Practical Tips for Winter RV Camping


Tips for RV winter camping

Camping is a fun bonding activity for the whole family. It’s very healthy for both young and old to spend time outside in nature. And creating amazing memories while traveling with your family is always worth it. Camping is often associated with the summer, but as long as you have the right equipment you can enjoy camping year-round. Nature is just as beautiful in the winter as it is in the summertime!

This article may contain affiliate links. Check our disclaimer for more info. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.

As you can imagine, camping in the winter requires a bit more preparation than summertime camping. There’s a lot more involved in winter camping than just making a nice campfire to stay warm (although that’s great for roasting marshmallows, so definitely a plus!). Especially if you’re camping with kids, you need to make sure your RV is warm enough and prepared for the outside cold. You also need to bring the right equipment, both for your vehicle and the people traveling in it.

Preparing your RV for winter camping

An RV (recreational vehicle), such as a campervan or motorhome, is a cozy and comfortable place to stay when you go camping. You’re bringing your own home away from home along for the journey! The comforts of home, while still being out and enjoying nature. An RV provides a comfortable place to sleep, cook, use the restroom and relax. It gives you and your little ones adequate shelter from the cold.

However, even though RVs are built to perform the functions listed above, most of them aren’t equipped to handle extended stays in very cold weather. In this post, you’ll find practical tips to prepare your RV for camping in the winter.

Things you must have in your RV for winter camping

Before you head out to conquer subzero temperatures, especially with little ones in tow, here’s a list of things your RV must be equipped with.

What you need for winter camping:

  • Anti-freeze for holding tanks and vehicle fluids
  • Insulators for pipes
  • Warm storage compartment for hoses
  • Curtains and plastic films
  • Equipment for clearing snow
  • Chains for tires
  • Engine block heaters
  • Emergency equipment

Like humans, your camper van or motorhome needs to be properly equipped for the winter. Just as you put on layers of warm clothes before you head out in the winter, your RV also needs some winter gear for it to function optimally in chilly winter weather.

If you fail to adequately prepare your RV for your family’s winter camping trip, many things can go wrong. Nobody wants their supposed fun vacation to turn into a cold and miserable experience.

An ill-prepped RV may lead to pipe and insulation failure. This can result in the RV cabin temperature dropping all the way down and the pipes freezing, cutting off access to water. In a worst-case scenario, your RV may fail to start, leaving you and your little ones stranded in the cold. These things are bad by themselves, but obviously even worse when kids are involved. To ensure these discomforting failures do not occur, you must winterize your RV before you set out for your family winter camping trip.

Practical tips for RV winter camping

If your chosen RV isn’t already built for winter camping, let us give you some practical tips for winter RV camping. This way you won’t merely survive the trip but can enjoy it as well.

Make sure you have antifreeze for holding tanks

Anti-freeze is a liquid added to water or other freezable fluids to keep them from freezing. We all know the antifreeze we add to our car’s coolant and the antifreeze solution we use for our windshield wipers in the wintertime. This obviously isn’t fit for use in household systems. However, there is a special non-toxic RV antifreeze that contains ethanol or propylene glycol, which can be used for RV holding tanks.

Water will start to freeze at 32 Fahrenheit (or 0 Celsius), so if you are camping in near or below freezing weather all the water in your RV is at risk of turning into ice. You must add anti-freeze to every water holding tank to prevent this from happening. This includes both the water stored in tanks and the water circulating through the pipes. Anti-freeze is important because frozen water causes a myriad of problems, which can be very discomforting when you have children around.

These problems include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Dehydration: When the water in the pipe freezes, it eliminates drinking water, which puts you and your family at risk of dehydration.
  • Freezing eliminates all water functions in your RV: Water for basic activities such as showering and flushing toilets is cut off. Having no access to water when children are in the picture is a ‘no-no’.
  • Frozen pipes are at risk of bursting, incurring thousands of dollars in damage for you and your family.
  • Freezing can also disrupt your sewage system: This is one problem you do not want to have. A problem with your RV sewage system not only pollutes your environment in your home away from home but also poses a health threat for your family.

To ensure the wholeness of the sewage system add anti-freeze to black and grey holding tanks when you are camping for more than a few days in freezing temperature. Pour 1-2 quarts of antifreeze down every drain. Also, pour 1-2 quarts down the toilet at intervals. Do not forget to add more anti-freeze into your holding tanks continuously throughout your RV camping trip. This is because as more water enters the tank, the anti-freeze gets diluted. It is important to note that a greater volume of water takes longer to freeze, so if possible do not empty your tank until your camping trip is over.

Anti-freeze should also be added to other RV fluids such as diesel and engine oil. Make sure to choose the right antifreeze for your engine!

Have a backup water supply

Nobody is ever fully prepared for what may go wrong during a camping trip. Depending on where you plan to go camping, it’s often not a place where you can easily call a plumber to fix your busted pipes.

This is why you should always have a backup for essential amenities such as water. Buy packs of bottled water for drinking and fill up some jerry cans for washing your dishes in case your water supply gets cut off due to freezing.

