As the leaves turn and fall, so do the temperatures and the numbers of RVers lining up at every camp spot in the country. Gone too are the mosquitoes and other annoying insects. While spring, summer and autumn are wonderful times to travel, in many ways, winter is our favorite. So why aren’t you RVing in the winter? We think we know why, and you might rethink the possibilities and your excuses.
Excuse No. 1: It’s cold
Cold can be good. Think of the fresh, crisp air and the powder snow that skiers dream of. Soak up the sheer beauty of the winter landscape. Throw a snowball. RVs have furnaces, sometimes two or three. If you’re plugged in to shorepower, a modern AC unit like our Carrier AirV has a 5,600-BTU electric heater, perfect for keeping the chill out of the air. There are also auxiliary LP-gas catalytic safety heaters such as the Olympian model 8100ET that can add warmth to winter temperatures.
Foot and hand warmers, like those offered by the Heat Factory, are perfect for instant warmth. Worried about your rosy cheeks? Most skin creams contain water that can freeze in extreme cold. We use Dermatone waterless skin products to protect against winter drying, sunburn, chapping and frostbite. As an alternative, the Russians say goose fat works.
Down jackets and wind parkas can keep you warm well below zero. The main point is there’s no reason to be cold. Remember the saying: “There is no such thing as bad weather, only people with inappropriate clothing.”
Excuse No. 2: It’s dangerous
So, you see the road signs that say “Caution: Slippery When Wet or Frosty.” We don’t need to tell you that cautious driving, like keeping your speed down, is very important. Certainly, snow and ice are slippery, but that shouldn’t keep you in your driveway. The use of snow tires greatly improves traction, and chains take it a step further. If you are pulling a trailer, carry chains for the rear of the tow vehicle and the rear axle of the trailer. Practice installing the chains on warm, dry pavement. Make sure they fit and make sure you really know how to put them on quickly. The side of the road, in the dark, in a blowing snowstorm, is not the place to learn, or find out you have the wrong size.
Excuse No. 3: Campgrounds are closed in the winter
Wrong! Many are open year-round, including those in national parks. Some have full winter hookups and heated water lines. Many travel trailers and motorhomes have some sort of heat going to the water and holding tanks, at least enough to keep them from freezing. So long as they are in use, they are safe. An alternative is a system like UltraHeat’s tank and pipe heaters, a peel-n-stick application that’s thermostatically controlled to activate when the tank reaches about 44° F and deactivates at 64° F.
Check ahead to see what’s open, and what winter facilities are available. If there are no hookups where you’re staying, the first thing you will run out of is power. Running the 12-volt DC furnace, water pump and lights or 120-volt AC accessories like a TV from an inverter will bring your batteries to their knees quickly, especially in cold weather. For more than a couple of days, you can start the engine or carry a small quiet generator. Solar panels on the roof of your RV keep your batteries up and can extend your stay until you run out of water. Using the showers and bathrooms at the campground can make a 40-gallon tank last a week or more. Start your winter adventure with full tanks of water and LP-gas.
Excuse No. 4: What about my engine?
This is not a problem, just an adjustment. Make sure you have the correct multi-grade oil for the temperatures you anticipate. Modern diesels need to spin for several seconds in cold weather to pressurize the oil to open the common-rail injectors. If there is 120-volt AC power available, plug in a block heater, or stick a light bulb in the engine compartment overnight.
If your tow vehicle or motorhome has a diesel engine, make sure you have a tank full of winterized fuel, otherwise known as diesel No. 1. When temperatures drop to around 20° F, the paraffin in diesel No. 2 tends to solidify and can clog lines and fuel filters. Fuel additives like Red Line’s Anti-Gel and Amsoil’s Diesel Concentrate Plus Cold Flow Improver are developed for diesel operation in extremely cold climates by using pour-point reducers to keep wax in suspension and reduce wax crystals, allowing them to pass through injectors and filters.
Gas engines do not have this kind of problem, but the power of your starting batteries is significantly reduced in cold weather. According to Cummins Filtration, batteries have only 75 percent of their cranking power available at 10° F. By -5° F, only about 60 percent is available, and by -40° F, cranking power is virtually nonexistent. Simple solutions are wraparound battery warmers such as those made by Cummins Filtration and Zerostart. A second option is to use a low-amp maintenance charger like the BatteryMINDer made by VDC Electronics.
The proper mixture of water to antifreeze is obviously important. A 50/50 mix is recommended as a round starting point. This not only protects the engine from freezing, it also raises the boiling point. An easy way to check your engine’s coolant is with a test kit such as the Fleetguard CC2607 Quik-Chek or the Polaris four-part test strips. By simply dipping one of these test strips into your coolant and reading the chart, it will tell you the freeze point and the concentration of Molybdate and Nitrite.
Excuse No. 5: You can’t “wild camp” or boondock in the winter
Not true. There are plenty of great places in just about every state where you can pull off into the forest or the desert and stop for the day or even the night. You don’t need four-wheel drive or any special equipment. Snow parks often permit overnight stays. Towns that cater to the winter enthusiasts sometimes have rest areas where you can park overnight. Those of us who enjoy wild camping know where to find spots.
Visiting www.trailerlifedirectory.com, www.worldofwildcamping.com and other similar sites can help with suggesting campsites.
Excuse No. 6: There’s nothing to do
Just because you’re not a downhill racer or an ice climber doesn’t mean you need to stay home. Many winter resorts have extensive walking trails that need no more than a warm pair of shoes.
For a little more excitement, try snowmobiling, sleigh rides, cross-country skiing, snow tubing, snow-cat rides, winter train excursions, ice skating, dog sledding or one of our favorites, snowshoeing. If you can walk, you can snowshoe. Modern snowshoes like the MSR Lightning weigh much less than their bulky forerunners. Fishing too, in the winter, can be very rewarding, whether on a frozen lake, or casting a fly into the riffles of a mountain stream. Rentals, lessons and guide trips for all of these activities are the backbone of winter recreation.
I guess we shouldn’t forget simply sitting around the campfire with a glass of hot mulled wine, even if it’s inside an RV resort lodge. Also, there is never a lack of window shopping and great restaurants at any ski resort. Feel like just relaxing? Take a gondola to the top for lunch and just sit in the warm sun. The biggest problem is that you won’t have time to do it all.
That pretty much shoots holes in all of your excuses, doesn’t it? So dig out your sleds, skis, snowshoes or just your spirit of adventure, and head out into the exciting world of winter RVing. The only thing you’ll miss are the crowds.
Amsoil, (800) 956-5695, www.amsoil.com.
Cummins Filtration, (800) 223-4583, www.cumminsfiltration.com.
Dermatone Laboratories Inc., (800) 225-7546, www.dermatone.com.
Heat Factory Inc., (800) 993-4328, www.heatfactory.com.
MSR (Cascade Design), (800) 531-9531, www.msrgear.com.
Polaris Labs LLC, (877) 808-3750, www.polarislabs.com.
PolarWrap LLC, (800) 967-9727, www.polarwrap.com.
Red Line Synthetic Oil, (800) 624-7958, www.redlineoil.com.
UltraHeat Inc., (574) 522-6594, www.ultraheat.com.
VDC Electronics Inc. (BatteryMINDER), (800) 379-5579, www.vdcelectronics.com.
Zerostart/Phillips & Temro Group, (800) 328-6108, www.phillipsandtemro.com.