RV Winter Survival Guide

Water & temperature management tips, plus safe driving.

Peter & Kathy Holcombe Peter & Kathy Holcombe  |  12.03.2018

When we transitioned from tent camping to living in the RV, one of the most noteworthy and gratifying differences occurred when the mercury dropped below the freezing mark. After a long day skiing or ice climbing in arctic conditions, we would head back to our beloved Winnie the View, hang up our soggy layers and crank up the heater. Gone are the evenings in the tent, nestled deep in our sleeping bags, convulsively shivering, waiting for daylight and hoping our damp gear wasn’t frozen solid the next morning. Now, our winter evenings are spent lounging around the dinette playing cards and swapping epic tales of adventures past.

With careful planning and a few preventative modifications, winter camping is an RVers delight. Here are some of the strategies that we have used over the years to successfully weather sub-zero temperatures (yes, -22ºF to be exact!).

(Editor’s note: These instructions and tips are suggestions from an owner of a Winnebago product and trusted GoLife contributor, not a professional or Winnebago Industries employee. Please keep in mind that some RVs handle colder temperatures better than others and if you decide to go winter camping in your RV, it will be done at your own risk.)

winter guideAs a family, we revel in finding out-of-the-way places that we can call home for the night.  Even with temps in the high teens, Castle Valley, UT, was the perfect backdrop for a little holiday cheer.

1. Water Management

The safest bet is to drain your tanks and winterize your plumbing using an RV water system antifreeze. If you opt for this strategy, be sure to bring containers of fresh drinking water and plan on using public restrooms. However, in our opinion, one of the greatest features of an RV is the indoor plumbing (particularly in the winter), so this is absolutely a last resort for us.

This is also one of the primary reasons we purchased a Winnebago View – all of the pipes are strategically concealed in the living area, so that as long as the cabin is heated, the pipes won’t freeze. The two exceptions to this are the hot water heater (which needs an external vent) and of course, the waste tank drain valves. (Please note that all RVs do not have internal water lines).

winter guide

We run our hot water heater constantly in cold temperatures to prevent it from freezing and possibly cracking, and only dump our holding tanks on days where the temperatures are above freezing to avoid the dreaded and disastrous “poopcicle” – yes, we learned that the hard way!

Call us crazy, but New Year’s Day is the first day of our kayaking season, and Glenwood Springs, CO, is our favorite NYD destination. Yes, we have been know to drive all the way from the tropical waters of Florida for this uniquely Colorado celebration. We have weathered temps from the single digits all the way up to a balmy 40 degrees over the past four years, but our Winnie the View has kept us warm and our gear dry through it all.

winter guide

2. Temperature Management

When headed into the deep freeze, it is critical to maintain a heated cabin environment, not only for personal comfort, but also to protect your RV from damage. Propane is the main source of heat for our RV, so keeping the tank levels topped off is critical. But equally important, is electrical energy to power the furnace fan. If possible, we try to find shore power to alleviate the constant drain on our house batteries. When we are plugged in, we use two small ceramic heaters as a secondary source of heat in extreme conditions.

winter guide

When we are boondocking, we keep careful watch on our house battery levels and often run the generator for a few hours before bed to top off our power levels, so that we can make it through the night without over-taxing and damaging our house batteries. In extreme conditions, we run the generator all night.

When the mercury drops into the single digits, our first choice is to find shore power. If that is not an option, we crank up the generator and let its purr lull us into dreamland.

winter guide

3. Driving Considerations

The first time we crossed a snow-covered pass in the Winnebago while pulling a trailer, we were pretty white-knuckled. However, with time and experience, we have discovered that it actually handles pretty well in winter conditions. The weight gives us good traction, as long as we keep it slow and steady. Make sure your tires are in good shape and pack the tire chains before you head up that mountain pass in the winter.

winter guide

If you do find yourself in dicey conditions, remember to take it slow, and stop if necessary to wait it out. After all, the comforts of your RV are just a few steps away.

We always try to time our journey across notoriously dicey stretches of road (such as high mountain passes) to coincide with a favorable forecast. But our schedule doesn’t always afford us that luxury. When we find ourselves unexpectedly in severe winter conditions, we chain up the rig and take it slow and steady (or hunker down until the road conditions improve).

winter guide

So, if you’ve ever dreamt of a second home in the mountains, wipe the sleep from your eyes and get your RV ready. With just a bit of planning and preparation, winter RVing is a great option for powder hounds and snow birds alike.

winter guide


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4 Comments

  1. Sue Posted on 12.15.2018

    We have the heated blankets on the waste tanks. What’s the likelihood of running those all night off the house battery? Will they even run off the battery or are they only 110? We’d of course also be running the furnace fan off the house battery. And has anybody ever created a portable skirt (it would have to be fold-able and small since the View doesn’t have lots of storage) to put around the bottom of the View.

  2. Jim Davis Posted on 12.15.2018

    Nice, succinct article. What you describe is exactly the same as we have been doing in our 2nd hand 04 24F Minnie for the last 4 or so years, without problems. Getting ready to head to northern New York state for the holidays where it’s colder and snowier than Maryland where we live. To illustrate the difference in temp of outside vs inside, the drain plug on our hot water heater started dripping some on a recent overnight trip into Pennsylvania and although the water in our heater tank and even the wet area behind he outside service access grille were not frozen, where it ran outside and down the coach we had good size icicles! Holiday decorations, lol.

  3. Luc Posted on 12.15.2018

    Wow! It’s fun to see people who push their View to the limit. Congrats! I’m always concerned when it gets really cold. Even though we could not be considered as winter users of the Winnie, we often have to leave from or come back to our good old Canadian cold.

    A few questions:

    1) Have you ever had any problems with your water pump freezing? Mine (24G) is almost in the “basement”. It froze once but the temperature in the rig was in the low 50s while it was -15 outside. Maybe not warm enough. I now remove the wood cover when temperature goes down really low. It’s never happened again but I never had that kind of temperature either.

    2) Do you need to keep any kind of heat in the water bay?

    3) Do you have double pane windows? (I don’t and I regret it).

    4) Do you take any special measures when it gets really cold? We close the dinette slide and hand a thick blanket in front of the cab area the have less room to heat.

    5) As for the water heater, we put our Truma water heater on Eco mode and did not have any problem with that so far. Is your rig equipped with a Truma and is it what you are doing?

    Thanks for sharing these very valuable tips.

  4. Warren Posted on 12.15.2018

    Good article, thanks. We were in our 2017 View in N. Dakota during a record cold period of 9 below zero a couple of winters ago. We have a corner bed and positioned a small electric heater underneath the bed and removed the inspection cover to expose the fresh water plumbing. That seemed to get us by except for the external valve compartment. The city water fill connection cracked and caused a leak whenever the pump was on. We replaced it when we got into a warmer climate. Since then, I have positioned a small catalytic heater in the adjacent electrical bay which I think will prevent the freeze up of that fitting.