Do you camp in cold weather? While RVing is generally associated with summertime and warm weather activities, you CAN use your RV for winter recreation, as well! However, you need to make sure you and your RV are well equipped to take on the unique challenges of cold weather camping.
Camping in cold weather provides a couple of additional challenges that we snowbirds have run into a few times before when running south from the cold. We intentionally stayed longer and endured more to extend our Alaskan and Canadian explorations on the Go North Expedition. We also experience heavy snowfall and regularly freezing temperatures while RVing in Nevada in the November and December months.
Here are a couple of the challenges that one may expect to face when cold weather camping, and what we’ve done in the past to combat/prevent them:
This may be a bit obvious, but cooler weather outside means cooler temperatures inside. It might also be obvious, but your RV is not as well insulated as a house. Period.
Many campers come 4 Season Certified and it makes a bit difference with keeping your tanks from freezing (VERY IMPORTANT) and you more comfortable. But houses and RVs are built very differently, and therefore insulation is not as good all-around by the very nature of the product.
Many “4-Season” Packages mean different things. From ducting from your furnace to the bays with your tanks, extra insulation, dual-pane windows, etc. Be sure to look up what your 4-Season package means so you know what to expect when cold weather really hits.
Even if you’re 4-Season, you might find that installing window insulation kits are helpful But it’ll only stay warmer if you have a furnace or heater of some sort running!
Set your thermostat to a temperature reasonably above freezing to keep you and everything else from freezing. You’ll need to do this for overnights and for when you will be away from your RV. This will likely be done using the furnace control panel, similar to what you’d expect in a home.
We had the Truma VarioHeat Comfort furnace installed in the Lance 1172 as a test case (not available after-market). It has a Control Panel that allows us to choose the temperature we want, as well as the fan speed (Auto or Night Mode). We can also program it to turn on/off automatically at certain times. This is helpful in the case of drastic temperature changes.
Make sure you’re not going to run out of propane on your trip!
Having a Propane Level Detector helps to monitor your propane usage, like this one by Truma that we use:
Or this LPG Tank Check System from AP Products that we have installed in our fifth wheel:
You can also use external propane tanks to increase capacity and reduce trips to refill.
If you’re going to be plugged into power, it might be a good idea to supplement your furnace with a small (or large) space heater. We picked up a small ceramic heater to help offset some of our propane usages in the furnace for our Go North trip.
This worked great in the smaller truck camper, but in our larger fifth wheel RV we opted for a bigger heater. We like the Delonghi HMP1500 Mica Panel Electric Heater (it is silent!):
Indoor-safe portable propane heaters are also pretty popular for being used in RVs, like the Mr. Big Buddy Heaters. We have friends who swear by these, and it’s great that they are boondock-friendly in not needing a reliable electricity source.
*Note: These heaters put a bit more moisture into the air, which can contribute to Cold Weather Camping challenge #2 below.
Some people even use RV wood stoves to help with heating their RV.
Heat rises, and many RVs have skylights or inset ceiling vents that might not be as insulated as your RV’s solid roof. Covering these with insulated covers will help a lot with heat escaping through the thin plastic of your fan cover.
We’ve found that even pulling the blinds makes a big difference in creating a barrier of air that helps insulate your windows. Better yet, purchase some Reflectix Foil Insulation and cut it into the shape of your windows to insulate and reflect heat back into your RV.
Be prepared to layer up and use blankets! Even running the furnace full-out and supplementing with electric heaters might not keep all the cold out. And if you’re not plugged in or trying to conserve propane, you might not be keeping your RV set at 72 as we like to (we really are cold weather wusses since living full-time on the road and chasing the sun!).
If electricity isn’t an issue, we HIGHLY recommend using electric heated blankets. Learn more about how to stay warm while camping with heated blankets.
There are few things worse than climbing into an icy cold bed on a winter’s night. A cold mattress can suck every ounce of warmth out of you! We use our heated blankets to warm up our mattress, sheets. Here are our top recommendations for heated blankets (2020).
RV skirting refers to any type of barrier you put around the perimeter of your RV to block the space between the bottom of your RV and the ground. This creates an insulative space of air and blocks wind from pulling additional heat from the bottom of the RV.
While this might not sound like much...RV skirting is a game changer for cold weather camping.
RV skirting comes in many varieties, from custom vinyl material specially fitted to your RV, to home-built barricades of foam, wood, or even hay bales. We’ve used Custom Skirting LLC’s channel-system vinyl skirt specially fitted to our fifth wheel, and the difference is mind-blowing.
It saves propane, furnace run-time (noise), and allows us to keep our RV mostly warm by running just 2 small electric space heaters. Learn more about Why & When You Need RV Skirting.
TIP: Get $100 off Custom Skirting LLC RV skirting when you mention you heard about them from Mortons on the Move!
Condensation will occur in cold weather in virtually any RV. This is from moisture in the air inside your camper coming in contact with a cold surface. Once it hits, water vapor condenses into water droplets. Cooking, making tea, or even just breathing puts moisture into the air, and when it hits the inside of your RV’s cold window, then BAM! You’ve got water!
The problem comes if that condensation is left unchecked for days or weeks on end and it accumulates. ESPECIALLY if it isn’t on a surface that does well with being wet – like walls, or dripping down walls onto the carpet, or getting behind your bed and soaking your mattress. There are a couple of ways you can combat this:
If your cold weather stint is short-term, toweling the excess water is a quick, free, and easy way to deal with the problem. We do this a lot in our fifth wheel, as cold weather condensation is a BIG sign for us to drive south as fast (and safely) as we can.
