Jan 292014
 

Over the past couple of years I’ve received a lot of emails inquiring about how we go about our winter camping adventures with our Airstream that it seems I should probably create a post about it.

Here’s a summary of our situation.

We live in the Pacific Northwest in the United States of America — specifically Seattle.  Seattle experiences a rather mild change of seasons with the average temperate in winter time hovering around the mid 40’s.  We do occasionally drop down to below freezing and we do experience snow every now and then.  This means, for us, in the colder months —  we need to keep a constant eye on the weather/temperature as we don’t (and never have) winterized our Airstream.  If temps drop down below freezing we head into the Airstream and turn on the furnace which in turn, keeps the Airstream and her pipes warm (and from freezing).

Seattle Photography via MonicaBennett.com

So that’s Seattle — but about 1 hour from Seattle you reach the mountain pass (Snoqualmie Summit/skiing) where temps are typically always around freezing (except for this year — it’s weird!).  It is here where we love to spend our weekends and holidays with our Airstream.  Hubby is a ski instructor, B is a level 5 skier and I myself, after tearing my ACL in half not too long ago enjoy snowshoeing/nordic skiing with Oliver  and of course cooking in my silver kitchen ♥

We absolutely LOVE camping with our Airstream in winter.  Why?  We can take our Airstream with us up to the mountain pass and literally have a ski-in and ski-out situation.  Families gather in their trailers nearby and there are kids/friends galore for B and us to mingle with.  The fun doesn’t stop when the sun goes down either — bring on the nighttime where people gather outside around portable campfires grilling dinner while the kids sled down the lit ski runs nearby.

We’ve been in some pretty frigid conditions such as one time while in McCall, Idaho we woke up and it was minus 7 degrees.  But from inside the trailer we had no idea — that is until we got into the truck and saw the outdoor temperature reading.  Wow.  Nowadays that probably doesn’t seem that cold but for us, it was pretty cold!

McCall Northfork Lodge and RV Campground in McCall, ID via J5MM.com

Here’s what we do.  We don’t winterize our Airstream.  We do travel with a full tank of water.  While under tow, we keep the furnace set to 50 degrees — which means keeping the propane on because when you tow through cold weather — things get colder . . .

One of my readers asked me if we added  insulation to the outside compartments such as the shower head to which I replied “we never have,” — but I guess if we did use the shower at one point, water would still be in there so it would be a good idea to add insulation there.  It’s just that we’ve never used ours, so we don’t.

When we run out of water, we fill the tank back up (we don’t leave the hose attached).  When the gray/black tanks get full we dump (and we don’t leave the stinky slinky attached either).

It is very important in cold temps to keep the hot water heater going 100% of the time.  This will keep the tanks warm.  Also, it’s very important to keep the furnace set to at least 50 degrees (during the day while you are out and about – skiing, etc.)  The furnace blows warm air onto the pipes keeping them warm and from freezing.  Then when we arrive back at the Airstream, we turn the furnace up higher to around 65 degrees.  If you have an older/smaller/vintage Airstream your furnace may not blow warm air onto your pipes — always worth it to check out what heating system comes along for your pipes in cold weather.

We don’t recommend using  a supplemental heating electrical fan/unit as this will only confuse the furnace making the temps in the Airstream warmer and it will not trigger the furnace to come on.  Now, with that said — there is an occasion where I will use an electric fan and that is when the temperatures outside are above freezing level — around 40 degrees or so.  That’s when I’ll use the electrical fan (and I will turn the furnace off, to give it a break and save battery power too)  But never, ever when the temps are at freezing.  You’ve gotta keep those pipes warm.  And the hot water tank heater — it’s always on — even if it is above 40 degrees.  Never turn that off.

When we take weekend trips to the local mountain pass to go skiing there are no hookups so we run the generator when the battery gets low.  At night in the ski lot you can hear the faint hum of nearby generators — keeping everyone warm.  So running the generator at night is necessary because batteries will never last long when a furnace is going full speed.  During long ski trips we find places where we can plug in which makes things a lot easier.

We’re going on our third year of winter camping and have never had an issue using the steps above.

Recently on Airforums.com I received this email from a fellow reader:

I love your blog, and am also interested in winter camping. You don’t have any issues pulling your AS thru compact snow and ice? Does it pretty much perform just like a dry street if you go easy?

