While camping in the winter poses unique challenges, it is absolutely possible to enjoy recreational vehicle (RV) adventures during even the coldest months of the year. Keep the following tips in mind to help you stay safe and warm throughout your winter RV outings, whether you're on the road or in a campground.
Prepping Your RV for Winter Travel
If you'll be using your RV throughout the winter season, be sure to keep up with appropriate seasonal maintenance. It's much better to be proactive in making sure that your camper is ready for chilly conditions before you leave home rather than having to deal with problems that develop while you're on the road. Of course, it's also important to follow key winter driving safety tips as you travel from where you start to your destination.
- Winter RV checkup - Before setting out on a winter camping trip, have a qualified RV maintenance professional check your camper to ensure that it is in roadworthy condition and to verify that all the systems are in good shape to handle wintery conditions in the areas you plan to travel. Take care of any necessary repairs or maintenance before hitting the road. Make sure that all fluids are full in your motor home or tow vehicle, including antifreeze.
- Seasonal tire checkup - Before setting out on the highway for a winter camping adventure, be sure that your camper and tow vehicle have the right type of tires for the weather conditions you are likely to face during your journey. It may be best to contact an RV supplies retailer in the area where you plan to travel to find out what they generally recommended for locals.
- Ensure proper insulation - Take steps to improve your RV's insulation, if needed. For example, it may help to apply caulk and/or weatherstripping around the unit's windows and doors. You may also want to purchase insulation that is custom-fit to your window and/or add insulation beneath the RV to help keep the floors as warm as possible.
- Top off heating fuel - If your RV uses propane for heat, be sure that your tank is full before you set off on a camping trip. Better yet, get an extra propane tank and fill it up, too. Depending on how long you will be gone and how remote the area where you will be traveling is, you may want to bring an extra tank with you. If you have a dual electric/propane system, it's still important to make sure your propane is full. You don't want to be caught without gas if there is a power failure.
- Check carbon monoxide detector - A working carbon monoxide detector is a must for every gas-heated RV. Test the carbon monoxide detector in your camper so that you can be sure it is working properly. If your camper doesn't have one, install one and test it regularly.
Must-Have Items for Winter RV Travel
Packing for a winter RV trip isn't quite the same as getting ready to hit the road during a warmer time of year. You'll need to choose your apparel wisely, as well as make sure you pack the right safety and survival gear to make sure you can handle whatever you might face on the road. In addition to the items below, be sure to check this essential winter camping checklist for must-have items that you need to pack.
- Pack clothing you can layer - Even though you can control the temperature inside your camper, it will still most likely be cold outside for most (or all) of your trip. You don't want to have to spend all of your vacation time huddled beside the heater in your travel trailer or motor home. Be sure to pack plenty of warm clothing, particularly items that can be worn in layers, and thick socks. If you'll be moving around or traveling through warmer areas, take some lighter-weight options, as well.
- Take winter outerwear - Be sure to take a warm winter coat as well as a few lighter-weight jackets. Be sure that at least one is a windbreaker-style jacket for days when it may be raining or particularly windy. In addition to tennis shoes and hiking boots, also take some kind of waterproof footwear that you can wear when the conditions outside are snowy or icy. Don't forget hats, scarves, and gloves.
- Hang heavy curtains - Just like you need to add layers to your body when it's cold outside, you can also help keep it warm inside your RV by putting up thick curtains over the windows. This adds a layer of protection against the freezing temperatures on the other side of the glass.
- Put rugs on the floor - Just as heavy curtains help reduce the amount of cold that can creep in through the windows, plush rugs can help keep cold from seeping in through the floorboards. With that in mind, add rugs to the floor of your RV. Not only will the rugs help keep your feet warm, but they'll also help the RV hold in heat.
- Create a winter safety kit - Never set out on an RV trip without appropriate safety and survival supplies. Be sure to pack a first aid kit, flashlight, headlamp, weather radio, batteries, extra blankets, and other important RV tools and emergency supplies. It's also a good idea to pack a dual fuel camp stove and/or a small charcoal grill so that you'll have a way to cook if there is a problem with the stove in your RV. Just be careful not to use these indoors, or you could create dangerous levels of carbon monoxide.
- Pack a few space heaters - It's a good idea to take a few space heaters on winter camping trips so that you can stay warm even if the power goes out or if something goes wrong with your RV's heater. Consider taking at least one small electric space heater, as well as one that is propane-operated.
- Take a blow dryer - Even if you don't blow dry your hair, it's a good idea to keep a blow dryer in your camper during the winter months. If you do find yourself dealing with frozen hoses or water lines, you'll be really glad that you did. A blower can help you gently warm frozen lines so that they will begin to thaw.
