RV Life

How to stay warm in winter in an RV

Get your RV ready to live in for winter!

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Our family has been living in our RV year-round since the summer of 2018, and yes, that includes living in our RV in the winter. While most winters we head south to warm (or at least more moderate) temperatures, this year, we stayed in Canada, which presents a different set of challenges.

While we’re missing out on our typical trip to a Florida beach, or Arizona campgrounds, or California RV Parks, (and dreaming of one day RVing on a hot beach in the Baja in Mexico), this year, we’re getting to experience something new: winter RV camping.

You’re going to spend winter in an RV?

We’re going to give it a try. At least, that’s what we told our family when they asked, and while it’s not quite the same as the January we spent RV camping at national parks, state parks, and campgrounds in Texas, it hasn’t been a terrible experience… although, we are toying with a getaway to Mexico to get out of the cold weather, but that’s another story for another time.

Winterizing your RV vs. Wintering in your RV

Winterizing is what most weekenders do with their travel trailer or mobile home over the winter months. They prepare it to avoid damage to the plumbing while nobody is using it over the winter months, stop snow from melting in, and their camper stays in one place.

Wintering is preparing your RV to live in during the winter – basically, winter camping, whether stationary or taking a trip now and then. For us, our RV is our home, not a weekend getaway that we can choose to avoid in cold weather, so here are ways that we’ve found to stay warm as we spend winter in our RV.

If you’re getting ready to spend winter in your RV, here’s what to consider:

Where will you be winter RV camping?

Will you be winter RV camping at a campground, a national park, or a state park? What is typical cold weather for that park or area? How much snow do you anticipate having on your trip? What temperatures do you need to expect to weather, and what breaks will you get from freezing temperatures?

If you’re planning to stay in a moderate climate where you may be below freezing temperatures now and then at night, but mostly above during the day, then wintering in your RV will look different than if you’re expecting to be in sub-zero temperatures for days or weeks at a time.

Tips for only dipping below freezing every few nights, consider the following:
  • Make sure to check the weather report daily, and be prepared for unexpected or sudden dips. Don’t take chances that the report is accurate. If the weather says it may go below 40F (5C) then assume that it could dip to freezing or might snow.
  • Play each day by ear. When possible, leave your heated hose connected, unless the distance from your faucet to the RV is longer than your hose and you need to make an uninsulated connection.
  • Fill your fresh water tank regularly, and disconnect and blow out your hose if the temperature could drop below freezing for an extended amount of time.
  • Let your water heatre run through the night on nights when you may have freezing winter temperatures. Since your water heater is on the outside wall of your rig and contains a large amount of water without much room for expansion, leaving it running will maintain its heat.
  • Some RVers swear by leaving their bathroom faucet dripping through the night to keep water running through their system. Our experience with this was that the water spigot coming out of the ground at the RV park froze, so it didn’t matter that we had our faucet on – the water didn’t continue to run.
  • Use a sewer hose support to be sure that your hose is angled toward the drain, and there isn’t sitting water in your hose. Also, getting your hose off the ground means that it’s less likely to freeze from being in contact with the cold ground, or be covered in snow when you’re ready for your next trip.
Tips If you’re going to be in extended freezing temperatures:
  • Close your grey tank drain and empty your sewer hose when you’re not emptying your tanks. Sitting water in your hose may cause it to crack, and you might not realize there’s a crack until you drain the tanks next. (guilty).
  • Ask people where you’re staying if they regularly experience power outages through the winter. Have a heat source that’s not dependant on electricity, whether that’s a deep cycle battery connected to your rig to run your propane furnace or a portable propane heater. Of course, if you have power, run an electric space heater, since that power isn’t consumable like propane.
  • Make sure you regularly check and fill your water tank. It might be a pain to go out and fill your tank rather than have a hose connected, but it will be more of a pain if your heated hose or campground water freezes and you have no way to get water to your RV.
  • Skirt your RV. This traps heat under your RV so it takes less effort to heat your rig and keep your under-carriage tanks above freezing temperatures.
  • Check your propane often to be sure you’re not going to wake up cold. Know the closest place to fill-up propane in your area in case you do run out and need to make an emergency trip.

