Winter camping in an RV can be a fun and unique experience for families who love the great outdoors. Whether you’re planning to hit the slopes for some skiing or simply enjoy the peaceful surroundings, it’s important to prepare properly. This article will provide a comprehensive guide for families looking to embark on a winter RV camping adventure, covering everything from finding campsite and water to tips for staying warm and safe while on the road. Get ready to make unforgettable memories as you explore the beauty of winter camping in your RV!
We left from Wisconsin in our Class A RV in January headed northwest on a quest to ski as many Indy Pass resorts as we could. The following 10 Winter RV Camping Tips are from our family’s insider knowledge and experiences we encountered while winter RV camping through some of the coldest temperatures (as low as -33 degrees Fahrenheit) and driving through snowy winter conditions.
Table of Contents
Insulating a camper for winter living
In preparation for winter RV camping, being aware of the temperatures throughout the RV is one of the most important factors to consider. There are several easy and affordable ways to improve the overall insulation in the RV. The areas to consider when insulating your RV for winter living in particular are the undercarriage, the windows, doors, slideouts, and ceiling vents.
Insulation in the undercarriage.
When we tested winter RV camping we realized how cold the storage was below the RV. To help we installed high-density foam insulation in all of the storage doors. The installation was easy by cutting the insulation to size for each door and sticking them on the doors.
Insulating the windows
This takes me back to my college apartment days putting plastic over the windows. Surprisingly, a kit like this one and a blowdryer has reduced significant drafts (and noise) from the windows. We covered all the windows with the exception of the driver and passenger windows and door.
Since hot air rises a considerable amount of the warm air in your RV escapes through your ceiling vents. A vent pillow is an square foam to push into the opening to prevent loss of warm air. A pair of these are about $30 and an easy solution to help keep things warmer inside the RV.
Towel by the door.
On really windy days we sometimes have a draft by the door or in the corner of our slide out. We keep a stash of old towels as a temporary solution to help keep the drafts of cold air out. Ironically, this can happen in warmer climates too. We were in Texas when a snow and ice storm came through and snow was blowing through our slide out corner. The towel worked in a pinch until we could look at things when it warmed up.
How to pack for all the gear that is needed
Basic clothing and winter gear
When we tested road life we found that 2 weeks of clothing was sufficient, however packing for different climates was also important to consider. The key was to include versatile and comfortable items that we liked to wear, while maintaining a simple style. In general our packing list of everyday clothing includes 7 pants (2 pair jeans, 2 pair hiking and 3 sporty pants or leggings), 10 t-shirts, 2 long-sleeved shirts, 3 sweatshirts and 2 PJs. We also packed 5 pair shorts, 2 swimsuits and a couple tank tops or sleeveless shirts. Everyone also packed 2 nice outfits. Our clothes are all packed in the back bedroom drawers and closets. Each kid has a bin for 1 week of clothes and a drawer for extra of off season clothing. My husband and I have 2-3 shelves and a drawer. We share a closet where bulky items like sweatshirts, raingear, and nice clothes are hung. There are 6 drawers in our bump out where we store the extra or offseason clothing in 4 of the drawers.
Everyone has 3 pairs of shoes (Mom gets 4) with hiking shoes, everyday comfortable shoes, keens or sandals. All of our shoes are stored in two large baskets under the couch. We also have 2 pairs of boots (my husband gets 3) with our good winter boots and our wet boots (Most of us have Muck Boots). We made a shelf in the back bay storage to store the boots.
We also have all of our winter gear. Everyone has 2 base layers and 3 pairs of wool socks for skiing (also stored in a bin by the kids’ clothing). Our ski jackets and snow pants are stored under the bottom bunk of my son’s bed. We all have a lighter winter jacket for everyday use that is hung on hooks either above the door or in a cabinet next to the door. Each person has a winter hat, and two pairs of gloves in a crate under the couch near the door.
Winter sports and outdoor gear
Being a skiing family of 5 we have 4 pairs of downhill skis, boots and poles; and 3 snowboard & boots. The bin with our ski helmets, neck gaiters, goggles and ski mittens are stored in the back of our minivan. We also have 2 boot bags that are stored in the back of the minivan when they aren’t being dried in the RV. The ski equipment listed is stored in the Yakima on top of our minivan. We also managed to pack 5 pairs of snowshoes and 2 saucer sleds in the undercarriage storage bays. We are considering making a stop at home in the spring to drop the ski equipment and swap out some gear to have more availability for summer gear.
Drying things out and moisture control
Living in a small space and having a five people who are outside alot things are bound to get wet. Just general use can lead to sweating. Therefore it was essential to be able to dry things out between uses. We three have boot dryers, a hand crafted glove rack that sits over the furnace vent (and holds 4 pair of gloves). We have a portable drying rack where we lay out our base layers, socks, gaiters, and anything else that is thin to help dry. We keep an electric heater and dehumidifier running inside the RV which is one reason we look for campsites with electric hook ups between skiing if possible to just make sure we can dry everything out. This is the only time when things feel really cluttered when winter RV camping with an outdoor family, but it’s usually right before we go to bed and by morning things are dry.
