Stef and I like to RV in the winter. The crowds are fewer (a LOT fewer), nobody gets sweaty, and we get to participate in activities that you can only do in the snow. But winter RVing is not without its challenges. Chief among these challenges is that things can freeze! Frozen water and waste lines can cause havoc with your vacation, and a cold and drafty rig can be downright uncomfortable.
We’ve written about Winter RVing multiple times in the past – and even presented Winter RVing sessions at seminars around North America. But we’ve never made a video about it… until now:
First things first. I reference an old post of mine in the video. I’ll link to that right here:
In that post, I go into great detail about most of the modifications I made to Lance. If you’re into the nitty-gritty details, or… if you just want to know how cold it gets overnight inside our cabinets… you can give that post a read.
Now, without turning this post into a mere transcription of the video, I’ll summarize the tips here, and provide links to the specific products we mentioned if you’d like to give them a try. First, these are the products that we mentioned – with links.
Winter RVing Products We Use and Recommend:
- Shark Bite Ball Valve – I’m all about push-to-fit plumbing connections for DIY RV work. These are what I use to shut off water to things I don’t use during the winter.
- Ultraheat Tank Heaters – These are the tank heaters on Lance, and also the ones we used on Das Bus. Never had one fail me.
- OEM Heaters heat tape – This is the heat tape I have installed in Lance. I use it sparingly, and only in places where the water lines are pressed up against the exterior skin of the van.
- Snow Tires – We’ve used Bridgestone Blizzak LT tires on every RV we’ve owned. Never had any trouble out of them, and they’ve never let us down.
- Tire Chains – I honestly can’t tell you if these are really any good or not, since we’ve never had to deploy them. But I can verify that they do fit the ProMaster wheels and tires.
- Vanmade Shades – We’ve tried probably 10 different things, but we’ve settled on these from Vanmade Gear and absolutely love them.
- Draft blocker – This is the “regular” draft blocker we keep by the side door.
- Magnetic draft blocker – And these are the “magnetic” draft blockers we use to block the gap between the rear doors.
- Vent cover – Ours is a product from MaxxAir that doesn’t seem to appear on their website yet. But there are any number of commercially available products to insulate your vent openings.
- RV Antifreeze – I honestly don’t have a favorite or preferred brand. I typically just buy whatever is in stock. I do make sure to get the -50 stuff though. It still freezes, but freezes at a lower temperature than lower rated products.
- Ice Scraper – When I don’t forget it, I bring along an ice scraper with an extendable handle. RVs tend to be big, and the extra long handled ones come in handy.
- Indoor Clothes Line – This is the retractable clothesline I have mounted in Lance’s bathroom. It works great for drying off snowy gear. Been using it for years with no issues.
- Slippers – These aren’t the slippers you see in the video, but these slippers (which I have at home) are the nicest slippers I’ve ever had.
- Packable Shovel – We didn’t show you one in the video, but this is what we were talking about. Though, if you go back-country skiing, the shovel you have for that will be fine.
- YakTrax – These are the shoe traction devices we travel with and they work great. There are other kinds and brands – as long as you have something that fits and makes you safe, you’re good.
Tip #1: Know your rig
This is the most important tip of all. RVing successfully in the winter depends on more than just your RV… it depends on YOU making good decisions. You can’t make good decisions if you don’t know how your rig is set up. For example, you need to know which fresh water lines (if any) are outside. That way, you can make smart decisions about them when the temperatures drop. You need to know the same thing about your waste water lines and tanks as well. You even need to know things like, “Does my bathroom sink drain to the black or grey tank?” Because you might decide you don’t want to fill one or the other. It may take a while to figure these things out, but that time spent will pay dividends when you’re winter RVing and nothing is freezing up.
