Data Sheet

#18 Winter touring in caravans and motorhomes

#18 #18 Winter touring in caravans and motorhomes

Winter touring caravan on a club site

Why not camp in winter?

The UK summer can be brief and unpredictable to rely on the summer months for capturing great outdoor experiences. Modern caravans and motorhomes have good heating and insulation systems so why not extend your camping year into the winter months? It also makes sense to put your expensive asset to good use rather than having it sitting in a storage compound.

Get more free help and advice when you join the Club.


The basics

The two essentials for winter camping are to be able to keep warm and for your water supply and drainage not to freeze up. Even with the latest highly-specified and well-insulated unit you can experience problems if you do not take some simple precautions. This data sheet shows how to deal with these and other potential problems of winter camping.

Fresh water supply

External water tanks are at risk from freezing in winter even when well insulated, unless you can provide with a heat source. A basic requirement for use of an Aquaroll or other external portable water tank in the depths of winter is an insulated jacket that also covers the vulnerable inlet pipe to the caravan.

Fresh water insulated cover

An insulation jacket may help protect your water supply from the frost

Using such a jacket for temperatures close to zero degrees Celsius (0C) is helpful but left overnight with temperatures well below zero you are likely to find the contents at least partially frozen. Once frozen, normal daytime winter temperatures may mean your water supply takes an inordinate time to thaw. Hence it is best to ensure your external tank is drained during the coldest periods, such as overnight when sub-zero temperatures are forecast. While a drained external tank should come to no harm when left outside, your submersible pump should be brought inside as it may retain some water in the pump body and be at risk of frost damage.

A small container of water can be kept inside overnight for essential usage like making a cup of tea first thing in the morning. If you regularly caravan in sub-zero temperatures, it is worth considering fitting a winter kit such as the Truma Ultraflow. This enables an Ultraflow external water inlet to be blanked off and the inlet to be transferred to an internal wall. Thus you could fit the water inlet on the bathroom wall with an Aquaroll located in the shower.

External underslung tanks on motorhomes should be well insulated and there are after-market products available to achieve this where not originally specified. 12V electrical tank heaters are also available that should ensure the water is maintained at a temperature above freezing point over longer periods. Such heaters may flatten your leisure battery if left on for long periods so they are best used when you have an electric hook-up.

Some units come with an automatic frost control valve in place of the simple manual drain valve to protect your hot water boiler in cold weather. This valve operates at about 4C, when it dumps the contents of your water boiler and usually the contents of your water tank as well. Although this provides frost protection to your expensive water boiler if you forget to drain down after a winter outing, it is annoying to lose your water supply while you are occupying your unit. With earlier automatic frost control valves and current ones with an electrical connection to the boiler, keeping the hot water boiler switched on at its lowest setting should prevent dumping. For current valves without a wired heating element, keep the boiler on to protect the boiler and ensure there is sufficient heating in the locker where the valve is situated to prevent dumping.

Waste water system

Maintaining your fresh water supply is important but you will still have a problem if the waste water system freezes. Once in an external tank, given consistent freezing temperatures, waste water will eventually freeze despite good tank insulation and you will be unable to drain the tank.

Winter grey waste draining 2

Draining to a bucket can help keep your waste tank from freezing up. It’s easy to dispose of frozen waste from a bucket

For motorhomes it is better to leave the waste drain valve open and drain direct into a bucket where the frozen waste can be dealt with be more easily. Similarly with a caravan, use a bucket rather than risk having your Wastemaster or similar tank freezing up.

Motorhome external waste tanks can be insulated and heaters provided - as with the fresh water tank - but also with the proviso of needing a good electrical power supply to be practical.

Pipe that run to the waste outlet or tank are also vulnerable to freezing if they are not set with a good gradient for their full length. Typically a pipe will be routed under or over an obstruction like an axle and water will linger and be liable to freeze, even with pipe insulation. If your unit is vulnerable to this try pouring a small amount of salt water solution down the drain before going to bed. Salt water has a lower freezing temperature than fresh water and this may keep the pipe free. Alternatively, if this becomes a real problem it can be worth fitting an extra drain outlet in the problem length of pipe.