Winter camping in an RV has its’ own set of challenges. You must prepare your motorhome or camper to be able to survive the elements. From keeping the cold outside and your pipes from freezing, there are important tasks you need to prepare your RV for winter camping and survive the freezing elements.
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How to Survive RV Winter Camping in Cold Weather & Snow
Take a look at that photo above. That was US in our first six months of full-time RVing. A freak snowstorm and freezing temperatures hit right before we left Kentucky. We were SO ill-prepared for this thing called RV winter camping.
Admittedly, we didn’t know a single thing and had to learn hands-on just how to better prepare our RV and survive not only the snow but the bitter cold temperatures.
One would think having grown up in Pennsylvania and living in New England most of our adult lives would have seasoned us for the harsh cold winters.
But when we started full-time RVing, we became those people who bolt for the much warmer desert southwest or southeast coast of the United States. We became those Snow Birds we used to talk about.
Having said that, we have incurred freezing temperatures and winter camping in all of our RVs; our fifth wheel toy hauler, Landmark fifth wheel and now our small Class C motorhome.
And we know that even though we have the choice to dodge the freezing cold and snow, there are others that are not as nomadic due to jobs and livelihoods.
So, if you get a freak snowstorm or bitter cold temperatures, here’s so great survival tips to help you actually enjoy winter camping in your RV.
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Our First RV Winter Camping Experience
Just imagine waking up in your nice warm and cozy RV, van or camper and looking out the window to a new fallen blanket of snow. Like a Currier and Ives painting, it’s a winter wonderland.
Well, that is until you turn on the water or flush your commode and nothing comes out. That happened to us.
When we ordered our first RV; our Heartland Cyclone fifth wheel toy hauler, we opted out of ordering the Yeti Package; thinking we’d never use it. It was costly and we never thought we’d be in the position of enduring freezing temperatures.
However, as full-time RVers, we admit not paying extra for it was a huge mistake. We had no clue how important spending that extra couple thousand bucks to know we wouldn’t have to worry about frozen pipes or tanks.
But then again, we probably wouldn’t have learned from the strifes and trials set before us that almost cost us living our dream.
Typically, RV manufacturers cold weather packages include a higher R-factor insulation value, enclosed underbelly, heated holding tanks, dual pane windows and more.
But, let’s assume that your RV or camper doesn’t have an extreme cold-weather package. What can you do to make living in an RV survivable and comfortable when the temperatures drop below freezing.
In another article, Winter RV Camping: Keep Your RV Interior Warm in Cold Weather, we talked about simple methods to help preserve heat inside your RV.
But in this article, we’ll share our helpful guide and checklist to help you prepare your RV for winter camping. We hope it helps to make your camping experience safer and more comfortable as those temperatures plummet.
Because, the last thing you want is to be that RV owner or camper waking up to frozen pipes and teeth chattering or a leaky roof during a warm spring thaw. So, bookmark this guide for future reference.
You’ll need to prepare your RV for what the cold weather may bring; especially extreme freezing temperatures (below 32°). Read and familiarize yourself with your RV manufacturers’ and RV component manufacturers’ manuals.
Know how your systems work before something breaks or having to deal with it in the extreme elements.
If you’re going winter camping in your RV, search out the location where you’ll be parking. Check the surroundings. Look for possible areas of direct sunlight.
The warmth of the sun in the late mornings and afternoons will give your RV heating system a break and warm your RV at least a few degrees.
Avoid parking under trees as heavy snow could break branches that may fall on your RV’s roof or slides.
And, make certain the ground is solid. The last thing you want is for your RV to sink when the ground thaws.
There are a few things you’ll need to do to prepare and conduct interim of freezing temperatures and snow. But, you’ll be ahead of the game if you do it before you’re forecasted for adverse weather.
As per our motto in the Coast Guard, Semper Paratus, meaning we’re Always Ready. (Just had to stick that in there!)
Be prepared and proactive for whatever severe weather and winter effects may bring you. What you do today will save you, your family and your RV from strife and damage.
Also, if you notice any cracks or tears in your roof, high adhesive tape made especially for RV roofs is your friend! Make certain the surface is clean and throughly dry before applying to get ultimate adhesion.
PRO TIP: For more information, check out RV Maintenance: RV Roof Inspection and Maintenance.
To prevent heat loss under your RV, you’ll need to install skirting around the bottom of your RV for insulation.
