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Bucking the trend: Heading north for the winter (Part two)

Before you continue reading, read part one of this series here if you haven’t already.

Camping in the winter in the northern U.S. requires special preparation. Blizzards, extremely cold temperatures, and blustery winds are just the beginning of potential hazards facing winter campers. How do they prepare? Here are a few answers:

Four-season camper? Really?

Some RVs claim to be four-season campers. In reality, no RV that I know about is insulated or built well enough to withstand bitterly cold conditions or extended periods of sub-zero temps. Just know that up front and plan your trip when temperatures are friendlier to a winter camping experience. Stay safe and snug in your stick-built home until travel conditions and milder wintertime temps are forecast.

Water concerns

  • Freshwater hose. Cold temperatures can freeze water lines. Purchase a heated freshwater hose (like this top-rated one from Camco). Or make your own. Check out YouTube videos like this one for directions.
  • Running water. In extremely cold conditions, we’ve kept a dribble of water running overnight to keep lines from freezing.
  • RV water compartment. A light bulb in your water compartment will keep the compartment from freezing. Recommendations call for 40- to 100-watt bulbs. A remote temperature gauge placed inside the water compartment will enable you to easily monitor the temps there.

Heating

  • Basement heater. If you have a basement heater fan, plan to turn it on when cold temperatures are predicted, or when the remote temperature gauge indicates declining temps. A heated basement will help keep the interior of the RV warmer.
  • Propane. Many winter campers upgrade their propane tanks to larger capacity units. This enables a camper to go longer between propane fills. Your RV furnace will use a lot of propane in cold weather, so a larger capacity tank is important for your peace of mind. It’s no fun to run out of propane in the middle of the night, trust me.
  • Heat pumps. If your rig has a heat pump, plan to use it to conserve propane. Remember, however, that it only works in temps above 40 degrees or so. When the temps dip below 40 degrees, you’ll need to rely on your furnace or alternative heat source.
  • Fireplace. Many RVs feature electric fireplaces which can take the chill off the interior of your rig when temps are moderate. We’ve also used our fireplace to supplement our furnace heat when necessary.
  • Stand-alone heaters. You can find many ceramic, oil-filled, infrared, and electric heaters online. Check to see how many amps the heating device uses. Many operate on very few amps and will save on electric and propane usage. No matter which heater you choose, always use extreme caution. Place the heater well away from curtains and other combustibles. Keep heaters away from pets and small children, too.
  • Add insulation. You may have noticed that closet and cupboard interiors feel colder than the rest of the RV. Adding foam board insulation onto all of the interior sides of these places will help keep your entire rig warmer in winter (and cooler in the summer). We’ve measured and cut the blue foam board from Home Depot or Lowe’s to fit inside our RV cupboards. It’s made quite a difference for us. I don’t permanently attach the foam board, but rather use the cupboard contents to hold the insulation boards in place.

Other considerations

  • Watch for condensation. Water condensation on windows, walls, and such can potentially cause mold or structural damage to your RV. You may need a dehumidifier to combat this problem.
  • Have a plan. Decide ahead of time what activities you plan to do. That way you’ll be sure to pack the things you need (e.g., snowshoes, ice skates, cross country skis). Because winter weather can sometimes change on a dime, it’s best to have backup plans, too. For example, if a blizzard is in the forecast, adjust your destination, route, or departure day/time to allow for safer travels.
  • Tell family and friends. Just like RVing at any other time of year, it’s a good idea to check in with family or friends once in a while to let them know where you are camping. Supply the name of your campground and site number, or your GPS coordinates, so that you can be reached in case of emergency.

##RVDT1781

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Jim Prideaux
3 months ago

Good follow up to first article.

Bud Betz
4 months ago

One other caution on space heaters. A space heater can make one feel warm and snuggly. It helps save on propane for sure. One thing in particular when the temp drops below freezing and deeper plunges into sub freezing temps is to be careful to not over use the space heater. A lot of todays RVs have heated basements. By relying on the space heater too much and running the furnace too little could lead to frozen conditions with lines and tanks that those warm and cozy inside the coach may not realize. Everyone wants flushing water for the loo or tap for the coffee pot. Dry camping in the winter alleviates the issue.