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How to have a successful winter camping trip, even in negative temps

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Successful winter camping? Yes! It’s easy to enjoy the solitude and beauty of winter camping, you just have to know how to do it safely.

The end of the season when it’s time to pack up the RV, winterize it, and put it in storage has always been a rather sad time. That is, until I was able to convince my husband that we could still RV—we just needed to do a little more prep and do without some of the fancy luxuries that an RV provides.

Let me tell you one thing about winter camping: There is no campground crowding! While the majority of private campgrounds close down in the winter, a lot of state and regional parks keep campgrounds open. They even plow a few select sites and have power on.

Our first winter camping adventure

Our first outing was not well-planned but we still made it memorable. The best birthday present I could have had was a weekend in our truck camper in March. March in Minnesota is still cold and complete with six feet of snow. It was an epic present, but it took shoveling out a way into the backyard to retrieve the truck camper and three burly guys to release it from the frozen tundra.

Success! We traveled to a state campsite and had the pick of more than 100 sites! The campground was in a tourist area and I didn’t realize that the town would be closed up tight in the dead of winter. My anticipated birthday steak dinner was reduced to a gas station frozen meal defrosted over the propane stove. But it was an adventure! Stayed warm and snuggled up. In the morning, I looked out the windows with such joy and gratitude over the frosty, pristine snowscape.

Winter camping at -10° F

Next, came a more demanding trip in our 34-ft. motorhome. The temp was -10° F. We had just sold our house and all our belongings and were traveling south. Truthfully, I had thought we would stay in a motel, but my husband was all in favor of camping. We found a casino campground that stays open all winter with 50-amp power and showers.

The next morning, the motorhome didn’t start and there was a good 1/2″-thick coating of ice on the inside of the windshield. We used a small, portable electric heater to defrost it and the casino had a car start service. However, it became apparent we needed a new battery and absolutely no shop would go out in the cold to change it. We finally gave up and bought a battery and my husband changed it out. I supervised from inside the motorhome.

We found campsites along the way that catered to winter camping. As I was filling up a five-gallon jug inside a ranger station, they informed me that they left a few faucets on at the campsite for those traveling back and forth to the Mayo Clinic and hospitals.

While we did put water and antifreeze down the sink and toilet, we did not dewinterize until the blissful warmth of Alabama.

While we’re not experts in winter camping, we know it can be done and that an RV does not need to sit forlornly throughout a long and dismal winter.

A few helpful winter camping tips:

Winter travel

  • Check weather reports. Driving in snow and ice in an RV requires patience and forethought. Waiting out a storm is usually the best idea.
  • Let family or friends know your travel plans and route. Stay in touch and keep them posted on your location along the way, if possible.
  • Go slow! Required chains is not an RV-friendly route.
  • Carefully sweep off snow from slide-outs before pulling them in.
  • Have a portable car starter available and charged up.
  • Carry ice and snow scrapers.
  • Make sure vehicles are winter-ready.
  • Stuck or slipping? Know that removable rugs and car mats can provide some traction under tires.

Using the sink and toilet when winterized

  • You can use the toilet and sinks even if winterized.
  • Carry water in jugs and use the water in your sinks and toilets very sparingly.
  • “Flush” with RV antifreeze.
  • Pour RV antifreeze into sink traps and down the toilet. This is particularly important if leaving the RV for any amount of time.

Not winterized? Keep pipes from freezing

  • Make sure the furnace warms fresh water and holding tanks. If your RV has multiple furnaces, know which one is heating the tanks.
  • Keep sink cupboard doors ajar to allow interior heat to get to interior lines.
  • Even at a full hookup site do not hook up the sewer hose until needed to dump… and dump with caution! If there is the potential of freezing mid-dump, wait!
  • If your RV is not winterized and is in an area that freezes overnight, you can use a heated water hose or unhook and store the water hose. Note: Putting a water filter at the faucet will freeze if it’s not done after heating the water hose. (I know that from experience!)

Staying warm

  • Make sure batteries in smoke and LP detectors are working.
  • Monitor propane levels.
  • Do NOT use a propane stove top for heat. This can prove deadly!
  • Portable electric heaters can supplement heat but do not use overnight or leave them unattended.
  • Big Buddy portable propane heaters can provide auxiliary heat but make sure you crack a window when using one. Do not run it overnight!
  • Pull shades or curtains to retain heat. Cover the windshield if in a motorhome.
  • Install insulated vent covers.
  • Insulate windows and cabinets.

Dress appropriately, and enjoy!

  • Have doubles of all warm clothing.
  • Know that once gloves, socks and clothes are wet they can take a long time to dry out—always have two pairs handy.
  • Protect against hypothermia. Get inside if you’re chilled. Watch the kids who may not realize they are too cold and just want to keep playing.
  • Enjoy the solitude and beauty of a winter camping trip. You’re guaranteed to make amazing memories.

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Gary Stone
20 days ago

We take our fully winterized camping trailer to a local ski resort 2-3 times a season. Fortunately they have electric hookups so we’re able to run a small ceramic heater to stay warm. Since we’re only camping for 2-3 days bathing is easily accomplished by boiling water we bring in jugs and have hot wash-rag baths. We use the toilet and flush with RV antifreeze mixed with water in a jug.

chris
22 days ago

No thank you. My rig is not designed for the cold, the furnace never stops running and I can go through a tank of propane a day. Pretty? Yes. Comfortable. Nope.

George
22 days ago

Winter Camping Rocks!!!!

My wife and I do it all the time. My “Winterizing” is simply to pour a little pink stuff into the pee-traps and leave the faucets open when temps will be below 25 degrees for the better part of a week. I do this so that we can roll at a moments notice throughout the year.

There is nothing as soul cleansing as warming yourself by a campfire as the sun is beginning to rise and seeing your breath in the air while clasping your coffee cup with both hands to keep your finger tips warm.

Safe Travels…

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