To which I replied:

Thank you for reaching out to me — I asked my hubby to respond to your question since he is the one who tows. Here is his response:

No it does not perform like towing on a dry street.
I have been driving in all different snow conditions for over 40 years.
All different types of snow conditions can create different challenges.
In slushy snow you are inconsistently hydroplaning. Drop your speed appropriately for those conditions.
There are some kinds of icy conditions where you have little or no control. Do not drive in those conditions. Stop at the nearest rest stop or parking lot and wait it out.
Deep fresh lighter snow is manageable and is better snow to drive in than the former two types of snow conditions. Drop your speed appropriately.
If you have to drive in snow, compact snow is preferable. Drop your speed appropriately.
It is a benefit if the department of transportation is plowing and sanding the roads. Do not let this give you over confidence.
If you are approaching a mountain pass or hill with little or no shoulder to pull off onto, chain up well before entering the steeper grade.
Avoid driving at night in snow and ice conditions.
When driving an RV or towing a coach in severe winter conditions drive slower, leave lots of room between you and other vehicles, travel in the right hand lane, don’t lock up your breaks even if they are ABS, never spin your tires, and carry chains.

Think Snow,
Jeff

-end-

We tow with a Ford F350 super duty, long bed.  I believe the wheel base on our truck gives us a smooth and stable ride.

Here is a link to all of our snow/winter trip with our Airstream if you would like to see.

Hubby, B and I are wishing you and awesome winter and happy & safe travels xoxo

~ Monica

Ski Trip With Our Airstream Travel Trailer via J5MM.com

 

  30 Responses to “Winter Camping Airstream Style”

  1. Great post! We have yet to do any winter camping, but we did encounter some night time temps in the teens in Eastern CA this fall. We were dry camping which meant no hoses, kept the furnace running all night and had no issues with any sort of freezing. Of course, it did get up into the 60’s during the day, so that helped. We hope to one day do some real winter camping with the Airstream in CO or Idaho for an extended ski trip, so all this info you provided is very helpful. Who knows, maybe someday we’ll see you on the slopes!

  2. Great post, Monica.
    Next year I want you to come to Toronto to see if these strategies still work with your AS model in the Great White North. They haven’t with ours, although I thank you for the tips, I can’t imagine how much worse off we would’ve been without your advice this year with temps regularily dipping to -17 C!!! we seem to have beat the freezing black pipe and bathroom flow freezes by insulating the ply wood box we built to surround the exposed pipeage and valves and running a space heater in there when temps go below -7C. The frozen insides of the windows, which melt and drip down soaking the mousefur walls keep me busy with toweling and after this winter I think our main strategy will be to tow to warmer climes! The differences I suppose could be in the models we own or the deep freeze we have been under this year and we have taken the winter adventure in stride. We wouldn’t choose it again.
    Happy Trails,
    Jojo and Rick
    @Hiersdreamtravel.blogspot.com

    • Oh Jojo — SO glad to hear that the black pipe and frozen bathroom has been resolved — but what an ordeal! We’ve never experienced cold weather like that so I am sure we would have been in the same position as you and Rick. I should have mentioned in my post above that the longest we’ve ever spent time in cold climates was 10 days max and they were in temps from 7 below at night to mid 20’s – 30’s during the day. NEVER as cold (brrrr) as your experience !!

      • Just so you realize, Jojo was talking Celsius (silly Canadians) and you were talking Fahrenheit. -17˚C = +1.4˚F and -7˚C is just under 20˚F. So the temperatures that you were comparing really aren’t that different. BTW, -7˚F is almost -22˚C, So, your 10 day stint would be colder than Jojo’s temps. It is sort of interesting because it would seem that there are differences in the trailers that cause this (or the relative humidity must be very (oddly) different…).

        There are two kinds of Countries in this world: There are those that have successfully sent and retrieved men to the Moon and then there are the rest of them – who use the Metric System… ;-)

        Happy Camping
        – Kevin

        • Hey Kevin. Actually most of the free world uses the metric system as well as your military. You are the ones that behind when it comes to the imperial system 😀

    • Hi Jojo,
      I have done some deep winter camping in the Great White North in a lesser trailer than an AS. I have some additional tips, which do require AC electrical hookup. First, keep in mind condensation is cased by moisture in the air, so make sure you ventilate when cooking, washing, breathing! Use a dehumidifier at all times you have condensation. Consider using a shrink wrap window insulation kit available at home improvement stores. Apply it before you get condensation so you don’t seal moisture between the glass and the plastic film.

