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7 Important Winter Camping Tips

Here are a few of our memorable winter adventures and 7 important winter camping tips to help you really enjoy the season.

Jennifer and I have been enjoying the RV Lifestyle now for over nine years and there hasn’t been a single winter in that time that we haven’t used our RV to camp in the cold and snow, enjoying a myriad of outdoor activities, no matter how cold it has been.

How cold has it been, you ask?

7 Important Winter Camping Tips 1

Would you believe -27F? You read that right. Minus 21… 21 below zero. 

And that was the actual thermometer reading. But with a stiff northwest wind, the feels-like windchill temperature was more than 50 below.

We were up on the north Superior shore in Minnesota doing a story on the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon, a 400-mile route from Duluth to the Canadian border. 

We were in our Class B van at the time, camped out at a spot where the musher’s trail crosses County Road 8 northeast of the tiny, remote hamlet of Finland, MN, about 85 miles into the grueling race and smack dab in the middle of absolutely nowhere.

The snow was so beautiful, three feet deep off the trail. At night, the stars were so bright and close that they made you gasp. Like the cold.

And then there was a wolf

photo of rv on winter rv camping trip on snowy roads
This is us in our RV on one of our winter RV camping trips in 2017.

We heard wolf howls as we spent a lonely night out there Sunday and Monday morning.  Maybe 50 yards from us, a big black wolf – the Alpha Male of the pack according to one of the volunteers we met – twice showed himself as curiosity drew him close to us.

Or maybe he wanted to get warm inside our RV.

We were dressed properly for cold weather (best of the winter camping tips). That’s the secret of course, and we limited our time outside to no more than half-hour stretches when we shooting videos of the passing mushers. 

Tai, our double-coated Norwegian Elkhound at the time, thought he had died and gone to heaven up there in the snow and cold, though he was noticeable spooked by the wolf. 

I took him out at sunup and he stopped, sniffed the air, and had the hackles on his neck raised. I didn’t know why at the time but Michelle, a volunteer who later joined us at the crossing, said dogs typically are very spooked by wolves. 

“Sometimes a sled dog team will stop and lie right down when wolves are around,” she said. She’s was a musher herself, from Minneapolis, and said the same black wolf, along with a female, were in the same area the previous year.

How comfortable were we?

As to the RV, we couldn’t have been more comfortable. I had the heat on, of course. And we also had a small little ceramic heater running, too. We had solar power and lithium batteries and, even in that severe cold, boondocking in the woods with no hookups, the inside was a cozy 68 degrees. Getting your heat organized – especially if you're boondocking – is probably one of the most important winter camping tips.

That sled dog race along the Minnesota north shore may have been our most memorable winter RV camping adventure but it was not the only one.

Tahquamenon Falls State Park

photo from a winter rv camping trip - winter camping tips
That's Jennifer and Mike, with Bo, on our winter camping adventure last year

Every January since 2013, we head up to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where we spend a long three-day weekend winter camping at Tahquamenon Falls State Park.

The first time we went, we were all alone. We chose the park for two reasons.

One, it was open and kept a dozen or so campsites in the campground plowed and snow-free.

The other reason was the 50,000-acre Tahquamenon Falls State Park between the towns of Paradise and Newberry gave us an opportunity to see the falls. 

Tahquamenon is one of the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi. It has a drop of nearly 50 feet, is more than 200 feet across, and has a water flow of more than 50,000 gallons per second. 

It was spectacular in the winter. The slower-moving part of the river nearest the bank was frozen. 

Frozen mist from the falls coats trees and rocks on the shore. The entire scene is breathtakingly beautiful.

How cold was it?

photo of Bo on one of our winter rv camping trips - winter camping tips
Bo was in his element! Not just humans enjoy winter RV camping – so do dogs!

While we slept that first night in January 2013, the temperature outside dropped to minus seven. Outside the snow on the level ground measured 28 inches.

The next morning, as a gentle snow fell outside, we felt pretty smug and rugged, spending the night in our RV in such cold. Then we looked outside. Turns out we were not alone.

A couple had set up camp right next to us. 

In a tent! 

And it was their honeymoon! I kid you not. They ran a small electric heater off an extension cord and said they were plenty warm.

When we went back the next year, we invited any of our travel blog followers who wanted to try winter camping to come up and join us. A handful did. There were more the following year. And more after that. Most Januarys now, we have close to 50 others winter camping with us.

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I'm bringing my new beenie to our next winter camping meetup! Want one, too?

What do we do? 

We hike in snowshoes. Cross country ski. Photograph the falls. And hang out around huge blazing campfires where we share snacks and socialize just like we do at summer campouts. We just wear a lot more clothing.

winter camping tips -- RV in the snow
One of our winter camping adventures.

Here are our 7 top winter camping tips:

1. Know the weather and conditions

Pay attention to the forecast and check with the highway department or local police about whether the roads are safe. Most RVs can easily handle a couple of inches of snow on the pavement. But high winds, ice-covered roads, and whiteouts mean you should postpone your winter camping trip.

2. Use Reflectix to keep the heat in

The secret for many winter campers is Reflectix, a reflective bubble wrap form of insulation. It comes in 25 foot long rolls at the big box home improvement stores like Lowes and Home Depot. We cut squares of it with scissors to fit all of our windows and push it snugly against them. It does an amazing job of keeping the heat from escaping.

3. Flush the toilet with antifreeze

The biggest downside to winter camping is you can’t use running water – your RV plumbing system needs to be winterized if you live in a cold climate. But You can use the toilet…just flush it with RV antifreeze into the black tank.

4. Use bottled water for drinking and brushing your teeth

Again, since your plumbing system is winterized you need to bring in your own hydration.  Don’t put any water down the drain in the RV galley. Pour any unused water and spit from your tooth brushing in the toilet, chased with an equal amount of poured antifreeze.

5. Use paper plates and plastic utensils for meals

You can’t really wash your dishes as you can when you have running water. So use disposable plates. If you want to be kinder to the environment, mix up a couple of tablespoons of white vinegar with water in a spray bottle and spray the dishes with them. Wipe and then clean them with a paper towel. The dishes will be squeaky clean.

6. Determine where will you store the extra clothing

Finding space for parkas, boots, hats, gloves, insulated bibs, etc. – can be challenging in small RVs. Plan beforehand where you will keep all that outerwear when you are in the RV.

7. Make sure your smoke alarm and CO2 detectors are operational

Since your heater will pretty much be on 24/ while winter camping, make sure you have fresh batteries in all safety alarms.

We realize the cold and winter camping is not for everyone. 

That’s okay. That’s why God made Florida and the southwest.

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Mike Wendland

Published on 2021-12-13

Mike Wendland is an Emmy award-winning journalist, traveler, and producer of RV Podcast, the RV Lifestyle travel blog, and the RV Lifestyle Channel on YouTube. Mike, traveling with his wife Jennifer and their Norwegian Elkhound, Bo, has vast experience and a great passion for exploring North America, previously working as a long-time NBC-TV News Channel Technology Correspondent and now sharing his love for the RV lifestyle with millions. Mike is not only an adept RV life enthusiast but also a skillful storyteller, bringing to his channels stories from the road that perfectly capture the magic and hardships of this lifestyle.

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