Life Threatening Winter Blast: Dumb Winter RVing Mistakes to Avoid

Even the best home on wheels can only give limited protection from cold weather. The rest is up to you. Don’t learn winter RVing mistakes the hard way. If severe weather is approaching, it’s time to get serious about keeping warm, safe, and enjoying this year-round lifestyle.

RVing is now a year-round activity. Many RV owners are bypassing the RV storage lot to take part in winter camping.

According to the RV Industry Association (RVIA), “RV ownership has increased over 62 percent in the last twenty years with a record 11.2 million RV owning households.” A University of Utah study reflects these findings by revealing that more visitors are exploring the state’s national parks in winter than ever before.

Here are some helpful resources:

Can you be comfortable RVing in winter? And safe?

Winter RV camping doesn’t have to be brutal. But even snowbirds that travel south for winter can get caught in unexpected snow storms. You can be warm, safe, and comfortable in cold temperatures if that happens to you. Just don’t wait to learn how to do it the right way. If you’re planning an RV trip during the winter but are unprepared for winter weather you may never want to do it again.

12 dumb winter RVing mistakes you want to avoid

Wherever you travel in your RV, make it your goal to avoid these common cold weather blunders. Don’t learn them the hard way so that you can enjoy four seasons of fun.

Clean snow off slide toppers before retracting © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

1. Not clearing snow off the slide-out roof (before retracting it)

In winter, carry a ladder and something that easily removes snow from RV rooftops. This lesson will hit home if a sudden snowstorm catches you by surprise. Don’t forget to look up before retracting your slideout. A massive pile of heavy snow accumulated on the slide-out will cause the motor to stall, sometimes with disastrous results.

2. Delaying RV generator maintenance

Is your RV generator prepped for winter weather? Make sure it operates efficiently before your comfort depends on it. Even starting a well-maintained generator can be tough in freezing weather. Generator starting is especially rough if you have an external model.

Understand your RV maintenance needs. A well-running machine may be the only thing between you and freezing temperatures inside the RV.

Heated water hose © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

3. Keeping the fresh water hose connected

Don’t wait for the first hard freeze to teach you the agony of thawing your drinking water hose with a hair dryer. When the weather starts to go bad, fill your RV fresh water tank with water and disconnect and stow your RV drinking water hose. You’ll be glad you did when you can still use water from your water tank and not the campground bathroom.

Alternately use a heated water hose available at most RV dealers and stores selling RV supplies.

Read more: Winter RV Camping Must-Have: Heated Water Hose

4. Forgetting to check propane levels before departure

Use a propane safety tool like the GasStop to alert you when your RV propane supply runs low. Always carry two full tanks especially if you’ll be cold weather boondocking in remote areas. If not, you could end up getting stranded in a remote campsite without fuel to keep you warm.

Electric space heater © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

5. Not carrying an alternative heat source

If your RV’s propane furnace isn’t keeping your RV comfortable enough (or if you’re running low on propane), it’s time to purchase another heat source. Just be sure to choose a space heater that is safe and practical for your situation. Some can be dangerous if knocked over and will require electric power. Be sure to review the safety risks of using electric heaters before making your purchase.

Check this out to learn more: How to Prevent and Detect Carbon Monoxide in Your RV

7. Skipping extra insulation

You aren’t throwing money down the drain by purchasing extra insulation. Add it to your rig and you’re already better off. The RV insulation most commonly used to retain indoor warmth during cold temperatures is Reflectix insulation material.

This lightweight stuff can be cut to the size of your RV windows and ceiling van vents. Lay it over them and you have one more way to keep cold out. Many RVers also use Reflectix in summer to keep the heat out.

8. Plugging an electric space heater into a 20-amp circuit

Using electric space heaters inside an RV is not inherently dangerous. But not being smart about how you use supplemental heat sources can sometimes end in an RV fire. Don’t leave a space heater turned on when you’re away from your RV or overnight. A pet could easily knock it over and burn your RV down. Or an electric cord can overheat and start a fire. That’s why we never use the high setting on our space heater.

Read more:

Winter camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

9. Not opening cabinet doors on freezing cold nights

Keeping RV cabinet doors open at night is one of the best tricks to prevent frozen water lines.

Leaving your cabinet doors open allows for warm air from within your RV to circulate exposed pipes under sinks and vanities. When you keep your cabinets closed, you prevent air from warming them, essentially keeping them isolated in cooler air.

By keeping cabinets that contain pipes open whenever possible and maintaining adequate heat levels throughout your RV, you’re taking crucial steps towards ensuring that your plumbing system remains intact even during winter’s worst conditions.

10. Check your seals and furnace vents

One of the easiest and least expensive ways to help prevent a cold RV is to keep up with your maintenance! Make sure there are no cracks or gaps in the seals around your windows to avoid unnecessary drafts in your RV. You can repair the seals with some caulking or completely replace the seals if needed. 

11. Blindly following Google trip directions without checking road conditions

We’ve all read about drivers who don’t invest in an RV trip planner and end up paying the price by getting lost, or worse. Don’t tempt fate by blindly following your GPS as it can lead to deadly consequences. Always verify that road conditions are safe for us before heading out.

