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Extreme Vandwelling! Winter in the Yukon in a Straw-Bale Covered Van

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straw-header Recently I was surfing the net and came across a website I was extremely impressed with. I was so amazed by it I just had to write the author and ask permission to repost it here. He graciously agreed so here it is in his own words. He has a lot more on his blog but I’ve condensed it down to this post and another one after this.  
Many, many times online I’ve seen vandwellers talk about getting a piece of land to spend a part of the year on. Cud Eastbound isn’t a man who just talks, he does! This is his story of living in the extreme far north: Dawson City, Yukon Territories. Be sure to check out his blog here:
Hello, my name is Cud Eastbound & on June 6th 2014, I set off on an adventure to move to the Yukon. I packed/gave away everything I owned, released a new album, left Halifax and went westward on a 2 month cross Canada tour, leading me all the way up to Dawson City, Yukon Territories, Canada. I toured with my 77 Dodge Camper van, who’s name is “Night Danger” (like those moose signs through northern Ontario).

Cud is a true adventurer! I truly admire his bold fearlessness in jumping out into the unknown.

Cud is not a wanna-be adventurer; he’s the real deal!! I greatly admire his bold fearlessness in jumping out into the unknown. If I could live my life over again, he’d be a role-model I’d want to follow!

Night Danger has been around the continent a few times and I found it was time to find a place for it to rest for good. I’ve made a few modifications, and love living out of the van, so I figured I would try and see if I could survive a Yukon winter by living in my van.
The first challenge was to find a way to efficiently heat my little abode, so before I left Halifax I constructed a wood stove that would fit nice and safely in the back of the van. Second Challenge was to find a way to hold in the heat I would produce to stay warm all winter. I was not keen on using traditional insulation, because at that point I might as well just build a little shack, so I came to the conclusion that straw bales would be my best bet. Once I was finished with the first winter, I could donate the bales to folks who have live stock, or dog sled teams or something.
Now that's insulation!

Now that’s insulation! The only way to live in a van at the extreme cold of the Yukon is with extreme insulation, and hay bales provide it and is also very cheap! Here you can see the outline of the van hidden inside the hay. 

I was lucky enough to have a friend lend me some land in Bear Creek to try out my project on. The adventure continues as I try and seal up leaky doors and windows, its a constant learning process. There are many folks helping me out with ideas, labour, time and most important of all support. Thanks to all of you!
I have to go stoke my wood stove now, its starting to get cold, the ferry is getting pulled out of the water tomorrow, and I am so very excited for my first winter up here in the Northern Yukon.
Insulation is no good without a source of heat. Cud welded this woodstove himself and found it worked great in the van.

Insulation is no good without a source of heat. Cud welded this woodstove himself and found it worked great in the van.

Woodstove and Safety

My first time welding, I decided to make a woodstove, and I hauled it in my van on tour from Halifax to Dawson. I am Pleased to say that it works amazing! I have not tested it at -50 yet… but I have high hopes!
The design is pretty simple, I created a woodstove that was small enough to fit in my van, but with a twist! Inside the stove, I created another stove… and within the empty spaces I poured in crushed fire brick… the stove is only about 18 inches long by 12X12… but… it packs a mean punch, and so far testing it in my van on frosty nights is proving that it stays warm from 8-10 hours… I am stoked!!! More about the woodstove to come…

The stove burning in the van.

The stove burning in the van. The license plates keep embers from burning through the floor.

This is the box surrounding the woodstove

This is the box surrounding the woodstove

I made a platform for the stove to stand on, that is off of the wood floors. I also put metal against the walls, then using aluminum spacers I laid down some more metal about an inch away from the metal on the walls. This way, as the metal heats up the cold air rushing past it and cools it.

The stove is encased in sheet metal which is held away from the walls by spacers. The air space allows cool air to carry the heat away and protect the walls.

The stove is encased in sheet metal which is held away from the walls by spacers. The air space allows cool air to carry the heat away and protect the walls.

The stove is encased in sheet metal which is held away from the walls by spacers. The air space allows cool air to carry the heat away and protect the walls.