Insulate pipes and use RV skirting

Antifreeze goes a long way in protecting holding tanks and pipes but many pipes are still at risk of freezing. Before you set off for your winter RV camping trip with your family, you must insulate the pipes in the RV to keep them from freezing and eventually bursting.

Insulating pipes is not rocket science and can be done by using any of these methods.

  • Foam Pipe Insulation
  • Heat Tape

Both methods are very effective and easy to apply. Especially be on the lookout for pipes located at the bottom of your RV. These sets of pipes are the most vulnerable as they are more susceptible to cold outdoor temperatures.

When parked you can use RV skirting to protect these pipes from icy winds. Place an RV skirt around the parameter of the RV to provide much-needed insulation for the underside of the vehicle. Packing snow around the skirting provides even more insulation by creating an igloo effect. If the pipes do freeze, you can easily thaw them out by placing a small heater underneath the RV skirt.

Store hoses in a warm compartment

Hoses such as the ones for sewage and freshwater are liable to freeze in extremely cold weather. When they freeze, they’re likely to rupture. A burst sewage hose means you cannot empty your black water tank, not to mention it leaves a big mess and additional costs.

When camping in the winter, avoid leaving your sewage valves open to prevent the hose, valve, and the contents of the black tank from getting frozen. Always close the valves when not in use. Then store your sewage and freshwater hoses in a heated compartment to keep them safe. Wrap each hose in heat tape or pipe insulation when they are being used outdoors.

Insulate windows with curtains and plastic film

It’s lovely to have lots of windows in your RV so you can see outside, but RV windows often aren’t very well insulated. It’s typically one of the places where the cold gets in and the warmth gets out. Also, they’re prone to freezing.

There are a number of things you can do for RV window insulation:

  • apply a plastic film to the windows
  • change your curtains to thick ones that keep the cold out
  • add insulated RV window covering
  • add a layer of plexiglass
  • add double-pane windows instead of the standard single-pane windows

Make sure you have winter tires and bring tire chains

Although winter tires aren’t mandatory in the US and Canada, most of the tire specialists recommend you use them. There are a number of European countries where winter tires are compulsory during the winter months, such as Finland and Germany. In Europe, snow chains aren’t compulsory and only permitted if signs indicate you can use them.

In contrast, the US and Canada have tire chain laws. Carrying show chains is mandatory in some of the North American states, whether or not you plan to use them. Tire chains or snow chains are very important for your safety and that of your fellow road users when you travel on icy roads. They keep your RV from skidding when roads are covered in ice or snow.

It is important that your RV has winter tires and that you carry tire chains because you never know when they will come in handy.

Routinely clear snow and ice off your RV

When RV camping in winter, make sure you have a snow shovel as snow and ice will accumulate all over your RV. Snow is quite heavy and if you leave it on your roof it could cause a lot of damage. Also, if the temperature fluctuates, the snow and ice on your roof might thaw and freeze up again. Meltwater runs into cracks and then expands when it re-freezes, resulting in leaks in your vents and seals.

Be sure to shovel snow off your roof, windshield, tires, slide awnings and gaskets. Not only when stationary, but also when driving, leaving snow on your RV can pose a potential risk to other road users and yourself. You can use a soft snow rake, such as this snow brush or this no scratch snow rake. Choose one with an extendable handle so you don’t have to climb up on top of your RV (and risk sliding down) to remove the snow.

Make sure you have an engine block heater

Extremely cold weather can cause your engine to shut down, making it impossible to start. Even if it’s just moderately cold, the time it takes the engine oil to heat up and circulate can cause extra wear and tear on internal components. This is why you need to have a way to warm up your engine. You can do this by warming up the air and fuel mix that enters the engine or by heating up the engine itself.

When it isn’t too cold an intake air manifold preheater might suffice. For lower temperatures, an engine block heater is advised. An engine block heater is used to warm your engine and prepare it for driving. There are different types, so research which one works best for your RV. Unless you’re moving every couple of days, your block heater is likely only to be used at the end of your winter camping trip. Keep in mind that in sub-zero temperatures you may need to warm up your engine for up to eight hours before starting it.

Emergency gear for winter RV camping

If you’re going winter camping you need to be prepared. A good emergency kit is paramount. And even more so if you’re traveling with kids. Make sure you have enough supplies to keep yourself and your family warm and to repair your vehicle and reach help if necessary.

  • First aid kit
  • Tow strap
  • Handwarmers
  • Radio or satellite phone
  • Flashlight and batteries
  • Snow shovel
  • Thermal space blankets
  • Food
  • Firestarter tool
  • Water
  • Portable jump starter
  • Car repair supplies


How to keep yourself warm during RV winter camping

Camping in the winter isn’t as cozy and carefree as you may think. The weather can get very harsh and relentless and your kids won’t be content to sit inside with a hot tea or cocoa and a nice book huddling under a blanket all day. For this reason, it takes the right kind of preparation to stay warm.

