I’m looking to buy my first RV for cold weather camping. It will be a travel trailer and I’m looking at a true 4-season RV. I am driving a 2020 Ford F-150 with towing package, 4×4, and super crew cab with 5.0 motor. Do you have any trailers that you would and would not suggest? Also, how much RV can I tow with my truck? Thank you. —Joseph
I conduct an RV Buyer’s Seminar at several shows throughout the country and we discuss what to look for if you are planning to RV in cold temperatures. There are some good winter and/or cold weather packages on good units to use in freezing weather. However, you will find many that claim to be good for year-round use that are not.
When I worked at Winnebago, we introduced a Class A motorhome called the “Super Chief” that was a basement model and was advertised as a “Heated Basement For Year Around Use!” I was working in owner relations at the time and got a bunch of calls from owners that their water lines in the basement were freezing and bursting and the temperature was only about 20 degrees, not below zero.
I contacted the product manager for that model and he told me this: “We heat the basement but not to keep it from freezing.” How’s that for a side shuffle? He later became CEO! The unit had one heat duct dumped into the basement and no cold air return so the airflow was horrible. Plus, the compartment door that was advertised as “insulated” was actually just two sheets of fiberglass with air in between. Once again, the PM stated that air space is insulation!
I have stayed in units over the years down as low as -15 degrees with wind chill at -40, and I can tell you it’s not that fun! I also drove a 1990 Class A to Colorado in 25-degree weather with headwinds. There were so many air leaks in the front firewall that I had to drive with snow boots and a sleeping bag!
On another occasion, I was doing dealer training in a new 1989 Chieftain and went to stop for the night in 10-degree weather, and the furnace would not start. I let the engine run all night. Luckily it had “motoraid,” an automotive heater that ran the 200-degree antifreeze line back to the bedroom and looped back to the engine to provide free heat while driving. The next morning I called our appliance technician and he stated that it was too cold for the furnace to start. What?! It seemed the wiring for either the thermostat or the module board at the furnace was not the correct gauge and when the temps dropped, it would create an open circuit.
What to look for in a cold weather RV
Okay, enough of my winter blues. The first thing I would look for in a cold weather RV is where the fresh water lines are located and how they are protected from freezing. If the water lines are above floor level, it’s a safe bet that they will not freeze while you are RVing. If they are in the basement, make sure you take a close look at how heat is distributed to the lines, pump, and fresh water tank. Just because the basement is heated, doesn’t mean it can keep up with severe cold weather, especially if there is a strong wind blowing and the lines or pump is located just behind the compartment door. Some manufacturers offer a winter upgrade that have a heat blanket under the tank or heat tape that will heat the entire compartment.
I don’t worry much about the dump tanks as I can always throw some RV antifreeze down the toilet and shower to keep the valves from freezing in the black and gray water tanks.
Cold weather RV construction methods
The next consideration is the construction method and materials used. In my opinion, block foam insulation is superior to the loose fill you see mostly in cheaper travel trailers. It not only has superior insulation values but it also adds to the structural integrity of the roof and sidewall. There are also a variety of block foam materials available such as bead board and solid foam. There are different weights or density such as 1 lb. and 2 lb., which has superior insulation values. Most RV manufacturers use a block foam bead board that has a sidewall value of R9 and the thicker roofs have R12-14.
I have seen several RV manufacturers advertising higher roof values as they are using the “aerospace” reflection material, or “Reflectix,” as a layer on the roof. Some even say they have an R40! Keep in mind there is no “code” or testing required in the RV industry to substantiate these claims, so they can literally say anything they want. From my research and conversation with HVAC-certified technicians, the use of a single layer of the material in the design of the roof can only add a minimal increase of 1 to the R factor of the foam, which is only R12-14. To add any more than that it would need an air space of at least 2”, which is not possible on an RV roof. Hmm, maybe my old Winnie PM was right? Nope.
Also, keep in mind the R Factor that any RV manufacturer publishes is only for the solid parts of the sidewall and roof. They do not take into account the windows, doors, and slide rooms.
So let’s look at the windows in cold weather RVs. Many RV manufacturers tout the dual pane windows as superior insulation for year-round use. However, they do not tell you they are just two sheets of glass with air inside, not argon gas-filled like residential windows. I do like the dual pane as it is much quieter in the rig while driving or at the campground, but they provide very little insulation value when it comes to retaining heat inside your rig. And that is what R Factor is all about: keeping the heat inside the rig and the best materials to keep it from transferring out. I found it’s better to customize quilt coverings that can be attached with Velcro.
And staying with the R Factor, any slide room you might have will have a huge loss of heat around the perimeter, even with the rubber bulb seal, since there is typically nothing at the bottom of the room to the sidewall.
Cold weather RV furnaces
And finally, look at the furnace. Most units have an inexpensive and small furnace to save money, as most trailer buyers don’t camp year-round. You want something that has sufficient BTUs to heat everything or need to add supplemental heat with a Catalytic heater such as the Camco Olympian. These can run off a small propane bottle or be plumbed into your existing LP system and are some of the safest interior heat options.
Your second question: “How much RV can I tow with my truck?”
According to the Ford Towing Guide that I found here, your truck with the 5.0 is listed with a maximum towing capacity of 11,500 lbs. I would never tow anything at maximum; rather, deduct at least 10 percent off for heat and inclement weather. That leaves you with a pretty good-sized trailer. However, I would recommend doing a little more research on your truck and weights such as hitch weight.
Check out this article on towing capacities.
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Dave Solberg is a leading expert in the RV industry and the author of the “RV Handbook.”
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