Here are some articles to help:

Winter camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

12. Don’t learn RV lessons the hard way

Create enough camping checklists and soon the list of summer and winter RVing mistakes grows shorter. The positive side of learning from common mistakes is that you will have plenty of great campfire stories to share with friends and family.

Cold climate winter camping is not the best time to attend the RV school of hard knocks. It pays to talk to more experienced RVers about winter camping. Learn from everyone else’s mistakes, so you can avoid them in your awesome RV travels.

Worth Pondering…

No winter lasts forever, no spring skips its turn.

—Hal Borland (1900-1978)

Don’t Get Stuck in the Cold: RV Winter Driving and Survival Tips

Don’t get stuck in the cold in your RV. Here are ESSENTIAL RV winter driving tips and other helpful information including the link to all the road condition maps for each state.

Winter RVing can be a unique and exciting experience but it also comes with its own set of challenges. Cold temperatures, snowy roads, and limited daylight can all make for a more difficult and dangerous road 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 share tips on how to prepare your RV for winter months, plan your winter RV trip, and drive safely in cold weather conditions. I also provide tips on staying warm and comfortable in your RV during your winter road trip.

Winter camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winter camping tips

Make your winter campout a lot more enjoyable with these quick five tips. It’s all about staying cozy so you can focus on enjoying the beauty of winter around you. 

  • Cover your windshield to keep heat in and cold out
  • Invest in a battery heater (batteries work less efficiently in the cold)
  • Have a backup heater (i.e., space heater)
  • Put Reflectix on windows
  • Bring your fresh water in jugs and flush your toilet with antifreeze

Preparing your RV for winter

Before hitting the road for a winter RV trip, it’s essential to properly prepare your RV for the colder temperatures and inclement weather. Here are some tips to help you winterize your RV and prepare it to drive and camp in winter conditions.

Winter camping © 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.

Winterizing your RV plumbing and water systems

One of the most important steps in preparing your RV for winter is to winterize the plumbing and water systems. This process usually involves draining the water tanks, adding RV-specific antifreeze to the plumbing lines, and protecting any exposed pipes from freezing.

If you’re unsure how to winterize your RV plumbing and water systems, it’s best to consult your RV’s owner’s manual or have a professional do it for you. But, the following articles will help:

Winter camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Maintain and inspect your RV tires, brakes, and batteries

It’s also crucial to maintain and inspect your RV tires, brakes, and battery before heading out on a winter RV trip. Make sure your tires are properly inflated and have enough tread to handle snowy and icy roads. Check your brakes to ensure they’re in good working condition and consider investing in winter tires or tire chains. Also, make sure your RV battery is fully charged and in good condition as it will have to work harder in the colder temperatures.

Planning your winter RV trip

Once your RV is prepared for winter, it’s time to start planning your trip. Here are some tips to help you plan a safe and enjoyable winter RV adventure.

Winter camping © 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 your destination and the route you plan to travel. This will help you prepare for any potential winter weather such as snow, ice, or freezing temperatures.

Know the winter driving restrictions by state

Some states restrict RV driving in certain weather conditions. 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.

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 the winter. Also, be aware some roads close for the 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.

Winter camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winter road conditions for every state

And here is the website link (and phone number) for the latest road conditions for each state.

Always carry an emergency kit for winter travel

It’s also essential to prepare an emergency roadside kit for your winter RV trip. This should include items such as blankets, warm clothing, a first aid kit, a flashlight, and a portable charging device for your phone.

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.

Winter camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RV winter driving tips

Once you’re on the road, 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. Following the 330 Rule will help set a good pace for your 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 be on)
  • Avoid sudden braking or accelerating so you don’t lose traction
  • Steer in the direction of a skid
  • If your RV has anti-lock brakes, press the pedal firmly and consistently
  • If your RV doesn’t have anti-lock brakes, pump the brake pedal gently to help gain traction while slowing down
  • Familiarize yourself with your RV heating and defrosting systems before you drive to keep your RV windows clear
Winter camping © 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 on a snowy or icy road the most important thing to do is 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.)

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 as it 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 or sleeping bag and keep extra blankets in the RV for added warmth. Use a space heater to supplement your RV heating system and make sure to keep your RV 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 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 as much as possible. Turn on “battery saver mode” and only use it when trying to contact help.
  • Know How to Avoid Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in Your RV to ensure your heating appliances don’t poison you!
Winter camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to stay warm while camping

When you’re not on the road, it’s important to stay warm and comfortable inside your RV. Here are some more tips to help you do just that.

  • Keep windows and doors closed and use insulated window coverings or thermal curtains to keep the warm air inside
  • Use a space heater or portable electric heater to supplement your RV heating system
  • Add weather stripping or door sweeps to your RV doors and windows to prevent drafts
  • Use a generator to power your RV heating system
  • 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 insulated mattress pad or sleeping bag 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.

Worth Pondering…

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

—Roy Bean