Lessons learned winter camping in our RV

CHP 1808

Thought I would share a few little discoveries we made during our winter camping trips. We are definitely not experts in the field but, as usual, learned these lessons by trial and error.

Our winter camping trips were anywhere from minus 5c (23 F) to perhaps the coldest night at minus 21c  (-5.8 F).  Our truck camper is a 2017 Northern Lite 9.6. four-season.  When they say four season not sure they were in Saskatchewan, Canada camping at any time. As far as I am concerned no camper is a true four-season, some are just a little better than others. The Northern Lite, in my estimation, is one of the best along with a few models of the Big Foot, both made in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada.

With winter camping you have three problems to overcome –  heat, power and moisture and they are all connected. If one is hooked to shore power you eliminate two of these problems and possibly all three but in winter where we are you are not going to find sites where you can plug , we are back to three issues.

Trip #1 In order to save our two 6v 200 amp hour batteries by running the furnace all the time we would turn the furnace off during the day when we were our enjoying nature. Coming in for the evening we would crank up the furnace to 20c and in no time would be comfortable. Despite having two Dry Z pellet dehumidifiers we got a considerable amount of moisture inside on our windows. For those who do not know NL truck campers they have a double pane window from factory. The window also has a slide up reflective screen covering the window. By cracking the windows it helped a bit but increased furnace run time considerably draining the batteries. In the winter the sun is low and the days are short.  Even on sunny days the roof top 100 watt solar is not very productive so we ended up finding a quiet spot to park and run the generator, something I hate to do, it ruins the quiet we were looking for. I had left our portable 100w panel at home so it provided no charge at all.

Dehumidifers in camper
Dry Z pellet dehumidifiers
Portable solar panel
Portable solar panel

Prior to our winter camping we knew a big problem with RVs and moisture happens under your bed mattress. Tip: when purchasing a used RV look under the mattress first. We had purchased our NL in 2017 so it did not come standard with the Marine Hyper vent material under the mattress.  I’m told it has become standard equipment the next year. This is a no brainer in a four-season camper,  or for any camper if it’s good for sailboats it will work in a RV. And it works extremely well, well worth the price as it is not real cheap in my books.  No moisture under the mattress but one could feel the cold under it despite the camper having extra insulation there. We enjoyed our four day stay despite having to run the generator a considerable time to top up the batteries.

Marine hypervent material
Marine hyper vent material

Trip #2 Trip one we had the heat but noticed moisture and the furnace ran a lot putting stress on the batteries. The smaller the RV the better chance you have of being comfortable by having less to heat and maintain. Power was a problem so to eliminate the power draw for heat I brought a portable propane heater, Big Buddy style and used that.  We sure did have heat but the windows ran water and was hard to control the heat level as the temperature was up and down. I had also used reflective bubble wrap over the windows and vents to help keep the heat in, none of this appeared to work  controlling the moisture. Back to the furnace and running the generator. I reached out to Northern Lite and was told the camper was designed four-season as far the windows were concerned and that the furnace did not give off a lot of moisture. Just don’t crank the temperature down at night or when out during the day, just set it a 20c and leave it there. They also suggested adding insulation board under the hyper vent on the floor.

Marine hypervent material

Trip #3 We warmed up the camper well before leaving home and set the thermostat at 20c as we were told and left it there the entire trip. I had also added a ¾ inch solid foam board under the mattress, the insulation board has plastic on one side and a reflective silver on the other which I faced up under the hyper-vent material. I also added this to the bottom of all our closets and side storage. Outside I added reflective bubble wrap to the insides of all the access doors except the vented ones. I used a body shop style 2 sided tape to hold and this is working well. Well that old furnace worked and it was a comfortable 20c every time we walked into the camper, Charlotte loved this. This trip, admittedly the temperature only dropped to minus 15c at night and near freezing during the day, very minimal moisture on the windows with only the factory screens for cover. So keeping the temperature consistent and warm appeared to have worked to control the moisture. One big problem it drained the batteries constantly running so out came the generator. We were the only ones camping in the park so that was not an issue this trip. However I do not want to depend on a generator running for long periods in any campground or even boon docking areas, we are there for the quiet of nature. I had brought my portable 100 watt solar panel but the days were short and not always sunny, so that and the rooftop did not keep up. Not all was lost we had a great time away from it all.

Notes to ourselves

1-Although the basement and tanks in our Northern Lite are heated we do not use the fresh water tank or the trailer water system at all. We take our water in containers and use windshield washer antifreeze to flush the toilet. Got to rough it a little, however by running the furnace constantly our floor was nice and warm, not something you find in many campers in winter.

2-The extra solid insulation under the bed and in the closets worked. It helped keep the cold out a lot better and helped maintain the temperature. Money well spent, do not leave home without this.

3-Our furnace does not give off a lot of moisture.  Just keep from changing the temperature, keep it consistent. We did not feel a lot of cold coming off our dual pane windows and the factory covers appeared to work well. Perhaps a big quilted cover over the windows would help…the bubble reflective material not so much. We enjoyed the view and the little sun that came in through the windows.

4- Pack extra windshield antifreeze and RV antifreeze, gas line antifreeze, lock de-icer and extra fuel for the generator. A plus on the NL is the generator compartment is heated so the generator starts first pull…bonus!

Our Dilemma:

The two 6V batteries work great in summer, not enough in winter.  We made only four  winter trips this year – do I upgrade to Lithium at $1,800 yes $1,800 I am in Canada I know our US neighbours can get this considerably less. I also have to upgrade the charge controller in my 2017 NL for lithium, I understand the new ones come with a different controller now. Option 2 as we move our home with us sightseeing and getting to different ski trails would a DC to DC charger to top up the house batteries do the job. I know everyone is singing the praises of lithium but they as well as my lead acid cart batteries have issues in cold weather so is it worth $2,200 to upgrade.  I am cheap and on a retirement salary  of nothing.  Option 3, just open the border and I will be joining our US neighbours in sunny Arizona problem solved with this cold weather deal. I love winter 30 days is enough after that the novelty wears off.

These are just a few of the winter camping lessons and I’m sure we have a lot more to come.  I would appreciate those in the know to email me with their experience and suggestions….keep them nice folks. I will update our progress in dealing with power as that appears to be the big issue now. There is so much spam on these blog sites in comments these days I would appreciate any comments coming to me at gerry@studiowest.ca  I am also on Facebook and Instagram.  I appreciate the RV and in particular the Facebook groups for information as well. If you like what we are doing please subscribe for automatic updates weekly, it is important to us to keep posting.

PS: I have since ordered a DC to DC charger which is a challenge to install in my 9.6 Northern Lite so will keep you posted once I get it all figured out and how it works.  Next week The NOFS of Prince Albert National Park.

PS: I have noticed more people are going full time in their RV’s that live in Canada, we have some very different conditions other than winter to deal with. In a back post I have done a little research on the subject …hope it helps.

Thanks Gerry and Charlotte, hope to “see you down the road”.

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