Famous YouTuber Drives Van to the Arctic Ocean in Winter

Have you ever dreamt of traveling to the Arctic Ocean? If so, you’re definitely not alone, and Chad from Living The Van Life did just that — in February!

Lucky for us, he documented everything beautifully and put it on Youtube. That gave us a birds-eye-view of one of the most remote areas in the frigid winter. Curious about how he made it happen?

Keep reading to learn all about Chad’s epic voyage, including his route, van, and equipment that kept him safe and warm. Let’s dig in. 

An ice-covered highway leads to the base of a white, rocky mountain towering in the distance with a lake at its base.

Famous YouTuber Drives Van to the Arctic Ocean in Winter

Chad is a popular Youtuber who lives full-time in his 4×4 Mercedes Sprinter Van. He first began Living The Van Life in February 2011 when he moved into his 1991 Westfalia Volkswagen camper van.

Since then, he’s gained a loyal following of 636,000 subscribers. Interestingly, one of his videos (below) has a whopping 16 million views.

If you scroll through Chad’s videos, you’ll see a clear theme: winter camping. So, bored with the mild winter in the Pacific North West, Chad decided to set out for the ultimate winter camping expedition. He drove 2,600 miles to the Arctic Circle in the middle of winter.

Get the full story behind Living the Van Life and why he started living life to the fullest.

Where is Tuktoyaktuk?

Tuktoyaktuk is a small town in the Northwest Territories. It’s the only community on the Arctic Ocean in Canada that you can access by public road.

This makes it a popular destination for tourists who are willing to make the long drive to the top of the world. Only a few, including Chad, choose to make this drive in the winter.

What Route Did Living the Van Life Take?

Chad began his journey in Bellingham, Wash., and made one of his first stops in Prince George, BC. From there, he made his way up the Cassiar Highway, which is 450 miles long and even unpaved at times.

He then took the Alaskan Highway (which begins just west of Watson Lake, YT) all the way to Whitehorse, YT. From there, he took the North Klondike Highway to Dawson City — a rare and important stop on the way to Tuktoyaktuk. 

Chad then followed the Dempster Highway into the Northwest Territories. This is where he would finally reach the Arctic Circle and the town of Tuktoyaktuk. 

The Arctic Ocean is surrounded by snow covered rocks, with no vegetation in site.
At the Arctic Circle, Chad experienced -40 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures.

What Does It Take to Drive to the Arctic in the Winter?

First, you’ll need a reliable vehicle to get you there. This area of the world is extremely remote. And, if you were to break down, it could take a long time for someone to help you. With sporadic weather, this can be a dangerous situation even in the summer months. 

We also recommend you have all-terrain tires, good ground clearance, and even the option for four-wheel drive. Many of these roads are rarely maintained, and some are even a complete sheet of ice. If you accidentally go off the road, you’ll want the right equipment to get you back out. 

You’ll also need a reliable heating system (such as a diesel heater), plenty of insulation, and a decent stock of water and provisions. Because you’ll be driving great distances between civilizations, it’s vital to be as self-sufficient as possible if you can’t make the drive as quickly as you planned. 

What Van Did Living The Van Life Use to Make It to the Arctic Ocean?

Chad from Living The Van Life made the trek to the Arctic in his 2020 Mercedes 4×4 Sprinter Van, rolling on Trailbuilt Off-road wheels and 315/70r17 BFGoodrich KO2 all-terrain tires. He also had an ARB Air Compressor for back up, a Speedflate inflate/deflate system, and Staun tire deflators. 

As for keeping himself warm? Chad relied on a diesel heater powered by Battle Born GC2 LiFePo4 Batteries, a Victron Inverter/Charger, and Victron Distributor. He also used Victron Solar Controller, Secondary Alternator, and Wakespeed Alternator Regulator. 

Between his heater and plenty of window insulation, Chad was able to keep his van above 70 degrees even when it was well below zero outside. He also found that by stuffing cardboard into the grill of his van, he was able to reduce the intense windchill and keep his diesel exhaust fluid system working as it should. 