Will you be traveling or stationary in RV park through the winter?

If you’re RV camping at different campgrounds through the winter, then options like skirting are going to be more difficult, or at least more work since you can’t travel with the skiting attached, and in exchange, you can save yourself the step of hooking up your hose by simply filling your fresh water tank as your standard process when you arrive at a new location.

If you’re going to be stationary, then choose a campsite where you’ll get as much sun as possible, to give your rig the best opportunity to get some natural warmth from the sun.

Our RV has windows all the way down the driver’s side: Our large master bedroom window, slide windows, dinette windows, and 2 bedroom windows in our bunkhouse. The passenger side of our RV has a small window in the kitchen and a small bedroom window in the bunkhouse.

Since we’re trying to enjoy as much sunlight and warmth into the RV as possible, we’ll look for a site where the driver side of the RV is facing the sun, then we leave all of the shades up when we go to bed so we get plenty of morning sun in the windows (ok, the bedroom shade stays closed so there’s a chance I can sleep in, but having 3 boys in a 30-foot travel trailer doesn’t make it that easy…).

How to Protect your RV Plumbing while you winter camp:

How cold does it have to be for RV pipes to freeze?

I wish I could help answer this, but I honestly don’t know, and frankly don’t want to find out. If I allow the plumbing to get cold enough to freeze, it’s going to be too cold for us to live in. We keep our trailer around 70F during the day, between our electric heater, using the stove for baking, and our onboard propane furnace.

If you’re talking about winterizing your RV (because you’re not going to live in it), then fill the plumbing with RV antifreeze, but here we’re talking about winter camping or spending winter in your RV.

Plumbing / Water on the outside of your RV:

  • Make sure you have a heated hose connected from your campground water to your RV. The heated hose must run the entire distance. Any connections or additional hoses needed to go the rest of the length from your water source to your RV create a point where your hose could freeze. Frozen water in your hose may not only cause your hose to burst but may damage your internal plumbing from the pressure.
  • If you are anticipating prolonged freezing temperatures, it’s best to connect your hose to fill your fresh tank, then disconnect your hose, blow it out and store it.
  • Use a sewer hose support to keep your drain hose from touching the ground and freezing because of contact with the ground. An angled sewer hose support will help the liquids to run towards the drain rather than pool and cause a freezing point in the hose which may crack.

Plumbing on the inside of your RV:

  • If it will be cold enough to go below freezing at night, leave your water heater turned on. Some RVers make a habit of turning it off when not in use to save energy, but since the tank is on an outside wall of your RV, and the water in your tank won’t have room to expand, the heat from it running will keep it above freezing.
  • Open your lower cupboards in your camper to allow the internal temperature to reach your pipes and drains under your sinks.
  • Even if you’re running a space heater, it’s best to keep your propane furnace turned on in case your heater can’t keep up, or your electricity goes out. We have our electric heater set to heat up to 60F at night, and our furnace still kicks on when set to 50F now and then since the space heater might be on full, but that might not be enough.

How to keep your RV warm during the winter

The upside to keeping an RV warm in the cold winter is that it’s a small space, so doesn’t take much effort to heat up, however, our RV is also not insulated like a house or a building (especially certain parts of our trailer, like the 12-foot slide out, or the windows).

We focus less on keeping our RV warm around the clock and focus more on keeping ourselves warm. We have to keep our RV above freezing temperatures to protect our plumbing and appliances from freezing, but at night when the temperature really goes down, we focus less on keeping our trailer at 70F and focus more on keeping ourselves comfortable in cold weather.