While you can use rectangular hay bales, be aware that may become an invitation for mice to take refuge not only in the hay but make their way into your RV.
Or, you can use R-value sheets of foam insulation and tape them all around the bottom of your motorhome, fifth wheel or travel trailer.
If money is not really a concern, you may want to invest in vinyl skirting that snaps onto the bottom of your RV. Whichever you choose, the more the better.
And, it will keep the belly of your RV warmer and in turn, helping to prevent your pipes from freezing and keep your floors warmer.
Preparing your RV batteries for cold weather depends on what type of batteries you have. RVs with flooded lead-acid house batteries need to ensure the water level is full and you begin with a fully charged battery. Remember to use only distilled water.
Lead acid AGM batteries will not require any water level check, but will need to fully charged. Both types of flooded lead-acid batteries should function fine even in below freezing temperatures.
RVs that have lithium batteries will not recharge below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. However, you can still continue to use and discharge lithium batteries below freezing. But it’s not good for them to endure freezing temperatures for more than a day or so.
So, ensure your lithium batteries are kept in warm space so they can recharge and provide energy efficiently.
If you are winter camping or parking your RV in freezing temperatures, simply place a drop light in your battery compartment to keep the space above freezing.
Inspect all window and door seals; making sure their is no cracking, gaps or missing caulk. You’ll need to recaulk any deficiencies. Again, do this while it’s warm outside for the caulk to adhere properly.
Inspect all weather stripping around your RV windows and doors; making sure it’s not damaged. Replace as necessary.
For windows, if you really don’t care about checking out the view, cover your RV windows with reflectix.
Reflectix looks like silver bubble wrap that acts as an insulation barrier that can be easily installed on the inside of your windows. It has two inner layers of insulating bubbles that resists conductive heat flow.
It keeps the warm air in and cold air out (or vice versa in the summer). Also, another good measure is to pull the window shades down which adds another insulation barrier.
Your RV’s air conditioning vents are located in the ceiling. If your vents are adjustable, close them to prevent heat loss through those ceiling vents.
However, if your RV’s ceiling vents aren’t adjustable, it’s a good time to replace them with two-way adjustable AC vents that you can manually open and close like ours.
If your ceiling AC vent covers can’t be replaced, you can remove them and stuff a little insulation into the holes and replace the vent to hold it in. Or, carefully tape a small piece of reflectix mentioned earlier. Just remember to remove the insulation prior to the first time you’re going to run your AC.
Also, your fantastic fan is an invitation for immense heat loss because warm air rises. So, when you’re not using your fantastic fan, we suggest installing an RV fan vent insulation cushion.
This also applies to any skylight in your RV. We temporarily tape a piece of reflectix to seal off the skylight when we’re not using he shower.
Remember, heat rises so if you can mitigate heat loss through your ceiling crevices and voids, you’ll win part of the battle.
Anytime you’re camping in freezing temperatures, you’ll need to empty and disconnect your residential refrigerator water line to your ice maker.
After disconnecting the water line from your refrigerator, blow out or drain any excess water and air out of the line. Unfortunately, that does require you to pull your residential refrigerator out from wall to access the water line.
Since you’ll not be able to use your ice maker or water dispenser, just tape a piece of paper reading ‘do not use’ until you can hook it all back up again.
Or, your other option is to insulate your exterior water line. If your residential refrigerator is located in a slide, you may be able to access the water line underneath. We insulated ours on our fifth wheel using foam pipe insulation and duct tape. Once we did that, our refrigerator line never froze.
PRO TIP: Check out How to Maximize Efficiency of Your RV Refrigerator.
Conduct all preventative maintenance on your RV generator before winter weather arrives. Do not wait until last minute to do this.
- Change the oil and all filters if necessary.
- Make sure the generator runs properly under load and ensure you have plenty of fuel for it.
- Exercise your generator at least two hours each month under full load.
If you’re still contemplating buying an RV, you may want to take a moment to read Motorhome Generator: Diesel vs. Propane.
If you don’t have an onboard generator, you may want to look into a quality portable inverter generator. However, even your portable generator that may be exposed to freezing temperatures will still need to be winterized if you’re not going to be using it on a regular basis.
PRO TIP: Here’s some great information on Generator Usage: Operating Tips and Rules for RVs.
