Chances are you're not purchasing an RV to use it half the year, only during the spring, summer, and fall, traveling to a warm environment and places that only offer deliciously warm weather.
Who knows? You may take your family of nine to Mammoth Mountain as my parents did in a 1970 D27 Winnebago motorhome when I was a 14-year-old. Late Friday night, we completed a rambunctious 6-hour trek from Los Angeles and rolled into the parking lot at the base of the chairlift. The next morning we woke up to a foot of new snow surrounding our cozy home on wheels. The four older kids went skiing that day while Mom played with the three youngsters in the snow, and Dad thawed frozen water pipes in the parking lot!
Fifty years later, many American all-weather adventure seekers still believe a travel trailer will handle all types of weather, from extreme heat to frigid cold. If you're looking for the best cold-weather RVs, this article will guide you and educate you to make an informed decision and avoid the unfortunate adventure my father had with frigid fingers in the ski area parking lot.
Considerations of the Best Winter Travel Trailers
Winter camping is an exciting and unique way to experience the great outdoors, but having a cold-weather travel trailer that can handle extreme temperatures is crucial. When selecting a travel trailer for cold-weather camping, there are a few critical factors to consider. This blog post will discuss these factors and provide some of the best options for cold-weather RVs.
Cold Weather RVs
Insulation is one of the most important things to consider when purchasing a cold-weather travel trailer. The RV must be adequately insulated to keep the cold and warm air out. Foam insulation is an excellent choice, as it can trap heat and prevent it from escaping. A high-quality insulation system is essential to camp in freezing weather.
Another critical factor to consider when purchasing a cold-weather RV is the floor plan. The ideal winter travel trailer should be spacious enough to provide a comfortable living area and performance while towing. A well-designed floor plan can make all the difference, with features like a full kitchen, a comfortable bedroom, and a spacious bathroom.
Four Season RV Package
One of the top options for cold-weather RVs is a travel trailer with a four-season package. These packages typically include extra insulation, heated tanks, and other features specifically designed for winter camping. With a four-season package, you can feel confident that your travel trailer is equipped to handle even the harshest winter weather.
Dual Pane Windows
Another excellent option for cold-weather camping is a travel trailer with a dual-pane window system. This feature helps keep the heat inside the trailer while reducing condensation and preventing cold air from seeping in. Dual-pane windows are especially beneficial for those camping in freezing temperatures.
Finally, when selecting a cold-weather travel trailer, it's essential to consider the overall build quality. Look for trailers that are well-constructed and built to withstand the rigors of winter camping. This includes features like sturdy frames, high-quality materials, and durable finishes.
Do I need an Extreme Weather Package?
If you plan to travel in the winter months, the simple answer is a hearty yes. But remember, extreme weather or Arctic packages won't necessarily keep your RV warm in all conditions. The best solution is a properly heated underbelly below the floor, where all the systems are ideally located. The design of high-quality travel trailers is not only equipped for but designed for cold weather use without burning through your propane too quickly. A four seasons package will have built-in climate shield technology with an enclosed underbelly to combat harsh weather.
Of course, cold weather packages include such items as thermal pane windows, but maintaining a comfortable indoor space is much more than the RV windows. A cold weather package includes other essential design features, such as insulated hatch covers to protect the water and electrical systems.
What are the 5 most important four-season RV features?
I've traveled thousands of miles in an RV in all types of weather, and experience has revealed five important four-season RV features to consider when choosing a year-round RV:
1. Conditioned basement and warm floor design with passive air circulation
A conditioned basement and warm floor design with passive air circulation is an effective strategy for improving the energy efficiency and indoor air quality of a building. In this design, the basement is sealed and insulated, and the floor is heated with radiant heat, creating a warm and comfortable living space.
Warm Air Circulation
Passive air circulation is achieved by installing air vents or ducts in strategic locations throughout the basement. This allows for the natural flow of air, which can help to regulate temperature and humidity levels. Combining warm floors and passive air circulation results in a more comfortable living space with reduced energy consumption.
