Poland in deep winter….

Having travelled across Western Europe, over the old East German border and through the Czech Republic, we reached Poland. Now we encountered deep snow, heavy snow showers and diesel heater failure.

We entered Poland through the region called Lower Silesia, planning to route down to Zakopane , where we would cross into Slovakia. Now Poland is pretty huge and we hoped to try and catch some of the history and culture, whilst accepting we would be a bit limited by time. This region is extremely hilly, but has many unspoiled villages, old castles and ruins, plus museums and relics of WW2, including some in unexpected places.

The snow was pretty deep and the skies were clear and blue pretty much every day, which meant cold days and even colder nights. We hadn’t been here more than a couple of days, when I woke at 6am to find the diesel heater had failed in the night and the temperature in the van was -12°C, plus I had “beard-cicles”! Also, the batteries were below freezing, so wouldn’t charge and our fresh water was close to freezing. This is a big problem and my initial reactions ranging from “it’s over!” to “we need to head south for the sunshine and warmth” . Of course once I calmed down and did a little Google search, I found that one of Polands two Eberspacher centres was in nearby Wrocław. Result! A quick phone call, noting it was Friday tomorrow and we were booked in for an early consultation with a nice English speaking chap called Michał.

We arrived at Klima Kar in Wrocław and set about dismantling the electrics to reach the Eberspacher – it’s under the rear seat, along with 4 lithium batteries and the main car battery, so access is tricky. But Michał quickly diagnosed a faulty control unit (€358), which luckily they had in stock, so we were soon back on the road.

We decided to start our trip properly by climbing Mt Šlęzä, a trip requiring crampons due to the steepness and the ice all up the trail. The climb is rewarding enough, but in the snow it becomes a bit more epic and the reward of an incredible view and the church at the summit, made it worthwhile.

Over the coming days we explored several towns and forts, including the Fortress in the Clouds at Srebrna Gora https://forty.pl/en/home/ and wild camping in many places using Park4Night to guide us. We were fortunate that Poland plough their roads and car parks well, so access was pretty easy and we were able to stay in some epic places. One of the best was a car park in a ski resort where we stayed 3 days without running the engine, relying on our batteries for power. With the heater working and cooking on diesel every night, even with charging devices, the batteries were charging from the constant sunshine and never dipped below 73%!

The freezing temperatures are challenging though, regularly below -10°C and whilst we are cosy in the van, it brings problems:

  1. Any exposed metal inside the van (and rubber window seals for that matter) has a thick layer of ice on it and of course when this thaws, there’s a lot of moisture.
  2. Prepping the van each night now includes ensuring all the exhausts and vents for the cooker and heater are clear of snow and ice – forgot once after driving, won’t forget again.
  3. Fitting external covers to windows and pop top becomes more of a challenge, with freezing fingers if gloves get in the way and can’t be worn, straps with frozen catches, plus stowing them next morning is often harder with everything frozen and cold.
  4. Plastic buckles become very fragile.
  5. The fresh water tank and grey waste keep freezing up, even though they’re insulated – tbh this only delays the onset, so you need a contingency for getting water, such as accessing the fresh water tank from inside with a jug and stop using the sink for waste water, use a bucket instead.
  6. Any liquids outside the van will freeze, such as toilet chemicals… ask me how I know (racasan slushie!). We haven’t used our Lifesaver jerrycan yet, but once we do, it will need to come inside to protect the filter mechanism from freezing.
  7. Anything on the floor (e.g. footwells) or in contact with the outer skins of the van, will get very, very cold
  8. Battery life of electronic devices reduces markedly – newer devices are more resilient, but you will struggle keep them charged. So have a strategy for charging.

But the worst thing by far, is the cold air sinking from the windows, especially the rear window (Westfalia double glazed). We have the lovely magnetic blinds from Wanderbug and they are great, but the cold air is so heavy it migrates through any gaps between magnets etc, bringing condensation which freezes. Pillows and bedding can get damp and very cold too and your beard freezes – no, really! In the cab we used the Wanderbug blinds inside and a SilverScreens external thermal blind to try and mitigate some of the cold air sink. We also used the radiator grill cover every night.

These are the challenges though and we expected them:

  1. You need to ensure there are no thermal bridges such as screw heads and all bare metal is covered – we have work to do here, but also you can’t do much about the cab footwells, which are full of ice or slush in the morning.
  2. Make sure your window covers fit tightly, take care of any gaps. Turn your pillows and covers regularly to dry them and ensure you clean up condensation where it forms – microfibre cloths and a Karcher Window Vac (short blade) are essential.

All said, we are still comfortable under a standard 13.5TOG duvet with a thin wool blanket over us. We have a 12v electric blanket which sits under the duvet and against the bottom sheet to take the chill off and get rid of any damp feeling (memory foam toppers feel awful when cold). The blanket doesn’t really get hot, like a household one and we don’t sleep under it as they’re a bit fragile, so it goes off and out as we get in. The dog has a fleecy bed which is on the front passenger seat, not the floor and has taken to a fleecy blanket over him – he’s part sled-dog and part wimp! He joins us in the bed every morning which is the cue to turn up the heating ready for getting up!

During the evening, with the heater running, it’s cosy and very comfortable for watching tv, playing with iPad etc – van slippers are a must have! And leave your heater on low overnight, with a little ventilation as this will help combat condensation – you will still get it but maybe less ice on the inside of the van.

Anyway, over the coming days we visited the Museum of Polish aviation in Krakow, cheap and a must see for any aviation nut. Plus we found some remnants of WW2 in a railway yard – concrete flak towers that were to be added to train flat cars for anti-aircraft guns, now lying in the snow! Zakopane is a lovely if busy town, on the edge of one of the many Tatras National parks – dogs are banned from these parks, even on leads, which is disappointing but understandable (there’s bears and stuff and they’re shy of dogs). Supermarket shopping is an experience as is using the Zloti instead of €. Many roads are narrow and tough, even washboard like, but stay off the motorways and enjoy it!

Despite the challenges of cold weather camping, we love it. We saw temperatures of -15°C and had to dress like arctic explorers every time the dog needed a pee, but we love to camp out in the snow. Lower Silesia is easily accessible to all and is well within reach of the U.K. and I highly recommend exploring the area. We spent time in the Low Tatras, with the intent of moving into the High Tatras when we moved to Slovakia, but that’s for next time.

2 thoughts on “Poland in deep winter….

  1. What a fantastic read. Your preparation and advice for others if they have the same experiences is priceless. Not me though! My old VeeDub ‘72 Crossover wouldn’t cope even as well prepared as you have been I should imagine. Radiator and antifreeze must be something challenging. I’ve only spent two nights in uncomfortably cold weather. Your dog knows not to lay on the floor! I did once, out of quickness, after a hospital shift and couldn’t get home. Not funny! And…..Your temperature experiences are far lower. Your heating system is a vital and Cosmic ordering seemed to get that fix intervention off to a tee. Brilliant. Good luck with your ongoing adventures. All the best.


  2. Thank you for your kind words. I’m a bit behind to be honest, but will catch it all up. I’m using standard radiator antifreeze and haven’t had any issues, though it is max strength and we use the rad grill cover at night and in driving snow.

    The dog is an idiot and has a bit of husky we think – he loves the snow and goes mad whenever he sees it, but he does like his comfort too.

    The heating is good now and hopefully stays good when we have to head back northwards. Also we think the next trip will be late summer in Scandinavia, so we might need it then.


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