the heater can then be set somewhere safe on the floor.

The “Little Buddy” soon heats up the Westfalia interior comfortably, even on very chilly nights. For especially cold or windy conditions, keep the Westfalia popup roof down to prevent heat loss. The Little Buddy has no temperature control, so is either On or Off.

If you need more heat, Mr. Heater also offers the “Buddy”, a larger 4,000-9,000-BTU portable heater.

little-buddy-heater-frontThe “Little Buddy” includes a built-in tipover shutoff device, which kills the fuel supply in case the heater is knocked over, as well as an oxygen-depletion sensor which shuts the unit off in a low-oxygen situation. We’ve found the tipover device to be quite sensitive, sometimes shutting the heater off even when only moving the unit, and we still use a common household carbon monoxide detector whenever operating the heater in the van, if only as a backup alert.

The heater requires a bit of fresh air (the manual specifies 4 square inches), so be sure to crack a window a couple of inches. The rim and wire guard of the burner assembly gets quite hot during operation, so always be mindful of it, and teach kids and pets to avoid getting too close to it. Allow the heater to cool down after use before touching or storing.

Like all propane heaters without external venting, the “Little Buddy” produces water vapor during operation; burning an entire 1-lb. propane fuel cylinder will produce about 26 ounces of water. Though invisible and harmless, this vapor will condense on cold interior surfaces such as walls and windows, so just be prepared to towel off your windows before driving in the morning.

In The Long Run

We’ve been using the Mr. Heater “Little Buddy” model in our Westfalia for a few years now, mostly to take the edge off those chilly temps before bedtime or when arising in the morning. I can even turn the heater on from the comfort of my sleeping bag.

little-buddy-heater-34-viewIt’s a safe, easy, and economical heater that doesn’t require us to find a campsite with shore power. After use, the “Little Buddy” easily disassembles for storage, and quickly stows beneath the Vanagon bench seat. The heater does not include a carry bag, but I added a simple stuff sack to keep the parts clean and together.

A 1-lb. propane tank lasts 4 or 5.5 hours in the “Little Buddy”; about a week’s worth of 30-minute daily warmups, or about 70 cents per hour of operation. Extra cylinders are cheap, compact, and easily purchased at sporting goods or hardware stores while travelling.

Hits: high heat output, quiet, large control buttons easily used even with gloves
Misses: no temperature adjustment, 5.5-hour max time, produces condensation

The Mr. Heater “Little Buddy” has proven to be a great way to extend our camping season on both ends of the summer, letting us get out to the woods both earlier and later in the season!

Get the Mr. Heater “Little Buddy” Propane Heater here

NOTE: To meet varying regional safety regulations, Mr. Heater also offers a version of this heater suitable for Massachusetts & Canada.

What do you think? Leave a question or comment below, and use the social links to share with friends!

Staying Cool On Summer Road Trips in Your Camper Van

Tips and advice for keeping yourself, your children, pets, and other companions cool while travelling

The summer travelling season is upon us, and we’ll all be putting on some miles in our camper vans. For many of us, road-tripping is the best part of owning a VW Westfalia!

Every VW Vanagon or Bus owner knows how cool it is; you can tell by all the waves, thumbs-up, and friendly honks you get! But the simple challenge of travelling and living in a confined space for a week or two at peak heat season, combined with a few inherent design characteristics of the Vanagon, can get you hot under the collar.

The Vanagon’s large untinted windows offer panoramic scenic views, but can also collect a lot of solar energy, and these campers come from a bygone era before automotive air conditioning was ubiquitous. The engine’s in the back, with the radiator just a few inches ahead of your Birkenstocks, which can lead to a condition known as Vanagon Hot Foot Syndrome. Not as bad as Athlete’s Foot, perhaps, but almost as uncomfortable … So, we’ll offer some suggestions specific to the Vanagon.

These recommendations for staying comfortable while driving or camped are grouped into easy, basic habits you can adopt, affordable products you can purchase, and helpful modifications you can make to your Vanagon, listed in order of ease, practicality, and cost.