Tips for Keeping your RV Warm:

  • Open the shades when the sun is out and the weather is nice. Let that sunlight and heat in! When possible, pick campgrounds with sites that allow your windows to face the sun.
  • Save energy when you go out by turning your heater or furnace down, but don’t turn them off. It will take more energy to warm your RV up from getting too cold than the energy it takes to turn it down a few degrees and warm it up a few when you arrive home.
  • If you’re stationary, purchase skirting for your RV to protect the heat on the underside of your RV from escaping.
  • Cook inside as much as possible. Instead of firing up the grill and letting your propane heat escape outside, cook inside where you’ll feel the benefit of that heat. Take a few extra minutes to warm up leftovers in the oven instead of the microwave, since once you sit down to eat, you can turn the oven off, but let the heat from inside out into your space. For the same reason, instead of microwaving a mug of water to make tea, turn on a burner and boil water on the stovetop.

Tips for Keep Yourself Warm while living in your RV in the winter:

  • Wear layers. This probably goes without saying, but it’s easier to put on a sweater, socks, and slippers than to constantly keep your camper around 76F inside all winter long.
  • We’ve found that keeping our feet from getting cold makes is the best way for us to feel warm. Microwavable bean bags are our go-to almost every night, and we simply put them on our feet and the rest of our body feels cozy. (We’ll even warm them up and take them in the car with us while we’re waiting for our car to warm up). Keeping our feet warm allows us to keep the trailer at 68F and feel comfortable.
  • Enjoy the sun in nice weather. When the sun comes out, we all go outside and spend some time going for a walk, playing in the snow, or find a place to sit in the sun. It may still be cold out, but that sun on our face still feels great, boosts vitamin D, and adds some extra warmth.
  • Keep the door closed. I know, this is going to be a challenge for many families, and it is for ours also, but the door is the biggest heat escape. Try and limit the number of times you open the door and how long it stays open for.
  • A quick 5-minute hot shower before hopping into bed will go a long way to keep you from getting cold.
  • Staying warm is easier than getting warm later. Don’t wait until you feel cold to put on an extra layer, or grab a warm drink. While you’re warm, use these tips to stay warm.

How to deal with condensation in the camper while winter camping

In the first few weeks, we were noticing extra condensation inside our RV on the walls and windows, since the temperature outside is cold and on the inside, we have 5 bodies and our appliances creating heat.

Some friends recommended cracking a window open and leaving our ceiling vent open to create airflow so the condensation can’t build up. That worked at reducing condensation, but it also meant that all of our heat was escaping both out of the window and the roof vent with the fan running.

Instead, we bought a dehumidifier – one that was for up to 500sq ft. While our trailer is nowhere near 500 sq ft, we didn’t want one that was undersized and not going to help with extra condersation like we needed.

The dehumidifier takes plenty of moisture out of the air – I empty it about once a day – and allows us to keep all of our windows and vents closed so that heat isn’t escaping.

How do you deal with being crammed in an RV for the winter?

This is the most common question we get from our non-rv’ing friends, and while the answer isn’t perfect, we do spend as much time as we can outside going for walks or hikes, and enjoying cold-weather activities, and we try and be understanding when we’re all inside together.

I try and do my work at night when the kids are in bed, or if Celine takes them around the city or to play in the snow, I work while they’re out. Sometimes, I’ll grab my bean bag and warm it up to make phone calls to clients in our car in quiet, and sometimes, I just take the approach that “If you can’t beat them, join them” and end up taking a break from work for a quick round of quirkle, skip-bo, or decide I can use a walk.

RV Life

15 Christmas Gift Ideas for RV Families

15 Christmas Gift Ideas for RVers

(Disclosure: We’ve made a few recommendations below which are available on Amazon or other camping programs. If you choose to make a purchase, we will receive an affiliate commission at no cost to you to help us continue to bring helpful content about being an RV family and our camping adventures!)

We are often asked what Christmas looks like for an RVing Family. One of the biggest questions is on the topic of ‘Christmas gift ideas’ – many RV owners live full-time in their rig, a tiny home on wheels.

Our first Christmas after moving into our travel trailer was tough because, while they wanted to give us gifts, our relatives didn’t want to gift us things that would just end up in storage, things for outdoor use that would take up too much space to travel with, or things that we wouldn’t get much use of while we live in our travel trailer.

