‘Tis the season where the mercury starts dropping and RVers the world over begin to hunt for warmer pastures. After all, one of the best parts of owning or renting an RV is the fact that you can chase 70 degrees as it gets colder up north.
But what if cold weather camping is your jam? Or suppose you want to be close to a ski hill or other place that’s great for winter RV camping? Or do you live in your RV full-time but work still requires you to be in a cold-weather spot?
Whether you do winter RV camping by choice or by necessity, there are steps you’ll want to take to stay warm in your rig. That’s why I put together this Ultimate Guide for Cold Weather Camping.
I want you to know exactly how to use your RV in the winter—how to shield it from Mother Nature, how to winterize and store it if you want to, and even how you can make money renting your rig to others in warmer parts of the country.
What is cold weather camping?
Cold weather camping can be defined as any time you camp in your RV in the winter when the temperature is consistently below freezing. That’s because temps above freezing don’t usually bring with them the same problems and considerations that winter camping brings with it.
When temps dip below 32 degrees, that’s when you have to worry about freezing pipes, increasing heat needs, and cold—and complaining—family members.
Another consideration with cold weather camping in an RV is wind. Even if the temps are above freezing, winter weather can still bring cold winds. Cold winds can make RV camping in winter a tough proposition because the winds more easily penetrate RV windows and doors than in a house.
Why cold weather camp?
Cold-weather camping can get you into some of the best places to hang out in your RV. You could stay close to a ski hill for a fraction of the cost of a condo, you could hang right by certain national parks and have them nearly all to yourself, or you could just stay in an area you want to stay in despite the wrath of Mother Nature.
None of this means that RV camping in the winter has to be uncomfortable. There are ways to explore the outdoors in a place you enjoy and still come home to a home-on-wheels.
How to keep an RV warm in the winter
Each RV is unique and some are better equipped for cold weather. Despite the marketing sticker on the outside of your RV saying something like “Extreme Weather Package”, very few RVs are ready for freezing temperatures without some modifications.
It is important for you to know specifically what is installed on your RV such as a heated and enclosed underbelly, holding tank warmers, or insulated pipes.
You can take the following steps to make sure you’re ready for cold-weather RV camping:
- Add to your insulation
- Use clear marine vinyl or Reflectix to create an additional insulation barrier on your RV windows
- Cover your RV with area rugs for an extra layer of floor insulation
- Insulate your RV roof vents
- Install heavy drapes that insulate your windows against the cold
- Check to ensure all doors and windows are well sealed and replace old seals/weather stripping as needed
- Purchasing or fabricating an RV skirt to seal your RV’s underside
- Use multiple forms of heat—furnace, heat pumps, electric space heaters
- Blankets, thermal undergarments, and thick socks go a long way in keeping the family happy while cold weather camping.
RV camping in winter: Maintain your furnace BEFORE it gets cold
RV propane furnaces haven’t changed much since the early days of RVing but they can still be a pesky appliance to keep running efficiently. And you can be pretty much certain that it won’t be on a 60-degree day in the middle of the week that it dies. It will be on a cold holiday weekend when you’re hundreds of miles away from civilization. As part of preventive maintenance have your furnace tested and serviced by a certified tech before the winter season.
How to keep RV pipes from freezing while camping
Keeping water flowing—and unfrozen—is your most important winter camping mission, apart from staying warm yourself.
You should take these precautions to keep RV pipes from freezing:
- Use a heated water hose: This will keep water flowing through your city water connection
- Use the RV fresh water tank: If you don’t want to use a heated hose or aren’t connected to city water, your fresh water tank is a viable option
- Practice strategic dumping: Leaving your black and grey tanks open is never a good idea; instead, dump only when your tanks are about 70-75 percent full
- Use low-temp heat tape on hoses: Heat tape can be easily wrapped around external hoses to keep them thawed while using your RV in the winter
- Let your water drip: I don’t particularly like this one because it wastes water but if you’re in a pinch this will keep your water hose from freezing because sitting water freezes before running water
- How to pack for cold weather camping
Now that your RV is ready for winter camping, it’s time to prepare your family for the adventure. Here is what you want to pack in your RV for cold-weather camping:
- Sleeping bags and thick blankets
- Breathable underlayers such as thermal underwear that wick away moisture
- Thicker mid-layers like fleece or wool sweatshirts
- Toque, warm socks, and waterproof boots/shoes
- Waterproof outer layer
- Headlamp and lantern
- Snow brush/ice scraper
Where to go
Many RVers opt for winter camping in southern destinations because their winters are far less harsh. While you may still need to take certain precautions to keep your RV warm, most snowbirds find southern California, Arizona, Texas, and Florida comfortable during the winter months. Other states that attract snowbirds include Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Nevada.
On the flip side, if you plan to chase the snow, consider Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and even northern New Mexico. If you’ve decked out your RV to be the ultimate cold-weather camper, ski resorts can be a great place to winter camp.
To experience the snow in less harsh conditions consider Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, northern Georgia, and western North Carolina. Since winters here are relatively mild, you’ll get snow without the extreme cold (usually). Explore Smoky Mountain National Park when few people are there and enjoy southern hospitality as you cold weather camp.
The Pacific Northwest is known for mild winters, light snow and rain, and ocean fun. Even during the winter, the Oregon coast is a fun spot for cold-weather camping. And north of Washington State in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia, you’ll experience Seattle-like weather.
How to stay safe while cold weather camping
Cold weather camping brings with it a few extra precautions.
First, keep an eye out for icy conditions—especially black ice. Ice is a sticky situation for any vehicle but it can be especially problematic when driving an RV. Second, be sure to have an emergency RV kit with you at all times in case you get stuck on the side of the road. Finally, be sure you always have extra water, food, and blankets on board at all times in case you get stuck in cold weather.
How to winterize your RV
While cold-weather camping is appealing to many RVers, it’s not for everyone. Sometimes you just want to tuck your RV away for the winter until spring arrives. Storing your RV for the winter can be a great option. If you choose to do this, you should take the following steps to prep your RV for cold-weather storage:
- Drain your water lines via your low point drain: Consult your owner’s manual to find the location of your low point drain. Once you find it, open it to drain all the water from your lines.
- Drain your water heater and bypass it. Your owner’s manual will tell you how to do this. It’s very important that you allow the water in your water heater to cool before you do this so you don’t get burned.
- Pump non-toxic RV antifreeze through your water lines.
- Store your RV batteries in a climate-controlled location: You can extend the life of RV-deep-cycle batteries by storing them in a temperature-regulated place.
- Pour a bit of non-toxic RV antifreeze down your sink drains: This helps to protect the P-traps. Also leave some in your toilet bowl to protect those parts.
- De-winterize your RV in spring before you head back out.
Want to rent out your RV this winter?
Winter RV camping can be a fun journey if it’s your jam. But what if you’d rather make money with your camper during the winter? Many parts of the U.S. still experience high demand for RVs during the winter and there are many ways you can connect with individuals who want to rent RVs in these climates. Moving your RV south for the winter could be a great option for you if you were otherwise planning to store your camper for the winter.
While it might seem intimidating to have your RV rented out to strangers in a faraway place, there are many ways you can have peace of mind while your RV makes money as a winter camping rig.
Hit the winter roads
Cold-weather camping is a tried and true path that many have trod. While it’s not necessarily for everyone, the bottom line is that you have many options for your RV in the winter from storing it to camping in it to making money with it. No matter which way you choose to use your RV in the winter it’s good to know that cold weather doesn’t need to stop your camping plans.
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