The chimney is also tripled walled now, there is the insulated stove pipe, then I put corrugated tin, then a metal casing to hold it all in place as it exits the van window. For added safety, I started putting down my collection of sings and license plates, this is just in case an ember or spark flies out of the wood stove, instead of landing on my “hard wood” floors, it will burn out harmlessly on the metal!
Also, I’ve noticed a lot of people concerned about my well-being… I’ve been burning wood in my fireplace nonstop for 2 months now, and I clean my chimney pipe (in case of creosote buildup), I check everything every day. I DO NOT leave my dog in the van, the only time he is there is when I am there with him. I do have a Carbon Monoxide detector (Thanks Diana!)
Because the chimney is so cose to the flammable straw and plastic, it has to be very well insulated not to melt and ignite them.

Because the chimney is so close to the flammable straw and plastic, it has to be triple insulated not to melt and ignite them.

Last week has been around -25 or colder, I’ve noticed the van is very nice and warm, holds the heat well, except for the floor… as the fire place sucks air, cold air from the outside creeps in along the floor… I fixed that by drilling a 2 inch hole in the side of the van right next to the woodstove, put in a PVC pipe & on/off Valve I was given by Martin (Thanks Martin!).
So, I am still alive and well, I appreciate everyone’s concerns, comments, outrage and love.
It’s -30C (-22F) and I’ve slowly been sealing up little gaps here and there.
I had to wake up at 4 in the morning to put more wood on, that’s only a 6 hour burn… But! It’s the challenge!
I have about 6 big rocks I keep on top of my stove, thinking that they might create more surface for transferring heat into the air. They also stay warm a while after the fire has gone out. The best use I have found for them is warming up my feet, or throwing into my bed in the morning, they warm me up!
Cud sets these rocks on the woodstove over night to act as thermal mass.

Cud sets these rocks on the woodstove over night to act as thermal mass and feet warmers.

That’s all for this post. In my next one we’ll look at the details of how Cud…

  1. Cleared the land.
  2. Dug an outhouse.
  3. Built a wood base for the van.
  4. Put up a woodshed.
  5. Built the hay walls and covered it with plastic.

See you then!


  1. Calvin R

    Cud is not only an adventurer but also an engineer. Much of this is skilled work involving knowledge of heat and insulation.
    I noted that Cud was seeking a place for his van “to rest for good.” That means he will not have to turn his setup back into a mobile unit. His methods fit his goal, and Dawson City in the winter is an adventure in any case.
    Good luck, Cud!

    • Bob

      Calvin, no doubt he will have earned his “bragging rights” after this adventure! If he wins who has the most memories. Cud is off to an incredible start!

  2. scott barshow

    I was very intrigued when you told me about this guy. Thanks so much for sharing. He is proof that ingenuity can do more than dollars in most cases.

    • Bob

      You’re welcome Scott. He is very ingenius in how comfortable he is with so little money.

  3. Joy

    Wow…not for the average person. He seems to have designed it well, and I can attest to how well straw bales work, as I we used to use them around an old farm house in winter , that was not insulated.I wish him the best, and love his music!

    • Bob

      Thanks Joy! No, it’s not for the average person. When I as a young man it was my dream, but now I’m an old fart and it doesn’t hold a lot of attraction for me either!

  4. Irv Oslin

    Amazing. The wood stove can be a game-changer. Especially for those of us who (yes, we’re a bit “teched”) who actually prefer cooler climates. Nice setup.

    • Bob

      Irv, I was once one of them, but after 45 years in Alaska, NO MORE COLD for me!

  5. Openspaceman

    Looks like he built in as much “precautionary measures” to prevent a fire as he could. I’d still be a little nervous…but it’s basically a little house now as opposed to something that’s being moved so that’s cool.
    I just googled images of Dawson City, Yukon…It looks beautiful in the Spring/Summer and I’d love to be there then.

    • Bob

      There is a magical draw to the whole far north that is much stronger than it’s natural beauty. It gets in your blood and calls to you.
      It’s totally raw and wild and will kill you in a heartbeat. And yet you will never be more alive!

