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Cold Weather Camping Survival Guide: How to RV in Winter

While you could make winter camping work with any RV with the right supplies and fuel, there are RVs that are better suited to it than others. What matters more is how it is built and set up for enduring cold temperatures. Travel trailers, fifth wheels, motorhomes, camper vans, and truck campers can all facilitate winter RV travel and living. You just have to be prepared to overcome some of the unique challenges RVs face in cold and below-freezing temperatures.

The Best RV Winter Setup: How to RV in Winter and the Gear That Will Keep You Cozy Warm!

Cold Weather Camping Challenges

Camping in cold weather provides a couple of additional challenges that we have run into a few times before when running south from the cold. Snowbirds like us frequently find themselves encountering cold weather on the shoulder seasons.

However, for some cold weather camping is a sought-after experience of its own. For example, we intentionally stayed longer and endured more to extend our Alaskan and Canadian explorations on our Go North Expedition, allowing us to experience downhill skiing in Banff National Park.

No matter what your circumstance is, here are a couple of the challenges that one may expect to face when cold weather camping and what you can do to overcome them.

1. How to Heat Your Camper

Cooler weather outside means cooler temperatures inside, too. Plus, your RV is not as well insulated as a house. You’re going to have to use your RV furnace, make sure you have plenty of fuel to run in your furnace, and increase insulation wherever you can. Additional heat supplies might be necessary to keep the camper sufficiently warm.

  • RV furnaces generally run on liquid propane (LP) gas – This means you’ll need to have plenty of propane for cold weather camping.
  • They also use 12V power to operate their electronics, fans, etc.
  • If your RV batteries die, your furnace won’t kick on regardless of how much propane you have in the tank.
4 season rv certification for cold weather camping

Is Your RV Four-Season Rated And What Does It Mean?

Many campers come “4 Season Certified” and it can make a bit of difference in keeping your tanks from freezing and you more comfortable. But almost all “4-Season” Packages mean different things. From ducting from your furnace to the bays with your tanks, extra insulation, dual-pane windows, etc.

Be sure to look up what your 4-Season package means so you know what to expect when cold weather really hits.

Set Your Thermostat for Cold Weather Camping

Set your thermostat to a temperature reasonably above freezing to keep you and everything else from freezing. You’ll need to do this for overnights and for when you will be away from your RV.

setting rv thermostat for winter rving

Check and Refill Your Propane Regularly

Make sure you’re not going to run out of propane on your winter camping trip. This runs your furnace.

How long a propane tank will last depends on the weather conditions and temperature, the size and insulation of your RV, and how high you set your thermostat. In the worst situations, we’ve burned through a 30lb propane tank in about a week with below-freezing temperatures and wind.

To check your propane levels:

  • Lifting it – However, if your tanks are stored in a special cabinet this can be inconvenient.
  • Pour hot water on it – you will see the line of the level.
  • Use a Propane Level Detector, like this one by Truma that we use.

Long-Term Tip: If you’re really serious about long-term cold weather camping, you can also use external propane tanks to increase capacity and reduce trips to refill. Some companies will allow rentals of these tanks for a season, with delivery and refill services.

External propane tank for RV in winter.

Get Supplemental Space Heaters for Your RV

If you’re going to be plugged into power, it might be a good idea to supplement your furnace with small portable space heaters. You can save a lot of propane and stay comfortable by heating just the area you’re in.

Note: don’t try to completely replace your furnace use with space heaters. Your RV electrical system will probably only be able to handle one or two small heaters depending on how it’s wired and your electrical service.

Here’s what we recommend:

  • Delonghi HMP1500 Mica Panel Electric Heater – we’ve used this quiet heater to offset some of our propane usage in the furnace if we are in a smaller space.
  • Mr. Big Buddy Heaters – These indoor-safe portable propane heaters are also pretty popular to use in RVs, just be sure to crack a window. We have friends who swear by these, and it’s great that they are boondock-friendly by not needing a reliable electricity source. You might also want to get the 6V Power Adapter and 12ft Hose with Regulator to adapt it to a 20lb propane tank.
  • Electric RV fireplaces are popular add-ons if you know you’ll be spending time in the cold.
  • Some people even use RV wood stoves to help with heating their RV. This requires a DIY install, as no RV manufacturers we know of offer this as an option.
DeLonghi HMP1500 Mica Panel Electric Heater | Product Review | Heat Your RV with Electricity