  3. Greetings from the frozen Midwest. Great post Monica. That advice is definitely helpful. We are looking at an east coast ski trip with the Airstream on Presidents Day Weekend. We are looking at Michigan and West Virginia and will choose based on the weather conditions. I am concerned about the roads, especially in West Virginia. Also, we will be dry camping as I would have to winterize in Ohio and have already done so twice this year. Here is a helpful hint. Blowing out the lines is much easier with a compressor. It is very difficult to do without one despite all of my hot air. Stay warm if it ever snows in Seattle this year.

    • Sounds like you’ve become the seasoned Airstream winterizer guru, lol :) Twice so far this year huh? Wow! Good advice on the compressor and NOT your hot air, lol !! The lack of snow here in Seattle is frustrating — send some our way — it’s getting ridiculous! Look forward to finding out which area you choose for a ski trip XO

  4. Omg I have been wanting to ask you about this since I started reading your blog over a year ago! Thank you so much for posting this info! Very helpful! I live in Tennessee and we have had the coldest winter iin over 10 years! Single digit temps at night most of January! In Tennessee! Hope you have a great ski trip! Enjoy and thanks again. Love reading your blog :)
    Patty

    • Hi Patty !! I’m so flattered you’ve been following J5MM for over a year now, thank you — it means so much and I am really glad I finally made a post about winter glamping since you’ve been interested. I heard about the crazy cold weather in Tennessee — it’s so strange and here in Seattle, where we typically get great ski seasons in the mountains, well — it’s slim pickings. Such a weird year snow wise and temperature wise too. Stay warm and thank you again for your sweet, sweet words to me {{hugs}} XO

  5. Thanks for the post. Sue and I travelled down the west coast last November; our biggest problem was condensation in the Airstream from the cool and very damp weather. How do you handle condensation?

    Regards,
    John

  6. Hi, I love your beautiful blog! Thanks so much for sharing your winter glamping tips. I’m in San Diego, and we’ve thought about taking our Airstream Interstate up to the Sierras to ski. Besides the issues of keeping everything from freezing, I’m wondering how you deal with all the snowy skis and ski boots, and the sweaty clothing!! How do you do it?!

    • Hi Nancy — thank you for the sweet compliment on J5MM. Means a lot !!

      So this is how we handle the skis/boots/sweaty clothing — ick !!

      When we come back from a day of skiing — we put the ski’s in the back of the truck or we just leave them resting along the Airstream’s bumper. The ski boots go in a plastic boot tray and then I slide them under our dinette where there is a furnace vent. Man, it gets really hot under there especially when we have the dinette down. Then I take a folding wire rack/shelf and put the wet gloves, hats, scarves, etc. on that and slide that under the dinette. Everything gets super dry and in the morning it’s a good feeling to put on warm ski boots!

      As for the wet ski coats, pants — those we hang up above our door on the inside. I have three hooks installed there and when they are hanging they dry nicely there. If any water drips off of them it drips onto a boot tray I have at the front door (or sometimes I’ll just put a towel down over the front door mat). If the coats are not that wet, I’ll just hang them (via hooks) in the shower and keep the door open overnight (since there isn’t a heat source in there).

      If our baselayers get stinky, they go into our laundry bag (which lives in the shower). We make sure to bring along more than one baselayer, sometimes three tops and bottoms just to avoid the hassel of doing laundry. Works out well!

      I hope that has helped you! I will be doing another post covering this as well as how we deal with condensation — coming soon XOXO

      • Thanks Monica. You are brilliant for figuring all of that out. Pretty sure that our Interstate is going to be way too tiny to make this happen.

        I’ll remember your system though, if we end up with a bigger trailer some day!

  7. I just found your blog via Pinterst – your pictures are amazing!! We have an 81 Airstream with visions of transforming it. But seeing your Airstream and reading of all of your adventures makes me wonder if we shouldn’t just trade it in and enjoy glamping!! Do you mind if I ask what year and model you have?

    • Hi Sarah, thanks so much for the sweet compliment :) !! My Airstream is a 2012 27′ International Signature. I totally get the whole remodel vs buying a newer model. With a remodel, it’s awesome — you can customize your Airstream any which way you like, but it takes time . . . (that was our big issue). With a newer model — she’s all ready to go and hit the road. I still dream of remodeling a vintage Bambi. One day !!

  8. Monica – LOVE your website!! Just found it and the pictures, blogs everything is beautiful. We had a 28′ AS and are now in the process on downsizing to a 19′ (I’m hoping to utilize some of your storage ideas – they’re great). How long do your propane tanks last when your winter camping? I’m sure it depends on the temperatures – but just curious with the heater and furnace running so much. Thank you!

