16 Crucial Tips For Winter-RVing You Must Know (Before Leaving)

In RV living by Christopher Schopf

Winter can be a depressing season for many people.  This is especially true for RVers who end up having to put away their RV each winter.

But why do most people put away their RVs when they could just go RVing in the winter?  Is it because they don’t know how or that they think it will be too much work?

If you’ve never been RVing in the winter, you should know that it can be just as fun to RV in the winter as it is to RV in the summer. 

It is more work but for many of us RVers it is definitely worth it.

In this post, I’ll give you my top tips for RVing in the winter.  I’ll also tell you how to stop your pipes from freezing and let you know which RVs are best for winter RVing.

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1. Get an RV That is Built for Winter Weather

RV battery freezing in winter time

Some RVs do better in the winter than others.  In most cases, this is because these RVs were specifically designed to be used in colder climates.   These RVs typically have better heaters and more insulation to keep the interior of the RV as well as the basement area of the RV warm.

Many RV companies specialize in cold weather RVs while other RV manufacturers make 4 season version of their standard RVs.

These campers almost always cost more but you won’t have to add any insulation or make any changes to get it ready for use in cold weather.

If you already have an RV, don’t worry as you can always modify your current RV to make it winter weather worthy.  Add insulation to the walls and make sure you have a heater that is strong enough to work in cold temperatures and you’ll have an RV that is just as good as some of the four season models.

In addition to this, you can take the advice further down in this article to help keep your pipes from freezing.  With a warm interior and a fully-functional plumbing system, you’ll be just as comfortable in your RV in the winter as you are in the spring, summer, and fall.

2. Head South For Warmer Weather

Another way to deal with the cold weather associated with winter RVing is to simply head someplace warmer.  Many people head all the way down to Florida to get hot weather even in December, January, and February.

However, this isn’t always necessary.

Here are our best tips and places to visit when RVing in Florida.
(It’s a must-read if you are even CONSIDERING going there)

Every mile south you head increases the chances that you’ll get to enjoy warmer weather even in the winter.

For example, South Carolina has average highs of 58 degrees and lows of only 39 degrees in January.  By February, South Carolina’s highs are in the low 60’s and their lows are in the low 40’s.  While this isn’t warm enough to go sunbathing, it is warm enough that you won’t have to worry about pipes freezing over the winter.

With these warmer temperatures, you’ll also find much less snow.  Even the mountains of South Carolina only average about 12 inches of snow each year and in many areas of the state, you might not see snowfall at all in some years.

Snow can make RVing difficult in the winter, especially for people with smaller rear wheel drive class B RVs.  Move further south for a few months and you’ll have much less snow to worry about.

On the flip side, if you head up north, you might end up with daily lows in the teens with highs in the low 30s.  Accompanying this might be an average of 62 inches of snow each winter.

This type of winter weather RVing is much more difficult than spending a winter in more mild areas of the country.  Your RV has wheels, why not take advantage of this fact?

3. Plan Longer Stays

If you do end up staying somewhere cold and snowy through the winter, you might want to consider traveling less.  Each time you head out, you’ll end up having to deal with snow and ice on the roads.

When you get to your destination, you’ll end up having to take special precautions with your RV.

For example, you may end up spending a lot of time insulating pipes, clearing out your campsite, and adding RV skirts to the bottom of your RV.

Move your RV less often and you won’t have to worry about navigating treacherous roads and clearing out campsites nearly as often.  Not only this, but you’ll end up spending less on campsite rentals as longer stays usually equal better rates.

On top of all of this, you may find that it is difficult to find year-round campgrounds in colder areas of the country.  This means that when you do find a good place that is open, you should take advantage of it.  It would be a shame if you left your campsite only to find that you had to drive a few days just to reach another campsite that is open for you.

4. Get Larger Propane Tanks

Even larger RVs usually only come with 20-pound propane tanks.  This is fine for warm-weather use as you won’t be using propane all that often.  However, these small tanks can get used up quickly in the winter.

Switch to two larger 30-pound propane tanks over two 20 pound propane tanks and you’ll increase the amount of propane you have by 33%!

Just be sure to make the necessary changes to your propane holding areas as you may need to add additional hardware to help mount your larger tanks.

