Pete Zimowsky: Stay warm enough while camping in the cold

pzimowsky@idahostatesman.comJanuary 9, 2014 

It was so cold my mustache felt like it was frozen to the zipper of the sleeping bag.

Ouch — it hurt when I turned over and woke up to a camper looking like an igloo. Actually, the inside of an igloo or snow cave is a lot warmer than an unheated metal camper van. We shouldn’t have turned the furnace off for the night. There was frost coating the inside of the windows.

I peeked over at the thermometer on the camper wall, and it was minus-1 outside and 9 degrees inside.

We had drained all the water out of the camper’s system for winter, so we had a water jug for the basics of cooking and coffee. It froze.

All of our water bottles for skiing were icy. The dog’s water dish was solid ice.

All the windows were glazed over with artistic swirls of ice.

While we were sleeping, the dog snuck up on the bed. I couldn’t blame her and, anyway, she was sleeping on my feet — the perfect foot warmer.

Winter camping in an RV can be pretty cushy, except when you don’t anticipate the severity of the weather, don’t have plug-ins like at a state park and don’t have your act together.

We decided to do a cross-country ski campout off Idaho 75 in the mountains north of Ketchum last week. The area had some of the best early-season snow for Nordic skiing.

It was 38 degrees and sunny during the day as we skied, so we figured it would be kind of a mild winter’s night. I checked the weather, and it wasn’t supposed to get below 10 degrees. That’s easy to handle in the camper.

Our zero-degree, two-person sleeping bag is ideal for winter camping and has done a great job over the years.

It’s so warm, we usually turn off the camper’s furnace during the night because it can be noisy, and we’re toasty in the sleeping bag.

We ran the Mr. Heater propane heater for a while (with a window slightly open) just before going to bed and got the camper up to 50 degrees inside. It was comfortable.

I should have known we were in for it when our thick-coated retriever started shivering in the middle of the night.

We’ve camped in the winter over the years in McCall, Stanley and the City of Rocks near Almo, and they were great trips.

In 2013, we camped every month and ended up with more than 50 camping nights.

This was the last camping night of the year near Galena Summit, and it turned out to be a Siberian wonderland with the temperature plummeting to below zero on a beautiful crystal-clear night at 7,300 feet.

I don’t regret the campout. It was fun, and I learned a little more about RV camping in winter:

• Definitely run the camper’s propane furnace a few times during the night to keep things from freezing inside.

If you’re only going for one night, you won’t run down a fully charged RV battery using the furnace. Make sure your propane tank is full before heading out. The furnace uses a lot of propane.

• If there is a chance to plug-in anywhere, like in a state park, RV park or Idaho Power’s campgrounds in Hells Canyon, that’s the choice you want. That way you can run a small electric heater all night in the camper.

• Close the drapes or blinds on your windows for extra insulation. We didn’t because the stars were so beautiful. We paid for our star gazing.

• Store your water bottles in the fridge. Yeah, the fridge. They will stay thawed out. Put the larger water jug near the furnace.

• Park in a campsite in the sun so you can take advantage of the solar heat generated through the windows during the day.

• Pick a spot out of the wind.

• Before heading out, double-check that your camper’s water system has been winterized.

• Plan a campout near a cafe. We had a wonderful meal at Galena Lodge and then had a super breakfast at Smiley Creek Lodge in the Sawtooth Valley. By dining at a restaurant, it gives you a chance to thaw out.

Brrrrr! Good camping.

Pete Zimowsky: 377-6445, Twitter: @Zimosoutdoors

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