Can You Use an RV in the Winter?

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When people think of taking an RV out to go camping, they typically think of vacations spent hiking through the woods, swimming in nearby streams and enjoying the warm, lazy days of summer. These are all fine, but the serious RV owner might be wondering whether that’s all there is to it. Sure, just about anyone can camp when it’s warm, right? 

However, once the cold starts to creep in, camping becomes a much more difficult proposition. Now, we’re not talking about the chilly nights you get in the fall. In fact, when the thermometer begins to creep lower and the leaves start to change the idea of camping sounds even better for a lot of people.

But what about in the middle of winter? Is it possible to take your RV for a weekend (or longer) getaway when the temperature has plummeted and there’s snow on the ground? 

In short, yes -- but it’s not easy. There’s a lot of preparation that goes into a successful winter RV excursion. However, if you know how to prepare your RV to handle the cold weather, and you know what supplies you’re going to need, you’ll find that winter RVing is a task that you and your loved ones will enjoy. Before you set for that first winter trip, though, you need to make sure you and your RV are ready.

Prepping the RV

As you can imagine, the last thing you want for your winter trip is an RV that isn’t ready to take on the extreme cold conditions it’s about to go through. This is why you want to make sure that your RV is ready. There are a lot of areas to check:

Exterior

Exterior

Escaping heat is by far your biggest nemesis when it comes to camping in cold temperatures. It’s important to go through and make sure that every surface and opening is sealed off, allowing maximum heat retention .Thankfully, most modern RVs are actually pretty well-insulated to begin with. However, it’s always a good idea to inspect everything yourself.

Windows are by far the biggest culprit for heat loss; your RV has a lot them and any small leak in the seals around them can be extremely unpleasant. Seal and re-caulk all window edges. At the same time, check the doors, vents and other openings. Make sure that everything that should be sealed off, is.  

Speaking of windows -- you also want to see what sort of windows you’re dealing with. If they’re double-paned then they should do a decent job of keeping out the worst of the winter chill. If not, however, you can buy special plastic film to cover them with. This film doesn’t take away from your visibility when looking outside, but will boost their ability to keep your RV insulated.

Water Hoses and Tanks

One of the easiest ways for the cold to ruin your trip is by freezing your water and bursting your hoses. If you are running a standard hose hookup, this is most likely going to be the result. The good news is that there are ways to avoid this. One easy way is to purchase a heated hose. These hoses cost a little more, and they run off AC power, but they will keep the water flowing to your RV without any risk of freezing at all.

Another solution is to just to fill your RVs water tanks and use that water, refilling them only when needed. After each refill, take the time to drain the hose thoroughly so there’s no water left. The water in your tank is heated by the interior of the RV, so you don’t have to worry about that water, either.

Skirting

The underbelly of your RV can actually drain a lot of warmth. You have a lot of surface area exposed to the coldest temperatures (where does cold go? It sinks!) and pulling heat out with every gasp of wind. To combat this, you can consider putting up some skirting. This is best if you’re staying in one place for a while, because skirting takes a little time and effort. 

You can find various manufactured skirtings at camping supply stores, or you can actually fashion them yourself if you’re a little handy. Basically, all you’re doing is putting up a shield that will keep out the wind. This leads to a slightly insulated space that will help keep down your heating concerns and make your overall stay more comfortable.

Heating Solutions

Heating Solutions

Inside the RV, one of your main issues is going to be staying warm. Most RV heaters are only effective up until the outside temperature drops below 40 degrees or so. After that, it just can’t keep up.

To offset this, you might be wanting to add extra heating options. Space heaters are by far the most obvious choice, and they’re fine -- as long as you remember that space heaters come with a few health risks, including the possibility of fire and also carbon monoxide leaking into the atmosphere. 

To run space heaters safely, make sure they are not placed near any flammable surfaces, and also make sure to place them in a ventilated spot where exhaust can leave the RV without causing any health problems.

Slide Outs and Awnings

Slide outs, awnings and other horizontal surfaces can also create problems. Snow and ice can build up on these surfaces, making it difficult -- if not impossible -- for them to work properly when being pulled in.

In addition, slide outs are especially vulnerable to problems because snow can accumulate, only to melt due to interior heat. This melted snow refreezes at night and becomes ice, which can cause more damage and make it more difficult to bring those slide outs in.

The best solution with the horizontal surfaces is to keep them clear of snow, cleaning them off after any snow has accumulated.

Shopping for Supplies

Shopping for supplies

After your RV is prepped and ready to go, you’ll need to go shopping. Of course, you’ll want to get your normal camping supplies, but winter time brings with it other needs that will require other supplies as well. Make sure to add these items to your shopping list:

  • Wiper fluid that is specially formulated to stay liquid in even deep winter cold.
  • An electric blanket. No matter how warm your RV interior is, you can bet that you’ll still want a warm blanket to help you keep cozy and snug. 
  • Heavy curtains to hang on the windows. These curtains will help keep out more of the winter chill that’s trying to make its way in to the interior.
  • In addition to window curtains, closing off parts of the interior with full-length hangings from floor to ceiling can help your heaters to run more efficiently.
  • Wooden blocks for your stabilizing jacks. These jacks can get stuck to the cold ground. Prevent this by putting wooden blocks down first.
  • A shovel, which you will definitely use from time to time to clear away the worst of the snow and make your campsite navigable.
  • A blow dryer. Even though you have the heated water hose, there are other hoses that can freeze in the worst of winters. A blow dryer can help heat them up in a pinch.
  • Tire chains. This makes sense, since you’ll be driving in the snow.
  • A dehumidifier. Even though winter is typically seen as a dry season, inside your RV you’ll most likely be dealing with the opposite problem. Condensation created from the heat inside, as well as your own body, will add moisture to the inside. This can create mold and mildew issues as well as a host of other problems. A dehumidifier is a must in these situations.
  • Extra food and water. Just in case.

As you can see, winter RVing, if done right, involves a little bit of extra work to be considered safe. You can’t just go out into the frozen wasteland and come back unscathed. You need to plan in advance and make sure your RV is up to the task of keeping you and your loved ones safe.

However, once you’ve thoroughly prepared your RV -- by checking windows, hoses, water tanks and other areas -- and bought all of the necessary supplies for a winter trip you can look forward to spending some time out there in your favorite spots, next to all of the other snowbirds who are just as crazy and carefree as you!

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