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Ask Dave: I’m looking for a cold weather RV. What do you suggest?

Dear Dave,
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

Dear 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!

Winter blues

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.

Windows

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.


Read Tony Barthel’s daily RV reviews here.


Dave Solberg is a leading expert in the RV industry and the author of the “RV Handbook.”

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19 Comments
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Bugman
7 days ago

Check out the Lance rv’s with the 4 season option. Very good cold weather trailers.

Donald N Wright
8 days ago

Being from Texas, cold weather and I prefer to remain strangers. However, I think I would buy an RV manufactured in Canada, as cold weather is normal up there.

Cynthia
8 days ago

Outdoors RV for true 4 season as others have said but you are gonna need a bigger truck. F150 can’t pull even the smallest one of these safely. they are really heavy.

Spike
8 days ago

I have done a fair amount of cold weather RV camping in temps to -10F.

IMO, Travel Trailers, in general, are the worst choice. Most will have little between the huge floor surface and the outside since there is little or no “basement.” “Tin” sided are the worst since the metal exterior just transfers the cold, especially if aluminum studs/framework are used.

Motorhomes are better suited if they have a full basement. I put thick bat insulation inside behind the bay doors and used one or two small electric heaters (never near combustibles) to augment heat in the basement. Thick walled stick built, like Newmar or conversion buses, over thin laminated walls.

Dual pane windows. Hydronic and/or in floor heat. WAY less condensation.

Last edited 8 days ago by Spike
Gary
5 days ago
Reply to  Spike

The best part about a truly good 4 season pkg is that insulation that serves you in the winter also does the same in summer heat.

Bob p
8 days ago

That 11,500 tow rating is based on a standard cab, standard equipment F150, not the crew cab fairly well loaded truck most people buy. Also all the people, dogs, cats, coolers, toys, games etc weights have to be calculated into the Gross Combined Weight Carrying Capacity (GCW). I looked at one truck that actually had only 2300 lbs out GCW left when including 2 adults(150lbs each=300) 2 children(50 lbs ea=100). That truck had so many options it was ridiculously heavy. So don’t go by the manufacturer ratings unless you can get them for your specific truck, they’re all different.

bill
8 days ago
Reply to  Bob p

Agreed .. Also the friendly local ford dealer can give him the exact gvwr and gcvwr (Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating) based on his vin #
When will RV experts quit recommending 1/2 ton pickups to tow anything bigger than a light utility trailer? 3/4 or 1 ton dually if towing anything with a weight near or above the towing unit imho.

Last edited 8 days ago by bill
Gary
5 days ago
Reply to  bill

That tow rating is just for bragging rights. If you tow a perfectly loaded flatbed ok. A 30+ ft trailer is a porposing wind sail behind a light duty 1/2 ton.

HappyCamper7424
8 days ago
Reply to  Bob p

Should check the truck max payload, it will likely top out well before the tow capacity.

Bob M
8 days ago

Didn’t seem like Dave answered the question. But fortunately the commenters did. Outdoors RV brags theirs is winter ready.

Bob p
8 days ago
Reply to  Bob M

I think most manufacturers probably rate their cold weather units for the cool 45 degree night time temperature encountered along the gulf coast in January. Not the upper half of the country that sees sub freezing temperatures 24/7. There are several things you can do to protect you unit from freezing while you’re sitting still, such as the inflatable under skirting. Several years ago, my mother who loved sewing made a skirt that snapped onto the lower sides of their 5th wheel. It worked.

Tom
8 days ago

Think Canadian built models. They occasionally have serious Winter. LOL

Tom Hosack
8 days ago

Checkout Northwood & Outdoor RV.

Ellie
8 days ago

Seems like Olivers and Bigfoots, both small, top-quality, fiberglass trailers, are reputed to be 4-season trailers, or they used to be. Might be worth checking into. They have been in and out of production over the years so you might have to find one used, rather than new.

Last edited 8 days ago by Ellie
Steve
2 days ago
Reply to  Ellie

Bigfoot is still around making campers & trailers. Located in Armstrong BC Canada.

Jesse Crouse
8 days ago

With today’s lack of quality and speed of construction don’t hold your breath on it being a real cold weather RV despite what the manufacturer or dealer say.

Barnjai
8 days ago

This article was very interesting. We don’t purposely camp in freezing weather but we have been “caught “ in some pretty cold temps. Our campers have never been very comfortable when that happens, especially the time we camped in our popup at the Space Center in Huntsville Alabama over Thanksgiving. The temperature dropped to 19 degrees both nights. Fortunately, our daughter’s house was close by and we arrived there shortly after dawn.

Warmonk
8 days ago

Look at the Outdoor RV company products. I lived four years in a 28-foot Timber Ridge with temperatures from -22C (-8F) to 45C (112F) in comfort while others suffered with ice on the inside walls and no water – in or out – during the winter and inadequate a/c during the summer.

volnavy007
8 days ago

For our tow unit (2016 RAM 1500 Tradesman, 5.7 engine), I sent the VIN to the manufacturer customer service and received a spec sheet. I carry a copy of that sheet in the TT log book.

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