A Mercedes Sprinter Van on a small paved road in a cold, norther campground surrounded by mountains peaks and pine trees.
Living the Van Life traveled to the Arctic Circle in his Mercedes Sprinter Van.

Arctic Winter Conditions Are Brutal

As Chad made his way to Tuktoyaktuk, he encountered countless challenges. It didn’t take long for temperatures to dip well below zero, and by the time he got to Northern Canada, the temperature hit -40 degrees.

In this type of weather, exposed skin can freeze in as little as 10 minutes, and Chad told his viewers just how dangerous a bad situation can quickly become. 

Planning your fuel and provision stops is a must. There are only a handful of towns along the route, and there can be over 250 miles between these stops. You’ll want to remain efficient as you traverse ice and snow, gravel roads, and even roads made entirely of ice. 

What is the Drive Like and How Fast Can You Go?

During his trip, Chad remarked on how well his van went, despite the challenging route. With his all-terrain tires, he was able to maintain a speed of around 55 mph in two-wheel drive.

While Chad’s van did have the option for four-wheel drive, he opted to stay in two-wheel drive as much as possible to save on fuel. Luckily, his van made it. 

An unpaved gravel portion of the Cassiar Highway in Alaska with multiple sloping hills.
The Cassiar Highway in Alaska has unpaved portions that can become treacherous in rain and snow.

Keep in mind that many of these roads can become impassable in the event of a storm or high winds. And since the area is so remote, air crafts actually land on the public roads! You truly never know what you’ll encounter when you make this drive. 

Take a Look at the Journey to the Arctic Ocean in a Van

Ready to see what Chad’s journey entailed? Take a look at his three-part series: Van Life in the Arctic.

Episode One

In the first episode of Van Life in the Arctic, Chad begins his adventure to Tuktoyaktuk. He starts in Washington state and realizes just how big of an expedition he set out on.

His first stop is Prince George. That’s 476 miles into his trip, which is just a dent in his journey.

Throughout the episode, Chad crosses the challenging Cassiar Highway, which takes him up to the Yukon Territory. Experiencing the intense cold weather for the first time, Chad explains how important it is to keep his lithium batteries warm enough to recharge and details how he monitors the temperature in his van.

Episode Two

Chad continues his journey through intense snowfall and treacherous road conditions. In his own words, “It’s hard to know where the ditch ends, and the road begins,” and at some points, the road looked almost impassable.

Luckily, he makes it up the Alaska Highway to Whitehorse, where temperatures reached 46 degrees at the time of his arrival. After a stop in Whitehorse, Chad heads to Dawson City via the Klondike Highway, which provides stunning scenery at every turn. 

After spending a night in the quirky, remote town of Dawson City, Chad heads up to the Dempster Highway and “officially enters the insanity zone,” where temperatures reach -40 degrees. He also finds himself having to stuff cardboard into the grill of his van to keep his van functioning in the brittle cold before finally making it to the remote town of Inuvik for the night.

Episode Three

In episode three, Chad begins the video with an epic movie-style trailer that highlights his journey thus far. If you watch anything, it should be this!

Continuing his journey, Chad wakes up in Inuvik and shows his urban stealth camping setup for the night, explaining that he’s opting to stay closer to civilization because of the dangerous temperatures. After a brief delay due to a road closure, Chad continues to head up the Dempster Highway closer and closer to the Arctic.

As Chad finds out, the main danger during this drive is the intense wind and huge snowdrifts, which can stop vehicles in their tracks. Thankfully, he makes it safely to Tuktoyuktuk, where he meets friendly locals and even brings a puppy into his warm van for a snack.

One thing’s for sure, Chad’s cinematography is second to none, and this three-part series is a masterpiece you truly have to watch for yourself! Grab some popcorn, get comfortable, and hit play!

Would You Drive to the Arctic in Winter?

Driving to the Arctic in the winter definitely comes with its fair share of challenges. Chad seemed to conquer them all as he made his way through dangerous road conditions, frigid temperatures, and unpredictable weather. It’s clear that this experience isn’t for the unprepared nor the faint of heart.

So, would you make the 2,000-mile drive through treacherous conditions to the Arctic Circle? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below! 

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