In addition to preparing your RV for winter camping, you must make additional provisions for keeping yourself and the children warm. This means both making sure your living space is warm as well as bringing the right outdoor gear for playing in the cold.

Thermal underwear, a waterproof snowsuit, snow boots and good gloves will go a long way. Don’t forget to bring warm winter gear for yourself as well!

Even with the right gear, after a few hours of playing outside, skiing and making a snowman, you need a way to warm up again. A portable heater for indoor use is recommended. Electric blankets are also important and can be more budget-friendly than the space heater.

Hot water bottles can also be placed at the foot of your sleeping mattress. I do not advise this for children as any little leak can cause burns, but you can use them to warm up the beds before they go to sleep.

How to choose a location for RV winter camping

You do not want to pack up and just go wherever there is snow. Research possible camp locations to make certain they not only meet the safety requirements but are also suitable for kids. 

When you’re camping with children your safety as a family is far more important than conquering the most treacherous paths in nature. Stick to certified campsites where rescuers can find you in case of an emergency.

Be sure to avoid hillsides when RV camping in the wintertime. Hillsides pose the risk of an avalanche, so never camp at the bottom of a hill. You want to make happy memories camping with your family. Accidents and incidents should be avoided, especially in the wintertime when it might be hard to get medical help.

Avoid areas with little sun exposure. The sun may not keep you warm in freezing temperatures but it will help to keep snow away from your RV, thereby preventing pipes and your water supply from freezing.

12 fun winter activities for kids

In the fall and winter when it’s cold outside we don’t go out as much. Kids get bored easily during these months as most of their activities are indoors and space is often limited. Winter camping will allow the whole family to enjoy nature even in freezing temperatures. There are lots of fun outdoor winter activities.

Fun winter activities for kids

Kids love snow, as long as they’re dressed for the weather and don’t get cold. Check out these suggestions for fun winter activities with kids.

Making Snow Angels

Get the kids to come out and make snow angels. It’s so much fun! Participate in the fun with them and make sweet memories that your family will never forget.

Building a snowman

You only need a little bit of snow to make a basic snowman. And if there’s a lot, why not make a whole family of snow people! It’s such a fun family activity.

Ice skating

Check if there is a frozen lake or pond by your campground. Or maybe there’s an outdoor ice skating rink where you are camping. Ice skating outside is a different vibe than skating within the confines of a skating rink, but any type of ice skating is fun.

Snow Ball Fights

What is better than throwing snow at each other? Children love a good snowball fight. Make sure to set up some rules, like no throwing ice balls and no headshots.

Go Hiking

Research good hiking routes near your campground. Going for a hike in the snow is an adventure for the whole family. Make sure your phone is charged and you have a signal. It can be a bit of a challenge to follow the trail when the whole world around you is white and getting lost in the snow isn’t fun. 

Skiing

If there are areas for skiing around your campground, why not spend a day on the slopes with your kids? Children aren’t scared of heights. Get them up there before they become adults and develop any fear.

Sledging

Find a good snow-covered hill and use a sled or any sled-like alternative for a downward thrill. A plastic bag or inner tube will work just as well. Do check that the hill and the bottom of the hill are free from obstacles or pits so it’s safe to fly down.

Snowmobiling

Snowmobiling is another great activity for the whole family to bond. It’s a great way to explore the winter landscape around you. Alternatively, attach a sled or tube to a snowmobile and take your kids for a wild ride. Little daredevils will love it.

Nature watching

Most kids love to see animals they haven’t seen before. Search the snow for tracks and identify the critter that has been out and about. Make sure not to disturb the animals.

Making a campfire

Make a campfire together. Tell each other stories as the fire keeps you nice and warm. You can also roast chestnuts or marshmallows, or bake bread on a stick.

Roasting sausages on a campfire

Tunneling

Find a good snowdrift and burrow through it. Be sure to monitor your kids as they do this, snow isn’t structurally sound and might collapse. You can also build tunnels without a roof or even a maze type structure.

Building an igloo

This is for advanced snow builders. Create snow ‘buiding blocks’ by pressing snow into a rectangular mold (such as a plastic crate), the same way you’d build a sandcastle. Stack the building blocks to create an igloo. Again, be careful that the structure doesn’t collapse on top of you or your kids.

There so many other fun activities you can come up with, such as ice hockey, birdwatching, and ice-fishing you can use to keep your kids entertained during your winter RV camping.

When the weather is too harsh to go outside, you can keep the kids entertained by playing family-friendly games such as charades or fun board games. Building with legos, making puzzles or reading a book, there are plenty of toys you can bring along that don’t take up too much space in your cosy home away from home.

Conclusion

Driving in the winter / winter road

When you’re well-prepared winter RV camping can be a lot of fun. These preparations range from preparing your RV to survive harsh weather conditions to keeping yourself and your family warm and entertained. 

Our detailed and practical tips for winter RV camping in this post can go a long way in making your winter camping a memorable one!

Guest post by Theodore Romeo. Theodore is an RV lover who enjoy camping and traveling with his family while sharing his experiences and different camping and RV trailer tips in his blog Camper Front.