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Old 09-24-2011, 08:02 AM   #1
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Limits of cold weather Boondocking

We were camping off the grid near Frasier, Colorado (formerly the Icebox of the Nation until the Chamber of Commerce decided the title didn't bring in visitors).
On a cold night, temps got low enough to freeze the water bottles in our packs and put solid ice on the tops of mud puddles. I think temps were in the high teens or low 20's
Early in the morning, I heard the furnace motor running at a low rpm and noticed batteries in the red on our solar monitor. When boondocking, you learn to listen for such things.
We run our furnace at the lowest setting and temps in the trailer are in the low 50's. Light weight sleeping bags are necessary to keep warm. We are always cold in a made up bed no matter how many blankets used.
I got dressed and went out and fired up the generator. Fortunately, we were hunting and had to get up early anyway. The furnace is powerful enough to bring the interior to a comfortable temp in a few minutes.
From the experience, I have offer the following advice to arctic boondockers.
I. Get batteries with the most amp hours possible. I have 55 amp hour Optima Blue Tops. I could get 10 %+ more capacity with larger flooded cell batteries and still have them fit in the battery box. It goes without saying that batteries must be in top condition and fully charged before nightfall.
2. A generator and a solar charging system are necessary. A generator only would work but long running times are necessary to get the batteries 100 % charged.
3. Cold weather camping in an Airstream is like flying a lead airplane. R-factors in them is nill. Escaping heat melts most of the frost off the exterior skin. But, you camp in what you have. If temps drop much below freezing there is going to be some discomfort involved. Consider going to place where there is electric service.

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Old 09-24-2011, 08:12 AM   #2
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Basically we've had the same experience only we use the flooded cell battery and our sleeping bags are the dual temperature kind. Takes about 3 1/2 hours to bring the battery back up.

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Old 09-24-2011, 09:02 AM   #3
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Spent several nights at "-0" and have never had a problem as long as the Honda 6500 in the pickup bed had gas, other than that you are absolutely right on. If you want to cold weather camp in an Airstream, prepare and pack like you were going tent camping in the arctic.

The good side though, I have never had the door freeze closed while I was inside....yet
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Old 09-24-2011, 09:20 AM   #4
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The door should not freeze as long as the Honda is running.
Just don't sleep in and ignore the peace when the Honda quites.

"The good side though, I have never had the door freeze closed while I was inside....yet[/QUOTE]
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Old 11-13-2011, 03:58 PM   #5
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Freeze Your Boondockers off

Western mountain camping can have all seasons on one weekend trip. In July north of DuBois, 18 degrees. Of course, when we travel we also carry clothing for all seasons. Remember. The temperatures given for a particular area is IN town. Once you leave town, all bets are off.

If it is cloudy or snowing... you are screwed.

When expecting temperatures below 28 degrees, leave the door open where the water pump resides. When you turn the pump on in the morning and it does not begin running, it is frozen. Just quickly flip the switch to test. Then we are forced to turn on the furnace. It is a battery power eater. Cooking breakfast will also warm things up, above freezing to help...

We have a solar panel, so in the Fall I always camp in a wide open spot to get the maximum sun exposure to charge the batteries.

I take the door side (passenger side) of the trailer and park it so that the morning sun will strike the entire side of the trailer in the morning. It is amazing how quickly the aluminum can warm up. Of course, when it was 18 degrees, you think 40 degrees F is warm. If you always prefer to camp in the trees, summer or winter, you will have to get use to freezing your boondocker off. Also... I will open the front door to let the sun WARM the interior. The AS might not hold warmth during the night, but it sure can hold the cold for the rest of the day.

Our Safari is not the aluminum interior, but the fabric. Your tongue will not stick to cloth. It might make you think warmer, but not.

We have two sleeping bags that we use for sleeping during a cold spell. We can add them onto the bed blankets we use for "normal" camping. In the morning after sunrise it will be warmer outside the AS than staying inside... Rather than a "two dog night" we prefer the cold weather sleeping bags.

Look at the bright side. The refrigerator fan will not be running... and the 20 pounds of ice bought in town, when it was 80 degrees, will not melt for a few days.
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Old 11-13-2011, 05:17 PM   #6
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fraiser, colorado

There is a book: "Rails that Climb" that describes the cycle in Fraiser: I am paraphrasing: "Snow would melt in the daytime, leaving water running over the more robust ice at ground level, allowing the water level to reach part way up on the rails, which would then freeze causing the rail to crack along its length, leaving an unseen cause of a major derailment for the next train..." bill thanks to Mr. Bollinger.
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Old 03-18-2012, 04:07 PM   #7
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I love reading about boon docking. I bought two Yahama 2000s and look forward to a trip boon docking.

