How To Camp in an RV during Winter
Many Canadians still get outside during the winter, despite the cold weather and long nights. If you’re looking to use your RV as a base for winter sports or simply want to travel year-round, it’s important that you’re prepared. It’s perfectly doable for most, but RV camping during winter is a little more complicated than in the summer.
Here are some things to consider when using an RV in the winter:
- Stay warm, especially if the temperature drops below –15 C.
- Keep your pipes from freezing.
- Keep your engine and battery in good condition.
- Keep humidity and condensation levels down in your RV.
- Take care of your refrigerator and other appliances – and make sure you’re not operating any indoors if it is unsafe.
- Deal with snow and ice.
- Check the weather regularly.
- Be prepared for any emergency, including getting stranded for a few days.
- Finding a campsite during winter can be tougher, as some campgrounds close or reduce their services.
Camping during the winter requires you to be prepared, but it is often an affordable way to enjoy the great outdoors and winter sports.
Staying Warm When RVing in the Winter
Keeping yourself warm is one of the most important considerations when RVing during the winter. Here are a few ways you can stay warm in your RV:
- Purchase an RV advertised as being winter-ready (it should have upgraded insulation and design).
- Install foam insulation or padding on walls, flooring, underneath the RV and even over the windows—wherever it’s needed.
- Use insulated or canvas RV skirting (make sure the exhaust pipes aren’t covered).
- Consider using an insulated curtain to separate the driving area from the rest of the living area to decrease the living space you need to warm in Class A and C motorhomes.
- Check caulking and weather-stripping and repair any cracks or leaks.
- Use vent covers to allow ventilation without snow coming in. You may also need vent cushions, or to simply use foam padding.
- Keep the door closed as much as possible.
- Insulate your windows by using thicker curtains or speciality insulated thermal curtains. You can also use reflective foil with foam.
- Add rugs to the floor.
- Test the furnace before you leave and make sure it’s clean (use compressed air or a soft brush).
- Consider bringing additional heat sources like a catalytic or electric heater (no carbon monoxide risks). Propane or other fuel heaters are also an option but have higher fire and carbon monoxide risks. Make sure to only use heaters while you’re awake and watching them and make sure they’re not close to anything flammable.
- If you use propane to heat your RV, make sure you have extra tanks with you.
- Park wherever there is the most sun—no shady campsites in the winter!
- Bring sleeping bags rated for cold weather.
- Bring extra blankets and warm clothing for layering.
- Consider bringing an electric blanket to warm you up.
Keep Pipes from Freezing
The biggest risk for cold-weather camping is frozen and burst pipes. It’s important to keep plumbing above freezing or keep it properly drained. What you’ll need to do depends on your RV’s plumbing system, the temperature outside and if you’re hooking up to a water source. Here are a few tips:
- Ensure the RV is properly insulated, particularly around the pipes, tanks and connections. You can use RV skirting, foam insulation, heat tape and heaters.
- Invest in tank heaters and/or electric pipe heaters (you’ll need an electric hookup).
- Keep all hoses insulated and off the ground.
- Use your internal tanks rather than an external connection, unless you’re certain it won’t freeze (a heated water hose may be an option).
- Open cabinets to expose your RV’s interior plumbing to help keep it warmer.
If the temperature is below zero, you should do one of the following:
- Empty your black and grey water tanks and add the recommended amount of RV antifreeze (not what you use in cars) to both tanks. OR
- Disconnect your RV from all water sources and turn off all power. Open the faucets to drain and flush the toilet to get all water out of the lines. Hook an air compressor hose to the blowout plug and turn on the compressor. Turn off, close all the drain valves and empty the water heater tank.
There’s no guarantee that your pipes will stay warm enough—power could always fail, fuel could always run out and extreme temperatures can make it difficult. You may want to consider dry camping and not using your RV’s water or plumbing systems. Just make sure you winterize your RV fully in that case.
Take Care of Your Engine and Batteries
If your RV is a motorhome, you may need a block heater. Some models have this installed but others may not. Check if you plan to camp during the colder months of the year, as it will make it much easier to start your motorhome.
You’ll also want to put anti-freeze into your motorhome’s engine. The mixture should be at least 50 per cent antifreeze and 50 per cent water to ensure it doesn’t freeze.
If you’re connecting your RV to a power source, make sure that ice and snow can’t interfere with the connection.
Reduce Humidity and Condensation
While this isn’t often an issue in dry Alberta, keep an eye out for humidity and condensation in your RV. The interior heat, moisture from your breath and certain types of heaters can create condensation, which can cause corrosion, mildew and mould. Keep your vents open and put vent covers over top to allow ventilation while keeping the snow out. You can also use an electric dehumidifier or a container moisture absorbent material to remove dampness.
Check on Your Refrigerator and Other Appliances
Depending on your RV’s refrigerator, there may be issues when temperatures drop. Check your owner’s manual and make sure the fridge is properly insulated. You can apply duct tape or pipe insulation to two out of three vent slots, but you may need a space heater to keep it warm enough if the temperature is very cold (depending on the design of your RV).
Ice makers are also not usually insulated, so ensure you add insulation and heat tape to any hoses or turn it off.
Some appliances may not function properly in the cold if you’re using them outside. Always check to see if they’re safe to use inside your RV before you do so—some appliances carry carbon monoxide risks.
Take Care of Snow and Ice
With winter camping usually comes snow and ice. Keep in mind that driving conditions will likely be worse or can worsen with little notice. Try to drive during the daylight hours if possible and equip winter tires on your tow vehicle or motorhome.
You should place wooden blocks under the stabilizing jacks to prevent them from freezing to the ground below.
Ice and snow can accumulate on slides and prevent retraction. You can use slide covers, clear snow and ice, or spray RV antifreeze on gaskets to help. You’ll also need to clean off the awnings to properly retract it.
It might be slippery around your campsite. It doesn’t hurt to have some dirt to spread around to improve traction. You should also invest in good winter boots and crampons. Avoid using environmentally harmful products such as de-icers or check with the campground before using them.
Keep an Eye on the Weather
Check the weather regularly and be prepared for winter storms. Consider what you’d do if you’re stuck for a few days due to a big snowfall and how you’d handle very cold temperatures. Make sure you have enough fuel, food and water.
Always keep your gas tank as full as possible.
Have an Emergency Kit
There are a number of things you should have on hand when you’re RVing during the winter, including:
- Tire chains
- Snow shovel
- Ice scraper
- Sleeping bags rated for below zero temperatures
- Extra blankets
- Extra warm clothing
- At least four litres of water per person (stored where it cannot freeze)
- Extra food
- Any medications you may need
- Basic first aid kit
- A gasoline or diesel-powered generator
- A camp stove (preferably one that does not require propane)
- Extra fuel (propane, gasoline and/or diesel, whatever fuel types you’re using)
- Emergency radio
- GPS locator
Finding Campsites during the Winter
Not all campgrounds are open year-round. Or if they are open, the campground may also only offer limited services.
On the bright side, campgrounds are also often less busy and can be cheaper than the rest of the year. Make sure you check availability and which services are available. This will help you plan what you need.