RVing in Adverse Weather Conditions Part 1: Heat and Cold

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Yellowstone has great summer temperatures. When I arrived in May at the start of the work season though, it was still pretty cold at night.

A couple e-mails have come in recently asking how adverse weather affects the camping experience, and how well the Casita handles it. I figure when several people ask the same question, it’s worth making a post out of because there are likely others who haven’t written in wondering the same thing.

The article quickly grew to monstrous lengths, so I’m splitting it into two parts. First I’ll address hot and cold temperatures, which are probably the most common forms of “undesirable” weather, but which there are several solutions for. In part 2 I’ll address other weather conditions such as wind, snow, and humidity.

Heat

I’ve found that on a warm sunny day, with no wind and no shade, and all windows open with my fantastic fan running, the inside of the Casita will usually get about 6-8 degrees warmer than the temperature outside by late afternoon. If the day is overcast or I’m parked in full shade, the Casita will be about the same temperature as it is outside. If I’m in the sun but there’s a good breeze, or if it’s partly cloudy, it’ll be somewhere in the middle.

This of course will vary depending on the outside color of your RV (darker colors absorb more heat), how well insulated it is (better insulated means it will take longer to get hot inside, but once it does it’ll stay hot later into the evening), how many windows you have and how they’re placed, whether or not you have a fan and how effective it is, how you park the RV (nose or butt facing south means less surface area for the sun to hit at it’s highest and slightly cooler temps), etc.

Of course the most immediate way to negate hot temperatures is an A/C unit, which requires an electric hookup or generator to power as it would take a ridiculous (almost impossible) amount of solar to run one for any length of time.

By the time I left Ehrenberg, AZ in late February, highs were already getting close to 90 - not fun when boondocking

By the time I left Ehrenberg, AZ in late February, highs were already getting close to 90 – not fun when boondocking

A/C effectiveness inside RVs seems to vary wildly. The warmest weather I’ve ever camped in in the Casita is maybe 96 or 97 degrees (the summer I worked at Badlands National Park), and my apartment-style front-mounted A/C unit had no problems with it. I was able to keep the inside in the low to mid 70’s (which is the temp I prefer) without using the coldest setting. It helps that my RV is quite small, so there isn’t a lot of space to keep cool – I don’t know for sure but suspect that my A/C is rated for a space bigger than a Casita, and that’s why it works so well. I have heard from others with larger rigs who have two or more A/C units and still can’t keep their rigs at a comfortable temperature when it gets that warm.

Less immediate of a solution but nearly as effective is traveling with the seasons. Move up north or to higher elevations in the summer. I have gone this entire summer without using the A/C in my trailer, and while I’ve occasionally been caught in heat waves where daytime temps far exceeded the norm for the area, for the most part I’ve been quite comfortable.

Zion could have been an uncomfortably hot place to spend the summer, but I was at 6,000 feet above the canyon which helped loads

Zion could have been an uncomfortably hot place to spend the summer, but I was at 6,000 feet above the canyon which helped loads

If you’re struggling with staying cool inside your RV, here are a few additional ideas (if you have tips of your own for any of these sections, feel free to share them in the comments):

  • If your RV has an awning and it’s facing toward the sun, roll it out (unless it’s windy). The less sun hitting the RV, the cooler it’ll stay.
  • Consider parking smaller RVs like vans, Class B’s, and teardrops under a pop-up canopy, or rigging drop cloth or netting over them to reduce sun exposure.
  • If you’re camping in a dry location and have a vent in your RV that will blow inwards, you can fashion a homemade swamp cooler by wetting a washcloth (or something similar) and attaching it over the vent. When the air hits the damp cloth it cools it.
  • Buy a roll of Reflectix or similar reflective material and cut it to size to put up in the windows facing the sun to reflect light, this works best when you have your A/C going and need all the windows closed anyway.
  • Spend the hottest part of the day outside. While boondocking on hot days, I’ll read in the afternoon outside in the shade. As I said, it’s usually 6-8 degrees cooler than inside. Or, take a trip somewhere that has A/C.

keeping-warm-in-my-little-rv1Cold

I’ve written quite a bit about cold weather camping before, as I’ve worked two holidays in Kansas and one in Nevada, both of which get pretty cold by late December. Check these two articles for tips and idea:

In short, few RVs are manufactured for true four-season camping. If your RV comes with heated holding bays, double paned windows and quality insulation, you’re in good shape.

If not, that doesn’t mean you can’t camp in cold weather, you’ll just need to take some precautions. While keeping yourself warm may seem like the biggest priority, keeping the plumbing in your RV from freezing is actually more important in my opinion, as a burst pipe in the wall of your RV (or burst holding tanks) can cause a lot of damage and be pricy to fix. Luckily, the new plastic piping standard in RVs since the early 90’s hold up to the pressure of freezing a lot better than older options and a frozen pipe does not spell instant disaster.