Space is at a premium in a tiny home on wheels. Whether you’re buying for a family, a couple, or a single person who enjoys RV living, there are some gift ideas you can consider for your RVing friends, and items we’d recommend you stay away from.

One of the Christmas gift rules we have outlined for our family is that we don’t need gifts that simply take up space and don’t serve a purpose. We travel full-time, moving to new RV parks sometimes 2 or 3 times per week. Outdoor accessories have to be set up and put away far too frequently, and we need to store them when we aren’t using them in our limited storage space. Consider the RV owner on your gift list when you’re looking for that perfect something to make them happy – consider how their lifestyle is RVing and their limited space.

Bad Gifts for RVers

What kid doesn’t love to get a new stuffed animal? But puffy, bulky toys that take up space are not great gifts for RVers. The adult version of this bulky, oversized gift would be wall decor, picture frames, knife blocks, throw pillows and extra, unnecessary blankets, another set of measuring cups, delicate wine glasses, or a fancy dish set for 8 people.

Large items that can’t be folded for easy storage, like a movie poster, over-sized board game, or things that are heavy like a weight-lifting set or a treadmill are not great items to gift RVers for obvious reasons. Unless an RV owner specifically asks for one of these things, it’s best to go for a more practical item as a gift.

It might go without saying, but in an RV, space and weight are at a premium. Consider this before you buy the gift item: If you were receiving this gift, would you take it along with you on your next RVing trip or vacation?

For the most part, the quantity of things we have in our rig is comparable to what we would bring with us to a vacation cottage for a weekend or a week-long RV rental. All RV owners have things in their rig that they never use. It comes with the territory – it’s so easy to accumulate unnecessary stuff while RVing just as it is with living in a house. Clutter just accumulates faster in a tiny home on wheels. Here are some Christmas gift ideas that are sure to be perfect for your RVing friends and relatives.

Good Gifts for RVers

For the full-time traveling RVers on your Christmas list (families, couples, or single travelers), consider gifting them with experiences instead of things.

Here is a list of the best gift ‘experiences’ that you can give – they will create lasting memories for RVers:

National Park Pass for Canada or the USA

Joshua Tree National Park in California

National Parks are all over Canada and US, offering a wide variety of experiences for all ages – hiking in the mountains, walking on nature trails in forests, relaxing by a lake, kayaking, skiing, nature-watching, camping under the stars, and exploring a historic site. With a National Park Pass, the experiences an RVer will have are endless,

On long travel days, it’s not uncommon for our family to plan area to stop at so we can stretch our legs and make the day more exciting. We look for National Parks and Historic Sites along the way, not always with the intention to spend a night, but simply to explore and take a little break. These parks and historic sites are not an additional cost to us once we have the national pass.

Provincial / State Park Pass

If you are looking for that perfect gift for an RVer who does a lot of traveling within their state or province, but doesn’t live full-time in their RV, a state park or provincial park pass might be practical and offer more access to local places than a National Park Pass would.

Gift Cards (Cue the Eye Roll)

Gift cards are one of the best RV gift ideas, but they come with a stigma – “I didn’t know what to get you, so I got you this,” They are a thoughtful gift for RVers. If you’d rather not give a gift card to grocery stores, restaurants, or gas stations, consider giving gift certificates to experiences or local attractions.

gift card to a movie theatre chain or a Bass Pro Shop can be given with a hand-written note saying, “Go enjoy the sequel to your favorite movie next month”, or, “Buy that fishing rod you’ve always wanted for your next fishing trip.” A gift like this is not considered a ‘cop-out’ or uncreative gift – it’s an intentional, thoughtful gift for an RVer.

A gift card to a favorite restaurant chain or a local restaurant is a perfect gift. Again, adding a personal note with the gift card to say, “We know you love Olive Garden. Order your favorite pasta while spending a day on the road,” or “Enjoy your trip to Nashville, and go to dinner at the Rainforest Cafe!” adds a personal touch. **Bonus points: Choose Cracker Barrel gift cards, because they usually have oversized parking lots for Busses and RV owners, and allow overnight parking. Breakfast in their restaurants is perfect for RVers before they head back out on the road.**

Pay attention to where your traveling friends or family members are going next, and think about gifting them with gift cards that they can use while they enjoy their time away.

