‘Tis the season for snowbirding in your RV. For winter RVing. For RV hibernation. All these are true, depending on individual RV owners’ circumstances.
Whether you are actively RVing—in warm or cold climates—or just dreaming about or planning for trips you want to take in 2022, read on.
Winter RV camping
While most RVers prefer camping in the warmer months, it is still possible to venture out when the temperatures plummet. RV winter living is all about one thing: preparation.
Make sure you have a checklist before you head out in the cold and read Handling Cold Weather in your RV. Even if your RV was built for the four seasons, it needs additional tweaks to be ready for cold-weather camping.
A spare-filled propane tank, heated RV water hose, electric space heaters, and extra insulation are your RV’s best friends while cold-weather camping.
Consider skirting for your RV to keep battery bays, plumbing, and other important components warm while parked in the cold. If you don’t have a skirt, you can even pack snow around the RV bays. Just be sure not to cover generator or hydronic heating exhaust outlets.
Don’t be afraid to embrace the cold this winter season!
What you need to know
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. Here’s what you need to know to keep your RV and yourself, healthy and happy.
Connecting to City Water
Maintaining the health of your RV water system is a key factor in winter RV camping. When outside temperatures drop below freezing, water can freeze in your pipes and in your freshwater hose. Repairing your RV plumbing system comes with a hefty bill. Avoid the expense by being prepared.
To connect to city water, you’ll need a heated hose that plugs into an AC outlet at your RV pedestal electric box. A heated RV water hose will give you safe drinking water even when temperatures dip below freezing. It keeps water from freezing at the source and while it’s flowing into your RV.
A heated water hose has a heat strip along the side of the hose that heats up when plugged into a 110-volt electrical connection. There are many designs out there and some will come with insulated sleeves that slide over the hose fittings at the inlet and outlet. Some brands are rated to keep water flowing at minus 20 degrees or colder. These hoses can cost $100 or more depending on length.
For extra protection, you can add additional insulation to the heated hose. This can be done by wrapping the entire length of the hose in foil wrap insulation tape.
Using your freshwater tank
You can fill your freshwater tank instead of being permanently connected to city water. Most modern RVs designed for winter camping feature heated holding tank compartments to prevent water from freezing in the tanks. Check your owner’s manual to determine if there’s a switch to activate this feature.
Connect your water hose when you need to fill your fresh water 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 hose while preventing potential freezing.
For older RVs, you can add insulation to the holding tank compartments or place a drop light in the compartment. The heat produced by the light will keep the water in your tank from freezing unless you encounter extremely cold temperatures.
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, there are numerous options to consider that will help to 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 especially in the early mornings.
Related: Methods of Heating Your RV
To insulate under your feet use area rugs, runners, and even self-adhesive carpet tiles. You may also want to add an indoor doormat with a raised lip to avoid tracking moisture into your RV.
When you wake up on a frosty morning, wouldn’t it be great if the RV floor was nice and toasty, making it easier to get out of bed and start the day? The development of low-voltage electric radiant floor under-floor heating mats means that RVs can have the comfort and efficiency of radiant floor heating in small spaces.
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 best for winter camping but there are numerous ways you can insulate single-pane windows.
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 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 through 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.
Related: Handling Cold Weather While RVing
Vent cushions can also be used during the warmer months to trap the cool air from your AC inside your RV. The good news about these cushions is that they can be installed or removed in seconds.
When there’s a chill in the air, it’s great to be able to crank up the heat inside your RV. Sometimes just a few degrees are all it takes to go from misery to comfort. As for an actual heat source, there are three main heater options to consider.
A heat pump is one option for heating an RV. It’s not a perfect solution in every situation but it is good to have on board. A heat pump uses electricity to warm up the interior of the RV. As the name suggests, it uses a pump to move warmth from one place to another. In this case, it absorbs heat from outside the RV and pushes it inside through the ventilation system.
There are limits to what a heat pump can do. They’re great when it’s chilly but not when it’s freezing cold. This is because they draw warmth from the outside air. The critical point varies from manufacturer to manufacturer but from our experience about 34 degrees Fahrenheit is the point at which an RV heat pump stops working. There’s just not enough heat in the outside air for it to extract.
A furnace generally heats from the floor up while vents from a heat pump are typically in the ceiling. Because heat rises, furnace heat may be more efficient from this perspective as well. And, if you have basement storage, the furnace heat can be routed there to keep your plumbing and tanks from freezing.
With a furnace, however, once the propane is gone, so is the heat!
A third option is a portable electric space heater. If you’re plugged into a reliable power source electric heaters are a great supplement to your RV furnace. They help to save propane and lower your energy bill depending on the electric costs in your location.
Related: What’s in Your RV Emergency Kit?
Cold and wet is bad. Not just for you, but for your RV, too. All that heat in one confined space can lead to humidity and condensation which can cause mold in your walls.
When winter camping it’s advisable to use several dehumidifiers in the RV (bathroom and kitchen are particular problem areas)
Moisture absorbers such as DampRid will help reduce damaging condensation. Applications for RVs include disposable absorbers (10.5-ounce tub), refillable absorbers (10.5-ounce tub), hi-capacity absorbers (4-pound tub), and hanging absorbers (14-ounce hanging bag).
DampRid’s crystals absorb excess moisture in the air to create and maintain the optimal humidity level in your RV.
Protecting the Outside of Your RV
Winter camping also takes a toll on your RV 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.
Since we just mentioned stabilizing jacks, let’s start there. To keep them from freezing to the ground, use stabilizing jack pads beneath them. I recommend plastic pads rather than wood since the latter is a conductor of electricity. 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 way to keep cold air from getting underneath your RV. 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.
What was once a very convenient RV step can quickly turn into a slippery hazard when you encounter snow and freezing conditions. One way to add grip to your RV steps is to install a wrap-around step rug. You can also consider installing an external step with a handrail for a greater level of safety and stability for winter RV camping.
It is best 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 especially high in winter.
Driving Tips for Winter RV Camping
If you plan to winter camp in several locations, you may encounter wet, icy, and snowy road conditions when traveling between destinations. So here are a few quick tips for safe RV driving in the winter:
- Check the weather early and often, especially when navigating mountain passes
- Accelerate and decelerate slower 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
Note: Some states and provinces require the use of winter tires and/or carry chains during certain winter months.
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.
My parents live in the part of the United States that is Canada. It is so far north that Minnesota lies in the same direction as Miami. They have four distinct seasons: Winter, More Winter, Still More Winter, and That One Day of Summer.
—W. Bruce Cameron