Simple suggestions to help you and your motorhome stay active in wintry conditions.
By Mark J. Polk
I was raised in north-central Pennsylvania and was an avid outdoors enthusiast from an early age. My family spent summers swimming in creeks and mountain streams, fly-fishing for brown trout, and camping in tents in the rolling Pennsylvania hills. The cold winter months didn’t stop us from enjoying outdoor activities. We rode snowmobiles, hunted deer, built massive bonfires, and tent-camped in the snow-covered hills. Those days spent camping and exploring the great outdoors bring back wonderful memories. I still enjoy camping in cold weather, but now it is in the comfort of my 35-foot motorhome.
Using a motorhome for camping in cold-weather conditions can be lots of fun if you and the RV are prepared for the freezing temperatures. Here are a few tips to help you ready your motorhome for your next cold-weather camping adventure.
Start With The Motorhome
Ideally, when you are in the market for a new motorhome, you can check the options list and know how the vehicle is equipped before signing on the dotted line. When we purchased our current motorhome, we knew we would be using it in cold weather and wanted it to be equipped for those conditions. Many RV manufacturers offer “Arctic” package options, which can include features such as higher R-value insulation, heated holding tanks, heated basement areas, dual-pane windows, and more. An Arctic package doesn’t guarantee the RV will be completely protected from cold temperatures, but it sure is a good start.
RV Travel In Cold Weather
The primary concern when traveling in cold weather as it relates to RVs is to protect the RV plumbing system from freezing temperatures. Nothing will ruin a winter camping trip quicker than frozen water lines or a frozen water heater tank. To protect your RV plumbing system from freezing temperatures, I recommend traveling with the RV water system winterized. It’s easy to winterize and dewinterize your RV and much less expensive than the repair bills resulting from frozen and damaged water lines and components.
More Cold-Weather Water Tips
We fill a few 1-gallon jugs with water to use in the toilet when the RV is winterized. If your motorhome does not have heated holding tanks, you can add some RV/marine antifreeze through the toilet and the shower or tub drain to help protect the holding tanks from freezing. The amount of antifreeze you need to use will depend on the size of the holding tanks and the amount of liquid in the tanks. It will be necessary to add more RV antifreeze as waste water accumulates in the tanks to prevent the antifreeze from becoming too diluted.
We take bottled water for drinking, cooking, and brushing teeth, and a 5-gallon jug filled with tap water for our pet’s drinking water, washing up, and other water-related needs.
Note: It is important that you know where all the plumbing is located in your motorhome. Some RVs have heat ducts going to the basement storage areas where the plumbing system is exposed to outside temperatures, but many don’t. If the RV’s water system is below floor level in areas that are not heated, the water lines can freeze and become damaged.
At The Campground
When you arrive at your destination, try to select a campsite that is exposed to sunlight throughout the day, and where some type of windbreak is available. Try to position the RV so the front or rear is facing the prevailing wind, not the sides of the RV. When we arrive at a campground, we use the motorhome’s water system. The entire plumbing system on our motorhome is in a heated space, so we don’t need to be too concerned about the water system freezing as long as the motorhome has heat. I leave the water heater turned on whenever the water heater tank is full so there is no chance of it freezing. If we have an electric hookup, we operate the water heater on electricity; if not, we operate it on LP gas.
Heat, The Essential Element
The best source for heat in the RV is the forced-air furnace, but there are several things to be aware of when using the furnace. First, it will consume more LP gas than other LP gas-fired appliances. Make sure the propane tank or cylinders are full prior to leaving on your trip and monitor the gas supply carefully throughout your stay. Second, if you are not plugged in to an electrical supply, the furnace’s fan motor can quickly drain the auxiliary batteries. Make sure the batteries are in excellent operating condition before leaving on your trip. Weak or partially charged batteries can freeze in cold temperatures. Try to plan your stay where you have access to an electrical supply when camping in cold weather. When we have electricity, we set the forced-air furnace on a lower setting and supplement the heat with thermostatically controlled ceramic heaters. This helps conserve the LP gas supply, and these heaters work well without the threat of a fire or carbon monoxide poisoning.
Back To The Water System
Many campgrounds located in cold-weather regions turn off the city water supply for the winter. In this situation, I fill and use the RV’s fresh water holding tank for our water requirements. Again, keep in mind where the fresh water tank is located; ours is in a heated basement area. If the campground’s bathroom facilities are available, it’s a good idea to use them and avoid filling the holding tanks, which possibly may freeze.
Cold-Weather Rv Safety
Test your carbon monoxide detector prior to leaving on any camping trip. Carbon monoxide is deadly. You cannot see it, taste it, or smell it. If your RV is not equipped with a carbon monoxide detector, purchase a battery-operated model designed for use in RVs. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are similar to the flu.
If you or anyone else experiences symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, get yourself or those affected to fresh air immediately. If the symptoms persist, seek medical attention.
Be prepared and have fun on your next cold-weather camping adventure. And don’t forget the electric blanket.
Happy winter camping!
Mark Polk owns RV Education 101 (www.rveducation101.com), a North Carolina-based video production and RV information company that produces educational videos, DVDs, and e-books about how to use and maintain RVs.