Insulate Your Windows, Skylights, & Fans

  • Even if you’re in a 4-Season camper, you might find that installing window insulation kits is helpful.
  • Use insulated covers for skylights or inset ceiling vents. They are not as insulated as your RV’s solid roof. These will help a lot with heat escaping through the thin plastic of your fan cover.
  • Pulling the blinds makes a big difference in creating a barrier of air that helps insulate your windows.
  • Purchase some Reflectix Foil Insulation and cut it into the shape of your windows to insulate and reflect heat back into your RV.
Sale
Reflectix BP24010 Series Foil Insulation, 24 in. x...
  • Inhibits or eliminates condensation
  • Nontoxic/no carcinogenic
  • Does not require Protective clothing, goggles, or respirator

Wear Layers & Use Heated Blankets

Be prepared to layer up and use blankets. Even running the furnace full-out and supplementing with electric heaters might not keep all the cold out.

If electricity isn’t an issue, we HIGHLY recommend using electric heated blankets for winter camping. There are few things worse than climbing into an icy cold bed on a winter’s night. A cold mattress can suck every ounce of warmth out of you! We use our heated blankets to warm up our mattress and sheets.

Install RV Skirting

RV skirting refers to any type of barrier you put around the perimeter of your RV to block the space between the bottom of your RV and the ground. This creates an insulative space of air and blocks wind from pulling additional heat from the bottom of the RV.

RV skirting is a game-changer for cold weather camping. We didn’t truly believe it until we installed a skirt on our fifth wheel, but we were very impressed!

  • Many varieties available – we break down all your RV skirting options in another article
  • Saves propane
  • Reduces furnace run-time and noise
  • Allows us to keep our RV mostly warm by running just 2 small electric space heaters.

Pro Tip: Learn more about Why & When You Need RV Skirting.

rv skirting on fithwheel covered in snow
RV skirting helps tremendously with staying warm while cold weather camping.

2. Cold Weather Causes Condensation In Your Camper

Condensation will occur in cold weather in virtually any RV. This is from moisture in the air inside your camper coming in contact with a cold surface. Once it hits, water vapor condenses into water droplets. Cooking, making tea, or even just breathing puts moisture into the air. And when it hits the inside of your RV’s cold window, then BAM! You’ve got water.

Unchecked condensation left for days or weeks on end accumulates and causes problems. Especially if it isn’t on a surface that does well with being wet like walls, on the carpet, or getting behind your bed and soaking your mattress. There are a couple of ways you can combat this:

Towel It Up

If your cold-weather stint is short-term, toweling the excess water is a quick, free, and easy way to deal with the problem. We do this a lot, as cold weather condensation is a BIG sign for us to drive south as fast as we can.

Use Moisture Absorbers

DampRids or other brands of moisture absorbers work well to pull moisture from the air. They work especially well in enclosed spaces like closets, cabinets, and under/behind furniture. These are places where the warmth of the furnace or heaters doesn’t have much effect.

Get A Dehumidifier

If you aren’t concerned with electricity use, you might want to consider getting a small RV dehumidifier. This would also come in handy if you’re in humid areas in general.

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Run the Air Conditioner (As A Dehumidifier)

It might be counter-intuitive to run your A/C when it is cold outside. But, your A/C will act as a temporary dehumidifier in a pinch. You’ll have to figure out if you can run an electric heater at the same time as your A/C. It’s very likely to pop a breaker if you’re not careful. Try alternating the A/C and furnace/electric heater to pull moisture from the air.

Remember, unventilated propane heaters like Mr. Buddy put more moisture into the air when used.

truck camper in snow

RV Mattress Getting Damp

One challenge many will face in colder weather (and sometimes any weather) is the RV mattress getting damp underneath. This is due to the mattress not having enough airflow underneath or against the cold walls. Left unchecked, mold grows in these dark and damp places.

The Den-Dry mattress underlay does just this and comes in many sizes or can be cut to fit. In addition, we like to use moisture absorbers alongside the mattress.