  6. Gloria Brooks

    Whoa! Now, this is extreme! A really fascinating introduction to this guy and what can be done when someone puts their mind to it! I actually LOVE winter and snow, but, I’ve not considered living in a very cold climate in my van…yet. But, since I’ve seen the most extreme, it makes living through the winter in the Colorado mountains or even Flagstaff look more doable. LOL.

    • Bob

      Gloria, having done it myself I can safely say it isn’t for everybody. With propane heat you just throw money at it to stay warm, but with wood heat it becomes your whole life.

  7. Ming

    there is something I really like about the idea of a wood stove in a van/ camper.

    • Bob

      They take a lot of room, but if you are in a extreme environment, it’s worth the loss.

  8. DougB

    Kinky! And a well thought out heat system. I will be interested to find out how he fed himself over the winter. One thing’s for sure: no intact reading material in the outhouse when it’s thirty below!

    • Bob

      Doug, hopefully he will answer some questions himself.

  9. raz

    food. if he didn’t bring enough or any, well there is a road. he can walk into town. the people that live there will give him a lift. they aren’t afraid. they will feed him. he can bring snow in to melt to get water. he will be fine. he has a wood pile. he has a dog, so he wont go hungry. snark.
    the dogs food will be substantial. my guess more bulk than cuds. he should be able to live pretty handily for a winter. before you folks have a stroke, i have lived like that and still do occasionally. buy a bag of beans. now we are cooking. when i heated with wood i kept a bean pot on all winter. just add some beans and water when it got low.
    i see he smokes. he will need quite a few decks of smokes to tide him over. washing himself is easy. just get naked and roll in the snow. then dry off. use snow to wipe your butt. when your clothes get wet hang them outside and let them freeze. then shake the ice off. take them inside. or wear them.
    i think the biggest problem is boredom, at least for me. cud will be a hell of a better guitar player and have a lot of new songs, at spring thaw.
    i used to cross at the soo and take the algoma railway north into canada. the train will stop at what ever mile(probably kilometers now) marker you buy a ticket to. 200 is a nice number. the train used to go north on sat, lay over and go south on sun. no service on weekdays. i would drop off either cross country ski or snow show a week or two.
    slept in a tent. basically you had to have food and fuel to cook it. wood does not burn well when it is frozen. the best thing i found was a coleman one burner stove with white gas. i would turn the stove upside down and shake out some gas. then set the stove on fire. they vaporize the gas. well -30 to -50 it will not vaporize, so i set it on fire heat the gas. not unsafe. don’t do it indoors.
    i used a plastic toboggan to carry my stuff. you will not get bored doing this. thing were a lot more primitive back then. people now have 3 oz
    stoves(or less) that they can keep inside their coats to keep then warm. they can cook in their tents. i used to do this stuff, amongst my piers i wasn’t even odd. but i’ve always thought the afraid were odd. quite.
    ice cream raz

    • Bob

      Raz, anymore the afraid are the normal people and the bold are very weird. It’s sad.

  10. raz

    peers not piers.
    ice cream raz

  11. Justin Glauser

    That’s a lot of heat being wasted out the chimney. I have been studying and trying to build a rocket mass heater. They still burn wood but are 85% more efficient than standard wood stoves. I have built one for my motorhome and will be building a smaller one for my campervan. Just something to look into.

    • Bob

      Thanks Justin, that’s a good idea worth checking out. Having spent quite a bit of time at -30 and -40 in Alaska, I know that at those temperatures you need a massive amount of heat, even in a van. And that means a big wood box full of wood with enough airflow to give it plenty of air. It also needs to be able to hold a lot of wood to last through the night. So whatever your plans are, it’s got to hold a lot of wood.

  12. Eric

    Bob, this is a great article. But a bit too extreme for my abilities. But it makes me wonder if one can live in a Class B RV during cold winter months (like a roadtek or pleasure way). This would be in small and medium sized towns which I would live in for short periods of time for work (park at a walmart at night and drive to the job during day). Do you have any insight about that.

    • Bob

      Eric, it depends on how cold it will be. At normal temperatures in the teens at night as the lows, yes, the furnace would run often but you can. But, if it’s much below zero, then it could be very unpleasant. Most RVs are not well insulated and very hard to add more.

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