Thinking of doing some cold-weather camping but aren’t sure how to prepare? We’ve got you covered, with advice from winter camping fans Erika and Peter Smith and their Corgi pup, Poppy. They’ve been winter camping in their TAB 320S since 2019 and have a host of tips and tricks for enjoying cold-weather RV-ing: what to know and do to make the most of your time in the great (and chilly!) outdoors.
Research winter camping and weather conditions
Winter camping takes more than just decided to go camping when there’s snow on the ground and temps dip below freezing. It takes research and preparation. The first step is to start by deciding what kind of camping suits your skill level and desire for comfort. Do you want to boondock on a snowy pass, or would you rather be fully hooked up in a plowed campground? How important is it to you to have access to bathrooms and showers?
“The choice is yours, but do the research, then pack accordingly,” said Erika. “The farther away you go from typical comforts, the more you’ll need to bring to compensate: drinking water, bathroom space, personal care items, food, extra propane, etc. And bring snow boots along with your car shoes. Your warm feet will thank you. We’ve walked many a bathroom trip in Birkenstocks on the road and had very chilly feet!”
Another tip from Peter is to include some type of dehumidifier system during winter months. “It can be simple like an unscented Damp Rid jar to a rechargeable electric system. Whatever it is, remember to keep your moisture down and prepare for the extra steam, snow, and rain!”
Are campgrounds your preference? Make sure the ones on your itinerary are open during winter since many close down from September to March. “Ironically, we’ve had some splendid nights in the front parking lots of closed campgrounds,” noted Erika.
Prepare for the drive
Learn as much as you can about your destination as well as the roads you’ll be traveling on to reach it, keeping in mind that what might be an easy drive in June can be treacherous in January.
“Landscapes look different in winter,” said Peter. “We found what we thought would be an epic boondocking campsite on google earth, only for snow to block access after a few stormy days. Remember: no perfect spot is worth your injury or damage to your equipment.”
Evaluate your winter driving skills, especially if you’re unfamiliar with driving in snow and ice. Understand how your vehicle will react — with and without your trailer — when the roads are slippery. If possible, find a safe, snowy parking lot, hook up your trailer, and get a sense of how it reacts when being towed.
“Learn how to use your trailer break to correct the trailer, learn how sharp of a turn is too sharp, how gently correct in the snow, etc.,” said Peter. “Take things easy and be as practiced as possible.”
The couple also recommended that you do some practice winter camping at destinations near your home base. “That way, if something breaks, goes wrong, or randomly throws a code, you’re close to home,” said Peter. Even then, he suggested having an active AAA or a roadside assistance membership for your first trip — just in case.
Pack essential winter gear
Being prepared is essential. You never know what Mother Nature might bring your way.
“Bring a shovel, something to give you traction, and let people know your general area if you’re going full off-grid like we do. Also, consider a GPS with an SOS feature,” Peter said. “Pack the essentials always: first aid, extra water inside, battery packs, gloves, traction boards, chains, Yak Trax, and a change of clothes,” he added. “Don’t rely on anything 100%. Always bring extras when winter camping, and that includes towels, coats, and socks. Two is one, one is none, and three is a guarantee. Winter can be wild at any moment.”
Peter also recommended checking your glycol levels before hitting the road. You don’t want to find yourself far from home without heat on a cold night.
“Have it serviced, checked, or do it yourself, and keep up on heater maintenance,” he advised. “It makes a difference! For winter specifically, we make sure the Alde is primed and ready, and we preheat the trailer with it to double-check it’s in working condition.”
Peter and Erika also top off the propane tank and pack an extra tank. Before heading out, they also check the tire pressure and tread on the trailer and tow vehicle. You should be sure to check all trailer connection hardware is functioning properly as well.
What to pack
The following is a list of the couple’s top 10 must-haves for winter camping.
- Pendleton (wool) blankets or down blankets. “They heat like nothing else and work inside and outside.”
- Hot cocoa, tea, and coffee. “Seriously. It’s a treat that’s best enjoyed around a wintery campfire.”
- A propane fire pit or Mr. Heater (or both, says Peter). “You’ll be very popular at camp when you’re stargazing by a warm fire. Cold skies often mean clear skies and bright stars.”
- An extra propane tank. “This runs the external heater and serves as a backup if the Alde uses all our propane.”
- An external shelter. “We love our awning from Isabella, as it has the option to be fully sealed up or open to the elements. It also doubles our covered space. It fits six camp chairs and a small camp table, no problem. Another easy, affordable option is a 10×10 pop-up tent! Staying dry is your main priority.”
- Beanies and gloves. “Your hands and head lose a lot of heat. It’s murder to set up or dig out the trailer in 15-degree weather with numb hands and frozen ears.”
- A shovel. “We carry a lightweight, folding snow shovel and a shorter spade shovel.”
- Traction boards and chains. “Someone saved us from very deep snow using traction boards once, and we’ve had them ever since. They also would’ve come in handy when we (infamously) got three feet of snow in 24 hours while Christmas camping on our parent’s property. It was a fun time until we got fully stuck on a hill and had to shovel for an hour to get out. Wheeee! Chains are a good practice if you’re covering any long distance with a mountain pass included- as they’re often required.”
- Crampons or microspikes (and often snowshoes!) “Winter hiking (especially to hot springs) is one of our favorite activities! Just be prepared for slippery conditions.”
- Treatments for your rig. “Think diesel treatment fluid, de-icing spray, antifreeze for the black tank, and even something to scrape your truck’s windows.”
Finally, consider including paper plates and wood/disposable cutlery to your list, said Erika, “because it’s hard to wash dishes when the water is frozen. It saves on clean-up and burns nicely in your fire pit. The same thing for face wipes and hand sanitizer. Water isn’t always convenient during winter.”
While cold weather camping does have some challenges, the couple said it can also result in some beautiful experiences. “Don’t be afraid!” said Peter. “Winter camping is really fun!”
For even more about Erika, Peter and Poppy, visit their Instagram page and check out their YouTube channel.
Note: nuCamp teardrop trailers are considered three-season campers. If you plan to camp in freezing temperatures, you will need to winterize your camper and “dry camp.” This will help protect the plumbing. You can still use your Alde heating even if your unit is winterized. For more info about how to winterize your camper, please visit the nuCamp Support portal for videos and directions. Thank you, and happy camping!