Camping isn’t only a summertime activity. RV winter camping can be just as great. The campgrounds that remain open when the mercury drops below zero mostly tend to be quiet, the air crispier than it was during the summer and the landscape is more peaceful. On top of everything else: no bugs.
Having said that, winter camping in an RV isn’t as carefree and cozy as one might assume. Without the proper precautions, the cold can quickly get relentless, leaving your living space stubbornly frigid. To make sure that isn’t the case with you, feel free to consult this RV winter camping guide.
RV winter Camping: How to Prepare
For your RV to withstand harsh cold weather, it should be in the best possible condition. What does that mean? It means its engine, plumbing system, windows, and all other components should be adequately protected against the danger of freeze-ups. Otherwise, stay ready for costly repairs.
Here is how you prepare your camper for winter RVing:
1. Winterize its Water System
Not willing to winterize its water system? Then be ready for disaster, which would most likely come in the shape of frozen pipes ready to burst at a moment’s notice. The only way you can avoid this scenario is by draining your RV’s water system before embarking on the trip.
Sure, this nuclear option would prevent you from using the water faucets (showers, sinks, toilets, etc.), as you’d normally. But it would also save your tanks and pipes from freezing. Make sure to fill the RV water tanks with an antifreeze (the antifreeze amount will be decided by the tank’s size).
A less radical option involves using an RV skirt to insulate your RV’s underbelly. The skirt won’t allow tanks and pipes to freeze and would also make sure warm air does not escape from the rig’s floor. This, in turn, will help your RV’s interior stay warm. But only if you insulate the pipes beforehand.
2. Protect its Plumbing
Poorly insulated plumbing can be a quick recipe for freeze-ups. That’s because when ice accumulates and expands in pipes, they might crack (in the best case scenario) or burst. To protect the plumbing, consider implementing one or all of these suggestions by expert campers:
- Insulate the pipes and hoses. Wrap heat strips around your freshwater and sewer pipes to keep them warm. You can also apply heat tape around connections and valves at elevated risk of freeze-ups.
- Keep the internal plumbing warm. There’s an easy way to do this: open your bathroom and kitchen cabinets so that the camper’s heating can warm up the internal plumbing. Slightly opening the faucets will also prevent freeze-ups as water will stay in circulation.
- Install an RV tank heater. What would an RV tank heater do? As its name implies, it will warm up your camper’s interior. What the name fails to mention is how, by supplying heat, the heater will prevent the water inside pipes from freezing, preventing issues like cracking.
- Stay away from external freshwater sources. Use your RV camper’s internal freshwater tank as the primary water source. On the one end, it will ensure the water inside the pipe doesn’t freeze up. On the other, it will protect the pipes from cracking.
3. Insulate the Doors, Windows, and Floor
Staying warm inside your RV isn’t simple. Especially when it’s freezing out there. That is why you might want to insulate its floor, doors, and windows. All three could be avenues for leaking heat, so insulating them should be near the top of your checklist before you hit the road.
- Seal the ceiling vents, windows, and floors using a layer of caulk. Also, tap the water stripping around both the windows and the ceiling wants. If it comes off or shows signs of damage, you must replace it.
- Cover the windows. Reflective foil is an easy and cost-effective way to insulate your RV’s windows. You can cut the reflective foil to fit your camper’s windows, and it will give you the bonus of reflecting heat back into your RV.
- Use thick fabric drapes. Heavy fabric drapes serve two purposes: keep heated air inside the rig and frigid air out of it. They have a third purpose, too: compartmentalizing your RV into multiple areas, giving the heater a smaller area to heat.
- Insulate the floor. You might want to count on foam board flooring, carpets, or heavy rugs for this purpose. Foam boards give you the added advantage of blocking noise as well as cold from creeping into your RV.
4. Protect its Engine
RV engines and their components need added protection to withstand harsh winter temperatures. Without adequate protection measures in place, the engine might not start, leaving you at the cold weather’s mercy. Follow these tips to protect your RV engine and engine components:
Inspect your RV batteries. What does that mean? It means
- making sure that the terminals are securely connected and that there is no sign of damage or corrosion on them. Also, ensure the batteries are fully charged – partly charged batteries are prone to dying in extreme cold.
- Check your engine antifreeze. Make sure there is a proper concentration of water and antifreeze. At least 50 percent antifreeze is required to prevent water inside the engine from freezing up and damaging vital engine parts.
- Use an engine block heater. Installing an engine block heater is recommended if you’re going to camp in very cold regions. The block heater will provide added protection to the heater. It should run for at least 4 hours before starting the engine in sub-zero temperatures.
5. Check its Furnace
Don’t hesitate in checking the RV furnace before hitting the road. If possible, have a certified RV repair technician do the job. Get a detailed report on the furnace vents, furnace air return, and whether there is any blockage in any other furnace air. Don’t hit the road until the problem is resolved.
Frequently Asked Questions About Winter RVing
How to keep moisture out of RV in winter?