In addition to energy efficiency, conditioned basements with warm floors and passive air circulation can improve indoor air quality. By sealing and insulating the basement, moisture, and air pollutants are prevented from entering the living space. Passive air circulation helps to maintain fresh air and can reduce the build-up of mold and other harmful substances.
A conditioned basement and warm floor design with passive air circulation is a smart choice for building owners who want to improve their living space's energy efficiency, indoor air quality, and comfort levels.
Insulation Protecting Holding Tanks
An important hidden feature of an arctic package floor plan is an RV incorporating block foam insulation below the floor space. RV manufacturers may hype their heated holding tanks, but a better solution is to maintain the temperature of the space around the holding tank.
2. Thermal envelope design
Thermal envelope design is a crucial element of energy-efficient building design. The thermal envelope refers to the physical barrier between the interior and exterior of a building that controls the flow of heat, moisture, and air. The use of rigid insulation, thermal breaks, and dual pane windows are common techniques to enhance the thermal envelope of a building.
Rigid insulation is a type of insulation that is typically made from foam boards, which are placed on the exterior walls, roof, or floor of a building. This insulation helps to reduce the heat transfer between the interior and exterior of the building, resulting in improved energy efficiency.
Thermal Break Insulation in RVs
Thermal breaks are another important aspect of thermal envelope design. These are materials placed between the interior and exterior building elements, such as window frames or structural supports, to minimize heat transfer. They create a barrier between the materials that conduct heat, reducing energy loss.
Dual pane windows are another effective way to improve an RV's thermal envelope. Two panes of glass are separated by a layer of air or gas, which creates an insulating barrier of air. This helps to reduce heat loss during the winter and heat gain during the summer months, resulting in improved energy efficiency.
A well-designed thermal envelope is paramount to creating an energy-efficient building.
3. Mini-split electric cooling/heating systems and redundant gas heating
Combining a mini-split electric cooling/heating system and redundant gas heating will maintain a comfortable indoor RV space, whether on- or off-grid.
Multiple systems can be highly efficient and flexible, and completely adjustable from room to room. These systems use heat pump technology to transfer cold air from the outside into warm air by extracting heat from the interior to cool the space.
Redundant gas heating is a backup system designed to be used when the RV needs an electric mini-split heat pump offers a non-electric option. This ensures the RV remains warm and comfortable during a power outage or mechanical failure.
Combining mini-split electric cooling/heating systems and redundant gas heating is a reliable and efficient heating and cooling solution for buildings. The mini-split systems can be used as the primary heating and cooling source, while the redundant gas heating provides a backup option, which can increase resilience.
A mini-split electric cooling/heating system and redundant gas heating provide a reliable and efficient way to go off-grid.
4. Quality design and build with no leaking and air gaps
Quality RV design and manufacturing with no leaking and air gaps is critical to ensure the RV is comfortable, functional, and safe in all environments. Leaks and air gaps can cause various problems, including moisture damage, mold growth, and increased energy consumption.
A critical aspect of RV design and manufacturing is using high-quality materials resistant to wear-n-tear, water damage, and temperature fluctuations. Seams and joints must be carefully sealed to prevent leaks and air gaps, and windows and doors should be properly insulated.
RV Quality Testing
A top-shelf RV manufacturer conducts rigorous testing to ensure the unit is leak-proof and airtight. This may include pressure and water testing to identify potential leaks or gaps.
An RV with no leaking and air gaps is critical to longevity. High-quality materials, careful construction techniques, and rigorous testing will ensure the RV is ready for freezing temperatures and remains comfortable, functional, and reliable for many years.
5. Hot water systems, tanks, pipes, truma comfort plus water heater with antifreeze package
A quality 4-season hot water system must include a well-insulated water tank, pipes, and an on-demand water heater capable of quickly heating up to 124 degrees. I recommend the Truma Comfort Plus water heater, which is efficient and maintains consistent hot water temperatures, even in cold weather.
Adding the antifreeze package to the Truma Comfort Plus is essential for RVers traveling in cold weather. These systems are designed to withstand freezing temperatures, ensuring that hot water is available on demand.