Our cold fall in British Columbia was a bit different. While we still use towels some mornings after chilly nights, we had to resort to some other measures.
DampRids or other brands of moisture absorbers work well to pull moisture from the air, especially in enclosed spaces like closets, cabinets, and under/behind furniture in places where the warmth of the furnace or heaters doesn’t have much effect. We’ve placed several of these around the Lance Truck Camper during the Go North expedition and it helped wonderfully.
If you aren’t concerned with electricity use, you might want to consider getting a small dehumidifier. This would also come in handy if you’re in humid areas in general. (We haven’t sprung for this option, as we won’t be in cold temperatures for that long).
It might be counter-intuitive to run your A/C when it is cold outside. Your A/C will remove humidity from the air – but it will also cool your RV down. You’ll have to figure out if you can run an electric heater at the same time as your A/C. It’s very likely to pop a breaker if you’re not careful. Try alternating the A/C and furnace/electric heater use to pull moisture from the air.
>> NOTE ABOUT UNVENTILATED PROPANE HEATERS: Unventilated propane heaters like Mr. Buddies, unlike electric ones, put more moisture into the air when used.
One challenge many will face in colder weather (and sometimes any weather) is the RV mattress getting damp underneath. This is due to the mattress not having enough airflow. In a home mattress the box spring is designed to provide airflow under the mattress but in many RV’s the mattress is on a solid surface. We found the best way to combat this is to get some airflow under the mattress. The Den-Dry mattress underlay does just this and comes in many sizes or can be cut to fit. In addition, we like to use moisture absorbers alongside the mattress.
If you’re hooked up to water and/or sewer in freezing weather, you will definitely need to take some extra precautions to keep these exposed water lines from freezing.
Your technique will depend on your intended temperatures as well as your method of camping. We mostly boondock/dry camp, and therefore aren’t hooked up to water very often. When we are, it is usually only for a few days, tops. We typically fill our fresh tank in one go, then empty and store the hose so we don’t have to worry about it freezing.
If you intend to stay hooked up during freezing temperatures, you want to be careful that your water and sewer hoses don’t freeze. They can split and be ruined, among other things.
One practice is to keep your grey (and blank) valves closed and only dump all at once when you need to. You can also hard-plumb your septic so it is more robust. This way it isn’t as prone to accumulating ice, cracking, and making a big, nasty mess.
It is essential you keep your RV holding tanks and interior plumbing from freezing. Some 4-season RVs are designed to dump heat from the furnace into the tank bay to help them stay warm. If you are still worried about freezing tanks, there are Water Holding Tank heating pads
RV skirting greatly helps with insulation of the underbelly of your RV where holding tanks typically reside.
Unless you want frozen hoses and connectors and damage to your RV, you need to invest in a way to keep your water hose flowing.
For short-term stays, topping off your freshwater tank as needed and storing your hose can work. For long-term stays, this practice might get old. You might also get tired of needlessly listening to the water pump all the time.
There are some great heated water hoses out there to make cold-weather camping much easier and worry-free. If you’re into a DIY approach, you can also wrap insulation or heat tape around your hoses and connection points.
Your fuel can gel up in freezing temperatures. Take it from our friends, Peter & John of the RV Geeks. You’ll need to make sure your diesel coach’s fuel doesn’t gel up! Watch below to see their winter survival tips in a diesel motorhome.
RVs need operating house batteries to function – even if they are plugged into shore power. Your fridge, lights, and, most importantly with regards to cold weather, your furnace all depend on your batteries.
Batteries, however, don’t really like getting cold!
RVs generally have one of three types of batteries: flooded lead-acid, sealed lead-acid (aka AGM), or lithium-ion. All of these battery types struggle in colder temperatures because their internal chemical reactions slow down as temperature drops. Because of this, appropriate measures need to be put in place to keep the batteries warm or protected.
We had 5 Battle Born Lithium Batteries installed in the Lance 1172 Truck Camper. The area that they were in received enough bleed off heat from the camper’s furnace running that the compartment stayed well above freezing. This in turn kept the batteries themselves warm enough, even when the temperature dipped into the low 20s!
If the Battle Born Batteries did get below 32 degrees F, their internal battery management system would automatically prevent them from taking a charge until the temperature was safe again.
In the meantime, they could still be used! Discharging a lithium-ion battery still works – and works way better than lead-acid batteries do!
We could go about our day, using computers, lights, appliances, etc. as long as they still have battery capacity. Since they can be discharged, you could set up a warming pad like this one to help heat up the batteries or keep them above freezing in the first place.
WARNING FOR BOONDOCKERS
If you’re boondocking in cold weather, your battery can be completely drained overnight running your furnace. This has happened to us a couple of times before we converted to lithium-ion batteries. While this can still happen, the batteries will protect themselves before damage is done. Lead-acid batteries have no such protection.
Learn more about the myths around lithium-ion battery failures in cold weather, and how they perform against lead-acid batteries: Do Lithium Ion Batteries Fail In Cold Weather?
Click here to learn more about Battle Born Batteries.
While there are some challenges to cold weather camping, the RVing fun doesn’t have to stop when the temperatures drop! We hope these solutions help you with any cold weather Mother Nature throws at your camping trip.
Check out our full recommended Cold Weather Camping Gear Kit to see all our recommend gear in one easy place.
If you’re not convinced that cold weather camping is for you, that’s okay, too. One of the best things about the RV lifestyle is that if you want, you can live in spectacular weather year-round by chasing 70 degrees.
The Go North Expedition was made possible by Lance Camper Manufacturing, Battle Born Batteries, Truma North America, Dometic, LivinLite.net, Hellwig Suspension Products, and viewers like you through Patreon. Thank you!
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