In our continuing series on boondocking, today we’ll be sharing some our tips for keeping warm when it gets a bit nippy out there.
Boondocking is staying in places without hook-ups (water, electricity or sewer) and generally ‘out in the boonies’. You might also hear terms like wild camping and dry camping to describe it.
Now, this isn’t about extreme cold camping. Our rule of thumb is if it’s too cold to keep comfortably warm without extreme measures – it’s time to HEAD SOMEWHERE WARMER or at least to electric hook-ups!
Our house has wheels, and we know how to use them.
This is about those nights when you’re in a place with every intention of being in a temperate climate, and a polar vortex’s fingertips sends the temperatures dipping into the 30s or perhaps a bit lower for a handful of nights.
Keeping in the Know
When living in a house on wheels, it’s pretty important to go the extra step to keep on top of the local weather conditions.
If you have the ability to tune in local television channels, they can be a great resource. And of course having a weather alert radio on board is definitely recommended – however we generally only take the time to set ours up when we know impending bad weather may be approaching, or we’re setting up somewhere longer term.
Our go-to resources for keeping on top of the weather is mobile apps. Many can automatically detect when we’ve changed locations to give us our new location’s forecast and alerts. As we prioritize having good internet connectivity wherever we go, this is usually a lot easier for us than programming our weather radio to the local channels.
- For emergency weather alerts, we like the app Weather Radio (App Store | Google Play).
- For hyper local and immediate future forecasts, we like Dark Sky (App Store).
- And for longer term forecasts we like The Weather Channel App (App Store | Google Play) and Weather Underground App (App Store | Google Play).
We’ve just trained ourselves to check Dark Sky and at least one of the other apps regularly to make sure we know about any impending weather events coming up. If we see a cold snap is coming up, we know to be prepared for for chilly camping by buttoning up before the sun goes down to preserve as much daytime heat as possible for the evening.
Heating Things Up
When you’re boondocking, conserving resources is everything. You only have access to what you can carry out to your location.
Run out of propane, you may have to travel many miles to get a refill. Run out of stored power in your battery, and you may have to resort to running a generator. Which of course runs fuel, which is also constrained by how much you can carry out to your location.
Many RVs come equipped with a propane powered furnace as the main living space heating. And they can heat the space up indeed. However, they can also burn gobs of propane pretty quickly and the fan mechanism & controls suck up 12v power. They can also be mighty loud. Many boondockers we know avoid using their propane furnace if they can.
Here’s some alternative ways to generate some heat while boondocking:
- Vent free heaters: Vent free propane heaters heat the interior air of the RV, instead of bringing in cold air from outside, heating it up and blowing it inside. This saves a lot of power, but can produce some extra dampness inside. There are generally two kinds of these style of heater – infrared radiant (ceramic and catalytic varieties – such as the Olympian Wave Heaters) and blue-flame heaters. Most of these options will require figuring out plumbing an external propane source into the heater – making them a bit more of a permanent installation, or dealing with a hose coming through openings in the RV. Which also means pre-thought as to where you want to heat.
- Portable propane heaters: The Mr. Heater Portable Buddy propane heaters are quite popular with boondockers who only occasionally deal with chilly temperatures (which includes us). They use the 1-lb camping style propane bottles, and thus can be moved around the area of the RV you’re trying to heat. A single bottle can last 3-6 hrs, depending on the setting you leave the heater on, and you can get an adaptor hose to use them with larger propane bottles. The downside is, of course using a lot of those little bottles and that the units don’t have any automated controls for timing or temperature control.
- Personal Space Heaters: Running a conventional 1500w+ space heater off solar or batteries is likely not an option for most boondockers (our electrical system can sustain it for a couple hours if needed). However personal space heaters can do wonders to heat up a very small area – which is sometimes all you need. We have two Lasko MyHeat on board, which use just 200w of power. They’re great to break the chill in our desk area in the morning, or heat up the head of the bed in the evening. They can also be used in the plumbing bay if we fear freezing lines to help keep things warm down below.
- Electric Blankets: An electric blanket can also help keep the chill down in bed. There’s everything from full size blankets that run off regular 110 (requiring an inverter), and there are also boondocking friendly 12v blankets that can help pre-warm a bed or sitting surface.
There are of course other ways of heating up an area to keep it comfortable – some folks install wood or oil burning stoves if they frequently cold camp, or diesel hydronic boiler systems.
You can also burn a candle, heat up water, cook indoors or even run a computer for a little extra warmth. Our first year on the road we traveled in a 16′ T@b teardrop trailer – a single laptop running for an hour or so was usually enough to keep the inside warm on a chilly night.
Prior to 2015, in our bus, we use the Mr. Heater Buddy quite successfully. Now we just turn the hydronics on and have radiant heat. But we only attempt to heat up the room we’re currently in. When we retire for the evening to bed, we close the door to the living space of the bus to keep the warmth in the bedroom. It works really well.
Of particular note, if you’re using any sort of fuel to heat – it’s extra important to have a Carbon Monixide (CO) detector, and to crack a window for fresh air flow.
Keeping the Warmth In
Once you have it warm inside, you really do want to maximize that warmth created by keeping it indoors. Of course, make sure you’ve closed off any unnecessary vents or windows (if you’re running propane, you probably do need to crack a window to help dissipate some of the excess moisture).
Other tips for maximizing the warmth:
- Cover Windows & Stuff Vents: Windows, especially single pane ones, can quickly let the cold in. Cold weather is not the time to be enjoying the view. Close all blinds, drapes and window coverings to help trap the heat inside. On extra chilly nights, we’ve even gone so far as stuffing blankets in-between the blinds and our windows. You can also buy Reflectix Bubble Insulation for windows and vent opening insulation.
- Fuzzy Blankets: When the cold weather comes on, we switch out our bed sheets for microfiber plush sheets that are well worth the space to store. They keep us extra snuggly warm, and can often times keep us warm enough that we don’t need much more than running a heater for a bit before bedtime. We also keep nice warm throw blankets around.
Dress for the cold: It should of course go without saying, dress for the weather. The sweat pants, robes and slippers come out when its chilly. No sense burning through energy to heat, when an extra layer or two can help keep us warm.
- Eat and Drink for the cold: Preparing a warm meal can not only help heat up the interior of your RV, it can also warm you up. We love preparing a nice hearty soup on a cold evening, and of course a cup of hot tea or hot chocolate warms the soul.
- Snuggle: Cold weather is a prefect time to snuggle up (or more) with the one(s) you love. On chilly nights, Chris, Kiki (our cat) and I pretty much are an inseparable cuddle pile. It’s my favorite part of chilly nights!
So that’s how we keep warm on those chilly nights while boondocking. Have other ideas? We’d love to hear them in the comments!
- Our (new) Boondocking Resources Page (including our RV Boondocking Basics Video)
- Solar for RVs
- Back to Boondocking: Extending the Holding Tanks
- Finding Magical Boondocking Locations
- Guide to Finding Campground & Boondocking