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Expert Tips for Winter RV Camping


While many campers head south for the winter, some RVers prefer the challenge of snow camping. There is nothing like the clean, simple beauty of camping in the hush of winter. Fewer crowds, more wildlife, no bugs, reduced entry fees, and a lack of competition for sites are just a few of the benefits of a snowy escape. If this sounds like an exciting seasonal challenge, RVT is sharing our expert tips for winter RV camping.

General Tips for RV Camping in the Snow

Keep in mind that not all campgrounds are open during the winter months. Check in advance to make sure your favorite camping spot is available. If you’re traveling to an unfamiliar place, search the internet for year-round campgrounds in your destination area. 

Plan ahead by preparing your RV for your winter adventure. Cold weather means pipes, tanks, and hoses may freeze. If you don’t have a four-season RV like Northwood’s Arctic Fox, adding insulation and applying heat tape to pipes and sewer lines can be effective.

Other cold-weather camping tips:

  • Empty your black and gray water tanks before you head out for your trip. 
  • Insulate the pumps draining into the tanks, and add a couple of quarts (two liters) of RV antifreeze to the tanks. Pour the antifreeze for the black tank through the RV toilet and antifreeze for the gray tank through the shower. RV antifreeze is pink, not green.
  • Putting a space heater in your RV’s wet bay can also be effective to keep pipes and tanks from freezing.
  • Adding vent and skylight insulation can help prevent heat loss in your unit. Kits are available if you don’t want to make your own.
  • Watch your propane levels and always take more than you think you’ll need. 
  • Prepare for storms by having items like a snow shovel, warm clothing, proper snow boots, an emergency road kit, a first aid kit, lanterns or headlamps, and snow chains with you.

Boondocking in the Snow

With a few extra precautions, boondocking is possible in wintertime.

Boondocking in the snow is possible, with a couple of extra precautions to take into consideration:

  • Take a generator, it’s more reliable than solar panels. The low light in winter and snow on the solar panels make them less effective.
  • Battery warmers are necessary if camping in temperatures lower than -4ºF (-20ºC). Keep in mind that lithium batteries stop charging at 32ºF (0ºC)
  • An RV skirt will help retain heat emanating from the floor and prevent cold wind from blowing underneath the RV. Don’t use a propane heater under the skirt.
  • Water line heating pads are helpful. They work in temperatures lower than 42ºF (5ºC), so testing them in higher temperatures may feel like they aren’t working. They need 12.8-13.5V to operate.
  • Always have more food than you think you need. If possible, let people know where you plan to be and when you’ll be back.
  • Make sure you have snow tires or chains so you can drive out to stores or get out in case of emergencies. They will help with traction in snowy or icy conditions.

Alleviating Cabin Fever While Camping in the Snow

Yes, cabin fever can happen outside of a sticks-and-bricks environment. Plan some outdoor activities such as snowshoeing, cross-country skiing (or downhill, if you’re close to a ski hill), sledding, and snowmobiling to give you and your camping companions a chance to get out and enjoy the beauty of winter. The break from the close quarters of your fifth wheel, toy hauler, or other RV will refresh you. 

When you’ve returned from your winter pursuits, grab your lighter, firestarter, and some dry firewood to build a cozy campfire. A campfire in the winter? Sure! 

How to Build a Campfire in the Snow

Warming hands at a winter campfire in the snow
Campfires in the snow are as cozy as summer campfires.

Building a campfire in the snow is much the same as summer campfire building, with a couple of extra steps. Finding dry wood in the winter can be challenging. We recommend taking your own firewood and a magnesium stick or other firestarter with you. Don’t forget to bring matches or a butane lighter!

If you have a fire ring or fire pit at your site, clear out the snow and build your fire in the pit. 

If you don’t, clear away the snow until you have bare ground; if the snow is too deep, pack it down firmly. Circle the area for your campfire with larger stones to keep the fire contained. You can put stones or a flat rock on the ground to set your tinder on, otherwise the top layer of snow will melt and your campfire will sink into the snow. Remember to clear out space to set your chairs.

If you didn’t bring a firestarter and dry wood, look in thick underbrush for dry, fallen sticks to use as kindling. The stick will make a clean snapping sound if it’s dry. Conifer needles, pine cones, bark, and crumpled paper can be used as tinder. Look for dead wood about two inches thick for fuel. Never use gasoline to start a fire. 

Build the campfire. Two popular methods are the teepee, where you lean sticks against each other in a circular pattern; or the log cabin method where you lay sticks in a square pattern by criss-crossing the layers—two one direction and then two on top in the other direction—like building with Lincoln Logs. Set down the tinder, build your chosen method, and light the tinder to get the fire going. Add wood as necessary to keep your campfire burning. 

Enjoy your time around the fire. Hot dogs, s’mores, and other campfire foods are just as tasty in the winter. When you’re finished, douse the flames to make sure the fire is out.

Whether you’re camping in the northern United States, Canada, or even Alaska, we hope these tips from RVT will help you have an enjoyable RV wintertime adventure. Concerned about driving in winter conditions? Check out these tips for RV traveling in the snow
If you’re looking for a new or used RV to join you on your trip, check out all the available RVs for sale at RVT.com.

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