My problem is that I am a solo traveler--female. I am not really afraid of much--but that's my problem--I am not afraid. So, I have to really focus on safety issues not to get myself in a jam. And, that means...that I really cannot camp out on the beaten track. Maybe, a national park--policed by rangers...but ...isolated places....not so much.

When I went out west this summer, I saw a lot of places that I would have loved to camped. My idea place is near water and mountains. I really hate the parks....but again...I am a solo traveler, so I need to be practical.
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Old 03-18-2012, 05:01 PM   #8
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How cold is too cold in the trailer is very much dependent on who you are. It helps if you live in a cold climate and are used to it. I like to keep nighttime temps inside at 50-52˚, but Barb wants it higher. We compromise on whatever she wants which is often around 60-62˚. When she's not looking, I lower the thermostat. When I'm not looking, she raises it.

But it is true that Airstream's insulation doesn't help much. In the fall, even with solar, batteries can run down because of short days and long nights, cloudy days and trees overhanging the solar panels.

We use Reflectix on the bedroom windows, skylight and fan openings. That helps too.

A wood stove in the trailer would help. I'm not sure where to put it and whether it would unbalance the trailer if it were on one side. I could balance it with my anvil collection on the other side.

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Old 03-18-2012, 05:23 PM   #9
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We just got back from 2 weeks in SE AZ & SW NM. Boondocking for 7 nights straight in Cochise Stronghold, Chiricahuas, and Gila Wilderness when we caught the border storm that dropped snow and lows in the teens and highs in the 40's.

We kept the thermostat between 48 at night and 60 in the am and supplemented with a Coleman catalytic heater on several 1 pound propane bottles. Even with 3 hours of generator time in the morning and evening, the batteries were getting drained with the heat running so often. The propane bottles are only good for 3-4 hours.

So what about tapping into the gas line under the stove to be able to supply a secondary catalytic heater for day time use when the temps are above freezing, but only barely? Has anyone added supplemental heat source?
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Old 03-18-2012, 05:30 PM   #10
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Hi all,
Speaking of letting the sun warm up your rig, I was wondering if high polished unit don't warm up as quickly? You know, shiny side vs. the dull side of the tin foil?

I kinda like the dull finish. But my husband is dying to put on a high polish.
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Old 03-19-2012, 08:10 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by Mrs.Mod View Post
Hi all,
Speaking of letting the sun warm up your rig, I was wondering if high polished unit don't warm up as quickly? You know, shiny side vs. the dull side of the tin foil?

I kinda like the dull finish. But my husband is dying to put on a high polish.
You have a valid point.
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Old 03-19-2012, 08:54 AM   #12
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With 1"of insulation and a an R value of about .5, the shine on your trailer makes no difference, especially when covered with snow.

Doesn't anybody else use any kind of supplemental heater when boondocking?
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Old 03-19-2012, 09:02 AM   #13
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We have had similar issues with cold weather camping. In December we spent a few nights at San Simeon State Park on the California coast near Hearst Castle. There were only two of us in the 100+ site state park campground that only allows generator use between 10 AM and 7 PM; not the most conducive to cold weather camping. Not wanting to run the batteries down, I left the furnace off. Well by morning it was 34 degrees INSIDE. The furnace worked fine to get things warmed up but my wife decided that was a little cold. From that point on we would leave the furnace on a 50 degrees at night. The generator would help to bring the batteries back up but the run times were excessive. This worked all right if we only were spending a night or two at these temps.

Later in our trip, we spent ten days in Death Valley National Park in late January. Once again we experienced temps in the mid 30's. We were able to successfully keep the thermostat at 50 degrees and use the generator (we have a pair of Honda 2000) to recharge the batteries but we were running the generators six hours per day. We met a couple in a 27FB with solar and several other folks with various types of non-electric propane furnaces (catalytic, brick stoves, etc.). All of the people we met with the non-electric propane stoves had installed them into the trailer propane system. The use of these "furnaces" remain controversial on these pages and with others who "boondock."

In February we spent three nights in Joshua Tree National Park and followed the same procedure we used at Death Valley. Even though campgrounds allow generator use, we found that many neighbors are generator-averse. True boondocking, outside of a campground, might be more neighborly. Ultimately, a combination of solar and an alternative heat source is, IMHO, the best. We have not yet installed either.

I love the AS, but if cold weather boondocking is going to be a regular part of your trailer use, there are other trailers that will be a lot warmer (i.e., Arctic Fox).
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Old 03-19-2012, 09:17 AM   #14
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Winter time paint job..

I understand that when one talks painting a Airstream,, shoes,, empty bottles and garbage will be thrown in my direction..

Cant help but think of one could find a water based black paint for winter time use and then in the spring time,, a good wash job and have a shiny trailer again..

Just a mental game I play.. One would think somewhere is made a water based paint that would take a mild soap to wash it off,, but a rain would not hurt it is out in the world somewhere at a fair price..


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