It’s important to service and inspect your furnace regularly. Do not wait until winter to do a maintenance check and service. You’ll need to make sure it ignites properly and functions efficiently.
Remove the outside access panel to check for spider webs, mud dauber trails, leaves, acorns and any other debris.
You’ll need to inspect your RV’s propane fittings and fill. If you’re parking for extended time period, you may want to get a larger propane tank delivered and schedule regular propane delivery.
Also ensure your propane tank is full or near full capacity. Since propane monitoring is essential especially in the winter when you need it most, you may want to get a reliable propane tank gas level indicator. You attach it to the bottom of your propane tank(s) and bluetooth it to your smartphone to monitor your propane levels.
Because we all know those onboard propane monitoring systems in RVs are inaccurate. Ours did in all three of our RVs. Since we installed one as part of our Winnebago View upgrades and modifications, our readings have been 98% correct.
PRO TIP: Don’t be caught in an unfamiliar area with empty propane tanks. Here’s where to Find RV Propane Filling Stations & LP Tank Exchanges.
To keep your RV’s water tank from freezing, consider installing a tank heater pad heater kit. One word of caution, if you are boondocking, be aware these do draw a large amount of energy from your battery bank.
We also recommend disconnecting from the water hookup and using the RV’s water pump. You also can place a drop light in the utility space to keep the temperature above freezing.
If you’re at a full hookup, you may want to turn your faucets on to drip; especially at night. However, make sure your gray tank valve is open.
Also, as mentioned earlier, open your lower cabinets to expose your water pipes so warm air can circulate around them.
PRO TIP: If you’re wanting to go winter RV camping and boondocking, check out these helpful articles:
When winter camping, you’ll want to insure your RV won’t settle or sink into the ground during fluctuating temperatures; especially during Spring thaws.
Even if you’re parking your RV on asphalt, concrete, brick or packed surfaces, you need to avoid damaging the parking surface from the weight of your RV.
We highly recommend installing RV SnapPads on each of your leveling jack pads to add a bit more circumference in each jack pad footprint. But, it’s crucial to install them when it’s above 55 degrees to insure proper installation and per manufacturer’s directions.
For travel trailers with a tongue hitch, place a couple leveling blocks under your trailer hitch pad as well so the trailer jack doesn’t crack or break the parking surface.
- Keep entry door(s) and windows shut; open only when necessary (with exception of using propane space heaters inside).
- Keep vehicle and generator exhaust vents and/or exhaust pipes clear of skirting and snow accumulation. You want your RV exhaust to blow outside; not underneath.
- Keep the roof clear of snow, ice and debris. Extra weight isn’t good for the roof’s construction. As well, constant icing and melting could potentially cause water intrusion around seals, cracks and crevices.
- Do not leave your water hose connected to the outdoor water spigot unless you have a heated fresh water hose. Or, just fill your water tank and refill as needed. If you’re boondocking and don’t want to move your RV, you can refill your RV’s water tank with a portable water bladder.
- Monitor your propane and keep up with your filling schedule. Don’t wait until your propane drops to less than 1/4 tank to be on the safe side.
- Know how and when to use your RV’s heat pump vs. furnace. Typically, you don’t use the heat pump when its less than 40 degrees. On warmer days over 40 degrees, its very efficient as well as it will give your furnace a break.
- Use portable heaters with extreme care and caution. Never leave them unattended or when you’re sleeping. And keep them out of reach of children and pets. Make certain the area around your heaters is kept clear of objects, rugs, blankets and combustible materials. Never use a portable heater with an extension cord!
- Open drawers and cabinets where water lines and drains are located during extreme low temperatures. This allows interior heat to circulate around the waterlines and plumbing.
- Wear a sweater or this cool sweatshirt and put another blanket or two on the bed.
- Utilize your RV’s ceiling fan by switching it to reverse. This will push the warm air down to your comfort level.
As you see, it’s imperative to apply all of these preventative measures before the temperatures start to plummet and the snow starts to fall. If you apply these guidelines, they will help prevent potential, costly issues that will leave you out in the cold or damage your RV or RV components.
These winter RV camping survival tips should help you and your family stay warm and preserve your RV through the cold winter months.
But hey, the absolute best way to prevent all this cold weather nonsense is turn on the ignition and drive your RV to warmer temperatures! RV Trip Wizard helps you plan the perfect trip and our RV GPS app turns your phone into an RV Safe GPS to get you there safely.
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