Behavior — Things you can change about you

While Driving:

  • Beat the heat. Start driving earlier in the day to take advantage of cooler temperatures, and pull off when the day begins to heat up. Rack up some bonus miles by resuming your drive in the late afternoon or evening when things cool off a bit.
  • Take a break. Occasionally get off the hot highway and step into a restaurant, retail store, museum, or other air-conditioned refuge to cool off and stretch your legs. Such breaks are especially important for the comfort and health of children and pets.
  • Laugh it up. In the summer heat, as passengers become fatigued, uncomfortable, and irritated, things can heat up in the Vanagon too. Keep your sense of humor and maintain a positive attitude, especially in regards to your travelling companions.

vanagon-lakeside-campsiteWhile Camped:

  • Catch a breeze. Choose a campsite in an open clearing or near a lake to take advantage of cooler breezes.
  • Get some shade. Find a spot in the shadow of trees, and park your Vanagon with the rear oriented toward the afternoon sun to benefit from the protective shade of the popup roof.


Van & Accessories — Features & products to help you stay cool

While Driving:

  • Chong-bandannaDress appropriately. Lighter summer wear like shorts and T-shirts are obvious choices, but wicking synthetics made for sports and fitness will help shed the heat. A “Cooling Towel” worn around your neck will help cool your shoulders and upper torso. Or for a classic hippie vibe, wear a wetted bandanna to chill out, man.
  • Wing windows, the original air-conditioner. Along with full-size spare tires, manual transmissions, and ashtrays, most modern cars no longer offer wing windows, those small triangular moveable sections of glass near the side mirrors. Thankfully, your Vanagon still has these hot-weather lifesavers, and they can really help keep a breeze going while travelling.
  • During one of the above-mentioned restaurant breaks, get a large insulated cup of ice water or other cold beverage for the road. This will not only help lower your body temperature but also keep you properly hydrated (avoid caffeinated drinks, which can dehydrate you).
  • Spritz yourself (or your travelling mates!) with cool water from a spray bottle to aid in evaporative cooling.
  • Toss a Coolmax or microfiber towel over your seats to help wick moisture and perspiration away
  • Circulate air in the cab or passenger area of your Vanagon using 12-volt DC fans, ranging from the simple dashboard variety to more permanent versions.
  • Your Uber driver may enjoy his swanky wooden-beaded seat cover, but you can do better than that; consider a ventilated seat cover with integrated 12-volt DC fan which forces air from near the floor through internal channels to keep your bum and back cool.
  • Children or pets will appreciate a little extra ventilation, too; use The Noggle to extend fresh air to the rear passenger area or anywhere else you need it.

The Van — Things you can change about your van

While Driving:

  • gowesty-wind-deflectorsWind deflectors. These accessories are easily installed and besides allowing more fresh air (even in the rain or when parked), also reduce wind noise.
  • Combat Vanagon Hot Foot Syndrome. Keep hot air from the radiator out of the cab by replacing your old and faulty heater control valve and/or adding an auxiliary shutoff valve in the heater hose circuit. Reseal the small exterior accelerator-pedal housing, and install foil-faced insulation on the firewall behind the radiator.
  • Rear window vents. Vanagons built after 1988 featured additional vents in the rearmost side windows, to aid in drawing stuffy air from the interior. Though no small task, these windows and vents can be installed in your early-model Vanagon for better flow-through ventilation.

While Camped:

  • Once you’ve reached your campsite for the afternoon, draw the curtains on the sunny side of the van to prevent solar gain, or install reflective foil automotive sun shades.
  • Purchase or make your own front window screens to allow a cross-breeze while keeping bugs out.
  • Build your own portable camping evaporative air conditioner. Sometimes known as a ‘swamp cooler,’ these work best when camped in hot, dry environments.
  • Install a 12-volt thermostat-controlled ceiling vent fan in your Westfalia popup roof to help draw warm air out.
  • Some inventive Westfalia owners even carry compact 120-volt home air conditioner units for use in campsites offering electrical hookups. This will require a custom panel to mount the unit in your front window, or a shroud attached with Velcro to your Westfalia tent.


With a bit of planning, a slight attitude adjustment, and maybe a few dollars, you and your family can keep your cool this summer!

What do you think? How do you keep cool in your camper van? Leave a question or comment below, and use the buttons to share with your friends!