Cold Weather Camping

While most of us will not need ANY of the content provided below, there are some of our families that DO come visit Blue Haven during the off season. We hope that this collection of ideas can help you brave the elements and actually get some use out of your camper during the non-traditional camping season!

Cold Weather Camping Tips & Tricks


Mark Polk from RV 101 is one of the leading Educational sources for RV information. Most of this article is a collection from his work combined into an abridged version here for our campers, but please check out his work using the links listed below.

If you’re like me, you enjoy using your camper as much as possible throughout the year. This includes taking trips during the colder winter months so you can enjoy the beautiful winter scenery and activities like, snow-skiing, ice-fishing and snowmobiling. Winter trips are lots of fun, especially when you and your camper are prepared for the cold weather.

When winter approaches each year we get asked a lot of questions about using your camper in cold temperatures. To answer some of these questions would require more than just a short article, and there are no guarantees that your RV can or will be completely protected from the harsh winter elements. With that said I can offer some cold weather RVing tips and tricks that would be helpful if you plan to use your RV during the cold winter months. These tips and suggestions are for short-term winter camping. If you plan on extended stays in cold weather there are many other precautions and measures that need to be considered, like using insulated skirting around the bottom of the camper to help protect items from freezing.

  1. For starters, make sure that your water system is winterized. It is much easier to winterize than most people think, and it’s not that expensive. The good news is it is still possible to use the bathroom facilities! We take 1-gallon jugs filled with water to use in the toilet. If your holding tanks are not heated, you can add some RV antifreeze to the holding tanks to prevent the contents from freezing. Add the RV antifreeze through the toilet for the black-water holding tank and down the shower or tub drain for the gray water tank. The antifreeze will also protect the shower or bathtub P-trap, which is usually located below floor level. The amount of RV antifreeze required for the holding tanks will depend on the size of the holding tanks, and the amount in the tanks. It will be necessary to add more RV antifreeze as waste-water accumulates to prevent the antifreeze from being too diluted. During cold-weather camping do not allow the holding tanks to fill completely before emptying them (unless the holding tanks are heated). This will reduce the chance of freezing, which can damage the holding tank and tank plumbing components. When using the winterized camper, take bottled water along for drinking and other needs like cooking and brushing your teeth. We fill a 5-gallon jug with tap water from our house for our pet’s drinking water and other uses like washing up.
  2. Stay in the Sun and out of the wind where possible. When we arrive at our winter camping destination I try to select a site that will be exposed to the sun throughout the day, but also where there is some type of wind break available. Position the camper on the site so the front or rear is facing the brunt of any wind, not the sides of the RV.
  3. The best source for heat is to use the camper’s forced-air furnace. There are a couple of things you need to be aware of when you using the furnace:
    1. First of all, it will consume more propane gas than any of the other appliances in the RV.
    2. Keep your tanks FULL. The propane tanks should be full prior to leaving on your trip, and you will need to monitor the supply carefully during your stay.
    3. Don’t rely on battery power alone. If you are not plugged into an electrical source the furnace fan can quickly drain the auxiliary battery(s). Batteries that are not fully charged can freeze in cold temperatures, rendering the RV furnace unusable. I recommend that you plan your stay where you have access to an electrical supply when camping in cold weather. When we are connected to electricity we set the forced-air furnace on a lower setting and supplement the heat with small thermostatically controlled ceramic space heaters. These heaters work extremely well and you don’t need to be concerned about a fire or carbon monoxide.
    4. If you will be camping where you don’t have access to an electrical connection one option is to use a generator. A generator can keep the RV batteries topped off and allow you to use the RV furnace. You will need to have a sufficient supply of fuel on hand for the generator. If it’s a portable generator make sure the exhaust is directed well away from the area where you are camping. Regardless of the type of generator, always make sure the exhaust system is in proper operating condition and the carbon monoxide detector is working properly.

Caution: Carbon monoxide is deadly. You cannot see it, taste it or smell it. Never use your range burners or oven as a source of heat. If your camper is not equipped with a carbon monoxide detector you should purchase a battery-operated model designed for use in RVs. Always test the carbon monoxide detector for proper operation before each trip and check the CO detector expiration date.

You also need to be aware of the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Muscular twitching
  • Intense headache
  • Throbbing in the temples
  • Weakness and sleepiness
  • Inability to think coherently
  • If you or anyone else experiences any of these symptoms get to fresh air immediately. If the symptoms persist seek medical attention.

Here are a few more cold-weather RV tips and tricks in no particular order:

  • Do not store any water hoses with water in them. If you need to use the hose it will probably be frozen. You can take the hose inside to thaw out if need be, or use a hair dryer to speed up the process.
  • Covering the windows can help hold some heat in. It helps to cover overhead vent openings too.
  • Try to avoid opening the entry door as much as possible.
  • Don’t forget to pack the electric blanket, it can be a lifesaver at night.
  • Happy Winter Camping,
  • Mark J. Polk

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