What gear to pack to help with winter safety on the roads
- Good tires.
My husband’s first tip for road safety is having good tires and keeping them properly inflated. A standard practice is to check tire pressure regularly while on the road. A pressure gauge and cordless air compressor is one of my husband’s favorite tools.
Bag of Salt or Sand
Tires heat up as you drive. When you park the heat from the tires melts the snow packed ground and then cools to create ice under your tires. We carry a bag of salt to put under the tires to help if you get stuck. Another option is traction mats like these. We have been in a few icy spots and I don’t want to jinx us for the rest of our trip, so I just suggest having something to help create traction. We also keep a full sized and kid sized shovel in our undercarriage storage bin. The kid-sized shovel sometimes works best.
If you plan to drive through the mountains, many places require chains. We went with cables as my husband determined they are lighter and as effective. Both cables and chains are tricky to put on so I suggest trying it before you need them and figuring out how to put them on.
When things are cold they tend to break. We have broken pins to the trailer hitch, screws, and latches. Things also take longer and those great automatic functions might need to go into manual mode. For example, our auto-leveling system has a hard time retracting in the cold. Switching to manual mode helped it along and after it warmed up, auto mode was back in business.
What to ask when looking for campsites
Most winter RV campers head south, or are stationary. We were transient winter RV Camping moving about every 2-4 days. While camping apps are great, they are really geared for summer camping. Winter RV camping requires another layer of research. We suggest clicking the link to their website, but more often you will need to call or email to get answers to the following questions. These were some of the questions that we asked which helped us determine if a site was suitable for our winter camping needs.
Are they open?
Websites can be confusing because many sites don’t take reservations in the winter. Therefore they might be open and not taking reservations. In the case of state parks, they might be open but not for camping. Making contact with a campsite is an important first step in learning if the campsite is even open for the season. We had several private campgrounds who weren’t typically open but willing to accommodate us.
Are the sites plowed?
Winter weather can be cold and snowy. Hook ups will help with the cold, but having to navigate snow is another trick. We arrived at one city campground that had new snow on a Sunday and the sites were not plowed. We were willing to do a little work by shoveling paths to get to the hook ups and they were extremely grateful for giving us a free night stay.
Is there access to electricity?
Electricity allows us to run extra heaters both in the RV and down below which makes winter camping safer and more comfortable. We look for sites with electricity hook ups in the winter whenever possible. We can usually function for a week in the summer boondocking, but in winter we try not to go more than 2-3 days as the cold is hard on batteries and the generator.
Is the dump station open?
Dump stations and water can be found at many gas stations and county departments, but as with campsites, they may not be maintained in the winter. Access might be covered in snow or the drains frozen. We were willing to do a little work if the owners weren’t opposed to it. At one dump station we cleared out the area and poured hot water to de-ice the cover. We called a few gas stations who host dump stations and attendants could not answer this question. We stopped at a few if it was convenient.
Is the water on?
Most campsites do not have the water on at the campsites, but several had a water access somewhere on site. I’ll cover more details in the question below on some tricks to find water and also what we use to prevent freezing. Filling water tanks can be tricky.
Once the temps were consistently over 30 degrees we were willing to boondock and run the generator for a bit at night before bed and in the morning. Having sites with hookups gave us peace of mind on those cold nights.
What to expect from campsites in the winter
Winter RV Camping is not the norm. Keep in mind that for many campground owners this is their off season. They may have slower response times, usually taking a couple days. They also may not answer the phone so leaving a message and maybe even calling back a day later is important to get answers to your questions.
Having the campsite to yourself
We rarely saw more than 3 other winter RV campers. For many campgrounds this is their off season (which usually means low crowds and lower prices). More often we saw hikers or dog walkers come through the area. We love boondocking in the summer time so for us, this was delightful. There were many mornings when wildlife such as turkeys, eagles and deer were right outside our door.
Campgrounds might not be open
We had the best luck with municipal and state campgrounds that were open for winter camping. Private campgrounds tend to close down and head south. Many boondocking sites are not maintained in the winter.
Be willing to do a little work
We were willing to do a little work to have the amenities we needed. We shoveled a site to get access to electricity and sewer hook ups. Things take longer in an RV in general, but they take a little longer in the winter. Having patience and being nice can go a long way in getting what you need.
Ski resorts can be good boondocking sites
Since we were winter camping to allow us to ski at resorts across the country it feels important to add this to the list. While some ski resorts prohibit overnight parking, others are accommodating to campers. In general we see van lifers, not as many RVs and travel trailers. If you are interested in this option I suggest calling the resort. The information is not usually published on their website and not often easy to find. We are experiencing our first ski resort boondocking in Idaho and excited to wake up and hit the first chair.
