So, you want to try camping in cold weather, but youíre worried about freezing? This guide should help answer some basic questions!
First, if youíre camping in temperatures that are above freezing, or even only briefly dip below freezing, then you donít have much to worry about. Fill the propane tanks, verify the furnace works correctly, read the part about humidity below, and have at it.
Second, if youíre camping without using the water system in the camper (i.e., itís winterized and youíre not planning to run water through the system - otherwise known as ďaluminum tentĒ), you probably donít need this guide, either. This isnít a solution I would use - part of what we love about our camper is having our own shower - but plenty of people do it. A variation of this method is to use only the waste system by using jugs of water and RV antifreeze to flush the toilet and drain sinks - again, you have less to worry about. Either way, check the next section on humidity, but keep in mind without taking showers in the camper youíll be somewhat better off.
For the rest of us, camping in freezing temperatures while using the water system has its own challenges and rewards. I generally think of a couple categories here, but note I pulled these temperatures and durations out of thin air - youíre free to mentally adjust them as you see fit.
1. Short trips (up to a week or two, perhaps) of camping in weather below freezing but above, say, 15 degrees F (-9 C) - this is basically what I do, although we usually have temperatures just above freezing during the day.
2. Long trips in the 15-32 F (-9 to 0 C) range.
3. Camping when temperatures regularly drop below 15 F (-9 C), short term.
4. Camping long term when temperatures drop below 15 F (-9 C).
This document is meant to be a starting point, not the end-all for cold weather camping.
There are plenty of solutions that I havenít mentioned, for certain.
The biggest problem you are likely to encounter while camping in cold weather isnít heat, itís condensation. This isnít a problem in the warmer months, because you have the windows open or the air conditioner on, and both act to remove the humidity from the air. When camping in cold weather, though, youíre probably not running your air conditioner or have your windows open (if you are, you probably donít need this guide!), so the humidity tends to collect. The biggest sources of humidity are showers (use your exhaust fan - I know, youíre sucking warm air out of the camper and replacing it with cold air, but thatís how it is), cooking, and breathing.
The two basic solutions to humidity are air exchange (exhaust fans, drawing in fresh air from outside) and running a dehumidifier. There are some smaller dehumidifiers available like this
(recommended by dznf0g) and this
that comes highly recommended by dekew
The easiest thing to do is simply to fill the fresh water tank and use the water out of that. Youíll have to refill it every few days, of course, but Iíve found this adequate for our trips.
If youíre staying for a longer time, it gets tricky. Heated water hoses are available but they have limits, and sometimes those limits aren't as low as you'd expect (1) (2)
. You can also make your own heated hose
- this will have some lower temperature limit, too, which isnít reported in that post.
Youíll want to keep the tanks from freezing. Again, this isnít much of a concern when temperatures drop below freezing only for short periods (overnight), but it can be a problem if you have longer stints of cold weather.
First, most Airstreams are built with ductwork from the furnace that helps to warm the tanks. Iím sure this helps some, but I wouldnít rely on it for extreme cold.
Many solutions have been offered. For example, you can skirt around the camper (practical if youíre staying a while) and put a heat source underneath, such as a light bulb. Another option are heating pads that attach to the tanks directly to keep them warm, but they have limits too
claims down to -11 F/-24 C without being enclosed; I have no experience with them).
Note - RV antifreeze in the gray/black tanks wonít help much. As this post demonstrates
, youíd need too much of it to be very useful.
There are a bunch of options here. The most obvious one is the furnace built into the camper. This has the advantage that itís already installed and out of the way, and it usually has ductwork throughout the camper (even my B190 had a second furnace vent in the bathroom). In our 30í trailer, we usually go through a 30lb tank in 2-3 days of camping, again, with temperatures below freezing at night (say, down to about 25 F/-4 C or so) and above freezing during the day. Lower temperatures outside mean youíre going to need more propane. Turn down the heat some when youíre out during the day to save propane. You can get a larger (100lb) propane cylinder connected to the camper to at least reduce the frequency of refills. The furnace runs off 12 volts but youíll need a way to regularly recharge your batteries if you donít have shore power.
Catalytic heaters - These work off a chemical reaction with the propane that produces heat. These are popular, but require a source of fresh air, and have warnings against using them while sleeping (carbon monoxide buildup). Also, they donít disperse the heat very well - youíll want a fan or something running with it, too. These wonít provide any heat to the tanks.
