Some people take their RVs down south for the winter, snowbirding in Florida or Arizona or California to escape the cold weather. Some people store their RV safely away at home, winterizing the whole thing to prepare it for hibernation. But if you’re reading this, we bet you’re in a third category – fearless adventurers who want to try RV camping in the winter months, braving cold weather, ice and snow.
Whatever your reason, we’re here to share tips and considerations for what you need to know about cold weather RV camping.
WHAT IS COLD WEATHER WHEN IT COMES TO RV CAMPING?
The definition of cold is really subjective. What’s freezing to someone from Los Angeles could feel like flip-flop weather for a Midwesterner. If you’re used to winters that regularly dip into the negative temperatures, you may have a higher tolerance for cold than your RV does.
Usually, cold weather camping is above in 20 degrees Fahrenheit weather. Temperatures lower than that will make it a challenge to camp comfortably, and camping in temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit will require more planning and care.
Cold weather also includes considerations like snow and ice, which can make RV travel trickier, even if the temps hang right around freezing.
One thing to remember as you begin preparing for cold weather camping is that you must prepare for the worst case scenario. Winter weather can close roads, knock out electricity, and pose a real danger to the health and safety of anyone who’s unprepared for the worst. Better to be safe than sorry, right?
ARE RVS RATED FOR COLD WEATHER TRAVEL? WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?
The majority of people camp during spring, summer or fall. And that means that most RVs are built for spring, summer or fall weather. However, manufacturers build some RV models to allow for camping in colder weather. While manufacturers have different labels for colder weather camping packages, some common names are “yeti”, “arctic”, “polar”, “all weather”, and “four season”.
Things to look for in an RV that would allow for camping in colder weather are higher power furnace, such as 35,000 BTUs; thicker insulation in walls and doors; heated and enclosed underbelly to help insulate pipes and tanks; dual pane thermal windows that insulate against the cold; and PEX plumbing to protect water lines from freezing, just to name a few features. Always research all of the standard components in addition to the options that an RV has to see what features it includes that will help you camp in whatever season you pick.
WHAT KIND OF GEAR SHOULD I BUY TO OPTIMIZE CAMPING IN COLDER TEMPERATURES?
In addition to buying an appropriately rated RV for winter camping, there are a number of other items and gear that can help make cold weather camping a bit easier. They fall into a few different categories.
RV CARE AND MAINTENANCE
Even with RVs specially manufactured for four season use, there are a few things you might want to do to help it function optimally. For example, buying wooden blocks to place underneath your jacks, which will help keep them from freezing to the ground when you’re parked – especially if you plan on staying in one place for a while.
Have silicone caulk on hand to reseal any cracks or crevices in advance of your trip, giving it time to cure properly, as caulk may not function optimally in colder temperatures. There are also covers you can buy for your AC unit to keep that from becoming drafty as well.
You’ll also want to add non-toxic RV antifreeze to your plumbing to help avoid frozen lines and tank contents. One final tip – emptying your tanks less frequently is better in winter, since it takes longer for a larger body of liquid to freeze than a smaller one.
GEAR FOR STAYING WARM
If you have a permanent residence in a state with cold winters, you may already be familiar with the way small changes and optimizations inside can lead to a huge reduction in energy costs. You can winter-prep your RV with the same kind of solutions.
Throughout the RV, you can add plastic window wraps to provide a layer of insulation at a point that commonly loses heat. (Just be careful that the wraps don’t interfere with emergency exit windows, and ensure the windows still function as designed.) You can find the supplies for this at just about any hardware or big-box construction store in colder climates.
But you don’t have to stop there, either. Consider upgrading your RV curtains to thermal curtains that help trap cold air between the curtains and the window, rather than letting it cool your interior. Keeping them closed at night will keep your coach warmer, and opening them to let the sun in during the day will help the sun assist in heating your space.
SLEEPING BAGS AND ELECTRIC BLANKETS
Sleeping when you’re freezing is nearly impossible. Luckily, there are more options than ever around how to stay warm while you’re in bed. One option is to use a sleeping bag instead of traditional bedding. They’re designed specifically for cooler temperatures, and the bag helps create a cocoon of body heat that stays within the bag, right where you want it most.
Electric blankets and mattress pads are also great options for staying warm overnight. If you haven’t bought an electric blanket in a while, they’ve come a long way in the past few decades. Most models nowadays have auto-shut off after a certain amount of hours, as well as controls for each side of a king or queen-sized bed, and up to 10 levels of heat, so you can find your perfect temperature.
You can even get electric throw blankets, which are a perfect addition to any living area, especially if you’re traveling with pets. Animals love to curl up somewhere warm when it’s cold outside.
Since electric blankets draw on electricity to run, they’re probably best suited for people who prefer camping with electric hookups, or anyone who has a solar power or generator setup when they’re camping off grid.
LOW TECH SOLUTIONS
If you’re the kind of person who prefers the “old fashioned” way, with no interest in electric blankets or space heaters, there are still plenty of strategies that will keep you warm. Wool blankets are a great choice as bedding or throws, and you can find them cheaply at Army surplus stores.
Thick wool socks or slippers will keep your feet both dry and warm, insulating them against cold floors in the morning. And a hot water bottle filled with hot water can go just about anywhere with you – into the bed, on the couch, in a chair outside. Plus, they’re great for any aches and pains, as well.
Once you’ve done your homework and thoroughly prepared for camping in cold weather, it’s time to plan your trip!
See you on the road!