Winter RV Camping: What You Need to Know

The winter camping season is upon us and it’s time to get prepared for the freezing cold temperatures

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.

Heated water hose © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Heated water hose © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 at your campsite pedestal. A heated hose keeps water from freezing at the source and while it’s flowing into your RV. Some people add additional insulation to their heated hoses if they expect extreme temperatures. 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. 

Heated water hose © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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. Most modern RVs designed for winter camping feature heated holding tank compartments to prevent water from freezing in the tanks. 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 hose while preventing potential freezing.

Heated water hose and faucet protector© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Keeping you (and your RV) warm

Winter RV camping should be enjoyable but we all know that’s tough if you are perpetually cold. The following tips will help you keep your living space warm and cozy throughout the winter. 

Insulating the Floor

The laws of thermodynamics state that warm air rises and cold air sinks which means that your floor will often feel extra chilly, especially first thing in the morning. There are several ways to insulate under your feet including area rugs and runners.

Winter camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Windows and doors

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 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. 

If you’re unable to find window and door covers and a front window reflective sunshade that fit the exact dimensions you may need to cut an insulation roll to the desired dimensions for each application. You don’t want to cover ALL of the 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. 

Roof vents

You can also lose considerable heat through the RV roof vents. You can insulate your roof vent openings with vent cushions to reduce heat loss. 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. 

Electric space heater © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heat sources

As for an actual heat source, there are five heater options to consider.

Furnace: The first is your RV 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.

Electric space heater © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hydronic heat: As an alternative to the propane furnace, hydronic heat comes standard in many luxury coaches and is offered as an upgrade in several others. These systems use a boiler to circulate hot antifreeze through a series of heat exchangers found throughout the motorhome. The advanced technology nearly eliminates the fumes normally associated with propane or diesel use and is quiet, as well. The system evenly heats your coach’s interior with multiple heat zones. As the temperature of a zone drops below your thermostat setting, a heat exchanger begins circulating heat not only from the floor to the ceiling, but also side to side. Plus, it acts as the hot water heater as well. In fact, water pumped through the boiler is instantly heated meaning that you won’t run out of hot water until you actually run out of water.

Electric space heater © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Electric space heater: Your second option is a portable electric space heater. Ceramic convection heaters are the most popular type of portable space heaters for good reason. Not only are they affordable (you can get a good one for under $50) but they are also efficient and quickly take the chill out of the air. Ceramic heaters work by heating the air and circulating it around the room.

Infrared radiant heater: Infrared radiant heaters produce mild consistent heat to maintain the temperature of a room. They are designed to heat the objects around them (including you) rather than heating the air. Infrared radiant heaters are optimal in areas where you are sitting close to them rather than moving around the room. They are also best used to maintain the temperature of a room rather than providing a quick blast of heat.

Propane space heaters: Portable space heaters that run on propane are great for those situations when you don’t have access to electric power. If you enjoy boondocking or dry camping but still want a source of heat this is the perfect solution. 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. 

Winter camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Protect your RV exterior

Winter camping also takes a toll on the exterior of your RV. 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

Since I just mentioned stabilizing jacks, let’s start there. To keep them from freezing to the ground use 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 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. 

Exterior steps © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Exterior steps

Exterior steps can quickly turn into a slippery hazard when you encounter freezing and snowy conditions. You can add grip to your RV steps by installing a wrap-around step rug. 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. 

Winter camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roof, AC, slideouts, and awnings

If you have slides, you may need to clear snow and ice regularly. Avoid snow and ice accumulation on top of your RV. If possible push the snow off after each storm. Use care not to damage your roof or awnings. 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. 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.

It is best to leave your 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. 

Winter camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Conclusion

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 RV should have no trouble weathering those frosty winter storms.

Other articles you may want to read:

Worth Pondering…

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

Winter RV Camping Must-Have: Portable Space Heater

The winter camping season is upon us and it’s time to get prepared for the freezing cold temperatures. One of the best things you can invest in for winter camping adventures is a portable space heater.

The cold hard fact is that RVs and winter weather are not ideal companions. With little insulation and plenty of opportunities for chilly air to leak in, it can be difficult to keep an RV comfortably warm when the temperatures drop. That’s where portable electric space heaters come in handy.

