Winter Woes: How to Stay Safe in an RV as Arctic Blast Hits US and Canada

Over 150 million Americans are under a winter chill advisory due to life-threatening temperatures. Every state besides Hawaii has issued some form of caution to residents as nearly 80 percent of the nation faces below-freezing weather.

The blizzard doesn’t last forever; it just seems so.

—Ray Bradbury

More than half of U.S. states have experienced some sort of winter weather warning over the past few days with an Arctic blast bringing subzero temps to even Texas. Amid the cold snap, it’s important to keep yourself—and your pets and RV—safe and warm. 

Winter RVing comes with its own set of challenges. Cold temperatures, snowy roads, limited daylight, and extreme weather events can all make for a more difficult and dangerous trip.

However, with proper preparation and knowledge, you can safely navigate the winter roads and enjoy all the beauty and serenity of winter camping.

In this blog post, I’ll share tips on how to prepare your RV for winter, plan your winter RV trip, and drive safely in cold weather conditions. I’ll also provide tips on staying warm and comfortable in your RV during your winter trip.

Angel Lake RV Park, Wells, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RV winter driving tips

It’s important to know how to safely navigate snowy and icy roads. Here are some tips to help you stay safe while winter RVing.

How to safely navigate snowy and icy roads

When driving on snowy or icy roads, patience is the key to staying safe. Following the 330 Rule will help set a good pace for your road trip and the following tips will help keep you safe:

  • Slow down and increase your following distance (it’ll give you extra time to stop)
  • Use your headlights and turn signals (rule of thumb: If your wipers are on your headlights should also be on)
  • Avoid sudden braking or accelerating so you don’t lose traction
  • Steer in the direction of a skid
  • Familiarize yourself with your RV’s heating and defrosting systems before you drive to keep your RV windows clear
Diamond Groove RV Park, Edmonton, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to handle skidding and sliding on winter roads

Never take black ice for granted! Just because you can’t see ice on the road doesn’t mean it’s not there. Mentally prepare yourself by imagining what you will do if you start to slide.

If your RV starts to skid or slide it’s important to stay calm. Steer in the direction of the skid and avoid braking or accelerating.

If your RV has anti-lock brakes, make sure to use them correctly by pressing them consistently and firmly. If your RV does not have anti-lock brakes, pump the brake pedal gently to slow down (pumping the brakes helps give you traction).

Sun Outdoors Salt Lake City (formerly Pony Express RV Park), North Salt Lake City, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Always carry an emergency kit for winter travel

It’s also essential to prepare an emergency kit for your RV road trip whether winter camping or en route to a warmer snowbird retreat (in our case, Arizona). This should include items such as blankets, warm clothing, a first aid kit, flashlights, warning triangles or flares, and a tool kit.

It’s also a good idea to include a small shovel, a bag of sand or kitty litter (for traction), and a bag of salt or de-icer.

Additionally, make sure to have a fully charged cell phone and a way to charge it while on the road.

Know how to properly use snow chains and tire chains

If you’re planning to travel on snowy or icy roads, it’s important to know how to properly use snow chains or tire chains. These devices can be a lifesaver in snowy conditions but they must be used correctly. Make sure to read the instructions carefully and practice putting them on before you hit the road.

If you’re going to be traveling entirely in snowy weather consider putting snow tires on your motorhome or tow vehicle and travel trailer.

Be aware of rules and regulations for winter driving in the states and provinces you plan to drive through. Know where and under what conditions snow tires and snow chains/tire chains are required.

Fort Camping, Fort Langley, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What to do if your RV is stranded in winter

If an emergency arises while winter RVing, it’s important to stay calm so you can think clearly. Call for help immediately and stay with your RV if possible. If you must leave your RV, make sure to take your phone, emergency kit, warm clothing, water, and a snack with you.

