Winter RV camping is more accessible than ever with improvements in RV technology. That’s why more people are seeking out winter destinations for RV getaways and living in RVs full-time during all four seasons.
If you camp in the cold, you’ll need to prepare for it. If you plan on camping in cold temperatures this winter, here’s what you need to know to keep your RV, and yourself, healthy and happy.
Getting Water For Winter RV Camping
Maintaining the health of your RV’s water system is arguably the most important factor of winter RV camping. When outside temperatures drop below freezing, water can freeze in your pipes and your freshwater hose.
Frozen water expands and that alone can cause your pipes to burst. Even if your pipes don’t freeze over, a frozen section of pipe can increase water pressure enough to stress pipes joints to the point of bursting.
Unregulated water pressure will lead to major repairs at a time when you really don’t want to be working on your motorhome or travel trailer. Repairing your RV’s plumbing also comes with a hefty bill. Avoid the expense with a little preparation.
Hooking Up to City Water
If you’re hooking up to city water, you’ll need a heated hose that plugs into an AC outlet in your RV or at your campsite. A heated hose keeps water from freezing at the source and while it’s flowing into your RV.
There are many designs out there, but we recommend the Camco Freeze Ban hose because it comes with insulated sleeves that slide over the hose fittings at the inlet and outlet. It’s also rated for temperatures down to -20℉.
Some people add additional insulation to their heated hoses if they know temperatures will remain below freezing for long stretches. This can be done by wrapping the entire length of the hose in foil wrap insulation tape.
Be sure to check the recommendations and read through the entire manual that came with your heated hose before attempting to add additional insulation.
Filling Your Freshwater Tank
If you don’t have a heated hose, you can also fill your freshwater tank instead of connecting to city water. Many modern RVs designed for winter camping feature heated holding tank compartments to prevent water from freezing in your tanks.
For older RVs, you can add your own insulation to your holding tank compartments or place a drop light in the compartment. The heat produced by the light will be enough to keep the water in your tank from freezing unless you encounter extremely cold temperatures.
As a rule of thumb, only connect your water hose when you need to fill your freshwater tank. Disconnect it when you’re finished and drain all water out of the hose before storing it. This will prolong the life of the tank and the hose while preventing potential freezing.
Protecting Your Interior Plumbing
So you’ve got running water into your RV–excellent, but you’re not out of the woods yet. To keep your interior pipes warm, open cabinets so that heat from your furnace or portable space heater can keep your plumbing warm.
Though some RVs come with heated holding tank compartments, you can also add a tank blanket if yours does not. These heaters are typically available in both 12V DC and 120V AC models.
It’s best to consult with a local Camping World specialist for assistance on modifications to avoid adding a heater that damages your plumbing.
When it comes to your grey and black water holding tanks, it’s best to wait until they are completely full to empty them. This reduces the number of times the valves are opened and heat is allowed to escape.
For winter RV camping, any warmth you can trap inside your RV or in the underbelly works to your advantage. You can also add a small amount of antifreeze to help keep the liquids in the black and grey water tanks from freezing.
Keeping You (and Your RV) Warm
Winter RV camping should be enjoyable, but we all know that’s tough if you are perpetually cold. Fortunately, we have plenty of tips to help you keep your living space warm and cozy throughout the winter.
Insulating the Floor
The laws of thermodynamics state that hot air rises and cold air sinks, which means your floor will often feel extra chilly first thing in the morning.
Fortunately, there are many ways to insulate under your feet, such as area rugs, runners, and even self-adhesive carpet tiles. As a quick aside, you’ll also want to add a doormat with a raised lip to avoid tracking moisture onto your RV’s floors.
Windows and Doors
Working our way up, the next two obvious places for heat loss are your RV windows and doors. An RV with dual-pane windows is the best for winter camping, but there are plenty of ways you can insulate single-pane windows if your budget doesn’t allow for that kind of upgrade.
Whether your RV has single or dual-pane windows, you can add foil insulation to select windows and doors to reduce heat loss. If you don’t like the appearance of foil insulation, you can also upgrade to thicker window shades.
You should be able to find door window covers and a front window reflective sunshade that fit their exact dimensions, but you may need to cut an insulation roll to your desired dimensions for other windows. You don’t want to cover ALL of your RV windows so that you can still get some natural light and heat from the sun throughout the winter.
In addition to adding insulation, check the weather stripping around your RV doors. If it’s partially detached or missing altogether, replace it to keep cold and moisture out of your rig.
You can also lose a lot of heat out of RV roof vents. Because you won’t necessarily need these vents for air circulation during the winter, you can install vent cushions to further reduce heat loss.
Vent cushions can also be used during the warmer months to trap the cool air from your AC inside your RV, making them an excellent investment for conserving energy The good news about these cushions is that they can be installed or removed in seconds.
Electric Vs. Propane Heat Sources
As for an actual heat source, there are three main heater options to consider. The first is your RV’s propane furnace. Before your winter camping trip, take the time to make sure your furnace is in good working order and check to see if it’s time to replace your furnace filter (if applicable).