No matter how many times you vow to follow the warm weather while RVing, the truth is that you’re going to run into cold weather eventually.

Electric space heater © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Downsides of the RV furnace

Whatever the reason, chances are good that if you spend any time traveling by RV you’re eventually going to need a source of heat. The first line of defense against cold is the built-in RV furnace. A typical RV furnace uses propane to create hot air and electric power to blow the air through a series of vents distributed around the RV.

There are a few problems with the RV furnace. First of all, they are gigantic energy hogs that use a tremendous amount of both propane and electricity. Second, the electric fan blowers can be very loud. Since they only come on when the thermostat dips below the set temperature if you’re having a cold night the blower could drive you crazy as it cycles on and off.

Finally, not every RV has a built-in furnace. Many older motorhomes, small trailers, and van conversions don’t have a furnace which leaves owners either out in the cold or searching for an alternate solution.

Electric space heater © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Portable space heaters to the rescue

This is when portable space heaters save the day. These small, efficient heaters are a safe, quiet method for keeping your RV cozy and warm. There are three different types, each with its own strengths and uses. Let’s start with the most popular.

Electric space heater © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ceramic convection heaters

Ceramic convection heaters are the most popular type of portable space heaters for good reason. Not only are they affordable (you can get a good one for under $50) but they are also efficient and quickly take the chill out of the air. Ceramic heaters work by heating the air and circulating it around the room. Some of the benefits of ceramic heaters are:

  • Warms up small spaces very fast
  • Considered a safe source of heat as they don’t contain hot coils or emit dangerous gasses
  • Small, lightweight, and easy to move around the RV
  • No smells
Electric space heater © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Infrared radiant heaters

Infrared radiant heaters produce mild consistent heat to maintain the temperature of a room. They are designed to heat the objects around them (including you) rather than heating the air.

Infrared radiant heaters are optimal in areas where you are sitting close to them rather than moving around the room. They are also best used to maintain the temperature of a room rather than providing a quick blast of heat. A few of their best features include:

  • Stays cool to the touch making them safe in a small space
  • Emits no noise
  • Unlike heaters that blow hot air around, the infrared radiant heater warms the room temperature without drying the air
  • Provides even, consistent heat
Electric space heater © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Propane space heaters

Portable space heaters that run on propane are great for those situations when you don’t have access to electric power. If you enjoy boondocking or dry camping but still want a source of heat this is the perfect solution.

  • Newer models are safe for indoor or outdoor use
  • Emits no noise or odors
  • Doesn’t require electricity
  • Quickly warms up small spaces
Electric space heater © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RV space heater safety

According to the National Fire Protection Association, always follow these safety tips when you purchase and run your space heater:

  • Purchase a heater with the seal of a qualified testing laboratory
  • Keep the heater at least 3 feet away from anything that can burn, including people
  • Choose a heater with a thermostat and overheat protection
  • Place the heater on a solid, flat surface
  • Make sure your heater has an auto shut-off to turn the heater off if it tips over
  • Keep space heaters out of the way of foot traffic
  • Never block an exit
  • Keep children away from the space heater
  • Plug the heater directly into the wall outlet. Never use an extension cord.
  • Space heaters should be turned off and unplugged when you leave the room or go to bed

Other articles you may want to read:

Worth Pondering…

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

The Ultimate Guide for Winter Camping

How to RV in the winter without freezing to death

‘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 camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Winter camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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!

Winter camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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. 

Related: Winter is Here: What to Do with Your RV?

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.

Connected to city water © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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. 

Heated water hose © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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. 

Winter camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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. 

Winter camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Heated water hose © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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. 

Winter camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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. 

Winter camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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. 

Heated water hose © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heated floors

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.

Winter camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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. 

Winter camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roof Vents

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. 

Heated water hose © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heat Sources

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.

Winter camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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!

Winter camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Winter camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Winter camping

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. 

Winter Camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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. 

Winter camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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. 

Related: There Is No Winter like a Desert Winter in the Valley of the Sun

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. 

Winter camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Winter camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Conclusion

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.

Worth Pondering…

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