Sierra Nevada Airstreams -> TT Owner's Guide -> Living

Recreation with vehicles in the Sierra Nevada and American Great Basin areas

Keeping Warm

Keeping warm in the high desert of the Sierra Nevada Great Basin area can be a problem even in summer. Daily temperature swings can go to 40F or more. You need to prepare to keep warm at the same time you prepare to keep cool when being out in the Sierra Nevada airstreams.


Granby Lake on the Alaska Highway in 1962 (summer)

What is cold?

There is cool weather camping and then there is cold weather camping!

Cool weather camping is where there is a bit of a chill but freezing and other significant temperature related problems are minor considerations. The average of the minimum and maximum daily temperatures doesn't go below about thirty degrees and the night time minimum temperature is usually above 20F. Cool weather camping means being prepared and taking a few precautions but otherwise not much concern about weather.

Cold weather is when the daily temperatures generally don't get above freezing and the minimums get down to single digits or subzero. Camping in cold weather means careful attention to equipment, supplies, and personnel in order to avoid problems that can destroy a camping experience.


Yes about camping in cold weather. But don't let snow slow you down. It can be your best defense against the cold. I shovel up the snow around the bottom of the rv, especially around the propane tank. It insulates very well. Use portable water jugs and pottie. I carry a shovel, sand, portable heat source, tire chains and a good gasoline generator. Brush off the snow before going inside and it will help keep the moisture down. I insulate the windows and vents with blue board foam, as the flimsy fabric or foil covered plastic is not good enough. Some of the things I do while out there are hunt, ice fish, snowmobile, hike or snowshoe, call and watch wildlife and try out new foods. It is a busy time of year, leaving little time to laze around read or any thing like that. Minus fifty can be challenging. - algent on RV.NET (with permission)

Cold weather hints

Where cooler weather takes its first toll is in the house battery. Cooler weather usually means more hours of darkness which means more lights. It also means the furnace will be run and that can be a significant battery drain. If the battery is stored at outside temperatures, it will also loose capacity at lower temperatures. All of this means that, after grabbing a jacket to keep warm, a shortage of battery energy is likely to be one of the first things you notice about the impact of cooler weather on your camping experience.

Next after battery life is propane. You need to make sure to top off the propane tanks before you head out for a weekend in cooler weather. Propane is used to keep you and your stuff warm and comfortable and the colder it gets the faster you will use it. Not only that but getting the propane out of the tank may become a problem as well because it has to boil to get it from liquid to the gas your RV can use and that slows down when it gets cold.

As the temperatures get colder, there are other issues that become a concern. A furnace keeping the inside of your RV above freezing will also likely keep most of the plumbing systems from freezing except when they are near the outside walls and not protected. Hookup lines and tanks exposed to the outside air will need attention when outside temperatures get well below freezing.

When it starts to get really cold you will need to close down the plumbing and make sure it is protected with a potable (RV grade) antifreeze. If you can't keep the inside of the RV generally above freezing you will need to worry about any food stores that might suffer if frozen. The refrigerator becomes a place to keep things warm rather than to keep them cool.

You also need to make sure that you have appropriate clothing and bedding to keep yourself and others with you warm and dry. Become familiar with signs of hypothermia and keep a special eye on any older folks in your group to make sure they stay warm.

Sanitation can become a problem in cold weather. Unless you have plenty of heat, water for cleaning can become rather scarce. When the ground is frozen, disposal of waste can be difficult as well. Plan ahead!

What to do

  1. Prepare for extra battery use by taking along spares, providing a means to keep your battery charged, or doing other things to reduce the risk of running out of battery energy.

  2. Make sure your propane tanks don't run dry on you.

  3. Protect the propane regulator from the elements so it doesn't get plugged or blocked.

  4. Take plenty of clothing and bedding so you can implement a good layers of warmth policy to maintain comfort.

  5. Make sure your furnace is functioning properly.

  6. Don't use anything for heating your RV that is not designed for space heating purposes in an RV.

  7. Only use the furnace overnight but do keep the thermostat as low as possible.

  8. Any combustion based heating, such as catalytic heaters, must only be used when you make sure that there is proper ventilation and the device is not left unattended.

  9. Whenever you cook or clean condensation can be a problem (see article ) so make sure there is proper ventilation.

  10. Prepare your rig for the temperatures you plan to experience. See John Sankey's advice ( The Cold Weather RV FAQ ) for when you are going to be out in very cold weather for some ideas.

  11. Prepare yourself so you know what to expect and what to do to be comfortable and safe.

  12. Take the equipment and supplies you need to enjoy your winter camping experience.

Check out these resources so you can be fully prepared!

Resources

Outdoor Action Guide to Winter Camping by Rick Curtis - http://www.princeton.edu/~oa/winter/wintcamp.shtml – a very complete rundown on what you need to do and what you need to know.

“The pipes are iced solid, the car won't start, the dog's got his tongue frozen to the food bowl... Hey! Let's go camping!“ - http://www.sastrugi.com/ - gotta' love a site with this attitude and named after a type of old wind blown snow.

Winter Camping Tips by Marc Godbout - http://www.bsatroop98.com/wintercamping.htm – nice tip for dish washing from a scout master off troop 98 in New Hampshire.

Snow camping primer - http://www.sonic.net/~chard/snocamp.htm -

Winter Camping Handbook, Baxter State Park in Maine - http://www.baxterstateparkauthority.com/camping/wintercamping.html – look at the section on carbon monoxide poisoning.

Get Outdoors winter camping skills - http://www.getoutdoors.com/go/golearn/skills/winter+camping -

Tent information - http://www.hilleberg.com/WinterCamping.htm -

Yahoo.com winter camping links - http://dir.yahoo.com/Recreation/Outdoors/Camping/Winter_Camping/ -

Using an RV in Winter (below 0°F) – Ottowa Canada gained experience by John Sankey – The Cold Weather RV FAQ – he's into physics and music, too.

About.com – winter camping articles - http://camping.about.com/cs/wintercamping/ -

Outtakes winter camping: it depends on two things: Good equipment and knowing what you're doing. Story by Tim Jones Photographs by Stephen O. Muskie http://www.outtakes.com/winter/winter.camping.html – biggest problem is what you do with all those hours of darkness.




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