Use compressed air and a soft brush to remove any dirt, dust, and debris from the furnace. Make sure all vents are clean and unblocked. Perform a test by setting your RV thermostat to the desired temperature and measuring its effectiveness with a digital thermometer.
If your furnace isn’t maintaining the desired temperature, contact a local Camping World specialist to schedule a furnace inspection.
Your second option is a portable electric space heater. If you’re plugged into a reliable power source all winter, electric heaters are a great supplement to your RV furnace. They help you save propane and lower your energy bill, depending on the electric costs in your location.
The only small issue with space heaters is that they can increase moisture content in your rig. So make sure to crack a window or use a dehumidifier to avoid moisture issues.
Your final option is to use a catalytic heater or portable Buddy heater that relies on a smaller propane tank. Just check to make sure the unit is safe for indoor use and stock up on extra propane tanks if you want this to be a reliable heat source for winter camping.
External Vs. Onboard Propane
When winter camping, you’ll burn propane faster than usual. Your onboard propane tank supplies propane to your stove, oven, central furnace, and water heater. Refilling requires a lot of work to pack up and drive to the closest fill station if you don’t plan ahead.
For travel trailers and fifth wheels, propane tanks can often be disconnected and exchanged at local hardware or grocery stores. For RVs, however, you’ll need to pay a propane fill service or move your RV to a fill station.
The latter can be a major safety hazard on winter roads, which is why full-time RVers often install an external propane tank outside of their rig. This requires a propane adapter kit and a nearby propane company that can deliver and attach an external tank.
Call around to multiple propane providers in your area to compare prices and services. Ultimately, attaching an external propane tank can eliminate your worries about running out of propane when winter camping.
Protecting the Outside of Your RV
Winter camping also takes a toll on your RV’s exterior. From getting snow off the roof to ensuring your stabilizing jacks don’t freeze to the ground, there are some important steps you’ll need to take to protect your RV’s exterior on winter adventures.
Underneath Your RV
Because we just mentioned stabilizing jacks, let’s start there. To keep them from freezing to the ground, use wooden blocks, leveling blocks, or stabilizing jack pads beneath them. If you store any recreation items underneath your RV, place them on a tarp or in a sealed bin to avoid water damage.
Using an RV skirt is another fantastic way to keep cold air from getting underneath your RV. Not only will this option keep your toes warm, but your holding tanks and vehicle components will be nice and toasty as well.
An added benefit of skirting around the base of your RV is protected exterior storage. If you have kayaks or bikes that don’t have anywhere else to go, you can slide them under your RV before skirting to keep them out of the elements and protected from critters seeking a warm winter home.
You can also consider installing an external step with a handrail if you’re looking for something with a little more safety and stability for winter RV camping.
Before winter camping, you should also check the status of your RV’s exterior window seals. If you haven’t addressed them in a few years, the odds are good that adding caulk or sealant will be helpful before winter camping.
There are a number of caulk and sealant products for RV maintenance that will help you reseal around your RV windows. Ideally, find a non-sagging or quick-drying product so you can do this job in a timely fashion without making too much of a mess.
Roof, AC, Slide-Outs, and Awnings
If you have slides, you’ll need to make sure to clear snow and ice regularly. It’s also a good idea to apply sprayable antifreeze to slide components if you plan on moving them in and out throughout the winter. You can also use slideout supports to protect your slides from the added weight of snow and ice.
If you can, avoid snow and ice accumulation anywhere on top of your RV. No matter how cold it is, the best way to protect your RV when winter camping is to get out and push the snow off after each storm.
When removing snow and ice, be careful not to damage your roof or awnings. To clear a light dusting of snow, we recommend using a broom with soft bristles. For larger accumulations, use a plastic shovel to clear the top layer before pushing the bottom layer off with the broom.
Climbing up your RV ladder can be the most dangerous part of this effort. Shoes with soft rubber soles are best for handling slippery surfaces and you should also ask a partner or friend to spot you if possible.
We also want to note that your best bet is to leave your main RV awning closed when winter RV camping. Weight from snow and ice, as well as the potential for high winds, makes the risk for awning damage high in the winter.
Lastly, consider installing a cover over your AC unit because you most likely won’t use it in the winter. An insulated AC cover protects the unit from damage while keeping out those dreadful winter drafts.
Driving Tips for Winter RV Camping
If you aren’t full-time winter camping in one place, you’ll need to navigate wet and slippery roads when getting to and from your destinations. So here are a few quick tips for safe RV driving in the winter:
- Get all-weather tires.
- Check the weather early and often, especially when navigating mountain passes.
- Accelerate and decelerate more slowly than normal.
- Avoid quick lane changes and turns, which are frankly always bad ideas in an RV.
- If chain restrictions are in place, don’t go.
- Consider investing in traction boards to help you self-rescue if you get stuck.
- If you feel uncomfortable with the weather conditions–stay put.
- Slow and steady wins the race.
Enroll in Good Sam Roadside Assistance to know help will be on the way if needed!
Camping in the winter can be an exciting adventure and allow you the chance to enjoy all the fun that snowy destinations have to offer. If you take the time to prepare as you should, you and your rig should have no trouble weathering those frosty winter storms.
Do you have experience camping in the winter? Share your advice with fellow RVers in the comments below!