As a bonus, you can keep your smaller tanks and make use of them as well.  With two 20 pound tanks and two 30 pound tanks, you’ll end up with 100 pounds of propane.  This will provide you with a lot of heat and you won’t have to venture out into the snow as often to get your tanks filled.

5. Use Electric Space Heaters at Campsites

At many campsites, electric is included in your campsite rental.  Take advantage of this fact and meet some of your heating needs with an electric space heater.

This will take some of the stress off of your propane tanks and will help you save money on heating your RV.

[su_box title=”Tip”]Here are our recommendations for electric heaters (and all other types!) for RVs.[/su_box]

Just be careful when you switch to space heaters that you do not completely shut down your RV’s furnace.  This is because you’ll want your standard furnace running so that it can heat the basement area of your RV so that your pipes do not freeze.

If you’re in a climate with temperatures above freezing, you won’t have to worry about keeping your RV’s furnace on.  In this case, you can just use a couple of space heaters to completely heat your RV up.

One note of caution though.

Keep your electric space heaters on different breakers.  If you overload your electrical system, you’ll end up with blown circuit breakers or worse yet, blown fuses.

6. Be Prepared for Boondocking

As we said earlier, there aren’t a lot of year-round campsites open in colder areas of the country.  This is true for both private campgrounds as well as state and national parks.

Because of this, you may find that you have to boondock more often in the winter.

Boondocking can be done on BLM land in more remote areas or in truck stops and Walmart parking lots in more urban areas.

Just keep in mind that you won’t have access to the grid in these areas so you’ll need to provide yourself with your own power.

While your furnace may run on gas, it may also need electricity to run the fans.  If the fans cannot run, the heat will not stay on and you’ll be without heat.  This is a bad situation in areas where the nightly temperatures can easily dip 20 to 30 degrees below freezing.

Make sure you know how your heater operates and take necessary precautions so that you’ll never be without heat even while boondocking.

Here’s some REALLY good information on RV boondocking.

7. Watch out for Condensation

In the summer you can cut down on condensation by opening a window or running your air conditioning unit.  While you can’t run your air conditioning in the winter, you can still keep a window cracked open.

It might be hard to make yourself open a window in the winter when it is cold outside but this can be vital to keeping condensation out of your RV.

Condensation will harm you and your RV just as badly in the winter as it does in the summer and you can even end up with sheets of ice frozen to your walls because of it.

[su_box title=”Tip”]Here are our recommendations for dehumidifiers for RVs. You need a SILENT model that’s reasonably priced.[/su_box]

To keep condensation at a minimum, crack a window, run your ventilation fans, and try to reduce the amount of cooking and bathing you do in your RV.  In addition to this, you may want to get vent covers for your ventilation fans so that you can run them even when it is snowing out.

For more information on cutting down condensation in your RV, take a look at the article I wrote on reducing condensation in your tiny home.

While this article was geared more towards tiny homes, the same principles will apply to your RV.

8. Keep Your Pipes from Freezing

Knowing how to stop your pipes from freezing is vital to any winter RV trip.  Even home pipes can freeze in the winter and an RV’s pipes are much more exposed to cold weather than a home’s pipes are.

This makes keeping RV pipes from freezing more challenging but it certainly is possible to do.

Here are a few steps you might want to take to help keep your RV’s pipes from freezing in the winter.

  • Heat your basement.
  • Insulate your pipes.
  • Heat your pipes.
  • Add a skirt around your RV.
  • Monitor the temperature around your pipes and tanks.

The basement of an RV is the area beneath the floor of the RV.  This area houses your pipes and your water tanks.  In four season RVs, it will also house heat ducts to help keep your basement warm.

Make sure these heat ducts are clean and free from any obstructions so that your heater can push hot air through your RV’s basement.

Not all pipes can be protected through the use of your RV’s heating system.  Your freshwater pipe and your sewer pipe will be exposed to the elements and will need additional protection.

To protect these exposed pipes, add a layer of insulation around them.  Pipe insulators can be purchased at any large hardware store like Home Depot or Lowes.