To prevent freezing in cold weather, the Truma system has an optional antifreeze package, which circulates antifreeze through the water system to prevent pipes and tanks from freezing to ensure the water system functions in sub-zero temperatures providing ample hot water for cooking, cleaning, and bathing, and transforming cold-weather life into a beautiful winter wonderland adventure.
How to know if a travel trailer has an adequate extreme cold-weather package
The time to learn about four-season capabilities to support your year-round RV lifestyle isn't after you purchased it. Be sure you've purchased a legitimate winter camping trailer.
The RV industry and online parts supply stores have hundreds of Band-Aid fixes to combat winter weather. The ability to stay safe and cozy in your cold-weather camping home is essential because Mother Nature is infamous for surprise snow storms.
As I write this article, it's snowing at the 1000' level on the hills above my office in Santa Barbara. Walt Disney's 2013 animated film, Frozen, may have been a dreamy kids' movie, but colder temperatures are a nightmare when you're travel trailer's water pipes, pumps, tanks, faucets, and hot water heaters freeze solid.
Whether winter camping or living full-time in cold weather, a frozen RV will be more than inconvenient. An iced-up RV often results in a total financial loss and wasted time. It's common for RV auctions to offer totaled trailers for pennies on the dollar that were frozen. The result of a typical RV that froze due to bitter cold is a truly bitter pill to swallow.
What to look for and what to ignore
Don't be swayed by a salesperson, as my father was in 1970, who says, "If you're traveling in snow, just leave your furnace running all the time!" The truth is many exposed water systems will freeze, and a furnace running 24/7 will run out of onboard propane in 2, maybe three days, max.
Just because a dealer says it's a four-season RV with a cold-weather package doesn't guarantee it will withstand cold-weather conditions. For the real story, do an online search for every arctic package travel trailer brand and terms like freezing up to get real-world reviews of how various trailers performed in freezing weather.
The best cold-weather RVs ready for winter camping have more than heated underbelly systems.
Some manufacturers use the term Arctic package, which typically means a 12-volt heating pad is beneath the holding tanks. Although this protects the tanks from freezing, the issue is that the valves are susceptible to freezing, and when a valve freezes, it's impossible to dump the tanks until they thaw out. (Safety warning: Never use any heater under your trailer to melt the ice!)
Most 4-season travel trailers that handle cold temperatures tend to be 5th wheelers since they typically have basement spaces below the floor. So if you're not looking for a 5th wheeler, your options are limited.
A thorough inspection is key
There's a simple way to determine if it's a 4-season travel trailer. Are the fresh and wastewater pipes, valves, and tanks under the chassis, or are they contained in a conditioned basement? Water systems enclosed inside a conditioned basement, which means the heat source is ON at a low setting, will endure freezing temperatures.
Look underneath the trailer and ask the salesperson about the floor insulation. Is there any? Or are there multiple heat-saving layers of foam insulation that protect water pipes and other systems? Is there insulation in the slide-outs? Ask questions, read the owner's manual, especially the winterizing and 4-season camping sections, and study the warranty. Finally, a word to the wise: manufacturers play fast and loose with the 4-season label.
However, very few are. It's worth saying a few words about some of the stay-warm buzzwords. You'll likely be shown four-season RVs with a digital thermostat, a built-in fireplace, a high circulation ceiling fan, and warm-colored wood accents. However, if the critical features are missing, none of these items make the slightest difference regarding a true 4-season RV.
Focus on travel trailers that can withstand cold winter months when temperatures drop, equipped with an extreme weather package, enclosed underbelly to house the holding tanks, dual pane windows, double layered fiberglass insulation or rigid foam, freeze-protected water heater bypass, and ducted fans throughout the basement to keep cold air out and circulating warm air to protect vital water and electrical systems.
The best extreme weather package is a well-designed travel trailer built with the best cold weather capabilities in mind, not one that needs a bunch of cold weather add-ons.
In conclusion, there are many factors to consider when selecting the best cold-weather travel trailer. The right RV should have a high-quality insulation system, a well-designed floor plan, and features specifically designed for winter camping. By selecting a travel trailer that is well-built and equipped for cold-weather camping, you can enjoy all the beauty and adventure of winter camping with confidence and comfort.