Camping shouldn’t only be a summer activity. It’s a great recreational activity in the winter, too. Nature is just as beautiful in winter. You can hike through the white wilderness. You can use the snow as a drink cooler. And a bonfire always feels best in cold weather.
There’s no cozier way to go winter camping than in an RV. An RV gives you a comfortable place to cook food, use the restroom, and enjoy games and relaxation—not to mention that it gives you adequate shelter from the cold. But most RVs aren’t actually built to handle extended stays in very cold weather. So before you go RV camping in winter, make sure that you and your RV are properly equipped.
Here are 11 tips on how to prepare for winter RV living:
- Add Antifreeze to Holding Tanks
- Insulate Pipes
- Store Hoses in Warm Component
- Use Space Heaters and Heating Pads to Keep Holding Tanks Warm
- Insulate Windows with Curtains and Plastic Film
- Add Antifreeze to Vehicle Fluids
- Routinely Clear Snow and Ice Off Vehicle
- Put Chains on Tires
- Use an Engine Block Heater
- Stock Your RV with Emergency Equipment
- Don’t Camp Near Hillsides or Where There’s Little Sunlight
Winterize Your RV for Cold Weather
It’s easy to take RV amenities for granted (the pioneers of the American frontier would surely chastise us). But, just as you dress in warm layers when you go out in the cold, an RV also needs some winter gear if it’s going to stay functional in icy weather. Failure to adequately prepare your RV may result in pipe and insulation failure. Your RV cabin temperature could plummet, or you could lose ready access to water. Worse, your RV could fail to start up, in which case you’d be stranded in the cold.
If your RV isn’t ready-built for winter camping, here’s how to winterize your RV so it’ll survive and thrive during your outing.
Tip #1: Add Antifreeze to Holding Tanks
If you’re camping in weather that’s near-freezing or below-freezing, all the water in your RV is at risk of turning to ice. That not only includes water that’s stored within your cabin, but also water that’s circulated through the pipes. Frozen water leads to all sorts of problems:
- Freezing eliminates your drinking water, which puts you at risk of dehydration
- Freezing eliminates all the water functions in your RV; you won’t be able to access sink water or shower water
- Frozen pipes could burst, causing thousands of dollars in damage
- Freezing could disrupt your sewage system
Sewage is a place where you definitely don’t want frozen water. Experienced motorists will vouch that the dreaded “poopsicle” is a very real possibility. The poopsicle is a disgusting gremlin that lurks in frozen blackwater tanks. It’s the chupacabra for RV motorists.
If you’re going to be spending more than a few days in freezing temperatures, add RV antifreeze to the grey water and black water holding tanks. Pour 1-2 quarts of RV antifreeze down the sink drain and shower drain. Also pour 1-2 quarts down the toilet. As more water enters the holding tanks, the antifreeze will get diluted. You’ll have to add more antifreeze continuously throughout your camping trip.
If possible, don’t empty the tanks until you’re ready to leave. You don’t want excessively full tanks, but remember that a greater volume of liquid takes longer to freeze.
Tip #2: Insulate Pipes
Antifreeze will protect the holding tanks, but you’ll still be left with lots of pipes that are vulnerable to freezing. Insulate the pipes to keep them from freezing and bursting. You can wrap your pipes in either:
- Foam pipe insulation
- Heat tape
Both are effective and easy to apply.
Your most vulnerable pipes are the ones located on the bottom of your RV. These pipes are more susceptible to cold outdoor temperatures and icy wind. Place an RV skirt around the perimeter of your vehicle. An RV skirt provides insulation for the underside of your vehicle. To boost its effectiveness, pack snow against the bottom of the RV skirt. This creates an “igloo” effect that provides further insulation.
Tip #3: Store Hoses in Warm Compartment
You must also insulate your sewage hose and fresh water hose. These hoses can freeze in extremely cold weather and burst. Then you’ll have no way to empty your black water tank or add water to your fresh water tank.
Some folks like to keep their sewage valves open the whole time they’re camping. You can’t do that during a winter camping trip because the hose, the valve, and the contents of the black water tank will freeze. Always close your valve when you’re done emptying the black water tank. When you’re not using them, store your sewage hose and fresh water hose in a heated compartment, and keep it sealed tight.
You can wrap each hose in pipe insulation or in heat tape while you’re using them outdoors.