    • Hi Kathy — thank you !! So happy you like J5MM ♥

      So let’s say the temps during the day hover in the high 30’s — above freezing and at night, they dip down super low to freezing. In that situation we have gone three days with our two propane tanks. When temps hit above freezing during the day, we turn the furnace off and turn on our little heater. Once temps hit the freezing mark outside we turn the furnace back on and turn our little heater OFF. Because if you leave that little heater on, it will confuse the thermostat in the Airstream and trick it to thinking it is warm already inside and it won’t trigger the furnace to come on. I hope that made sense. One thing, we always keep the hot water tank going even if it’s not freezing outside.

      I hope that helped you !! Congrats on your new Airstream and wishing you many happy travels down the road XOXO

  9. I have bought 2015 25ft RB Flying cloud and live in Portland Oregon. I have been glued to your blog all day, this post has been so, so useful for me. One of the main reasons we bought our AS was for spending more time int he snow but I am pretty worried about driving such a big trailer in snow conditions! what tires do you have on your AS? Do you ever have to put chains on it?

    Thanks!

    • Hello Deren — first and foremost, congrats on your new Airstream! She must be a beauty — how very exciting! We have bigger tires on our Airstream but not because of more traction (which I believe, they do not have) but to give us the 1″ needed clearance to get our Airstream up our funny sloped driveway. So if you are analyzing her tires, they are indeed different than what they come with. With that said, our prior Airstream, she was 25′ as well — we towed her everywhere in winter time with the same tires she’s had on her since 2006. We’ve never had to put chains on and we have towed through a category 3 snow storm in Spokane one year. The above write up hubby gave about towing is great advice. I hope that helps you!! THINK SNOW XOXO

  10. Hi Monica,

    We bought a 2014 28′ FB International last Spring and have since put 6000 miles in just in WA, OR and Northern California. (Live in Vancouver WA) What a gorgeous area we live in!! Now we are gearing up for Winter skiing and snowshoeing and this was a very helpful post along with the comments. We expect to frequent Mt Hood, White Pass, Crystal Mountain and maybe Mt Bachelor. Some of these ski areas do allow overnight camping. I was figuring 2 tanks of propane a weekend, but Airstream Adventures mentioned that several customers will put rock salt in the grey water and black water tanks to lower the freezing temp. I suspect the freshwater tank is empty. Not sure if you have heard of others doing that. Also on the generator, we use a Yamaha 2000, very quiet but I am not sure it can make it overnight with the furnace constantly running? What do you use and is it making it thru the night?

    Mike

    • Wow, I’m impressed — 6,000 miles! But I have to agree with you — we live in a gorgeous area so the 6,000 miles is totally understood lol ;) !! You’re right — you can get by on two tanks of propane EASY for a weekend. We have the exact same gen set as you. It takes us through the night no problem with the furnace running. We don’t have to wake up in the middle of the night either to fill it up — just give it a good top off of gas before you hit the sack and it will take you well into the morning. We’ve never put rock salt in our tanks (the idea of salt in there . . . I don’t like it) and we’ve been in minus seven degrees frigid temps and have never, ever had an issue with tanks freezing. Our Airstream (and yours) — the pipes are wrapped super tight and the heat blows on them so no worries there. We do, however — keep our hot water tank on continually — that warms up the fresh and grey tanks too. I hope that has helped you!! We will be spending a bit of time at Snoqualmie — in the RV lot this winter. If you go, come find us and say hello! We’re usually closest to the ski run. xoxo Monica

  11. We are considering downsizing from our 36′ 5er to an Airstream, most likely a newer, better insulated model. We’ve found that skirting (insulated, not just a windblocker) makes a world of different in keeping things from freezing – including us! Regarding your Airstream, what year, length, and model do you have? Thanks in advance!
    -LibbysontheLoose

    • Hi Eric, I’ve seen those skirts and have often wondered about them. Thanks for piquing my interest! As for our silver girl, she’s a 2012, 27′ International Signature. Just love her. Prior we had a 2006 25′ Safari (now called Flying Cloud) that I also loved (but the two extra feet that we now have in our Airstream suits us well).
      There are so many options out there, I wish you the best of luck and keep me posted if you find your Airstream ♥

  12. Monica, did you ever do a formal post about the dehumidifier? How has it worked for winter camping? Thanks!!

  13. […] previous post detailing how we go about keeping everything from freezing during our trips — here is a link to that — but in addition, during this trip I learned a lot more, […]

  14. Insulation acts as a barrier to heat loss and heat gain, particularly in roofs and ceilings, walls and floors.

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