RV Information for Kampgrounds of America, Inc.

Cold Weather Camping

Joe and Vicki Kieva

Cold weather months can be a great time to travel and camp in an RV. Traffic is lighter, campgrounds are uncrowded and the weather is stimulating.

Keep in mind that engines demand more electrical starting power during cold weather. Check the chassis battery’s electrolyte level, clean the terminals and coat them with petroleum jelly.

You’ll want a set of tire chains if you think you’ll encounter snow and ice. Practice putting them on while it’s warm and dry. Motor home owners might want to consider the damage a broken tire chain could inflict upon the fiberglass body of their rig. It might be better to avoid roads where chains may be required.

Fill your propane tank. It will minimize condensation inside the tank and help prevent vaporization problems in cold temperatures.

Your RV’s built-in space heating system should be adequate for keeping the interior warm. Remember, though, that a forced air furnace, in addition to consuming propane, will draw up to seven amps of electricity while operating. This could represent a considerable drain on the coach battery if electric hookups are not available.

Look for ways to improve your RV’s ability to retain heat. Hanging a heavy blanket between the driver’s compartment and the rest of the coach will block the cold radiated by a motorhome’s windshield.

Insulate the coach windows against the cold with heavy drapes or curtains. You can create an insulating dead air space inside of the windows by covering them with clear, heavy vinyl. Some RVers cover the interior of their windows with sheets of Styrofoam or posterboard.

Cover the inside of roof vents and skylights with Styrofoam or snap-on vinyl covers.

Throw rugs, especially on vinyl flooring, will add insulation to the floors. They will also protect the carpeting against tracked in dirt and moisture.

Insulate the inside of exterior cabinet doors by covering them with Styrofoam or fiberglass insulation.

You can minimize cold drafts by installing weather-stripping around entry doors and exterior cabinet doors.

Examine your rig’s plumbing to determine what measures may be needed to prevent damage from freezing temperatures.

The fresh-water tanks, water pump, pipes, drains, holding tanks and dumping valves of some RVs are protected by locating them in heated channels or compartments. The heat source is one or more ducts from the forced-air furnace. As long as the furnace runs periodically, the water in the pipes and tanks shouldn’t freeze.

Other RVs, however, may have their drains, holding tanks and dumping valves below the floor and exposed to outside temperatures.

Empty the holding tanks if they will be subject to freezing and pour a couple of quarts of non-toxic, biodegradable antifreeze into each holding tank. This will protect the dump valves. Pour in more antifreeze as wastewater fills the tanks. Pouring the antifreeze into the gray-water tank through the shower drain will also protect the drainpipe below the shower.

When outside temperatures approach freezing, disconnect, empty out and store the drinking water and sewer-hookup hoses. Slightly opening the doors of interior cupboards that contain plumbing will allow heated air from the coach to circulate around the pipes.

Drain the water system if you are unable to protect the fresh-water pump or plumbing from freezing. Even better protection is provided by using compressed air to blow the remaining water from the pipes or by simply pumping non-toxic, potable antifreeze throughout the water system.

Some cold-weather RVers winterize and then don’t use their plumbing system at all. Instead, they carry containers of drinking water inside the living area of the RV and rely completely upon the campground’s restroom facilities. Call ahead to the campground if this is your plan. Some close their restrooms during the off-season and others may only have electrical hookups available.

You can install electric tank heating pads and electric heating tape to protect your plumbing when you stay in a campground or RV park that provides electrical hookups. Look for them at RV accessory stores.

Before driving into an area on a dirt road, consider what it will be like to drive out on that road when it is slick from rain.

Try to camp in a spot that is open to the heat of the sun, and if possible, protected from the wind. You can minimize cold drafts by facing the RV into or away from the prevailing wind.

Keep in mind that snow accumulating on overhanging branches may eventually drop off in heavy clumps or perhaps bring down the brittle branches. And don’t let snow block the refrigerator roof vent.

Cold-weather camping doesn’t necessarily have to include freezing temperatures and snow but you should be prepared for occasional rain and some cold weather. And don’t be surprised if you find yourself in an almost empty campground experiencing warm, balmy weather.