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Winter Camping 101: Tips for Cold Weather Adventures in Your Van or RV

Don't let winter stop your wanderlust.

By: Sara Sheehy + Save to a List

Who says you need warm weather to take a camping trip? Not us.

Camping in the winter is full of great perks. There are fewer people, for sure, and if you do have any neighbors, they'll be of the hardy, cold-weather-doesn't-stop-me variety. 

Book a spot near your favorite ski mountain or winter recreation area and enjoy the pleasure of having the comforts of your own bed nearby, no matter the season or destination.

This winter, our friends at KOA invite you to pull into one of their 250-plus campgrounds that are open year-round and discover the joys of winter camping. Here are a few tips and tricks for making your stay a comfortable one.

Get Warm

Photo courtesy of KOA

First things first...let's get that camper warmed up.

What kind of heat source you have will depend on your rig. Most RVs, truck campers, and trailers have built-in propane furnaces that are controlled by a thermostat. These furnaces are vented and generally safe to run, so you don't have to worry about much beyond keeping them in good working order.

If your van or camper does not have a furnace, then you can deploy standalone heaters like electric space heaters or catalytic heaters. It is super important that you follow the instructions for adequately ventilating a space heater (it usually requires a cracked window, at the very least). These types of heaters also need constant supervision — never run them when you're not around, and think twice about letting them run overnight.

Stay Warm

Photo courtesy of KOA

Getting warm is the easy part, staying warm is trickier.

Campers — whether they are RVs, trailers, or vans — don't have the same insulation as a house. Heat escapes from the single-pane windows, the thin walls, the roof, and especially the floor.

To combat all your warm air from leaking out into the chilly winter outside, seal your windows and use heavy drapes to block drafts. Buy a roll of Reflectix and cut it to fit in each of your windows to reflect heat back into your rig.

If you plan to make winter camping a part of your regular quiver of activities, invest in upgrading your insulation. Insulate your floors with foam board from underneath and then use thick rugs to prevent further heat loss. In the warmer months, take the time to put better insulation in your walls. 

Take Care of Your Pipes

Photo courtesy of KOA

In a camper or van that has running water, you will need to give serious consideration to your pipes. A frozen or broken piece of plumbing is a recipe for disaster and can cause serious damage to your rig.

If your camper is winterized, and you're going for a short winter trip, consider dealing without running water or a toilet. It will be a little bit of a pain, but you won't have to worry about your pipes at all.

If you do choose to use your plumbing, wrap your pipes in heat tape and keep them warm by opening your cabinets, doors, and drawers so that warm air can circulate. When it gets really, really cold out, you may even want to supplement with a space heater to keep the water flowing.

Travel Safe

Photo courtesy of KOA

We all know that driving in the winter can be more hazardous than other seasons, and that's especially true if you're hauling a trailer or driving a high-profile camper.

Keep an eye on the forecast and only travel on days when snow, ice, and excessive winds won't be an issue. If you see bad weather on the horizon and are worried about getting stuck in your campsite, get a move on!

KOA has over 250 campgrounds that are open year-round, so you know you'll always have a comfortable place to land and ride out inclement weather. Will see you out there?

Cover photo courtesy of KOA

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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