Most RVers in northern states and provinces leave their RV in storage from the first frost until spring. Some, like us, are snowbirds who head out for warmer temps in the southern Sun Belt states. But many others winterize their RVs and leave them sitting there all winter.
Other RVers love camping in the snow.
First, decide whether your RV needs to be winterized and learn what that means. Winterizing your RV means you’ve taken steps such as:
- Emptying water tanks
- Draining the water heater and water lines
- Disabling plumbing to prevent the pipes (which run along the undercarriage of the RV) from bursting or being destroyed
But winterizing your RV is not always a must-do especially if you plan to spend considerable time in your rig or temperatures at your cold destination won’t get below freezing. If a vehicle has been winterized you won’t be able to use the sink or bathroom inside the RV as usual (unless you take extra steps like using antifreeze).
Bur, you can absolutely use your RV for camping in the winter provided you prepare adequately to keep yourself and your RV safe from harm.
It’s not easy to camp in winter but many people do it with joy and very little stress and that’s because they’ve learned how to prepare their RVs for winter RV living. They know how to keep the plumbing system from freezing and bursting, keep the temperature inside the RV at a safe and comfortable level, reduce or prevent moisture accumulation, seal out intruders with little paws and big whiskers, and many other important winter camping preparations.
Anyone who’s lived in an RV for any duration of time in cold and snowy climates is likely to have a list of things to do—and a list of things to NOT do—to stay safe and warm while keeping the RV from winter damage.
Here are 15 of my top tips for winter RV living.
Tip # 1: Fill your fresh water tank and/or use a heated water hose
Water is very important for a multitude of reasons but when the temperature falls below freezing, water turns to ice. And when it does this, it expands—potentially bursting/damaging hoses and plumbing. For this reason, if you plan to winter camp you need to put water on the top of your list of things to prioritize.
If you’re winter camping for a short duration (say a week or less) you can simply fill your fresh water tank and plan to use that water for washing, cooking, and drinking. If you’re parked near a city water source of any kind, you can connect your fresh water hose and refill your fresh water tank as needed. This technique avoids the issue of your fresh water hose freezing.
However, if you’re planning to be winter camping in an area where ambient temps are likely to hit freezing or below regularly, you may wish to invest in a heated water hose.
Check this out to learn more: Winter RV Camping Must-Have: Heated Water Hose
And while you’re at it, be sure to always use a water pressure regulator when connected to any city water source including in the winter in which case you may want to wrap it in some type of insulation.
Tip # 2: Fill Propane or connect to an external propane tank
Before heading out on a winter camping trip (or before settling into a long-term winter campsite), be sure to fill your propane tank/tanks or obtain the necessary materials to connect to an external propane tank.
If you’re going to need propane for heating your rig and water and for cooking you’ll need to prepare ahead of time so that you don’t run out (I recommend having a couple of different options for heating your rig if you’ll be camping in sub-freezing temperatures because you can’t risk losing a single heat source).
If you are boondocking, bring a snow shovel and clear off the area.
Tip # 3: Keep sewer hose off the ground and flowing downward
If you connect to a sewer outlet during your winter RV living, you’ll want to keep your sewer hose off the ground and running on a downward slope. An easy way to achieve both of these goals is to use a Slunky sewer hose support.
The Slunky elevates and supports your sewer hose (off the frozen ground) and provides the slope you need for proper drainage. The Slunky is a 20-foot support that’s 7 inches tall at the RV end sloping to 4.5 inches in height at the sewer end.
Tip # 4: Keep gate valves closed during winter RV living
Along with using a sloping sewer hose support, you’ll want to keep your gray water and black water gate valves closed (you should ALWAYS leave your black valve closed) opening them only when you want to dump your holding tanks.
When left open, only small amounts of gray water will drain out through the hose at a time; that small flow could freeze as it flows through slowly building up (like the layers of a pearl) until the hose is blocked.
Here are some articles to help:
Tip # 5: Seal off sewer hose entry
Another way to tend to the warmth of the basement or water compartment during winter RV living is to seal off the sewer hose entry. If you’ve got your sewer hose connected then you’re probably running it through a hole provided in the bottom of the bay. That hole allows cold (and potentially rodents) into the water compartment.
You can use steel wool to seal around your sewer hose opening when camping in the cold. This serves two purposes—to keep the cold from entering the bay and to keep mice from entering as well! If staying in a damp climate or for the longer term, consider brass/bronze wool instead since it won’t rust.
Tip # 6: Use steel or brass wool to seal small openings
To keep mice from seeking warmth inside your RV seal all small openings using steel wool. Brass wool also works. Also, use mouse traps and glue sticks in the basement and interior just in case they foil your attempts to seal them out. We’re not mean-spirited and we do love animals. We just don’t like stowaways that reproduce at warp speed and love to gnaw on everything in sight (and lots that ISN’T in sight) ending an otherwise wonderful winter RV living experience!