Tip #4: Use Space Heaters and Heating Pads to Keep Holding Tanks Warm
There are a few alternative ways to keep your water tanks warm:
- Space heaters
- Heating pads
You can use space heaters or heating pads to keep your holding tanks warm. You can place space heaters in the compartments holding your fresh water tank and your grey and black water tanks. The space heater will keep the liquids at a warmer temperature so they won’t freeze. You could also place heating pads on the holding tanks, which provides the same effect.
Make sure that you check on these heaters routinely, and avoid running them 24 hours per day. It’s a good idea to place a wireless thermometer in any compartment where there’s an electric heater so you can safely monitor them at all times.
Space heaters are also effective at:
- Heating the RV cabin
- Heating the water pump
Tip #5: Insulate Windows with Curtains and Plastic Film
Windows can be troublesome for 2 reasons:
- Windows can freeze
- Cold can permeate through windows
Apply plastic film over the windows to keep them from freezing. To better insulate the cabin, get insulated RV window coverings.
Tip #6: Add Antifreeze to Vehicle Fluids
Your water isn’t the only thing susceptible to freezing. Your RV’s engine fluids can freeze, too. Make sure you use:
- Antifreeze diesel fluid
- Antifreeze wiper fluid
Both of these fluids are important. Frozen diesel could keep your engine from running properly. And since you might be travelling in a wet, winter environment, you’ll likely need to use your windshield wipers a great deal to maintain visibility while you’re driving.
Tip #7: Routinely Clear Snow and Ice Off Vehicle
While you’re camping, snow and ice will accumulate all over your RV. Each day, you should shovel snow off the roof of your RV. Scrape ice off the vehicle, too. Remember to clear snow and ice from the:
- Slide awnings and gaskets
If you’re using stabilizing jacks, know that it’s possible the jacks could freeze to the icy ground. Place wooden blocks underneath the jacks so they won’t freeze to the ground.
Tip #8: Put Chains on Tires
Tire chains are a very important safety feature, especially if you’re driving in an area that has icy roads. Tire chains dramatically improve your RV’s traction and will keep you safe while you’re driving through winter weather. Some states, like California, mandate that you apply tire chains in certain mountainous areas. Even if you don’t have to use them, you should always have them stored in your RV.
Tip #9: Use an Engine Block Heater
When you’re camping in extremely cold weather, your engine could shut down and fail to start up. Use an engine block heater to warm your engine and prepare it for driving. You’ll most likely have to use the block heater at the very end of your winter camping trip when you’re readying to drive back home.
Use the block heater to warm the engine for 3 hours before you start it and depart the campsite.
Stock Survival Gear
Always be prepared for the worst. Should you get stranded in a cold environment, you’ll want to make sure that you have the proper supplies to help you survive until rescue, or to help you facilitate your rescue.
Tip #10: Stock Your RV with Emergency Equipment
Stock your RV with emergency survival gear, including:
- First aid kit
- 5 gallons of water
- Tow strap
- Snow shovel
- Portable jump starter & USB charger
- Hand warmers
- Surplus food
- Magnesium alloy fire starter
- Thermal space blanket
- Thermal survival tent
Look for a quality emergency survival kit. Survival kits, like Uncharted’s SEVENTY2™ Survival System, bundle all the listed equipment into an organized and portable carrier.
Research Weather and Campground
The final part of your preparation for is to do research on your campground and the weather that’s expected to greet it. Some campers are aroused by the thrill of pushing isolation to its limits. But remember that the further away you camp from the beaten path, the harder it will be for rescuers to find you, and vice versa. Enjoy the beauty of the wild, but be safe.
And don’t forget your manners! Visit Nationwide.com to to review RV camping etiquette.
Tip #11: Don’t Camp Near Hillsides or Where There’s Little Sunlight
If you’re going RV camping in the snow, any hillside could pose the risk of an avalanche. Don’t camp at the bottom of a hillside.
You should also avoid camping anywhere that has little exposure to sunlight. Sunlight won’t do much to warm you in a snowy environment. But it could help prevent ice from forming on your IV, and it could delay freezing of your pipes and water supply.
When it comes to winter RV camping, the most difficult part is preparing your RV to handle the cold weather. But so long as you winterize your vehicle to prevent freezing, so long as you stock emergency supplies, and so long as you do research on your campsite and impending weather, you’ll be set for the ultimate winter camping trip. Enjoy snuggling in your cozy RV and watching the beautiful cold outside, which can’t pierce the veil of your vehicle.