Electric heaters, of various types (ceramic disc, oil-filled radiators, resistance heating devices, and so on - note if your A/C has a heat strip itís the latter type) - These can work. Iíve camped several times with only an electric heater running. Not as great as the furnace but much better than freezing. We carry a portable electric heater with us in the camper just in case. Keep in mind these wonít provide any heat to the tanks at all.
Heat strip - Some air conditioners have a heat strip built into them. These are a simple electrical coil heater. You probably should check your ownerís manual for it - the one in my B190, for example, indicated it wasnít for heating the camper in general; itís purpose was to take off a chill in the morning, or that sort of thing. The one in my B190 wasnít controlled by the thermostat, either - I left it and an electric heater running one night while it was about 17 F (-8 C) outside, and woke up to find it was over 80 F (27 C) in the camper in the morning. Youíll want to find out precisely how it works and what restrictions are on it before relying on this. This wonít provide any heat to the tanks at all.
Heat pumps - Some newer Airstreams have heat pumps installed. These do not have ductwork for the tanks.
Wood stoves, etc.: Some people have done things like this. See this thread
for a few examples (there are several other examples, like this thread from jcfergusun
, in which he installed a wood stove as part of entire restoration).
Jammer modified the ducting on his 30í Classic to get more heat in the bedroom from the furnace
(I linked to a post summarizing the mod, but thereís a lot of good information in the rest of the thread). Even if you donít have the same model of trailer, this may give you some ideas for your trailer.
dznf0g created a circuit that turns on his furnaceís fan without starting the furnace to help circulate air from the heat pump, which puts warm air through the ductwork for the tanks. See this thread
for more details.
There are various things you can do to help insulate the camper better. Remember, we have single-pane windows, which havenít been used in homes for decades.
Fantastic Fans and the like: There are inserts you can buy that stuff into the fan opening in the ceiling. You can probably make one, too.
Skylights: Our camper came with heavy vinyl covers for them that Velcro in place. Like the Fantastic Fans, you can probably buy or make inserts for them.
Windows: If youíre like us, there are some windows that you rarely even open the curtains. I intend to cut some foil or styrofoam insulation to fit in there to reduce heat transfer. Also, good, heavy curtains should help too.
Storage areas: Our 30í Classic has a storage area under the rear bed. I was initially ignoring this as a source of heat loss, because youíd think the mattress would provide nice insulation. But, the mattress isnít the only way heat can get through - once cold air is the storage area, itís only a thin piece of wood around the bottom of the bed between that and the bedroom. To give you an idea of how bad it is in ours, we were in the camper last night with temperatures outside in the mid-20s, and I had a bottle of water on the floor: When I opened the bottle in the morning, the temperature of the water felt only slightly warmer than fridge temperature. dznf0g reports that condensation (and therefore mold) is a problem here, too, because of the temperature differential - he uses a small 200 watt electric heater running in the compartment to combat this problem.
On the road
If youíre going to be on the road for a long day in freezing temperatures, youíll want to find a way to make sure the water lines donít freeze. Running the furnace is one possibility. I havenít heard of too many suggestions for this situation - the issue is that you have limited power available to do much else.
You usually do not have to worry too much about the tanks freezing while youíre on the road - the liquids sloshing around will keep it from freezing...unless itís REALLY cold.
There are a few other things youíll notice about camping in the cold.
--Your power cord wonít coil up as well. Power cords are available that remain flexible in cold weather. (There was a thread about this but I canít find it - when I do, Iíll link to it.)
--If itís below freezing, raining/snowing, and youíre using a lot of propane, you may see ice form on the propane tank.
These are must-reads for anyone planning to overwinter in their Airstream in cold weather, and good to read for anyone doing cold weather camping.
has a bunch of links to other threads about winter modifications/heating.
Airstream Karma -- Out with the Vinyl, In with the Alclad
- riggsco spent at least two winters in the Wasatch Mountains where they get an average of 300+ inches (760 cm) of snowfall each year. This thread is both informative and extremely entertaining.
- talks about condensation and vermin problems.
I hope you found this helpful. As I said above, it's intended to be a starting point to give you ideas on what you might encounter, not a comprehensive guide to winter camping. If you have updates or corrections, please post them below and I'll update this post.
Thanks to the people who wrote the posts I linked to, and to the people who reviewed my draft versions!
(Moderators, please sticky this thread, and make it so I can update it indefinitely. The idea of a sticky FAQ thread is based on a discussion in this thread