That’s why I wrote this article: The Ultimate Guide to Keeping Mice Out of an RV
Tip # 7: Moisture control for winter RV living
Moisture control is essential in an RV to prevent mold and mildew from causing potentially serious issues. In winter, it’s especially important to keep moisture at bay. The three greatest producers of moisture in an RV are showering, cooking, and breathing. Since we generally need to do all three, I suggest keeping moisture at bay using a few simple methods, especially during periods of winter RV living.
Even though you’re probably inclined to want to seal everything up airtight to keep heat in and cold out, DON’T! You’d just be trapping in all of the moisture you’re creating in your RV. First, run your vent fans—yes, even in winter. You need to be able to run your roof vent fans in any kind of weather. This is why I recommend the installation of RV roof vent covers. They allow vents to be open without letting rain or snow enter the RV.
Vent covers aren’t expensive and are well worth the minimal effort to install.
Second, I recommend using a squeegee to pull the water off of your shower walls and toward the drain after each shower. If you don’t do this, your RV absorbs a significant amount of moisture while the shower is drying on its own because the water is evaporating.
A shower squeegee is also inexpensive but is an important tool in keeping moisture at bay. We use it all year long—not only when winter camping.
Finally, you can opt to use a small electric dehumidifier (if you’re connected to shore power) or a dehumidifying product like DampRid or something similar positioned throughout the interior of the RV.
Here’s a helpful guide to avoiding moisture damage in your RV: How to Reduce Moisture and Condensation in Your RV
Tip # 8: Use holding tank heating pads
If you’re winter camping in sub-freezing temperatures for an extended period, you may need to warm your holding tanks by using holding tank heating pads. Some RVs come from the factory with tank heating pads (we opted for them when we bought our Newmar Dutch Star and ultimately we’re glad we did).
Tip # 9: Insulate RV windows
You may also want to consider insulating your RV windows depending on how long you plan to winter camp in very cold temperatures.
You can insulate windows with heavy curtains or you can create DIY storm windows using ⅛-inch plexiglass or PETG panels which you’ll custom cut to fit your windows. You can adhere them to your windows using clear double-sided mounting tape.
Many RVers choose to use Reflectix, heavy-duty foam board, or even bubble wrap to insulate windows. The problem with these products is twofold. First, they seal out the light and need to be removed and installed daily to allow the sun in (unless you like living in a dungeon). Also, they tend to allow moisture to accumulate on the windows.
You can also use a combination of choices to cover your windows such as your choice of window covering combined with heavy-duty curtains. Although we often think of them as insulation from the sun, high-quality windshield covers can also be helpful in cold weather.
Tip # 10: Insulate your skylight
You may also want to insulate your skylights using a pre-made skylight cover. These are inexpensive and serve to insulate your RV from the cold that can come through the relatively thin plastic of the skylight. You’ll need to measure the inside of your skylight frame to obtain the proper dimensions for your insulator.
Some RVers use these in their roof vents as well but if you do this remember not to cover them all as it’s very important to run a roof vent fan to prevent moisture from accumulating in the RV.
These skylight/vent insulators are also good to keep the heat out in summer.
Tip # 11: Cover AC unit/units
Cover your roof air conditioning units. This is important from the perspective of keeping the cold from entering your RV in winter and also as a means of protection from the elements.
Of course, you don’t want to do this if your RV air conditioners are also heat pumps and you plan to use them as a source of heat while you’re camping. Just be aware that they’ll only work in outside temperatures above freezing so they won’t be of much use when the temps begin to drop.
Tip # 12: Dress in layers
Dressing in multiple layers including base layers, mid-layers, hoodies, and shell jackets gives you greater control over regulating your body temperature. As you move through the activities of the day, you’ll work up body heat. As you do so, it’s important to avoid sweating because as it dries, sweat cools, wrapping you in a cold cocoon. Managing your body heat by constantly adding and subtracting layers helps you prevent sweating as much as possible—a key component of staying warm on winter adventures.
Tip # 13: Snow shovel and ice scraper
You might need to dig out your RV and scrape ice from your windows when it’s time to drive. Driving an RV in winter requires the same common sense you need to drive an RV any other day: Slow down and avoid being on the road when it’s dark.
Driving an RV in winter presents its own set of unique challenges: You’ll need to make sure your RV is set to handle winter conditions and you’ll have to track down additional winter gear and take extra precautions when driving and camping that a warmer destination wouldn’t necessarily require.
The blizzard doesn’t last forever; it just seems so.