How to find water while winter camping
Water in winter can be a difficult but necessary commodity. We always knew we could buy gallons of drinking water and in one instance we were close to this. We were using potable water to wash and flush, but only for a few hours of concern. With that in mind here are a few suggestions on where to look for water. Ideally you want to fill water mid-day when the sun is shining and it’s more likely to be warm than early morning or evening.
Look for places that house animals.
We had good luck with Fairgrounds that offer camping and harvest hosts with animals. Harvests Hosts are not expected to provide hook ups, so again make sure to communicate with the hosts in advance to see if water is available.
City and County campgrounds
Part of our success with city and county parks was they also know where potable water is available so even if it wasn’t at the campground they could guide us on where to go. Most municipal sites don’t offer water hook- ups in the winter but they are still great resources and tend to have water available somewhere.
Get a Heated Hose
A heated hose is also helpful. If you don’t have a heated hose, bring your hose in at night to let it warm up in the shower the night before you fill so the water doesn’t freeze going into the hose (Learn from our experience). Our heated hose is not very long so sometimes getting close enough to the water spigot was the harder task.
Can you Access the water spigot?
The challenge was less if the water was on, but could we access it? Many dump stations and water filling stations in addition to the potential of being frozen also may not be plowed, or not plowed enough for our hoses to reach.
Separate Drinking Water
We don’t drink the water from the RV water tanks. We have always carried separate jugs of drinking water. We have a 5 gallon jug we keep full in the back bay with our cooler, plus 3-4 separate gallon jugs (P.S. the big apple cider jugs are my favorite, they are thick plastic and easy to pour for refilling our kanteens). The smaller jugs are easy to bring inside each night and prevent from freezing as well. Knowing we had 3-4 gallons at minimum of back up water was helpful in those anxious moments when we weren’t sure if we were going to find water to fill our tanks.
How to keep RV pipes from freezing while camping
Thankfully this wasn’t us, but a camper at one of the campgrounds we stayed at. That my friends is what happens when the pipes freeze in the camper and then burst which causes significant damage. To prevent that from happening we have a few tips
Keep the water heater onWe keep our water heater on any time the temps dip below 40 just to have that layer of protection. It also guarantees you have a hot shower and you don’t need to wait as long for the water heater to warm really cold water. 😀
Our water heater is powered via LP (propane) so it’s completely separate from our electricity source. Propane is much more critical with winter camping as it is the main source of heat. We learned LP can be tricky to find after hours. Ace Hardware, Tractor Supply, and some gas stations can be good sources for LP. In addition, some Camping Worlds and RV parks also have propane but it’s not universal so it’s helpful to call ahead. I haven’t found a good App that helps with propane refill sites, so looking for these on the maps apps was our strategy. Also keep your eyes peeled for big Propane tanks when approaching gas stations. When our LP Levels hit the ⅓ tank we started to look to refill it. It only took once for it to go empty and us searching for LP at 5 PM for us to set that standard.
Open cupboard doors under sinks
The warm air from the furnace doesn’t get into the cupboards. Simply opening the cupboard doors at night can help warm air get to the sink traps where it’s common for water to pool and freeze. If your shower has an access panel to the drain, remove that cover as well. When we had electricity hook ups we would run a heater in the kitchen to help keep the drains open. Similarly our largest furnace vent was in the bathroom, propping doors open when you aren’t moving was helpful to keep the warm air flowing throughout the RV.
RV Antifreeze in drains and toilet
This winterizing tactic is most common when RV’s are winterized to be stored for the winter, however putting RV antifreeze down the toilet and sink drains at night or while driving can also help prevent the drain lines, and black and gray tanks from freezing. No one wants to carry around a big frozen turd!
Keep a thermometer near the water lines
As I get to know what to do when the water lines freeze, this was one of those smart things my husband did before we left. We have a wireless indoor/outdoor thermometer that he brought along. The outdoor piece is placed in the bay where our water lines are, and the indoor gauge is kept in the kitchen. This gives us a heads up when temps are low to know how cold it is below.
Electric heaters and lights
One of the reasons we relied on electric hook ups when the temps were really low was because it was much easier to thaw with the use of an electric heater. We kept one in the front of the RV since the warm air doesn’t seem to circulate up there when we are parked. Usually the coldest part of the day is right before sunrise. In the winter that is around 6:30 AM. On the morning our pipes froze, I got up to use the bathroom around 5 AM and noticed there was no water. We jumped to it making sure all of the above things were in place and then Brent took our electric heater from inside and placed it in the lower bay. Within an hour we were back in business.