- Stock up on shelf-stable food - Make sure you have plenty of food on hand in your RV in case conditions get bad enough that you have a hard time getting out to shop for groceries for a few days. Stock plenty of items that don't require refrigeration or cooking, including items that can be prepared quickly and easily on a camp stove or grill, such as meals in a bag or these one-pot backpacking meal ideas.
Maximize Warmth and Safety at the Campsite
Once you arrive at your campsite with your RV, there are a few other ways you can maximize your warmth and safety. Consider the following tips.
- Supplement your RV's heater - Propane is expensive, so when you are at a campsite with an electrical connection, you may want to use an electric space heater at least some of the time. Consider using your RV's heat to get your camper warm, but then turn the thermostat down and maintain the heat with an electric space heater. This can help you stay toasty with minimal expense. Be sure, though, to turn off any space heaters when you are away, and check that your space heater is safe to use in enclosed spaces.
- Use an electric blanket - If you want to save on propane but like to sleep warm, invest in an electric blanket to sleep under. When you're at a full hookup RV site, you can turn the heater way down at night to save your propane, but still stay toasty warm while you snooze. You won't even need to leave a space heater running overnight.
- Open cabinet doors - When it's cold outside, open the doors of the built-in cabinets in your RV. This sounds odd, but the reality is that this will help the heat in the RV reach the pipes in the walls behind where the cabinets are installed. This small step can reduce the risk of frozen or burst pipes.
- Cover your air conditioner - You won't be using your air conditioner when it's freezing outside, so cover it up when you are camping during the winter. This will help protect the unit against winter precipitation as well as keep cold air from seeping in around the edges. For the best fit and protection, purchase a cover made for an RV air conditioner unit.
- Protect the RV's plumbing - Prepare your RV's plumbing for cold temperatures by installing a self-regulating heating cable on water lines, drain pipes, and holding tanks. This specialized cable has a built-in thermostat, so it adapts to the weather conditions by heating up when it is cold enough for the pipes to need protection and cooling down as the temperature rises.
- Avoid external water hookups - When you're at a campground and it's freezing outside, it's better to rely on your holding tanks for water than to connect to an external water source. Doing this will allow you to completely disconnect the external hose from your freshwater tank. You can reconnect it when the temperature rises above freezing.
- Protect freshwater lines - If you want to keep a hose connected to your freshwater tank, invest in a Freeze Ban heated drinking water hose. This hose has outstanding reviews on the Camping World website. Multiple full-time RVers describe it as being the best option out of several they have tried.
- Delay dumping the blackwater tank - While it may sound counterintuitive, it's better to avoid emptying your blackwater and greywater tanks as much as possible when conditions are super-cold. Hold off on dumping them until they are full. When they fill up, if the temperatures are still below freezing, empty them only partially. Having stuff in them will help minimize the potential for damage due to freezing.
- Skirt your RV when parked - When you get to your campsite, you'll be able to help keep your RV safe and warm by placing skirting around the bottom exterior of the unit. Foamboard works perfectly for this. You can cut it to fit before you leave home and easily transport these lightweight pieces to put in place once you arrive.
Planning Winter RV Travel
Depending on where you are located and where you plan to travel, it can be challenging to find a place to camp in your RV during the winter months. Prepare in advance so you don't get to your destination only to find that there is no place available to stay.
- Verify seasonal closings - Some RV parks close for the winter, even ones in places where the winters are not particularly harsh. Before choosing a spot to go to in the winter, check first to verify which, if any, campgrounds are open during the timeframe you want to visit. If availability seems scarce, make a reservation before heading that way.
- Verify availability - In warm, southern locations, you don't usually have to worry about campgrounds that close for the winter. However, availability in such places can be a challenge, especially in locations that are popular with snowbirds, such as Florida and southern Arizona. Recreational vehicle parks in these areas sometimes book up a year in advance. Don't assume they have room for you just because they're open. Call to verify and make a reservation to be sure you'll have a spot when you arrive.
- Consider monthly or full-season rentals - You may find that RV parks in some areas offer great rates on extended or winter-long rentals, especially if they're in areas that don't get a ton of tourists during that time of year. If you're open to staying put for a month or longer, you just might be able to get a great deal for a place to stop and enjoy a restful stay in your recreational vehicle.
Enjoy Your Trip
You'll greatly increase your chances of having an enjoyable winter camping experience if you take the time to make sure that your RV is in great shape before you set off on a winter camping adventure. As long as you have realistic expectations about the conditions you are likely to face, your camper is properly prepared, and you have packed appropriate apparel and supplies, you'll likely have a great experience on your trip.