Thinking about RVing in the winter? It’s possible – a lot of people decide to hit the road and explore the mountains in the winter, whether they just want to stay on the move or they’re actually into skiing and snowboarding.
However, RVing in the winter is much harder than RVing in the summer, and it requires a lot more preparation. From picking the right type of insulation for your van to ensuring your motorhome has running water even in sub-zero temperatures – here are our tips and tricks to survive (and enjoy) RVing in winter!
If you want to have a good time while RVing in the winter, you will need electricity in your van. I’m not saying it’s not possible to do it if you’re entirely off-the-grid – it is possible, but it will not be comfortable.
Appliances that run on gas are great for people who don’t have electricity in their motorhomes, but they can be dangerous. They produce carbon monoxide, which is poisonous and can be lethal. You’re only supposed to use them in ventilated rooms, so what’s the point of a gas heater if you have to leave the window open and let most of the warm air out?
Electrical heaters, fridges, and stoves are your best friend for RVing in winter. And solar panels! You can’t rely on your RV battery entirely – cold weather can drain a car battery overnight, especially if you have something that’s drawing power from it.
Insulating your campervan or RV is the one thing you must do if you’re even considering going camping in the winter. The better the insulation, the more comfortable you will be in your motorhome. I’m not saying you’ll be able to sit in the campervan in your undies, but at the very least you won’t have to deal with frozen water bottles inside the vehicle.
Insulating a motorhome is not that different from insulating a house – it’s all about the R-value and bang for buck. Extruded Polystyrene is still the go-to for many people for both houses and motorhomes, because it’s excellent value for money, and it’s one of the best insulators. But you have loads of other options as well – some people choose to go with tried and tested insulation like Thinsulate for their vehicles. It’s excellent for extreme cold, but it’s also very expensive.
Many people will also combine different types of insulation like extruded polystyrene and reflective barriers, with closed-cell spray foam to fill in the gaps. In any case, make sure that your motorhome is well insulated before you even think of RVing in winter. Only then is it time to start looking at other things you can add, to make your home on wheels warmer and more comfortable.
If you’re going to be parked at the same place for a while, windskirting your vehicle will greatly help you stay warm inside. RV skirting is placing materials along the bottom of your RV so that the warm air stays trapped inside.
Campervan floors are always the coldest part of the vehicle, regardless of the insulation. A lot of heat gets lost through the floor, and skirting the van is the best way to minimize the heat loss.
RV skirting can be done with a variety of different materials, each with its pros and cons. In terms of pure warmth, insulation boards are the most efficient option. However, they must be cut to cover the distance between the ground and the bottom of the van, and that will change with each new campsite. The same goes for plywood – although the materials are very efficient at trapping the heat, they are not suitable for campers on the move.
Many people also use straw or hay bales, as they are excellent insulation materials. But they can often attract rodents and other small animals that are also trying to stay warm. And then there’s vinyl skirting, which is the most popular option with frequent campers.
Vinyl is a great insulator, it is easily cut, managed, and it’s also easy to install. Plus, you can put longer panels on the RV, so it can remain properly skirted on different levels. And when you’re ready to move, they’re easy to remove, and they will take up very little space in your fully packed campervan.
Your RV batteries can freeze and you should do everything in your power to ensure that doesn’t happen. The car battery is especially susceptible to freezing if the vehicle remains parked for several days in a row, while the temperatures are constantly low. Extreme cold drains the battery fast, so you want to make sure to turn the vehicle on leave it running for at least thirty minutes, every day. Obviously, it’s much better to go on rides since this allows to battery to recharge itself. But if that’s not an option, simply turning the vehicle on and letting it run is enough.
Ensuring that your campervan battery stays operational is particularly important if you have any appliances that are powered by it. Even just charging your phone with the car charger can quicken the demise of the battery, especially in sub-zero temperatures. So, take care of your van battery and have some jumper cables around, just to be safe.
If you want to go RV in extreme cold, you will need to be dressed in warm clothes head to toe. I’m talking about everything from thermal underwear to heated gloves!
There are a few things to remember when selecting clothes for winter RV trips. The main one is to avoid cotton, especially if you’re planning on going on hikes and spending time outdoors. When you’re dressed for extreme cold but you’re moving around a lot, you start to get hot really fast. And you’ll end up sweating and taking off some layers – cotton is your worst enemy in that scenario. Cotton absorbs moisture and it’s not quick-drying, so if your underlayers get sweaty, it will take ages for them to dry. The moisture will make you cold, and if it’s sub-zero, it could even freeze.
Lightweight synthetic fabrics are your best friend here. Pick up something breathable and moisture-wicking, so that even if you sweat, the underlayers don’t absorb it. In addition to that, Merino wool is also a great material for cold weather camping. It’s thin, lightweight, and so incredibly warm you’ll feel great in a sweater that’s as thin as your T-shirt. On top of that, Merino wool does not absorb moisture or smells, so it will stay clean and smell fresh for a longer time.
When it comes to picking the perfect jacket, I have loads of guides that can help you figure out what’s the best option for you. In general, you want something warm and waterproof, but not heavy or bulky. Down insulation is excellent if you want warmth without bulk, but it doesn’t perform well in wet weather. Synthetic insulation like Primaloft or Thinsulate is perfect for cold and wet weather, but it will never be as warm as down. There’s a lot of nuances and different things to consider, so I highly recommend you check out some of my earlier posts on winter jackets if you haven’t already found the perfect outerwear for you.
