Baby, It's Cold Out There!

Tips for winter fun

James & Stef Adinaro James & Stef Adinaro  |  11.28.2015

Here we are just starting the holiday season and the weather in Utah has finally taken its turn towards winter. This gets me excited. James and I, as different as we are in most things, both agree on this. RVing is the best in colder weather.

Photo 02Now, most of you won’t agree with this, that’s pretty obvious, since campgrounds we visit in cold weather tend to be deserted. We love finding abandoned campsites in national or state forest lands, and staking our claim, at least for a night or two. It’s our own little oasis, whole campgrounds all to ourselves.

Photo 03While that’s a huge part of the appeal of winter camping for us, there’s more to it than that. There’s a special joy in being the only ones around as the snowflakes start falling outside the RV, and to being the first ones to make fresh footsteps in the snow. Everything’s so quiet and peaceful and still, at least until James’ neurotic gene shows itself, “STEF! You’re tracking snow all over the RV!” or, “STEF! You light a campfire with exactly 5 little sticks, not 6!” Ah, the serenity of RVing with the one you love…

SONY DSCYet still, we love winter camping together. But don’t think we’re sitting inside the RV all day twiddling our thumbs when the weather gets cold, far from it. We’d go nuts (actually James would drive me nuts). Instead, our winter camping trips tend to revolve around outdoor activities like skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, bickering (wait, I meant biking), etc.

Photo 05And since we’re doing all these things while the weather’s cold, there are a lot of safety considerations and smart cold weather practices that come into play. Here are a few tips we’ve learned along the way.

Pay Extra Attention to Your Extremities:

Don’t skimp when it comes to keeping your extremities warm. Mittens are warmer than gloves, though not always convenient. Since cold and wet feet lose warmth quicker than cold and dry feet, make sure you do everything possible to keep your feet dry.

SONY DSCWater conducts heat away from the body. Make sure to pack waterproof footwear and socks that wick sweat for your outdoor adventures.  The same principles apply for your headwear. You want it warm, sweat-wicking, and with good coverage. We travel with face masks, and I especially find them useful on windy days.

Choosing Your Layers:

A good rule to remember for outdoor physical activity is to layer your clothes as if it’s 15 to 20 degrees warmer than it is, so that you’ll be slightly cool when you start. If you’re going to be physically active, you want to be careful about overdressing. If you have too many layers on, you might start sweating. This is bad!

Photo 07Sweat leaves your clothes wet, which will pull your body heat away, leaving you shivering once the activity level declines. Shivering is one of the first signs of hypothermia, and you should always avoid getting to that point.

The Wind:

I can handle being physically active in the cold. It’s the WIND that’s the real Murderer-of-Outdoor-Fun. Try to plan your cold weather activities so that you’re starting into the wind. That way, you won’t get caught out miles from your campsite with a fierce headwind piercing through all your well-intentioned layers. Also, you know that burny feeling you get in your face after being out in the wind for a long time? Coconut oil is your best friend. If it’s a windy day, I always slather copious amounts of the stuff all over my face, and then sunscreen over that. The oil helps protect your exposed skin from the wind and helps with the chapped burning dryness that’s an inevitable annoyance and price we pay for our outdoor fun.

Right When You’re Back Inside:

I love this part! After a day playing in the cold, you finally come in. You’re exhilarated from the hours of fun, you’re the good kind of exhausted, and you’re looking forward to a little downtime. It’s important to change clothes right away. You might not even realize how sweaty you are under your millions of layers, and it’s important to get yourself dry as soon as you can. A hot drink also helps your body begin the process of temperature regulation, so get the tea kettle boiling.

Photo 08Once James and I are back inside, we tend to last a good 30 minutes. We change, we drink hot drinks, and we bask in whatever fun outdoorsy things we did that day. And then, it never fails. We twiddle our thumbs, we start getting antsy, and we look out the RV windows. It usually goes something like this:

“Hey! Let’s go light a campfire!”

“OK, but I’m doing it this time, you use way too many sticks.”

“Oh really. Because it won’t light with a few extra sticks?”

“Why do you always have to thwart my perfectly-tuned firestarting system?”

As I dart for the lighter and bolt out the door: “Because I’m your anti-system!” And laugh evilly.

And so the evening’s beautiful blissful bickering begins…

So yeah, that’s winter camping with my crazy best friend.

SONY DSCShare the love with family.  Winter camping rocks. You should try it.

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  1. Eric Posted on 12.19.2015

    I am currently on a winter camping trip along the CA coast. I have gone from the Pt. Mugu Naval Air Station, to Jalama Beach (Santa Barbara), to Julia Pfeiffer Burns state park (Big Sur), to Pacifica (south of San Francisco). It has been a consistent 60 degrees daytime, down to 27 degrees nighttime. Winds from 5mph to 25mph. The campgrounds are less than 1/3 full. My new ERA’s furnace has never had to be set over half way, so I have never augmented with an electric heater when I had hookups. No reservations needed anywhere. Bring the dog and your bike! I don’t understand why more RVers don’t winter camp at the beaches?

  2. Ed Posted on 12.19.2015

    Speaking of tips, how in the world do you get an RV so clean at a snowy campsite? ;-)

  3. Brent Posted on 12.19.2015

    I agree with Jim above. What changes, upgrades, and customizations do you have on the Travato for winter camping? Its my understanding the Travato is not intended for cold weather (below freezing) camping.

    1. James and Stef Adinaro Posted on 12.19.2015

      There’s a whole lot to say about the technical “how-to” of winter RVing. But in general, you can use ANY Winnebago model in the winter if you properly follow the winterization instructions in the owner’s manual. You just winterize and then don’t use the water systems. Bring along some drinking water and you’re good to go!

      Apart from the water systems (fresh and waste), your Winnebago should be ready to go for winter camping as-is. They’ll all have adequate heat, fuel, and insulation for keeping you warm inside the RV. That’s really the most important thing. There are low cost options, like tank heaters, that can extend some functionality when the mercury drops. (Tank heaters are standard equipment on some Trend models, btw.)

      We’re planning some more winter camping tips here at GoLife in a future edition, so stay tuned!

  4. Kay Thoreson Posted on 12.19.2015

    This article is interesting, but doesn’t say anything about the most important part to me, a new RV’er . . how do you keep water from freezing and the interior warm? I would have thought that should be the basis of the article.

  5. MAr Posted on 12.19.2015

    what tips do you use to keep the motorhome warm when you
    are boon docking in winter weather as batteries run down faster with cold weather and wind

  6. Lowell Posted on 12.19.2015

    What special winterizing precautions did you have to take on your rig? Hate to be indelicate, BUT, didn’t the black and gray water tanks freeze? Did you have to wait for the spring thaw??? Was propane sufficient for all the niceties that you needed for cooking and heating? Do you have a solar panel on the roof for additional battery life or for the fridge? Thanks

  7. Jim Posted on 12.19.2015

    How about a few tips on handling the Travato in winter–driving, water systems, etc.?

  8. Kate Posted on 12.03.2015

    I, too, love a chilly, deserted campground. I plan to be a full-timer at some point next year and hope to spend time in campgrounds too cold for others.

  9. Ted Posted on 11.29.2015

    I found that wearing extra layers around my torso works more towards keeping my extremities warm. I used to get cold fingertips despite wearing heavy ski gloves, but that went away once I started wearing an extra insulated vest under my ski jacket. I suspect the body prioritizes keeping the vital organs warm 1st before releasing warm circulation to extremities. I find that once my core is warm enough my fingers will get enough circulation to go without gloves even in freezing weather.