As we got more comfortable with winter camping and started boondocking (without hookups) we would start the generator and run it for about an hour before bed (8-9 PM), and then first thing in the morning (6-7 AM). Keep in mind this was winter camping and there was never anyone around us.
Many of the undercarriage bays where the hook ups are stored come pre-wired with a light. We would also turn the light on and keep it on during colder temps to offer additional radiant heat (assuming it’s not LED). Since our winter RV camping experience was designed for us to keep moving to ski at many different ski hills, using winter skirting just wasn’t practical for us. If cold temps were coming in we tended to stay longer where we had electric hook ups since that was a reliable means of keeping things safe.
Staying warm and comfortable
The overall comfort factor needs to be high enough for us to consider winter camping in order to protect our sanity. If we have 3 miserable kids and I am miserable on top of it, the value of the experience depletes. We are okay experiencing struggle from time to time, but as I talk about in my book we have to be able to come back to comfort otherwise prolonged discomfort can become a source of trauma. In order to stay comfortable we make sure we are intentional about including the following tips into our winter camping routine.
Watch your propane levels
As I mentioned above our furnace and hot water heater run on propane. As I noted above, we fill once it hits ⅓ tank because inevitably it runs out in the middle of the night when temps are the coldest.
We use these both inside and in the undercarriage storage bays, which is why we look for campsites with electric hook ups in winter. Ideally find a heater with a thermostat to avoid overheating. It also helps keep your propane levels under control by not having to run the furnace all night. There is a noticeable difference the nights when we have the electric heater compared to the nights when we don’t.
I am a naturally cold person. I could have 15 blankets and layers and still be cold. However there are a few key trigger points that can help and strategies to stay warm. A trick from skiing is to take toe warmers and stick them to the base of my neck and lower back. These two sites, when warm, seem to be enough to keep the rest of my body comfortable.
We also have microwave heating packs and heated mattress pads that we’ll use when we have electricity. Usually when we run the generator we focus only on the electric heaters since it draws so much energy to run.
Ingest Warm things
We tend to cook warm meals (such as Ravioli Lasagna) or heat apple cider on the stovetop. Not only will ingesting something warm heat you from the inside, the use of the stove top will warm the indoor space.
This one doesn’t require any special equipment, maybe a few blankets. On cold nights we skip the night hike and opt for a movie night. On cold mornings the kids love to pile in the back bedroom and have books with blanket time. Our dog really enjoyed this option best. Perhaps motherhood perfected this skill, however it is a very real tactic for putting bodies together to draw heat from each other.
Strategies for getting out of the RV when it's really cold outside
Too much time in the same four walls and I tend to feel claustrophobic. While we love outside time and average 2 hours a day outside each day, when it’s dangerously cold it can be much harder (especially in an RV). We do have all of our ski gear and still try to get some fresh air time if feasible, however these suggestions don’t require bold or crazy.
Look for community activities
We love to spend time outside, so playgrounds, parks, and unique landmarks are nice, but when it takes some work to get everyone outside. As a family of 5, extended periods in the RV can get old quickly. We are always on the lookout for what each community has to offer. Some of our favorites are visiting the local public library. Discover local Museums (Bonus tip: Before you leave, consider getting a membership to a museum that belongs to the ASTC program. There are similar programs for botanical gardens and zoos if that is your thing). Coffee Shops, Ice Cream shops, and independent book stores also make their way onto our list.
Community pools (this option also offers free showers).
During the cold days it also doubles as entertainment and exercise when it’s harder to do those things outside. Change of space always offers a reset and gets us outside the walls of the RV. As an added benefit, Community pools can alleviate the strain on your water and need to dump gray water by taking showers somewhere else. In the summer it’s easy to grab a campsite with a shower, in winter most of those are locked up. I’ve known several nomads who get a Planet Fitness membership (for $10/month) while traveling for access to showers.
Other tips when winter camping in an RV
Finally here are a few extra tips that don’t fit as nicely in the other categories, but I felt were important to mention.
The driver and passenger side windows frost up while driving. Even with defrost on full blast, there is just too much space for the front vents to impact the entire front cab. We keep a plastic bowl (best scraper I’ve ever owned) and a hand towel up front to scrape and wipe from time to time to make sure we keep visibility to our side mirrors, which is critical for driving safety. Which leads me to the last tip…
Allow for Extra Time
Give yourself more time for the RV to warm up, to travel to your destinations, and for getting set up. Everything takes longer in an RV, especially in winter. Many of the mishaps and challenges with winter camping in an RV can be avoided by knowing things will take a little longer. Having the patience and persistence to keep going can be a huge asset to a meaningful winter camping experience in an RV.
Winter RV Camping has been one of the best experiences as there are few crowds, lots of wildlife and the sights we see are so different from the typical warm weather sites. With skiing being a large part of our family adventure journey we were excited to make winter RV camping work. Once we had some insider experiences it turned out to be much easier than we expected.