  • Heat tape with foam insulation to keep fresh water hose an filter from freezing

    Heat tape with foam insulation to keep fresh water hose an filter from freezing

    Consider a heated hose or heat tape to wrap around your fresh and gray water hoses to keep them from freezing (or, pack them away when it gets below 28 or so and hook up next time it gets above freezing).

  • If your holding tanks are enclosed in a bay, run an incandescent lightbulb on an extension cord down into the bay to provide heat.
  • If your tanks are exposed like the gray tank on a Casita is, you can put skirting around your RV to try to keep the cold out. Or, you can dump your tanks when they get more than half full (during the warmest part of the day) so that if they do freeze at night, there’s room for the liquid to expand.
  • Bubble wrap, saran wrap, or Reflectix placed in windows will reduce the amount of heat escaping from them. You can even cover your fan vents, A/C, and any other openings to hold heat in.
  • For about $20 you can get a small ceramic heater from Walmart or other similar stores and they’re quite effective. The winter I saw nights in the single digits, I had two of them going (each plugged into a different outlet – didn’t blow anything and I was on 30 amp, but I always turned one off when I wanted to use my microwave).
  • An electric blanket uses less power than a ceramic heater and makes for a toasty sleeping experience when it’s cold.
  • If you’re boondocking: use a sleeping bag and more blankets, invest in a set of thermal underwear, make a warm breakfast on the stove to heat up your RV in the mornings, if your RV doesn’t have a furnace (mine doesn’t) get a small propane heater that is rated for indoor use (and always crack a window for ventilation when using it and also get a carbon monoxide monitor!) Winterize the plumbing in your RV if you’ll be camping without power somewhere it gets below freezing regularly.
Sleeping bag under blankets for boondocking in cold weather

Sleeping bag under blankets for boondocking in cold weather

Part 2 on how to handle humdity, precipitation, and wind can be found here.

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29 Responses to RVing in Adverse Weather Conditions Part 1: Heat and Cold

  1. Randy Cash August 23, 2016 at 5:26 pm #

    I read your posts and you just amaze about how you always thinking ahead.

    • Becky August 24, 2016 at 1:34 pm #

      On the sliding scale of “improviser” and “planner”, I definitely fall more toward the “planner” side of things.

  2. Judith Blinkenberg August 23, 2016 at 5:31 pm #

    Such Great Information!! I am not sure about any of this so will let the hubby see this. I do love my down blanket, but I may need a sleeping bag over it. Thank you very much!
    Judith Blinkenberg recently posted..Destashing Your Treasures!My Profile

    • Becky August 24, 2016 at 1:34 pm #

      You’re very welcome Judith, glad you found this helpful!

  3. Jerry Minchey August 23, 2016 at 6:04 pm #

    Becky, you mentioned that you had not used your AC this whole summer. It’s a good idea to run your AC for five to ten minutes once a month winter and summer to keep the seals from drying out. Your AC will last a lot longer if you do this.

    The same goes for the AC in your truck.

    By the way, your comments and suggestions were dead on, as usual.

    • Becky August 24, 2016 at 1:36 pm #

      Glad you enjoyed this post Jerry and thanks for sharing.

  4. J. Dawg August 23, 2016 at 6:59 pm #

    Good article, Becky. On your very last bullet point about keeping one’s body warm, I always carry long underwear even in the summer. You just never no. Also, I have a polartec beanie hat that I’ve worn on super cold nights. You loose a lot of body heat thru your head and a beanie really helps.
    J. Dawg

    • Becky August 24, 2016 at 1:37 pm #

      A good point to bring up J. Dawg, I often sleep in one of my hoodies when it’s really cold so that my head is covered. Take care.

  5. Paulie 9 toes August 23, 2016 at 9:11 pm #

    Great Information Becky. I recently bought a 12 volt electric blanket for camping. I sleep in the back of my pick up usually. I was surprised how well the 12 volt blanket works.

    • Becky August 24, 2016 at 1:39 pm #

      I’ve talked to so many people who enjoy their electric blanket Paulie, glad it works well for you.

  6. MB from VA August 24, 2016 at 6:14 am #

    Good morning Becky. Thank you for this article. I have a window fan here in my little house. I have never lived in a house with AC. It can get warm inside during the day but a 100 yr old oak helps with that. At night, if it cools down, my window fan brings the cool air in and sends the warm air out. Most nights I sleep under a light blanket. I have often wondered if the fantastic fan would do the same and if so….is your solar power enough to allow it to run most of the night? Have a great day out there! MB from VA

    • Becky August 24, 2016 at 1:42 pm #

      You’re welcome MB, glad you enjoyed this. I grew up in a house without A/C so I understand where you’re coming from.

      My Casita is less well insulated than the average house, so once it cools down outside it doesn’t take long to cool down inside, therefor I never need to run my Fantastic Fan at night, just for an hour or so in the early evening. I’m not sure if it would last all night while boondocking or not.