Running a dehumidifier is one of the best ways to keep moisture out of your RV in cold weather conditions. Dehumidifiers suck air from your space, remove the moisture from it, and then blow the bone-dry air back into your room again. This will decrease the moisture levels in your RV.
Don’t use propane heaters to stay warm as they emit lots of moisture. Switch to an electric heater that will keep your camper nice and dry. Also, avoid hanging your towels and other laundry indoors. If they’re available, use the laundry room dryers for this purpose.
How to keep mice out of an RV in winter?
Start by blocking mice access to the RV. Spray foam in the nooks and crevices from where mice can enter your camper. Pay special attention to the underside of your RV, the space around plumbing lines, and inside the storage compartments.
Next, make sure you’re deterring the mice from entering your RV. Don’t leave any food items or crumbs where mice can access them. If you’ve pets onboard, seal their food in a plastic sealed container. Place fabric softener sheets all over your camper as supposedly mice hate their smell.
How to heat an RV in winter?
You can use an RV propane furnace, diesel air heater, electric space heater, or mini wood stove to heat an RV in winter. The most convenient option among them is an electric space heater. It might not be as efficient as a propane furnace, but it won’t add moisture to your air, keeping allergies at bay.
How to stay warm in an RV in winter?
Start by insulating windows with reflectrix or any insulating material of your choice. Next, block the roof vents with special foam inserts. Also, if your RV will stay stationary for long periods, skirting its undercarriage will prevent wind and cold air from entering from underneath the floor. You may also want to pack in all the blankets and warm clothing you can as they will help keep your body heat up.
What antifreeze should I use in my RV for winter camping?
Propylene glycol is an often recommended antifreeze for wintering your RV. Apart from being non-toxic, it is fully safe for all kinds of RV plumbing. This antifreeze also doubles as a lubricant to extend the shelf life of the seals in your camper’s faucets and toilets. Plus, it’s non-flammable.
How to use the RV water system in winter?
To keep your RV water flowing in the winter, you might need to:
- Use heat tape on hoses and pipes
- Warm up your RV’s internal plumbing
- Draw water from the RV’s inner freshwater tank only
- Use a space heater to keep your internal water pump warm
- Dump tanks when they are almost full to minimize the risk of freezing
What to do for frozen RV pipes?
Use an electric space heater or a portable propane heater to thaw your pipes. Keep the heater at a low heat setting – constant, high-temperature heat might end up damaging the pipes. Don’t place the heater too close to the pipes if they are plastic or PVC.
Heat tape is another way to unfreeze RV pipes. All you have to do after purchasing the heat tape is wrap it around your pipe. This method won’t work as quickly as the one mentioned above, but it’s much safer and will cause less wear and tear to the water pipes.
How cold is too cold for RV camping?
There’s a universal consensus among campers that temperatures less than -19*F (-28 Celsius) are too cold for RV camping. Even with the heating on, most people would find it extremely challenging to endure such low temperatures, as frostbite could happen in a matter of minutes.
Additional Gear to Consider for Winter RVing
When deciding what gear to pack for RV winter camping, it’s essential to bring not only the essentials but also the backup supplies, as you never know when an emergency would arise. Here’s the list of essential gear for RV winter camping:
- Porous base layer
- Portable Power Station
- Extra Warm clothing, extra blankets, and sleeping bags
- White gas camping stove
- Emergency GPS system
- Extra food and cash for emergencies
- Heat tape or blow dryer to defrost pipes
- Headlamp, lantern, and goggles
Best Places to RV in the Winter
While you can camp in your RV year-round, make no mistake that not all RV campgrounds stay open all year. Only a few winter-friendly campgrounds offer amenities like hot tubs, indoor laundry, hot showers, and much more to enhance your winter camping experience.
Here are the five best campgrounds for RV winter camping:
- Hot Springs National Park: Located in Hot Springs, Arkansas, this campground offers full hookup RV sites, an arcade room, a pet playground, hiking trails, and billiards.
- Everglades National Park: From December to March, the Everglades National Park in Florida welcomes its visitors with star-filled nights, 70-degree days, and plenty of other attractions. Provided there’s no rain, you might also find wildlife congregating near its watering holes.
- Bryce Canyon National Park: Feeling like going on an adventurous trip? Then you’ve plenty of reasons to visit this national park in Utah. Provided the snow allows, you can team up with a ranger-led party for a full moon snowshoe hike.
- Yellowstone National Park: Located in Wyoming, Montana, the Yellowstone National Park is full of chiseled rock faces, slaloming rivers, eye-catching waterfalls, all surrounded by mountains that go as far as eyesight can go.
- Acadia National Park: Maine’s Acadia National Park receives 5 feet of snow in an average year, enough to blanket its rocky headlands and evergreen forests, and transforming its scenic loop drive and zig-zagging roads into dreamland for winter RVers.
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Mins Lukas Savela is a travel writer whose main focus is adventure travel. His passion for wildlife and nature has carried him to many countries in the world. He loves hiking the best trails on earth and sharing his experiences through writing. He hopes his experiences will help more people to start their own adventures and appreciate the world surrounding them a little bit more.