These pipe insulators are easy to install as they simply slip over your pipes.  Once you’ve slipped them over the pipe, you can use electrical tape or duct tape to keep them in place.

For more information on RV tanks, take a look at the post titled, “Do RVs Have Water Tanks and Water Heaters“.

9. Have a Backup Plan (Or Two!) for Power

We touched on this earlier but it is important to keep in mind that you might not always have grid power.  This could be because you ended up having to boondock for a day or two or it could be because the power went down at your campsite.

Remember, if the power goes out during a snowstorm, it might be days before anybody can come to turn it back on.

Within a few days, your RV’s pipes will have frozen and you may be facing a serious health crisis inside your RV.

Avoid this problem by having a backup power source.  Have a reliable generator on hand and keep your batteries fully charged so that you can run your heater even when your campground’s power goes out.

On top of this, consider getting a portable propane heater that doesn’t need electricity to operate.  Between your generator, your batteries, your portable gas heater, and the grid, you should be able to keep your RV warm no matter what happens.

10. Bring RV Anti Freeze

While you want to do your best to keep your tanks from freezing, you may find they freeze anyway.  If your black water tank freezes, you won’t be able to drain your waste which will leave you without plumbing.

To unfreeze a frozen black water tank, pour some RV antifreeze down into your frozen tank.

Before doing this, however, make sure you’ve checked on your insulation once more and try to heat the area up as well.  If you don’t do this, you’ll just end up with a frozen tank again as soon as you’ve emptied it.

11. Bring Gear for Getting Out of Snow

If you’ve ever gotten your vehicle stuck in the snow before, you know how difficult it can be to get out of it.  It is even more difficult to get an RV out of the snow.

To help with this, make sure you bring the proper gear for getting out of snow.

Here are some items you’ll want to bring along.

  • A shovel.
  • Chains for your tires.
  • Sand, dirt, or kitty litter.
  • Rock salt or calcium.
  • A portable traction device.

When you find yourself stuck, the first step you’ll want to take is to clear the snow out from around your RV.  If you have a towable RV, you’ll need to clear the snow out from around it as well.

This is when you’ll need your shovel.  Choose a shovel that is large enough to quickly move snow but small enough that it isn’t too much to handle.  Basically, you want to pretend you’re Goldilocks when you’re choosing a shovel to take along with you.

After you’ve removed the snow from the area, you may be able to drive away just by placing chains over your tires.  If you intend on heading out onto a snowy or icy road, you may want to put the chains on for safe driving anyway.

If you don’t have chains or don’t want to use them, try placing sand, dirt, or even kitty litter around your tires.  This will help give you the added traction you need to get out of the snow.

For those of you who want something more permanent to help you get out of the snow, consider getting a portable traction device.

These devices can be placed in front of your tires to help provide the traction you need to get out of heavy snow or ice.  Once you’re free, you can grab the device and put it back in your car.

Since they’re reusable, you never have to worry about buying sand, dirt, or kitty litter again.

(Unless you have a cat of course).
PS: Here are our top tips for RVing with cats.

You might also find that a bag of rock salt or calcium does the best job of freeing you and your RV from snow and ice.  For milder temperatures, rock salt will melt the snow just fine.

In temperatures well below freezing, you may find that you need calcium instead.  Just be careful as salt and even calcium might not be good for your RV’s finish.

You’ll want to clean your RV off as soon as you get home to avoid damage.

12. Take Along Emergency Winter Camping Gear

Even if you have multiple backup energy sources and don’t move your RV often, you may still end up getting stuck in your RV without any heat.  Imagine for a second that you’re stuck in your RV during a polar vortex and your heater just won’t work.

You’re snowed in at a campsite and nobody can come to help you for at least a day or two.

Can you survive an event like this?

Not long ago, a woman thought that she could and she paid for her mistake with her life.  This woman’s heater was working up until the night of her death but when it went out the temperature outside was -2 degrees and she ended up dying of hypothermia overnight.

This story demonstrates perfectly the need to be prepared for anything during winter.

You can’t control the weather and you can’t always control your heater but you can be prepared to survive even if the heat goes out.