Here are some tips to help keep you safe:

  • Stay with your RV: An RV provides shelter and protection from the elements; it’s also much easier to spot an RV from the air than a person on foot.
  • Stay warm: Dress in warm layers, use a good-quality insulated mattress pad, and keep a duvet and extra blankets in the RV for added warmth. Use a space heater to supplement your RV’s heating system and make sure to keep your furnace or heating system serviced and maintained.
  • Create a signal for help: Place a brightly colored cloth or flag on the roof of your RV or on a nearby tree to signal for help. Keep a small light or lantern on at night (preferably one that is battery-operated and will not drain your house battery).
  • Conserve fuel and power: To conserve fuel and power only run essential systems such as the heating system and refrigerator. Turn off all lights and appliances when not in use.
  • Keep yourself hydrated and nourished: Ration your food and water to last for at least a few days in case you are stranded for an extended period of time.
  • Keep your phone on but preserve its battery: Turn on “battery saver mode” and only use it when trying to contact help.
Fort Camping, Fort Langley, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dangers of carbon monoxide

This is must-know information to make sure that you are safe in your RV. Since carbon monoxide is invisible and odorless, it can be an immediate danger to your health and, yes, some of your RV appliances do emit it.

How to Prevent and Detect Carbon Monoxide in Your RV

We need to know how to detect carbon monoxide in our RV. This is serious if you want to stay safe.

Carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless gas that you don’t expect to encounter when traveling the great outdoors. However, some RV appliances emit carbon monoxide which can be dangerous to your health. It’s important to be aware of the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning and how to prevent it while enjoying the RV lifestyle.

Read more…

How to Avoid Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in your RV?

CO poisoning is entirely preventable. Protect yourself and your family by learning the symptoms of CO poisoning and how to prevent it.

Read more…

The Ultimate Guide to Cold Weather Camping

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. 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. 

Read more…

Heated water hose © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Insulate your RV

Another important step in preparing your RV for winter is to insulate it against colder temperatures. This can be done by adding insulation to the walls, floor, and ceiling of your RV as well as around windows and doors. You can also use insulated window coverings or thermal curtains to keep the warm air inside and the cold air out.

How to stay warm while camping

While it is difficult to combat extreme cold, there are some surprisingly simple and inexpensive ways to help you stay warm when RVing in chilly temps. Taking these steps is also important for protecting your motorhome or towable from damage.

  • Keep windows and doors closed and use insulated window coverings or thermal curtains to keep the warm air inside
  • Use a space heater to supplement your RV’s heating system
  • Add weather stripping or door sweeps to your RV’s doors and windows to prevent drafts
  • Insulate your RV’s underbelly, pipes, and tanks with heat tape or foam
  • Use an RV skirt to reduce heat loss from under your RV
  • Keep the windows clean to allow maximum sunlight in during the day
  • Use a good-quality duvet and blankets to keep you warm during the night
  • Dress in layers and keep extra blankets in the RV for added warmth
  • In severe cold, confine yourself to one room and focus on heating that small space
Heated water hose and faucet protector © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Check weather forecasts and road conditions

Before hitting the road, it’s essential to check the weather forecasts and road conditions for the route you plan to take. This will help you prepare for any potential winter weather such as snow, ice, wind, or freezing temperatures.

Know the winter driving restrictions by state

Some states and provinces restrict RV driving in certain weather conditions just like commercial motor vehicles.

For instance, Pennsylvania DOT puts motorhomes in Tier 1 (the most restrictive tier) when it comes to “winter weather events.”

It’s always a good idea to Google “winter driving restrictions in (state)” before you leave. This might spare you from getting stopped at a state border with different restrictions.

Also, check out the link to ALL the State Driving road conditions below.

It looks and feels like winter © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Choose the right route for winter driving

When planning your winter RV trip, it’s best to choose a route that is well-maintained and has lower elevations. This will help you avoid steep and winding roads that can be dangerous in snowy or icy conditions.

Avoid mountain passes and remote areas if possible as they can be more difficult to navigate in winter.

Many state Department of Transportation have interactive road maps that will show you which ones have ice and snow like this one from the Iowa DOT. The blue lines are roads that are partially covered.

And here is the link for road conditions for each state: Winter road conditions

There is a list of phone numbers and websites for each state. Select the website link to see each state’s road conditions.

I have a series of RV winter camping guides that links to valuable information and life-saving advice. Be sure to check that out.

Worth Pondering…

And finally Winter, with its bitin’, whinin’ wind, and all the land will be mantled with snow.

—Roy Bean