Den-Dry RV and Boat Under Mattress pad - Queen
  • Makes 2 strips, 39" Wide 60" Long (120" total)
  • Den-Dry Queen size should be cut in half and each piece placed...
  • Den-Dry Queen fits a full size mattress

3. Freezing Temps Means Freezing Tanks, Water Hoses, Sewer Hoses, and More

If you’re hooked up to water and/or sewer in freezing weather, you will definitely need to take some extra precautions to keep these exposed water lines from freezing. Additionally, you’ll want to make sure your internal RV water pipes don’t freeze. The easiest way to prevent frozen hoses is to not leave them hooked up.

If you intend to stay hooked up during freezing temperatures, you want to be careful that your water and sewer hoses don’t freeze. They can split and be ruined, among other things.

Keep Your Dump Valves Closed Unless Dumping

One practice is to keep your grey (and blank) tank dumping valves closed and only dump them all at once when you need to. You can also hard-plumb your septic so it is more robust. This way it isn’t as prone to accumulating ice, cracking, and making a big, nasty mess.

Hard plumbed RV septic line

Ensure Your Tanks Are Kept Warm

It is essential you keep your RV holding tanks and interior plumbing from freezing. Some 4-season RVs are designed to dump heat from the furnace into the tank bay to help them stay warm. They may even have heated RV tanks. If you are still worried about freezing tanks, there are Water Holding Tank heating pads that you can add after-market.

Facon 12V Heater Pad for RV Holding Tank, W 12" x...
  • [✅Exclusive Technology] Facon’s world-famous Tank Heater...
  • [✅Thermostat Controlled] Simply turn "ON" the power switch when...
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Tip: RV skirting greatly helps with insulation of the underbelly of your RV where holding tanks typically reside. To keep an eye on things, we recommend using a simple thermometer to measure the internal temperature of your water bay.

Get A Heated Water Hose

Unless you want frozen hoses and connectors and damage to your RV, you need to invest in a way to keep your water hose flowing. There are some great heated water hoses out there to make cold-weather camping much easier and worry-free. If you’re into a DIY approach, you can also wrap insulation or heat tape around your hoses and connection points.

There are also heated RV sewer hoses, too!

heated water hose for RV
Heated Water Hose for Cold Weather Camping

4. RV Engines and Driving in Cold Weather

When it’s cold outside, it can be harder to get things going. Driving an RV in cold weather can take some additional prep to make sure everything is warm. Generally speaking, cold starts aren’t great for engines. They can also be harder to get started in the first place. If the temperatures are cold enough, you may even need to use a block heater.

Diesel RV Considerations

Your fuel can gel up in freezing temperatures. Take it from our friends, Peter & John of the RV Geeks. You’ll need to make sure your diesel coach’s fuel doesn’t gel up! Watch below to see their winter survival tips in a diesel motorhome.

Winter RVing in Freezing Weather — Cold Climate RV Survival Tips

5. Taking Care Of Your RV Batteries In Cold Temperatures

RVs need operating house batteries to function – even if they are plugged into shore power. Your fridge, lights, and, most importantly, your furnace all depend on your batteries.

Batteries, however, don’t really like getting cold! You can start to see the decreased performance below 40 degrees F.

RVs generally have one of three types of batteries: flooded lead-acid, sealed lead-acid (aka AGM), or lithium-ion. All of these battery types struggle in colder temperatures because their internal chemical reactions slow down as the temperature drops. Because of this, appropriate measures need to be put in place to keep the batteries warm or protected.

Best RV Battery for Cold Weather Camping

Lithium batteries work better in cold weather than standard or AGM lead-acid batteries for more than one reason.

  1. First, since lithium batteries don’t require ventilation like lead-acid batteries do, you can install them in an insulated internal compartment.
  2. Secondly, lithium batteries are literally smarter. If our Battle Born lithium batteries did get below 32 degrees F, their internal battery management system (BMS) would automatically prevent them from taking a charge until the temperature was safe again.
  3. Finally, in freezing temperatures, they can still be used without causing damage! Discharging a lithium-ion battery still works – and works way better than lead-acid batteries do. Since they can be discharged, you could set up a warming pad like this one to help heat up the batteries or keep them above freezing in the first place.  