If you’re looking for a super-practical gift card with no strings attached, a gift card to a gas station is ideal, for obvious reasons. Grocery gift cards are a close second. We have used grocery gift cards for buying treats or to splurge on special food items – a dessert we don’t always buy, or that more expensive, specialty cheese we don’t normally put on our grocery list.

If you’re the type of person who wants to gift something that needs to be unwrapped (not just placed in an envelope with a card), then get create with the way you wrap the gift card – possibly in a shoebox, or gift bag, or tape it to a chocolate bar that’s gift-wrapped.

Season Pass to Theme Park Chain

For a stationary family, a theme park pass can be enjoyed all summer long. It’s such a fun place they can go to over and over again.

For a family on the road, it may not be best to gift a local theme park since the family can only use the pass in that one specific city. However, there are few theme park chains in Canada and the USA. Gifting a season’s pass to these theme parks make a perfect gift for RVers:

Six Flags ParksSeaworld / Busch Gardens, & Cedar Fair Parks

Depending on where your gift recipient will be traveling, and the types of attractions they enjoy, each of these parks has a variety of activities as well as multiple locations.

For bonus points, add on the Theme Park “Dining Deal”

We have purchased the Dinning Passes for our Six Flags season passes, which allow us to simply show up at the park without packed lunches or snacks, and we don’t have to dip into our retirement savings to get a plate of nachos and an ice cream to keep us going for the day. For our family of 5, (our boys are under 12 years old right now), we purchased only 2 dining passes. Each one includes lunch, dinner, and a snack every time we visit any of their parks along with unlimited soda. Since the portions are large, this is plenty of food to keep the 5 of us going for the day.

We had considered getting each of us a dining pass, but when we are hopping on and off rides all day, we don’t want to be stuffed full of food. We just need snack-sized portions throughout the day. We  We eat a big breakfast in the morning before we go to the park – 2 dining passes for us is perfect. And as our oldest son moves into his pre-teen years, we will add on another dining pass for him.

Honorable mention has to be Disney passes, but know that you’ll be paying a pretty penny for them, and their locations are localized to Florida and California.

Gym Club Membership

Depending on where your gift recipient will be traveling, and how often they want to visit a gym, a gym club membership might be a great gift. You may not have realized this, but RVers who camp mostly off-grid love having gym memberships.

While gym memberships make great gifts for those who enjoy working out, RVing families can use this type of membership to do activities geered to kids and families. Kids can hang out in classes or be taken care of while parents are working out, they can take showers, enjoy the pools, and relax in the saunas. Rather than paying a premium price for a full-hookup campsite with amenities, RVers will often find somewhere inexpensive, often without hookups, to park. They will make use of their gym membership to takes showers. The parking lots of gym clubs are often large enough for large Class A motorhomes or travel trailers to park in, which makes for a convenient stop between campsites.

Since certain chains of gym clubs are more prominent in specific regions throughout the country, know where your traveling friend is going so you can be sure to buy a membership that will work best for them.

If a gym membership isn’t a fit, consider places where kids can go to be active such as a trampoline park, or indoor gymnasium. Gift cards to access these places are so thoughtful – kids and parents love having them, especially for rainy days. Even a gift card for Chick-Fil-A can be a useful gift for RVing families with active kids – they likely visit these restaurants frequently because their kids enjoy the indoor playgrounds they offer.

Gifts to Keep Track of Travels

It’s amazing how many RVers intend to track their traveling, but don’t find the time or resources to.