Rugs are a great way to trap some hot air inside a motorhome. However, they are a nightmare in the warmer months, when you’re always in and out of the van, tracking dust, dirt, animal hairs, and whatnot. But, even though they’re not easy to keep clean, they’re essential for staying warm in your motorhome.
A rug helps insulate the floor of an RV, which is usually the coldest part of the vehicle. It traps hot air and keeps it inside the van, ensuring that your home on wheels stays warm longer. And honestly, it’s much more comfortable to walk around on a soft rug, than to stand on the hard, cold RV floor.
If you want to stay warm it’s crucial to keep your feet warm. But that can be a challenge, even with the thickest rugs and best possible insulation in the campervan. This is why you also need thick thermal socks and well-insulated slippers.
And don’t think you can get away with one or the other – pair those thick socks with the best insulated slippers you can find, and there’s a chance your toes won’t freeze. The North Face Thermoball slippers are a great option for campers – they’re insulated with premium synthetic insulation, they feature a waterproof exterior, and their soles are thick and grippy enough you could actually walk outside the campervan.
If you have no intention of leaving the motorhome in your slippers, I would recommend a pair of UGG slippers, or even just their boots. As someone who has icy cold feet even in August, their wool insulation is a lifesaver that will keep your feet toasty warm regardless of how cold it gets.
Thick window coverings are essential van life items. Good window coverings will help you better insulate the van in both summer and winter, and they will increase the amount of privacy you have on your camping trips. Want to take a nap in the middle of the day? Put on the window coverings to keep the light out, and you’ll sleep like a baby!
Reflective and thick black materials are the most popular option for RV window coverings. They are the best insulators, whether you’re trying to keep the heat in or the cold out.
One thing to note is that you should remove the coverings on a sunny day. Even in sub-zero temperatures, a little bit of sunshine can help heat your van, and thus reduce the necessity for a heater.
Your RV solar panels will still work even in sub-zero temperatures, so make sure to leave your RV out in the sun as long as possible. Don’t park it in the shade, and don’t even think about removing or covering the solar panels.
You’ll need electricity in the motorhome when camping in the winter – maybe even more than you use up in warm weather. The heater will need to be turned on 24/7, so plugging it into the car battery is not really an option.
It will be a challenge to charge the solar panels in winter weather, especially if you’re camping in places with a lot of overcasts. But the sun can shine even through some really thick clouds, so just keep those panels exposed no matter what.
If your RV only has a heat pump, you will need to buy an additional heater. Those things don’t work that well when temperatures drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and that just won’t work for camping in extreme cold.
Getting a good heater for your motorhome is as important as proper insulation. Don’t go with a gas heater – you need something that can stay turned on 24/7, and that’s not possible with gas heaters. They produce carbon monoxide, which can be lethal in high doses. If you were to use a gas heater in your campervan, you’d either have to air out the van every so often or turn it off and leave the van as soon as the CO detector starts beeping. Neither option will keep you warm in sub-zero temperatures, so that’s why gas heaters aren’t a good option.
That means you will need an electrical heater, which also means that you need some source of electricity in your van. If your motorhome is entirely off the grid, I urge you to reconsider RVing in winter, or at least think bout installing solar panels if you’re not into being extremely cold.
I would recommend you look into campervan air conditioners that double as heaters. They are extremely versatile as they can be used year-round, they usually consume very little electricity, and they allow you to adjust the temperature and heating intensity. Once it’s warm enough in the motorhome, just lower the intensity and keep it on throughout the night.
Even if you’ve done everything above, I would still recommend you pack an insulated sleeping bag and blankets. Down insulation will work best if you’re sleeping in the motorhome, and you don’t have to worry about the sleeping bag getting wet. Down insulation is amazing at keeping you warm, and the higher the fill rating the better the performance. If you’re going to be camping in sub-zero temperatures, try to get a bag that has a fill rating of at least 600-700. It’s pricey, but it will be worth every penny if you can be warm enough to fall asleep within minutes of closing your eyes.
In addition to that, insulated blankets are also great to have in your van for those chilly nights. The Rumpl blanket is very popular with van lifers because it’s synthetic and really easy to clean. It’s available in both synthetic and down insulation options, and no matter which one you choose, you’ll be getting a lot of warmth without too much bulk.
I‘ve extensively covered how to keep the interior of your RV warm, but what about the exterior? Water and waste tanks are usually secured to the exterior of a motorhome, and keeping them from freezing is as important as ensuring the interior is properly insulated.
It’s easier with the waste tank – you can just add some antifreeze or even windshield washer fluids. I use windshield washer fluid in my weekend home to stop the toilet from freezing – it’s cheap, it’s efficient, and it’s something you can buy at every gas station. The only thing to keep in mind is that you will need to be extra careful with dumping the waste tank because of the added toxic chemicals. Just don’t empty it outside RV dump sites, and you’ll be fine.
What about the fresh water tank? Keeping the water in your RV running is even more important than keeping the gray water liquid, so what are your options? The simplest solution is to just put it indoors for the winter. Consider doing that, if your motorhome build allows for such a change.
You can’t add an anti-freeze solution to the fresh water tank because then it wouldn’t be safe for drinking. What you can do is retrofit a water tank heater or even 12V pipe heaters. Heating pads for pipes and water tanks are a good option, but they must be applied at a temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit or above. They’re an affordable solution that’s efficient enough to keep the fresh water running in your RV, but they still need to be plugged into a 12V power source. This means you must have some source of electricity in your motorhome, and camping entirely off the grid is really not an option in the winter.
Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!