Incentives for winter camping include unmatched wildlife viewing, a variety of outdoor activities and breathtaking winter vistas. Help insure your good time by having your local RV dealer test your propane
heating system before heading out.
Select a sunny campsite near a windbreak when possible. Being in the sun and out of the wind are real advantages. So take advantage of the sun for as much of the day as you can. Park your rig with the front or rear facing into the wind—never park sideways to it—as you want as little of your rig as possible exposed to the wind. Park your rig on boards about 2 feet long and 8 inches wide. These will keep you from sinking into your own ruts over time. Place boards beneath all jacks and stabilizers as well.
It's all but mandatory to have a site with electricity, so use winter camping locations that provide a good source of power. The battery
alone will never furnish your power needs, especially the furnace
, which uses considerable battery
power to cycle on and off. If you're not plugged into power, you need a generator
system, an inverter, or some other method to keep your batteries fully charged. In addition, a little electric heater for winter camping is the perfect add-on, because it's much quieter than the propane furnace
. Remember that free standing heaters can pull a lot of amps (improbable but possibly overloading your system) and they pose an increased fire risk. Only use heaters that have instant automatic cut-off if they are tipped over.
A strategy to consider is to run the furnace first thing in the morning to heat up the trailer, then shut it off and just run the electric heater to keep the chill off. You must
have a back-up plan in place if a winter storm knocks out the electricity. For example, carry a Mr. Heater Buddy propane heater as a back-up heat system. If it's possible, add comfort and security to your camping by checking into a site that has a heated shower/restroom facility—that’s a real plus!
Honda (E2000i), Onan (Camp Power) and others have introduced compact portable generators which provide big RV power for smaller travel trailers, making power available for heaters and other conveniences throughout the year. Be sure that the portable generator
you intend to purchase/use is large enough to supply the demand you intend to place on it. Bear in mind that electric consumption is typically higher in the winter.
An electric tea-pot is good for a constant supply of hot tea and/or hot chocolate, while a small electric warming pot is great for soups and stews (pre-made). A small George Foreman Grill is great any time of year for meats and fish—it cooks quickly and is easy to clean up.
bring an electric hair dryer to thaw things out that might freeze up. For example, occasionally a winter sleet storm and condensation will cause the door gasket to freeze to the trailer frame. It is easy to thaw the door gasket with the hair dryer from the inside. Lock de-icer is a good product to carry too, and a butane blow torch. If you use the torch, be aware that it generates a gigantic amount of heat is a very small area, even when it’s phenomenally cold out, so avoid burning the finish off your rig or your vehicle, or something worse.
A great way to sleep is to have an electric mattress pad, which is vastly superior to an electric blanket. They typically have ten heat settings so they can be adjusted to suit the temperature. Buy the "pillow" type that has extra padding on top so you don't feel the wires and you don't have hot spots. It’s a good idea to bring extra blankets as well. A new (or newer) warm-up jacket and pants (sweats) with a hood (hoodie) make ideal cold weather pajamas. Be careful that you designate and use one set for sleeping only
(soiled, sweaty, and/or clothing inundated with your body oil do not insulate well). Add wool sox and a wool (not
synthetic) stocking cap for your head as necessary. (Note: anything made from acrylic is poor for keeping you warm. Always use wool -- it insulates even when wet.)
Adding skirting over some form of insulation around the sides of your unit will help retain heat and keep you warmer. Place rugs over uncarpeted flooring and/or add another layer of carpeting to what you already have.
Condensation in an RV can be a problem. It can help to tape windows
along the edges, as well as the frames of unused doors, and put plastic over the windows
(inside and/or out). For a tight fit, use the kind of plastic that you heat shrink with a hair dryer. Cover or block the insides of roof vents with plastic and/or other insulation as well. A small dehumidifier may also help. Slightly open a window or vent for air circulation (especially in the bathroom and kitchen); close your blinds and drapes at dusk to keep in the heat, and put up heavier drapes to add a layer of insulation. Place desiccant crystal moisture absorbers in several places.
Never assume a campsite will offer freshwater hookups at this time of year—always check before you go. However, if it does and you think you want to hook up, you’ll want to protect that water connection by wrapping it in heat tape to keep things flowing. Go through similar motions with the sewer connection if you’re going that route. Bring gallon jugs of water for drinking, cooking, washing the dishes and sponge baths if water will not be available (and for emergency purposes, even if it is available). Be sure to store it where it will not freeze.
Leaving a faucet or two slightly open (moving water is tougher to freeze) is a must (you can catch the water in a cup). Keep interior cabinets open so they can share the RV’s warm air, and to get warmth to the plumbing encased in the RV walls. Hanging one or two 40-watt incandescent
bulbs in the storage pods, cabinets, etc., and plugging them in when the temperature drops can produce enough heat to prevent freezing of the water lines. These may also keep your water tank in working order.
If you are bringing water, a good rule of thumb is to keep all tanks full, making them less prone to freezing and winter’s effects. Adding RV antifreeze to waste water tanks and plumbing lines as you go should keep them from freezing.
Alternatively, you can avoid the whole thing by emptying the freshwater tank and pipes and forgoing the freshwater scene altogether. You can always use bottled water for cooking and drinking and use the campground facilities for cleaning. This is one time when paper plates are very useful.
In cold climates, less is definitely not more. Not only will your LP-gas consumption increase, but you can expect big workdays from your generator
and batteries, because output and capacities decrease in cold temperatures while demand increases. Don’t leave home without a full compliment of tanks (fuel, LP gas and freshwater (if you intend to use it)), and keep refrigerators and pantries full. Remember that the great American outdoors can act as your refrigerator—just place a cooler outside. Be sure it can close securely to prevent uninvited four legged guests from devouring your food.
Prepare hot, “feel good” meals—lots of soups and stews—that stick to your ribs. These can be pre-made and packaged before you go so all you have to do heat them up. Hot cereals, such as oatmeal, make a good breakfast. Adding dried fruit (raisons, apricots) and brown sugar gives it a special touch. In addition, adding ½ tsp of extract of vanilla or almond just before serving (for four) is an excellent variation.
Make sure you have at least one snow shovel, window scraper and some kind of ice chipper (e.g., an axe). Also pack one or two bags of rock salt (Ice Bite, sand, kitty litter) to sprinkle on walkways and to put around your tires
in the event you get stuck in snow or end up on slippery patches of ice. If your state permits the use of tire chains bring them along as well. Garden kneeling pads or a piece of thick, high density Styrofoam with the edges duct taped is good for kneeling in the snow or sitting on a cold surface.
Finally, winter is an unpredictable season, so keep tabs on the weather. Monitor radio weather stations, and watch for sudden weather changes. Always carry winter survival gear in your vehicle, and a written record of local emergency telephone numbers.
How cold is too cold for such a trip? Your RV will tell you by its inability to maintain a livable temperature. Some people use the sight of their own breath when inside, but with the correct preparation and layering of clothing, for me the slight appearance of my breath is not too cold. However, if my breath is quite obvious then it’s too cold.
One last thing: when in the cold, never, never, never put your tongue on anything made of metal.