      • MB from VA August 24, 2016 at 3:51 pm #

        I had thought the same thing….I probably would just need it for awhile each night. Last night, here at home, I had to decided whether to get out of bed….run upstairs….and turn off the fan in the middle of the night…..orrrrr…….reach beside me for the throw I had put there “in case” the evening before. My chihuahua and I opted for the throw! 😉 Enjoy your evening! MB (human), Wyndy (hound/retriever) and Bella (Chihuahua). I lost my cat on Sat. She was 16 this month. And now there are three…………..

        • Becky August 25, 2016 at 1:37 pm #

          Sorry to hear about your kitty MB, 16 is a ripe old age but I know it still hurts.

          The throw sounded like the better (easier) option to me. 😉

  7. Jodee Gravel August 24, 2016 at 7:08 am #

    Good stuff as always. Last summer we only ran the AC twice, and this year it’s been on every day – and most nights. We’re big fans of following the seasons but failed at that this time. Wearing warm clothes, especially a warm hat, really helped me when the temps were cold in January.
    Jodee Gravel recently posted..The Joy of Simple Entertainment and Bad Timing in Cleveland, OhioMy Profile

    • Becky August 24, 2016 at 1:44 pm #

      This is probably the first year where I’ve done really well at following the weather Jodee, usually I fail pretty bad at it, haha. Take care!

  8. Bill Davies August 24, 2016 at 9:01 am #

    Great article and always love the pictures.

    • Becky August 24, 2016 at 1:45 pm #

      Glad you enjoyed this Bill.

  9. pamelab August 24, 2016 at 9:18 am #

    Hi, Becky – Enjoyed your post. Good things to keep in mind when boondocking in extreme weather. Coming out of Amazon to frozen ground in the middle of the night had to be very challenging.
    Happy travels.
    Pamelab in Lubbock TX for now

    • Becky August 24, 2016 at 1:46 pm #

      Yeah Pamela getting out of work at the coldest part of the night in Kansas and Nevada was a drag sometimes. I’m glad I switched to days in Texas. Also glad it’s warmer in Texas in December. 😉

  10. John August 26, 2016 at 7:07 am #

    Thanks for another valuable post. The heat is the main thing I am worried about – I don’t like cold (during the day) so I will mainly avoid those places. And a cold night isn’t so much bother with some warm clothes and some blanket. Getting up in the morning is the worst part.

    I am still planning my adventures and my current plan is a converted van. AC is my biggest worry left. I can mitigate the need some by traveling wisely. But I know I will want to be in warm areas and over 85 degrees inside would be an issue. I think I am going to go with an AC of some sort with a good amount of solar and batteries but also I guess a generator to step in when needed. I am still trying to figure that part out. I just can imagine that a cool van will make a huge difference in my enjoyment.
    John recently posted..Thoughts on Security Risks while Traveling (especially violence)My Profile

    • Becky August 27, 2016 at 2:36 pm #

      Glad you found this helpful John. There is no right or wrong way but I’m sure you’ll figure out what’s best for you. I know plenty of people who have both solar and generator and only bring out the generator for the A/C or when it’s cloudy/rainy for multiple days in a row. It’s a viable strategy. Best of luck!

  11. Nancy August 27, 2016 at 3:03 pm #

    Great article. We use an old fashion hot water bottle. Just put it in the bed near our feet. Stays warm most of the night.

  12. Richard Corso August 30, 2016 at 7:00 pm #

    In a warm climate where you have no shade, you can make your own shade. Buy a tarp sheet one that is larger than the overall area of your vehicle [including roof and engine area]. Some tarps have a silvered side – these perform better so buy one [1] or more of these. Next purchase four [4] inexpensive telescopic fishing poles. If you don’t have bungees – buy eight [8] or more. Fix the fishing poles to each corner of your vehicle using the bungees – stretch out the fishing poles until they extend approx two [2] to three [3] feet above your vehicle. Now spread the tarp sheet over your vehicle silver side up if it has a slivered side and attach the tarp sheet to each fishing pole. This will provide a sort of parasol effect and provide shade to your vehicle – keeping it cool inside. Always have ventilation in your vehicle – open window and roof vents/sun roof. Ensure the tarp sheet is well secured to fishing poles. When you want to move on the fishing poles, tarp sheet and bungees take up little space inside your vehicle. I have used this set up several times and it makes a huge difference to the temperature in the vehicle. All the best and safe journey

    • Richard Corso August 30, 2016 at 7:10 pm #

      My earlier comment applied to people sleeping in their vehicles, of course if they have a towed trailer home you would carry out the same procedure for the towed trailer home. Bye for now 🙂

    • Becky August 31, 2016 at 5:23 pm #

      Thanks for sharing Richard, I touched on this idea with netting or drop cloth suggestion but you’ve shared a lot more details about how it’d work. Take care.

  13. Kevin Feltner September 1, 2016 at 12:18 pm #

    Great suggestions. Thanks Becky.
    Kevin Feltner recently posted..My night in a tiny camperMy Profile

    • Becky September 2, 2016 at 1:51 pm #

      You’re welcome Kevin.

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