To do this bring the gear that you’d bring with you if you were to go camping in the woods in the winter.  Some items might include:

  • A mummy sleeping bag.
  • Thermal undergarments.
  • A winter coat.
  • Gortex gloves and boots.
  • A wool hat or ski mask.
  • Hand Warmers.
  • A bladder or water bottle capable of holding boiling water.

One way to combat the cold is to bundle yourself up in as many layers of clothing as you can.  Thermals undergarments, multiple pairs of pants, multiple shirts, a winter coat, boots, gloves, and a wool hat will help you keep warm while you’re away.

A few hand warmers can also provide some additional heat and provide comfort to you when you need it.  A year ago I lost power at my house during the winter and while it wasn’t cold enough to be life-threatening, I did find having a couple of heat warmers in my pockets helped to keep me more comfortable.

When you go to bed, your metabolism will slow down even further and you’ll be glad to have the extra warmth of a mummy sleeping bag. 

If you’ve packed a bladder or water bottle capable of safely holding boiling water, you can put hot water in it and pull it into your sleeping bag with you.  This will help radiate additional heat for you so that your sleeping bag will warm up more quickly.

3 Great RVs for Winter Usage

The best RV for winter weather is the one with the most insulation and the best heater.  For those of you looking into getting a motorhome, you may want to consider one with four-wheel or all-wheel drive.  Motorhomes with this feature will cost more but it will be worth it for people who are frequently driving through snowy and icy conditions.

Here are some examples of winter RVs you may want to consider.

1) The Arctic Fox Classic 22G

This camper is a little less than 24′ long and it has a dry weight of 4,589 pounds.  It has a full bathroom with a dinette and a kitchen and sleeps, 4 people.  The freshwater tank is 46 gallons while the gray water tank is 42 gallons and the black water tank is 35 gallons.

This camper has a floor, ceiling, and walls that are filled with high-density foam block insulation.  Additional fiberglass insulation is placed in the roof to help keep in any heat that escapes through the first layer of foam insulation.

All of the holding tanks are fully enclosed, heated, and insulated so you won’t have to worry about your tanks freezing.  To keep the heater going, an optional generator can easily be included with our purchase.

Additionally, multiple vent fans are built into the camper so you won’t have to worry about cracking windows to avoid condensation.  Winter camping gear can be stored under the bed which lifts up on struts for easy access.

The Fox Classic comes in a few different models, but I like the 22G because it does not have any slides.  This means you’ll have less space to heat up and you won’t have to worry about your slide getting stuck because of the ice and snow.

2) The Lance 1475 4-Season Model

The Lance 1475 is for people looking for a smaller two-person winter weather RV.  It has an overall length of less than 20′ and it has a dry weight of only 2,600 pounds.  This means that many smaller SUVs and half ton trucks will have no problem pulling this camper.

Even though the camper is small, it still features a freshwater tank, a black water tank, and a gray water tank each with a capacity of 26 gallons.  The furnace is 14,300 BTU’s which is plenty for a camper of this size.

3) The Winnebago Revel

The Winnebago Revel is a four-wheel drive class B motorhome built on a Mercedes chassis.  They consider this their adventure model as it has some off-road capabilities.

This motorhome is less than 20′ long and only 7′ wide so it can fit into any standard parking spot.  It has a cassette toilet so you won’t have to worry about a black water tank freezing and the small interior space makes it very easy and efficient to heat.

Solar panels come standard on the roof so you won’t have to worry about a dead battery and the cooking is all induction so you’ll always be able to boil hot water if you need it.

Also, the heater is a hydronic heating system which runs on diesel fuel.  This means that as long as you keep your gas tank full, you’ll always have both heat and hot water.

For more information on RV heaters, check out this post: https://www.godownsize.com/heating-rv/

How do You Prepare an RV for Winter Storage

If you’ve decided not to use your RV this winter, you’ll definitely want to take extra steps before you store it.  RVs need to have their batteries fully charged and they need to have their pipes winterized.

You may also want to consider putting a trickle charger on your battery so that it does not drain.

Fully-drained batteries can become damaged and the cold weather will drain them faster than the higher temperatures of spring and summer.

Sources:
https://www.phillyvoice.com/central-pennsylvania-woman-dies-hypothermia-polar-vortex/