Some RVers will pick up a bumper sticker, a state sticker, or a sticker from a national park along their travels and stick It on the outside of their RV. However, many of us don’t want to commit to having something permanently stuck to the outside of our travel trailer or motorhome. Here are some great alternatives to keep track of travels:

Map Gift Ideas for RV Travelers:

Journal Gift Ideas for RV Families:

RVers Camping Gifts

It may seem too obvious to get RVers camping gifts, but they really are useful. Whenever possible, purchase something that’s foldable, collapsible, but still durable (with good reviews) so it will last on the road.

Here are some gift ideas for RV owners that are perfectly suited to RV camping, cooking, and RV-living:

Bad RV Camping Gift Ideas

This seems to be the perfect spot for a reminder that gifts for RV owners should be practical, compact, and lightweight. An inflatable hot tub might get put into storage rather than get any outdoor use while your RVing friend stays at an RV park. Even if it is on the shelves of the “camping” section at your local retailer, or is recommended by someone who camps a few weekends every summer. It is not practical for RVers.

Road Trip Travel Games

Whether you’re looking for the perfect gift for a couple or a family, everyone loves activities for long road trips. And while all of our traveling styles are unique and some of our travel days are longer than others, we constantly look for fun activities to pass the time between outings at national parks, or while we are traveling from one campground to the next.

Amazon has plenty of travel game ideas for various ages. We recommend you purchase something that doesn’t require batteries. Sounds and lights from the backseat can be a distraction to the driver, especially when they are towing a large RV. Also, consider the fact that small pieces get lost easily and often make the game unplayable while in a vehicle, so look for an age-appropriate game that’s magnetic, or one without any small, moveable pieces.

Thousand Trails, Passport America, Harvest Hosts, and Boondockers Welcome RV Club Memberships

In one of our most popular blog posts, we covered 9 ways to save money on campgrounds, and some of those ideas can easily become the perfect gifts for the RV owner on your Christmas list.

Thousand Trails is a network of campgrounds owned by a single corporation, and their camping membership gives free access to any of their campgrounds for up to 14 nights at a time, or even more! The membership is broken into zones of traveling which can be added on individually for an additional, minimal cost. While memberships can vary in price, the base level Thousand Trails membership starts at $599/year and might be sufficient for many travelers, with others choosing to add on additional zones.

Another great $44 gift option is a Passport America membership. Each campground in the Passport America program is independently owned and operated with their own terms and conditions. They offer 50% off of their rates for select nights throughout the season, and some offer monthly discounts if you have the Passport America membership.

If the RV owner on your gift list is interested in off-grid camping, then a membership to Boondockers Welcome or Harvest Hosts will allow them to have some unique camping experiences as part of their membership. Each night you stay, you’ll pick up something at the hosts’ store or leave a gift for your host instead of paying for the campsite. Hookups vary from water and electric to none depending on the host.

Click below for more details:

Zoo, Aquariums, Science Centers & Museum Membership gifts for RVers

The AZA (Association of Zoos & Aquariums) offer a reciprocal program, meaning that if you have a membership at your local Zoo, you may be able to get free or discounted access to other zoos throughout Canada and the USA. Check their reciprocal page to find out if your community’s zoo appears on the list.

ASTC (Association of Science & Technology Centers)

Your local zoo, museum, science center or aquarium will often have a discounted membership available through Groupon. Use Groupon to get a discount on a year’s membership, then enjoy reciprocal admission or discounts at other locations. If your local Groupon doesn’t have a discount, consider looking at the gift recipient’s travel destinations to see if there’s something nearby they can enjoy while they travel.

In our travels, we found a $35 Groupon for a one-year family membership to a small aquarium in California. It has paid off over and over since we’ve used the AZA reciprocal program to visit zoos in California, Calgary, Toronto, and Nashville, and many others. Next time we renew our membership, we’ll be checking Groupon again.

Just like national parks and theme parks, these reciprocal memberships provide a great option for RVers to help break up a long travel day with a fun outing, and help the RVing families stay on budget while taking day trips to zoos and aquariums for homeschooling outings.

Do you have something that was missed from this list? What’s the best Christmas gift you’ve received that’s fit perfectly into your RV lifestyle?

Leave a comment below so we can all learn together!