Winter caravanning

Excellent insulation and modern heating systems mean that caravanning is a year-round activity, with many sites as busy at Christmas and New Year as they are in mid-summer. Check out these handy tips to stay comfortable on site, no matter what the temperature is outside.

Many caravan sites have extended their opening season or remain open all year round, where you can enjoy heated toilet/shower blocks, laundry rooms, mains electric hook ups and often hardstanding pitches.

With the right preparation, caravanning can be enjoyed all year round, and there is something quite special about the silence of a snow-covered Certificated Location when snug inside a caravan!

Which gas should I use?

Butane is ineffective as temperatures fall to around freezing (0*C) so the winter caravanner should switch to propane. Most modern appliances work equally well on butane or propane, so all that is required is a change of regulator. Some equipment with high off-take rates, like central heating systems, will only work effectively on propane. If it is more convenient, propane can be used all year round - there is no need to switch back to butane for the summer.

Fresh water

In below-zero conditions, your outside water container may well partially freeze over so you will need a second container inside the caravan you can transfer your water pump to.

Many caravans now incorporate on-board water tanks – or have the capacity to have them retro-fitted – so check your handbook to see if this applies to your model.

There are currently no 'anti-freeze' additives on the market that are recommended for use in fresh water supplies.

Waste water

To reduce the risk of your waste water container freezing, you can use insulation, a low-powered electric heater, or add salt to the container. You could also use a proprietary glycol-free caravan/motorhome anti-freeze such as that made by Elsan, which can also be used to prevent freezing of the toilet. Glycol-based car anti-freeze should not be used, as it cannot be disposed of into the drainage system for environmental reasons.

Heating

A modern, well-insulated caravan and a decent duvet or sleeping bag will keep you snug in all but the most extreme conditions overnight so you’ll rarely need overnight heating. If some extra warmth is necessary, a small, thermostatically-controlled fan heater is fine if on mains hook-up (1kW should be adequate), and can also provide reasonably rapid boost heating. A small oil-filled radiator is even better for gentle background heat but these can be heavy so check your payload capacity carefully if you’re considering one. On gas, the wet central heating systems found on many higher-specification caravans and motorhomes are ideal but the blown air heaters on most others will still do the job.

With all gas appliances, you must make sure the flue is not at risk of blockage by snow or wind-blown rubbish if you do want to run the heating overnight. Don’t forget that the circulating fans/pumps and the control systems for these heating systems still consume 12V power even though the heating is by gas so you’ll need a decent battery and perhaps solar panel if ‘off grid’ for a while.

Really useful is heating that can be programmed through a timer to provide warmth until you go to bed; and even better, come on a little before you get up. Many systems have this capability, sometimes as an add-on extra. Some systems go one stage better with control via a mobile phone app, enabling you to switch the heat on before you get back to the van, and to set time and temperature programmes for day and night.

Which towcar?

For regular winter caravanners, a four-wheel drive car or all-terrain vehicle is well worth considering. Mud and Snow tyres often improve traction and can be used all year round. For very slippery sites, snow chains might be needed. For more advice, consult our guide on buying a towcar.

Top 10 winter caravanning tips

  1. A porch awning is invaluable for storing wellington boots and hanging waterproofs up to dry, but if you intend to stay on hardstanding pitches, or even frozen ones, you may not be able to peg out. Extra strong steel pegs are advised.
  2. If snow is on the ground, regularly lift and shake the mains cable or it will become permanently embedded.
  3. Regularly clear any drifting snow from underneath the caravan, to ensure air vents and appliance flues are kept free.
  4. Despite the temptation to block off permanent vents – do not do it, it could be dangerous. Try to site the caravan so that fridge vents are away from the prevailing wind.
  5. Good quality sleeping bags or a high-tog quilt are advisable and avoid the need to have a heater on all night.
  6. As water freezes from the top down, insulate your water container with a ‘hat’ and lag the water pipe with foam pipe.
  7. Condensation can be a problem in winter, so moisture-absorbing crystals (available from DIY stores) are useful or even consider a portable dehumidifier.
  8. Continental caravans generally have excellent standards of insulation and refinements like underfloor heating that make them ideally suited to winter caravanning.
  9. With extra appliances in use, ensure adequate fire safety equipment is carried on board - see our leaflet on the subject.
  10. Keep moving parts on the caravan, like steadies, jockey wheel and handbrake well-oiled to prevent seizing. If temperatures are likely to fall below zero, make sure the caravan is on the level and securely chocked and leave the handbrake off - otherwise the brakes might seize on.

Essential Guide to Touring

Free when you take one of our training courses. This can also be purchased in the Club shop.

Jam-packed with heaps of useful information to get you started with touring

order a copy