Tip #2: Investigate tank heaters and heat tape
Particularly if you have a class B or a camper van, some of your tanks and waste plumbing will be outside. I’ve seen manufacturers address external tanks in clever ways like heating them using glycol, insulating them with foam, or building them double-walled. But if you’re not lucky enough to have a rig where that’s already built in, the best and easiest thing for you to do is to add tank heaters and heat pads. The aftermarket ones are generally electrical, so you’ll need to pay attention to your electric consumption to use them successfully. Besides tank heaters, there is also heat tape that can be added to vulnerable lines. We have both tank heaters and heat tape on board in Lance, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Tip #3: Make sure you can get where you’re going
This tip is all about winter driving. In Lance, we travel with snow tires in the winter. I keep them mounted up on a second set of rims, and they store in the garage during the summer months. The good news about RVs is that they tend to be a bit heavy, which helps traction. But even snow tires might not always be enough, and for those occasions (which we’ve never hit), we carry tire chains. Beyond that, you need to be generally prepared for winter driving conditions, just like you would in a car. If you’re feeling a bit lost there, this page from the AAA should get you jump started.
Tip #4: Do something about your single-pane glass
Single pane glass 100% sucks at keeping heat in. So if you only do one “insulation type” mod, covering your windows should be it, and will make a huge difference. Typical RV window coverings, like MCD shades, just don’t do anything at all to insulate. We’ve tried a lot of things, and the product we’ve found that’s the most effective are the insulated window coverings made by Vanmade Gear. They come in a variety of colors and styles, but the ones we recommend are black on one side, and reflective on the other. I explain why we recommend these in the video. Whether or not you buy the Vanmade shades, you absolutely positively need to do something about your single pane glass windows.
Tip#5: Find and deal with any other drafts
If you’ve been out in your RV in the winter, I’m sure you’ve noticed that some parts are colder and draftier than others. Your goal with this tip is to find the worst offenders and deal with them. If you have a metal-bodied class B van, you’ll have no shortage of drafts to work with. We use a variety of commercial products, draft blockers, and home-brewed foam contraptions to seal up the worst drafts in Lance.
Tip #6: Know the limitations of RV antifreeze
Spoiler alert! It actually does freeze! And at a lot milder temperatures than advertised. If you’re lucky, you’ll read this tip. If you’re unlucky, you’ll try to take a shower at -12 degrees, having poured RV antifreeze down the drain… only to find yourself standing in ankle deep water (true story). While it does freeze, what RV antifreeze doesn’t do is expand and break things when that happens. That’s great for storage, but not so great if you poured it down your toilet like water, thinking you’d still be able to dump the black tank.
Tip #7: Accessorize for success
There are a number of things that we take on winter RVing trips that we don’t bring along in the summer. OK. Like an ice scraper. Yes. I forgot the ice scraper. I got to hear about that every single morning on this trip. You can check the video for some other accessories we mentioned, but that’s by no means an all-inclusive list.
Tip #8: Keep the heat on
At first, this seems like silly advice. But if you’re in a highly mobile RV like a class B, you’re probably using it rather like a car during the day. And while you don’t think about leaving the heat on in your car when you go in to lunch, you absolutely should leave the heat on in your rig when winter RVing. We’re not saying it has to be super-toasty when nobody is around, but you do want to keep it warm enough in there to keep things well above freezing. You’d be surprised how much passively heating your RVs systems (pipes, batteries, etc.) will help.
Tip #9: Be prepared for everything to be more difficult in the winter
Many of the things we rely on as RVers are just way more difficult in the winter. Campgrounds are the biggest one. Most of them tend to close up during the winter months. Heck, on this past trip, we even tried two commercial RV parks, and they were closed as well. Even boondocking spots will be fewer and more difficult (or impossible) to get to. And WATER! Oh my goodness water gets difficult to find in the winter. Most places RVers tend to fill up simply shut the water off during the winter. And propane is also more difficult than normal to find and purchase. There’s no getting around this really, so the best advice we can give is to plan ahead, have backup plans, and just be flexible.
So there you have it, our top 9 tips for winter RVing success. Do you have a tip that we’ve left out? A lesson that you’ve learned the hard way? Sound off in the comments below!