For many, the coldest part of a camping trip might be when you're huddled around a campfire on a cool summer's evening. But what about if you want to use your RV in much colder weather? Can it be done?
We chose to spend this winter living full-time in our RV in Vermont so we can go skiing. Temperatures can reach as low as -15°F, a real test for any RV! Here are our top 5 tips for winter RVing.
By all accounts, cold-weather camping is outside the norm for most RVers - and also for most RVs. Consequently, it's important to plan ahead.
There are lots of factors that will go into your plan, including:
- How long do you plan to camp for - a short trip or all season?
- Will you be staying in one place or moving around?
- What type of RV do you have, and do you have another vehicle?
- What will the weather be like - how cold and how much snow?
Answering these questions will form the basis of your plan. For instance, we'll be in our 25ft travel trailer all winter in Vermont where we can expect temperatures down to -15°F and several feet of snow. Our primary vehicle is a 4x4 Ford F-150 truck.
Once you know what you want to do and what conditions you might expect, you can start your preparations. There are lots of things to consider, and we have a blog post detailing everything we did to prepare for winter RV living.
Plus, we have a video on our YouTube channel with 25 ideas for winter RVing that might give you some inspiration:
Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
- If you'll be in one place all winter, I'd highly recommend skirting your RV
- As NoFreezeWaterHose point out on their website, plan ahead as much as possible - don't wait until it's too late!
- Catch up on any regular maintenance items on your RV (and tow vehicle or toad) before the cold weather sets in
Have a Backup Plan
"The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men. Gang aft a-gley" - Robert Burns
No matter how well you plan, something can always go wrong; it's always a good idea to have a backup plan.
What will you do if your furnace breaks? If you run out of propane? What if there is a power outage? Or if your hoses freeze?
Try and think through each scenario, and what you might do in that situation. I'd recommend having the phone number of a good local RV repair mechanic, but that may not be enough. What if it's a Sunday and they're closed, or they don't have the part in stock? Particularly this winter given the COVID-19 pandemic, being as self-sufficient as possible is important.
One common item that people overlook is the fridge. Did you know that because of the absorption technology they use, RV fridges will stop working if it gets too cold?
At the very least, have a contingency plan in case it all goes wrong - maybe you have to end your camping trip early, or abandon your RV altogether.
One of the easiest things you do can is ensure you have alternatives for the most important things - in engineering, we call this redundancy. Some of our redundancy measures include:
- A portable electric heater in addition to the propane furnace
- An Instant Pot (with Air Fryer Lid) and electric kettle in addition to our propane stove
- Keeping our fresh water tank about 2/3 full in case our heated water hose freezes
Know your RV
Every RV is different, and the way you prepare will depend on your specific RV. For example, our Outdoors RV 21RBS travel trailer is designed for 4-season camping - in fact, a core demographic for them is people going elk-hunting in winter in Oregon. Its features include:
- Sealed & insulated underbelly to help protect the tanks and valves;
- Ducted heating to direct hot air from the furnace into the underbelly;
- Extra insulation in the walls and storage bay doors;
- Double-glazed thermal-pane windows;
- 12V heating pad on the fresh water tank;
- Norcold Cold Weather Kit installed on the fridge.
Maybe your RV doesn't have all those things, or perhaps it has even more! Either way, knowing what your RV is designed for is a good indicator for where you might need to pay extra attention.
Finding a good RV mechanic or repair shop can be challenging at the best of times - now imagine the situation in the middle of winter when your RV is snowed in and something goes wrong. Can you fix it yourself?
You don't need to be an RV mechanic to fix many of the most common issues on an RV. Having some basic knowledge, tools and parts might be the difference between a simple 5-minute repair and having to end your trip early.
At a minimum, you should know:
- What to do if a breaker trips or fuse blows, and how to repair it yourself;
- Where your water pipes and shut-off valves are in case they freeze;
- Roughly how much electricity each appliance uses so you don't keep tripping breakers unnecessarily.
Unlike houses, most RVs aren't designed to be used in exceptionally cold weather. Think of your RV like a patient in hospital - you need to monitors its vitals to make sure everything is working OK. If something goes wrong, the sooner you find out the sooner you can do something about it.
The most obvious thing to monitor is temperature. I would highly recommend using a simple wireless weather station, and positioning the sensors in key areas in and around your RV.
Some areas you may want to monitor include:
- Inside the main living space (maybe in multiple rooms depending on your RV)
- Outside (somewhere sheltered from direct sun or rain)
- Under the RV, behind the skirting
- Inside the underbelly, near the tank valves
- Near the water pump
- In the fridge compartment outside
- Storage bays
- Inside cabinets containing things you don't want to get too cold or freeze
Additionally, don't forget to monitor the temperature of your fridge and freezer themselves. As I mentioned earlier, RV fridges can stop working in cold weather, and you want to find out before all your food goes bad! We've been very happy with the AcuRite 986 wireless sensors.
Thanks to our home automation system, we're monitoring the temperature in more than a dozen places so we can quickly detect if something goes wrong.
In cold weather, an RV will cool down incredibly quickly when you're not heating it. As a rough guide, it may cool down by as much as 10°F or more per hour, so be sure to leave the heating on if you go out - we tend to leave it set to about 55°F while we're out. If you're after a more elaborate solution, consider an RV-specific WiFi thermostat, like the MicroAir EasyTouch RV.
Alongside temperature, one of the biggest challenges in cold weather is humidity - or more specifically, condensation. Condensation forms on cold surfaces in warm environments - think about the condensation that forms on a cold drink on a warm summer's day.
More condensation occurs when:
- there is a bigger temperature difference between the two surfaces;
- the relative humidity is higher;
- there is limited airflow or the air is stationary.
In an RV in winter, condensation will readily form on windows and walls, potentially resulting in mold, mildew and even water damage. Since we want to keep the inside of the RV significantly warmer than outside, we have to focus on reducing the humidity and maintaining good airflow.
If condensation does form, it's essential to dry the area as quickly as possible. We've spoken to several of our neighbors in the RV park this winter who are having to wipe down their windows (and sometimes walls!) twice a day to remove the condensation!
We've been able to largely avoid any issues with condensation so far. How? Well, some things to consider are:
- Buy a residential dehumidifier - we use a 35-pint GE dehumidifier and it works great in our 25ft travel trailer;
- Open cupboards to ensure air isn't trapped inside and it can circulate;
- Use a small fan to maintain airflow in any high-risk areas of condensation and evaporate any condensation if it does form - e.g. near large windows or in cupboards;
- Pull the mattress away from the wall each morning to allow air to circulate behind it.
Many RVers avoid camping in cold weather, but if you're up for the challenge then it can be incredibly rewarding. Thanks to some simple preparation, we're looking forward to skiing the slopes of Vermont this winter, knowing that our warm and cozy RV will be waiting for us at the end of each day!
Let us know in the comments below if you have some tips to share about winter RVing, and if you haven't already done so, check out our article about how we prepared for winter RVing in Vermont.