If you’re boondocking in cold weather, your battery can be completely drained overnight running your furnace. This has happened to us a couple of times before we converted to lithium-ion batteries. While this can still happen, the batteries will protect themselves before damage is done. Lead-acid batteries have no such protection.

Learn more about the myths around lithium-ion battery failures in cold weather, and how they perform against lead-acid batteries: Do Lithium-Ion Batteries Fail In Cold Weather?

lithium batteries in cold weather rv
For example, we had 5 Battle Born Lithium Batteries installed in the Lance 1172 Truck Camper for our Alaska and Arctic Ocean adventure.

Are You Ready For Cold Weather Camping?

While there are some challenges to cold weather camping, the RVing fun doesn’t have to stop when the temperatures drop! We hope these solutions help you with any cold weather Mother Nature throws at your camping trip.

If you’re not convinced that cold weather camping is for you, that’s okay, too. One of the best things about the RV lifestyle is that if you want, you can live in spectacular weather year-round by chasing 70 degrees.

​Safe travels!

icicles hanging from RV awning

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About Cait Morton

Co-Founder, Logistics Queen, Business & Content Manager, and Animal Lover

An Upper Peninsula of Michigan native (aka a Yooper), Caitlin is the organization, big-picture, and content strategy queen of our operation. She keeps everything orderly and on track.

With a background in Business Management, she supports and helps channel Tom’s technical prowess into the helpful content our readers and viewers expect. That’s not to say you won’t find her turning wrenches and talking shop – RV life is a team effort. She keeps the business and the blog moving forward with a variety of topics and resources for our audience.

Believe it or not, she is rather camera shy, though she co-hosts the Mortons’ personal videos and The RVers TV show.

Caitlin’s passion lies in outdoor recreation and with animals. Some of her favorite things to do are hiking, biking, and getting out on the water via kayak, SUP, or boat.

She also loves the RV life due to the fact that you can bring your pets along. Sharing information about safely recreating outdoors with your whole family – pets included! – is very important to her. Because of this, Caitlin spearheaded the launch of HypePets in 2023.

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Jojo

Friday 22nd of September 2023

How do you keep the heat going charge etc batteries etc when your fifth wheel is not connected to a vehicle but stationary in someone’s yard as your permanent home. Do I need a special outlet to plug into her home I’m looking at purchasing a 38 foot one 4 season as it does go into the twenties and teens if it’s a harsh winter. I need all the advice I can get. Also is it possible to instal a wood door to master bedroom and also get a composite floor not carpet ( I have little dogs ) sadly the home I lived in rented over 20 years is going up for auction. Getting a good size four season is my only alternative Thank you so much in advance

Wayne

Sunday 5th of April 2020

I would like to know just how loud is the air conditioner when you are trying to sleep yes I know you may not have used it in the north but I was wondering and did you travel with a full tank of freshwater because all the websites that I have been looking up say do not travel with the weight of a full tank of fresh water

Ed stanford

Saturday 9th of November 2019

Pull your slides in if it may snow over night. We pulled into Rock Springs Wyoming about 6:30 PM in mid November while heading south. It was raining. Overnight it stopped raining, but precipitation did not stop. With 3-4" snow on the top of the slide toppers, you cannot retract your slides. Lesson learned, pull in the slides if there is snow foretasted. Its no fun climbing on a snow covered roof with a broom to clear the snow or ice off of the slide toppers.

Karen Polansky

Monday 14th of October 2019

I have tried some of these products with varying degrees of success. One of the products I was very disappointed with was the LP gauge. They were expensive and didn’t seem to work at all. Now I only keep one bottle open. When that one gives out I switch over and know I have to fill up the used one. I had to resort to the small dehumidifier last fall on the west coast. It seemed to work well. The damp rid didn’t work for the amount of humidity. I also added an Aire Flow pad under my mattress to alleviate the moisture that was building up. I use the hand warmers and hot water bottle, especially to warm up the bed when boondocking. I’m very interested in solutions for keeping the lithium batteries warm enough. I will check out the ones that you show here. Since my trailer is three season I do winterize. I use basins and have a small water jug in the trailer and a larger one in the truck. I make a modified composting toilet using heavy duty garbage bags and kitty litter. It may not be perfect, but it seems to work.